Have you ever owned a Chevy Astro?

I’ve been to the auto forums, I’ve schlepped all over the consumer reports. Now I need honest opinions from folks I know and love. Or, know and love as much as is possible in an annonymus internet forum.

Have you ever owned a Chevy Astro Van? If so, did you like it? Did you hate it? Any serious mechanical problems that only came up after years of ownership?

We’re seriously thinking of buying a '97 Cargo model off a friend of ours to help expand our tiny business. We haven’t seen it yet. It’s supposed to have less that 100,000 miles on it and is currently at the shop getting a pre-sale check-up.

Bluebook put it at $3500, which is what our friend is asking, so we’re reasonably sure he’s not out to profit on us. He’s also paying for the check-up. Still, maybe the compression coil is minutes from failing and there will be a big gout of flame and I’ll have to barter with space pirates for parts as the oxygen fails.


My best friend had one many years ago, and I drove it often.

My impressions: the steering is too light, it eats front tires, due to its height it blows around in the wind, and it’s not particularly comfortable to drive for long distances because the motor intrudes into the vehicle and takes up foot space. In the winter it can be a handful because it’s rear-wheel drive with no weight in the back.

Those are the cons. Pretty standard stuff for a big truck-based van. If you can deal with those then you’ll be fine. Mechanically it wasn’t a problem except for a power window that kept untracking itself. The motor was fine, and it had ample zip.

It’s a good buy for the price you’re paying. I wouldn’t buy it new, but this sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

You won’t go wrong with an Astro. I have three of them for my service business an 85, an 87 and a 95. Bought them all at around 100,000 and the two older ones are still going strong at 350,000 each.

I live in the sticks, on a gravel road that sometimes doesn’t even resemble a road and is famous for ruining new vehicles. I carry what seems like a ton of equipment and parts and have had to replace the rear leaf springs on each of them at least once. They all have tow packages on them and I can pull another ton in a trailer, and all have a ladder racks for hauling stuff I can’t fit inside.

They all get regular maintenance and repair as necessary, but none of them have ever had any serious problems. Door handles seem to be a weak point, but it may be the nature of my business that shortens their life.

It’s a good thing they are so dependable because they are a bugger to work on. It’s a major production just to change the air filters, so I hire it all done.

There’s not a lot of leg room in them, so they aren’t the most comfortable rig for long drives, but then I’m a big feller. I also run a newer 1 ton Chev cargo van and amazingly, it has far less leg room than the Astros, not to mention it sits high enough off the ground it’s a pain getting in and out frequently. It must be a problem for the others too, because they always leave me the 1 ton.

I’ve been told that Astro’s are the only small van on an actual truck frame.

Fuel mileage isn’t great, I average 15 to 17 mpg, but again, I haul a lot of weight.

Bins and racks are easy to come by, in fact all mine came with and I can usually alter them for my needs.

The only caution I’d offer is to pay for your OWN presale check out, don’t depend on the sellers.

Not just you. My best friend had one, and had handle problems.

A former workplace of mine had two, and they both had handle problems.

Good to know it’s not just me. I break a few every year, especially the drivers side and the rear cargo doors. Have thought it might be because of a corrosive material that is always floating about. I keep spares in stock and can switch them out pretty quick if necessary.

Thanks for the advice, everyone. This seems to be matching up with what I’ve found on other sites. The Astro apparently may not be much to ride in, but it gets the job done and is reasonably economical about it. Our business is driving to sci fi, anime, and game conventions to sell DVDs, swords, and whatever other novelties we think are cool. Our poor Toyota Corolla just can’t take it anymore. Comfortable riding would be a plus, but we can probably make do while we get our business on its feet. And thanks for the warning about a seller’s mechanic. The guy we’re buying it from is one step away from a close family friend, so it’s probably okay. And if not, we know where he lives.

Bet you haven’t bought too many used rigs before? Always have a used vehicle checked out by a qualified mechanic that you trust…even if you are buying it from your mother. It is 50 or so bucks well spent!

At minimum a simple compression test will tell you what you what condition the motor is in, but there are few mechanics I would take the word of having done the work wihout my being there for the process. The sparkplugs are a bugger to get to and I want to watch them pull each one for the reading.

Thanks for the advice, Bare.

The plot develops: The friend took it to our local Goodyear repair shop to have it checked over. It got new brake pads on the front and new brake drums on the back, whatever those are. Total cost about $500. We offered to do the smog check while our friend tried to get some stuff hammered out at the credit union. He still owe $4500 on the van, and he wanted to get a personal loan to cover the remaining $1000 after he sold it to us. Anyway, we thought it was fair to cover the smog check since he had just laid out five hundred in repairs. The smog check was $148 and took about half an hour, but it passed without issue. Hard to Service is apparently the motto of the Chevy Astro.

Things didn’t go so smoothly at the credit union, so our friend is going to borrow money from family to cover the remainder of his loan. He’s letting us use the van this week so we can finish moving, and then we’ll all troop back to the credit union on Saturday.

