Sunday, September 16, 2012

2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali "Story"

OK, so not a racecar post, but I thought I would update on one year of ownership of my truck so far.  As many of you may know from talking to me and many of you might not know, I traded in my old 2005 Ford F350 Lariat in about one year ago.  So a little background there, I bought that truck used despite multiple warnings from people regarding the "6.Blow" engine.  I did not take their advice thinking the truck was still under warranty, and I would just buy an extended warranty in case anything should go wrong.

Well, stuff started going wrong almost immediately.  EGR coolers, Oil coolers, and injectors were the all starting to get replacements on a routine basis.  Lucky for me, all of these failures happened around town.  Being a bit scared, I decided to buy an Allstate RV Roadhelp Roadside Assistance Plan (kind of like AAA but for people who tow).  That came in handy more than a few times.  First time, my HPOP (High Pressure Oil Pump) failed leaving me stranded.  Once that was fixed, more troubles came.  Transmission transfer case switch broke leaving me with no 4WD in a big snowstorm.  Then my turbo was sticking and I was having boost issues.  That was replaced and finally, from the very tow last year to Mid-Ohio Nationals, I was stranded on the side of the road for 4 hours waiting for two tow trucks to come haul the rig and trailer.  Second turbo had blown.  I was still under extended warranty, and my whole plan of having a truck under warranty did not seem so great now that I was sitting on the side of the road.  Did not factor in what would happen if the truck broke while I was far away from home.

So I decided to buy a new truck.  I was considering a Ford since their new trucks were very nice, but then their customer service absolutely turned me off.  At first, Ford sent out investigators before they would approve the warranty work telling me it was routine.  I viewed it as them trying to skirt the repair.  Mind you, the 2nd "new" turbo was JUST put in by on of their other dealers.  Then I had to pay for my transportation 450 miles back home.  I had to call a buddy to take me to Columbus to fly home, paid my own plane ticket and paid for the return trip back out to get my truck.  What if I did not have a buddy in Columbus?  Would I have had to foot a bill for a rental car and hotel room for the 2 weeks it took them to fix the truck?  Ford would have none of it.  They declined to even entertain the thought of reimbursing me anything.  Being that I tow all over the place, I thought the least they could do was extend my warranty some for piece of mind.  No dice.  So F-you Ford!  I started looking around for new trucks and made it a personal mission to not recommend Fords to any of my fellow racers buying new trucks based on my horrific experience.

After lots of research, I ended up trading in the Ford for a 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali.  Being end of year, I had slim pickings.  Searched almost the entire east coast before finding one from Sharrett GMC (Hagerstown, MD).  Super easy to deal with and got a sweet deal and awesome trade in price for my Ford.

That was about 1 year ago.  Here I am a full year and 12,000+ miles later.  That's almost 12k miles of tow duty and nothing else.  The truck has performed flawlessly.  So in an effort to help those who use these trucks for the sole purpose of hauling, I decided to do short review if you will of my experience thus far.


