REQUIREMENTS

  • Adequate ground clearance (Light offroad to get to trailhead)
  • Possible to stand up (Day to day comfort)
  • Availability on used market (To meet all our requirements…)

 

THE CONTENDERS

Mercedes Sprinter (170WB,  High Roof, Regular or Extended length)
Mercedes Sprinter

Mercedes Sprinter

This is the most popular option for RV conversion. There is a very active online community so there is plenty of information & resources available online to assist the conversion effort. The used market is filled with Sprinters, mostly due to commercial vehicle retiring, so finding the vehicle that fits your needs and budget is facilitated. The initial buying cost & maintenance cost is high, but this does not seems to discourage people from choosing this option: you get a high-end, nice looking van with enough torque and still low MPG, that is nice to drive and that will keep a good value over time.

Since 2014 Mercedes propose 2 engine options:

  1. Diesel 2.1L I-4 (161 hp, 264 lb-ft of torque, 7 speeds transmission)
  2. Diesel 3.0L V-6 (188 hp, 325 lb-ft of torque, 5 speeds transmissions)

The 2.1L I-4 offer better MPG and smooth drive with its 7 speeds transmission. Users report 25 MPG with the 4 cylinders as opposed to 20 MPG for the 6 cylinders.

Sprinter Ressources:

 

Ram Promaster (159WB Extended, High Roof, Diesel 3.0L V6)
Ram Promaster

Ram Promaster

The Promaster is relatively cheaper to buy than the Sprinter, but the maintenance fees are not that cheaper since this is a Fiat engine. The Promaster is FWD Drive, a feature appreciated if you plan to use it during winter. The Cargo volume is higher than the Sprinter due to the wall arrangement: compared to the Sprinter, the walls of the Promaster are almost vertical, the distance between the wheel wells is larger and the floor is lower (at ground clearance detriment). The squared angled walls will sure help when building the interior. Since it is a relatively recent vehicle, there are not as many options on the used market compared to the Sprinter.

Ram Promaster Ressources:

 

Ford Transit (148WB Extended Length, High Roof, Gasoline 3.7L V6)
Ford Transit white background

Ford Transit

Gasoline? Yes. There are currently NO diesel on the used market in our area, but plenty of gasoline ones. Rental fleet are getting rid of last year models so the price is RIGHT. Of course diesel is cheaper at the pump, but here is a reality check: gasoline engine are simple. No fancy antipollution system and no fancy turbos (note: the 3.5L Ecoboost option has two turbos, but not the 3.7L). This is a major advantage if we want to travel to remote places. Another positive point: Ford dealerships are all over the place. If things goes wrong, the chances that there will be a Ford dealer near is much higher AND the parts will be much cheaper than for the Sprinter/Ram. For these reasons, we’re tempted. Note that feedback from users is positive: the van “drive like a car” (we confirm) and it is a quality build.

Ford Transit Ressources:

 

 

 

  VANS COMPARISON

2016-Van-SxS-Comparisons_v4
Credits: Sportsmobile.com

 

AND THE WINNER IS…

Ford Transit!

We were initially looking for a used Sprinter, then we started worrying about servicing issues. What if the van breaks down in no-where-city, Alaska? And what if the van breaks down in San Francisco… we are close to a dealer, but this is a Mercedes dealer we’re talking of! They offer free espresso when you stop by, but i’d rather go to Starbucks, it’s cheaper…

Then we started looking for a used Ford Transit. For a similar price to the Mercedes Sprinter, we would get a year old van with almost no mileage to the odometer, with some warranty left. Nice! We spent a few months searching actively to realize 95% the vehicle have no option at all: no cruise control, no side or rear window, no Limited Slip Differential, no high-roof & extended length…

So we built the Ford Transit of our dream (well kind of) on the Ford website. Darn, too expensive. We craved for a free coffee but the Mercedes dealer was closed, so we went to a Ford dealer instead. We had our coffee and meanwhile, we realized the Ford dealer was able to offer a much lower price than what we’ve seen on the Ford website. For about 8000$ more than a used van, we would get a brand new, fully warrantied, fully loaded van (see our Van page for all features). And with a low interest, long-term financing that would give us some slack. DEAL!

