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Meet Tatanka, my 99 Suburban K1500

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  • Meet Tatanka, my 99 Suburban K1500

    A few months ago I managed to acquire a 99 Chevy Suburban K1500 for a hell of a price. How I got it and the history of it that I know is a story in itself, so I hope you guys are in the mood for some stories.

    First, the basics. it's a 99 4x4 Suburban with the extended wheelbase (basically it's a single cab pickup with an enclosed 8 foot bed), Vortech 350, 4L80E, stock wheels from a later year with oversize tires, loaded with options that make it a hell of a long distance high speed cruiser. It had 215,000 miles when I got it, and I went against one of my rules by buying a car with over 200,000 miles, but there are extenuating circumstances I will get into later. The body has some rust, but given it's Wisconsin, it's remarkably solid for a 21 year old car. I only know the history of it for the past 2 years or so, but it has been well maintained and looked after. Things like a new trans pan put on when he did a trans flush. The oil pump was replaced with a Melling high volume when oil pressure dropped. Lots of routine maintenance as well as things like full on fuel system and upper intake cleaning. Recent pads and rotors. Lots of stuff wrong, lots of stuff needing attention and fixing, but lots of stuff right and it runs and drives solid.

    Not bad for $1500. OK, I got a freakin steal for that price. Full size 4x4's less than $3000 are rarer than fangs on a frog up here.

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    It has third row seating, leather no less.

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    I don't have that many friends, so I took out the third row. Whaddayaknow, a full sheet of plywood fits back there!

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    I love this friggin truck.
    Last edited by tedly; January 27, 2020, 09:53 PM.
    I'm probably wrong

  • #2
    When I brought it home, Keni (my fiancee) almost immediately dubbed it Tatanka, the Lakota word for buffalo in Dances with Wolves. It stuck.

    I'm probably wrong


    • #3
      you can never go wrong with a 'burb. Future note, next time you look - give me specifics, I passed on a running 95 with 160k for $300 (pretty sure the smell would never come out).... but I paid $300 for my white diesel, and I think average has been $500..... it's funny, as 'hated' as they are around here, there are sure a lot of them.... and no salt, so no rust, no sun so no cracked dashes, just lots and lots of miles.

      you done good, the 99 has all the bells and whistles.

      mine have all been named 'the Whale' out of respect for the author who got me in love with them
      Last edited by SuperBuickGuy; January 27, 2020, 10:19 PM.
      Doing it all wrong since 1966


      • #4
        With all the work I've done on it and me saying it was still a hell of a deal, Keni was sceptical so she started poking around. While the one in the pic has a lot less miles, it put things in perspective for her. This is a fair representation of what they go for up here. ANY full size 4x4 that runs goes for $2000- $3000.
        I'm probably wrong


        • #5
          Originally posted by tedly View Post
          With all the work I've done on it and me saying it was still a hell of a deal, Keni was sceptical so she started poking around. While the one in the pic has a lot less miles, it put things in perspective for her. This is a fair representation of what they go for up here. ANY full size 4x4 that runs goes for $2000- $3000.
          my wife, who came encumbered with a Prius and Smart car when we met, loves the Suburban (and will never admit it).
          Doing it all wrong since 1966


          • #6
            OK, time to explain the twisted road that Tatanka had to travel to get to me. To do that, first I must explain Werner. Oh boy... here goes...

            Werner is a good friend of mine, he grew up dirt poor on a reservation up north. He is absolutely brilliant, easily could be in Mensa, but he has been through more traumatic, f***ed up things than anyone I have ever met. And that's saying a lot. There is absolutely no filter between his brain and his mouth. None. Not even a spot where one should be.

            First time I met him, we were working together. I was in the office doing something and he comes up uncomfortably close behind me, takes a deep breath through his nose and says "You smell different when you're awake." Then walks off. Uhhhh.... What the... ?!

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            Once he walked up to me, says "I masturbate when I'm scared", and wanders off again.

            When he tried quitting smoking, he got a vaporizer (otherwise known as a douche-flute) and went to the local cigarette and vape store to get the liquid. He and his wife walk in, talk with the guy behind the counter for a minute, then the guy asks "So what flavor do you want?"
            Werner - I don't know, something gay and fruity.
            Counter guy - ..........
            Werner - Let me guess. You're gay.
            Counter guy nods slowly
            Werner - So go with what you know.
            Counter guy - You're an asshole, and I should be mad, but somehow I'm not.
            Werner - It's a gift.
            Turns out each staff member had their own custom flavor, and this guys was a mixture of different berry flavors. Werner ended up buying it.

            The man used to drink a 30 pack of Busch Light a day.

            His temper and protectiveness of women and children are damn near legendary. He was having a really bad day a couple years ago. A carload of guys in their late teens/early twenties decided it would be fun to harass him and yell at him at a stoplight. They got caught by the train a few blocks up the road. He left the four of them strewn out on the road in various states of consciousness and drove home.

