Join Date: May 2017
Location: SW FL * PNW * New England
I'm very sorry for your terrible loss.
I have a few general thoughts (just my 2 cents) as another woman who wanted to find a reliable van quickly, was particular about a few features, and would be traveling long distances thru remote areas.
Getting Out of Town Quickly: It can take a while to find a vehicle that makes the right trade-offs for you and suits you for the foreseeable future, though I understand your desire to just get something and go! If you don't come across a reasonable vehicle in your timeframe, nothing says you can't rent something for a month -- I found Avis 'lease' deals thru Costco/AAA when I had to keep extending a rental by weeks/months. You could continue looking at listings on your laptop from the backseat of a minivan that you happily *don't* own, surrounded by nature en route someplace. Or spring for a rental camper which might also help you figure out what you do/don't want, and how big a rig you're willing to drive and park. Longer term rentals, unlike owned cars, can be switched out at will (eg, for a clean car) and are serviced by the company. Even brand new options aren't trouble free, I learned from new owners of a Sprinter diesel Roadtrek who've been grounded and seriously disillusioned in their first year or so by multiple serious issues. Just to say rushing into something can leave you with more headaches than you want in the first few months.
Expanding Search Area For Hard-to-Find Particulars/Deal: If you aren't already looking beyond your local region, you might do that, and increase the odds of finding a suitable vehicle, that's also rust-free. I flew from FL to CA for my van, tho there are extra risks/costs to that. (I was also lucky that my van was refurbished by a member of this forum who, with this community ... sometimes in the flesh with toolbag handy! ... provided much valuable support). That van suited my particulars, which evolved greatly during my (re)search. I also really wanted windows all around, which can greatly compromise storage/amenities so perhaps that's why there don't seem to be as many available on the used market. I still haven't seen a listing in the year+ since that I would have preferred to mine, so the flexibility to look out of state was important to me. It also gives you an excuse to drive though the wild lands of that state on your way to CO.
Increasing Your Buying Sense While Avoiding Dealerships: Car dealerships can damage the psyche even when one is not already in a vulnerable state! But if you can talk on the phone to some sellers, or visit some local options .... even ones you *know* don't quite fit the bill ... you'll develop your sense of what's important to you, what a reasonable deal is, and whether/when to make a big effort to pursue a certain listing. I wouldn't hesitate to post any listings you're considering here for input, whether or not they're SMBs. It will arm you well for assessment/negotiation, and your consultation on various owner's forums should help you identify those lemons, like my friends' high-end Sprinter Roadtrek, that might look great but are basically being unloaded due to dissatisfaction.
Reliability & Safety:
Reliability/Safety was also key for me, traveling alone between West and East coasts twice so far, through remote places. After being nearly stranded in rural Texas (by brake issues on my '94 Honda Accord, that two other mechanics failed to diagnose correctly), anywhere-maintainability *alone* made me give up any thought of the diesel Sprinter I'd originally coveted, since mechanics everywhere can competently work on Ford gassers. And well, Ford gassers are damn reliable with fairly simple maintenance. Anecdotally, I gather competent diesel mechanics are much much fewer and farther between. I'd never imagined I'd buy a gas guzzler, but the Total Cost of Ownership for even my V10 outweighed diesel options, for me.
Also, although my 4x4 is a bit of an attention getter, I thought I'd "blend in" better in rural/remote areas by having a white Ford van rather than a snazzy modern-looking obviously-an-RV vehicle that might suggest more target-able wealthy out-of-towners.
Another thing about a used Ford van conversion in your price range: Even if various systems/features/furnishings have issues or need work, if you can live with them for the time being, you'll at least have the base vehicle/engine reliability that you want for personal safety get-aways and avoiding being stranded. I'm pretty sure my 2000 E-350 didn't need engine work during previous owner's refurbishing, and it had sat unused a couple years. Ran perfectly when I picked it up at 75k miles. Started instantly and smoothly after I stored it outside for six months winter-spring in New England earlier this year, despite not putting stabilizer in the gas tank or anything. I've definitely had to put work into various things, but I've never worried it would leave me stranded or too unsafe to drive.
