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Buying a Used Chevrolet Tahoe: Everything You Need to Know

Anyone who has a big family, big towing needs or big cargo-hauling requirements likely knows about the Chevrolet Tahoe. This full-size SUV has been moving kids and cargo for over 25 years, and each generation simply gets better and better. In many ways, the Tahoe of today is our parents’ and grandparents’ station wagon of yesteryear. Think about it: A long, body-on-frame wagon with 3-row seating, a powerful V8 and enough muscle to tow the family Airstream up the steepest incline. Only unlike those old wagons, the Tahoe offers greater ground clearance, the option of all-wheel drive and advanced safety features designed to keep everyone inside out of harm’s way. The Tahoe makes a great used SUV choice, but it’s not the only one. Competitors like the Ford Expedition, Toyota Sequoia and even the Tahoe’s larger sibling, the Suburban, all offer similar attributes.

Which Chevrolet Tahoe Should I Buy?

The first Chevrolet Tahoe rolled into showrooms in 1995 and continued largely unchanged through the 2000 model year. The Tahoe was offered in both 4-door and 2-door form, with the 2-door having a diesel engine option. The Tahoe was about 20 inches shorter than the Suburban upon which it was based, and the 2-door model was even shorter. However, unlike most large SUVs today, the 2-row Tahoe only had room for five or six people, depending on if the buyer opted for captain’s chair or split-bench front seats. The Tahoe’s standard safety equipment was on the light side by today’s standards but did include a driver’s side airbag and anti-lock disc brakes. Power came from a 5.7-liter V8 good for 250 horsepower. A full-time 4-wheel drive system was added to the Tahoe line in 1998. Trim levels included the LS and LT, with two special edition models (Limited and Z71) that ran in the 2000 model year as carryovers.

On a Budget?

If you’re looking at this generation, we’re going to assume you’re on a tight budget but need the room and power of a full-size SUV. If you’re just looking for a roomy SUV with a 3rd-row seat, better gas mileage and more safety equipment, we’d recommend moving to something like a used Honda Pilot or Chevrolet Traverse. A 25-year old Tahoe is going to have lots of worn-out parts, and unless you’re a good backyard mechanic, a Tahoe from this era will wind up nickel and diming you to death. That said, a quick look at KBB.com’s owner reviews shows Tahoe owners getting between 200,000 and 300,000 miles out of their vehicles, which is pretty impressive even by today’s standards. Prices for a good condition 1996-98 Tahoe with between 125,000 and 200,000 miles fall in the $3,000-$5,000 range.

Modern Updates

The 2nd-generation Tahoe came out in 2000 and ran through the 2006 model year. If you’re looking for a low-priced used Tahoe, we’d take this generation over the first for its better design and improved safety features. For 2000, the 2-door Tahoe was dropped, and the new model received standard driver and front passenger side-impact airbags. A 3rd-row seat option increased seating capacity to eight passengers. Under the hood, two new engines replaced the old 5.7-liter V8. Standard was a 4.8-liter V8 good for 275 hp, with a 5.3-liter V8 putting out 285 hp. Other improvements included a new suspension for a more comfortable ride and better handling.

Chevy made numerous changes to the Tahoe over the years, so if you’re looking for specific features, be sure to pay attention to when they might have been added. In 2002, the Tahoe LS gained standard heated mirrors, driver and passenger side power seats, rear heating, upgraded suspension and a rear defroster. In 2003, the Tahoe got a slight makeover along with available StabiliTrak electronic stability control, a Bose audio system, electronic climate control, power-adjustable pedals and satellite radio. 2004 saw the 5.3-liter V8’s output raised to 295 hp, and in 2005, StabiliTrak and two-piece rear liftgate became standard. Like the first generation, these models have a good reputation for longevity but with expected repairs that can sometimes be costly. We wouldn’t say the Tahoe is as bulletproof as a Toyota Sequoia or Land Cruiser, but it’s close and likely a step above the Ford Expedition and smaller Dodge Durango.

Pricing for the 2nd-generation Tahoe isn’t all that far from the first, but you get so much more in the way of equipment and safety upgrades. A typical price range for a 2002-2004 Tahoe LT with less than 200,000 miles is between $5,000-$7,000.

