By on August 25, 2015

TTAC commentator TrenchFoot writes:

Hey, I’ve got a problem in that I like data. As an engineer and car enthusiast, I want to know more data points than the manufacturer thought I would/should. So I want to add some tech to my ride, and I want it all. The problem is, no one seems to sell the all-in-one solution I’m looking for.

I have a 2007 Chevy Express AWD 1500 (backoff with your comments, I love that van!), but tech in that rig is limited to a power locks. Since I use it to tow a smallish travel trailer, I’m always wondering about the state of the tranny. So my wish list is:

  • Backup camera
  • Bluetooth
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring
  • Tachometer
  • Tranny temp/gear/Torque Convertor Lockup
  • Do I want a tuner, too?

Some of what I want is available with low-cost double DIN stereos (backup camera, Bluetooth) and some is available with a tuner like one offered by Bully Dog (camera, gauges). Even though the van has most of the running gear from a Silverado, Bully Dog is one of the few tuner companies that support the Express/Savana vans.

Adding TPMS is the tough one. I’ve had 3 flats this year and lost both a summer and snow tire that probably could have been saved had I known I was losing pressure. I don’t want to end up with a tuner, standalone TPMS, and new stereo as the cockpit will start to look cluttered and inviting to thieves.

Any thoughts on a Swiss Army device or how I can get it all with just a new stereo and one extra display?

Sajeev answers:

I, as a former engineering student, understand your need for data. Hopefully there’s a 12-step program to rid you of a future with analysis paralysis. But let me be the enabler to your addiction!

There are 2DIN stereos that not only have the backup camera and Bluetooth, but also interface with the OBD-II port for useful vehicle information. As this video — disgustingly cute music aside — shows, Android has a nice tachometer for you!

Apple users aren’t left in the cold, either.

Either way, spending a couple hundred more for one of these is worth the upgrade from whatever you see at Best Buy. These new stereos cover a large number of your requirements in one clean(-ish) interface.

The vehicle tuner? Yes, you both need and want it to upgrade air-fuel ratios, transmission algorithms, etc. from the conservative factory setting to something that will perform better and likely net you a modest increase in fuel economy, and assuming the factory settings for torque/throttle management, cushy transmission action, etc. are not up your alley. I mean, you are an Engineer…right? 

You’ll want the tuner to see those transmission parameters, as I suspect they’re unique PIDs your average Apple and Android interface cannot grab. Damn those unique PIDs!

So you now have a replacement stereo in your dash hole and a BullyDog display. Brace yourself for an aftermarket TPMS monitoring system. Nobody’s gonna interface with an aftermarket system — unless later model Express’ have factory TPMS and you are willing to re-wire the chassis (and install a new powertrain control module) to make it work. I reckon that ain’t happening, no matter how strong that data obsession lies within your soul.

It’s really not a concern, considering your canvas.

2004 Chevrolet Express. X04CT_EX015MX

(photo courtesy: www.autoevolution.com)

Take it from the dude that left engineering school to pursue a career in car design (i.e. styling) now doing that Vellum Venom thing: You got ample choices to install both the TPMS and BullyDog modules. Cut a hole, mount them in: use glue, sandpaper and charcoal paint if needed for a super trick installation.

The Express was designed to be upfitter friendly. This is perfect for your needs and maybe 20 more modules!

Go make it happen!

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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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: Express-ions via More Data Points?...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Dang, that’s alot of info you desire. Good luck on trying to retrofit a TPMS.

  • avatar

    All great suggestions. If you end up getting an Android head unit, you can get a Bluetooth TPMS system that should interface with it and show you readings and alerts on screen

  • avatar
    Exfordtech

    Curious about the tire failures due to pressure loss. Slow leaks leading to overheating? TPMS may be helpful here but is it possible that analysis paralysis is likely to have caused one to fail to pay attention to the “assometer” already in the driver’s seat? Don’t you notice something amiss with the way the vehicle handles before the tire is junk? Or is the suspension/steering so far out of wack already that low tire pressure isn’t noticed? I get the desire for data and all, a built in OBD2 scanner would be pretty cool, just don’t get lost in too much information.

    • 0 avatar
      TrenchFoot

      Both the tires I lost were due to debris. The first one had such a large puncture hole that it must’ve been caused by a large bolt. It’s debatable whether my wife could have pulled over and stopped fast enough to save the tire but she didn’t know what was going on so the experience freaked her out. On the second one I lost tire pressure in the rear while towing and my “assometer” didn’t register it was a tire in the van. I thought there was something going wrong with my trailer.

      In either case, a TPMS alert would have helped focus the driver during the event and maybe save a tire.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    List of things I don’t wanna do:

    1) Drive around The Netherlands or wherever in a Chevy Express van.

