Those who read the first part of this project last July probably already sent their hate mail, but for the rest of you, here's the deal. We're working on an inexpensive '05 Silverado W/T 1/2-ton that came with the fewest amount of options possible, and it'll stay simple. Oh, and it's a two-wheel drive.
After adding the essentials last month-a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and tools-the Chevy was equipped with some products that greatly improved its performance. A Detroit Truetrac differential was installed, both to help make up for the lack of four-wheel drive and to keep the spunky 293ci V-8 from smoking the right rear tire at every stoplight.
And then there was the really controversial part. Begging to be replaced, the factory steel wheels and crummy stock tires were ditched in favor of not-exactly-cheap forged-aluminum Moab wheels, and (gulp) even milder Bridgestone tires. Well, those AmeriTrac tires wouldn't have had to beg for long-apparently they may not have lasted much past 20,000 miles anyway, even with a light right foot and frequent rotations. So, since the new tires and lighter wheels made a dramatic difference in ride and handling, they fell within the guidelines for this project: If something needs to be replaced or added, use quality parts rather than cheap ones since that approach tends to cost less in the long run.
Improved Negative Acceleration
Bringing this 4,460-pound pickup to a quick stop is a non-event, even with a base Silverado's rear drum brakes, but pulling a trailer makes it a whole different story. GM wisely requires trailer brakes for any load over 2,000 pounds, but also rates the 119-inch-wheelbase lightweight fit to pull a whopping 7,300 pounds (12,000 GCWR) with the receiver. Maybe it's because we've been towing with Crew Cabs for 25 years that the idea of hanging a sizable trailer behind something this short and light is less than appealing. Well, this little Chevy will still be used for towing, and with a long 8 percent grade by the homestead, trailer brakes are a must, even with only 1,500 pounds behind it.
Our lowly Silverado enjoyed a major image boost with the lighter and wider tires and wheels, but that was a side effect. Much more importantly, they made a dramatic difference in ride and handling. Other than that, there were no visual clues that anything happened since it left the dealer's lot, except that the billboard-sized "Chevrolet" lettering is absent from the tailgate. That's perfectly fine, since the idea is to improve the pickup's usefulness rather than make fashion statements.
Dreading to put transmissions, axles, or transfer cases onto the pristine paint in the bed, adding a Line-X spray-on liner allowed us to actually haul some junk in the bed rather than having to use a beat-up trailer. We also splurged on a $50 window tint job for the rear window to avoid some of the greenhouse effect, although doing it ourselves would've cost far less.
How those electric brakes are activated can make a large difference in efficiency (and mental well-being in panic situations) so an Odyssey Brake Control from Valley Industries was chosen to proportion the energy sent to the trailer's brakes. With four load ranges and an adjustable output, the Odyssey is easily tuned to suit the braking needs of anything from a small single-axle trailer to a heavy four-axle and is basically unnoticeable once adjusted correctly. Aside from the braking part, even a 1,500-pound tandem-axle trailer is noticeable behind the short and light 1/2-ton, so we don't need the trailer symbol on the dash (for the transmission's tow mode) to remind us it's back there. But again, we're used to much longer, stronger, and heavier tow vehicles, and the little 293 does a commendable job of pulling trailers up steep grades-it just has to be spinning fast to do it.
Bettering the Bed
They were pushing a Line-X spray-on bedliner pretty hard at the dealership, but we wanted to do some homework first-not to mention recuperating from the purchase of the vehicle itself. As it turned out, we ended up choosing Line-X after all, and it would've cost less to get it done through the dealer. On the other hand, in the meantime Line-X came out with its Xtra top coat, a Kevlar-reinforced clear urethane mixture made to combat color fade and cuts, so waiting a few months paid off, if not monetarily. A drop-in liner would've been cheaper, but they're not particularly nice to the paint, so the spray-on liner was chosen to keep the bed rust-free and in good shape for a long time. Being able to toss junk into the bed without worrying about the paint may not be priceless, but it was worth the cost of the Line-X.
At $255, the W/T's optional AM/FM/CD stereo was a big disappointment, although it's certainly better than nothing on long trips. Positives include large and easy-to-use knobs for both volume and tuning, but the lousy reception and mediocre sound quality was a bummer in such a quiet vehicle. Part of the problem solved itself when after three months we decided to wash the Chevy and the antenna wouldn't come off. It took some tinkering to get the mast separated from the base at the correct place, but once removed and reattached, the reception improved a lot.
Able to feed enough nicely proportioned electricity to work with up to four-axle trailers, Valley Industries' Odyssey Brake Control is more than capable of serving this 1/2-ton pickup's trailer braking needs. With light loads, setting 1 or 2 out of the four load-range settings works well and the power output setting also remains on the low side. There's enough meat in the plastic panel below the dash to secure the controller (in this case with the optional Slide-In Bracket, PN 37192) to it, using the included hardware.
Wiring the auto-leveling Odyssey was as easy as falling off a log. With the towing package came a "Z82 Glove Box Jumper" pigtail that plugs into (top, left) this "interior electrical center," located to the left under the dash. No towing package? Valley sells plug-in wiring separately. Either way, the pigtail wires are simply connected to the Odyssey's wires according to the instructions. It doesn't get any easier than that.
