Home / Auto News / News article: Should I Buy a Used Chevrolet Astro or GMC Safari? - AutoGuide.com News
 |  Jul 03 2014, 9:03 AM

The Workhorse Not-So-Minivan

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Vehicle Overview

After a decade on the market, General Motor’s “mid-size” vans received their one and only update for the 1996 model year. The short wheelbase version of the van was dropped this year and styling was modified to better resemble the larger full-size GM vans. Base model Astros/Safaris featured a utilitarian front end complete with sealed beam headlights while higher trim models featured a more modern look with stacked horizontal headlights.

All vans were equipped with a four-speed automatic and a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The 190 hp 4.3-liter V6 was overhauled for 1996 to deliver better fuel economy as the van’s official rating went up to 15 MPG city and 20 MPG highway compared to the old model’s ratings of 14 MPG city and 17 MPG highway. However, in 2002 the ratings were lowered to 14 MPG city and 18 MPG highway.

Chevrolet Astro-1996-2005-07.jpg

Trims Packages

From 1996 until 2000 the Chevrolet Astro passenger van came in base, LS and LT trim lines. From 2001 until 2005 there were no trim levels as the Astro came as a singular model.

For 1996 the GMC Safari was offered in four trim levels that included base, SLX, SLE and SLT. In 1997 the entry level base model was dropped just leaving SLX, SLE and SLT. For the 1999 model year the SLX trim was replaced by SL. Like the Astro, the Safari was reduced to a singular trim level from 2001-2005.

Top 3 Reasons to Buy

  1. Space – Although it was originally intended to compete in the minivan segment, these vans were always a bit larger and offer more space. Able to seat eight adults comfortable, Chevrolet Astro-1996-2005-06.jpgthere was still a decent amount of cargo room including storage areas under the two rear benches. Those wanting a little more comfort could opt for second row captain’s chairs.
  2. Price – The newest versions of these vans are approaching 10 years old now and depreciation was never a friend of the Astro/Safari. A low mileage good condition van can be had for quite a low price.
  3. Towing – with a larger V6 engine and compact pick-up truck underpinnings, the Astro/Safari was more of a truck than most other small vans in the 1990s and 2000s. With rear-wheel drive, these vans are capable of towing 5,500 lbs. when properly equipped.

Top 3 Problem Areas

  1. Brakes – A host of braking issues have been reported for these vans. The most common has to do with anti-lock brake (ABS) failure at low speeds. The brake booster and rotors have also been an issue. Chevrolet Astro-1996-2005-02.jpgIn 2003 most of these problems were corrected with the new six-lug wheel design and larger brakes, but rusting front brake lines affect the 2003-2005 models.
  2. Safety – The Astro and Safari never scored well in crash test ratings. The IIHS gave the vans a “Poor” rating for every year of this generation. The NHTSA gave it a three-star rating for most areas although the side-impact rating did increase to four-stars in 1999.
  3. Transmission/Harness – Other less common issues have to do with the failure of the automatic transmission and/or parts related to it. As well, wiring harness failures such as worn wires and melted components are a semi-common occurrence.

Before You Buy

With older models ensure the various recalls have been performed. It’s best to take the vehicle to a certified mechanic to inspect the van before purchasing as items like brake lines, wiring harnesses and the transmission should be investigated.

SEE ALSO: Should I Buy a Used CR-V?

During a test drive pay special attention to both acceleration and braking performance to ensure both are smooth and not choppy. Also pay attention to whether the ABS light comes on ever during braking.

Inspect all exterior door handles and check to see if the sliding side door and rear hatch (or dutch doors) operate properly. If living in a region that uses salt on the roads during winter months, check the underbody for excessive rust.

Chevrolet Astro-1996-2005-05.jpg

Best Bang for Your Buck

With a ten year model run of a vehicle that didn’t change all that much, there are a lot of similar vans on the market to choose from. It’s best to avoid the 1996-1999 vans as they had more recalls and complaints than the later models.Chevrolet Astro-1996-2005-03.jpg

Chassis upgrades in 2003 saw the Astro/Safari get larger brakes and larger six-lug wheels. However these vans have had more issues with front brake lines rusting out compared to the older models.

SEE ALSO: Should I Buy a Used Hyundai Santa Fe?

If you don’t live in an area prone to rust, the 2003-2005 models make sense. However, for everyone else we suggest keeping to the 2000-2002 Astro/Safari.

Recall and Crash Test Database

1996 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
1997 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
1998 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
1999 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2000 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2001 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2002 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2003 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2004 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
2005 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Crash Test Rating
1996 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
1997 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
1998 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
1999 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2000 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2001 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2002 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2003 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2004 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
2005 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari IIHS Crash Test Rating
1996 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
1997 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
1998 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
1999 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2000 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2001 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2002 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2003 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2004 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database
2005 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari NHTSA Recall Database

Discuss this story on our Chevrolet Astro Forum.

GALLERY: 1996-2005 Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari

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  • Rickers

    Who would buy one of these?

  • Mike Schlee

    I would. And rock it out everyday.

  • chavitz

    There will be someone to buy as long as you put an American flag with it, and even you can charge a premium because of it. This is the reason those junk cars companies can keep scamming its people, sustain many many bad product recalls, and those CEO get a lot better paid than those of most competitive, most technologically advanced foreign automakers, usually about 8 times better paid

  • lbf1

    These were great little vans. I had 2003 Astro AWD and I regret getting rid of it. I could take out the seats and lay a short stack of 4×8 sheets of plywood flat. With its 5500-lb towing capacity (I never put a trailer on it) I could haul just about anything I could fit inside of it. It took up way less space than a full-size van or a long-bed pickup truck. It was great in the snow.