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

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

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.

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!

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

  1. Hey Antoine,
    I like both the Transit and Promaster but ultimately bought a Promaster because I was able to buy it new at 25% off.
    There are some great things about the Promaster and I’m seeing many more builds pop up using it as a platform.
    The 159” has the same length as the 144” sprinter but has about 2’ additional interior cargo length… and the total vehicle length is under 20’.
    From window to window, the width is 6’5” so we can sleep wall to wall and that gives us more layout options.
    The high top is the least tallest which made a big difference when we were going under some short in city bridges in Boston.
    The bumper is made of 3 separate components that make it easy to swap out if one gets damaged. I believe it’s about $70 to replace the side of the bumper and the rear bumper is also made of 3 components.
    The floor height is lower and doesn’t have the awkward step (this is somewhat subjective).
    All high top Promasters have a built in shelf above the driver and passenger seats for storage.
    The battery compartment is easily accessible from the interior as well as the fuel tank which makes it easy to add a fuel operated heater.

    Those things being said, I wish the Promaster had a more powerful engine but if one needs torque, a diesel is available.

    Both the Transit and the Promaster are great vehicles. I don’t think the Mercedes is worth the money nor the hassle.

    Reply
  2. Super site ! Je me dirige mentalement vers un ford pour les mêmes raisons que vous évoquées. Par contre, je me demandais si, avec votre expérience, la différence entre 22 pieds (extended) et 20 pieds a pu être un enjeu. Est-ce que les limites Camping Nationaux sont majoritairement à 21 pieds ? En fait, avez vous éprouvé des ennuis (stationnement en ville etc) avec cette décision ? Évidemment, the longer, the better et je ne compte pas faire du gros hors-route. Plus en mode “Stealth” … merci !

    Reply
    • Le 22 pieds n’est jamais un problème pour nous. Oui c’est plus difficile de trouver du stationnement des fois et ca diminue la capacité en offroad, mais c’est le prix à payer pour pouvoir avoir tout avec nous (vélos, planches à neige, toilette, four, gros fridge, lavabo, lit permanent, etc). On irait pas plus petit c’est certain! Maintenant, à toi de voir selon ton style de vie et ton équipement!

      Reply
  3. I like the way the Transit drived and I’m sure it’s a quality vehicle but on a test drive in Arizona the small tires and poor clearance left me getting stuck in places where the van I have now – GMC Savana – gives me no problems.

    Unfortunately GM offers no hitop. I’ve found the clearance very helpful in the backroads – particularly rocky desert backroads.

    I discarded the Sprinter – poor reliability, Promaster – worries about that, Transit – lovely van but tires and clearance. If I had to do it again I might go with a hitop Nissan which was not mentioned – big burly van w lots of clearance.

    Reply
  4. Bonjour,
    Premièrement merci pour tout l’information partagé avec nous, ça aide énormément. Moi aussi je penche vers le Transit pour les même raisons de fiabilité, coût et surtout le réseau. Même un petit garage au beau milieu de nul part peut travailler sur un Ford!

    Ma question: quels options devrais-je choisir à l’achat pour aider avec mon “build up”? Par exemple, un plus gros alternateur, 2e batterie, etc? Je ne veux pas de douche, toilette, etc dû au complication de gel et infiltration. Merci à l’avance!

    Reply
  5. This website is awesome. Obviously a labor of love.

    Have you ever regretted the extended version? I am concerned with the rear dragging the ground on ramps and hills. Maybe a silly question. I really want the extra 2.5 feet of space since the bed cannot go across the van for me (74 inches tall). Thanks for your comment.

    Reply
    • The extra length makes a huge difference inside, so we don’t regret it. In two years, it stopped us maybe 1-2 times because of ground clearance. We see our van as a small nimble RV; if you see your van as a big Jeep, then maybe the overhang will be an issue…

      Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Hi,

    Thank you for sharing and putting so much work into this site. It is an incredibly valuable resource. I am considering a van and want to use it (like you guys) for a lot of winter adventures. I can’t find a reasonably priced 4×4 sprinter and am considering an Ecoboost transit for all the reasons you have mentioned.

    What are your thoughts on shorter EB vs the LB you purchased for driving in the snow? Seems like they have the same 148 WB. Do you think the EB would perform worse in the snow with less weight over the rear axel given the body configuration?

    I am drawn to the 148 EB with the medium roof to be used as a daily driver and adventure van but hope to have OK performance on the snowy roads.

    Appreciate any thoughts you have, thanks!

    Andrew

    Reply
    • I think the shorter EB will perform as well in the snow, as long as:
      – you have significant weight in the back (the weight of the conversion is just fine);
      – Good snow tires (factory tires are NOT snow tires)
      – LSD (limited slip differential).

      I wouldn’t get the longer body just for snow performance.

      Cheers!

      Reply
  7. Awesome job on the website. Excellent info for anyone converting. You guys have a very inspiring story and I wish you safe travels throughout your wonderful experience.
    I have a 4 cyl.2.1 L Sprinter. 3 years 100,000 km and its been a joy so far. I probably have it 1/3 -1/2 loaded with a trial build, and it will do 28-31 mpg in summer, 24-26 mpg in winter. This is how I justified buying a Sprinter. I was hoping the lower fuel cost would offset maintenence costs, and so far it has . mind you only 100,000 km, and no equipment failure. You can’t get this efficient with a 6 cyl. so the 2.1 was the only option for me. 30-40 % fuel savings is something to seriously consider. 30,000 km oil changes and brakesets lasting 100,000km. The van build quality is outstanding in every aspect which makes the driving experience so enjoyable. Finding a dealership in a time of need could be the most challenging aspect of owning a Sprinter. I think all three van options(sprinter, transit, promaster) could have served me well. And to be honest most times I feel quite fortunate just to have a van to outfit. Probably the most exciting project Ive been a part of.
    Again, I wish you both all the best in your travels. Continue to inspire. You guys are really good at it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words and for the feedback on the Sprinter. I agree with you: in the end, the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster are all good options! You can’t go wrong with these.

      Have a good one 🙂

      Reply
  8. 1) Thanks for the detailed comprehensive information on this site!!

    2) I just sat down finally and fully built out a van on the ford website to get a ballpark price, I have an uncle at ford so I’d likely get it at dealer cost (X plan) and right now the vans have $1000 rebate listed online. I printed my build sheet and the rebate out and dropped it off at my local dealership (where I also bought a car in 2017) they seem stoked about the project when I explained what I want to do!

    Reply
  9. Regarding the promaster, there are several engines available. The standard engine is a 3.6 L V-6 (gas) with an automatic 6-speed transmission made by Dodge and used in many of their vehicles, and is apparently quite reliable. I have to say I love the front wheel drive 🙂 I do not think any of their engines these days is a Fiat, even the diesel.

    Reply
  10. Do you have any resources for the 4.10 gear ratio decision? Currently in design phase and planning to go with the EcoBoost and 3.31 ratio as it seems to be the consensus unless we’ll be towing. That said, 3.73 is another option – curious your input here.

    Reply
    • EcoBoost is an excellent choice if you don’t mind the higher price tag!
      For the High-roof, extended length with 3.7 engine, there is no decision to make as the 4.10 is the only option! 🙂

      Reply

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