Making the Right Truck Choice


By Jim Favors

A few years ago, we met a couple in Anacortes, Washington who owned a 60-foot motor yacht. Shortly after giving us a tour of their spacious and palatial vessel, the husband informed us they had recently put the boat up for sale and had ordered a 70 footer of the same make. He was not bragging by any means and it was obvious to us that they had the wherewithal to pull off this economic feat. When I asked him the reason for making a change, thinking to myself the 60-footer was so new and seemed so perfect in every way, he stated that the guest stateroom was just not large enough. Being the frugal guy I am, I couldn’t help but ask him about the logic of being the owner of two rather large boats at the same time. I’ll never forget his quick reply, “The only thing worse than owning two boats is not owning any at all!”

The guy peeking out the cockpit door of the boat just over Rick’s (left) shoulder is the guy who gave us the tour of his 60- footer that he had just put up for sale.

Well that’s exactly where Lisa and I have found ourselves, boat-less. As we enter the prime boating season in the Great Lakes, we have no boat. The good news, as reported in the last log, is that we have placed an order for a 27’ Ranger Tug to be built this summer. The not so good news is that we won’t take delivery until the mid to end of August. So here we sit with no boat and plenty of time to contemplate our friend’s statement about being boat-less. With all this spare time on our hands we’ve had plenty of time to research what truck would best suit our towing needs. After countless hours of comparison-shopping, weighing all the available options, we’ve decided to purchase a new GMC Sierra Heavy Duty truck.

There are many reasons why we chose a GMC but the strongest underlying factor were all the people I had talked with who did nothing but praise the GM Duramax Diesel engine. I polled boat owners who trailer their boats and most owned a Chevrolet or GMC. The overall opinion was, when a GMC or Chevy was equipped with the Duramax Diesel, the driver hardly even notices that they’re towing a boat; the engine is that strong. Buying an American made product is always important to us and foremost in our minds as we evaluated each contender for both boat and truck. We had decided we needed a 3/4- ton truck with diesel power, 4WD, crew cab with a trailer towing package and trailer towing mirrors – the GMC just made sense to us.

The Duramax diesel sits on the left, the size is impressive!

General Motors first introduced the Duramax in 2000. Before then General Motors only owned about 3% of the diesel pickup market. After 11 years and over 1.2 million dollars, GM Duramax powered diesel trucks have been produced, they now own over 30% of the diesel truck business. With that big of an increase people must be happy! For 2011 the engine torque was increased to 765 lb-ft, the horse power tops out at 397HP while the newly improved and more powerful Duramax delivers 11 percent better highway fuel economy and there’s even more good news.

Besides owner testimonials about the Duramax Diesel engine there were four other built-in features that swayed us over to the GMC Sierra; the truck frame, the rear differential, the HD trailer sway StabiliTrak and the new diesel exhaust brake. Because this is a major purchase, most people like myself would want to maximize their dollar, so I’m glad I stumbled across these features in my research for a new towing truck.

 Rear differential where the Eaton Locker automatically adds traction when needed; also check out the drive shaft size.

When towing a 10,000-lb boat, I obviously want a strong enough engine, but what good is that if the total combined package doesn’t match up to the challenge? For my towing needs, I liked the fact that the Sierra HD for 2011 has the strongest frame they’ve ever built into an HD truck. The newly designed fully boxed frame is engineered for a maximum Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 29,200 lbs., which happens to be the highest rating in its class. The new frame also provides a smoother ride, which translates into less body fatigue while underway; we’ll be less worn out when we arrive at our destination and not too tired to splash the boat.

The next feature, optional on the SLE package we ordered, is the fully automatic locking rear differential. According to General Motors no other competitor in the HD class offers this feature. Even though we’ll have 4WD I can see the safety benefit of having the addition of this differential. When pulling a boat out of the water, on a slippery, slimy covered boat ramp, is when I see this feature really paying for itself. When the sensors detect a difference in the left and right rear wheel speed greater then 100 rpm’s both rear wheels lock into place and turn in unison for added traction on that slippery boat ramp.

