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

  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van

Length

  • Regular 18.5 ft (130" WB)
  • Long 20 ft (148" WB)
  • Extended 22 ft (148" WB)

Height

  • Low Roof (83.2")
  • Medium Roof (100.8")
  • High Roof (110.2")

Engines

  • 3.5L Direct Injection (Gas)
  • 3.5L EcoBoost (Gas)
  • 2.0L EcoBlue (Diesel)

Drivetrain

  • RWD
  • RWD LSD (Limited Slip Differential)
  • AWD (All Wheel Drive)

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

  • Reasonable ownership cost.
  • Extensive dealership network.
  • Get parts cheap and fast.
  • Drive like a minivan.

What We Don't Like

  • Rear brakes wear fast. Keep an eye on them.

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

  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van

Length

  • Standard 19.5 ft (144" WB)
  • Long 22.8 ft (170" WB)
  • Extended 24.15 ft (170" WB)

Height

  • Standard Roof (96.3")
  • High Roof (110")
  • Super-High Roof (120.1")

Engines

  • 2.0L Turbo (Gas)
  • 3.0L Turbo (Diesel)

Drivetrain

  • RWD
  • 4x4

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

  • Good mileage.
  • Free espresso at the dealer.

What We Don't Like

  • High ownership cost.
  • High risk of turning into a money pit on wheels.

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

  • Body and Equipement Guidelines (BEG)

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

  • Cargo Van
  • "Window" Van

Length

  • 136" WB 17.75 ft
  • 159" WB 19.75 ft
  • 159" WB Extended 20.85 ft

Height

  • Low Roof (88")
  • High Roof (99")

Engines

  • 3.6L Chrysler Pentastar (Gas)

Drivetrain

  • FWD

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

  • With its "square" cargo area, the ProMaster is the widest of all vans and straight walls are easier to build in.
  • Reasonable ownership cost.

What We Don't Like

  • Front Wheel Drive (thumb down, that's right). A converted van has more weight on its rear axle, which means more traction on the rear wheels (especially on steep climbs). See our "Winter Vanlife Guide" for more.

Resources

Build & Price Your Own Ram ProMaster

Modifications & OEM Guidelines

  • Design Recommendations
  • Frame Alterations
  • Wiring
  • Etc.

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

  • Cargo Van
  • Passenger Van

Length

  • 146" Wheelbase (20 ft exterior length)

Height

  • Standard Roof (84")
  • High Roof (105")

Engines

  • 4.0L V6 (Gas)
  • 5.6L V8 (Gas)

Drivetrain

  • RWD

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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STAY IN TOUCH!

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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!

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

  1. Awesome! Thank you! We currently have a 2014 Metris Sprinter. Don’t even get me started. We own a dog business and we bought the car for transporting dogs. It has been a complete nightmare. The only plus was breakfast at the dealership and even that is meh after I was told what the bill and time frame would be for returning my car.
    It’s paid for. We will replace it. The Ford Transit is looking good but because of the ease of customization we also like the Ram. If someone offered me a free all expense paid (for the life of the car) Mercedes Coup—I would say NO! Never again!
    Thanks for helping us with the process of deciding what our next vehicle will be!

    Reply
  2. I’ve been driving a Ford Transit (14 passenger) for work (hauling people and their luggage to/from the airport) for 2 years now. My own personal vehicle was a Grand Am and I had never driven anything bigger in my life. I was scared just standing NEXT to the Transit! Now that I’ve been driving them for 2 years I’M IN LOVE with them! It actually took about 2 weeks for me to fall in love with them. They drive like cream. Easy to maneuver. I’m a female, almost 59 and am now looking to buy a used Transit to build out and live in permanently. I’m SO EXCITED! If anyone out there is hesitant….don’t be. I’m not affiliated with Ford or anything…..I just love their Transits!!!

    Reply
  3. Great site. Thanks for the information. We ordered the plans and will use it as a guide for our build.

    We do have a question. Do you think the extended is a must or would you have been satisfied with the long (non extended)? Are there circumstances where you find the extra lenght a hindrance?

    Reply
    • We wouldn’t go with anything shorter than the extended, but keep in mind that:
      – We are two persons in there living full time;
      – We have our 2 mountain bikes, snowboards and avalanche gear;
      – Oven, toilet, sink, fridge, etc, etc…

      So depending on your situation you don’t need the extended length; that’s kind of personal.

      We don’t find it too long to navigate and to park; you quickly get use to it!

      Cheers

      Reply
  4. Awesome site, with such clear information! Hands down the best for planning a build out. I was wondering when it comes to the dimensions for the height of the van, what exactly is this measuring? Bottom or top of the corrugations on the floor? For the ceiling is it measured from the bottom or top of the “ribs”? Hope this isnt confusing. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Nice summary guys and I can’t fault your decision to go with a Transit. I’ve built up a Promaster myself. I’m hoping you’ll include some comments about the backroad capabilities of your Transit. While I haven’t had any of the traction issues you allude to, even on snow it’s been great, the juddering, squeaking, and rattling is so intense on even the mildest of dirt roads that I’m seriously considering a different vehicle. Seems that about 15 km/hr is a fast as I’m comfortable driving on washboard. This imposes some serious limitations on where I can take the van.

    Reply
  6. Such an intelligent, beautiful website and camper van. We are a retired couple who want to do something similar but on a smaller scale. We live in a condo with underground parking which requires that the Transit cargo van has a low roof and regular wb. We will use it for cross country trips, we aren’t engineers and we will be paying someone to do the installation.
    Any suggestions on a kit?

    Reply
  7. Bonyenne! Vraiment une grosse job tous ce que vous nous offrez! Merci. Diminue grandement l’anxiété!

    Je n’ai pas encore acheté la van (je penche pour le SMaster 159 HT) car j’hésite beaucoup sur l’année vs le budget! C’est l’Alaska en 2022 que je vise! Yé!

    Reply
  8. But the AWD transit is only available on the new 2020, correct? If so, how is a previous year transit any more desirable versus a promaster in terms of the thumbs down you gave the promaster? Because right now the ability to buy a used model of either and save 10-20k is huge for me and ability to spend more on the build out.

    Reply
  9. Antoine! Your site is amazing! I am an eye surgeon so unfortunately I cannot go van life full time, but I plan on building an adventure van next year. Found your site and LOVE it. Question: I saw a comment on the extended vans that since the rear overhang behind the wheels is large so that you can scrape bottom of the van. I noted that you actually commented on it [https://faroutride.com/van-tour/]. Has this kept you from going any where that you would want? I’ve also heard that the large wheel base means that you may not be able to back-up and turn around to get out of places. Have you had any issues with this? I’m guessing both these issues apply more to the extended Sprinter, but wanted to ask your experience with the Transit extended. Blessings and thank you in advance!

    Reply
  10. Damn, this is the most comprehensive review I’ve ever seen. Wow. Excellent job guys. Leaning towards the transit now.

    Reply

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