Choosing a Van: Transit VS Sprinter VS Promaster VS NV

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)

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 250 Medium Roof Side View
Ford Transit Van Medium Rear View

1.2- Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

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

1.3- Exterior Dimensions

Ford-Transit-Van-Lengths-and-Heights-Variants-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: 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:

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!

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

Ford-logo-2003-1366x768
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

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the MBvans.com "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: repairpal.com)

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

Mercedes-Logo

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

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the RamTrucks.com "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: 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 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.

————————- 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

4.2- Build & Price

Style

Length

Height

Engines

Drivetrain

Use the NissanUSA.com "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: 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 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-Heading
Van tour, 3D Model, Cost & Labor, Build Journal, Weight, etc.

That's it folks, hope that helps!

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NICE TO MEET YOU.

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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!

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

Heads up! As of Fall 2021, we are currently visiting our families back home and we might not be able to answer all comments due to time constrain. Thanks for understanding and see you on the road! -Isabelle and Antoine

  1. When your Van stepladder goes missing, you can hang out a sign:
    “Whoever took the stepladder, please return it – or further steps will be taken.”

    Reply
  2. Sounds like if you need any kind of offroad, the Promaster is a non-starter. But if you don’t need offroad and want something for cheap urban and suburban stealth living, then it seems to have the best internal dimensions with the highest width and squarish dimensions.

    Reply
  3. We had a 2015 Transit extended, High roof, ecoboost engine and loved it, especially the handling and power. In 2020 we decided to replace it with a new Transit, but could not find one with an EcoBoost engine which was non-negotiable for us. We drove a Promaster, it was a brand new leftover and the price was so low we couldn’t turn it down. Being mtn bikers and kiters, we have a lot of gear in our garage space. The Promaster (extended, high roof) fits our space needs OK but my husband HATES driving it. It seems to shift all the time and for no reason. It even drops down to a lower gear and holds the van back when going downhill. I got so tired of hearing him complain, we’re going back to the Transit. This is our LAST build out. At least now we know what we like and don’t like

    Reply
  4. Hi to you both,
    I just ordered a single rear wheels AWD Transit last december. My choice of a SRW over a double was based on a claim that some people make about the DRW tendency to float on the snow.
    One advantage of the DRW that I ignored until yesterday is that the cargo width is 74 inches instead of 68.5 making it possible to lay the bed widthwise provinding 20 supplementary inches for the living space. Another advantage is the GVWR that can therefore increase from 9500 lbs to 10300 providing room for heavier accessories etc.

    Have you guys heard of complaints regarding double rear wheels vans when driving in the snow, especially with AWD??

    Reply
  5. Have a Promaster 195″ tall. For a year now, no problem what so ever. Am I lucky?
    BTW, there are Promaster before 2016 with 3.0 diesel engine and automatic-manual transmission. That one gets 23-25MPG, where mine gets 19-20(combined). I am at 17.8MPG now from running lately a lot of short trip in city. How much does your RWD gets? Besides, I never heard anybody loosing traction in a Promaster. For off-road yes, RWD is a must.

    Reply
  6. I have owned transits, pro master and express. They all have pros and cons. Agreed the pro master had a harder time making it up my snow covered drive in Vermont than rear wheel drive. Sometimes was worthless .. but I loved the seats , easy access to rear and short turning radius. Transits just offered the awd but the price starts in the 50 -60k range plus and they raised prices across the board. Love the eco boost engine too and gas mileage but tow capacity was horrible! 3900 pound tow on a 350 extended hd drw. Not much better than a minivan. Would buy another but hard finding one equipped how I want gently used at a good price. Express has the tow power at 9900 pounds, and. reliability but I just need the extra headroom. It would be great if the had an awd option again! The older awd model was a beast in the snow.

    Reply
  7. How about Chevy/GMC Express/Savana? I see a lot of those converted into vans. Seems like a good reliable vehicle and not as complicated to repair as some of the “modern” offerings mentioned here. It doesn’t have the high roof though, but to me that’s an advantage when talking about off road and hard to reach destinations.

    Reply
    • YES! I am evaluating which van to buy to replace my 1999 GMC Savana 3500 Extended body that has a Quigley 4WD conversion. Doing tons of research and comparing. Need reasonable towing ability. /// A $72K Sprinter 4×4 3500XD with a $3K FrontRunner full roof rack and ladder is on the list but for $41K I get another GM 3500 Ext and I already have full rack on the 1999 that will transfer. Quigley will 4×4 convert used GM up to 60,000 miles for $13K so I can start with RWD and think about it and save my dollars for 50,000+ miles before going AWD. //// GM is cheaper to work on and easier to get service in the hinterlands and most any shade tree mechanic can handle it.

