Van Selection

Van Selection

Van Selection


  • 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…)



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

Starting At: 45 000$ USD (170WB, High-Roof, 9990lbs GVWR, V6 Engine)


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)

Starting At: 35 000$ USD (159WB, High-Roof, 8900lbs GVWR, 3.6L Engine)


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)

Starting At: 39 000$ USD (148WB, High-Roof, Extended-Length, 9000lbs GVWR, 3.7L Engine)


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:







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)



First month on the road review: 

(The following text is extracted from

After speaking with some Sprinter folks, we’re relief we went for the Transit as we don’t expect major maintenance costs. Now that we’re fully loaded (see our Weight Report) and that we reached the west side, we’re definitely not getting KOM on the climbs with our 3.7L engine, but it still does the job. It helps a lot to use the SelectShift (manual shifting) because we find that the programming waits too long before downshifting to a lower gear while going up a hill (with cruise control turned on); by the time the Transit “decide” to downshift, we already lost too much speed and it has to downshift 2 gears instead of one. We’re still happy with our 3.7L, but we might hesitate for the Ecoboost option if we had to start over again…

We’re doing 20 MPG when crossing the prairies (no hills AT ALL, going at 62 MPH), then about 16-17 MPG in the mountains (again we never exceed 62 MPH, because we’re not in a hurry…), which is somewhat disappointing. But then, we have nothing in our favor –> High weight, High-Roof, All-Terrain tires, 4.10 transmission ratio.


Our Ford Transit Maintenance and Repair Cost

We keep a log book of our maintenance and repair cost here:




Check out our Build Journal, learn everything about The Van, read our VanLife Guides, or if you’re new to this start by reading Our Story.




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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!


54 thoughts on “Van Selection”

  1. 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.

    • 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 🙂

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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! 🙂

  5. I diligently did my research on all three vans: Sprinter, Transit and ProMaster; test drove all of them and hands down the Transit came out on top so you guys definitely picked the right one. Thanks for putting together such a professional website. I’ll be referencing it while building my mini-house on wheels. And as an artist, I appreciate the quality of your photographs. Cheers. PS. I haven’t got my van yet (most likely sometime in June) but I’ve just ordered vinyl lettering for the back of my van that reads “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key” The Eagles.

  6. Just my 2cents worth. I am an expeditor and drive in excess of 100k miles per year. I have a Mercedes sprinter 2500 that has the 5 cylinder turbo diesel. I get about 24 miles to the gallon when I’m empty and 20-22 with a load. It’s not unusual for my loads to reach 4000lbs. The turbo diesel is fast, economic, and has no problem pulling a load up a mountain. With all that said, my new van (which I get February 1st) is a Ford Transit 250. It is 173 inches from back of seats to the rear doors.This one has a 6 cylinder turbo diesel. I have a number of expeditor friends that have these and I have been told they are getting 30+ miles to the gallon WITH a load. Also… I do live in my van. I am telling you this because my sprinter has cost me a small fortune in repairs. When it breaks down on the road it is painfully expensive. So Ford it is. Just my thoughts. GL all on your adventures. If you see a big Ford Transit with an Ole Miss sticker on the back…say hello.


  7. I just started reading your posting today because I am interested in purchasing a Ford Transit and living out of it as I travel around the U.S. So I still have a lot of reading to do on your website. Thank you for taking the time to provide all of us who are interested in doing what you are doing with honest, accurate, non-biased, information.

  8. Antoine,

    First of all I want to thank you for posting all your detail information about your Ford Transit. Greatly appreciated! When you were building up your Ford transit, I was wondering what were your reason(s )for rejecting the Ford Diesel engine as an option? thank you.


    • One of our main requirement was simple mechanic, if we ever want to drive to Patagonia or something… Diesel engines are super reliables, it’s their anti-pollution system that are problematic. Before this trip, I had a diesel Jetta which I really really liked; great power, great mileage. The only repair had to do with the anti-pollution/exhaust.

      I think it’s a personal choice; all the engine options are good!