Towing can take on an added element of risk not usually associated with normal highway driving, so it’s important to mitigate this risk as much as possible. The GMC Sierra HD has a standard trailer sway control that uses the built-in StabiliTrak sensors to monitor the trucks motion that could indicate trailer sway. If sway is detected the StabiliTrak applies the proper braking that’s needed to bring the trailer back to center. Lisa and I plan on doing a lot of towing to reach the different cruising grounds we plan on visiting all over the country. Whether we encounter high winds, rain or snow covered slick roads we thought this standard StabiliTrak added an additional degree of safety for our travels.

Finally, when I’m towing our Ranger Tug 27 the last thing I want to be concerned about is my ability to stop, especially when negotiating a downhill run. The Sierra HD, when powered by the optional Duramax diesel, has what’s called a diesel exhaust brake as standard equipment. This new innovative feature has a select button, meant to be activated when needed while hauling heavy loads (like our boat, trailer and equipment) downhill. When activated (and I quote the GMC brochure), “The smart brake varies negative torque needed, based on the truck load and grade. This helps reduce brake fade, extends brake life and gives drivers plenty of confidence when hauling heavy loads downhill.” So for me, reduced brake fade and extended brake life equal less money spent on maintenance and more confidence while mitigating the risk of towing!

 Motor Trends coveted HD truck trophy, displayed near the entrance of the factory where they are assembled.

Motor Trend awards are highly touted by the auto manufacturers and rightfully so. When you have a group of industry professionals evaluating a segment of cars or trucks that are inline to receive their annual awards, the general public pays attention to the results. The Chevrolet Silverado won Motor Trend Truck of the Year award for 2011 and by association most would feel the GMC Sierra shares the award. Carlos Lago is quoted in a Motor Trend online article as stating, “the GMC Sierra is essentially the same vehicle we’ve dubbed the 2011 truck of the year.” The fact that General Motors received Motor Trend’s award certainly didn’t hinder our buying decision. In reality the article I read, after we had already made our buying decision, highlighted some of the same reasons I listed as rationale for the Silverado receiving the distinguished Motor Trend Truck of the Year Award.

Lisa and I live in Michigan, home of the Flint Truck Assembly Plant, and where the Chevrolet and GMC HD trucks are assembled. Shortly after we placed the order for our new truck with Bill Marsh GMC, our Traverse City, Michigan hometown dealer, I made contact with the plant in Flint. Our mission was to make arrangements for a tour of the assembly plant. We wanted to see first hand how the HD truck is built as well as gain an understanding and appreciation of what goes into the production and assembly process. We are always curious about how things are made, guess you could say we’re kind of “plant tour junkies.” /p>

 The Flint Assembly Plant, where our HD GMC was built, has a 60-year history, including the production of the first Corvettes in 1953.

When Bob Hooks, UAW Joint Activity Rep, called me back he not only said we could make arrangements for a plant tour but that we could see our truck come off of the assembly line, how sweet is that? For a car nut like myself, this was a lifelong dream come true. I was not only going to be able to see American manufacturing’s ingenuity and engineering working at its best but I was going to be doing it with the final result being our new truck. As I’m writing this I’m thinking about how fortunate I am to be able to buy a new truck and have Lisa with me enjoying every step along the way; an added bonus that most guys would envy. Our ultimate goal is to get back out on the water and with a trailerable boat it obviously can’t be accomplished without the truck, so this puts us one step closer.

 What a beauty and the GMC is not bad looking either.

Lisa and I have just returned from our tour of the Flint Assembly Plant and we both agree wholeheartedly that what we saw and heard during our first class tour could fill volumes. We have so much to share about our experience that we’ve decided to dedicate the next two logs, “Made in the USA” (part one and two), to sharing what we learned during our three-hour tour.