Chevy first debuted the compact S10 truck in 1982 as the successor to their outgoing LUV truck. Among Chevy fans, the S10 was one of the top trucks of the 1980s-’90s, and it was known for its versatility, style, and reliability. General Motors also sold rebadged versions of the S10 under their GMC, Isuzu, and Oldsmobile brands.
The Chevy S10 truck lasted for over two decades until its retirement in North America in 2004 and South America in 2012. Still, there are tons of S10s on the road today going strong. Eventually, Chevrolet introduced the Colorado as the S10’s successor – which is still in the lineup today.
This guide covers everything you need to know about the Chevy S10 truck during its two generations. We’ll look at the truck’s history, the various engines GM put into it, and S10 common problems and reliability. Finally, we’ll cover performance upgrades for the Chevy S10 truck to make it as unique and powerful as you want.
Table of Contents
- Chevy S10 Truck History
- Chevrolet S10 Engines
- Chevrolet S10 Common Problems and Reliability
- Chevy S10 Performance Upgrades
- The Used Chevy S10 Market
- Chevy S10 Truck Guide Summary
Chevy S10 Truck History
GM engineers first conceived the Chevy S10 truck in the 1970s as a result of the oil and energy crises. Prior to the S10, Chevrolet’s available compact truck for the North American market was the Chevrolet LUV. LUV stood for Light Utility Vehicle, and it was a rebadged version of the Isuzu KB Faster pickup truck.
GM was looking for both a more fuel efficient vehicle and one that could be produced in the U.S.. Born in the ‘80s was the Chevy S10 truck, the first compact truck ever built domestically by any of the big three US auto manufacturers.
Chevy S10 First Generation
The first generation of the Chevy S10 truck lasted from the 1982-1993 model years. It was smaller, lighter, and had a lower ride height than Chevrolet’s existing trucks, the C-10 pickups. Yet, it was also bigger and heavier than the outgoing LUV.
GM sold the Chevy S10 truck under a number of different models, including the GMC S-15 Jimmy, S-10 Blazer, Syclone, and Typhoon, as well as the Oldsmobile Bravada. For the first generation, the S-10 logo was stylized with a hyphen separating the S and 10, but Chevy dropped the hyphen for future generations.
GM used their GMT325 platform for the Chevy S10 truck, which included parts from both the G and H-body platforms. For 1982, there were two available engine options, but two-wheel drive was the only drive train available. Starting in 1983, four-wheel drive became available as well as an extended cab option. Chevy introduced new engines again in 1984, ‘85, ‘86, ‘88, and ‘92, including a diesel option from ‘84-’85.
For 1984, Chevy introduced a sport suspension option, and changed to a hydraulic controlled clutch. In 1989, Chevrolet added anti-lock brakes to the rear wheels and an electronic instrument cluster for the dash. In 1994, Chevy added oil and transmission coolers, and also made the 4L60-E Hydramatic four-speed automatic transmission an option.
First Gen Appearance Packages
From 1988-1991, Chevrolet offered an appearance package for the S10 4WD known as the S-10 Baja. Also available from 1989-1991 were the S-10 Cameo and Cameo EL appearance packages. The standard S10s got updated styling almost every other year, with minor additions being made to the grille, headlights, and side-moldings, and options like sunroofs were also made available in later years.
The S-10 Baja option included a roll bar with off-road lights, a front tubular grille guard with fog lights, a tubular rear bumper, an under body shield package (transfer case shield, front differential shield, fuel tank shield, oil pan/steering linkage shields), a suspension package, Chevrolet windshield banner, Baja decals on the box sides, and one inch wide body striping.
The Cameo and Cameo EL had some additional features, like a injection molded front-bumper with fog lights and wheel flares. There was also a special Top Gun S-10 available with a unique body kit and decals.
