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Old 04-13-2024, 12:00 AM   #1
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Join Date: Apr 2024
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Need some help deciding what to get

Hi, I'm looking at buying some kind of converted van to use as my daily driver. Something that will make it easier to grab my stuff and go camping, work from the vehicle on Fridays at the campsite, etc. Also something I can toss my bikes and surfboards in and spend the day at the beach with. I work remote and don't do any sort of commuting (some days I don't drive at all). Generally quick jaunts to the beach to surf, mountain bike, etc, and then once or twice a month, a few longer drives to go surf somewhere else or go camping etc. I also take my Hobie cat sailing and have to tow that a couple times a month. I don't need a super efficient or nimble vehicle as my daily considering the above situation. I don't have room for an RV trailer or anything like that, so a sprinter type or E350 type van makes the most sense for me. I do want to have 4x4 on it for sand and snow but I won't be doing anything hardcore.

I can't figure out what do to though -- built out vans are EXPENSIVE. I'm stuck between these options:

Buy a used E350 4x4 Sportsmobile pop-top fully built... 2008ish with a diesel is around 60-70k, but could potentially get RV financing. So comfortable payments (no prepayment penalty) and also the van will be ready to go and can tackle anything.
Buy a new Sprinter 4x4 no build, loaded... 70-80k, but no dealer incentives for financing the 4x4's. I would need to do the build, which is a big project, and I have some hesitations about buying a new van and putting my custom build in it (I assume would tank the value vs having it properly fitted).
Buy a 4x4 E350 (no build) in cash... 20-40k depending on miles. Sort of the in-between option.
Lastly, I don't see a lot of value in buying a used Sprinter. Spend 10-20k less (if you can even find a newer 4x4) and it'll have at least 40-60k miles on it!

Right now my heart leans to the E350 vans due to the cool factor. Everyone in SoCal has a $250k sprinter van but you don't see a lot of those E350's. They have more of that adventure, westfalia type vibe and I dig that. However it's also hard to stomach spending $70k on a 16 year old van!! Especially since I've been spoiled recently with newer, nicer vehicles. Ironically I do miss my old XJ

On the other hand, the Sprinter would be fully in warranty and have a lot more space inside it. It would be a more comfortable drive and have lots of creature comforts (used to this with my Grand Cherokee). I test drove the 4CYL HO and it was zippy for a van! It would be a lot of work to build and I feel like I'd be paranoid about scratching it etc. But it does have a warranty...

So, I don't really know what I want... any guidance, anecdotes, etc to help me out?

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Old 04-13-2024, 07:24 AM   #2
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Personally, I would migrate towards an E-350 platform. Even the older ones have a lot to offer, and are 1/2 the price of the newer Sprinter style models...The difference leaves you a lot of wiggle room to invest in upgrades and/or repairs. Coupled with, any used vans that have full conversions offer immediate 'value' in that the same interior 'build' now will cost you dearly...even a pop-top install itself is upwards of $17k, Upgrading to a 4x4 system runs upwards of $20k, Aluminess 'bling' $10k (more when you add the lights & winch)...I think you get better 'value' purchasing a van with these already included and invest to have them serviced, than forking out $$$'s for 'new'.
Having said this, I also subscribe to 'you get what you pay for', so maintenance history would go a long way in any consideration. I have always absorbed the cost of having an engine analysis completed by a Dealer, along with inspection of FE, Braking system, Transmission, etc. Normally costs me around $600. Have to accept the fact nothing is 'absolute', but this provides insight to what you may be faced with.
Couple good candidates out there right now on RV Trader and Field Van, and some recently posted here.
This rig would be my first recommendation simply because so much has been done to this unit, and the interior layout seems to fit exactly what you'd be looking for (Low miles, space for Bikes inside - and if you factor in all the recent upgrade $$'s you'll save yourself about 50% on this purchase opposed to what you'd incur investing the same on another rig):

These are great candidates as well:
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Old 04-13-2024, 10:11 AM   #3
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Don't rule out the GM 4x4 vans! If your primary use is highways with occasional trips onto sandy beaches the GM van would be a better fit. With their independent front suspension they have much better road manners than a solid-axle Ford. GM made their full-size vans with a 4x4 option for several years. And Quigley and others did conversions to 4x4 on the 2wd GM vans.

And yes, I own a Ford E350 4x4 conversion. But that's because I take it in some pretty rugged country and I need all the ground clearance I can get.
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Old 04-13-2024, 11:23 AM   #4
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You could start with a Passenger/window van that has factory front and rear AC/heat. Do not underestimate how important this can be to comfort in hot and cold climates. If it has a 4x4 conversion like a Quadvan, UJOINT, Quigley or agile even better. If Quigley get the agile RIP kit.If you don’t truly need 4x4 get the Weldtech lift setup and potentially a locker in the rear.

I would look for the 2005 and newer V10 first for the great transmission, 5.4 second, 7.3 third and 6.0 last. I have owned the first three motors so I have experience and have friends with the 6.0. When the 6.0 is bulletproofed properly and everything is working it’s nice but just seems to have a lot of potential issues. Some friends have had almost no issues and others a ton. 5.4 vs 7.3 depends on use case they are both good.

Then use the van and do some testing on setup options based on how YOU would use it. You can build cardboard fake cabinets and things to see how much space.if you live in cold climates a hard top is hard to beat with room to always stand and it keeps the heat in. The pop-top is great for So Cal or warmer weather because you can get fantastic airflow and cool the van. I have had both and like both just depends on your needs.

