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Half-Year, Real-World Test of the Chevy HD Silverado

After being crowned the winner in the HD version of the Canadian Truck King Challenge in the fall of 2010, I asked GM to provide me with a truck for long-term testing and in January they obliged. This would be the 2011 HD Chevrolet Silverado, a truck that just last year was completely overhauled – starting with the chassis and working up to the engine packages. Over the six months, I put 14,000 km on the truck. It went back with 27,000 km on the engine. It had one oil change while I had it (now due for another) and I’ve had to add DEF (diesel emissions fluid).

July 9, 2012  By Howard J. Elmer

Our truck writer Howard Elmer After being crowned the winner in the HD version of the Canadian Truck King Challenge in the fall of 2010

 The truck GM gave me was a Chevy, 4WD, 2500-series Crew Cab with a 6.5-foot box. It features the LT trim package, which is the mid-range choice. Among its features are a remote vehicle starter, fog lights, and heated power folding trailer mirrors with integral signal indicators. The wheels are upgraded 20-inch tires on polished forged aluminum rims and it also has a chromed tubular step that my five-foot-tall wife wouldn’t do without.

Inside, the truck is outfitted in leather (without the seat heaters, which I regret) with seating for six. The front bench has a centre fold-down seat back, which doubles as an armrest and deep storage bin – however, when flipped up will accommodate that third person. This also means that there is no centre floor console – some consider this a negative but frankly I prefer to have that space open, as this design allows. In the back the flip-up bench seat is split 60/40. Note the centre seat position does not have a headrest, a fact my six-foot son pointed out (after he fell asleep and bounced his head off the rear glass). My truck is also equipped with the Z71 suspension package that includes rear monotube shocks, off-road jounce bumpers, stabilizer bars and off-road skid plates.

Power Plant
The standard engine in the 2500 is the 6L Vortec V-8 gas engine that makes 360 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque (and with the right rear-end [4:10] will tow almost as much as the diesel will) – however, my tester is equipped with the optional Duramax 6.6L turbo diesel engine. Built since 2000 (in several versions) the current upgraded V-8 diesel has a decent legacy along with all-new power ratings of 397 hp and 765 ft.-lb. of torque. Coupled to this engine is the Allison 1000 World transmission. This six-speed automatic works seamlessly and carries the empty or loaded truck with equal ease. It’s one of the features on the HD GM that works the best.

To be able to test the truck properly GM gave me permission to have a combination fifth wheel and gooseneck hitch installed (in addition to the factory spec’d hitch receiver, trailer lighting and braking kit and integrated in-cab trailer brake controller). I called Reese, the hitch manufacturer, and asked them to recommend an appropriate hitch for the variety of testing I planned to do.


The Reese Elite system is unique for two reasons. One, the contact plate can be removed by pulling just two pins – makes removing the hitch from the bed of the truck that much lighter. Second, the hitch base is attached to the frame bracket with four flush-mounted “pucks” that drop through four holes in the bed. With the twist of two handles on the hitch the pucks are locked into place and the hitch is ready to be used. When the hitch is removed the only thing you see are the four round holes that are plugged with Reese-supplied rubber caps. This leaves the bed uncompromised. Reese also suggested that I get the gooseneck hitch installed, as it uses the same under-box rail kit as the fifth wheel. So now in the centre of the four receiver holes is a larger (3 in. diameter) cap that covers the receiver tube for the gooseneck hitch. This hitch ball has a pop-out keyway slot that allows the ball to be removed with the push of a button. This combination can handle up to and past the weight limits on the truck.

Frankly, unless you tow (and manufacturer stats suggest close to 90% of HD truck owners do regularly) you just don’t buy a truck like this. So, for this newest generation of HD Silverado I can say it does this well with all-new limits on each hitch type. The new net tow ratings (GM numbers on the diesel equipped truck) are 13,000 lb. (5,897 kg) ball hitch and 15,600 lb. (7,076 kg) fifth wheel and the same if gooseneck equipped. But this is just the start. A host of other features specifically tailored to towing are included in the truck.

  • Hill-Start is normally found on standard transmissions but this 1.5-second delay now keeps the brakes on while you get your foot from the brakes to the accelerator on the automatic as well.
  • A new exhaust brake is automatic (just push the button once to activate and forget it) and works in sync with the transmission downshifts via sensors and the truck’s brakes. First, on down hills, the transmission holds whatever gear it’s in – it will not up shift. If you decide you’re running a bit fast, just brake till the tranny downshifts and it will now hold that lower gear for even more aggressive slowing.
  • A new trailer sway control system uses the truck’s ABS and StabiliTrak systems to monitor alignment and individual wheel slippage. If the combination were to slip, the truck would brake the trailer and also cut engine power while actuating individual brakes to bring a fishtailing truck and trailer back into line; all automatically.
  • An integrated trailer brake controller is standard.

