Cars Of A Lifetime: 1982 Chevy Suburban – Or What’s The Worst Vehicle You’ve Ever Owned?

If you’re a fan of Led Zeppelin, you might want to put on The Lemon Song for this one. Yes, after owning an Audi and many Volkswagens, this one, a Chevy Suburban of all things, takes the cake for the absolute lemoniest and most frightening of them all!

Our family was growing, and an Audi 4000 just didn’t cut the mustard nay more.  Michelle wanted a big family hauler. One day she told me in an exited voice that there was a Suburban for sale real cheap down the road.  I was nonplussed and told her that there was probably a good reason it was so cheap. But she insisted that I come and see it. I refused, because 1) it was a GM product from the 80’s; 2)  it wasn’t even four wheel drive;  and 3) I hated Suburbans. So while I was at work she made some phone calls and got to bargaining with the owner.  When I got home she informed me that I would be trading my engine hoist and four hundred dollars for the Suburban. So I did.

Apparently this vehicle, and I use that word in the loosest sense of the term,  had not been driven for awhile. So it needed a battery, gas, the brakes needed bleeding, etc. When I finally got it home, it did not run well. But at this point I think I will let Michelle tell the story as she was the one driving it most of the time:

The first time I saw the white Chevy suburban, it was love at first sight. I was driving out in the country and I passed this house with a two-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban for sale. I had wanted one for a long time. At that time a decent Suburban was more than I could afford. I slowed down and looked at the price. They only wanted $600 for it. I did’t have it at the time, so I wrote down the phone number and when I got home I called them. I am a little fuzzy on how all of this happened, but initially I talked to them and they thought that they had it sold. Then about two months later I was at the grocery store and the people that owned the Suburban put a note on my window that they still had the Suburban and were willing to make a trade if I did not have the money.

I was very excited but I knew Michael did’t think that it was a good Idea at all. I drove home and told him the good news, and he sighed, mightily. So I called the people to see what they would trade for. It turns out that the man wanted an engine hoist and we happened to have one so we drove down there with the engine hoist and three hundred dollars. It started up with some help (it had been sitting a while.). It seemed to work ok for the price.  I drove it away with my husband following me. I loved the truck and its nice intact upholstery. If I remember correctly it had electrical issues but Michael straightened those out fairly quickly.

I am not a great judge of what is good or bad in a vehicle. I am perhaps a typical women in that I like what I like, and it does not matter about anything else. I probably should have heeded Michael’s sighing, especially since it was so loud. It was a complete lemon.

The electrical problems that Michael “fixed”? Well they kept getting worse. We lived out in the country at the time and our family would drive back and forth to Salem from the small town we lived in. One night that I remember vividly: my mother, grandmother, children, and I were driving home from town and the whole electrical system shut down in the rain. We were way out in the country, and we had no lights, wind shield wipers, heat, nothing. And to make matters worse, the brakes also went out on a hill in the rain. Two old women, and children crying in the back, in the country, on a deserted road, going fifty mph with no brakes.

This was probably one of the scariest moments of my life. I needed to figure out quickly what to do next. So I did the only thing I could do: I threw the automatic transmission into first, and the truck lurched and started to slow. I turned onto a side road to help slow it more and put on the emergency brake. The truck was not going very fast at this point, however it still squealed. I don’t remember all the specifics of that night (I have probably blocked it out!). But some how we got that beast to a friend’s house where I called my Michael. This was not the first time that it broke down and did weird things, but it was the worst and last. I am not sure what happened to the truck and at that point I didn’t care. I swore never to pick a vehicle again.

As for myself, I just remember it being a piece of crap. I remember it dropping gears left and right until there was only second gear. We drove it all the way to town that way once, and then the alternator went out.  After the no brakes experience Michelle and the ladies had with it, I was through with it, and she was too. It brought at least two hundred dollars in scrap money from the metal though!

It’s a funny thing, even my Audi was more dependable than that Suburban. It goes to show, it’s not as much about what you buy as it is about how it’s been taken care of (with some notable exceptions). But it taught me that when buying a used car on the cheap, never to buy something with multiple system issues. Take for instance a car that had a very bad front suspension and bad tires. If the other parts of it were in good shape, it might be worth fixing. But lets say it also needed a water pump and the radio is broken. In that case it’s obviously been neglected and there will surely be system wide issues with it.

Of course if you really want a good used car, just spring for a two year old one that has already had the first owner eat the initial depreciation on it as it rolled off the lot. Usually first owners are good with the maintenance as well. Second owners, usually the first one’s kids, not so much.  And third owners, well they are just buying something cheap and treat it like something cheap. Usually after them it should really go to the scrapyard. But at least in my state it usually gets sold to someone who does not have a drivers license and is only buying it because the registration tags are still good. These cars are really the living dead, the zombies of the auto world and they are (only) worth their weight in iron .

And thus ends our treatise on the white whale. This was a cautionary tale; learn from my mistakes and advance up the automotive food chain! And I swear to you the next car will not be a Rabbit of any kind. You believe me don’t you? Now the big question is what’s the worst vehicle you have ever owned?