By on May 15, 2015


Not so Holy Roller? (photo courtesy OP)

TTAC commentator Celebrity208 writes:

Sajeev, here’s an update to an old Piston Slap that I wanted to share: overall I love my van.

My wife and I have used it to keep visiting family together when touring DC (instead of using 3 cars we took one van). As I eluded to, we also used it for a Christmas road trip/road tour through Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati and Evansville (IN). Lemme tell you, attending to a crying child in the back is a breeze in this thing. In less than 10 seconds the wife can be re-buckled a row or two back to deal with a toddler that dropped [fill in the blank]. 

I am most definitely a “van guy” and this van is now going to be hauling my family and toys around for years to come. The van has been awesome but I did need to “invest” in it…

An exhaust manifold gasket leak that would close up when hot turned into a giant noisemaker that needs to be addressed. I could have lived with it for a little while longer but a VA “safety” inspection was the forcing function. The salty roads that the church traveled throughout the Midwest took their toll on the aluminum AC lines to the rear HVAC and needed replaced. Also, as I had expected but hoped wouldn’t be necessary for a while, the transmission sprung a leak around the TCM module plug and upon inspection was TOAST. 185k miles of Holy Rolling, an homage to its former Mission, (puns intended) will do that.

The swapped-in rebuilt 4L80E didn’t last long either when the torque converter started whining a month later at Christmas. The shop rightfully rebuilt it again but said they installed a billet TC to ensure I don’t have to come back, all at no cost to me. Props to HiTech Trans in Merrifield, VA for standing up for their service and doing right by their customers. I installed new shocks myself, a brake controller, and I’ve added a Pumpkin Pure Android 2-din stereo to the rig (see attached). I still need to learn how to mod it and I haven’t setup Torque with a Bluetooth OBD-II plug yet but it’s on my to-do list. I did install a backup camera. That’s nice when hooking up to a trailer.

Speaking of trailers, I went and bought a new-to-me ’05 Crownline 250 CR in Lexington, KY during the ice storm a few weeks ago (see attached). I chose to drive to KY to get this one because it has the 496 Mag HO (425 hp) instead of what every other 250 around me has (the 300 hp 350 Mag). The drive from DC to KY by way of Columbus (to see family) was fraught with very slow going and spun out cars left and right but going light on the gas kept the open diff. rear-wheel drive beast on the road. If people think the empeegees of a 1/2 ton pickup are bad, they don’t know shit. Pulling ~8500 lbs through WV I was getting 8 mpg. Whatever. The L96 was a Bull!!! She passed the 190,000 mile threshold on the trip back from KY (see attached). On level ground I was easily maintaining >60mph and not once did I need 2nd to maintain >50mph climbing the WV hills on I-64.

PS: Props to “beefmalone” who dropped the knowledge like Galileo dropped the orange with the comment about finding a junkyard axle with a “G80” code. I haven’t had the time/$ to knock that project out yet but it might be soon as that 250 CR is heavy and the tidal boat ramps in Alexandria can get quite slippery.

Sajeev answers:

The other perk to beefmalone’s G80 axle swap is you might get a better rear gear for your needs. If applicable, it’ll boost fuel economy around town (going into overdrive sooner, less throttle to accelerate) and relieve driving stress significantly (less downshifting, less throttle) when towing big loads in the Express.

I look forward to a future with more vanning stories. The full size van market is flush with new offerings from Chrysler, Nissan and Ford, so there’ll be nice offerings hitting the used market in the next 3-5 years. Perhaps they won’t be terrifying to DIY repair like the stereotypical Sprinter Van we read about? Because the old American van is history, so fingers crossed on that last part.

Thank you for the update. This was a fantastic story!

Send your queries to [email protected]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.

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20 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Express’ New Mission? (Part II)...”

  • avatar

    Agreed. Great read.

  • avatar

    I spent quite a bit of time in the back of an Express van recently, bouncing around rural Mexico for work. CEL on and some rattles, and a worrying sound like some sort of ABS pump going off when braking. But considering the non-stop beating this thing was receiving day in and day out over unpaved farm roads, my hat is off to it. It climbed up and out of a dry creekbed up a very steep dirt embankment with barely any hint of wheelspin. In those environs, the old BOF truck based American vans are in their element.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      The ABS pump may very well be going off during braking. Rather than a traditional brake proportioning valve, GM uses the ABS to handle front/rear brake split in an awful lot of their vehicles.

  • avatar

    I’ve recently thought about replacing my crew cab pickup racecar hauler with a full size van, especially since the GM versions can be had in AWD. The amount of cargo space doesn’t even compare.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget the possible aero benefit for your trailer!

    • 0 avatar

      Because of this post, I configured an Express Passenger van and imagined myself daily driving it. Honestly, it’s probably the most compelling vehicle I’ve configured recently.

