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  1. #1
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    Used van for camper conversion, Sprinter, RAM Promaster, Nissan or a trailer?

    My '99 Econoline rape van that I've been using for camping and road tripping is starting to get a bit long in the tooth and my tolerance for lack of heat, stand up headroom and other creature comforts is becoming less as I get older and more arthritic. Of course the ultimate rig is the new 2015 Sprinter 4x4 but at over $60K just for the van that's not realistic. I can do much of the build out work myself in terms of the camper interior. Total budget for van and refit is about $30 - $40K. A used RV isn't an option since there's no inside gear storage and I prefer something more compact. I need to be able to carry bikes, skis, windsurfing gear etc inside the van and still sleep and cook in it.

    A used Sprinter seemed like a good option until I found that most of the used ones have 150K+ miles on them. Also service and repair is a concern, especially out in the rural areas.

    A Nissan NV2500 can be had used for around $20K with reasonable miles and still under warranty. Despite being one of the ugliest vehicles I've ever seen and getting terrible gas mileage it seems like a good option. Could even do a Quigley 4x4 conversion and be within budget. Shorter length than the other options though.

    RAM Promaster looks decent, but not much used out there and well it is actually a FIAT. Would the FWD setup actually be better in the snow (assuming snow tires)?

    Ford Transit looks great but brand new model and out of my price range.

    The other though I had was a small camping trailer like a T@B with a regular van for the gear. Advantage would be leaving the trailer at the campground and having plenty of room for gear in the van. Also, no work in the conversion. Although towing in snow seems like a sketchy proposition?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
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    Sprinters are all the style till you have to replace a motor, then you need a second mortgage. The new larger Ford transit might be worth looking at. Look about the same size as a sprinter but without the exotic engine repair costs.

    A conventional converted 4x4 van or sportsmobile might work if you are ok keeping some of the gear (bikes, boards) on racks. I've owned a handful of regular sized vans and with creative decking you could get everything inside and still have room to cook, but it would be a tight fit without a high top.
    Last edited by tenB; 04-08-2015 at 08:48 AM.

  3. #3
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    Oct 2013
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    Just did some research for an adventure van DIY article and nominally cheapest/most flexible option is truck with topper camper. But as for vans, the guy highly recommended Ford/Chevy cargo vans or any vehicle where you can get a 7.3L diesel, which are pretty indestructible. I'll see if I can't pull any other tidbits out of my notes.
    "We're in the eye of a shiticane here Julian, and Ricky's a low shit system!" - Jim Lahey, RIP

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
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    Simi Valley, CA
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    You'd think by now someone would have bought a dead Sprinter and swapped in a solid axle GM 4WD drivetrain. Just gut the van and go leaf springs, crossover steering, and either a Vortec 4.3 or a 350. The only thing still Mercedes would be the box and the frame.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
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    Pickup with a slide in is the most cost effective. Maintenance is easy, easy to find 4x4, parts are cheaper and more mechanics to work on it. Gear storage is what you make of it. If you are storing stuff in a van, you are taking up living space, same with a camper. I just sold my slide in because I use my truck as a truck too. I'm in the market for a small camp trailer as I think it makes the most sense for me. Use the 7.3 truck whenever, hook up the trailer when I want to go camp. You won't be the cool kid with a 4x4 van though. I've had a 4x4 van and it was fun but the truck camper is more functional. If you don't mind pulling a trailer, I think that's the swiss army knike of creature camping comfort. When my girlfriend isn't with me, I just use a cot in the back of my truck and am 100% comfortable.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by Conundrum View Post
    Pickup with a slide in is the most cost effective.
    This. One big advantage with going with a domestic PU is that any shop in any small town in the USA can fix it for a decent price.

    A reliable Sprinter is a great vehicle, but caveat emptor because 1 out of 4 or 5 Sprinters are lemons and are uberexpensive to fix, if indeed they can be fixed. Check out Sprinter forum posts by Sprinter fleet managers for some of the horror stories re dead end diagnoses.

    I'm a pop-up camper guy, on my second Four Wheel Camper in a 1/2 ton 4x4. That would fit in your $30K-$40K budget, good choice for 2 people, but a squeeze for >2. A decent used 3/4 ton 4x4 + hard side camper = more space and can be had within your budget.

  7. #7
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    I agree truck with a slide in is the best cost to benefit ratio and easiest route, plus gives you redneck cred out on the road. However it does not solve my interior gear storage issues. 5 sailboards or 4 bikes inside a camper doesn't really work. The T@B camping trailer looks great, they even have one with a wet bath, I could easily tow with my current van and would be fine for summer trips. However I like to do winter trips to BC, Utah and Colorado. The idea of towing a trailer up the Coquihalla or Red Mountain Pass in the snow brings to mind a huge spinning mess of van and trailer followed by plunging to my death. Anyone towed in the snow?

