This is a fun, functional, and affordable 1/2-ton Chevy pickup which will become even more
Aftermarket parts for the Chevy Silverado are abundant, and there must be thousands of things that can be added to, or modified on, these popular pickups. Except this one. Four Wheeler readers will either love or hate this project because we'll actually change and add very little on this '05 Silverado 1500. Equally abnormal, it's a two-wheel drive-and it'll stay that way. What's that all about, you may ask?
The short answer is "money"-as in purchase price, fuel economy, and overall cost-but practicality and reliability played a big part in the decision process too. This pickup should serve the basic needs of transportation in a comfortable manner, hold enough cargo to avoid having to tow a trailer too often, yet be strong enough to pull a trailer when needed. Of course, it should also be fun to drive and easy on the wallet.
A good foundation which won't require too much tinkering is obviously essential, but four-wheel drive really isn't since this vehicle wasn't meant for more than very mild trails. It can tow a light 4x4 to the good trails, however. With only minor overlap, it'll do everything a more dedicated trail machine is not good at, and vice versa, rather than being somewhere in between and not particularly good at anything. Basically, it can fill the gap left by too many trail-friendly modifications to the four-wheeler.
Quality parts will be used for whatever modifications are deemed worthwhile, as it's usually less expensive in the long run to pay a little more up front than to go with the lowest possible price. Sometimes we'll look into the high-end stuff as well as the more affordable parts and pieces, in case your wallet is thicker than ours.
A fun, relatively inexpensive and practical vehicle is the whole idea here, and you might just like the simplistic approach because less can indeed be more.
A no-frills Chevy 1500 W/T has dirt-friendly rubber floor mats, manual door locks and windows-even a floor-mounted shifter on the 4x4 models. It's not really a Silverado in our mind since that used to be the premier option package. Not even a Bronzeado, but more of an Ironado. Sitting on the dealer's lot was a standard-bed that came with the tiny 4.8 V-8, automatic, 3.73:1 gears and a tow package-and, unfortunately, a pricey cruise control and upgraded stereo. Still, thanks to generous GM rebate programs (and saved up GM Card points) this little pickup hit the street at $15,147, tax license and all. Not a bad start.
A V-6 would've been $945 cheaper, but would not have been able to pull grades all that well, especially with a trailer, and with 90 hp less, it'd seriously hurt the fun factor. Likewise, the standard five-speed would've saved $1,095, but without the benefit of low-range in a transfer case, the torque converter will have to make up the difference when creeping over obstacles. If you actually need four-wheel drive, it's an extra $3,065, but that is still far cheaper than adding it later.
It took exactly two stoplights to determine that the open diff and low-bidder tires had to go.
A single Ameritrac tire was nowhere near capable of handling this little Chevy's 285 horses on pavement, and dirt trails were an iffy proposition with little weight in the rear and the open diff. Well, at least it wasn't the optional $325 diff, a time bomb aka a Gov-Lock. A Detroit Truetrac would be the ideal upgrade in this case since it doesn't affect street handling, and as long as both tires are on the ground, it really does drive them both. And when one's in the air, just apply a little brake. Plus, the all-gear unit doesn't have any clutches to wear out.
Coast Driveline & Gear in Ventura, California, swiftly replaced the stock open carrier and sure enough, the Truetrac was practically unnoticeable in regular driving, except that the right rear wouldn't go up in smoke when getting on the throttle. But in the dirt, the Truetrac made a huge difference. On a relatively steep dirt trail that used to be tricky to get up even with a running start, we could now stop halfway and get going again-without any wheelspin. Having both rear wheels actually drive isn't too far from having four-wheel drive, and it often works even better than an open-diffed 4x4.
