My Experience: Weldtec Design Grocery Getter
After driving around the van for quite some time I decided to upgrade the van to be better prepared for our overlanding trip. After putting everything in I wanted to share my experience with you. I thought about how to write this review and eventually decided to do it topic by topic instead of chronologically.
Some basic information:
- Ford E-350 Extended, 15 passenger van, 2006
- 4 seats left, fairly empty
- Used as overland vehicle and surely not reaching the max payload of the van
- Winch on a cradle upfront
- UJoint’s rear bumper/ tire carrier
- WeldTec’s Grocery Getter Performance (or perhaps not Performance?! Read below) with Fox shocks
- 35” Falken Wildpeak AT3W
- Air Locker with 4.56
So below you can find the following “chapters”, and I hope it helps one or the other.
Post 1: Why WeldTec, general experience and one tip sending back the i-beams
Post 2: Front Part
Post 3: Rear Part
Post 4: Driving Experience
1. Why WeldTec’s Grocery Getter Performance Package?
Initially I was thinking about a 4x4 conversion compared to a lift kit + rear locker.
After talking to multiple companies offering the 4x4 conversion the invest didn’t go together with my needs and goals. I would have ended up with UJoint’s kit and while I feel very comfortable working on suspension and similar the whole topic around the gear boxes and similar seemed to be too far away. In addition I can’t weld. The UJoint kit including installation at a local shop came out to about 20-22k + locker and I couldn’t justify this.
So I went for lift kits + locker.
After reading 2-4 weeks about different kits, pros and cons I eventually decided on the WeldTec Kit:
- Beside welding the brackets on I can do everything alone in my driveway
- The quality seemed to be really good and I could find a lot of positive reviews
- Complaints by some people about the feeling while driving got skipped: you can’t make everyone happy, so I went with the majority
- They are also in California and therefore shipping was easy/ quick/ cheaper
2. General Experience WeldTec Design
Please note: this whole chapter is only about my personal experience and has nothing to do with technical things!
All in all I would have wished for a more proactive feedback loop on timelines. While I was told lead times are 3-4 weeks in my initial call it eventually took much longer and today, after 12-14 weeks, the leaf springs have still not arrived.
I also had a technical problem (see below chapter 3), but couldn’t get a response from WeldTec for 3 days (although I was told I get a call back twice). Eventually solved it alone…
There were some other non technical occurrences where I expected more proactive feedback, but that didn’t happen. Example here is that as I’m typing I’m already waiting 3 weeks for a feedback from them when my leaf springs arrive. They were supposed to arrive at WeldTec 2.5 weeks ago, but nothing heard since. So now I decided to close this chapter after a total of 4 months following up, calling, waiting, … Will get new ones somewhere else.
When timelines got changed/ were not kept again and again I had the feeling I had to follow up as otherwise nothing is happening. Surely kind of annoying for them, but the fact I didn’t get any proactive feedback during the past 3 weeks shows that I’m not too wrong.
I understand these are busy times, but on the other hand I would expect that anyone accepting an order is also able to follow up/ deliver accordingly.
Next topic: Money transfers
I read about some people having issues with getting money back. To be fair: this has absolutely not been an issue! I sent my I-beams back and within a day I had money on my account!
I also didn’t have the feeling someone was cheating or doing anything bad on purpose. So don’t get me wrong with my statements above.
Would I do it again?
Perhaps… All parts I received have been in really good quality and especially the video tutorial helped a lot, but the wait time without feedback was really hard to take.
So in case you’re ok with the communication, I’m sure you get a nice quality product.
Wish to WeldTec for others:
- List all necessary tools in the instructions and send the instructions out when confirming an order. This way you can be prepare better.
- List necessary torques for the different nuts/ screws in the instructions
Sending my I-Beams back I used Fedex. I was looking around and eventually found that I can ship it with them for $91! Others showed $200-300.
I just used some strong zip ties, wrapped plastic wrap from the kitchen around and done.
