2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

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2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » February 19th 2019, 5:03am

IMG_20190216_131948.jpg
As I bought it. Just prior to new tires.

Hello! I am the lucky owner of an 2002 Astro LS 2WD! I've just had it since Friday and I didn't know I was getting one-it was kind of a surprise! The build will be over the spring and early summer with some little stuff happening in the next weeks and months. I am in the PNW and enjoy camping and road tripping. We have a big trip planned this summer to drive all the way across the country, hence the van. I'll be sharing the story of how Fran the Van came into our family and some of my thoughts on its use and my plans for setting it up. I've attached a photo of the van as I bought it. More soon. Cheers! RDD
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Leeann_93 » February 19th 2019, 5:12am

Welcome to the madness ;)
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » February 19th 2019, 7:01am

Thanks Leeann_93! I am pleasantly surprised that these vans have an active fanbase! My other wheeled machines are also well supported by forums and the aftermarket, and this forum seems like a real treasure trove! I'll share a little of my journey to the AstroSafari world.
So, I was an air cooled VW guy from way back. My first car was a beetle and I've had three busses-two of them Westys. The last I sold in 2012 after eleven years of ownership. I had a baby and it just felt wrong putting them in a 78 VW, no matter how nice it was. Last week my wife and I were thinking of this summer and decided we're going to do a big road trip all the way across the states. I just knew I'd need a van for our "tortoise shell" in order to get excited about that much time in a car with our two young children! I started thinking VW of course. I spent many hours online, sent lots of emails and looked at five VWs--one air cooled Vanagon Westy (82 for 12K) two full camper Eurovans (99 for 20k, 97 for 25k) and a couple of weekenders (00 for 22.5k). On the way out the door one morning, I saw my neighbor (best ever) putting a sign in his Astro van. I've seen this van used daily for nearly eight years and it's in good shape. Due to a very minimal accident the insurance company totalled it--all about the airbags. Since it was a nice van they repaired it anyway and drove it for another six years. Anyway, the van was $2300. As I went to check out a $25k van that was several years older and in inferior condition, I got to thinking that I must be mad. The Astro has 164k on it and both the interior and exterior are in very good condition. It has a few dings and such, but overall it's quite nice. I spoke with my wife and we decided to pull the trigger the same day. I got it for $2k. I've looked around the area and this seemed like a good price for the condition--of course the salvage title played a part in the pricing.
So, now I've got a new van! First things first, I took it and got new tires the next morning! My intent was to put on some ATs, probably Nokian Rotiiva 225/70/16 as it has aftermarket wheels. After a few calls, I went to a shop and these wheels have a positive offset and the ATs would rub on turning--but I like the wheels, so I got some all-seasons. I went from 225/60/16 to 235/60/16. So a little wider and a little taller. But they're really close to the stock diameter. Speedo reads about 2mph over actual, which is pretty close to OEM spec.
IMG_20190216_144017.jpg
New Rubber! from 225/60/16 to 235/60/16
IMG_20190217_134348.jpg
I can clean these up!

These are Toyo Eclipse, which the livery company I worked for way back when used on all their rigs, so I know they're decent. My other rigs have expensive tires, these were reasonably priced. I figured that my 78 Westy had all-season white walls and I drove that thing to all sorts of places I had no business being. It's more about the van than tires, but they got it done. I like the tires, the stance is wide and looks pretty low (stock) and these wheels are just too cool to replace! I figured that I could take some McGuires medium cut cleaner and Mothers to them and they'd clean up a bit. I got a polishing drum for my drill and had at it!
IMG_20190217_163651.jpg
All polished up!

My neighbor came over at this point and said the van told him it wished he had sold it to me years ago! I've got lots of ideas about potential directions, with camping at the center of all of them--and daily service as a people hauler. My wife has claimed it. I didn't know to expect it, but man she's into this Astro! I was excited to have a solid platform for such a low price that I could modify without guilt, but two days in it's looking like she'll want it to be usable as a dd. I think that I can accommodate these requirements--perhaps...
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby konybravo » February 19th 2019, 8:59am

Welcome to Wondastroland, Allice! :D There's no chance, not to fall in love, with an Astro, especially coming from a VW world!You realize, how badly deceived, you have been... :D Ask me how I know :lol:

P.S I absolutely love your wheels! :thumbup:
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby TurnNburn » February 19th 2019, 6:53pm

Welcome to the forum!


