By Jeremy Cato
General Motors did some pretty smart engineering when it completely re-made its pickup trucks for the 1999 model year. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra arrived with the kind of engineering that squeezes out squeaks and rattles, calms vibrations, eliminates water leaks and creates more cabin room than any other full-size pickup…the kind of engineering that results in a rigid, durable frame and powerful, long-lasting engine/transmission combinations that are great for hauling and towing…and the kind that lowers step-in height by an inch (254 mm) without losing a millimetre of ground clearance for off-roading.
Granted, the boxy, bland styling of these trucks is fairly basic, but the Tow-Haul mode and optional adjustable suspension were both welcome new features, given that most people tow or haul with their pickups at one time or another.
Still, back in the fall of ’98 when these trucks first arrived, they were offered only with three standard doors on all extended cab models, unlike competitive Ford and Dodge offerings at the time. A four-door version became available in 1999.
But back to the core engineering work. It involved re-doing the basic ladder frame of these pickups into three sections. The front is a stiff, elaborate steel structure formed with water pressure that isolates the front suspension A-arms and powertrain from the body. The middle and rear sections are both made of high-strength steel and the whole package is tied together with tubular cross members. It’s solid and should lead to tighter build quality. As for the cab, it was reinforced in every way imaginable.
The cabin was also made bigger and seatbelts are mounted directly to the seatbacks for less clutter, more comfort and easy entry. Used shoppers should note that these seats should survive at least 10 years of rugged use. The driver was given a useful package of gauges and instruments, including a message centre to keep tabs on 18 vehicle functions. In the extended cab, the rear bench was given a wider and longer cushion and a seatback slanted to 18 degrees so folks sit less upright. The rear cushion folds flat for stowing cargo.
As for powertrain performance, GM delivered these pickups with five engine choices: three updated small-block pushrod V8s derived from the Corvette’s LS1 engine (4.8-litre/255 hp; 5.3-litre/270 hp/6.0-litre/300 hp); a 4.3-litre V6 (200 hp); and a 6.5-litre turbodiesel that twists up 440 foot-pounds of torque. Newer turbodiesels arrived a couple of years later.
Even the smallest V8s deliver crisp responses, lots of mid-range grunt, lower emissions, and improved fuel economy. That, and less noise and vibrations. Lose your coolant and there’s a “limp-home” mode.
Most engines have been available with either a five-speed manual or electronically controlled four-speed automatic. The automatic delivers barely perceptible shifts, unless you engage tow/haul mode. Doing so delays upshifts 16-24 km/hour (10-15 mph), while making shifts firmer. The payoff: less hunting and steady power.
GM has also has offered two transfer cases. The part-time unit engages via a floor-mounted lever, while the button-operated AutoTrac allows the driver to choose one of four modes: fully automatic four-wheel drive, four-high and low, and two-wheel drive.
GM has been enjoying tremendous success in the years since these trucks arrived. That hasn’t come as a great surprise. The stiffer structure improves ride quality, there’s good stopping power and steering is pretty sharp, though over-boosted. The cabin, meanwhile, for 1999-2001 trucks is very comfortable and extremely functional.
In terms of value, performance, function and comfort, a slightly used Silverado/Sierra is a good buy, even though prices have held up very well. Quality has been relatively good, although seven recalls since 1999 are worth nothing.
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.