      Reply
  8. I think a Promaster makes the best van for camper conversion, you can mount the bed widthwise (freeing up a lot of space) and the lower floor makes the van really easy to step in and out of (no steps needed). We have the model with the lower roof, if you are under 5ft 9″ you can walk inside (bend your head a little, or slouch) and I can fit in a dozen or so underground parking lots downtown Vancouver even with the Solar and the Fantastic Fan on the roof! All other vans the low roof’s have very low height inside! Low roof’s are at great advantage when driving in wind. Every driven past the wind turbines near Palm Springs in a windstorm with a high roof? We have gone camping on logging roads many times and never been stuck. Have driven 15 hours North in January twice with snow covered roads and poor conditions, FWD has been excellent

    Reply
    • I live 5 miles from the turbines. It’s summer 6 months out of the year. I don’t see ACs installed for the rear. Ice box won’t be ok either.

      Reply
  9. What an awesome and informative page. I want to let you know that there appears to be an error in the Transit dimensions shown in the linked diagrams. For instance, the length of the cargo area in the 130″ Transit is 104″ while the diagram shows 126″ (the cargo length for the 148″ wheelbase is also wrong). The source of these diagrams at adriansteel.com appears to have updated this to the correct dimension but I’m guessing you embedded the images when they had this error. Regardless of this error thanks for the great info.

    Reply
  10. great site! Tons of information with a minimalist design and intuitive layout. Love it!
    I wanted to point out that the images you’ve pasted from Adrian Steel show different dimensions than the ones viewable on the Adrian Steel page.
    Maybe Adrian Steel updated the dimensions? Neither this site of Adrian Steel note which model year the dimensions refer to.
    The changes are significant though. For a Transit 148 High Roof the images hosted here say the interior is 144″ long and 81″ tall. Adrian Steel site uses images that say 121″long and 74″ tall.

    Reply
  11. FYI
    Here’s what is listed on the Ford site for the 2020 models. The last two are the Long and Extended.
    Cargo Length Front (at Floor) 126.0 126.0 143.7 143.7 143.7 172.2
    Cargo Length Front (Belt) 115.9 115.9 133.6 133.6 133.6 162.0

    Reply
  12. Greetings,

    Excellent website!

    I’m getting ready to buy a Transit soon.

    You give interior dimensions on the page that are greater than Sportsmobile.com. They provide dimensions and a template for sketching up layouts. For the Transit Extended Length, they show the length of the usable space for the conversion as 154+7(the narrower back area)=161″. You seem to list the same dimension as 172″. The same goes for the Long 124+7=131/144. I should probably go to the Ford dealership with a tape measure, but I thought I would alert you to the discrepancy and see what you have to say.

    Thanks,

    Dave

    Reply
  13. THANKYOU, thank you, thank you!!! for all that you do to make a wealth of info available. I have learned SO much from your site, and have recommended it to many people who are thinking about a life on the road. I recently picked up a 2015 Ford Transit 350 XLT HD Diesel, and am just starting my tear down and build up. My Driver side low beam is out and I have scoured the Internet to learn where it’s located. Nothing. I’m wondering if you know, and if it’s one of those flush mount fuses, how the hell and with what tool do you guys remove them when you need to? Appreciate You!

    Reply
  14. I really wish you gave more info about the Nissan NV’s. I’m seriously looking into a van and so far have settled on them as they’re the best bang for the buck and the only downside/upside I see is the length of the front. It makes it longer than vans with equivalently sized cargo areas but makes it easier to do repairs.

    Reply
  15. Hi! Looking for a camper van for 2 adults and 2 kids which would require 2 passenger seats in the back. Looks to me like all options above are for 2 seats only. Any info on 4 seats?

    Reply
    • Both the transit and the sprinter offer a passenger van model. I don’t know about the others. Maybe look into that and then take out the seats you don’t need for the build. Several class B RV manufacturers have a back bench seat with seatbelts that folds flat to make the bed, so it’s possible. And not long ago I saw b web site about a family of 5 that travels in their van during ski season, but I don’t recall the web site.

      Reply
  16. This site is a gem! I am new to van life and would like more information on how you organize your garage. The bike drawers are awesome but how did you make everything so accessible in your van, especially in the garage?

    Reply
  17. I’m not sure how you accomplished that unless you made everything of tungsten (my whole fullsize van only weighs 4600lb unladen!), but I’m sorry for my hasty criticism. Thanks for all the information on your site! I still hate my RWD, though :p

    Reply
  18. Your diagram “proving” the disadvantage of FWD does not reflect the “actual weight on axles”. It shows the RATED weight on axles, i.e. the maximum with every allowable ounce of cargo (roughly 4000lb). Did your conversion add the equivalent of a Chrysler 300?! Mine sure won’t. The heaviest load I ever moved netted 2260lb, completely filling a 2002 Ram Van with a mill and table saw, furniture, etc.

    Most of the rated front axle load (engine, support systems, transmission, driver, passenger) is normally onboard, while a fraction of the maximum fills the sheetmetal box over the back. The old RWD Ram requires attentive driving to prevent spinning its wheels everywhere, including the moderate hump into my driveway. RWD was a reasonable compromise prior to solving the engineering problem of steering and driving the same axles. It may have some advantages for drag racing, etc., but not for off-road or bad-weather traction.

    Reply
  19. 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
  20. 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

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