Chevy Astro and GMC Safari Forum banner

2000 Astro AWD camping van build - 2" lift, solar, etc.

4496 Views 59 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Mwood
Hey there folks,

I wasn't planning on starting this build thread until I really started working on the van but I have a few questions that I wanted to drop in here.
It wont get super exciting for another couple weeks, I apologize for that.

Here it is: my 2000 Astro AWD

The first thing I did to it was remove the rear seats and interior panels to get a sense of how much room is available.

The plan is to build a modular sleep system half of which can turn into a table or stow underneath the other half, with the mattress section becoming a backrest for the fixed half.
More on this later.

At just under 200,000 miles the van definitely has some issues. I have already ordered parts to completely refresh the steering, suspension and brakes, including a 2" lift from Journeys Offroad. drivetrain-wise I ordered stuff to do the timing chain, plugs and wires, waterpump and a B&M trans cooler. The van has already had the radiator replaced.

I went to a friend's shop the other night as a lift was available, I needed to put the new rear shocks in as the upper bushing on the passenger's side had disintegrated and the shock was making a horrible noise.

I also compression tested the motor and didn't receive a single reading under 185psi (testing each cyl 2-3 times) with most readings over 200.
^ the lowest reading

unfortunately the windshield has a pretty big leak which I found when I went to the self service car wash today
there is also some rust bubbling under the seal
Im crossing my fingers that the rust isnt terrible and I can just grind it down and convert it and get the windshield replaced (it has a big crack anyway)

A couple of questions:
1) At how many miles do the timing chains on the 4.3L usually perish? I ordered a new timing set but I want to make sure its fairly safe to drive it in the mean time.

2) the engine shakes a bit at idle and sounds like the timing is slightly off. It also does the strange bucking and shuddering thing at part throttle on the fwy that is apparently caused by a worn distributor gear. How do you guys feel about this distributor?
I was looking for the model recommended on this site. Astro-Safari-Info - Pancake Distributor Disease

3) I am leaving the rear heat in just because it works and the bed fits around it, but the rear AC is in the way. The AC leaks and isn't working right now anyway.
I wanted to confirm that the rear AC does not have its own compressor and therefore will not work unless the engine is running. Is that accurate? If so, I am going to remove the whole system as I wont be using it.

I've ordered a ton of parts for the van, just waiting for them to arrive and I can get to work
See less See more
1 - 20 of 60 Posts
Nice van, I hope you'll follow up on the rust issue, I'm interested in seeing how you end up dealing with it. Do you expect you'll need to remove the windshield to address it? I'd have to agree on not totally removing the AC even if you nix the rear. FWIW, I kept both the rear heater and AC in my van when I converted it. Between the two, I found the heater to be more of a hindrance than the AC to build around, but YMMV. Also, consider a diesel heater install. IMHO, a must have for a camper/sleeper conversion. If you do decide to install one, deside where you'll put it before any major interior built-ins, Not a lot of places in our vans to mount them.
thanks man.
I have a buddy who had the same leak in his yukon i think we are going to try his method for fixing it assuming it hasnt rusted through anyway. just grind it down and the treat it with converter, primer and paint.
have to remove and replace the glass.
keeping the front AC for sure. have to find the leak though. i think the rear's gotta go. I would love to add a diesel or propane heater is there an option thats less than $1000? all the ones ive seen are expensive kits

As for the timing gear, the 4.3 does not seem to have the problems other motors have… maybe it’s because the cam is one set of cylinders shorter(?)…

Yes, diesel heat is the way to go IMHO. No moisture issues like propane, and the espar copies for sale now work very well. I just did 12,000 miles around the country and back through Canada and mine made the parts of the trip traveling through the white fluffy stuff very comfortable.
hello neighbor! i am actually in the east bay but my folks are in larkspur now.
that sounds like an amazing trip, id love to get some kind of heat in the cabin that would let me camp at higher elevations. send me a link to the heater you are using?
  • Like
Reactions: 1
I actually just ordered a second one yesterday, have an Alaska trip planned and want to bring spare parts with me.

Mine was $129 when I bought it (prices have fallen quite a bit)…. Now $109.

This is a “Velor” brand, one of the better rated designs (although most of them are similar). The 2K version is more then enough heat for our vans.