PS... definitely do look up crash test videos of the astro if you ditched the VW's for safety for the lil' ones
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby CopperFiremistCopperFiremist is online! » February 19th 2019, 8:13pm

Welcome aboard! What part of the PNW are you located?
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby WinnieVan » February 19th 2019, 8:14pm

Rainy_Day_Dragon wrote:My wife has claimed it. I didn't know to expect it, but man she's into this Astro! I was excited to have a solid platform for such a low price that I could modify without guilt, but two days in it's looking like she'll want it to be usable as a dd.


This. This. This. Get it going while she is still excited! Although, it sounds like you've been vanning for awhile, so I'm sure she is used to it!! :lol:

Welcome to the club! This forum is so awesome and we're excited to see what you do to your new Astro!
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby AstroWill » February 19th 2019, 11:59pm

Excited to watch this build progress!

Welcome to the site!

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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » February 20th 2019, 5:29am

Thanks for all of the welcomes everyone! I am in Portland, CopperFiremist. WinnieVan, I agree that I should get to modding Fran the Van while my wife is excited about it! Right now I'm ding some fairly major stuff to my basement, and the road trip is months away, so my tack will be measured. And I took it up the street to a mechanic because I knowingly bought it with a coolant leak. So... I'll get into that later, now I want to share some pix I shot this morning. I took my kid to school in it this morning with the intent to go take some poser photos afterwards. So here they are!

P1180855_resize.JPG

P1180850_resize.JPG

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P1180836 copy_resize.jpg

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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby CopperFiremistCopperFiremist is online! » February 20th 2019, 5:34am

Looking good! You should bring it out to Burning Van!
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby ericstg » February 20th 2019, 6:28am

Welcome! Another Portlander! Maybe we should plan a Portland meet up of some sort.
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » February 20th 2019, 7:48am

It looks like there are a few Portlanders here in my modest forum exploration. I'm down to meet up sometime. I'm in the 5th quadrant. Planning on getting Fran the Van back sometime tomorrow all refreshed from the mechanic, so I've got that to look forward to!
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby WoodButcher » February 20th 2019, 4:37pm

welcome!
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby TurnNburn » February 20th 2019, 5:49pm

A handful of us over in Bend as well if you ever make it over the mountains
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » March 2nd 2019, 12:58am

Inquiry post moved to a more appropriate thread.
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » March 18th 2019, 6:32am

Van Francisco is coming along a little at a time. A couple of days after we bought it, I took it to a mechanic to address the coolant leak. I'd noticed the smell and had to add some coolant prior to purchase, checked for condensation in the oil cap, looked for water in the oil and smelled the exhaust for that syrupy sweet smell-- then bought it with my fingers crossed. I was right that it wasn't a head gasket problem, but it was more involved than a leaky hose or even a radiator. At this point, some of you are surely thinking "I know what that is!", both the mechanics I talked with guessed it correctly right away. Intake manifold gasket! I guess that this is a common problem with these. It was pretty expensive to get fixed. If the van wasn't from my really awesome next door neighbor, I never would have bought a vehicle with an obvious coolant problem like this, but this time I did. Water under the bridge (or on the ground under my van!), as they say--we love the van. Since the engine is a bear to get to in these vans, this surely added to the expense, but the shop seemed experienced with the platform and likes Chevys in general.
Engine 2.jpg

engine 1.jpg

Since the engine was all apart, I had other stuff done too. I got a new serpentine belt, new spark plugs and wires, a new water pump, some hoses and had the transmission flushed. phew!
It's been a few weeks since the work was done and everything seems good. I decided to do some stuff to the drive train, so I got into some research about LSDs and what my van had in it.
Last edited by Rainy_Day_Dragon on March 18th 2019, 7:50am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » March 18th 2019, 7:32am

Since a big reason that we bought the Astro is to camp, I want it to be reasonably competent on the forest roads and such and planned on a LSD from the beginning. The G80 that sometimes came from the factory is an Eaton clutch style LSD and the units are reasonably priced. I've had a LockRight, Detroit (Locker) and an OX on a Wrangler, and my FZJ80 has factory E Lockers, so I appreciate the capability they offer. This being a family van a lot of the time, I think a full locker is over the top (but dang the E lockers are the way to go if money is no obstacle--and they are available for the application). My research seemed to indicate that the clutch style LSD last somewhere around 80k before they start to wear out (asked a couple of axle shops), that they are pretty well behaved on the road if you have the correct additives in the diff--and they are rebuildable when they eventually wear out. The Detroit Truetrack is considered to have the best road manners of LSDs and has no replaceable parts, but should last basically as long as the van. Both types are torque multipliers and clutch type are adjustable and as shipped usually send around 2.5 times the power of the slipping wheel to the one with traction, while the TT (helical gear) is non-adjustable (?) and sends around 3.5 times the power to the wheel with traction. Both work forward and reverse. The main reason to buy the clutch type seemed to me that they were a factory option--and price. I found a good price on the Detroit and bought one that shouldn't need servicing.
IMG_20190312_140339.jpg