(As it turns out, ordering a Transit is not an easy task… we have a few tips on how-to order your van here)

18 comments

  1. Comment by Simon Daoust

    Simon Daoust Reply January 8, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    You should consider the 2.1 dude, V6 is pretty thirsty. My 2 cents

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply January 9, 2016 at 10:10 am

      We just updated the page to add the 4 cylinders 2.1L engine option. Thanks for your input Simon! Do you think the 2.1L will have enough torque to carry a full load of Auval Super-A I.P.A. through the Sainte-Paule hills?

  2. Comment by Darrell

    Darrell Reply July 24, 2016 at 1:11 am

    I’m just trying to decide on what van to get. I was only thinking sprinter as the existing adventure van community is so extensive. A friend suggested I look at the Transit. I agree with your points why it makes sense. I travel to the Baja from Calgary and the access to Ford service would be a big bonus. There is little incentive for fuel economy given the maintenance costs of the MB diesel. My question is did you opt for the 3.7 for the simplicity? I’m leaning toward the Eco Boost as I’m concerned the 3.7 won’t have enough torque once the van is loaded. I’m also leaning toward the long body instead of the extended. Could you share your thoughts on your decision making? I kind of agree with the rationale of the couple on Traipsingabout.com on van size, but always value another perspective.

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply July 25, 2016 at 9:03 am

      Hey Darrel,

      The primary reason we chose the 3.7 is SIMPLICITY. We are aware that the Ecoboost engine has very good reviews and that it seems to be a fun and reliable engine, but still, less features = less potential for failures. A friend of mine used to work as a mechanic at a Ford dealer; he agrees the Ecoboost is a good engine, but he also mentioned it is a very sophisticated thing: you need someone skilled and equipped with the right tools to work on it. Another reason we went with the 3.7 is the price: we rather save the money and invest it on nice features on the van 🙂

      About the torque. I love my VW Jetta 2.0 TDI. The consumption vs power is ridiculous. It’s a nice car that is always asking you to go faster. Fast = Fun. We quickly realized that the Transit is a different beast: the equation is Smooth = Fun. We found that the Transit drives well when we follow the speed limits, accelerate smoothly, take sharp turns smoothly, etc. It drives well, but it is not sporty by any means. In addition, this is our vacation vehicle: there is no rush! Therefore, we think the 3.7 will suit OUR needs!

      The length of the van is a personal matter. We chose the extended length because the primary use of the van will be for out-of-civilization trips. We favored living comfort over drivability (if we used the van primarily in urban areas, we would have opt for the short one). After driving the van for almost 2 months, we find it is quite easy to park if you don’t mind walking a little bit.

      So far, we’re pleased with our selection, but at the time of writing these lines our conversion is not completed yet. Time will tell.

      Good luck with your project!
      Cheers!

  3. Comment by Brendan

    Brendan Reply August 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Hey there, love this comparison! I’m currently torn between the Sprinter and Transit. I’m wondering if you ever wrote a post explaining why you ended up choosing the Transit? Can’t seem to find anything on here…

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply August 1, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Brendan, we just added the section “AND THE WINNER IS…” to the page following your comment. Thanks for the input! Hopefully it answer your question. To make a long story short, we chose the Ford Transit because we wanted easy & cheap maintenance (Ford dealers are all over the place and other shops should be able to work on it too), simple mechanic (we opted for the 3.7 engine, gasoline and without turbo), because the Transit is really nice to drive and mostly because it is much cheaper to buy than the Sprinter.
      Good luck with your decision process!

  4. Comment by Malte

    Malte Reply August 23, 2016 at 5:08 am

    Love the blog and write ups.
    You missed the Nissan NV2500!;-) Great van! We are converting it right now!

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply August 23, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Thanks! We will update the page when summer is over 😉
      We rode Flume Trail a few years ago, can’t wait to go back to further explore Lake Tahoe area!

      I’m following your build on Instagram, keep up the good work!

  5. Comment by Paul

    Paul Reply September 19, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Hi, nice site. Just curious, was 4WD (either OEM or conversion)a consideration when you were looking for a van? Seeing that you’re from up north, and with your planned routes way up north in Alaska, just wondering if this is something that was discussed. Thanks.