  • I liked the GM layout better than the gaudy Ford toy looking interior.  Gauges are laid out nicely and all within sight.  I wish the "DIC:Driver Information Center" was a bit more informative to give me more data.  How about telling me when the truck is in regen-mode?  How much boost Im making?  EGT temps?  Im used to racing a car with data for every little thing and all this data should be in a data-bus somewhere.  The Ford wins out here with their color display showing everything.  Granted the GMC is from 2007, it is a bit dated.  Hoping their new truck in 2014 will address this. 
  • The seats are super comfortable.  Heated/Cooled.  On long hauls, your butt stays nice and comfy.  I found the Ford seats to be a bit firmer.  Rear seats are nice and they fold up leaving a nice flat storage area.  I rarely use the rear for seating and mainly for storage and I find it ample.
  • Needs powered, telescoping mirrors.  Yes, I tend to forget, and then have to pull over, and yank them out.  No big deal normally, but when youre towing a 44' trailer, it can get annoying.  
  • Needs way  more interior storage.  The glovebox is tiny and the center console is equally tiny compared to both Ford and Dodge.  Lacks cupholders which comes in handy on long trips when I need multiple energy drinks! 
  • The NAV is typical-GM and is adequate.  I would have loved a better interface with my iPhone for not only music but making calls, etc.  Again, this truck is based off a 2007 design.  Inputting all your own contact lists into the truck is cumbersome and should not be needed.  I should be able to just grab anything I want from my phone via Bluetooth.  When I was looking at the Dodge, the one thing I noticed was the sub-par Garmin-based system they use.  Low resolution and looked like a zoomed in app 2X mode on iPad.  That turned me off on the Dodge.  Granted I rarely use my NAV anyways (I prefer my iPhone), a "truck mode" or "towing mode" would be helpful so I dont get trapped somewhere while towing.
  • Speaking of Dodge, the GM does a nice job of hiding all the random seat rails, bolts, etc.  Cannot say the same about the Dodge I test drove.  The metal seat rails were exposed, the metal seat mounts exposed with bolts, etc.  A $60k MSRP truck should definitely have all minor details addressed. 
  • Heated steering wheel is a nice touch, but it takes too long to warm up.  They should also have tied it into the remote start.
  • When trying to hookup a gooseneck, it seems the rear window is too short?  I cannot see the ball (and Im tall).  Maybe add in a 2nd camera for hooking up a gooseneck or 5th wheel trailer.


  • The truck sits lower than my old Ford did.  Gets you into parking garages, etc. 
  • The high polished wheel option only polishes one side of the wheels which means you can't rotate them without it looking silly.
  • Clearance lights on roof are all LED in a low profile design.  Very nice. 
  • Telescoping Mirrors needed (see above). 
  • The headlights are amazing for a halogen based system.  Very nice horizontal cutoff. 
  • Truck does not sag much despite the weight it is carrying. 
  • The OEM side step rails need to be lower.  They sit way too high so when youre wearing thick boots or shoes, you hit the truck.  
  • The one AWESOME thing about this truck is the hitch receiver adapter.  It has a flared end edge so the adapter doesnt keep sliding into the hitch when trying to line it up.  I don't tow a TAG trailer often, but when I do, it makes hooking up a breeze.  My Ford friends have a huge hassle here when they are trying to slide their receiver balls in.  Unsure about Dodge.
  • This is where the GM shines.  The Duramax/Allison combo is a blast to drive.  The shifts are near seamless despite being almost 26k GCVW.  
  • Ive been getting roughly 10-11MPG towing a 44' enclosed gooseneck.  About 15-16MPG "city" and 18-20MPG highway.
  • Everyone complains about having to fill the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), but it is a non-issue for me.  Pop the hood and refill.  You can go quite a while before refilling it.  I refill when I get home from a long trip and never worry about it.  The stuff is pretty cheap at truck stops (Pilot, TA, etc) around $2.79/G.  You can also get it at your local parts store for around $10-15 for 2.5G.  
  • Did I mention it is a hoot to drive?  I typically tow across PA to OH a few times a year through the mountains and the truck did not miss a beat.  Granted I usually drive on the side of saving MPGs, I never had any issues.  My Ford would sound like it was about to blow up.  The clatter was loud, the fans blaring and the turbo high pitched.  
  • The engine brake is amazing.  As said, in those mountains, I could just let the thing coast down the grades many times without even touching the brakes.  
  • When tooling around town to grab food and fuel when at the track, the truck rides very nice.  No doubt the independent front suspension aids in this.  The engine is quiet and the steering response is VERY good.  Im used to driving a car with accurate feedback and the steering wheel is not super loose like the Fords I have driven.  
In conclusion, I am super happy with the truck.  Ive been regularly hauling around 26k GCVW which is near CDL levels.  The truck handles it perfect and Im sure it could handle more with ease.  Next update will come after winter.  Hopefully it snows a lot and I get a chance to put a plow on ;) 

And some more pictures of the truck doin' work: 

O yea, and a picture of the HUGE hub: 


  1. Super write up! You have a very nice looking rig. I've spent many hours and miles towing with a 2002 Duramax (with a 35 foot Exiss car hauler gooseneck that looks a lot like yours) and also a 2005 and in my opinion the Duramax/Allison combo is unbeatable. Would love to drive a 2011 or newer.