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Old 09-22-2013, 08:36 PM   #1
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Default 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

To anyone with a 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana - Is there much "play" in the steering on your van?
I'd like to get an idea of what is "normal" for the steering with these vans. Can they be as tight as car for example?

My van tracks straight but there is some play when the steering wheel is in the strait ahead position. On the highway, if the van gets hit with a gust of wind, it can get pushed left or right and I really notice the play or looseness in the steering when correcting. If the van gets pushed to the right for example I correct to the left but it ends up being an over-correction because of the looseness so then I have to correct to the right etc. It's hard to describe.... I think of it as being loose at the center position. It's like you have to steer all the time. It is more noticeable at highway speed.

I'd appreciate any help on this issue.
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Old 09-22-2013, 09:57 PM   #2
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
To anyone with a 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana - Is there much "play" in the steering on your van?
I'd like to get an idea of what is "normal" for the steering with these vans. Can they be as tight as car for example?

My van tracks straight but there is some play when the steering wheel is in the strait ahead position. On the highway, if the van gets hit with a gust of wind, it can get pushed left or right and I really notice the play or looseness in the steering when correcting. If the van gets pushed to the right for example I correct to the left but it ends up being an over-correction because of the looseness so then I have to correct to the right etc. It's hard to describe.... I think of it as being loose at the center position. It's like you have to steer all the time. It is more noticeable at highway speed.

I'd appreciate any help on this issue.
Ours is an 07, which is after the minor redesign of the front end. They eliminated the 454 engine option, and it appears, shrunk the engine compartment, which also probably moved the suspension parts inboard to get longer a-arms. That said, I don't think you should have as much play or overcorrection as you are seeing.

First place to start would be a good front end shop to check how the existing parts are condition wise. Looseness can cause what you are seeing and is pretty easy to fix.

At the same place, a good alignment, to specs, but trying for the high end of the caster specs. If they find toe out, instead of in, the van will "dart" on steering inputs, causing very uncomfortable overcorrections.

A big rear swaybar will increase the front steering response, so needed corrections will be smaller and less likely to overcorrect. This is especially true in wind.

Higher front tire pressure will increase steering response and decrease correction amount.

You have more front end weight than us gassers, so the the front should respond pretty well, unless the weight has sagged the front springs too much, which is pretty common in Chevies.

We have found the money spent on making it easier to drive well worth it. I get less tired driving, and can actually enjoy some of the scenery without constantly staring straight ahead.
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Old 09-22-2013, 11:18 PM   #3
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Thanks booster. I've read your Chevy suspension topic http://www.classbforum.com/phpBB2/vi...hp?f=12&t=2697 and they way you describe your steering is what I'd like. I realize I won't get it as good as yours because my suspension is probably a bit worn out but like you say making it easier to drive is worth it.

I think I'll start as you suggest - check the parts for wear and get an alignment.
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Old 09-24-2013, 12:18 AM   #4
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

I think I'm going to have to learn how to do more mechanical repairs / replacements myself. I did a little test today - with all wheels on the ground, DW moved the steering wheel left and right just short of the point that would move the tires. I was looking at the parts underneath. The relay rod shown below showed movement on both ends. Maybe 1/16th inch movement at each end. Everything else looked pretty stable. Next test would be with wheels off the ground.



Do you need a puller to get the relay rod off?

Also, I'm thinking about getting Bilstein shocks.
Front 24-024808 / Rear 24-221948



Can the shock replacement be a DIY job?
Attached Images
File Type: jpg relay rod.JPG (115.8 KB, 1903 views)
File Type: jpg 1997 bilstein.JPG (20.0 KB, 1899 views)
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Old 09-24-2013, 01:14 AM   #5
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
I think I'm going to have to learn how to do more mechanical repairs / replacements myself. I did a little test today - with all wheels on the ground, DW moved the steering wheel left and right just short of the point that would move the tires. I was looking at the parts underneath. The relay rod shown below showed movement on both ends. Maybe 1/16th inch movement at each end. Everything else looked pretty stable. Next test would be with wheels off the ground.

You should be able to find specs for looseness of the parts, both loaded and unloaded. Ball joints are usually checked unloaded, and they allow quite a bit of play at about 3/32" (I wouldn't go that far). The linkages like you are seeing loose usually will be tight if good.





