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Old 09-20-2020, 11:08 AM   #1
skyphix
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2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a 2003 Suburban 2500 - originally from Oregon, so minimal rust compared to anything I'd find in Maine. Really, I only purchased this to last until my mother in law is ready to sell her 2018 Yukon...

But now I really like it, and the kids love it, so we'll see what happens over the next 2 or 3 years. Until then, I'm making it mine.

Mechanically its in pretty good shape - 172,000 miles and previous owner did all new tie rods/tie rod ends/sway bar end links, and gave me the remainder of a MOOG front end kit (control arms, etc.) He also just did spark plugs and wires, and replaced the intake gasket. I noticed a small leak from the valley cover and possibly the power steering but I'm not concerned with either - I have a hydroboost powersteering pump in my parts stash and he gave me the rest of the top end gasket kit he didn't use. He also gave me 4 basically brand new Blizzaks. He'd also converted the second row to Captains chairs - which is perfect since I've only got 2 kids and I can take the 3rd row out to make the dog happy on long road trips.

Here he is, running 285/75/16 tires. I don't know if I'd go this big if I were the one buying them, or gone with these tires - they're just a lot more tire than I really need. I'll probably go with a less aggressive all terrain in 265/75/16 when I replace them. I have a Hypertech tuner that came with it to adjust the tire size but I'll also be retuning it with HPTuners eventually.




Tested out the rear seat entertainment - the kids love this and use it no matter where we go.




And all the tires/parts he sent me with. Whats not pictured is a brand new Radiator - the one in the burb works perfectly fine but he picked one up when he saw the oil cooler leaking externally - turns out it was just a loose fitting and its not leaking, but if it starts again, I've got the replacement ready to go.





Upgrades and maintenance up next...
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Old 09-20-2020, 11:13 AM   #2
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

The first upgrade is a simple one - and one I perform on any vehicle I own that uses 9005/9006 bulbs. I convert it to 9011/9012 HIR bulbs for more light output at the stock wattage and no additional heat. The conversion is simple. Remove the old bulbs, trim one tab on the new bulbs, and install them as usual (see photos below)









The bulb with the "green" back panel is the new style bulb - just trim the one tab close enough to a match of the old bulb. Bam! 10 minutes to much brighter headlights, without blinding oncoming drivers or shortened lifespan.
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Old 09-20-2020, 11:43 AM   #3
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Next up was the gauge cluster - as with most of these, it had failing parts. The gas gauge didn't work correctly - partly because I need to replace the sending unit in both gas tanks (yup! This has the extended fuel capacity setup with one large and one small tank) - partly because the gauge itself was failing. The sending unit doesnt register anything when the tanks are full - but it starts to register at 3/4 tank. The old gauge would stick at 3/4 tank until you had driven enough to get down near 1/2 tank, and then restarted (repowered) the gauge cluster. So, I got ahold of Carl at fixmygauges.com who was awesome and provided an excellent looking custom cluster. I went with black Escalade faces, white LED's, and red pointers for a clean, simple look that hopefully wont stick out too badly until I can convert the rest of the dash lights to white or blue LED's.

Here's the old gauge cluster. The digital portion was also failing - if it turned on at all, it would only show me overall odometer and "Trip A" which, I believe, means this was the incorrect gauge cluster for a 2500 Suburban. Half the bulbs were out as well.



After pulling it, I found out that this was actually a Denso remanufactured unit - so definitely not the original cluster.


This is a crazy simple swap, for those that haven't done it. It took me 15 minutes and I hadn't ever been inside the dash of a GMT800. All you really need is a 7mm socket, a nut driver or long extension, and if your dash surround is stubborn, something to pry it off with. I was able to get mine off even with my damaged hands. A little tip; turn the key to the ACC position and drop the shifter down all the way. Makes getting everything out much easier.