Two of the features that I’ve been paying close attention to are the Hill-Start and the exhaust brake. The delay Hill-Start delivers is simply nice. It’s convenient and safer for those who sweat rolling back with a load.

The exhaust brake, on the other hand, is a bit more complex but even more valuable. What the brake (just push the button once to activate and forget it) does is work in sync with the transmission downshifts via sensors and the truck brakes. First, on downhills, the transmission holds whatever gear it’s in – and it will not up shift on its own. If you decide you’re running a bit fast, just brake till the tranny downshifts and it will now hold the lower gear for even more aggressive slowing. This is possible as a result of the ABS, trailer sway control and StabiliTrak systems all running in the background. Furthermore if the combination were to slip, the truck can now even brake the trailer and cut engine power while actuating individual brakes to bring a fishtailing trailer back into line; all automatically.

So what have I towed? A Cross Roads Redwood 36R fifth-wheel – 12,700 lb.; a Keystone Raptor fifth-wheel (toy hauler) – 13,590 lb.; and Dutchman Komfort 3530 fifth-wheel – 11,640 lb. The weights I have listed here are dry (or empty) weights. Each of these RVs will carry between 2,000 and 4,000 lb. more when loaded for the road. Also this past spring I acquired a 7,000 lb. car carrier and a 14,000 lb. dump trailer. So, I’ve been dragging those around too. Lastly, I’ve borrowed some ATVs and tractors for testing; these have ranged from 2,500 to 6,000 lb.

Fuel Economy
GM has claimed an 11% improvement in fuel economy with this new generation of truck (diesel powered). My real-world average for the past six months has been 14L/100 km (as a mix of city and highway driving). On longer highway trips this could drop the average to 13L/100 km or even into the high 12s. When towing a moderate load (say 5,000 to 6,000 lb.) the fuel consumption rose to around 17L/100 km. For the heaviest fifth wheel I tested I noted a figure of 23L/100 km. This last number was also a mix of city and highway. These numbers come from the truck’s trip computer and reflect regular driving and towing, under and over the speed limit.

As for problems – sure, there have been a few mostly of the electronic nature. There are electronic boondoggles, starting with the backup sensors. These are the audible warning sensors at the rear of the truck that warn the driver of a stationary object. Almost from the beginning I got an error message telling me it was out of order. After GM looked at it they informed me that the sensors were getting confused because of the hitch I left in the receiver. OK, but isn’t that something that should have been considered on an HD truck? Most guys I know put the hitch in once and it stays there till the truck is sold.

The next issue had to do with the trip computer, which includes the fuel consumption averages. After a weekend of towing, the numbers did not fall when the truck was unhooked. It registered as much as 18L/100 km empty. After speaking to GM I returned it to the factory where they “re-flashed” the computer. This solved the problem.

What I liked:

  • I like the way this truck tows; it squats under the big weights but stays level. There is no lift on the front end so steering remains good and it does not lean in turns. The diesel works hard, but is never taxed and there is never a peep out of the transmission. I also had occasion to use the new standard engine brake. It’s not aggressive (or loud) but it creates enough drag that I probably cut my need to brake in half. This has to be a positive savings on wear and tear – not to mention, on long grades it gives a nice sense of control. For really steep stuff the tranny downshifts and works in concert with the engine brake.
  • With the 120L fuel tank I had a range of close to 1,000 km.
  • The independent front suspension offers a much nicer ride than some other trucks, empty or loaded.
  • More insulation and a steeper windshield incline make this one of the quietest cabs yet.
  • The pull-out trailer mirrors work well and the heated glass is a must-have.

What I didn’t like:

  • The interior is functional but plain. Compared to its competition the Silverado comes up short.
  • The tailgate needs a helper spring to bear the weight of it opening.
  • The quirky electronics.

Pricing Summary
2011 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD 4WD Crew Cab (153″) LT

Truck Base Price    $47,445 MSRP
Total Options    $20,470 MSRP
Truck Total    $67,915

Hitch Costs
Reese Elite 25K
fifth wheel hitch    $1793.61 MSRP
Gooseneck Ball hitch
(No. 30137)    $244.87 MSRP
Hitch Total    $2038.48 MSRP

Howard Elmer is a truck and ATV writer living in rural Ontario. He produced this report for Canadian Forest Industries.

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