So here are the complicating factors: Turns out it’s actually a '94, not a '97, and it has 135,000 miles on it. The driver side door sags enough that the inside panelling catches when you open it. The power locks don’t work, though you can operate them manually. The radio is shot (our friend knew about this one and warned us in advance). The tires look a little low, but will probably serve for another few months. It had problems starting exactly once, but it was really low on gas and parked on a slant at the time. All the other buttons and whatnot appear to be functional, though in a few spots the actual button is gone and just the stem is left.

So I guess I need to have the van checked out again by my own mechanic, huh?

Also, Kelly Bluebook puts a '94 Astro with 135K miles at $2400, not the $3500 my friend was thinking he could get when he thought it was a '97 with less than 100K on it. How should I bring this up with him? At all?

Much Obliged.

oh yeah, and the driver’s side door handle is nearly flush against the body of the car, but it still works.

Also, anyone have details on how the paper work in private car sales in California works? I vaguely remember signing and mailing in the title to the DMV, but I heard a rumor that both seller and buyer have to go to the DMV in person.

Personally, I wouldn’t pay blue book for it, especially with the problems you’ve outlined. There are lots of Astro vans out there to choose from. I certainly wouldn’t pay more than a thousand above bluebook.

Howinheck you can still owe 4500 on a 12 year old vehicle is beyond me.

I was surprised when I found out how much he still owed too. He bought it use, from the lady who was helping us with the loan stuff no less. Freaking small town. Apparently, he and his brother got it for some sort of business venture that fell through and it’s been sitting around for a while. Still, you have to make payments on the loan whether you use it or not, right? It’s all a little strange.

If he wasn’t a friend, I’d cut the deal right now. As it is, I’m pondering working something out with him, but I don’t know how to phrase it. If it was a couple hundred dollars more than blue book, I might let it slide. God, I’m such a coward. Help!

Pick up your local nickel paper and circle all the Astro ads, print out the appropriate Kelly Blue Book pages and tell him that in good faith, there is no way you can pay 1000 over blue book, even from your mother, and he ain’t.

After I had it checked out by a competant mechanic, I’d offer to help him out and take it off his hands for a couple thousand cash, he’s unlikely to do better anywhere else.

Thanks, bare. As soon as the husband is away, we will have a planning session.

damn it, that’s supposed to say “awake,” not “away.” It’s past four in the morning and teh computer is cranky.

As an aside, my son turned 18 last week and had a couple thousand burning a hole in his pocket. He went to a dealership and plunked it down on a used car. He’s heard me for 18 years cautioning folks to have any used car looked at by a mechanic. Did he listen? Heck no. Drove it a mile from the dealership and it started spurting oil from around one of the sparkplugs. Had to tow it another four miles to a friends place, where it still sits.

We have a 1997 GMC Safari, which is the same as an Astro.

I’ve had problems with the following:

  • Transmission
  • Differential
  • Air conditioning
  • Power window motor
  • Heater blower motor
  • Brake lines

But not all is bad. It does have a good engine.

I’ve never owned an Astro Van, but two friends have. Both were older – like '80s, I think. One was a ‘working’ van – no windows in back. Six-cylinder engine, but only a four-speed standard transmission. As old as it was it was very dependable. It just seemed to be working too hard on the freeway without a fifth gear. The guy who owned it before my friend was a carpenter, and he built a false floor in the back with drawers. Very handy. My friend, when he went on his excursion to the Southeast last year, put an inflatable mattress in it. It served him well camping. This friend owned a 1970-ish VW Bus, then an '80s Vanagon. (Why couldn’t they call it a Transporter like everywhere else? Vanagon is a stupid name.) The VWs had too many problems and were expensive to fix, so he bought the Astro with a rebuilt engine for $1,000. After driving the van from NoWA to Mississippi and Florida and then letting it sit for six months while he was in the Lesser Antilles, he decided it wouldn’t make the trip back to WA so he left it in Mississippi. He said it just wouldn’t make the return trip. I’ve driven that van a couple of times. As I said, it was revving a bit at freeway speeds. I also thought its handling was a slittle squirrely. But it was used hard and did its job.

Another friend had a slightly newer model, though still the old boxy style. We used it at the studio. It also seemed to keep going, and going, and going… It was better than the other friend’s, but the pedals seemed too close together. And I don’t like automatic transmissions or column shift.

My impression as a non-owner who knows people who have had older ones is that they are big and ugly, power is just adequate, handling is fair, and that they seem to be reliable and cheap to buy and maintain.

In addition to the local ads, try finding a van in better shape than his current van for less than he wants on autotrader.com, then showing it to him.
BTW, this whole thing sucks! Sorry to hear you’re in the middle of it.

Thanks for the support, everyone. We had “the talk” with our friend and he took understood where we were coming from. He’s seeing if he can get together the extra thousand so that we can buy the van at it’s blue book value.

'Preciate it!