VERY happy with the results - much better to look at and really improved the driver experience for me. Also very satisfied with Carl at Fixmygauges.com - I know he's semi-retired now but as long as he is still turning these out, I'll recommend them to everyone I know that has a 99-2013 truck and is having gauge issues or just wants a change. Bonus win? The bottom steering wheel control buttons (fuel economy, personalization, etc - they were missing from my Suburban when I got it) that I stole out of my LS swap donor Yukon work perfectly now that the new cluster is installed, and instead of "Trip A" and "Trip B" its "Personal" and "Business" which works perfectly since I do travel for work.

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1980 C10 SWB
2006 Chevy Suburban 2500 LT

Last edited by skyphix; 09-20-2020 at 12:16 PM.
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Old 09-20-2020, 12:05 PM   #4
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Next up was the stereo. This was equipped with the BOSE system, RSE, and a DVD player - I wanted to add a backup camera but dont like accessory monitors for cameras (unless they're for cameras on a trailer or something) - the dash is already cluttered enough for me. So, since outwardly the radio is pretty worn out anyway, I figured I might as well add some more functionality as well.


Here's the old:



As I always do, I laid out all of my harnesses and made my own solder diagram.




In this case, I wanted to retain as much factory function as I could - that means as much of the RSE function as possible, the factory amplified BOSE system, steering wheel controls, door chimes, and retained accessory power. All of that required an interface module - not my first time with this. I did something similar with an iDataLink in my wifes Toyota 4Runner. I like the iDataLink more, I think, because its more easily customizable, but the RP5-GM11 module is also customizable. All I had to do on this one was set the "radio manufacturer code" which is just a little dial to what was specified in the manual. For my Jensen, it falls under "other" which was number 7.




Once I had double checked all of my solder sheet - this one was simple, basically just match wire colors except for the parking brake signal, which was pink -> light green for my harness - I got to soldering. I don't always solder automotive connections (instead using a tight hook splice for strength and good conductivity but maintaining some flexibility,) but I find radio connections hold up well when soldered so I do with those. This little cheap solder station and my cheap adjustable soldering iron works great for this small gauge wire. Using 63/37 solder.




From there it was just removing the factory stereo, installing the side bracket plates from the install kit, and bolting it back in place after testing everything.




It fits nicely, is really shallow so didn't require any cutting of the rear brace in the dash, and overall looks pretty slick in the dash. This is a "No Disc" model - so it just does Radio, bluetooth, and both CarPlay/Android Auto. I DID lose the wired connections to the RSE, but the kids only ever use the wireless headphones anyway, and really only for the DVD player.


Up next is the backup camera, which I totally forgot to take photos of. But installation was simple - Its a license plate bracket camera, to a wireless transmitter, and a wireless receiver plugs into the camera input on the back of the stereo.

I hid the transmitter inside the passenger taillight bucket, behind the housing, and zip tied it to the internal bracing. I did a T-Splice into the reverse light wires to provide power and ground - and the receiver gets its signal from the "reverse signal" wire in the factory radio harness. Easy peasy. I ran the cable from the camera up into the taillight housing, utilizing the cable loom that GM put on the tail light harness to keep it protected. Super easy. My only concern is breaking the camera mount when loading items in the back, but I'll just have to be extra cautious. This camera doesnt have the highest resolution, but its far better than not having anything when I have to back into spots at most of my customer sites.






And, CarPlay works great (since I'm currently using an iPhone) - I prefer Google Maps to built in nav systems that never stay up to date, even if you load new maps every time they're released.




For this being on the low end, cost wise, of touch screen CarPlay compatible stereos with a shallow install depth, I am actually really impressed with it. See the parts list below for the complete list of things I needed. I purchased from Crutchfield because I have always had excellent experience with them, but you can probably find this stuff cheaper elsewhere.

