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GMC Safari/Chevy Astro Transmission Problem



  • Same problem on my 2003 Safari. We also replaced all of the above. We were sure it was the transmission, too. Not so. After driving it from Michigan to Tennessee for a funeral, and having it jerk the entire time, we took it to another dealer. He immediately knew what the problem was. They said the problem was in the screen of the transfer case. The dealer had a "bulletin(?)" on this from GMC - which tells them there is a problem....but they aren't going to recall it. So YOU get to pay for it instead of them (go figure). Have a dealer look up the notification on a 2003 Safari transfer case for you. I'm sure it will fix your issue.
  • Test drove an '89, 1 owner Astro today with 86K miles and a 4.3L. I believe the model was a CL? It was 15 degrees outside and I don't think the vehicle had been started for days as it has been sitting on the car lot in the cold.

    I discovered 2 problems or concerns:

    1) slow or sluggish shifting from 1st to second. I did let the vehicle warm up for about 10 minutes before driving off. Could it just be the cold or might there be a tranny issue? I didn't hear any strange noises, just wasn't a smooth shift. It seemed to shift into second at a higher than expected RPM.

    2) After returning from the test drive I noticed the Oil pressure gauge was pegged and when I turned the heater fan on it would drop to the normal range and then peg again. I could almost repeat this symptom at will by turning the heater fan on. Short somewhere? When the heater fan was left in the off position, about every minute or so the engine would, (i hate to say) stumble a bit and the gauge would go to normal and then immediately back to pegged. I hate to say stumble because it wasn't a "bad stumble" just a noticeable change in RPM almost as it feels when an electric fan or air conditioner compressor kicks in.

    As a third issue, I have been driving Caravans since they were made in '84 and I did notice the engine noise in the vehicle is much louder than the other style mini vans I have been accustomed to driving. It wasn't bad noises or exhaust noise, just the sound of the engine running. Having never driven an Astro, is it safe to assume that because it is made with a dog house like conventional full size vans that this is normal for the engine to be louder vs one that has a firewall between the drive and the engine? Not a big deal just different.

    This thing looks to be in great shape, no rust anywhere! and the price is right. Why is it still there, I think people are afraid to buy something that old now days.

    Any input would be appreciated.
  • Had a rebuilt trans (4L60E) installed in my 95 Astro a few months ago. Just started having problems with it recently. Sometimes it seems like it is not downshifting. I will come to a stop and the engine revs higher then normal and the van moves slowly till I get up to a decent speed for 3rd gear or so. I am comparing it to like driving a manual trans and trying to start out in second or third gear. It can be done but you have to let the clutch out slowly and rev the motor a little higher to get going. If I pull over and turn the van off for about 15 seconds it resets then it is fine. When it goes into this "mode" as I am moving the shift from 1st to 2nd or 2nd to 3rd will be hard then I know it will not downshift when I come to a stop. Sometimes pulling over and turning off the van for 15 seconds or so fixes the problem for only one shift or sometimes it will not do it for an entire day. It seems like it happens more after the trans is warmed up. Any HELP would be appreciated. Thanks, John :sick:
  • Hello.
    Perhaps someone has experienced this before:

    Lately, it seems most of the time when I'm driving....the van whill 'hesitate' and almost 'drag' while driving. At first, I thought it was dirty gas....but after using some Seafoam, I realised the engine wasn't the hesitation/ was something with the transmission,etc.
    So, say I'm sitting at a stop light. I go to accelerate, and the van will rev up as normal....but it feels like the van is being dragging/pulled back....all of a sudden it will release with a 'jolt'.


  • I bought this 94 Astro van at the end of August with just over 171,000 miles on it. It now has just over 175,000 miles on it. I've had no problems with it at all since I've had it. The only work that I've had done to it so far, is a battery replacement, tune-up, oil change and flush and fill. I was out of town last weekend and noticed the transmission starting to whine. I don't have the money to have it looked at right now, but may at the end of next week.

