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2005 Chevy Silverado 1500 Work Truck - Back 2 Basics

Posted in How To on January 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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This Silverado is beginning to look more like a street machine than the dual-purpose vehicle it is, especially with the 9-inch-wide rims that are in this photo. Looks aside, the Leer shell was especially helpful on this two-wheel-drive by putting some much-needed weight on the lone drive axle. The change isn't as drastic as what the Detroit Truetrac differential offered, but it's enough of a difference that we now venture places that we didn't dare to try before. Or, it could be that we're relearning our 4x2 driving skills. Either way, we now have a comfy place to sleep when we get stuck.

Finally, there are some additions on the Silverado, other than the tires and wheels, that made it look a little different. Yes, our little cheap pickup got a shell, and a really nice one. Also, rear LED lighting, which wasn't exactly inexpensive. So how does this fit the low-buck theme? It doesn't, but then we never did claim that this project was supposed to be a penny-pincher. On the contrary, we have advocated using quality parts over cheap ones all along, because that's usually less costly in the long run. Think value, not lowest price.

This project is intended to give you ideas on what can be done to a base-model Silverado (most of them also applicable to the high-zoot versions), although that doesn't mean that you must do everything the same. Many of you probably would have preferred a four-wheel drive, for example. That's one reason we often show several alternatives to what we used, and maybe one of those is more to your liking. Either way, you should make your Silverado more fun and practical for you.

The shell made the Chevy W/T much more practical for us, and we splurged on the LED taillights because they were the best we could find. Since we scored the '05 Chevy 1/2-ton with a V-8 and automatic for just $15,147 new (the sticker price was $22,115), it left some money for upgrades. As usual, we do try to use the funds wisely, on worthwhile upgrades.

A Bridgestone Dueler H/L (right) is a great tire for pavement but obviously leaves a bit to be desired in the dirt. We get by with this tire since the steep part (17 percent) of our driveway is now paved, there's a Truetrac in the axle, and because the H/L does perform surprisingly well in the dirt as long as it's not too wet. Any kind of mud sure puts the driving skills to the test, though. Because of its narrower and more aggressive tread, a Dueler A/T Revo (left) is a much better alternative for those who deal with rain, snow, or dirt on a daily basis-here shown on a light and affordable Pro Comp 1059 wheel.

An open pickup bed is great for transporting large, heavy objects. An engine, tranny and transfer case combo, for example, is easily loaded with a hoist or tractor bucket. Then again, an open pickup bed is less than ideal when tools, camping gear, and so on are exposed to rain, snow, or sticky fingers. The Chevy couldn't always accommodate our parts-store purchases in its smallish standard cab, so using another vehicle became the norm, especially on rainy days. Considering that we bought the new, comfy, and quiet Silverado to avoid having to always drive the noisy, old (but lovable) four-by, this just didn't make sense. In our case, a shell would.

Leer had exactly what we wanted-or more accurately, Leer could make it. With a wide variety of styles and options, finding a shell that fit the pickup and our needs perfectly was easy. We chose the 100LE, a cab-high model that offers premium fit and finish, plus an option list that rivals the pickup's. Actually, the Silverado came with eight options, six of which we wanted, and the Leer was ordered with seven.

A carpet headliner is nice for avoiding condensation when camping, and the removable front slider window allows easy cleaning and the possibility to transport longer objects-if the pickup also has a sliding window. We opted for a blank left side and a Windoor (glass door) on the right. At first, we scoffed at the optional coat hangers, but ordered them once we realized that the fold-down brackets are great for holding longer objects up and out of the way, or hanging a lantern on. Most likely, they can also be used for hanging clothes on. A three-outlet "Power Box" is handy for running the electric cooler and recharging camera batteries and such.

A windowless shell weighs less and looks cleaner, but not being able to see out to the right rear can be lethal at certain intersections. Because of this, we wanted a passenger-side window in the shell for the standard-cab Chevy, and it might as well be a useful one. Leer's Windoor opens up for access and is handy for getting to things in the enclosed bed, but without a screen, it's not ideal for camping. There are optional shelves for smaller stuff to go with these Windoors.

Finally, a Yakima roof rack was included, partially for transporting tubing and other long items, but also because it's a simple way to allow hoisting the shell up to the rafters for those times when it's better not to have it on. Tri-County Truck Tops in Oxnard, California, was the Leer dealer of choice for us, where installing the shell was done in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, without the need to drill a single hole in the Chevy's sheetmetal.