Agree the Chevy vans are also nice especially with the Duramax motor.
2006 Ford E-350 V10 Agile 4x4 SMB EB50

2000 Ford E-350 7.3L Quigley 4x4 hard top with custom interior by Xtreme Fab - Sold
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Old 04-13-2024, 10:30 PM   #5
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Thanks y'all. It appears the diesels do get significantly better gas mileage, and in Socal gas is expensive... I understand the 6.0 has flaws but most of the builds I've seen have been "bulletproofed" (I still need to research that).

I appreciate the suggestions -- some really nice vans linked!

I keep going back and forth on the Sprinter. It looks like it would really be a bear to drive around (parking garages, for example) despite how zippy it is. I think this is where the pop top really shines and I have to imagine the E350's are more durable.

Has anyone owned both that can offer a comparison?
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Old 04-14-2024, 06:46 AM   #6
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Do yourself a favor and buy a 5.4l gas Econoline. It will be your cheapest entry. You are new to these and I never recommend buying your forever rig first. 5.4's are cheaper and more plentiful. If you don't know anything about diesels or the 6.0l I recommend staying away. They are not cheap to own or maintain and bulletproofing is expensive.

If we're talking 4x4 vans the diesels aren't much more efficient with big tires, tops, racks and bumpers. It will be negated by the price of entry and the price of maintenance. We're talking usually only 1-2 mpg less than a gas van on a 4x4 converted van. Ask around.

Seriously, run the numbers. Diesels aren't for everyone. I've had about everything and I work around commercial diesels.

Good luck! Be ready to travel at any moment with cash in hand to find a good van. At least that's always been the case, but the more I think about it more E-series are for sale these days than ever before.

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Old 04-14-2024, 09:07 AM   #7
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Lots of great advise on this forum from long time van users of all types. Not intended to leave anybody out on this but - Twoxentrix - 1der - 86Scotty - boywonder - Scalf77 - and others - have given me great advice - I'd agree that an E350 V10 - or 5.4 would be your best bet - and build it out like you would want it using info from long time forum. It might take longer to get your "dream" rig - but you'd gain valuable experience pretty much for free - good luck -
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Old 04-14-2024, 09:53 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by surfnturf View Post
However it's also hard to stomach spending $70k on a 16 year old van!!
One thing to keep in mind is that unless you trash it, that 16-year-old van likely will not depreciate at all. It might even go up in value while you own it, especially if itís a 4x4.
Hi, Iím Robert and Iím a vanaholicÖ
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Old 04-14-2024, 02:54 PM   #9
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Ditto what previous posters have said. I think you're getting some solid advice here. I would just add the following notes from our personal experience with our Silver Kitten (YMMV):

1) Even with a modest suspension and body lift and a low-profile roof rack, a pop-top 4X4 Ford E350 can easily go through the drive-thru line at your favorite fast-food joint, but most of the "tall boys" can't. There's often a 9-foot height limit, so you might want to check the sign on the banger-bar above the drive-thru line at your favorite burger joint. Keeping a low profile is one of the advantages of the pop-top penthouse. Sometimes this lower profile also increases your parking spot options when you're going for a mountain-bike ride or just camping among the trees.

2) With ordinary care, the International 7.3L engine that Ford used in E-350s is generally rated for about 300,000 miles between rebuilds, so you might want to remain open-minded about the older and higher-mileage E-350 Sportsmobiles with this engine. This could greatly reduce your initial cost, as Twoxentrix suggested, leaving you with plenty of budget room to renew and upgrade a new-to-you SMB into something that's just the way you like it. We got our used 2002 SMB several years ago for much less than $70K with about 150K miles on her. Even if you bought something brand-new, some modifications and upgrades would still be inevitable. It's just part of the SMB/VanLife "disease" that we all share and enjoy!

3) SoCal gas IS expensive, but with the better fuel economy and (sometimes) lower per-gallon cost of diesels, the resulting cost-per-mile suggests that any diesel-engined purchase options you have available should not be ignored. Also, I really like the effects of running high-cetane diesel fuel, either through the use of fuel additives, or getting the "renewable" diesel that is available from Unocal and sometimes ARCO stations. (It quiets the diesel "clatter" significantly, in case that's an issue for you.)

4) If you buy a van that's already been made into an RV (i.e. a Class-B motorhome), the insurance rates are much lower for "motorhomes" than for regular vans, because the insurance companies assume (often quite correctly) that you will not drive them as much, and therefore their exposure to risk will be much less. Just be sure that the RV you buy has the minimum requisites (i.e. at least four items from the list below):

From the California DMV website:

The important part of the above link is shown below:

"Motorhomes must contain permanently-installed independent life support systems which meet the criteria of the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and provide at least four of the following facilities: cooking, refrigeration or ice box, self-contained toilet, heating and/or air conditioning, a portable water supply system including a faucet and sink, a separate 110 to 125 volt electrical power supply and/or liquid petroleum (LP) gas supply. Van campers do not contain the permanently-installed independent life support systems identified by the ANSI for motorhomes." [emphasis added]

5) Everything breaks or wears out sooner or later, so don't forget to consider the availability of dealer-only parts and auto-parts-store parts for whatever you decide to buy. There are others on this forum who might be able to advise you of their experiences in trying to get MB Sprinter parts while "on the road". (I've heard some horror stories.)

Hopefully at least some of the above will be of help in your decision process . . .

"Silver Kitten": 2002 E-350 7.3 RB-50 SMB Quigley 4x4, Agile RIP-kit
"My Metal Mistress": 1982 Cessna T182 - "Sleeps 0, but leaps tall mountains in a single bound."
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Old 04-15-2024, 08:32 AM   #10
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Not affiliated in any way - 7.3 Van for sale -
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