Do you need a puller to get the relay rod off?

Yes, but you can rent them very reasonably at many parts stores. Also a big hammer, as you load the joint with tool, and then beat the side of the rod to break loose the taper.


Also, I'm thinking about getting Bilstein shocks.
Front 24-024808 / Rear 24-221948



Can the shock replacement be a DIY job?
Absolutely, but you might need a special, reach through, socket for the upper nuts in the front, if they are rusty. Not very expensive.
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Old 09-24-2013, 02:26 AM   #6
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Thanks again booster. The Haynes manual I have will be useful. It doesn't have wear tolerances but it does have all the torque spec for the shocks and steering linkage parts. After reading your post I read through the two sections in the manual and it looks like I can handle it. It actually covers shock removal and replacement thoroughly.
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Old 09-24-2013, 01:13 PM   #7
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
Thanks again booster. The Haynes manual I have will be useful. It doesn't have wear tolerances but it does have all the torque spec for the shocks and steering linkage parts. After reading your post I read through the two sections in the manual and it looks like I can handle it. It actually covers shock removal and replacement thoroughly.
Sounds like a plan. From what I have heard, they generally say use hand pressure to move the tie rods to check for looseness, and I think that would apply to the relay bar also. They should stay in position and not rotate, droop, from their own weight, as the preload springs hold them. Ball joints you unload the joints by jacking up the wheel as close to the end of the a-arm as you can so they are in the normal position and rock the tire from the outside, plus put a pry bar under the tire and see how high it lifts. Normally you would get no movement in the linkage joints with hand pressure (don't push too hard as there are preload springs in them). The wheels will rock a bit at the wheel (hard to tell if it is wheel bearings, so many folks tighten the bearings first) and many say up to 3/16" is OK at the tire tread. Up to 1/16" of lifitng with the bar is usually OK, measured at the balljoint. Ours is a slightly different style, with no relay bar, but I will look up what GM says for looseness in our service manual.

When you are underneath, you probably should take a look at the steering gear play, also. If it has some play, you can usually adjust it out pretty easily.
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Old 09-24-2013, 08:43 PM   #8
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

I dug out a few numbers on specs. Not specific to your model and year, but typical. They are from the 96 Rpoadmaster and our 07 Chevy van. Basically, everything other than the ball joints should not have any movement, and if you rotate a link on the ball pivots, it shouldn't fall back to where it was, it should stay put. If disassembled, they talk about 5 ft-# to turn the ball in the socket to confirm preload.

My old 1996 Buick (very similar suspension to your van) manual showed a rough inspection for all but the ball joints by jacking the vehicle up and letting the wheels droop and then grabbing the tire at 3 and 9 o'clock and rocking it, while making sure the other tire doesn't turn (I would put it on a 2X4). They gave a number of .108" movement at the wheel rim outer edge. I find that to be huge, as it would be well over 1/8" at the tire tread, which is more than the normal toe in spec. You would be running toed out all the time, which is not good on rear drivers.

Ball joints give a looseness of .080" at the outer edge of the wheel rim with the van lifted, but support by stands or jack as far out as possible on the a-arm. Grab the tire and 12 and 6 o'clock and rock it. None of the newer specs gave a vertical movement, which used to be common. You used the same support but put a prybar under the tire and pried up. 1/8' was pretty common IIRC.
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Old 09-24-2013, 11:50 PM   #9
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Thanks for the info, I do appreciate it. I think I have a good idea now of what to do and what to have done.
Closest GM dealer doesn't do alignments but gave me the contact info of the shop that they send all that work to.

I found this info online for a 1998 Chevy Express 3500 Van V8 6.5L Turbo Diesel which should be the same as my '97.

Wheel Alignment Specifications

Caster:
Service Allowable ....................... 3.75 +/- 2.0
Service Preferred ....................... 3.75 +/- 1.0
Side-to-Side Tolerance ................. 0.5

Camber:
Service Allowable ........................ 0.5 +/- 1.0
Service Preferred ........................ 0.5 +/- 0.5
Side-to-Side Tolerance .................. 0.5

Toe:
Service Allowable ........................ 0.24 +/- 0.20
Service Preferred ......................... 0.24
Service Preferred ......................... Toe-in equally

I don't know what that all means but it will be interesting to compare to what the alignment shop reports.