At about 160 pounds, the Leer shell noticeably smoothed the ride on evil freeway expansion joints, but also exaggerated the "Buick-ish" ride at speed. In strong side winds, the Silverado actually feels more stable with the shell, and the only drawback is increased wind noise, from about 70 mph and up. This may not be an issue with a more upscale (which is any) Silverado, but the near-complete lack of insulation at the rear of the W/T cab lets in a fair amount of noise that wasn't there before the installation of the shell.

While a Leer shell makes a noticeable dent in the wallet, we don't regret the decision one bit. Whether hauling parts or camping gear, it offers shelter from the weather. Tools and other heavy things that used to occupy precious cab space can now remain in the back, even when parked. Plus, the shell doubles as a tent, and we think it made the pickup look better.

Tires are very use-specific these days, which is one reason we changed the factory tires to the even milder Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza. Those AmeriTracs pretty much had to be replaced with something, and we preferred the superior handling and smooth, quiet ride that the 275/60R17 Bridgestones offer, even though they are indeed marginal for use in the dirt on a light pickup with their mild and wide tread, especially on anything resembling mud.

If you crave better traction on dirt, yet want a very street-friendly tire, consider, for example, the Bridgestone Dueler A/T Revo or the brand-new Pirelli Scorpion ATR. A P265/65R17 Revo is a nearly perfect match at 683 revolutions per mile (versus 681 for the stock 245/70R17s) but needs a 7.5- to 9.5-inch-wide rim. That's just one more reason to ditch those heavy 7-inch steel stockers. Factory aluminum wheels are 7.5 inches and work fine even with 275/60s. If you feel that an LT tire is more appropriate, the Revo LT265/70R17 is the closest at 31.6 inches tall and 656 rpm-which may or may not clear in the front, but can be used on a 7-inch rim. A P265/65R17 Scorpion ATR has the same rim width requirements as the Revo, and turns 680 times per mile, also keeping the speedo accurate.

By now, you may think that if changing wheels anyway, let's use 16s and have access to a much broader tire selection. So did we. Unfortunately, unless reverting to a thinner (and heavier) steel wheel, there's a definite clearance issue with the brake calipers up front. We took the grinder to ours, but stopped before having achieved the desired 1/16-inch clearance between the caliper and wheel, not knowing exactly how much material could be removed without compromising the strength of the caliper. After all, they are building things thinner these days.

There are a lot of cheesy Silverado aftermarket taillights out there, not all that inexpensive either, so we're surprised that the top-quality Hellas are less than $200 a pair. Perfectly legal and pleasing to the eye, they use all 24 LEDs for both brake and blinker functions, with a separate parking light at the bottom. Only the backup light is a regular incandescent bulb.

Those dismal stock taillights are indeed DOT-approved, but that doesn't mean we have to settle for substandard lighting. It was mostly the blinkers that bugged us, but the brake lights weren't overly visible, either. Victims of a designer trend, it is the lack of fresnels in the lenses that hampers the lights' performance, and we proved that by taping an old Jeep CJ lens over one, which made it far more visible. Swapping some fashion-conscious sucker his '99-'02 taillights for our ugly new ones would've been the easiest. Those earlier ones have amber turn signals and work quite well, but we kept looking for ways to fix what we had.

One attempt was with an amber Grand General LED 3157 replacement bulb in the blinker, because for some reason, amber LEDs still look amber through a red lens, and amber light is much easier to see than red. The 19-LED bulb sure perked up the light output, but only if you looked at it from straight behind. LEDs are very directional, and those damn smooth lenses don't spread the light at all. Without fresnels, they're technically not even lenses-just colored covers over poorly designed reflectors, and, obviously, the root of the problem.

It looks like a regular 4-inch-round taillight could be made to fit where the blinker and backup light is by cutting a hole in the lens and then putting backup lights somewhere else. We bought a spare lens on eBay to try this surgery on, only to come across the SpiderLite expandable LED bulb the next day. A SpiderLite is an ingeniously designed replacement bulb with three or five arms, each with LEDs on both sides, which gives both direct and indirect (through the reflector) light once expanded.