Happybuy 2KW Diesel Heater 12V 2KW Diesel Air Heater Muffler 2KW Diesel Air Heater with Knob Switch for RV Motorhome Trailer Trucks Boats
wow so that worked for you for 12k miles? nice. i had ruled those copies out because the espar is so much more expensive.
Ill definitely be picking something like that up.. maybe i can plumb it into the existing rear heat vents.
I'll second what Sailing_Faith said as to the heaters. Velor is a well known brand, but I'd be surprised if most of the less expensive ones aren't pretty much made alike. Bad thing is support from most companies ends right after delivery. Good thing is there are some good support groups available on FB. Lavaner makes a slightly more expensive one with some upgrade in the parts/features and actually has good customer service that actually WILL respond to problems/issues. Downside is they only seem to make them available in the states about once a year.

You really need to invest in a good instant read carbon monoxide detector, especially if you'll be sleeping in the van with the heater running. The heaters are actually surprisingly safe when installed correctly, but don't take any chances.
I actually just ordered one lol. picked up a mounting plate and a CO detector as well.
What kind of draw are you guys getting from these heaters? I read somewhere it was like 40W
I just took a picture of my RPO codes, and there is a GU6 for the rear end which means its a 3.42. There is no other G code for the type of diff, either GQ1 or G80, does this mean it has open diffs?

  • Like
Reactions: 1
Update here,

I have been working on the van the last couple of weeks, just taking the front end apart and getting to know everything a bit more.

The first thing I did to the van was install the 2" lift from Journey's. It was super easy, and their instructions are pretty comprehensive.
I realized I should have replaced the body mounts but that can come later, it isn't difficult. It seems like the only body mount options are Dorman or Polyurethane.
I have seen people suggest poly mounts are very harsh offroad.

I never figured out what that bracket is for towards the top in the middle. brakeline relocation?

you can see here how I trimmed the lower fan shroud with an angle grinder
I'd really like to switch to electric fans at some point but its not in the budget right now.

the only thing not mentioned in the instructions was that an ear on the subframe interferes with the E-brake cable bracket after the lift. I called and the guy suggested I
just use one of the bolts. It seems pretty strong.

I drove it once with no lights or grille/bumpers and then it was time to tear the front end apart and replace everything.

This van is kind of cool as it has had almost no maintenance at all even with 200k on it.
The only stuff I found that was definitively replaced so far was one idler arm, the radiator, and one of the front axles,
aside from regular maintenance items like belts, shocks and brakes. I get to do everything right the first time.


I decided to delete the oil cooler while replacing the old and perished lines.
I have a larger aluminum radiator coming that may help keep temps down, I don't plan to do any towing with the van.

these two brackets hold the lines to the motor.
as has been mentioned before they are really difficult to get out unless you cut them in half

when you remove the filter adapter you have to scrape out the old gasket material on the block. then thread the filter stud back into the motor.

The original starter housing cracked when I tried to loosen the terminals
I ordered a new one and an alternator through a friend's commercial distributor

I wasn't able to get the front axle to drop very far before it ran into the steering linkage.
You can still get the oil pan out with it just dropped this much but I had to rotate the crankshaft as one of the counter weights was obstructing it

I was pretty worried about the original timing chain and felt I had to replace it asap. It seems like these sbc chains have alot of slack but you can visibly see it drooping around the
crank sprocket in this photo
everything looks good to me in the engine.

I apologize for the bad photos, it has been raining constantly here in norcal and the sun sets at 5 so I have been doing a lot of work soaking wet in the dark.
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
the van spent the weekend with an open crankcase covered by a plastic bag while it rained like hell. (y)

Here is where I made a big mistake that is very embarrassing.
I bought the new style plastic timing cover that comes with a new seal and a bead of rtv.

I was all excited to post here exactly how to install the updated chain tensioner that this timing cover is designed for.. until I pressed one of the included dowel pins into
the block without installing the tensioner first.
you can see in the above photo that when I tried to get the dowel pin out with a propane torch and vice grips it just snapped off. I used the pin that came in the Cloyes timing kit and it was of visibly lower quality than the pins included with the GM timing cover.
so I pressed the other pin in and opted not to use the tensioner at all. I could have tried to drill it out etc. but It felt like a high risk proposition.
still pissed about this, but I think it will work fine.


At this point I found out on this forum that if the engine mounts completely wear out the oil pan will hit the front diff.
I decided to just completely remove the whole front suspension/diff/steering linkage and do polyurethane engine mounts, diff bushings, and axle seals in addition to
the suspension and steering stuff.

If it looks like I'm doing all of this out of sequence its because I am!
The lesson here is to buy the factory service manuals and do extensive research before tearing your van apart ;)


someone correct me if Im wrong, but it seems to me like you cant remove the front axles on these vans without pressing out and removing the knuckle? I rotated it both ways and there
still wasn't enough flex in the outer CV's to wriggle it out. even with the hub removed.


