My Plan To Camp In My 1996 Suburban Hit Its First Snag

Illustration for article titled My Plan To Camp In My 1996 Chevrolet Suburban Hit Its First Snag: Suspension Repairs

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Last week, I wrote a story about how my husband and I intend to live out of our freshly purchased 1996 Chevrolet Suburban as we travel the country for a month, hitting one race after another. I received some excellent advice on how to manage living out of your vehicle—along with a healthy dose of skepticism—but as it turns out, we may not be taking our beloved for an adventure after all.

We took the truck in for what we assumed would be some routine service: an alignment, maybe a tie rod replacement. There was some play in the steering wheel, some slow braking, but we didn’t anticipate it would be anything too terrible. We expected there would be some extra faults we hadn’t seen yet, since this would be its first time up on a hoist.

Folks, we were in for quite a surprise. Our bill includes alignment, axle seals, brake pads and rotors, the entirety of the front steering and suspension, and some smaller bits like heater valves. We’re starting at $3,500 in repairs for the absolute necessities and not counting labor.

To put it simply, our mechanic told us the front suspension was so shot that it was a bit of a miracle the truck hadn’t fallen apart and killed me on the drive home from buying it. He was shocked to hear it had made it from San Antonio to Dallas and back twice. Not exactly the confidence-inspiring thing you want to hear when you’re about to hit the road for a several-thousand mile trip!

Part of this is on us: we most definitely needed to have the Suburban in the shop for a deep dive long before we were, y’know, a week from hitting the road. We also should have pressed harder for a look-see before we bought it, which we’d tried to do but couldn’t make happen—but in both cases, time was tight, so it was one of those “it’ll get done when it gets done, and it will be done as quickly as possible” deals—but we also weren’t expecting any big issues because we trusted the seller was correct in telling us there was nothing wrong but cosmetic concerns. But without insisting on the inspection, none of us could have known. And it’s an extra slap in the face after negotiating the closing costs of our new house down because the current owners failed to disclose issues with the septic, pests, electrical, plumbing, roof, and siding.

Thankfully, our local shop is incredible, and they postponed some other, not-as-pressing work to try to get us on the road as quickly as possible, but they’re also not sure if it can all get wrapped up on our expedited timeline. We were hoping to have the chance to have a leisurely drive with a stop at my Philly apartment to get a maintenance request in before I start packing to leave, but now we’re looking at driving the 25 hours straight through so we can load in on Wednesday evening.

Our other option? Renting a lovely sprinter van at tragically skyrocketed prices and praying for the best.

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