IMG_20190312_140348.jpg

I also bought some new gears since it would only set me back the cost of parts. The van had 3.42s which seems to be the most common setup. My tires are just a little smaller than the stock ones, 27.1 vs 27.7 (stock), and this changes my effective gear ratio with 3.42s to 3.5, (I'd need 3.35 to return to stock ratio w/these tires--not an actual gear option). I decided to go with the 3.73 set, but there were 3.55, 3.90, 4.10 and 4.56 options as well. My limited experience with different ratios were my 97 TJ (manual) that had 4.10s and 35s--with a manual, it was so bad, I traded my 35s for a set of 33s (much better) and my FZJ80 had 4.11s with the 315s (also 35s) and I changed to 4.88. Anyway, I was always trying to get back to the stock ratio--on the Astro, I was going for a lower gearing than stock, so this is new territory for me.
IMG_20190312_135942.jpg

I had the sense that the stock gears seemed a little tall for our 20mph surface street limit and a little on the loose side pulling my RPod. They were fine, but kind of like driving my FZJ80 with stock 4.10s and 35s--it could have been better. Mostly What I was looking for was a little more throttle control, being able to decelerate by letting off the gas, pull the trailer in a more controlled way and yeah, a little more assertive acceleration. I was tempted by the 3.90s but thought it might be too much for a DD. The difference is noticeable and just what I was looking for. With my smaller tires, my effective ratio is 3.81 with the 3.73s, where I would need 3.35s to be at stock gearing. 3.35->3.81 is a pretty decent reduction.
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Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » March 23rd 2019, 2:25am

The new gears have been good for the last week. There is only a little gear noise upon deceleration and I'm about 200 miles into the break in period. I haven't noticed the Detroit Truetrac in daily driving in any way, which is just what I want from an LSD. I did take the van to a gravel road and drove it up a hill in some mud to see if the wheels would lock up together.

IMG_20190316_154656.jpg
I've gotta say, seeing that the Truetrac works properly was very satisfying!


There was a little hairpin corner that had a pretty good twist to it--a good example of a situation where an open diff--especially a RWD--would lose traction and spin a tire. No problem driving up this at all.

IMG_20190316_155056.jpg
classic place to spin a tire.


I had been thinking about how I might get my CVT rtt on the Astro. We have the Denali 4 person and it's been on the Land Cruiser. This tent requires a three bar rack because it's so long. On the LC I had it on three sets of brackets from DiamondRax with SuperStrut for the bars--it was rock solid. I looked into a couple of options for the van, from DiamondRax and a couple of other sources, but asked one of the reps from CVT if it would work on the stock rack. She said yes, if it had three aftermarket bars on it. Because the stock rack is in an arc, I thought that if I just moved the stock sliding cross-members towards the middle and used the thin (3/4?) Superstrut that they would create a level surface across the top for the tent. I think that the SS is stronger than the stock crossmembers, but there are two of them, so I think overall it should work--at least temporarily. It's possible that the plastic brackets would crack, but the weight is pretty well dispersed and the crossmembers are placed close to them. My thinking is that as long as the uplift from the front isn't too powerful (it's mounted really low--not much space to create lift) and I don't go driving really fast over really bumpy roads to create lateral tension on the brackets, that the 8 stock brackets are up to the direct downward pressure of the tent and occupants.

IMG_20190315_175920.jpg
Just add RTT!