    This is my only vehicle, and without it, I can't get to work. Does anyone have any suggestions?
  • raisynraisyn Posts: 3
    Had the same problem with my '97 Astro last summer. After a long drive it would shift VERY hard from 1st to 2nd gear. Problem was the torque convertor. During long drives the convertor pressure builds to "lock" the convertor. When you stop, the convertor would not release pressure and unlock, therefore you didn't have the natural "slip" when you started again. To be sure before taking it in for service, the next time you have driven a long drive and come to a stop, put the transmission into park for a few seconds before resuming. This will release the pressure and unlock the convertor, so it should shift normally. As for repair cost, the van had over 100K miles on it so I elected to get the entire tranny rebuilt along with a new torque convertor. $1,368.00!!
  • cfo1cfo1 Posts: 1
    After sitting for 5-6 hrs and then starting up to go somewhere the transmission works perfectly. After 15 minutes or so of stop and go traffic the transmission will bam into 2nd gear from a standstil accelerating. Then It will not downshift to first gear at the next stop. It will start in 3rd and stay in 3rd till you stop and shut off the ignition for 10-20 seconds. Then the trans will run all day perfectly until you shut off the truck for 5-6 or more hours.
    A "reputable" trans shop had the truck for 2 weeks and replaced the solienoids and the ignition switch wiring harness as the codes indicated. no luck. An aftermarked security system had been installed when the truck was new and was wired into the ignition switch wiring so they uninstalled the security.. Now i'm out the security and 300 or so bucks and nothing. Can anyone help?
  • jodivanjodivan Posts: 11
    my daughter and her husband are in need of a van that will have enough room for them and their 6 children. She asked me to go with her to look at a 2000 Safari the other day. we both drove it and it seemed fine, but what do we know? so i found out about this site to do some checking. i guess they are considered "lemons", and i wonder if that is basically true of all of the Safari's, and should we not even consider it for about 4500 which seems like a lot to me. the car sales place here in flint said he bought it at auction. Since i am a widow and will be loaning them the money, i am even more concerned about this situation. what else could fit 8 people?
  • jodivanjodivan Posts: 11
    Looking for van to fit 8 people, my daughter, her husband, and their 6 children. looked at a 2000 Safari at used car lot off Bristol in Flint, Diversified Auto. the guy said he bought it at auction and will sell for 4500. we droveit and it seemed fine, but checking things out here, i am really concerned, esp. the talk about tranny problems. have no mechanics in the family for sure, so need to be careful what they get. any ideas? :confuse: :cry:
  • cobcob Posts: 210
    Not all are lemons but there are some common problems that show up on these posts. Keep in mind the people that post on here are a small percentage of the total number of van owners and ususally people only post about negative information so you never see the positive. I have a 1997 Astro AWD that I could probably sell for $3500 it has 115,000 miles and is still in decent shape. I did have the transmission rebuilt but that was 3 years and 40000 miles ago and haven't had any problems with it since. The a/c is still cold and I can tow a 4500# trailer. Mine only seats 7 people. Is the 2000 model AWD or 2WD? Either way it sounds like a decent price. Problems that you may have are transmission and engine accesories like alternators and starters. There are some Venture/Montana minivans that have 8 passenger seating they have 3 individual seets in the center row and a bench seat in the back. Otherwise you have to go with a full size passenger van or suburban to seat 8 people. They all have the same potential problems with transmissions, engine accesories and etc.
  • Hi,

    I am a 1988 Chevy Astro Van with about 160,000 miles. It will not go in reverse at all! Is it useless to even try to fix? My ex-husband said I could probably get a new transmission but I don't know. How much would something like that cost? Any suggestions, ideas??

  • cobcob Posts: 210
    Unfortunately a new transmission installed will cost more than the van is worth. You could try taking it to a certified transmission shop (not a dealership) and have them take a look. It may be a minor fix that costs less than $500. Do you still have the 4 forward gears? Is the transmission fluid up to the correct level on the dip stick?
  • cwhart7cwhart7 Posts: 1
    We have an 88 astro van with a 5 speed manual and the 4.3 liter 6 cylinder. It works fine, have replaced the clutch a couple of times and the Hydraulic master and slave cylinders are a problem every three years or so. The replacements are not very good, the slaves suck air often, and the rubber on the masters turns to powder in the fluid. My son is driving the car now. It only has about 123K on it, and is just starting to rust through. We live in the northeast, so salt has been a constant driving companion. You can spin tires when ever you want, but it is a RW drive, so thats sort of expected. It is the short wheelbase, and is well balanced, tows well with a trailer under 2000 lbs. Can tow more, but dont recommend that much.

    Shifter is between the seats, stiff boot, often would shift it self out of gear when parked and hit by a gust of wind. Seems funny, but I have had to chase the car twice when mechanics left it in gear with the parking brake released. You ever had to chase and get in a car while it was rolling? And stop it when the power brakes were not really working, (or the steering). Once it was left by a young mechanic running in neutral with the brake released. In the middle of the Sears Garage.
  • rwd2rwd2 Posts: 3
    Is this a Van that is for sale? Where in the Northeast are you located? Thanks, Tim
  • ClairesClaires Chicago areaPosts: 1,222
    Hi, Tim,

    He's responding to a post about manual transmissions in the Astro. Buying and selling aren't allowed here.