One thing to keep in mind. Once this kit is installed and you want to put the tire back on: your standard jack stands don’t fit anymore :-D There is so much clearance needed to fit the 35’s in, that 16” height are just not enough :-D had to play around a bit and used wood blocks under the jack stands to make it happen :-P
Disassembling the front end: 2.5 hours in my driveway
Reinstalling the new front end: 4 hours (including some problems described below)
No impact wrench used, angle grinder for the I-Beam, rest all manual tools
My whole plan was to have the van ready for install before the kit arrived. So WeldTec shipped the brackets beforehand and I had them welded on for ~$300 at Arabia Overkill, an offroad shop in the Bay Area. It was super easy to work with them, appointment came in early, … all good!
As I’m running 35’s Jeremy told to move the new brackets 9 3/8” back from the stock position and this was on spot! The tire fits in nicely and has enough clearance to the wheel well on the rear.
The front part of the bumper has to be cut a fair bit! My bumper was that chrome/ plastic combination. I completely removed the plastic (the part holding the front licence plate) and then I needed to cut off ~4” of the chrome bumper.
So headed back home and started disassembling the front end. Pumped up the front and supported everything in a way that the van could stay like this for a few days.
At that point I also decided to replace the ball joints. 260k miles and I already had everything in my hand, rented the tool from OReilly… easy going.
What I noted while putting the new ones in: thoroughly clean the cone seats! Not doing so will result in turning the ball joints around while tightening the screws.
Once this disassembling was done, I could look forward to my palet arriving next day!
I watched the video multiple times beforehand and therefore I could just go ahead and start.
Putting the radius arms in was no problem.
Figuring out which bushing goes where in which direction took me 2 minutes (pictures in the description had low resolution), but this went quick and easy.
I also applied some grease on the metal tube/ spacer so that the rubber bushing slide over easier.
As Jeremy also mentions in his video, use Loctite on the radius arm BEFORE you have any weight on it. I forgot it earlier and once I wanted to loosen the screws the whole radius arm moved forward, blocking space to apply Loctite.
I personally didn’t took care further, but check the nut from time to time. After some “test expeditions” to SVRA’s and >500 miles in the forest of NorCal/ Oregon nothing is moving. I also couldn’t find any Loctite on the stock radius arm, so I keep an eye on it and leave it for now.
Then the I-Beams.
Due to the 35’s I needed to work on the driver side beam, to clear the travel (see WeldTec’s Video “How to fit 35’s on your Econoline Van“). While the video mentions the screw position as possible problem, I found there is a bit more: the bracket holding the driver I-Beam. So what I eventually did was laying under the van and clearing everything around the screw and bracket and then put some undercoating on it. I think it took me 15-20min with an angle grinder to clear it and flatten everything out.
Went smooth, but I took away much more than expected (in width).
Once this was done I started working on the coils springs.
Those were giving me some headache. Starting on the passenger side I just couldn’t get the spring in properly. The bottom part was super easy, but there is this small retainer on the top. It just didn’t fit as the spring itself didn’t exactly fit the upper coil spring bracket. So playing around, testing both coils, seeing that the driver side went just in, I bent the retainer slightly using a hammer until it snapped in.
The rest of the job was super easy: assemble the shorter shock in the front (longer ones to the rear), tighten all nuts/ bolts, screws, install your tire and be happy about the significant lift :-)
After everything was done I had an alignment done as everything was out of place. I did a quick tape measure alignment in my driveway, but just to avoid the worst :-)
The shop had absolutely no problem to align it and the way back was super comfortable!
Disassembling the rear: 0.5 hours
Assembling the rear: 1.5 hours in total (including problem solving)
Due to the long lead times of the rear leaf springs I decided to use spacers for the time being (had a trip coming up…). So plan was to use my current leaf spring + the spacer and then eventually transfer to the new ones. But as you read above already, the new ones got skipped eventually.
The rear end turned out to be very easy to install, but I personally had a different problem.
