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Old 08-12-2015, 06:48 PM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2015
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Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

Hi all,

First, apologies if this is covered elsewhere, but I wasn't able to find it...

My husband and I are looking at getting our first Sportsmobile (!!). Our plan is to "dip our toe in the water" and buy something pre-owned, preferably in the under $60K range, but are not decided on what the best vehicle for us would be. Do we go with an E-350 or a Sprinter? How mandatory is 4x4? Diesel?

I'm curious what experienced owners from similar climates/regions/lifestyles would recommend based on our lifestyle and likely uses.

Family of 4 in Colorado, 2 boys ages 10 and 7 plus a dog
Will likely be a third vehicle, not a daily driver.
We usually travel with a lot of gear--bikes, skis, SUP etc.
Will use for quick overnights and longer camping and road trips, sometimes in campgrounds with power etc, but also in the middle of nowhere. Not planning on any crazy offroading but would like to be able to access some of the great country you can only get to on rough roads.
Will get winter/snow use but will be on plowed roads
Don't want bathroom or stove.

Anyone have any words of wisdom? Would we be stupid to go with 2wd? Is a high top Sprinter mandatory? Is an E350 big enough for our crew to be comfortable? How critical is a furnace? Can we realistically heat with a ceramic heater off a generator (saw a very affordable low mileage 2wd low top Sprinter with a generator that is tempting but I fear it's too many compromises)

Any and all insight and advice is much appreciated! Thanks in advance.


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Old 08-13-2015, 01:33 PM   #2
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Location: Turlock Ca
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Re: Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

It depends on where you want to go and what conditions you expect to be in. Some people are fine with the compact nature of a Van. You have two body sizes to choose from with Ford; EB & RB. The regular body is preferred by many that off road because the rear overhang is much less than the extended body. That said I take my EB on 4x4 roads that even have Jeep people raising their eyebrows. If you look at my web site youíll see many of the trails are doable with an EB. I do like the extra 20Ē or so that the EB offers because storage is limited. The Sprinter is now being offered in 4x4 plus you can get a pop top but finding a newer used model would be difficult. There are some other companies that do 4x4 conversions other than SMB but the new SMB Sprinter is attractive for those not planning for heavy off road travel. Alan Feld just took their new 4x4 Sprinter on the Mojave Trail and it seemed to do OK but donít think itís going to do something like the Shuteye Peak trail. As far as 4x4 goes, a lot of people get by with a good limited slip rear end but having four wheel drive is nice for snowy conditions and having to not chain up is huge IMO. If youíre on plowed roads maybe you can get by with studded tires. Whether or not you want to pay the extra price for 4x4 would be up to you but buying used might not be as big of a money factor as purchasing new if you want a Ford. The Sprinters are nice in that they give enough extra space that the walk-through models donít feel nearly as cramped. If I were you Iíd try to take a look at both and get the feel of what you want. Maybe you donít need a larger van like the SprinterÖmaybe you do. With kids in the mix, sleeping quarters of the pop tops are attractive. Pop tops suffer a bit when it comes to cold weather but are nice in warmer zones and the openness of the large screen windows not only supply better air flow, it makes it feel less claustrophobic.
As far as gas or diesel, there are a ton of views (threads) on this. Iíll just say that the main thing to consider is maintenance costs. Diesels can get expensive when it comes to oil changes alone. They also need to be driven periodically where a gasoline engine is more forgiving. One thing about diesel is you can skip the propane for heat with the Espar units. Some people like to rough it but I wouldnít be w/o a cab heater, JMO. With fuel prices fluctuating so much, it would be hard to say which is better but lately Iím happy with my diesel because how cheap fuel prices are and the mileage I get. Iíd also venture to say that the diesel Sprinters get good mileage and that helps on long road trips.
At minimum it seems to me that youíre going to need a vehicle with an inverter/charger, house battery, solar and a refrigerator. A microwave is a luxury along with a sink and if many donít feel the need for those items. At least with no water system you donít have to worry about freezing lines in cold weather. To tell the truth I never drink the water from the on board tank and use water cans. The problem is that most SMBís are kind of built as a standard package and itís probably going to be difficult to find a used stripped down model. Seems most of them have a MW, inverter, sink, water tank, stoves and many have a propane heater/water heater with an outside shower wand. You might consider buying a stock used vehicle and having SMB put a top on it, then look into finding a company to do the cab conversion. At least you could build around space, storage and sleep quarters. Just a thought.

2006 Ford 6.0PSD EB-50/E-PH SMB 4X4 Rock Crawler Trailer

Sportsmobile 4X4 Adventures..........On and off road adventures
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:45 PM   #3
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Re: Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

2WD with limited slip or a locking differential will get you a lot of places......
2008 E350 RB passenger 4WD SMB penthouse
2013 KTM 350 EXC
2008 KTM 250 XCF-W
2000 KTM 200 EXC
2003 Honda Element
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Old 08-14-2015, 09:09 AM   #4
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Re: Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

For $60K you should consider getting into a new van. I know that may sound silly but the beauty of a Sportsmobile is that you can put as little or as much as you want into the original build. What I mean is that you can design for nothing more than sleeping arrangements but make provisions for options to later add a galley, bathroom, solar or whatever your heart desires. If you buy an older van you need to take into consideration the age and condition of the installed equipment plus the condition of the vehicle itself. You're very close here. In 2011 my Chevy 3500 van with a full bathroom, air conditioning, water system and more cabinets than I can count wasn't very much over your $60K limit. I would visit your nearest Sportsmobile center and visit with them for a while. You might be surprised. Good luck, whatever you do you'll love your Sportsmobile.
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Old 08-15-2015, 12:10 AM   #5
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Re: Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

My wife and I were having similar thoughts about this time last year. We rented a 2wd Sprinter SMB in Las Vegas and took it to Death Valley for a week for a "proof of concept" test run. We loved it! (Though in retrospect it seems kind of obvious that having been tent camping for decades, what's not to like about a comfy bed, well stocked kitchen, and cold beer!) After that we were jazzed about SMB's and edging towards a Sprinter. But then several Ford and Dodge SMB's showed up on our local Craigslist, so we looked at them all and ended up with our "starter" SMB. $24K, 2005 Ford 2wd RB-50 with Penthouse that we absolutely love and have driven many thousands of miles already. We figured we would start with a used older van and go from there. Having 2wd hasn't been an issue, these are heavy vehicles and traction is generally good. We do avoid driving in snow, mainly because it's such a hassle to chain up.

Look at all of them you can, rent one if you can swing it, then make your best choice and don't look back. You'll be glad you did.

2005 RB-50 5.4L V8 E250 "Blanca"
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Old 08-19-2015, 04:33 PM   #6
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Re: Advice on Good "Starter" Sportsmobile

Thanks for the advice guys. We jumped in with both feet and have an accepted offer for a 2008 Sprinter 2500 144" with 34K miles. 2wd but we figure it's a starter and if we find we need 4wd we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Doesn't need to be perfect but it's a start.

The kicker is it's in TX so we need to go down and inspect it and then wait while some modifications are made. But for the price we're feeling OK about the hassle factor.

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