The Best Used Chevy Tahoe

The Tahoe was again remade in 2007 and continued in this form until 2014. We think this generation is the best place to shop for a used Tahoe. It hits the sweet spot when it comes to a price most families can afford, yet is new enough to include modern safety equipment and in-cabin technology we’ve come to expect. Longer and more spacious than the previous Tahoe, this model’s 3rd-row seat was designed to fold flat but still required removal to get a level cargo floor. A new LTZ trim was introduced, bringing such upscale features as a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, auto-leveling suspension and heated wiper fluid. General Motors had problems with the heated wiper fluid feature, however, and later recalled and disabled the system. Under the hood, the Tahoe’s 5.3-liter V8 featured Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation that greatly improved highway fuel economy to 22 miles per gallon. In 2008, a mild-hybrid Tahoe was offered using a 6.0-liter V8 with two 60kW electric motors. The hybrid claimed an EPA estimated 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway (20/20 for the 4WD model). One other engine option was offered, a 405-hp 6.2-liter V8, but only for 2009 and only on the LTZ.

Some of the more notable changes for the Tahoe include head curtain side airbags made standard in 2008. The 2009 models gained a new 6-speed automatic transmission and removable 3rd-row seat, while new options included the 6.2-liter V8, blind spot monitoring, two different rear camera systems plus Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity. In 2012, Trailer Sway Control was added to the StabiliTrak system, while the LTZ trim gained heated and cooling front seats and a heated steering wheel. The Hybrid trim was dropped for 2014, but the rest of the line gained rear park assist, a rear backup camera, remote start and adjustable pedals.

Pricing for the 3rd-generation Tahoe may vary widely, mostly depending on the trim, year and mileage. Used car pricing on Autotrader.com shows a 2009 Tahoe 2-wheel drive between 125,000 and 150,000 miles runs the gamut from about $9,500-$14,000 depending on trim. A 2014 Tahoe LTZ 4WD with less than 60,000 miles can run as high as $30,000.

Tahoe Depreciation?

The 4th-generation Tahoe runs from 2015 to 2020. For those seeking a low-mileage, good condition used Tahoe with the latest safety and tech, this would be the generation to have. Tahoes hold their value pretty well, and considering many of these vehicles sold in the $45,000-$60,000 range when new, they won’t come cheap. This version of the Tahoe features 2nd- and 3rd-row seats that fold flush, with a power-operated mechanism as an option. Unlike the Ford Expedition, however, the seats do not fold into the floor but rather into a self-contained system that raises the floor height and lessens cargo room. The 2015 Tahoe could be equipped with advanced driver-assist technologies like forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning as well as side blind zone alert and rear cross-traffic alert. Notable upgrades for the Tahoe included a Magnetic Ride Control suspension, a vibrating driver seat that works in conjunction with the blind spot monitor, navigation, power-retractable side steps, a heated and power-adjustable steering wheel and a power glass moonroof. Almost all these features are standard on the LTZ and available on the LT.

Apple CarPlay Added

If you’re looking for advanced features like lane-keeping assist and a head-up display, they became available in 2016. In 2017, the Tahoe added more apps for the MyLink infotainment system, and the LTZ trim was renamed Premier. LT and Premier models could be equipped with adaptive cruise control and low-speed automatic emergency braking. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay fans will have to buy a 2018 or newer model. 2018 was also the first year for the new Rally Sport Trim (RST for short). The RST offered a sporty look and feel as well as an available 420-hp 6.2-liter V8 engine, Magnetic Ride Control and a 10-speed automatic transmission.

As we said earlier, the Tahoe holds its value well, but it has plenty of competition from the less expensive Nissan Armada and Toyota Sequoia. A look around at the used car market show prices ranging from a low of $26,000 for a 4WD Tahoe LS with 90,000 miles to a high of $57,000 for a certified pre-owned (CPO) 4WD Tahoe Premier with only 8,500 miles.

How Much Can a Chevy Tahoe Tow?

How much the Tahoe can tow depends on the model year. A 1st-generation 2WD Tahoe can tow up to 7,000 pounds. Generations two and three can tow up to 7,900 and 8,200 pounds respectively. The fourth generation can tow up to 8,600 pounds. Comparatively, the Tahoe falls behind the max trailering figures for the Ford Expedition and Nissan Armada. Early versions of the Toyota Sequoia fell short of the Tahoe, but after 2008, the Sequoia flips the script with a max tow rating of 9,100 pounds.

Is the Chevrolet Tahoe a Safe SUV?