My van had an aftermarket leaf installed: General Springs 43-1085. In contrast to the stock leaf it has 9 leafs for a total capacity of 3,460 lbs.
Why that matters:
1. The U-bolts will not fit. They are made for less leafs (= total height above the axle) and therefore not be long enough to fit. I could barely fit the nut on top.
2. The rear shock will just be too short. When the van was standing on it’s 35’s and everything was installed, the shocks only compressed by max 1”. So I’d have no room to play when the van bounces up and I’d immediately feel the impact in the shock!
So I ended up with jacking up the van again and taking out leafs. Speaking to General Spings they said “~400lbs per leaf”. As my van is never fully loaded I took two leafs out on each side.
This change opened the path to use the van:
- The new U-Bolts fit
- The shock was compressed more (2-3”?!?)
- The van has not been as stiff as before
All in all the rear with spacer has been as expected: remove U-bolts, jack it up, remove leafs while the spring is still installed to the front and rear brackets, add the spacer, lower the body slowly and make sure all pins are in spot and screw it back together.
The only thing I forgot: I lifted the rear end up using my rear hitch (I talked about the reach problem of standard jacks above :-D). Once both leaf springs were disconnected/ not in touch with the axle anymore, the axle and driveshaft tilted forward, so that the leaf springs didn’t fit. I just used some ratchet straps to pull the axle/ diff back in position.
While removing the leafs I did one side after the other, which was way easier (and perhaps smarter :-D).
The only thing that is a bit negative (but that was my decision!) is that the 35’s don’t fully fit into the rear wheel well. The space to the front is fine, but the backwards spacing is very tight! In the offroad park I hit the rear side of the well with both tires..
So I know I have to work on the wheel well and get it rolled or trim it. I’ll see what I do there.
6. Driving Experience
Keep in mind: I don’t have the final leaf springs
We have been driving more than 500 miles through 5 National Forests as well as visited an offroad park before and after the transition.
The main things that come to my mind:
- Front end is less stiff and is now traveling much more. This is absolutely comfortable and especially in rougher terrain and/or rougher forest roads you can really speed up. Air down and you’ll enjoy this ride! I understand it might be a bit soft for some people, but I like it.
- On the highway or regular roads you can really feel the missing swaybar. Not that I don’t like it, but you have to get used to a bit more rolling of the chassis.
All in all I’m very happy and had no issue at all. I think this is really what I needed for overlanding and medium rough terrain that I would approach with a 2WD locked fullsize van.
7. Open items
I have to measure a bit more in detail, but as it looks like right now I have to adjust/ renew the front and rear bump stops. Looks like the shock will hit before the bump stops do.
In addition I’ll be looking into shock straps, especially in the rear.
Very thorough write, documenting the good, the bad and the challenges. I hope everything turns out great when you get your springs. I understand material and parts shortages, but I never understand a lack of communication.
Couldnt you just use axle relocation plates in the rear instead of messing with the sheetmetal?
Maybe the front tire is also to close to allow moving the axle forward 1/2" ?
Now you need to help me a bit:
1. It’s a 2WD, means my driveshaft isn’t connected to the front axle/tires but directly to the engine/ gear box.
2. Searching axle relocation plates I find the same pictures as my leaf spring spacers are. I assume you mean something to add between the driveshaft and axle right? If so: will check whether or not I have anything in there right now. As I need to move it forward I can only “remove” in case there is one.
If moving the axle forward by let’s say an inch is an option on a 2WD, I’m in! Feel free to provide some links/ descriptions/ videos!
They are plates that go between your leaf springs and the axle housing. They have offset holes for the leaf spring/axle locating pin/bolt. Since the hole is offset from center it moves the entire axle forward or backwards depending on how you install it.
This link is only provided to help you understand what they are....https://www.wfoconcepts.com/pr/Leaf-...cks/4154/20071
That gives me an idea. The spacers have a slope/ angle. Turning them around could reposition and change the angle and therefore slightly move the wheel forward. Will check tonight.
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