    Need help getting around? - or send a private message by clicking on my name.

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  • rwd2rwd2 Posts: 3
    Thank you Claires, Sorry, my bad, just learning. I appreciate the reply, Tim
  • 1996 Safari, 140,000 miles, minor slip between 1st and 2nd when cold. After warming it is fine. Don't know if the fluid and filter have ever been changed or not. Oil change guy said the fluid was dirty but because of the miles they would not change it. Should I have it changed or let it ride?
  • rwd2rwd2 Posts: 3
    I have to assume you are talking about an automatic transmission. This Post was based on a manual transmission but I believe I can share some helpful information. I don't believe the "Oil change guy" is correct, if he has found your fluid to be dirty he should have encouraged you to change it right away as to not cause any further damage or slippage. If you have your Manual from GMC you will find their fluid change reference guide. I believe you should change the fluid, filter, and gasket, right away. You may be facing a more expensive towing bill otherwise. Just to note, low fluid could also cause your transmission to slip. Keep in mind when your fluid warms up it is able to circulate easier. I would suggest it is the filter and you should change it with the fluid. You may want to try a different Oil change guy! Tim :confuse:
  • raisynraisyn Posts: 3
    I have had mechanic shops tell me the same thing - because of high miles, they will not change the filter. The national chain "oil-change" place here in Knoxville will perform what they call transmission Tech Service. They do not remove the transmission pan but instead "backflush" the system, including the filter, with new fluid. This cost about $90.00. I have it done on all 3 of my GM vehicles approx every 50,000 and have had no transmission problems since, and one has 245,000 miles on it. Another has 220,000 miles. Seems to work for me.
  • alberta4alberta4 Posts: 4
    I am also experiencing some hard shifting in my 97 Safari. Would you please give me all the information you can on how you fixed this problem. I would like to avoid the expense of a new transmission if I can. Much appreciated.
  • cobcob Posts: 210
    Does it only occur when the engine and trans are cold from sitting over night? Mine only gave hard shifts the first couple of times it would shift from 1st to 2nd then it would get better as the trans heated.
  • drbdbdrbdb Posts: 1
    I get a slipping of the tranny with every startup acceleration...seems like a slight jolt every couple revolutions until I get to cruising speed. Van has 64,000 miles on it. Any ideas? I'm new to this forum.
  • For all of you that are beginning to experience this issue with the Safari.
    I have a 1997 with 105K---hard shifting and and LOOOOOONNNNNGGGGG delay between 1st and second until warm. Would also, lunge at speed----65 or better.

    Upon scoping (sp?) the engine--WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND AT A REPUTABLE SHOP--NOT DEALER!!!!!!!--- the issue was discovered to be the TIMING CHAIN. It was as much as 8 degrees off.

    Not a cheap fix---but necessary as the chain is critical to the engine. Now that the chain has been replaced---no probs.

    Also, as I have been in the engine compartment of the Safari---I would HIGHLY recommend that you do not try this at home!!!! It is a PAIN.

    Further to this---when the mechs were inside the oil pan gasket and the water pump gasket had to be replaced. As these had to be removed to get to the chain---OK.

    I suggest that you find a good independent shop that has a good rep and get the van scoped. It may not be your transmission at all.
  • dave8697dave8697 Posts: 1,498
    I have a '98 with 106k miles and an '87 with 184k miles on them. I had the tranny problem that the very first post on this forum had with my '98 Astro. Same 48k mile ocurrance and hard shift from 1st to second and from 2nd to third. The code set said tranny slipping. I drove it for part of 2002 and 2003 and then took it to a good shop who recognized the problem when I first talked to them. GM switched from a cast iron control module to an aluminum one in 1997 to save money. They warp at high temperatures and fluid leaks past the piston seals. This causes fluid pressure loss and some slippage. The computer detects this slight slippage and puts the tranny into a fail-safe limp mode. Problem is that the limp mode is much worse than the problem itself. This is GM's way to get you in for big repairs like the $1823 that poster no. 1 spent.

    The good shop re-sleeved the aluminum control module with steel sleeves, changed every sensor and solenoid, seal and filter, and flushed the tranny for $275 out the door! I have put 25,000 miles on it and still fine at 106k mi.

    The aluminum modules are in 1997, 1998, and part of 1999 model trannies. It could be V6 Sonomas, S-10s and Astros. A 2000 and later should not have problem. Problem, when properly fixed is not that big a deal. I wish I had fixed mine sooner than waiting a year.

