Build and Shakedown Review:
So here we sit roughly 45 days later with 3500 driving miles and 2000 towing miles (yeah we had some traveling plans) on our new Duramax powered Chevrolet Suburban. The one word that is continuously thrown around to describe this project as a whole, whether it is by friends, family, fellow travelers, or car enthusiasts is, and I quote…. “Unbelievable”.
So if you are considering a Duraburb conversion, stop considering it! Grab the keys, call Eric, and pull the trigger already…you won’t be disappointed. Now if that used car salesman line didn’t work for you…good! That means you have some common sense. But if you are still on the fence, then grab some Ritalin and let me paint you a picture of the good and the less good that is a Duraburb conversion performed by Eric Swanson at Duraburb. Hopefully this will solidify your decision to start a build.
One of the hardest things about this build was rationalizing the build itself, it was probably 40% emotional and 60% practical. In a perfect world, I prefer to keep emotion out of the game all together. I mean if you crunch the numbers, the rationale says stick with a 3/4 ton chassis and 6.0 engine. If the engine and the tranny die, you fork over $6-7k. Who cares if you are going through gas faster than a burning Iraqi oil field, the payback on MPGs savings could be in a year (unlikely) or it could be in 7 years (most likely). That’s just in time for the injector to go bad and just like that all your MPG savings are gone. Bottom line, there are a lot of variables to consider, so do what everybody does and make your matrices (pro/con list), weigh your variables, minimize emotion, and ultimately make the decision that you are going to live with. It’s life and there are way more important things to be spending your time on like taking your family camping. Am I right? So, if you want to rehash all the decision making that went into purchasing the Duraburb it can be read here at our July Duraburb Post.
- The Build Process:
- Communication was awesome. Eric was easy to talk with and extremely informative. He kept me up to date with pictures and build times.
- He worked with our schedule. Note: the build was dependent on finding a good donor truck. This was, in turn, dependent upon other uncontrollable circumstances…like the untimely death of a 2007 4×4 with a low mileage LMM that had just enough frame damage that the insurance company would salvage the truck. Oh, what do you know just in time…Thanks guy from Oklahoma.
- Delivery Expectations: Even with one slight hiccup, Eric was sending the truck in for an alignment and realized he hadn’t finished the wiring and programming for the 4wd, it only pushed our pickup date back 2 whole days! Nevertheless, that means we picked up our Duraburb exactly 34 days after we dropped it off. Try doing that in your backyard.
- Honesty: Not once did I ever fill like Eric was trying to sell me something or pressure me. We talked ideas and long-term plans, but he always laid out the options and gave solutions and honest feedback. A perfect example was when we had to push off our pick up time. Eric didn’t fumble around with excuses or play the blame game. He owned his mistake, apologized, and made it right. We’re human.
- MPGzzzzz! Not just good, but the best thing hands down is the MPG. Our once deplorable 11MPG around town, has since skyrocketed up to 18MPG. What’s even better is our highway mileage! At 65MPH our gas truck was netting us around 18MPG, and now we are seeing solid 24MPG. Reminder: this is in a 7K+ pound suburban and before you ask, yes, this is the average between the DIC and hand calculation. So why am I getting better gas mileage than most standard trucks running an LMM? Well it is a combination of things.
- The Intake and exhaust were upgraded allowing the engine to inhale and exhale much easier.
- All the emission equipment was deleted from the engine.
- The physical shape of the truck. The nose on the truck is “softer” than a typical Silverado that has a large aggressive grill, many of which have large bumpers with winches and lights on them that are plowing through the air.
- Maintained stock tires and wheels. i.e. less rolling mass…enough said.
- Axle Upgrade: As part of Duraburb’s tow pro-series a 11.5 AAM (rear gross axle weight 10,000 pounds) axle upgrades the existing 9.5 AAM (rear gross axle weight of 5,500 pounds). The added benefit of the G80 locker was a big plus. Granted this truck is not meant for Moab, but by God, what I do want is the piece of mind of towing up a steep wet gravel road safely. I also want to feel comfortable about towing just about every bumper pull trailer out there, thanks to the 4,500 pound increased capability of the axle.