We did a couple of highway runs today alternating drivers. With no wind it was ok. I say it's "OK" because it is obvious will quickly adapt to the vehicle. I watched my wife driving the first run and could see the almost constant small adjustments of the steering wheel she made. She wants it improved also
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Old 09-25-2013, 12:11 AM   #10
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Those are typical alignment numbers. There might be an update on the caster to make them different on each side, but good alignment shop would have the updated specs. This has been the trend on more recent stuff and seems to be intended to make it easier to drive on the right crown, with minimal negative effect on left crown of the road. It may also help address the engine offset to the passenger side. The toe is fairly large compared to the newer ones which are at .1*. If you rebuild the front end and it is very tight, I would go on the light side of toe at maybe .15*, if it is looser, go bigger. Make sure they hand move the front wheels within the looseness and see what the toe actually does, as it will toe toward the out by the amount of looseness in the parts, when you are driving.

Small steering adjustments will always be there. The goal is to get them small enough that you don't overcorrect, or it that takes too long to move far enough to correct. If you can get the corrections under 1/2" at the steering wheel, it should get pretty easy to drive. You may need a rear swaybar to get really good, especially in the wind.
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Old 09-27-2013, 01:18 AM   #11
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by booster
......................... You may need a rear swaybar to get really good, especially in the wind.
Do you think a Hellwig 7635 sway bar would help with wind gusts? Link to PDF file: http://www.mediafire.com/file/0y0ei1nzoci/7635.pdf

I think the generator is in the way on most Chevy Class B's from the posts I read. The rear of my van is stock with the spare tire underneath (no generator).

Two images from the pdf instruction sheet:


Attached Images
File Type: jpg Hellwig 7635 image 1.JPG (68.6 KB, 1688 views)
File Type: jpg Hellwig 7635 image 2.JPG (70.3 KB, 1688 views)
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Old 09-27-2013, 01:27 AM   #12
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
Quote:
Originally Posted by booster
......................... You may need a rear swaybar to get really good, especially in the wind.
Do you think a Hellwig 7635 sway bar would help with wind gusts? Link to PDF file: http://www.mediafire.com/file/0y0ei1nzoci/7635.pdf

I think the generator is in the way on most Chevy Class B's from the posts I read. The rear of my van is stock with the spare tire underneath (no generator).

Two images from the pdf instruction sheet:


I think that is the bar that Campskunk, put in his Roadtrek. 2004 vintage IIRC. He did have to move the generator back a couple of inches, but said the the bar improved the handling a large amount. We have a similar size bar in ours, and the it does a very good job of helping with wind pushing us around. IMO, a big rear bar will do as much for wind handling as any improvement you can do. Since you have room for it, I would do it without question.
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Old 09-29-2013, 01:09 AM   #13
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Just listing the GM OEM part numbers and lube points for my 1997 GMC Savana 3500 van steering and suspension parts for easy future reference.

26048558 2 x Idler Arm(s) (4 grease zerks, top & bottom of each idler arm, top is within the hollow van frame, hard to see)
26059032 2 x Tie Rod Inner (2 grease zerks, left and right)
26059033 2 x Tie Rod Outer (2 grease zerks, left and right)
15969282 2 x Upper Ball Joint (2 grease zerks, left and right)
15659724 2 x Lower Ball Joint (2 grease zerks, left and right)
* 26050382 1 x Relay Rod (no grease zerk)
* 26048566 1 x Connecting Rod (2 grease zerks, left end and right end / where it connects to Pitman Arm and where it connects to the Relay Rod)
26048561 2 x Steering Tie Rod Adjuster (no grease zerks)
26049439 1 x Pitman Arm (no grease zerk)

These numbers and lube points probably apply to 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express 3500 / GMC Savana 3500 vans. Check to make sure.
* Relay Rod and Connecting Rod part numbers might be reversed.

Update: My 1997 has 15 lube points (grease zerks). 14 noted above and there is a grease fitting just forward of the middle u-joint on the drive shaft.
Newer Chevy's (2003 and up) seem to have 11 lube points.
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Old 10-09-2013, 02:47 PM   #14
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

I put the front of the van up on axle stands and lubed all lube points before setting out on our last trip. I also set the front tires to 64 psi and the rear tires to 80 psi.
Overall, the van handled well. It takes speed (65 mph & up) and wind gusts to change the handling from comfortable to not comfortable. It's like two different vans.