      • 0 avatar

        After moving to sedans for my family, I’m on the lookout for a 3rd vehicle and originally I was searching for a used Suburban or something. Ever since I saw the news about Hillary and her van, it opened my mind to conversion vans. I’d never even considered them but now upon looking a used van (if clean) is a fantastic value.
        The only thing I see frequently with the GM vans are that they seem to go through transmissions at an alarming rate. Almost every ad I’ve read on CL mentions a transmission replacement somewhere around 140k miles. Given the 4E80E’s long production history, I figured it would be rock solid by now.

        • 0 avatar

          They chew through 4L60s no problem in 150k, but most Suburbans have those too. A 4L80 equipped version should be long lived, but you sometimes don’t know how it was treated in a past life, indifferent maintenance under commercial use is a killer.

          The new models all get the beefy looking 6L90 as the 1500 was discontinued, which also means no more AWD. I do occasionally need the front wheels to drive, so that’s a deal breaker.

          • 0 avatar

            If you upgrade to the 2500 with the 6.0 or even rarer 8.1 go with the 6l80e they’re good for at least 250,000

        • 0 avatar
          Lack Thereof

          In many configurations, the issue is not the transmission itself but the cooling. Rush hour stoplight-to-stoplight drag racing in a modern city with aggressive drivers can easily overwhelm the ability of the factory transmission cooler to keep up.

          Additional cooling added on as part of factory tow packages are often undersized for the task at hand, especially when the driver’s trying to keep up with lead-footed passenger car traffic around him.

          Minivans from every manufacturer have the same problem.

      • 0 avatar

        ” Honestly, it’s probably the most compelling vehicle I’ve configured recently.”

        I just built and priced and you’re right, it is compelling. A 2500 LS 12 passenger model with 6.0l, trailer tow everything, locking diff, rear air, cruise, keyless, nav, backup cam comes out to $37K. You can’t get any Suburban within 12k of that price. Used ones crater in value much faster than ‘burbans too.

  • avatar

    Years ago I predicted that there would be vans and suvs mashed together like a factory built Quigley. They could be called Man Vans. Would be the most awesome vehicle ever built. But for some reason it never happened.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, the space in front of the cab is wasted on pickup trucks.

      I’m definitely dreaming of a family adventure vehicle. Big on the inside, small on the outside, AWD, and a plugin hybrid with an electric power takeoff panel on it somewhere that could efficiently/quietly/cleanly power a hotplate, tools, or an RV.

      I don’t particularly care what it looks like. I like the way my minivan looks just fine, but I want to bring portable civilization with me wherever I go.

      That would be one heck of a man-van. And, yeah, I can just throw a generator in the back of a pickup truck – but I’m dreaming here, and I don’t have to compromise heni’m dreaming.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Growing up my old man always had a passenger van, Dodge variant though.

    He used it like a pickup with the bench seats out at times hauling everything you can think of, lawn tractor plywood stone etc.

    He of course ordered his special with a 318 and a four speed MT so it was fun to drive as well. As a suburban owner I have no problem dating that the full size van is way more useful. Of course now they are available with AWD which in some areas of the country is really helpful.

    I wonder why we don’t see more Explorer conversion vans in black car service. I see tons of Suburbans and would think a van would be more comfortable for the passengers in terms of ease of entry, better seating. Seems like the price point is about the same, not like a LTZ suburban comes in less than 65k anywhere.

  • avatar

    I remember the large Detroiter vans that I have had, due to my large family. What really ruined me on these vans was a GMC van that i bought used. It was out of warranty and developed an oil leak that sent me to the local mechanic in the small town i lived in. He was quick to diagnose the problem as the speedometer cable speed pickup unit. He replaced it and when i went to pick it up he showed me the original and the replacement part. the original was ‘pot metal’ and the replacement was machined steel. He had worked for a Gm dealer and said the GM used parts that lasted thru the warranty and then had to be replaced with much better parts. I never forgot this story a nd have loathe to buy and detroit model products. bought many ford windstar vans and they needed alot of maintenance. the sienna i last bought was completely trouble free and a wonderful vehicle. I just purchased a Ram PRomaster 2500/Fiat and I love to drive it. will have to see if it lasts and is reliable. worries me that the transaxle is supposedly from the caravan which i also owned. the caravan was an ok vehicle but i traded it before it had that many miles. my previous caravan had lots of problems but it had many miles on it.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Even with the G80 axle your going have problems getting that boat out of a lot of ramps. Buy a good tow strap and bring it along.

    I own a ’97 250 Sundancer and I’ve spun both wheels on dry, decent ramps trying to get that out with my G80 equipped Sierra 2500HD. Usually I can get it out in 2WD, but not always.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    It tows like a dream. If the tongue weight was too light I’d have sway issues. Whoever set it up before I got it knew what they were doing.

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