The Tahoe has always met the government-mandated safety regulations and often times gone a good bit further. Most generations have airbags and anti-lock brakes, with later models adding advanced driver-assist technologies. The 2000 model received only average crash test scores from the government, with a warning about a possible high femur injury for the driver. Test results get much better after 2007, with 4- and 5-star ratings in most tests. Given the Tahoe’s size and weight, we’d highly recommend buying one with the StabiliTrak stability control. This system helps the vehicle maintain its intended course, lessening the probably of fishtailing or plowing in emergency situations.

How Comfortable Is the Tahoe’s 3rd-Row Seat?

The answer to this question depends on the size of the person you ask. The Tahoe’s 3rd-row seat is among the smaller in the segment, and legroom is in short supply for adults taller than 5’10". A low seat bottom and difficult path accessing the seat must also be taken into account, although both of these attributes are less egregious in 2016 and newer versions. Older models require the 3rd-row seat to be removed if you want a level cargo floor. The seats are somewhat heavy and not always easy to get out and back in again.

Can the Tahoe Be Taken Off-Road?

In stock form, the Tahoe can handle light off-road situations. Its 4WD setup and high ground clearance allow it to easily tackle dirt trails, sandy paths and snow-covered roads. The Z71 package gives the Tahoe a bit more off-road prowess, but nothing like the off-road abilities you’ll find in a used Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Range Rover or Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, there are a good number of aftermarket suppliers that make off-road parts for the Chevy Silverado pickup, which will also work on the Tahoe. The early model 2-door Tahoe is highly sought after by off-roaders.

What Are the Issues to Watch Out for With a Chevrolet Tahoe?

In areas that concern most used car buyers, that being engine and transmission, the Tahoe has a pretty solid record for durability and longevity. Beyond the normal recalls and wear and tear issues, early models had some issues with the heating and cooling systems not being as effective as owners would like. An overly soft brake pedal is a common complaint on the early models, too. The 2nd- and 3rd-generation models have some issues with gauge clusters that fail or have some LEDs burn out. Some of the 5.3-liter V8s with cylinder deactivation can run rough or shudder as the system kicks on and off. Others have found the system can lead to excessive oil consumption, problems with the lifters and even the need to rebuild the entire engine’s top end. Other sporadic complaints found on various consumer sites include leaking sunroof, cheap plastic bits inside the cabin that break over time and some minor electrical issues with interior components and engine sensors.

How Does the Tahoe Stack Up to the Competition?

Used Chevrolet Tahoe vs. Used Ford Expedition

The Tahoe and Expedition are pretty similar when it comes to dimensions, but the Expedition can tow more weight and offers a more controlled ride. Late-model Tahoes have a more refined interior, and the MyLink infotainment system is superior to Ford’s early SYNC systems. However, late-model Tahoes can’t match the Expedition’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine for hp or fuel economy, nor the big Ford’s superior independent rear suspension that improves handling and allows for a 3rd-row seat that can fold flush into the floor. The Expedition also offers some tech not found on the Tahoe, like its keypad entry system.

Used Chevrolet Tahoe vs. Used Nissan Armada

For most years, the Armada generally has a more powerful V8 than the Tahoe and can tow more weight. The Armada doesn’t ride as well as the Tahoe, and its interior and driver-assist systems are not as advanced. The Armada has a good reputation for reliability, but fuel economy is generally pretty poor. The Armada offers more 2nd- and 3rd-row legroom and a generally more comfortable 3rd-row seat. When new, the Armada cost less than the Tahoe, which means a used model will also cost less.

Used Chevrolet Tahoe vs. Used Toyota Sequoia

Early model Tahoes have a higher tow rating than the Sequoia, but the big Toyota’s long-term reliability, resale and cost of ownership are superior to the Tahoe. Early model Sequoias were not as powerful as their Tahoe counterparts, but those figures tighten up on the newer models. The Tahoe offers more high-tech gadgets in the cabin, but it rides a bit harsher than the Sequoia.

Is the Chevrolet Tahoe a Good Vehicle?

Overall, yes, the Tahoe gets good marks for durability, comfort and versatility. The Tahoe’s 3rd-row seat is really only suitable for kids and eats up nearly all the cargo space when in place, so if you need more room, a larger Chevy Suburban would be the way to go. The Tahoe holds average to slightly better than average resale, depending on the year, and 2nd- and 3rd-generation models generally ride and perform better than the Ford Expedition. In J.D. Power consumer surveys, the 3rd- and 4th-generation Tahoe earned better than average owner satisfaction scores. Find a Chevrolet Tahoe for sale

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