Chevy S10 Second Generation
The second generation of the Chevy S10 arrived in 1994 and lasted until 2004. The changes weren’t drastic, but they did increase interior comfort, performance, and exterior styling. The hyphen was removed from the name, changing it officially to the S10. The exterior was improved for looks and, most importantly, better aerodynamics. Chevy added a forward sloped hood, larger windows, and a new LS trim.
Within a few years, Chevy had added anti-lock brakes for all four wheels as standard and also changed the location of the shifter. Only one of the engines from the first generation was carried over, and most of the new ones were considerably more powerful. Chevy also made air-conditioning standard on all models and introduced driver’s side airbags for enhanced safety.
A majority of the drive train and suspension components carried over from the first to the second generation. An exception is the thicker lower control arms, and sway bars included in second gen sport utility models. In 1998, Chevrolet gave the S10 a facelift, which improved the audio system and anti-theft device.
The second generation ended in North America in 2004, but Chevy still made and marketed the S10 for Brazil until 2012. Following the S10, Chevy introduced the Colorado as its successor in both markets.
Second Gen Appearance and Performance Packages
Like the first generation, the second gen Chevy S10 truck also had several optional packages. The top of the line was the SS performance package, which included a limited-slip differential, more powerful engine, lowered suspension, larger wheels, and other visual enhancements. The S10 SS only lasted from 1994-1998, when Chevy replaced it with the S10 Xtreme package.
Chevy also had the ZR2 Off-road Package and ZR-5 Sport Package as options, too. They only made the ZR-5 package available on the larger crew cab models. It had blacked out bumpers, lighter aluminum wheels, and decals. The ZR2 package included larger tires, a 3” lift, beefed up suspension, and a locking differential.
In 1998, Chevy updated the interior and exterior on all models. They changed the grille, headlights, front bumper, instrument cluster, and seats – among other minor upgrades. Starting in 2001, Chevy introduced the larger crew cab as an option. The crew cab had an upgraded stereo, power mirrors and windows and keyless entry, as well as leather trimmed seats.
The Chevy S10 Electric Truck
One of the strangest variants of the Chevy S10 truck ever produced was the S10EV Electric Pickup. Chevy only made the truck available for two years, from 1997-’98, and it was incredibly innovative for its time. The truck was a true electric vehicle and not a hybrid, running solely off battery power. Under the hood was an 85-kilowatt three-phase, liquid-cooled AC induction motor capable of a maximum 114 hp. It was based on GM’s EV1 electric coupe they introduced in 1996.
One other big difference between the S10EV and the S10 was the EV’s use of front wheel drive. All gas S10s had either RWD or 4WD, but the S10 EV had FWD due to its drive train’s similarity with the EV1. For 1997, the S10EV used a lead acid battery, but starting in 1998 a lighter nickel–metal hydride battery pack was an option.
There were less than 500 S10Evs manufactured in total, but many of them were sold to public utility companies and the government. Buyers of the S10EV included the U.S. Air Force, Virginia Power, Detroit Edison, Boston Edison, Southern California Edison, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Chevy recalled the 430 of the trucks that were leased and had them destroyed, but the 60 that were sold were still in service in many places through 2007. Today, several of them have been made available on the secondary market at varying prices.
Chevrolet S10 Engines
During its two generation span, Chevy put more than 10 different engines in the S10 truck. All of them were either inline-four or V6 engines, and one of them was diesel powered. Power ranged from a low of 82 hp and 101 lb-ft of torque to a high of 195 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
First Gen S10 Engines
The first generation of Chevy S10 trucks used a whopping eight different engine combinations. Initially for 1982, Chevy put either a 1.9 L LR1 inline-four that made 82 hp, or a 2.8 L LR2 60* V6 that made 110 hp. Starting in 1983, the 2.0 L LQ2 inline-four was made available for two years, and from ‘84-’85 a inline-four Isuzu LQ7 diesel engine was an option. In 1986, Chevy introduced another version of the 2.8 L 60* V6, the LL2, which made slightly more power. Starting in 1984, engines with fuel injection were introduced to replace the 1.9 and 2.0 carbureted engines.
