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By Sir Wanksalot
From County Jail
Nov 29, 2012
I want a sportsmobile, but I don't work hard enough to afford one, so I want to build my own. I have been looking at cargo vans, and many have a TON of miles. For those of you out there that have used these vans, which is the most reliable.

Ford Econoline E250 or similar
GMC Cargo Vans
Dodge Ram Van - probably at the bottom of my list.

Ford seems to be pretty solid... any opinions? I don't want to spend more than 5K on the van, so what kinda mileage is reasonable?

Thanks!

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By Peter Stokes
From Them Thar Hills
Nov 29, 2012
Wall Street, Moab, UT
I've run Ford, Chevy and Dodge full size vans over the years, and I've found Fords to be the best. None of them are perfect by any means, but the Fords with good interior height go back to 1975, the Chevys with good interior height go back to 1996, and Dodge never retooled the bodies on theirs, so they have the least interior room- both shorter (floor to ceiling) inside and a larger engine doghouse in the cab.

The older Chevy V8 engines (pre 1998 350 and 305 V8s in particular) tend to burn oil through the valve stem seals prematurely, which matters because continually changing oil fouled spark plugs in a van is harder. The Chevy/GMC TH700r4 transmissions have a higher failure rate than any of the Ford units, but the rebuild cost isn't as high as some of the newer stuff.

Fords have a sturdier front end and longer lasting engines/transmissions, though it's easy to get one that's been abused too much since they're the most popular commercial van. The older type Ford engines (pre 1997) last pretty well, with the 5.8 (351) usually going a bit longer than the 5.0 (302) or 4.9 (300 six cyl.)- I've had decent luck with all of them.

The newer Ford engines aren't bad either (and use less fuel), with the 5.4 V8 actually getting slightly better fuel mileage than the 4.6 V8- probably because it doesn't work as hard. Avoid the 4.2 V6, though- I see a number of them failing prematurely. One of my friends had a 2002 E-250 cargo van with the 5.4 and got around 20mpg at 70mph on flat roads (beating the EPA estimate).

As for acceptable mileage, any Ford under 150,000 should give you years of service (I see Ford engines with over 200,000 miles all the time), but be sure to check out the transmission (E4OD) carefully since the lockup torque converters can start shuddering as they age (it'll feel like worn driveshaft U joints), which is a sign of costlier problems to come... happy hunting!

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By Tony B
From Around Boulder, CO
Nov 29, 2012
Got Milk? How about forearm pump? Tony leads "...
Mine- for sale. Having a kid and foresee less dirt-bagging at this point. GM 350 engine is solid for quite a few more miles. There are a few things that need work (upholstry, for example) but for $2500 Vs your $5000 budget, I'm sure you can figure something out.
Details here:
mountainproject.com/v/fs-conve...

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By Martin Dissmore
Nov 29, 2012
Here is a link to a van listed on Craigslist that is close to your budget. It has very low mileage but of course balanced out in price due to being an older model. If your jailhouse is close to the area by chance it might be worth checking out. It's a 1996 GMC conversion van with 42,000 miles and looks in great condition for $6495.00. No it's not mine, just checking out vans last night on the web for a couple hours and this was the best deal I've found so far and thought I would pass the research along. Here is the link: orangecounty.craigslist.org/ct...

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By Morgan Patterson
Administrator
Nov 29, 2012
Topo - Cliffs in Green
Martin Dissmore wrote:
Here is a link to a van listed on Craigslist that is close to your budget. It has very low mileage but of course balanced out in price due to being an older model. If your jailhouse is close to the area by chance it might be worth checking out. It's a 1996 GMC conversion van with 42,000 miles and looks in great condition for $6495.00. No it's not mine, just checking out vans last night on the web for a couple hours and this was the best deal I've found so far and thought I would pass the research along. Here is the link: orangecounty.craigslist.org/ct...


bad ass van!

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By Ian Stewart
Nov 29, 2012
I have a 1997 Dodge Ram extended conversion van, similar to the one in the CL link above, but I have a sport top that gives a bit more headroom/storage in the back. It had 43k miles when I bought it 3 years ago, and it's almost at 60k now and I've had zero issues in that time (replaced all fluids and plugs when I bought it).

It's served us pretty well, but if I had to do it again I would take a different route:

1) Don't buy a conversion van. They're designed and modified to be comfortable people-movers, not campers. This means that the interior space is sometimes difficult to tailor to your camping needs and so it's less efficient and practical. They also usually have side windows, which I'd much rather not have for a number of reasons. If you like fabricating things like I do, you'd be much better off buying a cargo van for your starting point.

2) Buy a Ford. Not because reliability of my van has been bad, but because the Ford vans (most, if not all I think) can be easily modified to be 4x4 (essentially a bolt in kit) while the Dodge can not be modified at all. My van is rear-wheel drive with little weight in the back and doesn't have a limited-slip diff...not so much fun when traction sucks. (Also, like Peter mentioned, the engine doghouse in the Dodge is pretty large and cuts into the passenger leg room quite a bit...my short wife is fine, but I'm uncomfortable in the passenger seat for very long. Driver's side space is good, though.)

