Q I am a young-at-heart, healthy grandmother who has been married for 33 years and now owns our own business. I am fortunate to own '05 and '06 Ram 4x4 Power Wagons, an '06 Jeep Grand Cherokee LTD 4x4, and an '08 Chevrolet Limited SE Custom High Top Conversion Van.
During the recent holiday we received 26 inches of snow. The Power Wagons and the Jeep drove right through, but the van needed to be completely dug out. Thus, I am writing you.
My daughter and son-in-law have awakened a hidden passion in me for four-wheel-drive vehicles. I go so far as to sneak my son-in-law's monthly copy of your magazine and read it intently.
I would like to know if it is possible to convert my '08 Chevrolet Conversion Van into a 4x4. This way, the next time we get snow, at least the van will have some control. My 7-year-old granddaughter and her friends love the van and all its amenities as much as I do, but having greater control in the hazardous weather would be a pleasure.
Little Egg Harbor, NJ
A It is never too late to get into four-wheeling. Yes, you can convert your van to 4WD. In fact, I'm really interested in 4x4 vans these days, as I'm starting to see them everywhere. I have found many companies that specialize in 4x4 van conversions, but most concentrate on Ford vans because of their more robust body and frame work. But have no fear. Some companies out there can still upgrade your '08. One well known company is Quigley Motor Company (800.233.9358, www.quigley4x4.com). Quigley has long made a business of transforming brand-new Ford and GM vans into 4x4, but just recently the company began converting used '03 and newer GM vans to four-wheel drive. Quigley does require the van to have less than 50,000 miles, and the conversion can cost between $10,000 and $12,000 depending on the van you start with. The nice part is the company is located in southern Pennsylvania, not a long drive for you.
Another option is Salem Kroger in Red Bluff, California (530.366.3105, www.salemkroger.com). I spoke with them, and they have done 4x4 conversions on Dodge Sprinter vans, Ford Econoline vans, and GM vans.
Q I have an '86 Suburban that needs to get an engine transplant or rebuild. I want to have an all-around on/off-road truck that can haul my 22-foot enclosed trailer safely and still do some semi-serious desert off-roading and mild wheeling on Colorado trails. Any input on engine modifications and suspension tips would help greatly.
Also, I know this is a dumb question, but does an ES9000 shock get mounted with the rod on the high side and cylinder on the low side, or vice versa?
Colorado Springs, CO
A If I had a Suburban I would first look into rebuilding your engine. Next, I would look into either a late-model GM 6.0 or 8.1L engine, as either would make a fairly straightforward swap in your truck and will give you reliable power. A diesel would be neat, like a Dodge Cummins or a Chevy Duramax, but these will both double your engine swap costs and require considerable fabrication. As for a suspension, any of the major suspension companies can supply a kit for your truck, or you could contact Offroad Design (970.945.7777, www.offroaddesign.com), which specializes in these square-body '70s/'80s GM 4x4s.
Yes, it's True
Q Seems to me I saw an article where someone in your organization helped a traveler along the road change a flat tire (wheel), and in the picture was a battery-powered drill with the lug nut socket. Are you in fact able to loosen and tighten lug nuts with a battery-powered drill? If so, what power/size/strength drill is needed? Is this your normal field method, or do you usually have an onboard compressor or electric converter to power a hammer drill?
A I have removed and installed lug nuts with my 19.2V Ingersoll Rand IQ series rechargeable 1/2-inch impact gun (www.ingersollrandproducts.com) many times. It is not a drill as you mentioned. Prior to the Ingersoll I had a 28V Milwaukee impact gun (www.milwaukeetool.com) that worked very well. With a full charge it will break loose most any properly torqued lug nut on your standard 4x4. Yes, I take it with me on the trail often just in case I need to remove a tire. I have also used onboard air compressors or a CO2 tank with an pneumatic impact gun, though a breaker bar is usually lighter than everything else. It is important to always retorque the lug nuts to the appropriate setting when installing them.