From 1985-1993, the Iron Duke Tech IV engine was the standard Chevy S10 truck engine available. It was a 2.5 L inline-four that featured throttle body injection and made 92-105 hp. In 1988, Chevy introduced the most powerful S10 engine yet, the 4.3 L LB4 90* V6 engine, which made 165 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque.
While it was not released for any of the Chevys, GM released a high performance version of the S10 known as the GMC Syclone. It was the same platform as the Chevy S10 truck, but used a turbocharged version of the LB4. This version of the LB4 had lower compression and an intercooler for the turbo, and made 280 hp. Unfortunately, no S10s got the turbocharged version.
Second Gen S10 Engines
The only engine Chevy carried over to the second generation was the LB4 V6, which lasted until 1995. For the first year of the second gen, Chevy introduced the 2.2 L Vortec 2200 (LN2) inline-four and 4.3 L Vortec 4300 (L35) V6. The vortec series of engines were very similar to the LB4’s V6, but with different “vortec” shaped cylinder heads.
In 1998, Chevy upgraded both the Vortec 2200 and 4300 to the newer models, the L43 and LF6 respectively. The L35 Vortec 4300 was the most powerful engine put in the S10, making 180-195 hp. For the Brazilian market, there was also an available 2.8 L Duramax diesel and a 2.4 L Flexpower engine. The Flexpower was flex fuel capable and made 147 hp, whereas the Duramax made 180 hp.
Chevrolet S10 Common Problems and Reliability
For the most part, the Chevy S10 truck is a very reliable truck that is well known for its longevity. There are lots of S10s that have gone well over 200,000 miles that are still kicking today. While Chevy did give the S10 a ton of different engine options, they are for the most part pretty good. A few of the engines have some quirks, which we’ll discuss, but with proper maintenance these cars do not present many issues on average.
None of the engines were really geared towards performance, except the 4.3 L Vortec which made almost 200 hp. As a result, most engines did not see a ton of excess stress on a daily basis and were able to last longer. Additionally, these compact trucks were too small and under powered to do much as “work trucks.” So, they were generally used as family vehicles and commuters instead to haul trailers.
Vortec 2200 LN2 Head Gasket Failure
One of the more maligned Chevy S10 truck engines was the 2.2 L inline-four Vortec 2200 LN2. It lasted from 1994-1997 and was the lowest powered second gen S10 by far. The big issue with it was mainly related to failing head gaskets. They were prone to failure within well under 100,000 miles on some cars and led to lots of lost coolant.
Symptoms of blown head gaskets on the S10 are a loss of coolant, milky colored oil, and most obviously white smoke coming out of the tailpipe. Head gaskets are not very complicated to fix, but they are tedious to do. From 1998-2003, Chevy used an updated version of the Vortec 2200, the L43. For the most part, the L43 does not suffer from the same head gasket issues as the LN2. We recommend grabbing a head gasket for the L43 if your LN2 fails.
AC Compressor Failure
One of the common problems on many S10s was AC compressor failure. The design was poor and the compressor would often seize and stop working. This was more an issue on first gen trucks over second gen, but the problem still presented itself until the 2000s. The obvious symptoms of compressor failure are a whining noise when the AC turns on, a lack of cold air, and Freon leaks. Replacing the compressor with an updated version post-2001 is the best solution.
Vortec 4300 Intake Manifold Gasket Failure
A somewhat common issue on Vortec 4300 (4.3 L V6) equipped Chevy S10 trucks was intake manifold gasket failure. They were not very thick and, like the Vortec 2200 LN2, prone to failure in as short as 50,000 miles. Replacing it is relatively inexpensive but tedious, and unfortunately there is not an updated part from Chevy.
A few things that can be done for more longevity is making sure the engine is properly warmed up before heavy use, avoiding overheating the engine, and avoiding constant short trips where the engine is not able to get up to running temperature. For more information on Vortec 4300 problems, click here for our guide.
