2003 Chevrolet Avalanche
2003 Chevrolet Avalanche. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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Chevrolet Avalanche, 2002-2006

Most avalanches only travel downhill, but in 2002, Chevrolet invented one that could go up them, too. The Chevy Avalanche was – and still is – a nifty truck, aimed at those drivers who have long agonized over whether they should get a full-sized pickup or an SUV.

It really is a conundrum: get a pickup for its haul-anything open bed or choose an SUV for its size-limited, but fully enclosed cargo area? The first-gen Avalanche (gen two is out now) was the best compromise yet: a four-door pickup truck with a bed that could be completely sealed off from the elements, plus a rear seat and “midgate” that could be folded down to add to the bed’s capacity.

From the outside, first- and second-year models were distinctive for the acres of black plastic cladding wrapped around the lower half of the body. Thankfully, GM got the hint that this was fairly ugly and in 2004, the Avalanche got plain old sheetmetal all over.

The Avalanche was originally offered in half and three-quarter ton versions. Half-ton trucks got a 5.3-litre V8 (285 horsepower), while three-quarter ton variants got an 8.1-litre (!) V8 that made 340 horses. The only transmission available was a four-speed automatic.


Highs: Flexible cargo capacity; four-wheel drive capability
Lows: Thirsty (but powerful) engines; so-so reliability

Fuel consumption ratings were, as you’d expect, on the high side but respectable for the kind of work the Avalanche could do (it was based on the Suburban SUV, which in turn was based on the then-current GMT800 pickup truck platform). The smaller V8 carried NRCan ratings of 16.8 L/100 km in the city and 11.8 L/100 km on the highway; surprisingly, the 8.1-litre motor didn’t use much more: its ratings were 16.9 L/100 km (city) and 12.7 L/100 km (highway).

2003 Chevrolet Avalanche
2003 Chevrolet Avalanche. Click image to enlarge

One issue that seems to be fairly common is a bad valve in the evaporative emissions control system that causes the check engine light to come on; the replacement part is apparently inexpensive, so handy owners should be able to handle this one for relatively little cash.

There’s an issue involving a loose intermediate steering shaft that causes poor steering feel. It can be fixed with the installation of a “lube kit.”

2004 Chevrolet Avalanche
2004 Chevrolet Avalanche. Click image to enlarge

Automatic transmission problems appear to be common in all model years; some owners at the Chevy Avalanche Fan Club report a “service 4WD” warning message coming up randomly. On the surface, it looks like it’s mainly due to a faulty sensor, but one member is convinced that if left alone, that sensor will cause problems with the dash control switch for the four-wheel drive system as well as with the electronic actuators that engage drive to the front wheels when four-wheel drive is selected.

One smaller issue is the frequent failure of power window regulators. On the whole, Consumer Reports gives the Avalanche a “worse than average reliability rating.”

2004 Chevrolet Avalanche
2004 Chevrolet Avalanche. Click image to enlarge

The Avalanche’s crash safety story is a bit surprising, too. This truck earned three and four stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA didn’t conduct side impact tests on the Avalanche, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has no test results for the Avalanche, period.

Used Avalanches carry notably higher resale values than their traditional pickup cousins, partly due, quite simply, to the fact the Avalanche came better equipped in basic form and was more expensive when new. Canadian Red Book pegs used values as ranging from $15,350 for a 2002 half-ton 4×2 model, to $29,425 for a 2006 version. I’d suggest sticking with the lighter-duty model unless you really need the extra hauling capacity or you have something else to compensate for. How about a 2004 model for about $20,000?

The Avalanche has a lot going for it. Just look for a well cared-for example to avoid an onslaught of problems later on.

Online resources

ChevyAvalancheFanClub.com is a good place to start your online search, but it’s far from the only place to look. Check out AvOwners.com; ClubAvalanche.com; MidwestAvalancheClub.com; OhioAvalanches.com and KeystoneAvalancheClub.com. Then there are the GM trucks sites: ChevroletForum.com; GM-Trucks.com and FullSizeChevy.com.

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Manufacturer’s Website


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002068; Units affected: 63,049 (includes other models)

2002: Certain vehicles fail to conform to CMVSS 209, seat belt assemblies. These vehicles have a condition where one or two sensors in the driver’s and front seat passengers seat belt retractors may be inoperative. The seat belt retractors will lock when the belt webbing is extracted during a crash; however the mechanism that locks the seat belt retractor when the vehicle decelerates quickly, such as during heavy braking, may not restrain the occupant as intended during a crash, and could result in injury to the occupant. Correction update: None required as no effect on vehicle safety. See recall 04-158.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004395; Units affected: 158,474 (includes other models)