            I could make an entire thread of nothing but how insane and bizarre it can be having him as a friend.

            The Suburban showed up in the parking lot of a local semi-shady character mechanic. Werner knew the guy and talked to him about it, but he wanted too much for it. A few days later He gets a phone call from the mechanics wife. Dude had been arrested, needed bail money, and would sell the Suburban for exactly that much. $1500 later and Werner now owns it. He has it for a couple years, and wants something different. I over hear him telling a coworker he's thinking about selling it and say I could be interested in it, depending on the price. Two days later he shoves the title in my hand, says "Pay me the $1500 whenever. Oh, we gotta go get it from my dads tonight after work so I hope you didn't have any plans." and wanders off. We had never discussed anything, and he had never said anything when I said I might be interested.

            So now I own a 99 Suburban.
            Last edited by tedly; January 31, 2020, 10:34 PM.
            I'm probably wrong


            • #7
              So I've had the Suburban a few days, and I'm loving this beast of a truck. Lots of things needing attention, but I desperately needed a 4x4 for our place during the winter, and it's been a long time since I've had a functioning full size truck. I get in one dreary, drizzly morning and it's raining.

              INSIDE THE TRUCK.


              Turns out Werner had installed the cab lights a week or so before selling the truck to me. He did a great job with it, but the screws holding the lenses to the base were just a hair too long. They bottomed out and pushed the whole unit up just enough to break the seal but not be noticeable. This was the first time it had rained since he put them in so no way he knew about it. I ended up sealing the underside with epoxy and where they seal to the roof with silicone.

              Problem solved. Roughly $20 worth of material, so we're at $1520.

              Except my dumbass was so intent on getting the things sealed and stopping the leak, I forgot to plug in the center light before it became permanently attached to the truck.

              I'm probably wrong


              • #8
                Not too long after that, the blower motor starts screeching like a cat in heat. Uh uh. That's gotta go. Winter's coming and I need heat and defrost. While I have the blower motor out, I hose down the heater core with degreaser and get as much of the accumulated grime and dirt off that I can. There's no cabin filter in these, so that's what ends up getting gunked up first.

                $50 for the blower motor, so we're up to $1570.
                I'm probably wrong


                • #9
                  Originally posted by SuperBuickGuy View Post

                  my wife, who came encumbered with a Prius and Smart car when we met, loves the Suburban (and will never admit it).
                  Keni loves cars, she used to have a 57 Chevy, several different Camaros, and some other cool stuff including a couple Suburbans back in the day. She's never been involved with someone that knows how to fix their own cars though. things have been tight financially since I snapped my hand off my arm last year. We've actually spent over $12,000 on cars and repairs last year as well. When I talk about things that need done to the Suburban, she still sees the price tag of having a shop do those things. Sitting down, listing the things I've done to our cars and how much the parts cost, then how much it would cost to have a shop do them for us was really eye opening for her. She kinda thought this was going to be a money pit at first, even though she liked it and thought it was cool. Now she helps me plan out what needs to be done when and asks every payday "What's next on the Suburban?".
                  Last edited by tedly; January 31, 2020, 11:10 PM.
                  I'm probably wrong


                  • #10
                    Subscribing. Your stories have a mesmerizing lilt to them which I completely fall in line with Teddy.

                    Has Keni ever told you that you have the most, ahem, interesting friends? That’s what Christy once told me.

                    Tell Werner that Stiney says hey. If I don’t know him that’s ok, it just feels like I should or might.

                    Of all the paths you take in life - make sure a few of them are dirt.


                    • #11
                      Werner here is a cool redhead, half as crazy. We all'd get along!


                      • #12
                        A few weeks after getting her, Tatanka starts misfiring. Not bad at first, just an occasional stumble. But it gets steadily worse. <sigh> It's a Vortec, it's probably the damn cap and rotor. Those things are notorious for going out within 6 months to 2 years. Just a stupid damn design. When I was at Autozone we'd sell tons of them, especially after a hard rain. Most distributor caps have a lifetime warranty one available, these only have 5 year warranties on the best ones. Looks like I'm getting one on the next paycheck.

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                        Well, next paycheck rolls around and it's misfiring so bad I didn't want to drive the 30 minutes into Janesville, I was seriously wondering if it would make it. Found a Napa 15 minutes away and grabbed a Napa Gold distributor cap and rotor. $80, so now I'm up to $1650.

                        I limp it on in to work because I was already running behind. I let Werner know what was going on. Next thing I know, he's crawled into the engine compartment and is changing it out for me. Turns out he had just replaced the plugs, wires, cap and rotor not to long ago. The one on the engine had some corrosion, but not bad. Huh, must be arcing out internally. I've seen that a lot as well.

                        Ran beautifully.

                        For about 30 minutes, then started sputtering again, but not nearly as bad.


