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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

    • 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!

  4. 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!


    • 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.


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