3) Consider what you want to do with the roof before you buy a van. If you want to install a pop top, start with a regular van: a previously installed sport top may have cut the van top larger than what a new pop top needs. If you don't want a pop top, I'd still recommend a sport top for more headroom though (keep in mind it makes the vehicle pretty tall...mine is about 8ft tall and won't fit into the parking structures in town here).


That all being said, the price/deal factor plays a big part. I paid $2k for mine, which was a total steal, and so if I was given the same opportunity again I would probably still take it. It can be easier to find low-mileage conversion vans for cheap since they're not very practical and they eat gas, while cargo vans are more desired and they usually end up with higher mileage due to fleet/business use.


Good luck with your search!

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By Kyle Blase
From Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 29, 2012
hardcore unicycle!
I have a GMC 2500 bi-fuel and it is the perfect size. I highly recommend seeking out a natural gas vehicle and it will save you quite a bit of money over time. CNG is $1.50 per gasoline gallon equivalent in Utah.

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By Ian Stewart
Nov 29, 2012
CNG can save money, but it's really dependent on where you live. Utah benefits a lot from CNG, where the price is about $1.50/gal vs about $3.30/gal for gasoline right now. Around Denver, however, where CNG is about $2.70/gal and gasoline is about $3.20/gal, the savings are much less drastic. Assuming you get 15mpg for both, a CNG vehicle in Utah will save about $0.12/mile while in Colorado you'd only save about $0.04/mile. Over 50k miles that's $6k in Utah and only $2k in Colorado. I've heard that CNG often gets slightly less MPG, so those savings might be further reduced.

Then there's also the problem of finding a station...here in Fort Collins the nearest CNG station is 30 miles away and I think there are less than 10 in the whole Denver area. With so little CNG available here in Colorado, I would also worry that maintenance and repairs would be much more difficult (have you had issues with that Kyle?).

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By caughtinside
From Oakland CA
Nov 29, 2012
I have no experience with the other models, but I have a 98 Dodge and it has been great.

Key selling point for me was that it had the 6 cylinder. Smaller engine still has adequate power and gets 17+mpg cruising at 65.

good luck.

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By Ian Stewart
Nov 29, 2012
Another option for you: I've seen older slide-in truck bed campers for less than $1k, and you can find pretty pimp ones for $5k. Then just find a nice 4x4 truck and you're set.

My '89 4x4 Toyota pickup with a new, 40k mile old 22re engine cost me $3000. Find something like that and throw this on there for less than $5k total: fortcollins.craigslist.org/for...

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By Kyle Blase
From Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 29, 2012
hardcore unicycle!
Ian Stewart wrote:
CNG can save money, but it's really dependent on where you live. Utah benefits a lot from CNG, where the price is about $1.50/gal vs about $3.30/gal for gasoline right now. Around Denver, however, where CNG is about $2.70/gal and gasoline is about $3.20/gal, the savings are much less drastic. Assuming you get 15mpg for both, a CNG vehicle in Utah will save about $0.12/mile while in Colorado you'd only save about $0.04/mile. Over 50k miles that's $6k in Utah and only $2k in Colorado. I've heard that CNG often gets slightly less MPG, so those savings might be further reduced. Then there's also the problem of finding a station...here in Fort Collins the nearest CNG station is 30 miles away and I think there are less than 10 in the whole Denver area. With so little CNG available here in Colorado, I would also worry that maintenance and repairs would be much more difficult (have you had issues with that Kyle?).


Good point, Ian. If you are gonna be sticking around Colorado then don't worry about getting CNG unless you find a cheap one. It is nice to have in many places though so it really depends on where you will be spending your time and how much traveling you plan to do. More and more stations are popping up and it is fairly easy to find stations if you plan your trip accordingly.

I haven't had to deal with any repairs so far and my van has 130 k miles on it. There is, however, a couple of good CNG mechanics around SLC.

When you can't find a station or if something were to happen to the CNG, you can always just put conventional gasoline in it. I would guess that the reduction in MPG may be from the weight of the CNG tanks and not have anything to do with the fuel itself.

All in all, I do love paying $1.50 a gallon and it serves me nicely here in UT.

Also, check out some Goal Zero products if you are looking to have power in your setup. It is nice to be able to charge things, play music, have a toaster oven, etc.

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By Ian Stewart
Nov 29, 2012
Kyle Blase wrote:
All in all, I do love paying $1.50 a gallon and it serves me nicely here in UT.


I'm definitely jealous. 14mpg in my van sure does suck when gasoline is $4+/gallon...

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By ClimbBaja
Nov 29, 2012
Ford E150 1/2 ton, 1997 or newer, with a small V8 for gas mileage. Do some homework on the 4.6L and 5.4L V8 engines, power vs. gas mileage. The bigger engines suck gas; don't even think about the V10 because you won't be able to afford to drive it.
No need for a 3/4 ton, E250, unless you are hauling heavy loads, towing, etc.
I would be looking for a vehicle with less than 75k miles.

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