  9. Hey,
    Great site and info. Keep it up… thanks
    With the high roof and extended long body do you find stability an issue? Driving in cross winds ect….
    Would duelly in rear offer more stability/ road safety?
    I struggle a bit with motion… rockin van van ect. Would duellies reduce this while parked? Just looking for you thoughts on rear single wheels with high roof and extended body.

    • We have no problem with motion, either in cross wind or parked. Of course the Transit has more wind effect than a small car, but it’s not been an issue for us.
      I doubt the dually will help in this department, you might want to look at the 350 instead of the 250 (stiffer springs maybe?).
      Good luck

  10. Hey!

    I’m going through the process of researching and purchasing a Transit at the moment for similar reasons, I considered the vans you did (&NV2500) and I came to similar conclusions.

    You might consider posting the price ranges of each van as I’m sure this is a large consideration for many people arriving at this page.

    Also, have you guys looked at the Paseo? It’s the Transit-based Winnebego, really nice but waaaay too much money (~130k$). Still, I love it as a design reference. Next to yours, it’s one of my favorites.

    • Thanks for your input, we will add the price range!

      Just looked at the Paseo. It’s next level to ours, I must say haha! The details are incredible, except there is no room for mountain bikes so it’s a no-go 🙂


  11. Hello Antoine.

    We are in the research stage before heading down a similar path with a Transit and live in the Foothills of the Rockies.

    Do you think the dually would be better or worse for winter traction?

    We would be using the BFG tires that seem to be becoming the standard tire for Transit and Sprinter conversions.

    • I’m no expert, but I don’t think a dually is better in snow; winter tires are actually generally a bit narrower. The dually is better for heavy load. Sorry I’m not much help; i’m sure folks on the would help!!


  12. Hi, great website. We’re also considering going a van and are currently going through the same cost “issues” as you did. Great to hear talking to a dealer can get your a great discount.

    Back on the 4wd though. We’re in the Canadian Rockies and I’ve been stuck getting out of a campsite carpark in the winter with a 2wd people mover before after some overnight snowfall. Couldn’t get it up the small incline onto the hyw. Now that you’ve used it a bit, any of those sort of concerns?

    • We haven’t use the Transit extensively in the snow so far, since we were in conversion-mode. The poor traction is a concern, but the 4×4 was just out of our price range. Since we bought the van new, we ordered the LSD (Limited Slip Differential) so when a rear wheel is spinning, some power is transferred to the other wheel as well. It’s no 4×4, but it helps a lot.

      That being said, we spent two week in the Chic-Chocs chasing the snow and the Transit got us where we wanted. Just don’t expect it to be an offroad machine. We found that a layer of medium-packed snow over a layer of ice is the worst; and if you are trying to take off on a small incline (like you mentioned), you won’t go anywhere (once you’ve got some speed it’s fine). On paved roads, we had no issue at all (but we don’t live in the Rockies!).

      It will be up to us to manage the traction “issue” by:

      1- Carrying snow-chains in the van (we have the Konig chains, formely designed by Thule:
      2- If possible, choosing a parking spot that is slightly descending (so if it snows overnight, it will be easier to take off in the morning).

      We’ll see how it goes!

  13. Sprinter,ProMaster, Transit….Having owned Mercedes since 1985, of course it was going to be a Sprinter. Thankfully, I spoke to a gentleman that had 43 of them, with a courier service and 40 out of 43 had exhaust (endless $$$ spent in the Mercedes shop, without a fix in sight)problems. 125,000 miles was the magic number when problems started. He traded them in over 18 months and got have ProMasters and half Transits. The transits ended up having the fewest problems. That is the reason I just ordered the High Roof, extended Transit. That for a dyed in the wool Mercedes car owner over the past 30 years.

  14. 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?

    • 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!

    • 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…

  15. 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! 🙂

  16. “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.

  17. 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

    • 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…


  18. 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.

    • 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 🙂

    • 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!

  19. 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…

    • 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!

  20. 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 on van size, but always value another perspective.

    • 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!

    • 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?

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