2002: Certain vehicles located in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador may experience unwanted Antilock Brake System (ABS) activation and increased stopping distances during low-speed brake application (less than 16 km/h and greater than 6 km/h). This condition does not set any ABS codes nor does it illuminate the ABS warning lamp. Correction: Dealers will remove the wheel speed sensor and thoroughly clean the wheel speed sensor mounting surface on the bearing, apply Zinc-X to the cleaned surface, grease the mounting surface, reinstall the wheel speed sensor, and check the output voltage to ensure the wheel speed signal is within specifications.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004102; Units affected: 301,974 (includes other models)

2002-2004: On certain vehicles, the galvanized-braided-steel tailgate support cables used to support the tailgate in the full open (horizontal) position can corrode over time and fracture when loads are applied to them. Tailgate support cable corrosion may not be visible because of the plastic sheathing covering the cable. If one cable fractured, the remaining cable may retain the tailgate in a horizontal position. If the remaining cable was weakened by corrosion, it could fracture within moments of the first cable fracture. If both cables fractured, the tailgate would suddenly drop approximately 10 degrees and strike the top surface of the rear bumper. If anyone is sitting or standing on the horizontal surface of the tailgate when both cables fracture, they could fall and be injured. On vehicles without a rear bumper, the tailgate may drop to a lower position. Correction: Dealers will replace the existing galvanized support cables with stainless steel support cables.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005119; Units affected: 73,473 (includes other models)

2003-2005: On certain vehicles, the 2nd row centre occupant seat belt routing may make it difficult to position the lap portion of the safety belt low around the hips of occupants. A lap portion of the seat belt routing that is not low and snug on the hips can allow unfavourable occupant kinetics in the event of a crash. Moreover, the higher routing allows the lap belt to ride up on an occupant’s abdomen instead of fitting low around their hipbones, and therefore, can expose them to more risk of abdominal and internal organ injury. Correction: Dealers will modify the guide loop.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004037; Units affected: 4,075 (includes other models)

2003-2004: On certain vehicles, the relief valve o-ring seal within the brake hydro-boost module could fail. If this happens during braking applications, the driver may be able to hear an engine compartment noise similar to the sound that occurs when the steering wheel is turned to a full stop position. The driver could also experience a slight increase in steering efforts while braking and parking. Under certain driving conditions, a slight increase in the applied brake pedal effort may be required to achieve the same vehicle deceleration rate as prior to the seal failure. Correction: Dealers will inspect the hydro-boost module, and replace it, if necessary.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003063; Units affected: 43,000 (includes other models)

2003: On certain vehicles, the following statements were omitted from the SIR caution label: “Never put a rear-facing child seat in the front” for the vehicles without an air bag switch or “Never put a rear-facing child seat in the front unless air bag is off” for vehicles with an air bag switch and “Sit far back as possible from the air bag”. The statements are printed in the Owner’s Manual. Correction: None required as instructions are in the owners manual and this is well known by the public.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003019; Units affected: 383 (includes other models)

2003: On certain 2500 series vehicles, a tear could develop in the mid-frame cross member at its attachment to the left frame rail during a 30 degree left angle frontal impact of sufficient severity. If the mid-frame cross member tears during frontal impact and produces a sharp edge, contact of the sharp edge with the fuel tank may result in a puncture of the fuel tank and possible fuel leakage. If a sufficient amount of fuel were to leak out and if an ignition source were present, a vehicle fire could occur. Correction: Dealer will install a fuel tank shield.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006195; Units affected: 1,485 (includes other models)

2004-2006: On certain vehicles, the engine fuel rail pulse damper retainer clip may fracture, resulting in inadequate retention of the damper. If the damper comes loose, a fuel leak may result. Fuel leakage in the presence of an ignition source could result in a fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the engine fuel rail pulse damper retainer clip.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005033; Units affected: 5,014 (includes other models)

2004-2005: On certain vehicles, the hydraulic brake booster’s pressure accumulator may crack and/or separate from the Hydro-Boost assembly during normal vehicle operating conditions. If a separation occurred and the hood of the vehicle was open, fragments from the accumulator could cause injury to people in the immediate area. In addition, the presence of this crack or fractured surface could allow the hydraulic fluid to leak from the accumulator circuit of the booster assembly. The loss of fluid would cause increased steering and braking effort. Correction: Dealers will test and, if necessary, replace the Hydro-Boost assembly.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005038; Units affected: 260 (includes other models)

2005: Certain vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission fail to comply with the requirements of CMVSS 101 – Location, identification and illumination of displays. Under certain vehicle starting conditions, the shift lever position indicator located in the instrument panel cluster may not illuminate. In subsequent vehicle start-ups, this condition may or may not occur again. If the shift lever position indicator does not illuminate, the driver may not know which gear the vehicle is in and the vehicle may move in an unintended direction, resulting in possible injury to others outside of the vehicle. Correction: Dealers will reprogram the instrument panel cluster.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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