Piston Slap: The Express' New Mission?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the express new mission

TTAC commentator Celebrity 208 writes:

Sajeev,

I have been sitting on this draft message for a couple weeks now and I just saw your call for questions so here you go. I just bought a ’05 (Chevrolet) Express 3500 12 Passenger Van with 185kmi. It was owned by a Catholic Mission College where they maintained it as part of their van fleet and the maint. history is pretty clean. It was a good deal even if I have to do something dramatic like replace the transmission.

I’m going to use it for towing a boat (w/ trailer it’s 6500+lbs and the runs are ~15mi round trip), delivering kegs to Pamela Elsinore’s birthday party (“at the bottom of the big hill”), hauling visiting family and friends around when visiting (I live in DC which is a vacation destination for some weird reason), and likely Christmas road trips back to Cleveland because my mother goes hog wild with large Little Tikes stuff.

I have seen some of the B&B suggest that renting would be the best solution for these needs but, rental trucks/vans 1) don’t have the towing capacity, 2) usually explicitly forbid towing, 3) aren’t fitted with hitches & 4) are not always available on a whim/at my convenience.

To be sure I don’t use it a lot and hence that’s why I bought one that is 9yrs old and hi mileage. If I wanted new then renting might have met the bill for everything minus towing. At this point you should be laughing. Don’t. This is a step up for me as it is replacing my rusty ’88 G30 Sport van which had 78kmi, or 178kmi, or278kmi, or… (No 100,000 mile digit in the odometer). The ’88 G30 was a beater. It towed ok but it looked like crap and couldn’t be used as a backup daily driver b/c there’s no place to put two+ car seats whereas the ’05 does. The new one has the LQ4 6.0L v8 and the 4L80e trans. So, to my questions:

  1. When I finally get it home what service do you suggest I perform (oil change, trans fluid change etc., timing chain replacement, shocks, 3+ cans of sea foam, etc.)?
  2. What are your and the B&B’s opinions on towing and loaded and unloaded ride performance improvements such as: rear sway bar ?
  3. What are your an the B&B’s opinions on slippery ramp performance improvements such as replacing the open diff with a locker or limited slip [what type? ARB Air, OX Mech, Limited Slip, eLocker, etc.]?

I’m a GM guy but props to the Panther love and props to the site. You guys kick ass. You’re a multiple times a day refresh for me. You keep it up and I’ll keep clicking on some of the ads.

Thanks,

Celebrity208


(Note: I’m not really a narcissist; a Celebrity 208 cc was my first boat.)

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for the kind words, I always admire and appreciate the diverse backgrounds, attitudes, styles, etc of our Best and Brightest. It’s been the cornerstone of this site’s longevity for more years than I can remember. No doubt, your new van is light years ahead of the old G30, and having a two-time Chevy vanner such as yourself amongst our ranks…well, it’s an honor.

Definitely someone like you should never rent a van, this is the perfect spare vehicle for your lifestyle.

Question 1: Changing all fluids (and the usual worn rubber belts, hoses, vacuum lines, tires, etc) is a great idea, even if we’ve spilled a ton of digital ink over the utility of high mileage ATF service in any transmission. If the fluid is fresh and the transmission shifts fine, don’t bother changing. Even if it has a factory tranny cooler, consider putting the biggest aftermarket cooler instead: certainly not a pleasant task, but it’ll be worth it.

Question 2: That Roadmaster kit always intrigued me, just never enough to buy and try. Definitely get a rear swaybar if that’s an easy swap using junkyard bits from another GM product. But honestly, all you need are fresh shocks of the high performance variety to get an amazing bang for the buck. Oh, and replace whatever else in the suspension is worn out after all those miles. Your eyeballs and basic tools are your guide.

Question 3: There are superior limited slip differentials from the aftermarket, but they are brutally difficult (or expensive) to install. Why go through all that when–with a little researching–I betcha there’s a complete GM axle assembly in the junkyard with fewer miles and a posi that you can swap in an afternoon? That said, I couldn’t find a suitable swap candidate, but what the hell do I know? I’m a Lincoln-Mercury Fanboi.

Perhaps a suitable axle lies in a nearby junkyard, complete with a rear swaybar? And perhaps addressing the normal wear items and switching to premium shocks will make this van cool enough for even the most jaded reader ’round these parts.

[Image: Shutterstock user Rashad Ashur]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Comments
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  • Mopar4wd Mopar4wd on Jul 15, 2014

    You could see if powertrax has a option for your axle they are pretty easy to install and should be strong enough for what your using it for.

  • Mr.cranky Mr.cranky on Jul 16, 2014

    I hope that I'm not the only one who got the "Strange Brew" reference in the 2nd paragraph. Watch out for the brakes!

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