Buying a used vehicle can be both a thrill and a headache. The thrill comes from negotiating a smokin’ deal from a classified listing and getting the bang-for-the-buck you just can’t get with a brand-new truck—even with five-figure rebates. The headache comes after the sale, when you inspect the vehicle and realize all the fixes it needs that the eager seller conveniently omitted or glossed over.
Let’s face it…no used vehicle you buy is going to be perfect, especially one with more than 100,000 miles on the clock. Similar to working with power tools and doing dangerous jobs, “safety first” is a good motto to live by when repairing and freshening used trucks. To that end, a couple of areas we looked to refresh first on our ’04 Chevrolet Avalanche were the brakes and suspension. Properly functioning brakes are a must for any vehicle, new or used. Upgrading the shocks is an optional but smart step for vehicles with more than 100,000 miles.
The brake rotors on our Avalanche were well worn but could probably have gone a few thousand more miles. The pads were very thin and needed immediate replacement. Based on the surface rust on the perimeter of the rotors as well as telltale assembly markings, we believe they may have been the originals, with only the brake pads changed out over time. We also noticed a mushy-feeling parking brake, so we decided to order a set of replacement shoes. Good thing we did, as the adhesive attaching the shoe friction material had deteriorated on one of them and was starting to detach.
Another unforeseen fix we decided to take care of before it got to the critical stage was a leaky CV joint on one of the front halfshafts. Grease was leaking out and splattering all over the wheelwell. Although it wasn’t making alarming noises at this point, it was only a matter of time before it failed and would need to be replaced. We decided to take care of it now.
In terms of the shocks, the original factory Bilsteins looked worn and faded but still had plenty of firmness and pressure, a testament to their durability and quality. For the replacement shocks, we ordered a set of Rancho’s RS 5000 X front and RS 5000 rear shocks. We immediately noticed the much softer ride the Ranchos provided compared to the Bilsteins. Ride firmness preference is a subjective matter, and when considering a set of replacement shocks, it’s a good idea to do your homework on enthusiast and owner forums to get an idea of the ride quality of the shocks you’re considering.
RockAuto provided all the necessary parts for the freshening of our Avalanche. It’s a great one-stop shop for do-it-yourselfers who know what they need. RockAuto typically offers multiple choices for replacement parts by price and brand.
| When replacing brake pads, compressing the brake pistons to their original position will displace fluid in the system. If the brake fluid has been topped off as the pads wore down, the reservoir could overflow. Remove some of the fluid with an automotive fluid syringe and set aside—or be prepared to clean up the fluid as it comes out of the reservoir.
| The easiest way to raise the rear axle is to put the jack underneath the rear differential “pumpkin.” Be sure the jack is not putting pressure on the sway bar, if equipped. Also make sure the wheels of the axle you’re not working on are blocked to prevent rollaway. Support the vehicle with jackstands on both sides of the frame.
| With the rear wheel removed, use a C-clamp to compress the caliper slightly to ease removal. The Avalanche has 12mm caliper bolts. A pivot-head ratchet comes in handy for this step, if you have one.
| Remove the caliper. Make sure you don’t let it hang by the brake line. Secure it with a bent coat hanger, or set it on a convenient surface that won’t put tension on the brake line.
| The old pads should be easy to remove at this point. It’s recommended that you replace the old guide shims with new ones, which came with our kit.
| Since we’re replacing the rotor, we’re removing the caliper mounting bracket as well. These bolts may be tight. Once the bracket is removed, the rotor should come off relatively easily.
| Once we pulled the rotor off, we discovered the adhesive for the friction material on the horseshoe one-piece parking brake had deteriorated, and the shoe material was coming loose. It was a good thing we thought ahead and got replacement shoes from RockAuto.
| The one-piece parking brake shoe can be tricky to remove with the lug hub in place. Remove the retaining clip with an 8mm socket. You should be able to take it off without removing the lug hub after a few attempts.
| Before installing the new parking brake shoes, it’s a good idea to lubricate the adjustment screw, especially on an older, high-mileage vehicle. Be sure to use an appropriate lubricant that’s heat- and water-resistant and recommended for use with braking components.
| Finesse the new shoe assembly around the lug hub and set into place. Replace the retaining clip and use a flathead screwdriver to set the tension on the parking brake. You may have to go back and fine-tune the tension, so don’t put the caliper and bracket back on until you’re happy with the pedal feel.
| Many new rotors ship with an anti-corrosion coating. Clean the braking surfaces off with a brake cleaner and rag to remove any residue. This will prevent pad glazing from the residue.