A pair of five-arm, 2.74-inch SpiderLite bulbs in the blinkers did wonders for visibility, at $45 each. Too bad they're not approved for street use and (like most LEDs) won't work correctly with the stock blinker relay because they draw so little current. We ran magnetic tow lights in the bed to make the SpiderLites blink at the right speed, and when we eventually did find a Grote 13-pin relay that would work with LEDs (P/A 44160) it was about $100. Bummer. However, it's easy enough to add resistors in the wiring instead of changing the relay, and when SpiderLite comes out with the amber version, we'll stick a pair in the front blinkers.

Before making it to the local electronics store for some resistors, we found out about Hella's replacement LED taillights for Silverados. Bingo. These taillights convert the separate brake and blinker functions back into a very visible "single bulb" setup, work with the stock relay, and are completely legal. They also look a lot better than the stockers, although that's not hard to achieve. We feel they're worth every penny of the nearly $200 the pair cost, because if somebody claims they didn't see the Hella blinkers or brake lights, that person must be beyond legally blind. Hopefully, Hella is working on something tasteful and effective for the headlights too.

While the taillight quest had officially ended, we later found a low-buck light fix, the Tailgate Running Light by Pacer (PN 20-801). It's a thin strip of LEDs that attaches just below the tailgate with self-adhesive pads and is powered by the trailer plug (although we'd suggest hard-wiring it). The entire 60 inches light up with the parking lights, the brake lights make it shine brighter yet all the way across, and the blinker function works its respective half. For about $60, that's a lot of extra visibility, and we like that the Pacer setup is practically invisible when not lit up. Either one of the above upgrades would be quite worthwhile from a safety standpoint, except in Los Angeles, where nobody uses their blinkers anyway.

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We're not sure exactly what the $95 "Heavy Duty" suspension option consists of, but if it was any less heavy-duty, we'd be afraid to let too much dust accumulate on the 11/42-ton pickup. Since the springs couldn't be any softer, the HD part had to be those spindly gas-charged shock absorbers. Don't get us wrong now-we really like a soft and cushy ride, but as soon as speeds exceeded 75 mph or the road surface got bumpy, this Silverado reminded us of a '59 Invicta we used to drive. Be glad if you have the regular shocks, as they seem to work much better.

The lighter American Racing wheels and Bridgestones helped keep the tires in contact with irregular road surfaces, but the vehicle showed every sign of being underdamped, particularly in the rear. Not knowing what damping rates would be ideal, a safe bet was to use Rancho's adjustable RS 9000X. Since the rear was likely the biggest problem and two shocks are cheaper than four (plus, it doesn't look like 9000s would physically fit in the front anyway), we replaced only the rear shocks. After setting them on "5" out of the nine positions, the Chevy rode and handled so nice that we never even tried another setting. The front end could still use an upgrade to get a truly controlled ride, and we may eventually stick a set of Rancho's self-adjusting RSXs in there. We've been told that Bilsteins all around could solve the problem and might well try a set, but for now the improvement the rear RS 9000X shocks delivered is plenty good enough.

We honestly thought that only a select few things had to be changed on this lowly W/T platform, and while we're getting used to some of its idiosyncrasies, new things seems to be creeping up on the list. We're still undecided whether to spend another $100-and-change on a better stereo from Crutchfield, for example. Additional tie-downs in the bed would be really helpful at times. Is the steering getting sloppy, or are we asking for sports-car-like response from what is, after all, a mere work vehicle? Perhaps we should leave well enough alone at this point and just enjoy the Chevy with the many improvements it already has. Nah, an enthusiast's vehicle is never done. Time will tell what happens next.

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Sources

Rancho Suspension
Monroe, MI 48161
734-384-7804
www.gorancho.com
Valley Industries
Lodi, CA 95240
209-368-8881
valleyindustries.com
Coast Driveline & Gear
Ventura, CA 93003
800-533-8087
coastdriveline
Adventure Medical Kits
Oakland, CA 94621
800-324-3517
www.adventuremedicalkits.com
Line-X
877-330-1331
www.linex.com
Detroit Locker
Madison Heights, MI
(800) 328-3850
www.detroitlocker.com
Crutchfield
Charlottesville, Vi 22911
Catalog Request: (80
www.crutchfield.com
Hella USA
www.hellausa.com
Leer
800-967-5337
http://www.leer.com
Pacer Performance Products
www.pacerperformance.com
SpiderLite
www.spiderlite.com
Tri-County Truck Tops
www.tricountytrucktops.com

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