|Hidden Hitch and spare
tire lowering kit.
|Westin step bar. Lasted about 5 years before
|Left: This is a switch I made to shut off the
Sonoma's torque converter when it started
giving me problems at about 140,000 miles.
Before that I had tried changing the
transmission fluid and filter, but that didn't
help. So I cut one of the purple wires in the
brake switch wiring harness (the lower one on
my harness; the other one shuts off cruise
control when the brakes are activated) and
wired it to a switch. This fools the torque
converter into thinking the brakes are applied,
which automatically shuts it off. The downside
is that the engine runs a couple hundred
RPM's higher while cruising down the
highway. This modification would also be
useful when pulling trailers, where you don't
want the torque converter constantly locking
and unlocking on uneven terrain.
Later on, I didn't have to use the switch
anymore, after I changed the transmission oil
again at about 180,000 miles and the torque
converter magically started working perfectly.
But it was there if I needed it.
|The GM S-Series Page
|Hotratz Secondary Safety Latch - tire carrier
|Pulling on the
|This what happens
when the latch
unexpectedly releases -
the secondary latch
|For the first 19 years of my adult, post-college life, somehow the only automobiles I ever
owned were various GM S-series vehicles. I later bought a Ford truck, but hung on to my
Blazer a few more years. In all, it took a total of 25 years to cure me of my S-series habit.
Why? I'm not entirely sure, except GM always seemed to have a vehicle that suited my
needs, and those needs were met by S-series trucks. Their compact pickup trucks were
perfect as single-guy motorcycle haulers and daily drivers. The "work truck" version of the
GMC Sonoma was available as a regular cab 4X4 with a 7-foot bed, which was long
enough and wide enough (barely) to carry two dirt bikes with the tail gate closed. The 4.3
liter V-6 engine had decent power and torque, and gas mileage in the pickup trucks was
close to 20 mpg on the highway.
My first truck was a 1993 Sonoma 4X4 regular cab long bed. Hardly any of these ever
showed up on dealer's lots, since most people interested in a 4X4 small truck were also
attracted to extended cabs. I wanted the long bed for hauling dirt bikes, and four wheel
drive because two wheel drive trucks pretty much suck in the snow. Also, I didn't want to
be one of those guys always having to be pulled out of a muddy staging area at dirt bike
races. There wasn't any other way to get the long bed, 4X4 combination, other than to
order up the work truck version with a regular cab. Once I saw the 1993 brochure and its
"centerfold" photo of a black truck with red stripes and white-letter tires, that's what I had
to have. My truck ended up pretty close this photo (below). I did forgo the P235-75R
Uniroyal tires for a set of P205 black-walls, and I chose the long bed version. Those
|black painted rims were also way cool.
Whatever the body color, the wheel
colors would match. I also got the
digital dashboard, which was pretty
The coolness of a black truck quickly
wore off after driving in snow, rain, or
any other type of weather besides
warm and dry. The photo below on
the right was taken during its first
winter. The truck also lost its luster
when salt ate away the paint on the
wheels. Then the fuel injection
problems began....this was the most
unreliable new vehicle I've ever
known. The "enhanced" V-6, with an
extra 30 horsepower over the regular
V-6, was the only engine configuration
that year with central port fuel
injection. On my truck, this injection
system was a failure. In the winter
and spring of 1994, the Sonoma was
parked in the dealer's garage almost
as much as at my apartment's parking
lot. Without the warranty, I might have
been forced into bankruptcy. In the 3
years I owned it, I never really knew if
the engine was going to start when I
turned the key to the ignition.
In 1994, GM redesigned the S-series
to keep up with Ford, which had
redesigned its Ranger pickup trucks
the year before. Gone were the boxy
front ends, as well as central port fuel
injection. When the warranty on my
1993 Sonoma ran out in 1995, I
|The day I took delivery of the new Sonoma, I drove across the street to the motorcycle
dealership and picked up a new Suzuki RMX250 (above right). That was a good day.
Fuel delivery on the 1996 Sonoma was sequential fuel injection, a definite improvement.
Despite the 1993's fuel injection problems, it did have a very peppy engine and was
actually the best of 3 different versions of the 4.3L V-6 that I've owned. The 1996 version
was still pretty good, although the fatter 235 tires took away about 2 mpg.
When I ordered this truck, I had my eyes on a new style of S-series called Highrider (or
ZR2 for the Chevy versions). These came more suited for off-road use and had wider tires
and a wider stance. They were built a little stronger and just looked exceptionally cool. If
the Highrider Sonoma had been available in a long bed version, that's what I would have
Most of the Highriders were ordered with extended cabs, so the photo from the Sonoma
brochure (below) was a rare vehicle - almost as rare as a long-bed 4X4 regular cab
Sonoma. In the late 1990's, with the Supersizing of America well underway and gasoline
prices cheap, apparently nobody wanted a regular cab truck as a daily driver. Instead,
crew cabs became the norm and bed sizes shrank faster than an Obama campaign
promise. When I started seeing S-series trucks with 4 doors and 55-inch beds, I knew my
next vehicle would not be an S-10 or a Sonoma. By 2004, when I began looking at new
vehicles,the S-series was nearing its end of production and the only long bed option was
a 2-wheel-drive model. The 1996 version of the Sonoma was, overall, a pretty reliable
truck. As I approached 150,000 miles, I'd replaced many of the usual parts such as the
battery, alternator,universal joints, shocks, water pump, oil cooler lines, etc.