  • avatar
    celebrity208

    Dang son, I’ve blazed the trail for you!
    I’ve installed that Pumpkin Audio Pure Android 4.1 head unit in my 2005 Express 3500 as well as 3 pairs of Rockford Fosgate speakers and a few other goodies. Here are my thoughts:
    1. Pumpkin Head Unit –
    1a. I love the head unit. The start up time is slow but I dont care.
    1b. The built in off-line nav is reminiscent of 1st gen nav units, aka unrefined. (I wifi tether to my phone to run ease but even that is tough because waze was designed for portrait, not landscape so the setup was a challenge because some buttons were off screen)
    1c. The volume level required for the same level of loudness is different for dvd vs radio vs etc. I don’t mind and I’m sure I’ll find the setting or fix it with an update.
    1d. Install: The Metra (sp) install trim kits were worthless. I bent and bolted up some brackets trim Home Depot flat/sheet stock. DO, however, use the fancy wiring harness so that all the door and ignition chimes continue to work. !!!WARNING!!! My van’s dash support didn’t look like those in the YouTube videos and I had to grind and cut and break out a cast section that is designed to support the rear of the OEM stereo. It was a mess but worth it.
    2. Bluetooth
    2a. Phone calls work great but the Express ain’t exactly silent at speed so I intend to add a Mic to my sun visor.
    2b. The ability to stream music has been great but not all apps on my phone (LG G3) respond to Head unit inputs (eg: next track, pause).
    3. Tach
    3a. I too want a tach desperately. I’ve tried asking all the gauge fix-it shops if they’d customize a cluster to include a tach (with full expectation it’d be expensive) but they’re not interested. So the alternate solution is the app torque. But here’s a lesson: but the OBDii dongle from Pumpkin (or the one recommended by your unit’s mfgr) lets you be stuck with one that isn’t compatible, like I did (the generic one I bought does work with my phone, just not with the stereo head unit).
    4. Backup camera
    4a. I mounted mine on the bumper’s plastic below the doors. Good spot. I saw those center brake light ones but didn’t want to spend the $. Newer Expresses have the camera in the door handle. I still like my low and centered install for trailer coupling. (I e-mailed a pic of my stereo with the b/u cam displayed to Sajeev. Maybe he can add it to this post.)
    5. Speakers
    5a. Crutchfield says the fronts are 6.75 and they are, but I still had to team the mounting holes on the speakers to get them to line up with the screw holes in the door.
    5b. The 4×6 Speakers in the rear headliner are a P.I.T.A. If yours aren’t blown I’d instead suggest adding some tweeters and tapping them off the OEM 4x6s.
    6. Trans info
    6a. I have a fairly good scan tool and I’ve noticed that none of the transmission fields are populated when connected to the OBDii port. I think this is because the van uses a completely separate trans control module. (B&B, is this true? If so how can we GM van guys get trans info?)
    7. TPMS
    7a. On my to do list. I’m leaning toward an Android based solution. I’m interested in B&B suggestions here.
    8. Extras
    8a. There is a TON of room behind the dash so I hard wired a 4 port usb phone charger (Saicoo, on Amazon) stuffed it back there and installed 4 flush usb ports (OCP period com, find the “Dual USB A Panel Snap” cables) in that large blank area to the right of the stereo.
    8b. I also left some of the head unit’s cables either loose under the dash to be pulled out when needed (iPod) or taped in place for future expansion (3G dongle).
    8c. I plan on putting in some headrest monitors and piping the DVD from the head unit to them but that’s another day’s project (B&B suggestions welcomed).

    That’s all I can stand to stab out on my phones screen right now. If you don’t mind, Sajeev can shoot you my e-mail address and I can send you more install pics.

    • 0 avatar
      TrenchFoot

      Thanks for the writeup, I’ll dig in to this.

      What Sajeev probably didn’t realize is how much work it looks to be to just swap in the a double DIN stereo. I’m ready for it regardless of what route I take for the rest of this, but it looks to be a bear.

      • 0 avatar
        celebrity208

        Forgot a few things about the metra trim kit (GM1590AB ?):
        1) it didn’t fit the face of the pumpkin stereo (I don’t know who was in the wrong Metra or Pumpkin but it didn’t matter, I ordered the Pumpkin trim kit),
        2) I don’t remember the plastic “tabs” lining up with the plastic bracket that held the OEM stereo (I dont’ know who was in the wrong, Metra or me for ordering the wrong kit). Either way a plastic frame holding a plastic bracket wasn’t gonna cut it in my world hence the custom bracket.
        3) The OEM stereo is not as deep as standard DIN stereos. To get my Pure Android double DIN stereo to fit the structure I had to remove was that part of the dash frame that receives the big white support pin on the back of the stereo (see: http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAUQjhxqFQoTCMPm4cWGxccCFUU4Pgodid0JUQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hifisoundconnection.com%2F2005-2006-2007-Chevy-Express-Van-Factory-Stereo-Tape-CD-Player-OEM-Radio-R-2371-2&ei=G83cVYPtPMXw-AGJu6eIBQ&psig=AFQjCNGfGuKIOjNsaSUEFpE8pMaOyJavwQ&ust=1440620167767157 or do a google image search; terms = chevy express stereo back hifisoundconnection)

  • avatar
    celebrity208

    One last nugget for anyone with a under body mounted spare tire hoist… Check it! Mine was frozen and what could have been a 30 min swap turned into a 120 min, AAA assisted, knuckle busting, shirt wrecking mess. I was able to rebuild my hoist though by grinding off the rivet heads and cleaning, heavily greasing, and straightening the kinked wire rope. $15 in Home Depot hardware beats $125 from rock auto for a new one.

  • avatar
    TrenchFoot

    So here’s an extra credit question: can you actually run two devices off OBDII? I see OBDII splitters for sale online but assume that they’ll conflict at some point. Anyone even tried this?

    If I get a tuner I doubt I’d also need a OBDII-compliant stereo since the Bully Dog allows viewing gauges and the creation of custom gauges. But I’m curious.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    Don’t mess with the AF ratios. You could add a little timing if your ok with only burning premium though.

  • avatar
    VolandoBajo

    Sajeev, you who share my love of Panthers, please help out an Aero Panther (GM) owner who would like to do some subset of this, but without so much of a capital outlay as to create a diplomatic nightmare with SWMBO.

    Any ideas of how I could go with a 97 Grand Marquis? Not averse to wrench-bending and VOM tweaking, but don’t want to go all the way down the rabbit hole.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

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