| Before you reinstall the caliper bracket, it’s a good idea to add a little more grease to the caliper pins. Insufficiently lubricated caliper pins can cause uneven pad wear between the inner and outer pads. Clean off caked-on residue with a wire brush before applying new grease.
| Prep the caliper bracket bolts with Loctite Threadlocker Blue 242 or a similar product to secure the bolts. The caliper bracket bolts for the Avalanche have a torque specification of 148 ft-lb. Be sure to put the new guide shims on the caliper before installing the new pads.
| The caliper pistons will probably need to be compressed further. One easy method of compressing them is using one of the old brake pads as a flat surface and using a C-clamp to apply pressure. Make sure the new pads are installed correctly, with the wear indicator clip in the specified location. In our case, it’s the top edge of the outer pad.
| Our replacement pad and rotor kit also came with a new top anti-vibration clip. Check to make sure there’s no fluid leakage from around the caliper pistons. Double-check that the brake line is correctly routed before securing the caliper. The caliper bolts have a torque spec of 31 ft-lb. Check torque specs for your specific model.
| Moving to the front, we’re also going to take care of the leaking halfshaft boot we mentioned earlier. We have to loosen the center nut in the front hubs. Place an old screwdriver in one of the rotor vents against the caliper to keep the rotor and hub from spinning when loosening the axle shaft nut.
| Unscrew the six bolts attaching the halfshaft to the front axle. Finish loosening the center halfshaft nut from the wheel hub and remove the old halfshaft.
| Coat the splines of the new halfshaft with anti-seize compound to help ease installation. Grab the inner flange of the halfshaft to center it on the axle and push the splined end through the wheel hub. Make sure the flange is correctly centered and the bolt holes are aligned.
| Put an old screwdriver in the brake rotor vents to prevent the front rotating assembly from spinning when tightening the hub nut. Tighten the inner flange screws to 58 ft-lb.
| While we have the wheel off, now’s a good time to replace the shocks. If you are replacing and discarding the front shocks, you can put a vise grip on the shaft. Do not do this if you plan on using the shocks again, as it can compromise the seal between the shaft and shock body. Loosen the top of the shock with a gear wrench.
| Loosen the lower shock mount and remove the old shock. Hold the bolt with a wrench and loosen the nut with an impact wrench or ratchet. Be sure to retain the lower hardware, as it is typically not included with new shocks.
| The new Rancho 5000S X shocks came with a flexible dust boot and zip ties to secure the base of the boot. Tighten the top nut until the bushing is compressed to the same diameter as the washer.
| The rear shocks have an upper and lower eye mount. For gas-charged shocks, it’s easier to let the suspension fully extend to ease installation. Conventional shocks like these Ranchos can usually be compressed by hand to align the mounting points. Torque specs for the Avalanche are 70 ft-lb. You’ll get a more accurate torque reading by torquing the nut rather than the bolt.
| The disassembly of the front brakes is fairly similar to the rear, with the exception of no inner parking brake drum and shoe. The wear on our front pads was even but significant. It was definitely time for new pads.
| The front caliper and caliper bracket came off much the same way the rears did. The front rotors still had the factory retaining clips and the original GM casting numbers on the inside, meaning they were most likely the original rotors—even after 163,000 miles! It appears the Avalanche lived a pretty easy life comprised of a lot of freeway driving.
| Clean the friction surfaces of the front rotor with brake cleaner to remove any residual anti-corrosion coating. Like the rear, we inspected the caliper pins to make sure they had enough grease and replaced the caliper shims. The torque specs on the front caliper bracket bolts are 129 ft-lb. We applied a small amount of blue Loctite to the bolts before tightening.
| The front brake pads differ from the rear with wear indicators on both the inner and outer pads. The inner pad has one wear indicator, and the outer pad has two.
| The caliper had some grease on it from the leaking CV boot. However, if it appears there’s any significant fluid leakage on your caliper apart from an external source, you may need to get a new or rebuilt caliper.
| With significant wear on the pads, the caliper pistons needed to be compressed into the caliper. As noted earlier, keep an eye on the brake fluid level at the reservoir. Promptly clean up any brake fluid that may have overflowed, as it can damage painted surfaces. After everything is reinstalled, take the vehicle for a test drive to make sure there are no unusual noises or vibrations. To properly “bed in” brake pads, it’s recommended you make a series of firm stops from approximately 40 mph. Be aware of traffic and pedestrians.