With cleaner reception and a clean pickup, our attention turned to the speakers. Big improvements in sound quality can usually be had with good speakers, and they're easy enough to replace. Crutchfield was the chosen source, as the sales reps always patiently help guide us through the enormous amount of product available, plus whatever wires, adapters, and instructions are needed come free in the installation kit. Crutchfield recommended Kenwood KFC-1779ie 6 3/4-inch two-way speakers for the doors, at $80 a pair, plus a trim removal tool.
As good as the instructions were, there was no mention of a screw at the lower front of the door, and luckily we had a tool for window crank handles (is this the only vehicle still out there without power windows?). We used dielectric grease on the connectors, took the rubber gaskets off the stock speakers and put them on the Kenwoods, which wasn't mentioned but seemed like a good idea. A large improvement resulted, but the setup still wasn't able to reproduce Santana's Jingo or Persuasion very well. Rather than settle for some less-demanding music, we moved on to the rear speakers.
A pair of KFC-4675C Kenwood 4x6-inch speakers from Crutchfield included the adapter wiring and helpful instructions for $70. Those instructions alone could be worth the money as we probably wouldn't have guessed how to tear (almost literally) the interior apart correctly. It's understandable that vehicles are built thinner and more assembly-friendly these days, but we're used to thicker metal and threaded fasteners, lots of fasteners, holding an interior together-even the speakers were held in place with clips.
We learned three things from installing the new rear speakers: Modern plastics bend a lot, cars sure aren't made like they used to be, and those foam "tubs" behind the speakers really work.
After discussing the Silverado's acoustical needs with a Crutchfield sales rep, we decided to begin the quest for decent sound by replacing the factory speakers. One pair each of Kenwood KFC-4675C (center) and KFC-1779ie two-way speakers were ordered up, plus two foam enclosures for the rear speakers. It all arrived by UPS in a few days, together with the necessary wiring adapters, instructions, and a trim removal tool.
The new Line-X Xtra is a three-component urethane top coat with Kevlar that goes over the Line-X base material. It's applied immediately afterwards with a regular spray gun. This Xtra coating gives improved scratch resistance, UV light protection (so the black stays black), and makes the bedliner more glossy.
We mentioned the service manual last month, but not the extent of it. It is five volumes total, weighing a respectable 26 pounds and measuring almost 11 inches thick altogether. At $135 from Helm (www.helminc.com), that's not much per page, but these books are worth their weight in premium gasoline when something needs troubleshooting or repair.
Leaving the B-pillar panel hanging towards the center of the vehicle per instructions, bottom still attached, isn't a good idea, however, as the panel can tweak the doorsill cover. On the other side, we pried the rearmost doorsill clip loose and removed the panel completely, which gave more working space and saved the doorsill.
We'd also learned our lesson from the door speakers and didn't drill for the included Phillips screws. Self-tapping screws of roughly the same size were far quicker to install and didn't produce any more metal shavings than did drilling. Also, we never even came close to putting a screwdriver through the speaker when using hex-headed self-tappers, and they go right through the foam tubs.
Was the result worth $160? Yes, the sound quality improved dramatically, but Jingo still didn't sound right. It's the bass that's weak, so we'll try putting foam buckets behind the front speakers, too, before spending another $150 or so on a better head unit. At this point, the system acts a bit like a motor with a hi-po exhaust and a clogged air filter. It just doesn't work right yet.
As mentioned last month, those ineffective taillights could use an upgrade before somebody runs into the back of our little pickup because they couldn't see the blinkers, and we found several ways to fix that. And speaking of little, a regular cab feels awfully puny when you're used to Crew Cabs-there's just not much room for things. We'll have to create more room inside, and make the bed able to accommodate some "indoor" items as well. Also, different rear shocks may help minimize the effects of towing a trailer, and it should make the Silverado feel less like a '60s Buick at speed. It's sure starting to look as if the vehicle we wanted to change as little as possible on is getting quite a few tweaks after all.
While probably adequate for AM talk radio, the factory speakers were replaced with superior Kenwood units. Prying the interior apart (removing only four screws) to get to the B-pillar speakers was made possible by the included Crutchfield instructions. The speakers were unclipped (!) and the factory wiring connectors pulled off. Then it was only a matter of connecting the Crutchfield adapter to the factory connector, pushing the speaker end of the adapter wiring through the foam tub, setting the tub into the B-pillar, and securing the new 4x6 speakers.
An assortment of Valley Industries products were picked to cover the towing needs. On top is a pintle hook (PN 69950) bolted to a pintle-hook adapter (PN 69900), rated at 5 1/2 tons and 9,000 pounds, respectively. Overkill, yes, but most of our trailers have tow rings rather than regular couplers, and pintle-hook stuff doesn't come in really light-duty versions. A ball mount (PN 75900) with a 1-inch rise works with the Adapt Hitch Ball set (PN 51810) to the right, which comes with 1 7/8-, 2-, and 2 5/16-inch balls. This setup works well because the hex-shaped shaft eliminates stress on the pin that holds the ball in place, and it's rated up to 8,000 pounds. At the lower left is a very nice hitch pin lock (PN 75740) that appears tamperproof, while the beautifully simple Perma Pin (PN 75720) next to it works great when theft isn't an issue. The Perma Pin can't come undone once the end piece is turned 90 degrees, plus it has no clip to lose.
2525 S. Birch, #A
Adventure Medical Kits
American Racing Equipment
19067 S. Reyes Ave.
Southwest Public Safety
Coast Driveline & Gear
2457 Palma Dr.
1 Crutchfield Park