Jensen CAR70V
EchoMaster CAM-WLP EchoMaster CAM-WLP
Metra 95-2001 Dash Kit Metra 95-2001 Dash Kit
PAC RP5-GM11 Wiring Interface PAC RP5-GM11 Wiring Interface


The total came out to about $450 shipped and it arrived in less than a week.
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Old 09-22-2020, 10:09 PM   #5
Greg58
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

We used to have a 2000 4x4 2500 Suburban, same color as yours. 6.0 engine.
We loved it, I did have to replace the transfer case due to pump rub leak.
Unfortunately it was totaled in 2009 in a bad hailstorm.
We then bought an 07 1/2 ton Sub with the DOD engine, a big POS, used oil like crazy. My wife liked that we could burn e-85 in it. Then I had to replace all the lifter parts that make the DOD work, cost a fortune. Sold that and switched to Lincoln Navigator with Eco-Boost, we love it.
I would buy another like yours if I ever found a nice one.
Greg
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1970 GMC Sierra Grande, 2500 Custom Camper 133" wb, 402, 4spd.
2007 GMC Sierra Classic, 3500 SRW 4x4, Quad cab longbox, LBZ Duramax/Allison.
1987 Chevy Suburban 2500, Silverado, 2wd, 454, t-400 with US Gear Under/Over drive.
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Old 09-23-2020, 10:50 AM   #6
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Too bad about your 2500 getting totalled! What you described is why I avoid the 07-13 vehicles unless its a VERY good price. I know people have gone well over 200k on the DOD stuff but I'd prefer not to take my chances. I looked at an 07 with 130k on it that ran great, and was cheap enough that I could buy the DOD delete stuff and be well ahead of the game, but it was pretty beat up and the trans was starting to not want to shift (typical 2-3 shift issues with the 4L60) so I passed. I was looking specifically for an 03-06 2500 and got lucky enough to find this one in my price range.

Its also had its transfer case replaced due to the wear through, with what appears to be a GM part (Im guessing a reman from GM?)

I had found a 2005 Yukon XL 2500 with under 100k but it was double my budget for this vehicle, and the family loves the leather/rear entertainment/etc and the Yukon was the base model.


Glad to hear you loved yours as well! The more I drive this one, the more I like it. It definitely needs an alignment and as I mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of the Duratracs for the driving I do, but the tires can wait until next year and I'll get the alignment done before our big road/offroad trip to the outer banks, NC in November.
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Old 09-24-2020, 05:48 PM   #7
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Yea we were pretty sad to see that truck go. But it was really beaten up. Was a beautiful truck before the storm, leather, sunroof, LT.
The funny thing is the insurance company kind of lowballed us on the value, using 1/2 ton Subs for comps. My wife can be a pit bull if she thinks someone is trying to take advantage of her. She called the adjuster out on it and asked for comps in 2500 only, or to have them find us one! She mentioned I had searched for that truck nationwide and had bought it in TX. They came up $4500 to make her happy!
Anyway seeing your brought back memories of how much we loved ours.
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1970 GMC Sierra Grande, 2500 Custom Camper 133" wb, 402, 4spd.
2007 GMC Sierra Classic, 3500 SRW 4x4, Quad cab longbox, LBZ Duramax/Allison.
1987 Chevy Suburban 2500, Silverado, 2wd, 454, t-400 with US Gear Under/Over drive.
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Old 09-25-2020, 12:51 PM   #8
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg58 View Post
Yea we were pretty sad to see that truck go. But it was really beaten up. Was a beautiful truck before the storm, leather, sunroof, LT.
The funny thing is the insurance company kind of lowballed us on the value, using 1/2 ton Subs for comps. My wife can be a pit bull if she thinks someone is trying to take advantage of her. She called the adjuster out on it and asked for comps in 2500 only, or to have them find us one! She mentioned I had searched for that truck nationwide and had bought it in TX. They came up $4500 to make her happy!
Anyway seeing your brought back memories of how much we loved ours.

I always love hearing stories like yours - minus the totaling it part! Mine is an LT as well - but no sunroof surprisingly. It seemed to have everything else minus Sunroof and Quadrasteer. It even has the off road package, with skid plates (though not really huge or substantial, better than nothing.)