IMG_20190315_175841.jpg


If this setup works for a while, I'll have a capable camping machine as it is. My intent is to build a Westfalia-esque kitchen unit with a sink and water system, but I'll probably stick with my portable Camp Chef stove (or the slimmer Coleman model). While I used my dual burner in my 78 Westy regularly, without the standing room inside of that vehicle, I'd prefer to cook outside, or on the tailgate when possible, just cooking inside if necessary. I've been considering finding a way to have an onboard propane system to run a stove and maybe buying another Wave 3 heater, but I think for now, I'll just use the small portable cans for lanterns and cooking. While it would be convenient, I'm just not sure it's worth the trouble and expense to me to build a propane system at this time. I've got a Big Buddy heater, but it's pretty BIG and I'm not sure I'd want to make space for it. If planning a trip in particularly bad weather, I'd probably take the trailer anyway.

I have removed the center row seat and only left the rear, intending to leave them like this for my kids to ride in. The kitchen will go behind the driver bolted to two of the brackets for the middle seat and probably another bracket behind. Behind the rear row, I will build a unit the size of the space, at the same height as the folded rear seat (bolted to the cargo tie-downs). I will make a bed that spans the rear unit, rear seat and over about half of the center floor space. I plan to use 3/4" plywood for the main structure and 1/2" for some internal stuff. Strong construction and proper securing is vital, since I'll have my little passengers aboard, and I will carefully consider this.

Also, one of the door speakers was blown, so I ordered some new ones and installed them this week. I went with a two-way set, so now I've got double tweeters! I got a set of JBL Club 6520's and they sound good--not blown! I did have an issue with the driver's door wiring. Turned out it was severed inside the rubber collar in the door jam. I thought it was working previously, but the breaks in the wire seemed like they weren't new. It was a little challenging to get in there to fix them, but I just soldered it, taped it up and it was all good! I have a Scosche single-din install kit, but haven't chosen a new head unit yet. (recommendations welcomed!). I think that it will sound a little better with a new stereo, but the stock cd player doesn't sound too bad now.

IMG_20190316_154241.jpg
In the woods! The road was a little muddy and I could have purposefully gotten it stuck with an open diff--the TT locked up and forward motion was assured!


The tilting window on the DS had broken retaining clips, and I got some new ones from the dealer and put them on this week. It's nice to get the little things in order... I got my brake controller hooked up too. When I did the registration, I got some new plates. I splurged for the vintage reissue "Pacific Wonderland" style that's fees go to support the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon State Capitol Foundation. They are the color of our state flag, deep navy blue with lettering and outline the color of a school bus--they look pretty neat!
I've got a number of other things I plan to do to the van--I might get to work on the interior some this week.
Last edited by Rainy_Day_Dragon on March 23rd 2019, 6:43pm, edited 2 times in total.
Original Poster [OP]
Rainy_Day_Dragon
Fueling (1/4 tank)
Fueling (1/4 tank)
Years of Membership: Rainy_Day_Dragon has been a member for 2 full yearsRainy_Day_Dragon has been a member for 2 full years
Posts: 34
Topics: 2
Joined: February 2019
Alias (AKA): Rainy
Van Model Year: 2002
Van Make/Model: Chevrolet Astro
Extra Info: RWD TrueTrac 3.73s

Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby ericstg » March 23rd 2019, 5:02am

I totally drove by you the other day while you were setting up the RTT! Looking good man!
2003 AWD Astro Cargo, 3+1(plus a shackle) lift, LT245/75R16, it's badass!

Update 12/31/20: It's dead!

https://www.astrosafari.com/viewtopic.p ... 7&t=129113
User avatar
ericstg
250k+ Miles
250k+ Miles
Firing on 2 Cylinders (L1)
Firing on 2 Cylinders (L1)
Years of Membership: ericstg has been a member for 3 full yearsericstg has been a member for 3 full yearsericstg has been a member for 3 full years
Posts: 277
Topics: 11
Images: 4
Joined: December 2017
Location: Portland OR
Gender: Male
Alias (AKA):
Van Model Year: 2003
Van Make/Model: Chevrolet Astro
Extra Info: AWD Cargo

Re: 2002 2WD LS intro and beginning of camperization

Postby Rainy_Day_Dragon [OP] » March 23rd 2019, 5:12am

Right on, if you see me out stop and say howdy!
Original Poster [OP]
Rainy_Day_Dragon
Fueling (1/4 tank)
Fueling (1/4 tank)
Years of Membership: Rainy_Day_Dragon has been a member for 2 full yearsRainy_Day_Dragon has been a member for 2 full years
Posts: 34
Topics: 2
Joined: February 2019
Alias (AKA): Rainy
Van Model Year: 2002
Van Make/Model: Chevrolet Astro
Extra Info: RWD TrueTrac 3.73s

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