Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

Ford-Transit-VS-Mercedes-Sprinter-VS-Ram-Promaster-VS-Nissan-NV-Choosing-Van-(Heading-1920px)

Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, Nissan NV... Choosing the best van to build for vanlife is a major decision and a huge investment. To help us make the right choice, let's look at some specifications, facts and real-world reports.

1- Ford Transit

1- Ford Transit

Overview

While the Sprinter draws a lot of attention in the campervan world, the Ford Transit dominates the commercial van market with close to 32% of total sales (source). Introduced in 2015 in North America, the Ford Transit is getting an overhaul for 2020 with new engine options, a long awaited AWD (All Wheel Drive) drivetrain and other high-tech upgrades (adaptive cruise control, pre-collision assist, etc.). 

Ford Transit Van Medium Front View
Ford Transit Van Medium Rear View

Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the Ford.com "Build & Price" interactive tool to build your own Ford Transit (and find out the price). Try it, it's neat:

Exterior Dimensions

Ford-Transit-Van-Lengths-and-Heights-Variants-Dimensions

Interior Cargo Dimensions

Regular Length (130WB),
Low Roof:

Regular Length (130WB),
Medium Roof:

Long Length (148WB),
Low Roof:

Long Length (148WB),
Medium Roof:

Long Length (148WB),
High Roof:

Extended Length (148WB),
High Roof:

Repair & Maintenance

$866 USD Annual Repair Cost (source: repairpal.com)

Ford, Mercedes or Ram: regardless of makes and brands, repair and maintenance is inevitable in the long run. Sure, you might get a free espresso at the Mercedes dealer, but Ford dealers are all over the map (dealer locator), are way cheaper and parts availability is VERY good. Knowing we live full time in our van and travel a lot to remote places, that’s a MASSIVE reason to go for the Ford Transit instead of the Mercedes Sprinter! 

How reliable is the Ford Transit? We’re tracking absolutely all the repair cost of our Transit; in 3 years of ownership (2016 to 2019), we spent $750 USD (excluding tires & oil change). We’re very pleased with that! See our detailed repair log book:

Our Opinion

What We Like

What We Don't Like

INITIAL COST: We initially looked for a Sprinter (because that’s what everybody did back then in 2015), and quickly realized we could get a brand new Ford Transit (full warranty, no previous owner, customized options, etc.) for pretty much the same price as a used Sprinter…

REPAIR & MAINTENANCE: Then we realized that even if the Sprinter is a high-end vehicle, they do break down a lot. Looking at the Mercedes dealership map (Mercedes dealer locator), it got us thinking: what happen if we want to travel in Alaska or South America? Heck, even in the USA, there’s no dealer out of the major cities!

TEST-DRIVE: We then test-drove both a Transit and a Sprinter… we much preferred the Transit as it felt more like driving a minivan (nimble and predictable), as opposed to driving a full-size cargo van for the Sprinter.

COMMON SENSE: At very last, we asked ourselves this question: “If we had to buy a car, would we buy a Mercedes or a Ford?” Yep, it all made sense now: we much prefer spend money on mountain biking gear and adventures rather than on a luxury vehicle!

Needless to say, we went for a brand new Ford Transit 2016 and we’re glad we did! (it’s October 2019 at the time of writing these lines)

Resources

2 Years of Winter Vanlife

REAL WORLD REPORT ON THE FORD TRANSIT: Traction Control System (TCS), Limited Slip Differential (LSD), 4x4 (lack of), RWD vs FWD, Tires, Snow Chains, Recovery Devices, How to Climb Like a Boss...

Build & Price Your Own Ford Transit

Ford-logo-2003-1366x768
Feel free to try any configuration and see the effect on the price...

2- Mercedes Sprinter

2- Mercedes Sprinter

Overview

Until a few years ago, DIY campervan conversion (almost) necessarily meant Sprinter-van (in North America). Indeed, the Sprinter has been around since 2001 (branded back then as “Freightliner”, then re-branded as Dodge in 2003) wayyyyyy before the Transit or the ProMaster. Today, the Mercedes Sprinter takes 6% of the commercial van market in North America (source)

Mercedes Sprinter Van Side View
Mercedes Sprinter Van Rear View

Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the MBvans.com "Build Your Van" interactive tool to build your own Sprinter van:

Exterior Dimensions

Interior Cargo Dimensions

Standard Length (144WB),
Low Roof:

Long Length (170WB),
High Roof:

Extended Length (170WB), High Roof:

Repair & Maintenance

$1,778 USD Annual Repair Cost (source: repairpal.com)

Sprinter vans are great, until things go wrong. Dealers are located in major cities only (see dealer locator), parts & labor is VERY costly, parts availability is poor and timely.

Vans is ALWAYS at the center of discussions when meeting other van people. And we met MANY vanlifers during our two years on the road.  There are just too many horror stories with the Sprinter: black death, limp mode, DEF heater failure, clogged DPF, etc. Whatever it is called, it seems every Sprinter owner had to deal with it at some point.

Our Opinion

What We Like

What We Don't Like

High initial cost, reliability issues and massive maintenance/repair cost… For some reasons the Sprinter has a big appeal among campervan builders, but we don’t really know why. Is it the good mileage? The 4×4? The Mercedes name? Whatever it is, we think it’s not worth the risk. We personally know too many people wasting huge amount of money trying to keep their Sprinter alive.

No thanks, we’ll pass.

Resources

Build & Price Your Own Mercedes Sprinter

Mercedes-Logo

Modifications & OEM Guidelines

Online Communities

3- Ram ProMaster

3- Ram ProMaster

Overview

The Fiat Ducato is marketed as the ProMaster in North-America since 2013.  With 11% commercial vans total sales in North America (source), the Ram ProMaster is doing well. It is most notably know for its FWD drivetrain and for its “square” cargo area, which make the life of campervan builders easier!

Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the RamTrucks.com "Build Your Van" interactive tool to build your own ProMaster van:

Exterior Dimensions

Interior Cargo Dimensions

136" Wheelbase,
Low Roof:

136" Wheelbase,
High Roof:

159" Wheelbase,
High Roof:

159" Wheelbase Extended,
High Roof:

Repair & Maintenance

$859 USD Annual Repair Cost (source: repairpal.com)

We honestly don’t have much data on the ProMaster. Asking around, it seems very similar to the Ford Transit in terms of cost and dealership network.

Are you a ProMaster owner? Share your experience with us using the comment below!

Our Opinion

What We Like

What We Don't Like

Axle Weight Traction

Knowing that MORE WEIGHT = MORE TRACTION, we’re glad our van is RWD!

Weight Traction Uphill

We get more traction when climbing a steep incline, because there is even more weight on the rear axle!

Reality Check

We recently reached out (December 2020) to a friend who lived in his Sprinter van for 4 years and just switched to a ProMaster (full time as well). Keeping the same habits, he says that he got stuck as much in 3 months than 4 years in his Sprinter. So while we have nothing against the ProMaster (we have absolutely no affiliation with any brand), it might not be the best vehicle to take on the back roads.

Resources

Build & Price Your Own Ram ProMaster

Modifications & OEM Guidelines

4- Nissan NV

4- Nissan NV

Our Opinion

While we should stay objective and look at the specifications and rationals to take a decision, we just can’t handle how this thing look. Sorry, but that’s how we feel. So we’ll leave it here for now.

————————- EDIT 2020: LOOKS LIKE NISSAN IS ABOUT TO DISCONTINUE THE NV VAN: https://www.thetorquereport.com/nissan/nissan-nv-vans-are-likely-being-discontinued/ —————————–

Nissan NV Cargo Van Front View
Nissan NV Cargo Van Side View
Nissan NV Cargo Van Rear View

Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the NissanUSA.com "Build & Price" interactive tool to build your own NV van:

Exterior Dimensions

Nissan NV Cargo Van Exterior Dimensions

Interior Cargo Dimensions

Nissan NV Low Roof:

Nissan NV High Roof:

Repair & Maintenance

$657 USD Annual Repair Cost (source: repairpal.com)

5- Best Van For Camper Build: Our Humble Opinion

We have to be totally transparent here. We’re biased towards the Ford Transit. Not because we have any affiliation with Ford; we’re biased because we’ve been owning our Transit since 2016 and living in it full time since 2017 and we’re still totally in love with it.

We were looking for a reasonably priced van, that’s easy & cheap to maintain and that would not let us down no matter what. And that’s exactly what our Transit has delivered. For this reason, if we’d total our van tomorrow, we would buy another Transit in a split second without any hesitation.

Van-Tour-Heading
Van tour, 3D Model, Cost & Labor, Build Journal, Weight, etc.

6- Ford Transit Long Term Review

Ford Transit Long Term Review (For DIY Camper Van)

Sketchy Clock

Wait for it!

Coming soon...

That's it folks, hope that helps!

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about us

Nice To Meet You.

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

104 thoughts on “Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV”

  1. Have a Promaster 195″ tall. For a year now, no problem what so ever. Am I lucky?
    BTW, there are Promaster before 2016 with 3.0 diesel engine and automatic-manual transmission. That one gets 23-25MPG, where mine gets 19-20(combined). I am at 17.8MPG now from running lately a lot of short trip in city. How much does your RWD gets? Besides, I never heard anybody loosing traction in a Promaster. For off-road yes, RWD is a must.

    Reply
  2. I have owned transits, pro master and express. They all have pros and cons. Agreed the pro master had a harder time making it up my snow covered drive in Vermont than rear wheel drive. Sometimes was worthless .. but I loved the seats , easy access to rear and short turning radius. Transits just offered the awd but the price starts in the 50 -60k range plus and they raised prices across the board. Love the eco boost engine too and gas mileage but tow capacity was horrible! 3900 pound tow on a 350 extended hd drw. Not much better than a minivan. Would buy another but hard finding one equipped how I want gently used at a good price. Express has the tow power at 9900 pounds, and. reliability but I just need the extra headroom. It would be great if the had an awd option again! The older awd model was a beast in the snow.

    Reply
  3. How about Chevy/GMC Express/Savana? I see a lot of those converted into vans. Seems like a good reliable vehicle and not as complicated to repair as some of the “modern” offerings mentioned here. It doesn’t have the high roof though, but to me that’s an advantage when talking about off road and hard to reach destinations.

    Reply
  4. I think a Promaster makes the best van for camper conversion, you can mount the bed widthwise (freeing up a lot of space) and the lower floor makes the van really easy to step in and out of (no steps needed). We have the model with the lower roof, if you are under 5ft 9″ you can walk inside (bend your head a little, or slouch) and I can fit in a dozen or so underground parking lots downtown Vancouver even with the Solar and the Fantastic Fan on the roof! All other vans the low roof’s have very low height inside! Low roof’s are at great advantage when driving in wind. Every driven past the wind turbines near Palm Springs in a windstorm with a high roof? We have gone camping on logging roads many times and never been stuck. Have driven 15 hours North in January twice with snow covered roads and poor conditions, FWD has been excellent

    Reply
    • I live 5 miles from the turbines. It’s summer 6 months out of the year. I don’t see ACs installed for the rear. Ice box won’t be ok either.

      Reply

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