In past, we had always gone on road trips using the vehicle we already owned or, if we were traveling to another country, we rented the cheapest car available upon landing. However, when we were dreaming up the idea of traveling around the country, we both still had full time jobs and envisioned the trip being more long-term. Philip wanted to keep his job, so, rather than use vacation for the trip, we decided to get a cargo van and convert it into a comfortable space to workout of.
We chose a cargo van because:
- it was a good compromise between comfort and capability
- we could convert the cargo van ourselves to optimize the space for our needs
- plus, we thought it would make for a fun project and great learning experience
- we wanted a vehicle that was small enough to fit in a parking spot and could drive on windy, narrow roads with a low amount of stress
- pulling a trailer or driving a standard RV would have been too large for our needs
- normal vehicle would not have made for a very pleasant space to spend 40 hours a week in
At the end of the day these vans are all fairly similar and any of them will work for converting into a camper van. We had many reasons for why we chose the Transit, but here are a few of the simpler reasons that first come to mind. . .
We test drove all four vehicles and found the NV to be the most comfortable to sit in. However, the NV had the least amount of power (struggled on uphill driving in the flat part of Maine), which was surprising, considering that it has the largest engine out of all of the brands. Additionally, the shape of the vehicle looked like they had just added a roof to a pickup truck. Not much thought appeared to go into the design of the NV and that the company just wanted to have something to offer in the cargo van market. The nice thing about the other cargo vans is that, because the fronts are so stubby, you can see the road easier, making the vehicle feel easy to drive, despite their size.
The Sprinter and Transit felt pretty similar on comfort, but Sprinters cost quite a bit more than Transits. Additionally, we read a lot of warnings on forums about the sensors in Sprinters being finicky and expensive to replace, thus, making the cost of ownership a lot higher than the other three cargo van options. Sprinters also have the largest used market because they have been being sold in the US for so much longer. But, people are charging quite high amounts for a vehicle that has 200,000 miles+ on them. That said, if cost weren’t a factor and we were buying a new cargo van, we would, likely, choose the Sprinter.
When we test drove the ProMaster, we found it extremely uncomfortable to sit in. We told this to the sales representative who explained that he had been trained to say, “the seats are designed for improved ergonomics.” Just the fact that he needed training on what to say about these seats, is probably not a good sign. However, the ProMaster is the widest. So, if you want to be able to sleep perpendicular to the length of your van, you have the best chance with the ProMaster. Additionally (excluding the NV), the ProMaster is the cheapest.
The Transit is the best bang for your buck. We lucked out and found one used that had cruise control and a high roof, otherwise, we probably would have been buying a used Sprinter. One challenge with repairing a high roof cargo van is finding an auto shop that has a tall enough garage for it. Unlike Mercedes-Benz, Ford has a large number of mechanic shops all around the US, so it is easy to find one close by. However, we have found that most of Ford’s auto shops don’t know how to properly maintain/repair their Transit cargo van. One shop didn’t inflate the tires properly after a tire rotation (even after we had told them what the tires needed to be inflated to), resulting in the handling of the vehicle feeling very off for a couple of days before we checked the tire pressure.
Not necessarily. When we were first looking into buying a van we really liked the idea of having a 4×4 cargo van. We figured it would be able to get us more places. However, after all the time and money we put into our van, we quickly realized we probably wouldn’t want to drive the van to places that needed 4×4 anyways. Plus, cargo vans don’t make very good off-road vehicles and having 4×4 capability adds ~$12,000 to the cost of the vehicle. However, if you envision yourself driving in snow and sand a lot, you may want to consider a 4×4.
Allstate, but we don’t have their regular auto insurance. Instead, our van is insured as an RV, which covers the van and the contents that are permanently fixed inside. This costs us $1,500/year.