The bolts to the front driveshaft were really stuck. I need to look up the torque on them, on my mercedes 4matic they are like 40 nm. I almost stripped 1 of them.


Here is where the diff got hung up on the steering and wouldnt come free.
It seems like you cant get the front diff out without removing the drag link. I could be wrong here too.


some of these ball joints are much easier off the van

Seems to me the engine mount job will never get easier than this, so that's what I tackled first from here.

I used a ton of heat here. about 10 mins a side. bolts came off pretty easy after that.
It seems like you can only get at these 2 lower bolts with an open wrench if the old mount has collapsed onto them, scary.

This seems to be the most difficult bolt: passenger's side upper. I was able to get at it with a 15mm wrench.
Driver's side top i got with a socket

I got the Prothane polyurethane kit. It comes with bolts.


I just left the hardware that holds the two halves of the clamshells in the mounts. It doesn't get in the way during install.
If you don't use a washer on the lower bolt it will sit flush with the bottom of the mount and the mount will sit flush on the chassis.

While trying to install the mounts the tabs on the poly insert were too thick and I couldnt get the thru bolt in. Very strange.
I cut them back with a grinder. hopefully I didnt miss something and there was a way to install them as is.


pretty hellacious job honestly. anyone who has done this with the suspension and front axle installed, I salute you.
I stole all of this from Stroverlander, so credit to him.
See less See more
Off to a friend's shop to use the parts washer


I made a mistake and pressed out the factory bushings in the passenger's front diff bracket. I didn't realize I was getting poly replacements at this point,
Markmitch suggested them in a thread I started.


Clean parts and some new control arms and axles.

used gunk and powerwasher on the sway bar and diff

Ac Delco waterpump
I used a small bead of permatex gray to stick the gaskets to the pump, and permatex thead sealant on the bolts.

I realized I probably shoudnt have left the battery in the van and took it out to put it on a trickle charger.
This is when I noticed the battery tray lol
I used a wire wheel on it and some rust converter we had lying around. It isnt intended to be a permanent solution but when it starts rusting again I will find one in better condition.
sprayed with some VHT header paint we had lying around. I used VHT rollbar and chassis paint on the engine mounts.

Started burning the OE bushings out of the front diff. I didnt want to burn around the bushing sleeve as the propane torch should theoretically be hot enough to melt the aluminum housing,
So I had to burn the rubber directly which resulted in a messy removal process.
wire wheel on the sleeve.

poly bushes from Prothane again.

New moog bushings pressed into the right side bracket and then immediately burned out for the poly inserts :rolleyes:
Because this is a steel bracket I felt comfortable burning the outside of the bush, which melts the glue and then the rubber comes right out in one piece.

The wheel there is from a floor jack. it was what I used to press bushings in and out of the awkwardly shaped bracket.

Finally it was time to do the valve covers. It seemed foolish not do them at this point, even though they weren't leaking that much.
I used some permatex grey to stick the fel-pro gaskets to the valve covers. I think this job would be very difficult without doing that.

To get the coil bracket off on the passenger's side VC I had to remove the bracket for the throttle cables
I tried to get all the crud out that spilled into the valve train from removing the old covers, I was mostly successful.

you really have to jam the right side cover back in but the gasket didnt come dislodged due to the RTV holding it in place.


I should mention I removed the AC compressor and line because I am deleting the rear AC, and also because the whole system had an undiagnosed (to my knowledge) leak.
The previous owner said he thought it might be the compressor shaft seal. So when I get around to fixing the AC (next summer) I will put in a new line/compressor that does not have
an outlet for the rear AC system.

My service manuals finally showed up lol

That brings us up to the present. Its pissing rain here, supposed to dry up next week and I'm heading back down to put the van back together monday.
I have a new delphi distributor, new coil, plugs and wires, coolant and oil sending units and a bunch of other stuff going in.
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Wow a lot of work you are doing.
The body of the van is like brand new underneath. No rust anywhere.
You should have left your oil cooling lines alone. The pipes were not rusted.
Now your engine oil will feel more heat and lament the lose of a cooler.
yeah the van is from the ca central valley. we are blessed out here with very little rust.
the cooler lines were hemmoraging oil all over the steering and suspension, they had to go.
some people advise against deleting the cooler and some people delete the oil cooler and dont have any problems, we will see how I fare. im adding a 3 row radiator which might help out.
It will work fine without the cooler. I was just joking that the oil its self will complain of the missed cooling:)
oh lol!!
it will have to shut up and be thankful i change it every 5k haha
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Fwiw, I deleted my oil cooler also. I did it after my new AC Delco lines started to leak…