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                        OK, it's very minor right now and I just blew my wad getting the best piece of junk cap I could. I'll just live with it until I can dig deeper and figure this out.
                        Last edited by tedly; February 2, 2020, 11:18 PM.
                        I'm probably wrong


                        • #13
                          Right about that time, life thinks I must be getting bored from things going smooth and easy for a bit, so it decides to shake things up. Again. Werner's in the hospital for a week. Right after he gets out, my brother is in the hospital for 3 or 4 days. He has a mean infection after having surgery on his feet. That turns into a bone infection. Look up osteomyelitis, it's not fun. I'll add a link at the bottom to make it easy for you. And we have more car troubles with the other ones in the flock I tend. And... Well, Let's not go there, you guys don't need gory details. Lots of stuff popped up that took priority over a running, functioning car that still got me around.

                          The misfire gets bad again. I finally get the time and money to go a little deeper. The check engine light was on since I got it. Bank 1 sensor 2 O2 sensor circuit - so drivers side, after the cat oxygen sensor is throwing a fit. Normally no biggie, but gas mileage will down. Oxygen sensors measure unburned air/fuel mixture in the exhaust and tell the computer how to fine tune how much fuel goes into the combustion chambers. (Oversimplification, I know, but just going for basic concept here). Since you can't really mess up an engine by running rich (unless you dump so much fuel you hydrolock it), but can REALLY f*#k it up running lean, when they go bad they default to telling the computer to run rich, hence the gas mileage goes down. Now, what if it's running rich enough to foul out the plugs? Unlikely, but gas fouled plugs will cause a misfire. Plus, it's a known problem, so might as well go with the known problem first. Also, the plug wires might be arcing out against something, or even each other. Werner had put new ones on, but he can be impatient as hell, and I'm not sure if he was still drinking at that point, so who knows what's going on. Come to think of it, plugs might not be gapped right either. He is a good mechanic and knows what he's doing, but something is making this truck misfire. Cap and rotor are done, these are next in line.

                          OK, plugs, wires, and an O2 sensor it is. I'll snag them and anything not needed I'll just take back. Get to the parts store, and scan it just to be sure no other codes have popped up. O2 sensor, know that. Random misfire twice. Duh, that's why I'm here. Cam/crank relationship??? What the...??? Normally I'd be looking at the crank position sensor or cam position sensor. That misfire is bad though. OK, maybe when it's misfiring really bad, it's messing with the sensors. Or maybe the timing chain is stretched. Or it's jumped a tooth.


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                          Stick to the plan, let's see what the plugs and wires look like, and hopefully the O2 sensor will help as well.
                          Last edited by tedly; February 3, 2020, 12:56 AM.
                          I'm probably wrong


                          • #14
                            99 Suburbans came with platinum plugs from the factory, and were designed to run on them. I have an internal battle for a minute on whether or not I want to spend the money and get the platinum plugs or save a few bucks and get the coppers. I don't know if it will fix the problem, and like I said, times are tight. Every dollar spent on something I don't need is a dollar less to spend on things I do. It's just one step down from platinum to copper. I should be ok. The cheapskate in me wins.

                            Plugs, wires, and O2 sensor, about $100, so now I'm at about $1750.

                            Following a tip from Werner, I drive around for bout 15 minutes to get the exhaust hot before changing the O2 sensor. It's probably the original one and almost certainly has tried to weld itself to the pipe by now. Heating it up makes it easier to break loose. Makes sense, and because i was going to blast it with a blow torch, it's hard to argue that heating it up wouldn't do anything. I just feel like a dumbass for not thinking of it on my own. Guess what? It broke loose easy. Lesson learned.

                            Three of the four O2 sensors are right out in the open, easy to get at, and unobscured. Guess which one is tucked up by the framerail, facing it, and a pain in the ass to get to. If you said drivers side, after the cat you win! After some singed knuckles and a lot of patience, it's swapped. Here's the best picture I could get of it.

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                            Last edited by tedly; February 2, 2020, 11:48 PM.
                            I'm probably wrong


                            • #15
                              never change the post-cat O2 sensors sure you'll have a dash light; however, they are not needed for engine running.

                              be careful pulling O2 sensors when the exhaust is hot - it's about equal odds that it will pull the threads out with the O2 sensor (wire tying it back in place works).

                              before you get too far into this, run a can of Seafoam through - the randomness of the issues, carbon could be a big issue. Also, while you're running it, do a WD40 test, Vortecs are notorious for intake leaks. When you pull the plugs, take a picture of them in the order they came out....
                              if you don't want to spend for seaform, a gallon of e85 with a full tank does basically the same thing

                              and never buy from NAPA when you can buy from Amazon - I have a motor on my shelf I paid $17 for.... delivered.
                              Last edited by SuperBuickGuy; February 3, 2020, 12:05 AM.
                              Doing it all wrong since 1966