Glad to have brought up some fun memories for you!
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Old 10-05-2020, 03:15 PM   #9
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Some more updates; the factory Bose speakers sounded OK-ish after 17 years of use, but at least one was fully blown and they were all a bit muddy. I picked up some cheap speakers to throw in place and they definitely made a big improvement for a low cost. Not audiophile or show quality, but they work great for me.

Old BOSE speakers, well worn







New replacement speakers - 5.25 for the rear, 6.5 for the front (I think)





Besides fighting fragile plastic clips inside the door panels, it was a super easy job. The rear speakers screwed in place with the factory holes and hardware. The front required a bracket that Crutchfield sent me for free - and the screws included with the speakers worked fine. Crutchfield also sent along some adapter harnesses so I didnt have to cut the factory in door wiring.






I also grabbed a junkyard RSE control unit with HVAC controls to replace my well worn and only partially functional one. Super easy swap - pry the old one out gently with a flathead screwdriver, unplug it, plug the new one in and push it into the open hole. I need to deep clean my new junkyard unit but the kids are wicked happy they can control their temperature now.







And, of course, there are always the fun things you find when disassembling older used vehicles. In this case, coloring book pages and gum wrappers.

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Old 10-05-2020, 03:23 PM   #10
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

This Suburban was worked pretty hard over its life. It seems to have been a family hauler/work vehicle. Lots of small dings and scratches in the paint, but overall the paint is actually in decent shape and cleaned up well. I do my own car detailing/paint correction and restoration. On this one, I just used cheap off the shelf stuff and it made a huge difference. Kids love helping me with detailing - and with the size of this bus, I was happy to have the help!

Hood scratches before, with some hazing



Hood scratches after - no cover product on yet (no wax/sealant, just after a gentle compound and polish.) Whats left are only ones you can catch with your fingernail, and will likely require either a wet sand or a full respray. Not worth it to me on this vehicle.





Just cheap harbor freight polisher, with HF pads (I only use the orange/peach, and black - the black provides a finer finish in the same time as the blue "medium" pad from them when using the polish and compound I used on this vehicle.)





I use the same brand polish, and ultimately top coat with the same brand Sealant (they call it "Ultimate Wax" but its a sealant) for daily drivers of my own. When I did customer cars, I used higher quality stuff, but for my cars this stuff works fine and gets them 85% of the way to perfect. Good enough for my daily drivers.




Its been kind of rainy here, so no full photos at this time, but here's a good example of the reflectivity after a good wash/clay/compound/polish/seal routine.

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Old 10-06-2020, 02:15 PM   #11
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

I did a speaker upgrade on my 07 Sierra shortly after I bought it. That was one of the best things I did. Nothing fancy just better stuff than worn out OEM.
Looks great!
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1970 GMC Sierra Grande, 2500 Custom Camper 133" wb, 402, 4spd.
2007 GMC Sierra Classic, 3500 SRW 4x4, Quad cab longbox, LBZ Duramax/Allison.
1987 Chevy Suburban 2500, Silverado, 2wd, 454, t-400 with US Gear Under/Over drive.
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Old 10-07-2020, 09:18 AM   #12
skyphix
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Re: 2003 Chevrolet Suburban 2500 - Road Trips/Light Overlanding/Daily Driver

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg58 View Post
I did a speaker upgrade on my 07 Sierra shortly after I bought it. That was one of the best things I did. Nothing fancy just better stuff than worn out OEM.
Looks great!


I hadn't planned on it, but I noticed the rear speakers were muddy at best, blown at worst. The fronts still sounded good but I wanted to make sure it was balanced. We have some long road trips planned for this fall so I figured it'd make sense to have decent quality audio for the road. The only "downside" I'm seeing so far is that these new speakers want a little more power - just means I have to turn the stereo up a little more. Not really an issue.

I was impressed with how the paint cleaned up too - 17 year old GM's don't always have the best paint quality but what isn't chipped off shined nicely!
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