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Monday, November 29, 2010

1999 GMC AWD Safari Van November 2010 service report


This is more of a personal journal entry than it is a general-interest blog entry; I am finding that blogging is a very convenient way to keep track of things.

11/11/2010 odometer 163,785 miles
Lube, oil, and filter (yep, this old dinosaur has grease fittings)
AC compressor and clutch replaced (it may seem winter is a strange time to be doing this, but the windows fog up inside during cold weather without the AC compressor running during defrost)
Serpentine belt replaced
Radiator replaced (corrosion problem; leaking at the seams, a uniform oozing)
Front brake pads and rotors replaced
Rear brakes cleaned and adjusted
Ball joints
Idler arms (last replaced around 100,000 miles on the odometer)
Transfer case fluid change
Front differential gear-lube change
Rear differential gear-lube change
Rear differential spider gears replaced

11/29/2010, odometer 164,363 miles
New front and rear tires

I think the old GMC Safari is (for the most part) ready for another winter. This trip to the certified GM shop solved one mystery. It has been two years (maybe three) since an intermittent noise started coming from the rear of the vehicle. It sounded a bit like rocks clanging inside a hubcap, sometimes sounding like tree branches wrapped around the drive shaft, sometimes a bit like broken brake components rattling around inside a brake drum, sometimes it growled like a bad wheel bearing. The noises would last only a short while and often would not reoccur until after thousand of miles of driving. Mechanics (at different shops) were at a loss to find the cause. During this visit, they said the rear brakes and wheel bearings were fine, could detect nothing wrong with the vehicle on the rack, and could not hear any problems during the test drive. Mileage wise, the van was due for front and rear differential lube change so I asked that they pull the rear differential inspection plate and peek inside. Voila, they found broken spider gears.

Most of the cost for this list of repairs is routine stuff, brakes, belts, gearbox lube, idler arms, etc. The unanswered question is how long and how far I want to push my luck with this old vehicle; the spreadsheet shows that keeping this one on the road is still more affordable than buying something new. How many miles will it go before there is something that is prohibitively expensive? This van, between the end of the transmission and the rear bumper, is a unibody vehicle with no external frame. While the body looks to be in excellent shape, once the rust takes hold (and northern Illinois winter road salt makes that inevitable), the structural strength will not be enough for continued heavy use. Other than the unibody, my guess is that little irritations will continue. Maybe the heater core will start leaking; corrosion could cause leaks in the AC system and perhaps the transmission oil cooler. The electrical system connectors have been corroding away; GM no longer sells many of them so replacements must be improvised. There is an intermittent problem with the heater/AC blower yet to solve; it could be a bad connection, a near-dead blower motor, a bad switch, a bad resister card, or all of the above. Little irritations I can tolerate and afford; the cost of a rebuilt transmission or engine would be hard to justify because I doubt that the unibody has more than four or five years left.

As it sits now, barring a catastrophic failure of body, engine, or transmission, my goal is to run the van until November of the year 2014 or when the odometer hits 200,000+ miles (whichever comes first) and then send it off to clunker heaven or find it a place somewhere on Jason’s Old Truck Ranch. I am not one of the super dedicated fans of the GMC Safari / Chevy Astro Van; it has been a useful utility vehicle for me but I have no desire to spend the money needed for a rotisserie restoration. There has to be a line in the sands of time after which I find a suitable (and affordable) replacement. Perhaps by the end of 2014, my heavy landscape projects here at home will be complete and I can go with something smaller, a bit less robust, with better gas mileage.


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