Art: Jason Torchinsky

First generation Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras, built between model years 1999 and 2007, are plagued with a terrible disease: their tailgate handle linkages are made of the cheapest plastic known to humankind, and as a result, thousands of these trucks drive around with gaping holes in their rear ends. It’s driving me mad.

I first started noticing them a few weeks ago, when two early-2000s Silverados pulled up side-by-side at a stop light, and both were missing tailgate handle bezels (the plastic piece that surrounds the handle). “Surely, this is just a coincidence,” I convinced myself as moisture began accumulating on my brow.

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A few minutes later, as I walked out of a restaurant, I shrieked in horror upon seeing this:

I rushed through the parking lot to my Jeep and began my journey home, only to spot another Silverado with its tailgate handle and bezel missing. And then another. By that point, sweat flowed down my forehead, and I began to wonder if I was hallucinating (I have consumed quite a bit of motor oil recently, so who knows).

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Luckily, I made it to my abode without incident, and my nightmare came to an end. But just a few days later, I went to Texas to test drive the 2017 Jeep Compass, and I nearly panicked and crashed after seeing yet another Silverado limping along in pain without its tailgate handle bezel:

My co-driver wanted to know what was going on, so I told him about how I couldn’t stop seeing these bezel-less Silverados everywhere I looked— for the life of me, I couldn’t escape them! To calm me down (and to prevent us from almost crashing again), he assured me I was just seeing things, and that most first-generation Silverados he comes across have tailgate handles fully intact!

A few days later, that same co-driver sent me an email with this picture:

Photo: Rick Pewe

That’s when I realized that this was not just a figment of my imagination; this issue is very real.

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So I dug a bit deeper, and learned that thousands of owners are struggling with their tailgate handles, and especially the bezels. Just look at the Ebay and Amazon listings for the latter part; mbiauto, an Ebay seller, has shipped off 3,387 Chevy Silverado tailgate handle bezels, and 17 of those were in the last 24 hours alone! On Amazon, the same part has over 500 reviews!

The scale of this issue is worse than I thought.

Photo: amazon

I’ve come across a number of forum discussions about this, but none more depressing than this one on ls1tech. After the original poster asked about where to find a new bezel, since the old one had allegedly been stolen, forum member SSHAWK replied with:

I did all my research on the truck first before I bought the truck and noticed that on almost every Silverado I looked at had that piece missing.

DrededSS then chimed in, saying:

That piece is missing on all three of my duramaxes and my neighbor’s 1500.

v8sten then wrote that the bezels are so poorly made, they just fall off during normal driving:

They fall off all the time, mine literally fell off when i opened my tailgate. if you hit a big enough bump it will fall off. it happens, get over it.

The saddest post came from 02CamaroSSLE, who has lost all hope for his tailgate handle bezel, and now considers it the new normal:

mine is broke on my truck... i wouldnt worry about it to much... so many trucks dont have it, it’s like it’s suppose to be that way.

But a world where our pickups run around without tailgate handle bezels does not have to be the new normal.

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We can fix this! And to do that requires us to understand the origin of this disease; based on my research, the cause seems to be linked to the four plastic tabs shown in the picture above. Over time, those things get very brittle, and break off.

But based on what I’ve found on forums, the real root cause of Bezel-gate isn’t actually those four tabs, but rather a tailgate lock linkage that fastens the handle to the latch rods via two cheap plastic clips like these:

Photo: Amazon

As lubrication starts to wear thin, and Silverado or Sierra owners have to yank their handles a bit harder to get their tailtages open, these plastic clips break, and Silverado owners have to service their tailgate lock linkages. To do that, they remove the bezel, which instantly breaks:

But there is a solution! If you’re fixing your Silverado tailgate linkage, remember to push the bezel down before yanking it out. Push it down. Do not just yank it!:

OK, even if you do that, you might still break it. So basically, the takeaway here is that making tailgate handles out of cheap plastic parts is a terrible idea. And also, if you keep seeing first-gen Silverados missing tailgate handle bezels, you’re not going insane.