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van life update: chevy astro repairs

Van Life Update

I realize I have not posted anything regarding my van in what feels like forever. I did a lot of mechanical work this summer and wanted to summarize it.

I needed to replace the driver-side wheel bearing assembly and figured I would go ahead and put on new front shocks. With some research, I purchased KYB (565062) MonoMax Gas Shock. These are pretty beefy shocks. The wheel bearing assembly sucks to do yourself but the shocks on this van are crazy easy. I also needed new upper ball joints and I actually called around for quotes for all this work. In the end, I decided to tackle this job myself.

I bought Moog upper control arm assemblies and it wasn’t a bad job considering I was already working in that area from the other repairs. I then had a chain reaction. I took it to a local dealership to get an alignment since I changed the upper control arm assemblies.

When they were done, the van was worse. At first, I doubted myself. But I am glad that lasted all of 5 minutes and I started to troubleshoot. With the help of my uncle (via phone and text), I came to the conclusion I got completely screwed by this dealership saying they did a proper alignment. Here is why: upon inspection, my tie rods on both sides were completely shot. There is no way a proper alignment can happen given that situation. To make matters worse, I tried to talk to the mechanic as I wanted him to double-check my work on that upper control arm (I was willing to pay) and I specifically asked about the lower ball joints and I was told “If our technician finds anything wrong, they will not perform an alignment.” When I called the dealership back the next morning, they accused me of lying. In the end, they made it right and gave me my money back. This is a whole topic I could ramble on about how I believe mechanics see a female walk in their shop and just assume we are idiots.

I learned tie rods are super important to the safety of driving a vehicle. Therefore I parked it and waited for parts to come. Thankfully I had a previous athlete of mine who loaned me her dad’s truck. I am forever grateful for this because I ended up having that truck for 3 weeks!

Here is everything I purchased (all Moog): tie-rods, center drag link, idler arms, rotors, and brakes. I won’t go into the details of how I did everything but I will say this, once renting the proper tools, none of this was too bad. One of the most frustrating aspects no lie was putting on the new front brake pads. Here is a tip: Take photos of everything so you can look back to see how everything goes back together.

I completed the work in two days I believe. I thought I was done and was able to get it in for an alignment. To a different local shop of course. Or so I thought. The mechanic inspected everything and actually showed me that my lower ball joint on the driver side was shot and likely the passenger side was not far from it. Great.

So I went home and did some more research. I was now racing against the clock as I was trying to get to a friend’s wedding in TN and then drive to the New River in WV to finish out my summer break. I decided the lower ball joints were just going to be too much of a DIY job for myself since the entire control arm assembly would be replaced.

So back to the shop it went. So to this point, almost the entire front end had been replaced. While the shop was replacing the lower control arm assembly, a bolt was rusted on and therefore they had to replace the sway bar bushings. They didn’t charge me for it so that was a bonus for me.

Let me recap what was replaced so far: front shocks, driver side wheel bearing assembly, front rotors, front brake pads, upper and lower control arm assemblies (both sides), idler arms, center drag link, sway bar bushings, and both tie rods.

I picked up the van at the shop, packed that night, and left in the morning for TN for my friend’s wedding. I thought, “Finally!” Oh, how I was wrong.

While driving up the mountain to camp I heard something dragging. Jumped out to realize my rear shock on the passenger side had broken. There wasn’t much I could do but drive forward, camp, and deal with it in the morning. Luckily I carry some tools with me so in the morning I removed the broken shock. It was impressive, the top bolt that holds the shock to the vehicle had completely snapped. This is just over 7″ of a bolt and not something that should break. (For those looking for this bolt, size M12 X 1.75 mm thread X 180mm)

I decided to cancel going to WV, drop back down to Asheville, purchase the rear shocks I wanted, and head to a buddy’s lake cabin over by Western Carolina University. I was able to purchase the rear adjustable shocks with no issues but I could not find that bolt anywhere. I had adjustable AC Delco shocks on the back and decided to go with Gabriel JiJackers (49215). I have adjustable shocks on the back because my leaf spring needs replacing and this is a way around that (for now anyway).

I had to special order that bolt (bought online at McMaster-Carr) and pay a ton for shipping. Who would have thought that was going to be the hard part to find? The other issue with this is when the bolt broke, it was still partially in the frame of the van and I couldn’t easily get it out because it was bent, and in order to get it out, I went to Lowes, bought a set of punches, and hammered it out that way. So here I am riding around without a rear shock all over NC and TN. Bouncy bouncy bouncy!

I went and camped out at the Pigeon River since I was finishing out my summer break with the ladies Dirty Bird event, came home to the bolt in the mail that I ordered, and installed the new rear shocks. (Note: I didn’t need as long as 180mm but that was the best option for me from what I had to choose from)

I wish I could say after all that the van is running smooth and like new but that would be a lie. When I got the van back from the shop, I noticed the space of the wheel wall on the passenger side was virtually nothing compared to the driver side. I thought this was due to the rear shock breaking. Not the case. Fast forward to today and me neglecting to take it back to the shop ASAP, the inside of the tires are worn down to nothing and it looks like they didn’t do a good job on the alignment. So that is one thing to deal with.

My wipers are randomly acting up and I need to buy a new combination switch (I think anyway) but that part is out of stock and not cheap, my rear hatch door handle broke (I was able to tear it apart and open the door) and that handle should be coming in the mail any day. Oh yeah, my solar panel stopped working and so did the solenoid that sends the power from the vehicle battery to the back battery that runs my fridge, lights, etc. I’ve replaced the solenoid and I have the new solar panel, I just have to figure out how to mount it since I went with a hard solar panel (my original is a flexible panel). I’m also looking into getting a new fridge due to the amount of energy consumption the “cheap” one pulls.

I swear, the list just keeps going.

While I am at it, I am in need of new tires and I am trying to purchase new rims (for aesthetic reasons) and I am learning buying rims isn’t all that easy. Learning curve with that. I will post that when I pull the trigger.

So as you can see, I have put time and money into this van. But I love it. Camping out of it is great and I do regret doing this van life thing from time-to-time.


I started kayaking in Wisconsin of all places, because this is where I am from. I then moved to San Diego and took on kayak surfing along with heading to the Kern River when water was available. I then made the move to Asheville, NC and have been hooked on this sport since my Wisconsin days. With whatever it is that you do, do it because you love it, not because society tells you should or for other outside factors. Don't simply exist, live!