S10 Distributor Cap Failure
Another issue that many Vortec 4300 engines suffered from was distributor cap failure. The Vortec distributor is responsible for providing the ignition coils with the electricity required to power the spark plugs and create combustion. Wires connect to the distributor, which has a mechanical piece inside that spins in a circle to generate the voltage for the coils.
In vortec engines, the problem stems with the cap on the distributor, not the actual distributor itself. The cap is made of plastic. And the distributor sits in a high-heat part of the engine with poor air circulation or cooling. The cap is prone to warping from the heat, which results in the cap rubbing against the distributor rotor button. This causes the rotor bushing to wear out and the distributor begins to no longer be able to turn.
Again, check out our Vortec 4300 common problems guide for more information.
S10 Fuel Pump and Fuel Filter Failure
Common to not just one engine but most Chevy’s during this period in general is fuel pump failure. Many of them seize up and stop working, leaving the car unable to start or to suddenly stall. The culprit is the crap fuel pumps Chevy used during this time period which were issues on many cars. Replacing them with something aftermarket is by far the best way to go if failure presents itself.
The fuel filters are also an issue on many S10s because of their short lifespan. Chevy recommended changing them as often as 30,000 miles – which most owners neglected. If you haven’t done so already, make sure your fuel filter is up to date to avoid problems.
Chevy S10 Performance Upgrades
While the Chevy S10 truck was not originally made with big performance in mind, there are some upgrades that can be made to it to increase power. This does largely depend on the engine, as really the only ones worth modding are the Vortec 4300s. The other engines are just simply not capable of much performance. Some simple bolt-ons will add a few horsepower, but the gains are very negligible.
Vortec 4300 S10 Mods
The Vortec 4300s can however be upgraded for performance and make some serious power. The stock internals are ok until around 350-400 hp, at which point the pistons and rods start to fail. The block is very solid and is capable of more than 700 hp without having problems. If you plan on going past 350-400 hp, forged pistons and rods are necessary. Supporting mods like head studs are also smart ideas.
The path to modding the Vortec 4300 starts by upgrading the fuel system and air induction system. A freer flowing cold air intake will help with power, and getting larger fuel injectors and fuel pump will enable more fueling. After you have upgraded the fueling and air flow, the next step is long-tube exhaust headers. These will free up more horsepower by reducing back pressure and allow for better exhaust efficiency.
Installing basic bolt-ons, including an intake, headers, injectors, fuel pump, under drive pulleys, and larger throttle body (or doing the “throttle body mod” by removing the throttle blade), will net just over 250-275 hp together. Adding tuning will also allow you to get the most bang for your buck out of your mods and add another 25-40 hp on top.
The next step up from bolt-ons is forced induction from superchargers or turbochargers. The size of your blower will be determined by your power goals, but smaller superchargers will be good for 350 hp at 9-10 PSI. For high power builds we recommend turbos over superchargers, but for smaller builds the instant boost of the superchargers are best.
The Used Chevy S10 Market
There are still lots of used Chevy S10 trucks on the market today. Most of them are at very affordable prices in the $2,000 – $6,000 range, with the SS, S-10 Baja, Cameo, and Cameo EL models going for the most amount.
Most models have well over 100,000 miles at this point, but as we’ve said with good maintenance that’s not a big deal. If you’re looking for a used S10 make sure you give it a thorough pre-purchase inspection, and definitely prioritize any that have the Vortec 4300 V6.
Chevy S10 Truck Guide Summary
The Chevy S10 truck was a valuable contributor to the Chevrolet lineup for over two decades. Its versatility, style, and bevy of different options made it a standout of the ‘80s and ‘90s. While it probably won’t win you too many races at the track, it was still a fun and reliable truck.
The fact that there are so many still on the road today is a testament to their longevity and sustainability. You can even do some performance upgrades to bring the S10 into competition with modern vehicles, or to blow the doors off them if you want…
What experience do you have with the Chevy S10? Do you own one or are you looking at one on the used market? Let us know in the comments below.