Coast Driveline & Gear installed a Detroit Truetrac with the stock 3.73:1 gears in the 8.6-inch 10-bolt. A perfect pattern was achieved with the factory shims, which Coast's personnel said is very common, thanks to the Detroit's precision manufacturing. With Coast's lift and expertise, the install took only a couple of hours, so you could likely install one at home with relative ease in a day. Since the Truetrac requires a new Timken set 26 bearings, there's no need to pull the old ones off the stock diff, making a home install more feasible yet.
As with any vehicle, adding a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher should've been the very first accessorizing, but it became a close second. This was also a darn good time not to be frugal, so a 2.5-pound Halon extinguisher from H3R was chosen as a first defense against meltdown. At $135, it wasn't cheap, but we prefer putting the fire out rather than having to put the vehicle out of its misery later. In retrospect, a reconditioned unit would've been just fine, and costs $45 less.
Much, much better than duct tape and shop rags, an EZ Care Weekender Kit from Adventure Medical Kits was chosen as a people tool kit of sorts. With somebody who knows how to use its extensive contents, it can provide comfort for or save up to six people. And it does indeed contain duct tape too. As with the extinguisher, hopefully the first aid kit will never have to be used, but either one could save a life if some day the feces do hit the fan.
Realistically, the most important improvements made to the Silverado was the addition of an Adventure Medical Kits bag of first aid products and a Halon fire extinguisher from H3R. Not much else matters if you've bled to death or burnt to a crisp. This Weekender kit is only 8.5x7.5x4 inches, yet contains the goods to treat wounds, burns, blisters, fractures, sprains, and bleeding. It's all packaged in logical and marked compartments, together with instruments, medications, and a manual. H3R's Halon extinguisher requires less know-how to use-pull the pin, point at the fire and squeeze the trigger-but can save both people and vehicles. Halon doesn't leave a mess like water or dry powder would, so discharging this extinguisher under the dash, in the cab, or engine compartment doesn't add to the damage done by the fire.
Equipped with bottom-of-the-line tires and wheels-245/70R17 skinnies on heavy 17x7 steel wheels-room for improvement was large. While acceptable in the dirt, the stock tires were already chunking and wearing funny at 800 miles. On pavement they were adequate, but the rear end would often skip in turns on uneven asphalt due to the heavy wheels and crummy tires.
We started searching for good-looking aluminum 16x8-inch wheels (15s won't fit) with the correct offset, but eventually decided on American Racing's 17x8 Moab. These forged wheels (PN 9251-7838) are light and strong, but not exactly cheap at $375. However, the performance and ride quality improved quite noticeably-not to mention the Silverado's appearance-but see the "Wheel Options" sidebar for a less expensive alternative.
The Bridgestone tires and American Racing wheels made a huge difference in handling and comfort, plus they saved some unsprung weight (14.4 pounds), although both are 1 inch wider than stock. Going from a 245/70 to a 275/60R17 only made a 2.3 percent difference in revolutions per mile in this case, so the speedo is still happy. A 3/4-inch socket is needed for the ARE wheels' included lug nuts, but they have the same taper as the metric stockers and work on the steel spare wheel too.
It's probably the first time ever in a four-wheel-drive magazine, but the mild-treaded stock tires were chucked in favor of even milder ones-and P-rated at that. Are we completely nuts? Could very well be, but the OE low-bidder tires were the only noise in the cab and didn't work all that well anyway, so we took a gamble on Bridgestone's Dueler H/L Alenza, size 275/60R17. We're glad we did, because the pickup became a quiet, extremely responsive, and predictable ride with kind of a go-cart feel from the lighter, wider wheels and superior tires. Of course, it all backfired in the dirt. With decreased contact pressure from the wider and milder treads, slopes became harder to conquer, and even sand was now trickier to traverse with the unladen pickup.
Since the Chevy will undoubtedly gain some weight, it just might grow into its new, larger shoes, and our only regret is that we didn't do one hellacious burnout to take the stock tires out in style before switching to the Bridgestones.
