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Removing the Engine from a 1997 GMC Safari

Updated on March 6, 2011


A recent gasket failure has caused me to spend a week of vacation removing the engine from a 1997 GMC Safari. Apparently the days of spending a few hours removing a few bolts, hoses, linkages and wires then lifting the engine out the top are over. It took me 6 days of working a while, then driving to Sears after yet another tool, then getting as much work in as I could before my next trip to Sears, before I finally had the engine out.


To begin with, I bought a Haynes Shop Manual and proceeded to educate myself about the proper steps to take. The first thing the manual said what that removing the engine from a 1997 GMC Safari is beyond the scope of the home mechanic and that I should take the vehicle to a qualified repair shop. That’s it. No other steps required. “Piece of Cake.” Of course, doing this would probably cost more than just buying another used vehicle.  So, armed with the professional (i.e. hard to read) shop manual and my simple tools I set to work to change the unadvisable into reality.



The first snag was the engine fan. This was the first time I had removed a belt driven fan that simply unscrewed from the water pump shaft. On old cars with which I was familiar one had to remove four bolts from the fan pulley and this allowed the fan to separate from the water pump. I removed the four bolts and the only thing that came lose was the pulley itself. The fan was still very much attached to the water pump. Now in order to hold the shaft from turning while one unscrews the fan, the fan pulley has to be held stationary, but since the pulley was no longer attached to the water pump I had no way to remove the fan. So I had to put a bolt back in and this was very difficult as the fan was in the way of seeing when the holes lined up. After the bolt was back in, I went to town for a special fan removing wrench that the book said I would need. Upon returning, I found that this one-size-fits-all fan removing toolkit didn’t fit. So I ended up using a big adjustable wrench.


It would be great to say that the fan was the only glitch I encountered in this project but I am afraid this was only the beginning. After going through, disconnecting and labeling 44,672 wiring connections, lines, hoses, etc. I was ready to lift the body off of the frame. I started lifting with the engine hoist chained to the radiator frame and up came the body. It didn’t stay raised for long, however, as I noticed some wires coming from the top of the transmission were pulling tight. So I lowered the body and repositioned some of those wires.


Up came the body again. Higher this time. But just as I was thinking I would make some real progress I observed a brake line I had not removed was pulling tight. Down went the body again. This happened a couple more times before I finally had enough wires, lines and hoses disconnected that my optimism for being able to replace them all in their proper locations had been pretty much dashed to pieces. Up came the body one more time and I finally got it as high as it would go…well, as high as it could go before bumping the garage door opener.


With the body braced underneath with concrete blocks and a 4x4 beam, I could then commence the simple task of raising the engine up and pulling it out the front. Simple? I think not. After having to cut one of the exhaust flange bolts off with a side grinder because it was too rusted and reamed off to turn, I started raising the engine out of its cradle. Unfortunately, I had managed to get one of the wires to an oxygen sensor under my lifting chain and it got pinched there and began to pull tight as the engine was raised. So I had to lower the engine so the chain could go slack. After repositioning the wire I began lifting the engine again. Higher and higher it went until the arm of my hoist bumped the top of the radiator frame. Of course the engine wasn’t high enough to clear the front differential (the van is all wheel drive). Rather than lower the engine all the way back down I opted to hook 2 hand winches to the chain to lift the engine higher so I could tighten the chain. I had somewhat underestimated the abilities of my tiny little winches (they were actually heavy tie down straps) and it immediately became obvious that I was not going to be able to lift the engine with 2 of these. I only had 1 heavier hand winch though so I had to stop yet again and go borrow another winch.


Finally I got the engine high enough to clear the front differential and reached what was to be the final challenge of the removal: the radiator frame. I had to get my chain from inside to outside. This proved to be relatively simple, however, using the 2 hand winches and I finally had the engine out.



Now all I have to do is rebuild the engine and put it back into the van. That is the easy part. The hard part will be replacing all those wires, hoses, lines etc without missing any. If you are contemplating removing the engine on a 1997 GMC Safari I can tell you it is quite doable if you have plenty of patience. Just be very careful and don’t take any chances under that body. Brace it up well and have at least 2 different things holding it up at all times if possible. Also, go very slow when raising the body or the engine. There are so many wires and it is easy to damage one that you missed if it pulls too tight. Lift a little then stop and look all around for anything that isn’t right. You can do it. Don’t give up. Don’t drop any sticks of dynamite in the fuel tank. Persevere and you will eventually have an engine separate from the van. It has definitely been an adventure.


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    • MrGreywolf38 profile image

      MrGreywolf38 6 years ago

      It was definitely an adventure. I only just got the thing back on the road a couple of weeks ago and it still has some issues that need repair. Seems like every time I fix one thing something else fails. But I am happy to report that the engine runs beautifully.

    • profile image

      Jimroy 6 years ago

      I was just read-ing; that must have been fun.

    • MrGreywolf38 profile image

      MrGreywolf38 6 years ago

      I'll be reinstalling the engine in a few days. Hopefully that won't take so long. Thanks for the comment RBM.

    • profile image

      RBM 6 years ago

      Makes me tired just thinking of it. But that's age appropriate.