My personal safety protocol (mainly at quick overnight sites that you may be able to avoid with better planning) includes, where possible:
- Hide the fact I'm female if there's only a single other party at the site. (I often arrive late at free campsites near highways. Sometimes I'm at a birdwatching trailhead on public lands, and the occasional truck will roll through). My 'macho' 4x4 doesn't scream "single lady inside" and I don't put PINK Realtree sunscreens in the windows.
- I sleep with doors locked, all lower windows covered for privacy, and keys where I can find them in the dark. I've only once had to yank down the penthouse, start the van, remove the windshield screen and drive away when I perceived a risk, but that operation was very quick (I was sleeping down below where I wouldn't be seen). I realized then that I didn't have a good way to peek out/shine a light (to confirm the risk) without fear of being seen. I'm working on that ... maybe a gruesome mask and super bright tactical flashlight? I should point out, though, that airflow during really hot weather, with windows closed on all doors with locks, usually requires the penthouse to be deployed; unzipping those windows and having lower non-door windows with screens open also, was plenty adequate for me during super hot humid weather this past July. (I can't run AC without running the engine.) I should probably just get a 12v fan, too.
Otherwise, when I'm in a beautiful spot and not particularly worried about creepers, I may leave certain windows uncovered for the view or door windows open for air.
Laptop Compatibility w/Inverter: I was chagrined to find out that my house electrical system wouldn't power my Macbook Pro. The year 2000 inverter documentation even stated explicitly something about not working for laptops, though I haven't yet researched why this is the case, or whether I can work around it ... it's not a pure power availability thing. Sooo, if you're counting on that, i'd bring your laptop and try it out on any rig you're seriously considering.
Missing the Trees for the Forest / Feeling like a Weakling Sometimes: When you find a deal that has most of the features you want at a decent price ... Even with a very thorough walk-thru by a conscientious seller, it's easy to overlook lots of secondary things that become apparent once you spend time in it, or you may find it's harder than you thought to work with certain systems. I'd suggest, on a walk-through, that you personally try/turn on-off every system yourself, open/close every window and shade (looking for worn lines on the verge of breaking, etc), and let systems run long enough to verify they're really working (eg, it not only blows, but also gets hot/cool). Some items (suburban propane heater) may have somewhat quirky start-up procedures to work correctly. Some (like my manual penthouse roof) required more oomph than I had (until the seller arranged for another forum member to put in the 'spring-block' fix that made it work for me). Even just opening/closing the hood or checking the oil dipstick can be illuminating (when you're balanced on the bumper of a lifted vehicle); though it never occurred to me to personally exercise either of those. I spent literally 10-15 minutes in a gas station this june, trying over and over to get my hood fully latched at the start of a trip, which made me too paranoid to check my oil or replace windshield washer fluid during a trip from MA to FL. Turns out the secondary hood latch needed lubrication, but it was humbling and somewhat unnerving at the time (I felt stranded until it finally latched). Plus it was super cumbersome to repeatedly lift the heavy hood, purely because of the way my aftermarket grill guard nearly blocks the latch area and prevents me from getting a full hand (with elbow down) under it at a convenient spot. So, while there have only been 2-3 instances where i briefly wondered if my physical capabilities were up to the task (Oil dipstick requires a hand over hand retrieval, or a really large wingspan. Cleaning my windshield of bugs, twice a day in S. Dakota, requires balancing on my tires/bumper and I can't quite reach the center), it would be good to physically exercise those tasks before signing up for them.
Consider what else might strand you on a long remote road-trip: Others can chime in with more examples, but e.g., while an electric penthouse might be the bomb (I'm still at the boundary of lifting mine due to my height, shorter would be easier actually), it's not unheard of for electric PHs to malfunction and get stuck UP ... which kind of strands you.
Good luck with your search! I have a feeling luck will come your way.
Muy Bonita - 2000 Ford E-350 V10 Quigley with 285/75 R16s, SMB-West RB50, manual PH