|stay unlocked). I gave up a couple miles per gallon by having it run about 200 RPM's
higher on the highway, but at that point I didn't care. Soon, it wouldn't be my daily driver
|In the Fall of 2004, the Sonoma was nearing 9 years old and 150,000 miles, so it was
time to add a new vehicle to the fleet. I had no intention of trading off the Sonoma - it was
far too valuable to me as a dirt bike hauler and made trips to Home Depot much more
enjoyable. Since no car manufacturers were producing a small truck with four wheel drive
and a 7-foot bed, I decided my next auto would not be a pickup truck. I could have traded
the Sonoma for a full-sized pickup truck, but I didn't feel the need. My little truck was just
fine for hauling my dirt bikes and whatever else. I almost bought a Pontiac Grand Prix,
but when GM began offering steep discounts for its remaining 2004 inventory, the Chevy
Blazer ZR2 suddenly became very affordable.
|decided to trade it off and let it be someone else's problem. I took a chance on GM once
again and ordered up a new 1996 Sonoma. The truck was almost identically spec'ed to
my 1993 version, except this time I got the bigger white-letter tires.
|Downtown St. Louis, 1999.
|St. Louis in the early 2000's at my house in
|I'd always liked the look of the ZR2 Blazers, and after 12 years of owning S-series
vehicles, I knew what to expect (mechanically, anyway). The slanted bodywork reminded
me of the Nissan Hardbody trucks and Pathfinder SUV's of the 1980's. This one came
from a dealer in Wood River, Illinois near the end of my days in St. Louis. A red version
at another dealer in Columbia, Illinois had just been sold after I began touring car lots;
otherwise, that's probably what I would have drive home in. But the yellow one in Wood
River was pretty sweet too, so that's what I bought.
|I was never one to modify my vehicles very much, but that changed with the Blazer.
When I couldn't find a way to play my MP3 player through the stock audio system, I
ripped it out and installed a complete aftermarket system. When I saw a unique addition
of air horns on ZR2-USA.com, I did the same to my Blazer. I also did a few other things,
such as lowering the huge spare tire mounted to the back of the Blazer so I could
actually see something out of my rear view mirror (other than a large tire). I added some
Synergy 2" shackles to the leaf springs, to rid the Blazer of its rear end sag. I also
installed a Hidden Hitch and Westin step bars, as well as a Hotratz secondary safety
latch to the spare tire carrier.
The whole idea behind buying an SUV instead of a passenger car was to maintain some
level of "utility" to my transportation. If the Sonoma met an untimely death, I still wanted
the ability to transport dirt bikes or pull a trailer. I got that with the Blazer. It pulled a
trailer and tons of gear on a dirt bike trip to Colorado in 2007. That same year, it also did
a 3,500-mile trip to the East Coast and back, carrying a dirt bike, a mountain bike, and 10
days worth of gear.
One of the best add-ons for the Blazer was the Ultimate MX Hauler. This hitch-mounted
carrier is a way to transport a motorcycle without a trailer. As the Sonoma has aged, I
used the MX Hauler as a back-up plan on a couple of occasions when the Sonoma was
behaving badly. Other times, I used the Blazer to haul dirt bikes when I traveled long
distances and didn't quite trust the Sonoma enough to drive so far. After more than
10,000 miles of driving with the MX Hauler, it's been an excellent investment.
|As for the Sonoma, I sold it to a college kid in December 2012, after the transmission
gave up its 3rd and 4th gears. Up to that point I had revived the truck from the dead
several times. During the summer of 2009, I almost gave it to the salvage yard after the
transmission became nearly unusable. With one last act of desperation, I changed the
transmission oil and filter (for only the second time in its life...maybe there's a lesson
there). Like magic, the transmission came back to life and I got another 3 years before
the transmission was ready for a major overhaul.
GM sold a few Blazers in 2005, but that was it for the 20+ years of S-10's, Sonomas,
Blazers and Jimmys. From 1982 to 2004, these trucks were found all across the U.S.
Today, they have been replaced by the Canyon, Colorado, Trailblazer, Envoy, Acadia,
etc. These new models are bigger, heavier, and designed for a seemingly never-ending
supply of buyers who want trucks to ride like cars. Long live the S-series.....
|In December 2009, I decided the harsh winters of Northwestern Illinois called for better
snow tires. I didn't want to discard the stock tires, since they worked pretty well on the
road and had plenty of life left in them. Instead, I picked up a set of lightly used stock
rims from eBay and mounted them to BF Goodrich AT tires. These have always
received good reviews by the Internet crowd, so I took advantage of Farm & Fleet's
4-for-the-price-of-3 sale and had a pretty nice set of winter tires. When the snow
melted, the old set went back on the truck.
The only disadvantage of these tires is that they reduced the gas mileage somewhat on
a vehicle with pretty poor gas mileage to begin with. The stock tires give me no more
than 18 mpg, and these dropped it closer to 16 mpg.
|I found my twin! This was at the now-demolished Clocktower Inn in Rockford, Illinois on
June 14, 2010. Never did figure out who it was.
|At the farm, October 2011. Had about 200,000 miles on the original engine and transmission.
|Seventeen years, almost to the day, after I purchased my 1996 Sonoma, I sold it to a
college girl in Wisconsin. In December 2012, the little red truck that wouldn't die was
running with a transmission missing its 3rd and 4th gears. I had limped home from my
final dirt bike ride of the year with only two gears, and I knew I wasn't going to replace
the tranny. I put an add on Craigslist, and a few weeks later the truck was gone. The
photo above was the last I took. The odometer showed about 206,000 miles.
Goodbye, old friend.
|Ready to race, with the Ultimate MX Hauler. I used this when I went
to faraway races, and didn't trust my Sonoma to get me there and
back. The MX Hauler was not ideal, but it worked well for what it
was intended for.
|In 2018, I sold my Blazer to my nephew. Thus ended
my 25-year affair with S-series vehicles.