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Old 06-16-2014, 03:15 PM   #1
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Build or Buy?

I apologize in advance if this topic has been done to death as I am sure there are tons of variables out there, but I am looking for some advice before I begin an intensive search.

I have a family of 5 with three children age 2, 5, and 8. We love camping and hiking, biking etc so the sports mobile style vehicle is very attractive to us. We are currently camping in a 4x4 honda pilot but with all our bikes, boards and gear it is starting to get very very loaded down.

I am looking at the SMB style vehicle due to several factors:

-self contained go to camping vehicle (store all our gear in it, so we can just get up and go)
-4x4 to get us to the places we really want to (white rim trail, Mojave Road, Cali Lost Coast etc)
-room for a growing family (not necessarily all sleeping quarters as we can still carry a tent)
-diesel. Big believer in the reliability and durability of a diesel.
-carrying capacity

That said, I have looked at the Sprinter vans very long and hard and am still considering one of those, but at this point, the pop top of the SMB combined with the 4x4 is very attractive. I know the Sprinter will be 4x4 soon, but it will be a while before it becomes affordable.

So my questions are as follows:
- I know the 6.0L has some weaknesses, is this a design flaw or maintenance issue?
- buy a cheaper used van > $10k and build or look for cheaper used SMB.

I would like to stay under $35k and it is slim pickings for that price. But my calculations on a van and Ujoint Offroad kit comes in at around $30k. That would include the SMB pop top but no interior.

If you had my budget, would you be looking at a 1998 SMB or a 2008 Van that you can build up?


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Old 06-16-2014, 07:02 PM   #2
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Re: Build or Buy?

Here's a link to SMB build cost examples. Add 10 - 15K for 4x4. http://www.sportsmobile.com/1_cost-examples.html. Given your budget I think finding a used SMB already built would be your best bet.

1999 7.3 4x4 RB50 SMB
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Old 06-16-2014, 11:17 PM   #3
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Re: Build or Buy?

The biggest deciders are how handy are you? How much time do you have? Do you feel like building a van?

We bought an 06 v10, once I pick it up from CCV tomorrow I'll have about 20k into it. Still not sure of the need for 4x4. Add another 10-12 for 4x4 and you're at your budget.

I enjoyed the process of my build, but was sure ready to be done with it. Which should be around the same time my 1 year old graduates college.
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Old 06-17-2014, 01:19 AM   #4
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Re: Build or Buy?

-diesel. Big believer in the reliability and durability of a diesel.
- I know the 6.0L has some weaknesses, is this a design flaw or maintenance issue?
The 6.0 PSD has a not very good reliability reputation. If you're looking at an older van, you'd be looking at a 7.3 PSD anyway. And there's always the V10...

5 people in a SMB would be tight, even if 3 were kids.

If it were me, I'd try and find a well built out used 2WD SMB with PH roof, and do a UJOINT 4x4 conversion later.


"A job worth doing is worth doing at least twice."
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Old 06-17-2014, 09:14 AM   #5
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Re: Build or Buy?

If I did it again I would buy one already built. I enjoyed building mine but it took a year, was a lot of work and cost about the same.
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Old 06-17-2014, 11:07 AM   #6
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Re: Build or Buy?

With 5 people and all that gear, forget about sleeping or cooking inside... But a van does have a lot more room inside than a Pilot by any measure.

How about an RB passenger van with 4x4 - just take out the center seats and there will be stowage space between the seats and behind the bench. Plus long items can be put under the bench seat. With no extended top, a roof rack would work as well as hitch mount racks in back.

I bet you can find used Quigley 4x4 passenger vans with gas engines for around the $35k price point, with some pretty nice options. Probably won't find a diesel though.

If you do decide to do a camper conversion, ours cost about $28k including accessories and furnishings. I figure I could have saved $10k if I did absolutely all the work myself. More realistic savings would be $5k. Just have to decide whether you want to spend your time working on the van interior, or recreating in a finished van.
2009 E250 RB 5.4L "SilVan"
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Old 06-17-2014, 11:11 AM   #7
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Re: Build or Buy?

I think this van is a good family mover/camper van. You have two captains chairs for the younger kids that require booster or car seat and the older kids can sit in the rear dinette. Already has 4x4, pop top, and minor interior build out. Not much room for storage, but you can put a cargo box up top and put clothes, chairs, tent, etc. up there.

2005 E350 Chateau - V10 - Agile Offroad 4x4
2012 CTS-V Wagon - For the baby...
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Old 06-17-2014, 11:52 AM   #8
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Re: Build or Buy?

I had similar thoughts.. I owned a 2001 7.3 Quigley, and used it as is for many years, then stumbled on a Sportsmobile penthouse top at a junkyard. A few weekends and $1100 later I had a top with brand new canvas. Which got me thinking, man, it would be nice to have a built out interior. Plan was to do it myself, and I started picking up interior bits as I found deals and/or could afford them. Then I realized I had no time, and decided I would be much better off buying one already built. So I started hunting and found my dream van, same year, motor and 4x4, but with SMB interior.

I still have plenty of projects to do, but at least 90% is done. My budget was slightly more than yours, but not much. I think you should search for a full Sportsmobile 7.3 with 150k on it or so.. I think you could do that on your budget. It might take a while, it took me almost six months to find mine.
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Old 06-17-2014, 05:32 PM   #9
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Re: Build or Buy?

Some older vans can be a good deal; check the mileages. Sometimes many years but not many miles. And with a diesel the powerplant should still be good.

I have a 2001 van, and can tell you that 4WD use can beat on it. Not only is there more stress on all the moving parts, but also on the body. I've had trucks that didn't go offroad much at all and never had to mess with steering, ball joints, etc etc, but with a 4x4 they often need to be replaced a few times during the life of the vehicle. Plus the weight.

And offroading beats the insides. My van is remarkably tight, but I still have had to replace all kinds of screwed fittings, reseal the penthouse, and generally keep it from vibrating apart. It's in great shape, but I have worked at it.

All of which is to say if I was buying an older van with a good diesel I'd get a 2WD. All things being equal, it's maybe in better shape. And you get a sorta free upgrade on a bunch of stuff if you then do the Ujoint, since that means almost a new front end, and probably better sways, tires, wheels, etc. And you can try out the van before you invest the $$ to covert to 4x4. So I'm with Glenn.

I sorta like recommending the older vans for another reason: seems to that over the years SMB has drawn clients that like the more shall we say feature enabled vans. More stuff build in means more stuff that can break. And even if you discount the price you may be stuck with ripping it out, etc. Seems many of the older vans are simpler, but maybe that's just what I've happened to see in the market from time to time when giving advice to friends re purchase.

And finally, consider those little passengers. Having kids on trips means eliminating all the vans with sideways facing gauchos, for example (they stink for passengers during driving).

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much out there, at least on the SMB site, except for later model stuff in the higher price ranges. Although there is a 2004 diesel 4x4 for $54k. I guess that's cheaper than you could build now, but you could probably get a nice 4x4 crew cab diesel pickup and Lance camper for about that or less, depending on whether both are used, etc.

2001 Ford E250 Sportsmobile with Salem-Kroger 4x4 conversion
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