The oil cooler is not needed, but these lines are a liability.
So much great work this van is going to last you a long time…. IMHO You are wise not to risk it for an oil cooler you don’t need.
thanks man. cant wait to have it back together so i can start the interior
  • Like
Reactions: 1
been buttoning things up this week, Ill have another big post this weekend.

in the mean time I have two questions:

1) what is this plastic hose? you can see it underneath the distributor, it has a yellow mark on it. i broke a clip on it and feel like I should replace it. is it part of the pcv?
Motor vehicle Automotive fuel system Automotive design Auto part Personal luxury car

Motor vehicle White Automotive tire Hood Black

2) what is this big lump under the driver's seat? some sort of electronics? i would love to put a fuel tank for the diesel heater here.
Hood Automotive tire Automotive exterior Motor vehicle Grey

any help is much appreciated

See less See more
OH, and IIRC that is the location of the infamous Anti-lock brake control module ( ECBM) or some similar anagram, which reputedly suffers from solder connection issues and rusty screws if it lived in certain parts of the country.
Rod J

Rod J
thanks for the info Rod, yeah good point im thinking i would have a hard time with fumes in that spot.
my van actually has an intermittent abs light that seems to come on under hard braking. could be a cluster issue i guess.
got the engine back together today and the front diff back in, before i put it all back together i decided to run it and make sure i didnt have any catastrophic oil leaks.
well, it keyed on fine but as soon as I turned the key to the crank position the entire car died and is now completely unresponsive.

edit: a new bolt on the negative batt terminal solved the issue and she's running healthy. which means i probably got the distributor in right.
time to put it back together and drive it tomorrow.
  • Like
Reactions: 1
good luck with the project!
thanks man haha richmond stand up. we have a good group out here.

in other news she's back together folks. what a 3 week saga. final update on this first mechanical pass next week. still a few minor things to work out and some stuff i didnt get to but she's road worthy again.

Wheel Tire Automotive parking light Vehicle Automotive tire
Car Vehicle Wheel Automotive tire Drink

enjoying a celebratory dip and taking in the last few rays of sunlight here on the mtn
See less See more
here is a wrap up of the work done to get it back together

BUT first I would like to take a moment and appreciate the majesty of the vehicle my astro is replacing:

my 02 mercedes 4matic wagon with a lift and AT tires. If anyone is looking for a daily driver that isnt an astro I cant recommend these enough, if you're going to work on it yourself.

wrapping up the front axle

I used some heat on the passenger's axle seal and it popped out with a regular seal puller, no issue.
I beat the new seal in with a block of wood. you can see where the lip caught on the axle housing and folded it over. We will see if it leaks going forward, it hasnt yet.

for the Driver's side, I removed the cover bolts and took the seal and cover off

As has been addressed before on this forum, the cover plate used to be available for purchase with a new seal preinstalled from GM, but has been discontinued. you can still get the seals which are both the same PN. However, if you try to pry the seal out of the cover plate you will almost certainly bend it and cause a leak. So you have to try and use a press of some kind.

Here is where I got really lucky. I wasnt sure how to press the old seal out of the cover plate but I was going to try and find some plumbing pipe at a hardware store.
I ran into a fellow member of this forum in santa cruz who spotted the part I was carrying and said "hey that's a diff cover" haha.
He told me he had just done the same seal replacement on his astro and used a 3" holesaw to cut out a space to press the seal in a 2x4. It turned out to be a great solution.


The block of wood removed by the holesaw is also a great tool for hammering in the new seal.

I cant find the guy who helped me but if you see this post throw in a comment. Crazy coincidence we ran into each other.

next I split the bracket that holds the original coil and cleaned up the pieces in the parts washer

cleaned up the mounting surface for the cover plate and added a thin bead of permatex grey

in between all of this I took some time and cut all of the rear heat and AC lines from under the chassis.
Everyone is already mad at me for removing these systems to I wont post how I did this, but you have to cut them out, they are above everything else, its extremely dangerous so just skip it haha.

If anyone wants my rear heat module send me a PM Ill hold onto it for a couple weeks

battery tray back in post-rust repair

Threw new oil pressure and coolant temp senders at it, both read accurately now on the dash

Found TDC cylinder 1 to replace the distributor. Does anyone know why the intake valve is so thick?

new Delphi distributor. has a metal body which is nice.
I was worried it was off a tooth as it didnt line up perfectly with the case, however the van seems to run fine


new Ac Delco double platinum. Service manual says 15 ft lbs.