    So back to the van idea ... agree Sprinter is probably out. Can't imagine trying to get one fixed in east bum fuck. Transit looks great (leather seats and Ecoboost V6!), but being new is out of budget range. So that leaves a used RAM Promaster or Nissan NV. Figuring on $25K for the van and $10K for the conversion parts. Heater, stove, fridge, solar etc.

  8. #8
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    Aren't the Ram Promaster vans front wheel drive? (and unibody, but so is the Sprinter)

    IIRC the Nissan NV is body on frame and uses Titan drivetrain parts. That seems like it'd be more durable.
    Quote Originally Posted by powder11 View Post
    if you have to resort to taking advice from the nitwits on this forum, then you're doomed.

  9. #9
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    Promaster is front drive, but has full boxed ladder frame. Seems like FWD might actually be an advantage given that the van will be pretty light in the back in a camper configuration?

  10. #10
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    Oct 2008
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    Build your own slide - in to suit?
    Goal: ski in the 2018/19 season

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Big Steve View Post

    I'm a pop-up camper guy, on my second Four Wheel Camper in a 1/2 ton 4x4. That would fit in your $30K-$40K budget, good choice for 2 people, but a squeeze for >2. A decent used 3/4 ton 4x4 + hard side camper = more space and can be had within your budget.
    Are the pop ups ok for temperture/insulation in the winter?

    What's the weight of yours, dry?
    Goal: ski in the 2018/19 season

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
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    The land of lot's of houses, CO
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    I'm in the process of building my pro master, two main factors led me to that vehicle. FWD is key, I have driven it in a couple storms with stock tires and it did really well, with dedicated snow tires next winter it will rock.
    Secondly it is wider than the other van so depending on your height you can sleep sideways, saving space inside for storage or kitchen, dinette , etc.

    I wanted to buy used but these are too new to have a selection I ended up with a 2015.

    Hit me up if you have any questions.

  13. #13
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    Dec 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by nexus6 View Post
    I agree truck with a slide in is the best cost to benefit ratio and easiest route, plus gives you redneck cred out on the road. However it does not solve my interior gear storage issues. 5 sailboards or 4 bikes inside a camper doesn't really work.
    How do you fit 5 sailboards or 4 bikes in a full sized van and eat and sleep? That's a good volume of gear and I am having a hard time picturing it.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shorty_J View Post
    Are the pop ups ok for temperture/insulation in the winter?

    What's the weight of yours, dry?
    Yes, works will in winter with the optional (removable) Arctic Pack liner. The roof is designed to take a 1,000 lb. snow load. New furnace is much more efficient than the one on my first FWC.

    Our front dinette Hawk w/ lots of options weights about 1200 lbs. Hawk basic shell model is 900 lbs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vt-Freeheel View Post
    How do you fit 5 sailboards or 4 bikes in a full sized van and eat and sleep? That's a good volume of gear and I am having a hard time picturing it.
    Ditto. Is the plan to remove all that stuff each time you camp and put it under a tarp? The two obvious solutions for schlepping all that shit are trailer or redneck toy hauler RV.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vt-Freeheel View Post
    How do you fit 5 sailboards or 4 bikes in a full sized van and eat and sleep? That's a good volume of gear and I am having a hard time picturing it.
    No doubt.
    I'm all for quivers, but that is a lot of kit.
    In search of the elusive artic powder weasel ...

  16. #16
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    Mar 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by wannabe View Post

    Hit me up if you have any questions.
    Have a build thread you can link to?

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan Dunfee View Post
    Just did some research for an adventure van DIY article and nominally cheapest/most flexible option is truck with topper camper. But as for vans, the guy highly recommended Ford/Chevy cargo vans or any vehicle where you can get a 7.3L diesel, which are pretty indestructible. I'll see if I can't pull any other tidbits out of my notes.
    Do you have a link to the DIY?

  18. #18
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  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Posts
    55

    Used van for camper conversion, Sprinter, RAM Promaster, Nissan or a trailer?

    http://www.outsidevan.com seem to have the gear hauler / camper van combo dialed. Mostly sprinters with at least 1 sweet NV too. $$$$$ of course but at least gives you ideas of what's possible.