Carrying tools in a new vehicle may not seem all that natural, for three reasons. First, it's new and shouldn't break down in the first place. Yeah, right. Second, it's under warranty, so why bother? That's fine and dandy near a dealership, but a warranty doesn't mean squat in the sticks. Third, there's nothing that can be fixed on late-model stuff anyway. Well, while it would be nice to have an oscilloscope and such for troubleshooting the electronics, there are still a lot of fixable things on vehicles made in this millennium. Therefore, a Craftsman tool set was added to the mix, and its 137 pieces will go a long way toward performing maintenance as well as road- and trailside fixes, but it's not complete by any means. A hammer, hacksaw, adjustable wrench, pliers, prybar, and more will have to be added, not to mention those dreaded Torx tools, but this Craftsman set is a very good start.
Perhaps even more frustrating than not having the correct tools for a fix is not having a clue what to fix, or how. That's where a service manual comes in, an invaluable tool in itself. Just the wiring diagrams are worth the price of admission. Alternatively, if you're refinancing the house anyway, you could always get GM's OnStar thingy rather than tools and a manual.
Life without a good flashlight is, well, dark. South West Public Safety carries the entire line of Streamlight rechargeable flashlights, and after years of using the small but very capable Stinger on a daily basis, we were ready to order one for the pickup. SWPS suggested the even smaller Strion instead, and we're glad we listened. Despite its diminutive size (just 5 1/4 inches long-compare to the cigarette lighter plug), this quality light outshines much larger regular flashlights, yet fits in a pocket. A charge lasts about an hour, and a 110-volt charger is available. If only the rear blinkers were 1/50th as visible.
Tools for a brand-new vehicle? Well, it doesn't much matter how many miles or years are left on the warranty if something gives out 82 miles from the nearest pavement. It was hard to resist this Craftsman 137-piece kit (PN 5137) when it was on sale for just $98. It contains enough sockets, wrenches, and such to handle most basic repairs and installations, and everything stays put relatively well within the case. Also, there is room for additional tools, such as pliers, a hammer, and some extensions. This case lives behind the passenger seat until the bed gets some sort of toolbox or cover.
While most anything added to the Silverado will increase its weight and consequently hurt performance, some additions are worth it. There are still quite a few things that will be installed and/or modified to improve its utility. That useless center seat, for example, has to come out. Also, the taillights' output is dangerously bad, and they're ugly. Well, you'll just have to wait and see what all gets done to the Chevy we're trying not to do anything to, but rest assured that it'll remain in the bling-free zone.
There are lots of wheels to choose from for a late-model six-lug Chevy, and an 8-inch-wide rim can be a good compromise between rim width and keeping the tires inside the fenders. With a 4 1/2-inch backspacing (zero offset), the American Racing Moab wheels added 1 1/2 inches to the outside over the 17x7 stockers. This kept the tread just inside the body lines and shouldn't punish the wheel bearings much. All good and nice, but also pricey.
Another alternative is the pictured Mickey Thompson Classic II, size 17x9 (PN 379411). With a 5-inch backspacing, that extra inch of width is divided equally and no worse for the wheel bearings than are the 17x8s. Also, while the sidewall moves out (and in) by 1/2 inch, the tread remains in the same relative position with either wheel, putting the shoulder right at the edge of the fender, avoiding needless dirt, rock, and mud spray onto the body. At $175 apiece, the Mickey Thompson wheels are significantly cheaper, plus the design is very similar to the stocker's. Like the Moabs, the MTs come with center caps, but cutting the three little knobs off the back of the factory center caps makes them fit over the Classic IIs. Then, for the ultimate in sleeper appearance, paint the wheels silver and very few will notice the lighter, 2-inch-wider wheel. By the way, the tire seen here is a Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport, which is even more mild-treaded than the Dueler H/L we run, and not what you'd want for trail use.
Adventure Medical Kits
American Racing Equipment
19067 S. Reyes Ave.
Coast Driveline & Gear
2457 Palma Dr.
Southwest Public Safety