Can anyone help me identify if this is the original distributor?

finally, I was throwing away the box for the new crank sensor and there were 2 shims in it. Im really glad I found these because i pulled the new sensor back out and it
was already scored on the tip just from turning the engine over to find TDC
I reinstalled it with just one shim. There was no scoring on the OE sensor so I believe the new timing cover must be sitting in a slightly different position.
See less See more
Reinstalling the front suspension:

I reinstalled the passenger's side bracket before reinstalling the diff. you can tighten the bolts while its in the car and the bushings are pretty tight in the chassis.
It was kind of a chore getting everything to line up. (yes, I fixed the serpentine belt later)
There is only 5mm between my oil pan and the front diff. Scary. hopefully now that everything is poly they wont come in contact.

service manual page

its been awesome having real GM service manuals. $25 well spent.

next. sway bar
using some new moog thermoplastic bushings, they seem to work well.

I had a ton of problems with moog parts while the front end was going back together.
first, I had to install washers on the new sway bar bushing brackets because the oe bolts were chewing through the brackets without them
However, the bolt spacing causes the washers to interfere with the brackets, so I had to grind down the washers.
not the end of the world, but wait, theres more.

next, the new moog lower control arms interfered with the frame bracket well before hitting the bump stop.
the oe control arm:

so then I had to go clearance the other arm while it was off the car
I hit them both with some VHT paint but i dont expect the coating to last long. Very annoying.

The factory service manual states to install the front leg of the LCA first and then the rear, and you really have to do it this way or it will be HELL getting the bolts to line up in the bushings.
the driver's side LCA went on pretty easy but the passenger's was a nightmare. the way I did it was the install the front bushing bolt loosely and then use a floor jack and a big rubber mallet to beat the rear bushing into place so I could drive a bolt through the chassis bracket. I would expect all chassis to be a little different, some more difficult than others.

Then, the new Moog upper control arms came with a rivet where the brake cable bracket was supposed to be (and curiously, a bolt where the speed sensor cable mounts, which is a less critical

super fun busting rivets out of brand new control arms. Funnily enough they come with both bolts, so its as if they expect you to remove the rivet if neccessary. maybe these arms fit multiple vehicles.

Here is my order of operations for installing the front suspension.

1) install LCA to chassis (bolts loose)
2) install torsion bar into LCA
3) install torsion bar into xmember by rotating loose LCA until it slides in (then turn the LCA until you can insert the t-bar bolt bracket and let it rest on the bracket)
4) install knuckle to LCA and torque BJ
5) install UCA to knuckle and torque BJ (do not bolt to chassis)
6) install axle through space between frame and LCA (with the knuckle tilted forward because the UCA isnt bolted up)
7) install axle into diff
8) bolt UCA to chassis

If you dont do it this way and you install the axle before the UCA (like I did the first time) you will have a hell of a time torquing the UCA ball joint. you can probably get it with a crescent wrench socket or something like that though.

SKF front hubs
I put some grease behind the axle seal in the knuckle, not sure if this was good or not but I figured it couldnt hurt anything

now I went to install some new MOOG HD sway bar end links and lo and behold, the washers didnt fit through the holts in the new MOOG lower control arms.

hardware store didnt have any good options so I got the flap disc back out and ground those down too.
again, very annoying.

And then I destroyed one of the shafts while torquing it
jokes on me because I ordered another set that has solid shafts, not these pos folded steel tubes but the new ones are also from moog


I was going to reuse the front calipers but they were only $25 from my friend's supplier so I picked some refurbished ones up. never heard of "Nugeon" but they work well so far.
I got a powerstop evolution kit for the front and rear from Rockauto for the car

This my first car that has speed bleeders on it and Ill never go back. I ended up ordering the wrong ones for the rear drums but I got some Dorman versions locally that seem to work fine.

I did not end up replacing the rear brake shoes and hardware yet as they have plenty of life left.
I ran out of time to do the rear wheel bearings and seals and I am going to look into getting a Posi put into the rear end so I will wait to mess with it until then.
There arent any awful noises coming from the rear end (yet) but there is definitely play in the wheel bearings.

There was a ton of black crud in the fluid reservoir that I cleaned out but with the speed bleeders I could flush it for quite awhile and eventually got clean fluid.

last step was torquing the axle bolts. 55 ft lbs. I replaced the bolts with grade 12 hex heads from ace as the originals were stripping.
See less See more
1 - 20 of 60 Posts