Also, the lube job seemed to help but the effect wore off. (I could have just imagined that)

It looks like a combination of factors; worn parts, tired suspension etc. I'll put it up on the stands again to check all parts for looseness and then order what I think needs to be replaced. Then an alignment. Adding a sway bar isn't too costly so I will probably do that.

Will new shocks (Bilsteins) help with the wind gusts knocking the van around?
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Old 10-09-2013, 04:12 PM   #15
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
I'll put it up on the stands again to check all parts for looseness and then order what I think needs to be replaced.
Grab the crosslink bar and see if it rotates. Mine was solid side-to-side but would rotate front-to-back. Both the pitman arm and idler arm were shot. Even the guy at the alignment shop missed it initially. It was very noticeable when turning the steering wheel to the stops.

I just did this job and it was a big one for me; took me several days. I could probably do it in a full day or so now. It took a while to gather the various special tools needed.

I used Moog parts: quality US made. I also replaced the idler arm bracket assembly, and the inner tie rods. Probably should have replaced the tie rod ends but they seemed solid.

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Old 10-09-2013, 11:11 PM   #16
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Pete - how did you end up figuring out what pitman arm part # you needed? (from this topic: http://www.classbforum.com/phpBB2/vi...hp?f=12&t=2787 ) I'm just curious - my older van has a slightly different design so completely different part numbers anyway.
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Old 10-10-2013, 12:32 AM   #17
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Quote:
Originally Posted by markopolo
Pete - how did you end up figuring out what pitman arm part # you needed? (from this topic: http://www.classbforum.com/phpBB2/vi...hp?f=12&t=2787 ) I'm just curious - my older van has a slightly different design so completely different part numbers anyway.
I bought the cheapest one, hoping it would be the correct one, which it was. I bought locally so I could return if I needed to. Mine is a 4-spline arm. That refers to the number of thick splines in the attachment hole to the steering box. The other is a 3-spline hole. I think the 4-spline is more common.

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Old 10-10-2013, 12:27 PM   #18
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

Thanks for the info Pete.

From what I can find the 2003 and up Chevy Express / GMC Savana vans have one idler arm and one pitman arm.



and the 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana vans have two idler arms and one pitman arm (pitman arm not shown in image below)



Often when I search for parts for my 1997 the parts diagram for the 2003 & up vans are shown.

Does anyone know what tool is needed for the center set screw on the steering gear? I'm guessing it is a hex key or Allen key. I've tried every one I have but nothing seems to fit and I can't see it to see if it is some special GM tool.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg 2003 + Savana Express steering.jpg (27.6 KB, 2381 views)
File Type: jpg 1997 GMC Savana steering 2 idler arm.JPG (68.9 KB, 2382 views)
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Old 10-10-2013, 01:26 PM   #19
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

The drawing you show for 2003 and up is not what my 3500 van has. I think you show the setup for a 1500 van.

I don't know how to post pictures, but a parts sketch for the 2006 3500 van is shown here: (admin edit to show image)


It is not a very good sketch. I can see by the layout of my linkage that a sideload on the steering when the wheel is turned alot could put a lot of pressure on the pitman and idler arm stud. Hopefully the Moog is a lot stronger than the parts.

I don't recall if I said it before, but Moog recommends lubricating the steering and suspension parts every 2-3000 miles in the instructions in the part, but every oil change in their online instructions, which could be 5000 to 7000 miles. I think I will lube every 2-3000 like Booster had also suggested earlier.

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Old 10-10-2013, 02:26 PM   #20
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Default Re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana Steering

That is very different from my '97. The image I posted re: 1996 to 2002 Chevy Express / GMC Savana vans above is exactly what my van has.

The tie rods on your 2006 are very different than mine.

This link: http://www.gmpartsdepartment.com/par...t=pitman%20arm shows two parts diagram for a 2006 3500 van pitman arm and one is the image you linked to and the other is the image I posted.

Obviously nothing beats looking under the van I'm just surprised that on many sites the parts diagrams aren't more specific.
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