- Tuner Upgrade: Eric sourced a standard 5 stage computer tuner from Duramaxtuner. It comes with a DSP 5 switch that can be changed on the fly. The addition of the tuner gives us the ability to squeeze out every bit of capability from this engine and transmission combination, and where it really shines is in heavy tow mode. I’ve never seen a more perfect down shift, and the turbo brake is genius. The positions Eric has us setup for is…
- Race Mode: This is where the tuner spends most of its time. Not because we are hot-roding around to the grocery store, but because this is where we have seen the best gas mileage.
- Stock Mode: Great for when you have to have OBD2 read for emission purposes. Which is currently not a problem in states which exempt vehicle emissions.
- Light Tow: Towing under 8K pounds
- Heavy Tow: Towing over 8K pouunds
- Economy mode: I consider this to be more of the valet mode. It keeps you from having a heavy foot.
- Towing: Okay, 75% of the folks interested in this are looking for the all around family towing vehicle. Well folks, here it is! Basically all of these great things boil down to what is one of the most economical, modular, and capable towing platforms available. The Duraburb’s current towing nemesis is a 36′ Outback toy hauler trailer. When loaded down with gear, food, toys, water, etc could tip the scale at around 10,500 pounds, but we haven’t gotten that heavy yet. The last time we rolled across the scale with everything full with empty tanks (grey, black, fresh) we hit 9,120 pounds. Before the conversion the Suburban weighed in at a reasonable 6200, and now our curb weight is 7,700 pounds. It’s reasonable to think that the protein diet we put the Suburban on has made all the difference in the world when towing the trailer. What once was a white knuckle drive up an acceleration ramp, has now turned into a great opportunity to sip some coffee while I check out the merging traffic. Now speaking of the Turbo brake, although I’ve already mentioned this, it is worth repeating. The added capability of the Duramax tuner using the turbo brake is incredible. It slows our descents and keeps our brakes cool with plenty of braking reserves in the transmission should we need them. So I can cruise at 75MPH if I need to, and can stop by using either the Transmission, Turbo, or Brakes. I have plenty of torque in reserve, and as a camper I really appreciate having an extra battery on board now. Oh and I forgot to mention my town MPG at 65MPH is now at 12MPG versus the pervious 8MPG at 60MPH.
Alright for those most discerning reviewers out there, lets get into the “bad” stuff. Well frankly nothing is bad, so let’s just call the “less good” stuff.
- First up is the noise. This is, by every since of the word, a living and breathing mechanical creature. You can hear the intake sucking in air. You can hear the turbo spooling up. You can hear the low grumble of a diesel through a 4in exhaust. If you are a motor-head like myself you probably just want to buy one now, but if you are my darling wife who drives this everyday, it is an adjustment coming from a Toyota Sienna minivan. Now, I will admit that when we are driving through nature preserves and Chick-Fil-A drive through windows it is slightly annoying, but it is livable.
- The height. To get the Allison transmission to clear the body tunnel, Eric had to modify the body a bit. He calls it a “reverse rake”, which to me is a body lift for the front half of the truck. Now don’t read that wrong, the truck still sits parallel to the ground. I’m just describing it in layman’s terms. However, if I had to guess we have to lift our leg an extra 2 inches to get to our running boards. I know what your thinking…first world problems.
- Attention. Eric gave me a bonus and put some Duramax/Allison badges on the truck, which was an awesome treat at first. That has slowly become a bit of an attention ‘getter’. I’ve caught a conversation between two guys as I carried my groceries out to the truck, saying that they “should rip the badges off the truck”. I’ve had about two near deaths driving incidents were a diesel enthusiast wanted to have a conversation about the truck while driving, and my favorite times are when we get the rare “red-light” engine rev. However, all this is balanced out by the thoughtful folks who I’ve met on our travels who come over to chat about Eric and his Duraburbs.
So there you have it. The highlights of the good and…less good. We are looking at running an update on our next oil change. As of now, the Duraburb has performed near flawlessly…alright I said near. So before the emails come rolling in, here is the punch list from the last 3K+ miles: The headlights are possessed, they dim in-and-out and when using the brights and operate at half capacity. The other problem is a missing GPS disc for our head unit. The company Eric sent it to didn’t put it back in after they “unlocked” it. Either way, Eric has reached out to solve both of these problems.
Please stay tuned as we will post some videos of the Duraburb under load and as we give you our next shakedown review.
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Make sure to check out our February 2016 Duraburb post!