    The Chev dealer did want $765 to fix it and they knew what it was too. They wouldn't tell me what it was and said GM would be petitioned by them to refund me some of the $765 since it happened at 48k mi.

    The '87 van never had any problems with tranny. I drove it yesterday on 100 mile round trip to work. I don't do that very often as $13-14 in gas disappears when I do. I use it for local stuff like going to the ballpark on muddy days. It is just getting bottom rail rust on the two sides in it's 20th year of sitting out in the sun, dirt and rain. Mechanically, it has been like a rock. I put cheap steel mufflers on it every 2 years and finally used aluminized last nov for all but converter new system. Even that was only $79. I had alternator rebuilt free 10 years ago and I put in a triple core new radiator 10 years ago that was $110 at an Advance auto parts store that was closing up and discounting stuff. I was offered $600 for it on trade back on 2000 but kept it. It's hard to spend $60 on it once a year for the last 8 years.

    My '98 is worth $2000 resale value but I wouldn't part with it for less than $6500. Garage kept, always fixed right, like new inside and out, runs perfect and everything works on it. Gets 23 mpg on a trip with front and rear a/c and needs nothing. They are very underrated value wise and if you could get a 2000 for $4500 with 80k mi on it and it passes a 50 mile test drive to look for tranny problems and front end problems, then you will get a lot of utility for $4500. They come with a lousy factory battery, water pumps are good for 75k but cost $58 at NAPA. Suprisingly, my '98 alternator is still good but I have a spare one on a shelf that I got free. I may keep my '87 until 2015 and don't plan on putting $500 into it or ever giving it it's first trans fluid swap between now and then. It still gets 22 mpg on the work loop which is better than it's rating when it was new and it doesn't leak anything.
  • I have a 1995 Safari with 294,000 still original trans and motor (4.3) never had had a problem with it til a couple years back. it shifts real hard going from 1 to 2 and when i let off the gas the trans hesitates and jerks and also if im doing between 60-70 mph it shakes real hard and i let off the gas it stops. ive tried everything and nothin works.
  • dave8697dave8697 Posts: 1,498
    I assume CEL is on. If reset codes at Autozone or disconnect battery for 9 minutes, etc, does hard 1-2 shift temporarily go away? If so, then hard shift is controlled by computer. If not then it could be caused by very high fluid pressure. The computer can up the fluid pressure when it senses slipping. It sounds like you have something wrong with tranny that a fluid change will not fix. Have you changed the filter?
  • it went away for a couple of months and then i pulled a trailer with it one weekend and after i took the trailer off, it started shifting hard again. the trans shop said i if did any maintence work on it, it would go out with in a couple hundred miles and that money i dont have.
  • I was recently driving down the road and the van just stopped going , it was like I was driving in neutral engine racing but no power. I had it towed home and the next day could drive for it about a quarter of a mile and the same thing would happen. I changed the transmission filter myself and replaced the lost oil with new (3 quarts) and the van ran ok. Although I didn`t go for trips over 20 miles it seemed to work ok. So decided that I`d have all the tranmission oil flushed and replaced. That done I drove the van home and it ran well until I got home and found I had no reverse. The van had been sitting for a year and half before I bought it and when I changed the filter myself the oil was very dark and the filter looked plugged with debris.
    Any suggestions as to what to do or just look for a new tranny or rebuid this one?
  • dave8697dave8697 Posts: 1,498
    Tranny sounds pretty bad. I would look to swap a salvage yard tranny if van is really high miles. Rebuilds are around $1500-2000.
  • spike99spike99 Posts: 239
    Same thing happeed to my 2001 Safari van. One day while pulling away from a stop light, I hear a large bang and lost "R" and 2nd gear out of the tranny. Only had 1 and 3rd remaining - and "limped" the van back home.

    To fix, the tranny guy rebuilt it. He told me that blowing 2nd and "R" is common on the Astro/Safaris models. Common for folks who "over stress" their tranny. Stuff like pulling over weighted trailers and trying to lay rubber away from every stop light - is very bad on a tranny. Not too sure if aggreesive drying style caused your tranny problems but since then, we no longer tow our 19ft TT with our Safari van. Lesson learned the hard way.

    Anway.... We got our original tranny rebuilt. New bushings, no bearings, complete cleaning, adjustments, etc. etc. Total bill around $1,300 (cash). We would have swapped out the tranny but our mechanic said, "how do you know how that other tranny was driven? It could be near broken as well". He made a very good point. Thus, we rebuild our original. And, our rebuild tranny has been doing great ever since.

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