    • Comment by admin

      admin Reply September 19, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Hi Paul,

      of course the 4WD was considered, this is our dream van after all! But a dream van cost real money, so we had to let go the 4×4 option 🙁
      We are not 4×4 enthusiast; the purpose of the van is to bring us to remote trail heads and ski slopes. With planning and care, we should be able to go to most places without getting stuck. Heck, we’ve been using our Jetta (which has low ground clearance) for that purpose for the last few years without (most of the time!) getting stuck! Therefore, the Ford Transit with the KO2 and some chains should be alright 🙂

      At the time of writing these lines, the 4WD option is not offered by Ford so you would have to use the service of trusted aftermarket up-fitter such as Quigley. I believe the cost is around 12 000 US dollars for the 4×4 conversion.
      The Mercedes Sprinter now has the 4×4 OEM option. We had a look at it, but the price turned us down.

      Thanks for joining the conversation 🙂

  6. Comment by Sylvain

    Sylvain Reply October 20, 2016 at 9:20 am

    Hello,
    Thanks for sharing your experience! I was wondering about the 3.7L engine. I know Ford is reknowned for the reliability of it’s big V8 engine. But most of the Ford cars with V6 and 4L engine were not so reliable in the past! So my question, is the 3.7L a new more reliable Ford engine? Something we can drive for 250 000km without worrying about?!

    Thanks again

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply October 20, 2016 at 9:38 am

      We debated a lot on which engine to get… our main requirement was RELIABILITY over performance and according to our research, the 3.7L is all about that. There is nothing too fancy and complex about this engine and our common sense tells us that’s simplicity is the key to reliability! Less features = less potential for failures! Also, it’s been going for a while and data gathered seems to point in that direction. We’re very confident that our 3.7L will last forever with adequate maintenance 🙂

      That being said, we heard very good things on the 3.5 ecoboost. It’s a good engine but if it fails, you need to find competent & well trained mechanics to work on it…

      Cheers!

  7. Comment by Sean

    Sean Reply December 29, 2016 at 11:22 am

    “ADMIN”
    Greetings from Yankee-land! This is one of the better DIY sites I have came across. Questionably, the best!!! Thank-you for sharing your build.

    I was reading your van selection (awesome). But I was curious, if I may, why not the ProMaster? Don’t get me wrong, I believe you made the best choice (that is to say, I concur with your rationale concerning the 3.7 over the 3.5 EcoBoost).

    I just bought my first van – the Promaster 1500, 139″ wheel base. So, I am amenable to academic debate! 🙂 Cheers.

  8. Comment by Antoine

    Antoine Reply December 29, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Yay! Glad you like the site 🙂 1- We were not so confident about the fact the the RAM has a Fiat engine 2- Ford dealers are everywhere and the Transit with its 3.7 engine is “simple” to work on 3- we preferred the look of the Transit. I don’t believe there is right or wrong; if you are happy with your van, then you made the right decision! Cheers! 🙂

  9. Comment by Rene

    Rene Reply January 1, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    What are you getting for mpg’s with the 3.7l.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply January 2, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      We are doing about 15-16 MPG. This is what the computer is telling us. I will do my own check, since we switched for bigger tires and this could trick the computer…

  10. Comment by Jonathan

    Jonathan Reply May 7, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Great build site! Very very helpful and informative. A few followup questions since you have nearly a year? experience and have been through the winter.
    (1) Any regrets not having 4×4?
    (2) Are you finding the extended body to be acceptable in terms of handling and capability vs. shorter long body?
    (3) Find any vehicle options you wished you would have purchased or any options you find you didn’t need?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply May 7, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks!

      1) No regret so far, i think the LSD will take us where we want. If you have the budget for the 4×4, it sure will provide extra confidence!
      2) We’re very glad we went with the extended length! We don’t mind the extra space it gives us since we plan on living in the van for at least a year. If you’re a weekend warrior, i guess the shorter-long-body is fine too.
      3) Nop, except the heating seats option that was not available on the 2016 Transit 🙁

      thanks for stopping by!

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