(Late) Monday Mileage Champion: 730,837 Miles!!!

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

A 2000 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly a car that I would like to call a second home.

It’s a tad claustrophobic. The plastics are borderline industrial grade. And the Ford 4.6 Liter Modular V8 is not especially known for offering the level of fuel efficency needed to make this car a long-term money saver.

Thankfully, this vehicle was quickly disqualified thanks to a Carfax that showed it only had 123k miles back in 2010.

300k a year? Two years in a row? I think not!

Therefore I am awarding this week’s award to a far distant runner up. A 1999 Chevy Suburban that offered all of 414,268 miles before finally being sent to the trade-in world we affectionately call at the auctions ‘wholesale heaven’.

A loaded Suburban was once seen as an example of wealth and opulence. Stop laughing!

This particular Suburban offered all the niceties of the Clinton Era. Thick leather seats that could fit 98% of American posteriors. A premium sound system with a cassette AND a CD player. Running boards. Tow hitch. Plastic buttons galore that all seemed to be derived from Tonka surplus.

Everything but all wheel drive and a minority interest in a nearby oil well.

These models were absolute marvels to own back when gas was hovering between $10 to $30 a barrel. Millions of Americans wanted to give themselves the infinite luxury and bloat of an SUV. Although the Suburban offered all the sophistication of a ballpienhammer, it regularly outsold every full-sized SUV in the marketplace.

The world that once was is, of course, no more. The late 1990’s were a unique time when trucks and minivans collectively outsold cars and little cars were produced mainly to susbsidize CAFE requirements and the real profit makers.

As crazy as it sounds, these large vehicles also helped out the average small car buyer back then. Strong demand for SUV’s at the auctions resulted in cheap retail prices for those smaller late model cars. In 1999 I could buy a two year old mid-level Ford Escort at the auctions for less than $6,000. Retail was only around $7500 to $8000 at best. We’re talking about a near 50% drop in price within a two year period.

Small cars were to resale value then, what Suzukis and Saabs are to resale value now. A towering financial cliff worthy of a cheapskates consideration!

On the far lower end of the market. you could have found plenty of perfectly fine $500 to $1500 cars at the auctions that needed only minor mechanical or detail work. Transportation was cheap thanks to the low price of gas and the anti-small orientation of American car buyers.

By the way folks, this particular car had no announcements on the auction block. No engine issues. No transmission lurches. Not even a scuff on the body on frame. Nothing but wholesome old-school Americana. Everything was up to snuff. Even the odometer!

I’ve always thought that Suburbans were the ultimate hoarder rides.

Want to buy some Yoohoos and never throw them away? Or a go on a neverending shopping trip?

The Suburban was nowhere near as good for that purpose as the creaky old full-sized vans that get plenty of steel storage shelves and a lipstick refresh every 10 years or so.

Too bad they drove like ox carts. On the road those full-sized vans were as appealing to the fairer sex, as scooters are to Hell’s Angels. Even dozens of conversion van outfits couldn’t stop the SUV from becoming the undisputed kings of profit; with the Suburban and Ford Explorer raking in billions for GM and Ford respectively.

With a Suburban a mom could pull a trailer along with a brood of childlike creatures and feel right at home. Except this happened to be a home where you could visit hundreds of drive through windows. Talk on a cell phone. Cut off the poor schmoe driving the Ford Escort, and enjoy a gas bill that would rarely go above forty dollars.

They sold well back in the day because they filled a need… along with a neverending list of wants.

Today despite CUV’s, crossovers, and glorified mini-wagons eating away at the Suburban’s market segment, there is still a healthy demand and profit to be had with these models.

I would even be willing to bet that if gas ever goes back to the party that was 1999, SUV sales would once again rock n’ roll.

In big countries like ours, small doesn’t sell unless big costs too much.

In the future I will miss these Suburbans… so long as I don’t see so many of them. Too much time driving a lowly Escort made me averse to all things SUV.

But how about you? Has there been a Suburban that helped you become a mobile entrepreneur? Or perhaps a LeMons hauler? What pleasent valley 1990’s styled Suburban has ever graced your driveway? Or your neighbors?

Do you think the Suburban will become the Murilee Martin hooptie of the future? Or a lurid hangover of the past?

You decide.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Joeveto3 Joeveto3 on Nov 27, 2012

    We could totally use something like this to park in our turnaround for occasional use. Family hauling, towing, vacation use, this would be much, much better than our Vera Cruz that will soon be traded for something else.

  • Luke42 Luke42 on Nov 28, 2012

    Whenever I see one of these parked in my neighborhood, there are two scenerios that usually play out: 1. If the vehicle is stock, missionarries will be knocking on your door shortly. Get ready to tell well meaning but deeply entitled/annoying children to get off my lawn and please-oh-please put my house on the bad list. These things seem to be a risk factor for door-knocking. 2. If the vehicle is hooptified, one of the teenagers in the neighborhood is getting technical support for his stereo or car. Even odds of having to demand that they stay off my lawn or helping them calculate the impedence of the speaker system. Bonus points if a scantool or EE equations are required. A suburban would be a fantastic and cheap "do everything my LEAF can't do" vehicle, except that it won't fit comfortably in my driveway comfortably and would look "off" in my neighborhood.

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.