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Old 04-21-2011, 11:56 AM   #1
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Best stealth van?

Hi guys,

I am currently deployed in Afghanistan, but I will be getting a van to convert into an RV when I get back this fall. I will need to be able to stay in many places that typical RVs are not allowed, such as cities and towns that don't allow you to park an RV on the street, or at ski resorts. In the choice between a Sprinter and an E-series Ford van, I always thought I would get a Ford because they were much more common. However, I was just poking around ebay motors and they look a lot less "normal" with the raised roof on them. And, I've noticed that more and more companies are using the Sprinter, so I don't think they'd stick out as much as they used to. So my first question is: Do you think a Ford with a cap or a Sprinter makes a better stealth vehicle, and is it a big or small difference?

The next thing I assumed was that I would get a cargo van to fit in with all the cable/phone/plumber/electric company vans. But I just came across an article that made a good point: a cargo van would fit in well in an industrial area of town or in front of a place of business that would use such a van, but it might stick out like a sore thumb in a residential neighborhood or sitting in a parking lot where it didn't belong, and could even be seen as a threat. Whereas a van with windows (even if they are blacked out) would seem less threatening and have less of a likelihood of having the cops called, but it would be more likely to be thought of as an RV. So my second question is: Cargo van or van with windows, and why?


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Old 04-21-2011, 12:50 PM   #2
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Re: Best stealth van?

Tough call.

Are you more interested in urban stealth camping, than backroad camping? Then I would go with a Sprinter. The standard height ceiling is less conspicuous than a pop-top or raised roof Ford, and though you could skip a raised roof or penthouse on the Ford, you would never be able to stand upright in it. I don't know if you could stand upright in a normal height Sprinter, but you would defintiely crouch less. 4WD for a Sprinter is possible, but not very common, if you plan on going off pavement.

As for cargo vs. passenger, I think the commercial cargo vans, whether Sprinter or Ford, are fairly commonplace in residential areas, so I don't see much decrease in stealth there. I think that cargo vans would make it much easier to camp on the sly. I think one of the biggest give-aways to someone camping in a vehicle is any light escaping at night. Even with a cargo van, you could add a few strategic windows, but there are a number of options as far as blackout coverings. Fewer windows will make this easier. Now when you start adding generators, furnaces, propane, there are some tell-tales likes vents that start to make things more obvious to someone who's trying to figure out what you're doing there.

Even choosing a basic, commercial van color like white could help in the deception. Throw an industrial roof mounted equipment rack on there and you're golden.

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Old 04-21-2011, 01:57 PM   #3
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Re: Best stealth van?

Thanks Herb. I'm going to be doing both urban and backroad, but I feel like the requirement for stealth is much higher in urban areas. I'll be full-timing in it for 6-8 months, so I definitely need to be able to stand up, and I've ruled out pop-tops for several reasons, namely I'll almost always need to be stealthy and I need maximum insulation for staying at ski resorts. The interior height of the Sprinter is 76", and I'm 66", so no problem there. I grew up in the country and learned to get a 2 wheel drive through many places people couldn't get through with a 4x4, so I think I'm good there.

On cargo vs. van with windows: Even if I get a van with windows, they will be blacked out and covered with a least an inch of insulation, which again is a top priority. So there will be zero light getting out.

The van will definitely be white, any other color would stand out from the many white vans around.

I won't forget the trunk monkey, thanks for the input!

Any other opinions?
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Old 04-21-2011, 02:31 PM   #4
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Re: Best stealth van?

I don't think it makes a bit of difference when it comes to roofs, if you go with a modest sloping style, and not one of the camper tops that extends forward of the windshield.


What is a giveaway is aftermarket windows. Stick with the stock passenger van windows if you want stealth. Then black them out from the inside, if you need to put furniture there.

If there is even a slight chance you want 4x4 or may tow a heavy trailer in the future, go with the Ford. There is no 4x4 for Sprinter anymore since S/K is no longer around.
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Old 04-21-2011, 02:50 PM   #5
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Re: Best stealth van?

Actually that looks good, like the van came that way. The ones on ebay motors right now have tops that scream aftermarket and "out of place".
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Old 04-21-2011, 02:58 PM   #6
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Re: Best stealth van?

At 5'6" the OP could stand up in a Contempo top Ford. I think a lot of cable TV vans and wheelchair vans use a low raised top. Somebody makes one called a TV top. How about getting a used dial-a-ride van?

There is a web site dedicated to full time living in an RV that has lots of recommendations.
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Old 04-21-2011, 07:16 PM   #7
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Re: Best stealth van?

Outside Van has some rather good stealth Sprinter vans on their webpage (go to Vans --> Camping). I've seen a stealth SMB Sprinter here in the Bay Area; I had to really look at it to tell that it was a camper! A Ford with a hard top might do stealth pretty well; I'm not sure about the pop-up top, though.

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Old 04-21-2011, 07:47 PM   #8
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Re: Best stealth van?

Thank you for your service and the freedoms that you help provide. We would not have the priviledge to discuss such things if fellow Americans like you did not give so much to stand on the wall for us.
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Old 04-21-2011, 08:02 PM   #9
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Re: Best stealth van?

Originally Posted by mtrecon
Thank you for your service and the freedoms that you help provide. We would not have the priviledge to discuss such things if fellow Americans like you did not give so much to stand on the wall for us.
2nd that!
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Old 04-21-2011, 08:47 PM   #10
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Re: Best stealth van?

3RD That and send some ordinance with my name on it.


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