  20. #20
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    Dec 2007
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    Key to fitting the gear is the high roof. That allows you to create a gear garage under the bed like this: http://www.outsidevan.com/syncline.php . Sailboards would likely come out to camp, but windsurfing is usually a local day trip thing for me anyway. Not figuring on bikes and boards at the same time either. Harder part seems to be fitting the cooking and other random storage in. I'm stealing a lot of ideas from Outside Van. Although with their prices ($100K+) I'm not sure who their custom base is? Silicon Valley millionaire gear heads?

    Wannabe, what size bed did you fit in the Promaster sideways? Did you go with the gas or diesel engine in your Promaster? How are the brakes on the Promaster coming down mountain passes? My E250 smells like a brake failure waiting to happen.

    Fiberglass bumpout in the side of a NV for extra sleeping foot room might make sideways sleeping an option. Outside Van does this in their Sprinters. Shouldn't be too hard to vac bag one up for the NV.

    Anyway, need to go do some test drives.

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    The land of lot's of houses, CO
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    Used van for camper conversion, Sprinter, RAM Promaster, Nissan or a trailer?

    North- Sorry I have not done a build thread as I keep fucking up the cabinets so I haven't taken the time to document.

    Nexus- I have the 159" high roof gas engine, which I was able to put a queen size platform bed high enough for bikes to fit underneath, in front of that is a U-shaped seat/dinette/twin bed. Between that and the driver seat I am attempting to build a kitchen.
    It will have a space for a Coleman stove and sink with hand pump filled by 5 gallon jugs.

    I am still figuring out how to wire it, but am leaning towards a Goal Zero Yeti 400 wired to the van battery and potentially solar panels.

    I also want to get a max air fan to help keep it cool this summer.

    The brakes stop the van just fine it is just the constant squeaking that is bad. It seems to be getting better though. The auto transmission allows you to shift manually as well, plus I have the tow transmission which helps on the hills.
    I wanted to get the diesel but for some reason the transmission in both models I test drove where really an weird, for example 1st gear would last about 2 seconds and then there was a long pause till 2nd gear kicked in, super annoying in my opinion.

    Edit to add I am 5'9" with a little room to spare after I get the walls finished.

  22. #22
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    Dec 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by wannabe View Post
    I am still figuring out how to wire it, but am leaning towards a Goal Zero Yeti 400 wired to the van battery and potentially solar panels.
    Wannabe, If you haven't already purchased the Yeti you'd be better off for the same money with an AGM battery, isolator relay, charge controller for solar and a true sign wave inverter if you need 110v. You don't want to wire your starter battery to your house loads it will kill your starter battery. You'll probably want more than 33 AH capacity as well to avoid full discharge when using the lights, fan etc. I use a setup similar to this in my current Econoline:

    Solar charger controller (MPP type): http://www.amazon.com/Tracer-2210RN-...TEN26KRYMKWWX8
    AGM 100 AH Battery: http://www.amazon.com/SLA0079-SLA009...ttery+group+27
    Battery Isolator: http://www.amazon.com/NOCO-IGD140HP-...ttery+isolator
    Pure Signwave Inverter: http://www.amazon.com/MicroSolar-100...+sine+inverter

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Central OR
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    4,933
    Don't discount a class c RV. Get a short one, say 21', with a bed in back. Convert cabover bed to storage (you can easily fit four bikes stacked + more gear), add roof racks for water toys, spare bike rack on the hitch. Well under your budget. Sure, it's not 4wd, but how often do you really need that?

  24. #24
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    Dec 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flyoverland Captive View Post
    Don't discount a class c RV. Get a short one, say 21', with a bed in back. Convert cabover bed to storage (you can easily fit four bikes stacked + more gear), add roof racks for water toys, spare bike rack on the hitch. Well under your budget. Sure, it's not 4wd, but how often do you really need that?
    Sorry, but I'm going to discount it. I'm looking for something that drives better than my current Econoline not worse. I appreciate all the alternative suggestions but a truck camper or RV really doesn't solve any of my needs in terms of easy gear transport, plus sleeping in a compact package. Mainly looking for current van advice and/or if towing a trailer in the snow is at all practical.

  25. #25
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    Towing in snow sucks. I've done it a couple times, and it's terrifying - the feeling that the trailer is going to jacknife around you at speed and pull you off the road. I didn't have chains for the trailer, and that would probably help.

    The sled necks tow. Maybe they'll chime in and tell you some safe way to do it.

    Personally, I went the route of full-size 4WD pickup truck with a camper in the bed. Bikes on a rack out back, and I don't surf, but you could put a rack on the roof and carry the boards there. Used trucks are cheap and plentiful, and easier to work on than vans.
    Quote Originally Posted by powder11 View Post
    if you have to resort to taking advice from the nitwits on this forum, then you're doomed.

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