What IS that thing?
Home | FAQ's | Photos Inside and Out | Other Chalets | Other Campers
Trips | Options | Tech | Paperwork | Production | Buy & Sell | Links | Contact

Technical stuff

While I've a fair amount of experience with the Chalet camper, from tearing my shell down, and from patching up the new one, I am but a journeyman when it comes to the general mechanics of the Blazer underneath. I have been lucky enough to get tons of advice from Doug, the nice fellow from whom I got my bare camper shell, whose day job involves spinning a wrench professionally!

Should you wish to ask questions about, or contest, anything on this page, please do us all a favour and contact us both

Further, please note that if you don't know whether your sockets are left- or right-handed, maybe you should start with the simple repairs on your truck before you work on your brakes and other critical safety mechanisms. If you're unsure about any of this, find someone who knows more. This could me asking myself or Doug, posting on Colorado-K5, or actually having a mechanic do it for you. While doing your own work can be gratifying and less expensive, when it's your daily driver or you just don't want to get greasy, hiring it out is OK too.

This section is all about the mechanical bits shared with the regular Blazer, though they often need tweaking for the Chalet's extra weight and size.


Most auto owners seem to feel that they should change the oil, add gas and have the brakes looked at when only they make funny noises. Mechanics are for the most part anal (ask Doug!) so his Chalet sat for almost a year while money was saved to bring the neglected Chalet up to his standards.

If you were to balance two K5's on a metal rod from the middle a normal production K5 would fall to the rear, and so would a Chalet -- however the point is a normal K5 with a hardtop, tailgate and glass add aprox 500 lbs to the rear of the K5. Add a Chinook camper and add the 31 gallons of fuel @ 8lbs a gallon, and we start to understand how the steering and the brakes suffer from this weight. We will cover the steering issue later after we digest all the brake issues. The Chalet even after new rotors, calipers, GM pads and shoes, and new drums still had the stopping capabilities of a WWII Sherman tank. What to do?

Well, first off the prop valve in the brake system limits fluid psi to the wheels (front vs. rear to be exact); in doing this we solve the problem of the rear wheels locking up. With the camper attached a Chalet will eat front brakes a lot quicker than normal, so here's what can be done to trade in our Sherman tank for a Cadillac.

Doug also recommends replacing the rear shoes, turning the drums, and replacing the wheel cylinders (or splurge and spend the $600 on a rear disc kit). When finished, your Chalet's stopping power will be a night and day difference.

I (Aaron) just redid the vast majority of the brakes on Koala; here's a "brake"-down of the costs involved. Note that these are representative prices from my local, trustworthy parts house; you will see some variation depending on who you buy from. I've rounded a bit too ;-)

Underhood parts ~$300

Front parts ~$340

Rear parts ~$160

It's a chunk of change, but the Koala STOPS now when I press the pedal. Before all this, I have to keep the pedal FLOORED at stop signs to keep her from running off; now I can lock all four up and skid <big grin>.

As far as cost goes, yes, you can buy cheaper. I freely admit I bought NEW whenever possible (as opposed to reman) and stuck with brand names. At this point I will only use Bendix pads and shoes; my GM dealer didn't have the Durastops in stock, and the Raybestos were crap (randomly pulled to one side or the other.) The Bendix semimetallic pads *rock*.

You'll note the "Speed Bleeder" bit ; these are replacement bleeder valves for your calipers and wheel cylinders, that have a one-way check valve in them. You loosen them like a regular bleeder, then just stick a hose from them into a bucket or jar, and pump the pedal a few times. Because they have the one-way valve, you don't have to keep closing the bleeder each time you press the pedal. Keep pressing until only fluid comes out (no air), and voila, you're bled. Very slick, and when it's just you in the driveway, priceless. You may prefer a vacuum bleeder or some other method, but these worked for me.

Doug on Handling

After all the big maintenance to my Chalet was done, brakes, rear axle shafts and bearings, fluid changes, (BTW) look in you newer K5 Sub manuals, they use motor oil instead of 85W140 in the xfer case. Why? Mileage! Cold 85W140 is so thick the engine works harder to get her rolling. 30 weight oil does not have this problem -- it's worth at least a couple tenths per mile gain. And of course all the front suspension was replaced, believe me 26 year old ball joints will be toast!

[NB from Aaron: Ball joints are gnarly. I've done them on Tankie and the Burb, and you need one of those screw presses from Harbor Freight. Not the $30 cheapie, but the $50 one in the red case ... that and a cheater pipe and a ball joint tuning fork and a BFH sledge. Armed with those you can DIY in your driveway and save a LOT of dough. Replacing the ball joints means tearing down the front axles, which is labour-intensive as all get-out. BTW, while you're down there, it's a GREAT time to do wheel bearings, rotors and pads!]

So maint all done we were ready for our first major trip, with Idaho Springs CO being our destination (700+ miles from Phoenix) we really got to know our Chalet's driving habits, errr quirks. At road speed, anything above 55mph, you get to know how a NASCAR driver feels while running thru turn 4 in Talladega with worn out tires. Even though the previous owner had installed a rear axle sway bar, turns at 55mph were a white knuckle treat until you learned how to drive her. A light touch in the steering wheel and letting her pick her own course is the ticket at 65mph, to cure this problem we installed a set of Firestone airbags in the rear set at 10-15 psi (depending on taste.) What happens under acceleration is that the weight of the camper causes the caster to dramatically move, thus making any move of the steering wheel maganified 100 fold -- at least according to my sphinct-O-meter. With airbags she stays level and handles quite nicely.

More to come!