Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

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

1.1- 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

1.2- Build & Price






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

1.3- Exterior Dimensions


1.4- 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:

1.5- Repair & Maintenance

$866 USD Annual Repair Cost (source:

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:

1.6- 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 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 would happen if we wanted to travel to Alaska or South America? Heck, even in the USA, there are no dealers outside 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), whereas the Sprinter felt like driving a full-size cargo van.

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 spending 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)

1.7- 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

Feel free to try any configuration and see the effect on the price...

2- Mercedes Sprinter

2.1- 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

2.2- Build & Price






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

2.3- Exterior Dimensions

2.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions

Standard Length (144WB),
Low Roof:

Long Length (170WB),
High Roof:

Extended Length (170WB), High Roof:

2.5- Repair & Maintenance

$1,778 USD Annual Repair Cost (source:

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

Vans are 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.

2.6- Our Opinion

What We Like

What We Don't Like

High initial cost, reliability issues, and massive maintenance/repair cost… For some reason, 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 amounts of money trying to keep their Sprinter alive.

No thanks, we’ll pass.

2.7- Resources

Build & Price Your Own Mercedes Sprinter


Modifications & OEM Guidelines

Online Communities

3- Ram ProMaster

3.1- Overview

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

3.2- Build & Price






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

3.3- Exterior Dimensions

3.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions

136" Wheelbase,
Low Roof:

136" Wheelbase,
High Roof:

159" Wheelbase,
High Roof:

159" Wheelbase Extended,
High Roof:

3.5- Repair & Maintenance

$859 USD Annual Repair Cost (source:

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 section below!

3.6- 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!

3.7- 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 as he did in 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.

3.8- Resources

Build & Price Your Own Ram ProMaster

Modifications & OEM Guidelines

4- Nissan NV

4.1- Our Opinion

While we should stay objective and look at the specifications and be rational in making a decision, we just can’t handle how this thing looks. 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

4.2- Build & Price






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

4.3- Exterior Dimensions

Nissan NV Cargo Van Exterior Dimensions

4.4- Interior Cargo Dimensions

Nissan NV Low Roof:

Nissan NV High Roof:

4.5- Repair & Maintenance

$657 USD Annual Repair Cost (source:

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 owned 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 totaled our van tomorrow, we would buy another Transit in a split second without any hesitation.

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!


About us



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!

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

Heads up! As of summer 2021, we are currently travelling to Yukon (and hopefully Alaska) and have very limited access to Internet. As a result, we might not be able to answer all comments. Thanks for understanding and see you on the road! -Isabelle and Antoine

  1. Thank you!! I’m 62 years old and trying to figure out which vehicle to buy for My Floor sanding and installation business that I will be doing part time and traveling as well. Your opinions on each vehicle has helped me so much thanks again

  2. hi! will you consider building a medium or high roof transit with a pop top? most of the transit with pop tops I see in youtube are low roof. thank you!

  3. Just a note about the early Sprinters. They were all built by Dodge, and are pretty much identical. They were badged as Freightliner, Dodge, or Mercedes because Mercedes owned all three. When Mercedes bailed on Chrysler, the Freightliner and Mercedes Sprinters stopped.

    Also I noticed that Freightliner Apparently has cargo Sprinters as I saw current models on the Portland Oregon Freightliner dealer website. Mercedes still owns Freightliner.

  4. This is great! Thank you!

    One question (and it’s a bit involved) but if you were to order a new Transit today, what would you build? There are so many accessories that it’s a bit overwhelming.

    Hope you can help.


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