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!

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

  1. 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.

    Reply
  2. 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.

    David

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. 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.

    V/R
    Dave

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  6. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Cheers!

      Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 fordtransitusaforum.com would help!!

      Cheers!

      Reply
  8. 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?

    Reply
    • 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: http://amzn.to/2uTFc29).
      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!

      Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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?

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
    • 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…

      Reply
  11. 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! 🙂

    Reply
  12. “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.

    Reply
  13. 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

    Reply
    • 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…

      Cheers!

      Reply
  14. 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.

    Reply
    • 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 🙂

      Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  15. 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…

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
  16. 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 Traipsingabout.com on van size, but always value another perspective.

    Reply
    • 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!
      Cheers!

      Reply
    • 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?

      Reply

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