In 2010 I had a 2002 Chevy Tahoe and was able to comfortably transport myself, my wife, two kids, a large dog, and all the gear necessary for everyone without an issue. We did get to a point where I thought a roof rack was going to be necessary, but never went forward with it. Fast forward to now and my family has grown by one. We purchased a brand new van in 2015 and I soon realized that it might not be big enough for everyone either. With all the kids, dog, and packed stuff we were pushing the limit of available space. I loved my Tahoe, so I knew a Suburban in the same year or newer was what I was after.
Before jumping in I did some research. I knew I was going to be running the Suburban off-road with more frequency than I ran the Tahoe (honestly it was only one time, but it was awesome). I wanted to make sure the extra stuff I wanted to add was going to be compatible with no issues. When I started digging into things, I found parts for a non-standard overlanding vehicle are few and far between. Want a swing away bumper? You’ll have to have one fabricated. Roof rack? Not many companies have the size of style I was after. New front bumper? Prepare to spend some dough. Was I willing to spend the money? Sure, but it would a slow burn for me.
Capability & Capacity
Stock, the Tahoe was able to handle being run off-road with no problem so I knew a Suburban would be okay. The one I ended up with had some suspension modifications done giving it a little more ground clearance than normal but was not given a full on suspension upgrade. I had the chance to first test it off-road in September when I ran it through Manistee National Forest with no issues other than putting its maiden pinstripes on.
When talking it over with my wife we also wanted something we could use for longer trips if necessary (saving mileage on the brand new van) and had a good towing capacity for future trailer/boat purchases. The Suburban is well equipped for both of these without having to worry about additional modifications. Of course, storage was also something we talked about and the Suburban doesn’t disappoint. There is plenty of cargo space with the rear seat down to haul any and all gear necessary for a week-long excursion. The only downside I’ve had with the purchase is the third-row seat and having it be the full bench. I would have much preferred a 60/40 split bench so I could pull one side out and have just a little more cargo space.
Durability & Reliability
Having had a previous older model Chevy I knew primarily what I was getting myself into with a 2004. At this time, I’ve had to put some money into the front suspension to replace ball joints, u-joints, and axle shafts. There are some electrical quirks that I would like to work out still, but the vehicle functions and drives just like I want it to. From a reliability standpoint, the truck starts and runs like it should. Other than the routine items for maintenance I’ve had no issues with it.
The biggest issue in terms of durability right now is rust. I hate it, but it is an inevitable part of living in Michigan. The rear bumper is showing the most signs of it and sorely needs to be replaced. The body overall isn’t showing signs yet, but if you crawl underneath you can start to see the signs of it. There are ways of mitigating it, but I haven’t had the time to make the repairs I’d like and now that it’s winter probably won’t until summer hits.
I haven’t had any chance to max out or even come close to getting near the carrying capacity of the Suburban, nor do I really ever plan to. I have had it fully loaded with a person in every seat and fully loaded with my family. It’s driven perfect each and every time. Future modifications might make me rethink the payload capabilities and have to a suspension upgrade but for now, it works.
Knowing that off-road and overlanding related aftermarket parts were going to be difficult and expensive to find, I went through with purchasing the Suburban anyway. When planning out the future of my rig I knew some items that I wanted were going to be next to impossible to get. The first being a swing away rear tire carrier. If I owned a Jeep or Toyota this would be absolutely no problem. With a Suburban, it’s a bit of a problem. I would either have to have a special manufactured rear bumper/carrier made or purchase something like Wilco Off Road’s hitch mounted swing away carrier.
Front and rear bumpers are no issues but cost ends up playing a role. Replacing the stock bumpers with heavy-duty bumpers means shelling out thousands of dollars for bumpers and probably a new suspension to accommodate more weight. When all’s said and done, I could potentially be spending another 5 thousand dollars on top of what I’ve already paid for my Suburban. Do I need all of that stuff to overland? Absolutely not, but I have a vision for my rig and I’d like to see it accomplished at some point.