Why we chose the Ford Transit for Vanlife

Stoke Loaf Van

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Why we chose the Ford Transit for vanlifestokeloafvan

The pivotal question that is at the start of everyone’s van life dream is which van is the right van for me? Each person’s, couple’s, or families’ situation and needs are going to be unique, therefore, preferences are going to vary widely. There are many vehicles that can be converted into a tiny home on wheels like vans. school buses, box trucks, and step trucks. For this post, we are only going to be focusing on the van category and the top 3 most common makes/models: the Ford Transit, the Dodge/Ram Promaster, and the Mercedes Sprinter.

We’ve broken down the decision into 5 different criteria:

  1. Vehicle Size
  2. Purchase Price
  3. Drive wheels (FWD, RWD, or AWD)
  4. Vehicle Maintenance
  5. Fuel Economy
  6. Power

1. VEHICLE SIZE

There are several different things to consider when selecting the vehicle size:

  • How many people and animals will be living in the van?
  • How tall are the people living in the van?
  • What Layout are you planning to use?
  • Will you be spending more time in city spaces or on forest land?

The two main components to vehicle size are the interior height and the length. The common way vehicle length is measured is in Wheel Base (or WB for short). The wheel base is the distance between the front a rear axles. Since most people will desire to be able to stand up in their vans, we have dwindled down the search to highlight the models with tall roofs. Below is a detailed list of the 3 vans models and their WB and exterior length.

  • Ford Transit
    • 148 WB, High Roof (Usable inside space LxWxH) (131”x69”x77”)
      • Exterior Length 19’8”
    • 148 WB, High Roof Extended Length (161”x69”x77”)
      • Exterior Length 22’2”
  • Ram Promaster
    • 159 WB, High Roof (132”x73”x74”)
      • Exterior length 19’8”
    • 159 WB, High Roof Extended Length (146”x73”x74”)
      • Exterior length 20’10”
  • Mercedes Sprinter
    • 144 WB High Roof (128”x69”x75”)
      • Exterior length 19’4”
    • 170 WB High Roof (170”x69”x75”)
      • Exterior length 22’9”
    • 170 WB High Roof Extended (185”x69”x75”)
      • Exterior length 24’

2019 Ford Transit Dimensions

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2019 Ford Transit DimensionsSportmobile

2019 Dodge/RAM Promaster Dimensions

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2019 Ram Promaster DimensionsSportmobile

2019 Mercedes Sprinter Dimensions

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2019 Sprinter DimensionsSportmobile

For our situation, we knew we wanted a full bathroom since we would be using the van as our full time home for at least a year. This eliminated the shortest WB models of the Ford, Dodge, and Sprinter for us. Among the longer WB options we needed to decide if any of the models would bt too long. We used standard parking spots to consider what might be “too long”. A Standard US DOT Parking spot is 19’ long and parallel parking spots are 20-24’ long. This means that vans that are in the 20’-22’ range can squeeze into most parking spaces without too much trouble and while still being easy enough to maneuver. Considering the parking space limitations, we decided to also eliminate the 170WB Extended Sprinter from our list. This left us with 3 options to search the market for; the Ford Transit 148 WB Extended Length, Dodge Promaster 159WB Extended length, and Mercedes Sprinter 170WB.

2. PURCHASE PRICE

With any big purchase, always go into it with a budget in mind. Have your ideal price and your max price and try to stick to it. Be patient because it may take a while and the right time of the year for the van that meets your needs and your budget to hit the market! It took us 6 months of searching daily to find ours.

In order of cost:

  • $$$ Mercedes Sprinters will be the most expensive (new or used)
  • $$ Ford Transits seem to be the middle of the market as far as pricing goes (new or used).
    • They have only been in the US since 2015 so there are fewer of them on the market.
    • Used as Amazon delivery vehicles so they tend to get bought up around the holiday season and put back on the market in early spring
  • $ Dodge/Ram Promasters appear to be the cheapest van (in this van grouping).
    • Also used as Amazon delivery vehicles so they tend to get bought up around the holiday season and put back on the market in early spring

3. DRIVE WHEELS

Vehicles come in three different drive options, Front Wheel Drive (FWD), Rear Wheel Drive (RWD), All Wheel Drive (AWD), and Four Wheel Drive (4WD). Each one can have its advantages in different situations.

  • FWD is great for handling. It is the drive used in most cars since a large majority of the weight (the engine) is over the front Axle. This is also probably the drive you are most used to. In a van build though, the majority of you’re vehicle weight will be in the rear.
    • As you drive up hill the weight of your vehicle will shift to the rear of the vehicle and leave the front axle under less load, causing the front wheels to spin.
  • RWD can be squirrely if you don’t have weight over the rear axle (ex. driving an empty truck), but with a van build you will have plenty of weight over the rear axle to keep the wheels from just spinning.
    • As you drive up a hill the vehicle weight will shift to the rear of vehicle putting more weight on the rear axle, creating better traction
  • AWD is sort of like Automatic Four wheel drive. It is primarily one drive (rear or front) and will activate the other axle to be the drive if the conditions change. AWD/4WD or Chains is needed for canyons or mountain passes in the winter
  • 4WD is basically the same as AWD, except that you are in control of putting it into 4WD. It will work as an RWD vehicle until you activate the 4WD. AWD/4WD or Chains is needed for canyons or mountain passes in the winter

Most models of vans come in one or two drive options. Pricing will be similar between FWD and RWD but there will be an increase in price for AWD or 4WD.

  • Ford Transit
    • 2015-2019 available in RWD
    • 2020+ available in RWD and AWD
  • Dodge/Ram Promaster
    • Available in FWD
  • Mercedes Sprinter
    • Available in RWD or 4WD
    • The sprinter is the only van model that comes with 4WD.

We chose to pursue a vehicle with RWD because we do plan on spending more of our summertime on forest roads and winter in the mountains and snowy locations. Both of these situations are best handled when the weight on the drive tires. This RWD choice removed the Promaster from our search.

It is also good to note that if you plan to service/work on your vehicle yourself, FWD vehicles are harder to work on because all of the components are located in the front engine compartments of the vehicle, the engine is orientated sideways taking up a bit more room and because the drive wheels are right under the engine. This does not leave a lot of room to work on the individual components. Whereas, without getting too technical, in a RWD vehicle the engine compartment has a bit more room because of the engine orientation (front to back) and the drive components being at the rear axle.

4.) VEHICLE MAINTENANCE

When considering which van to buy is it very important to think about the money you are going to have to (or potentially have to) put into your vehicle to keep it running smoothly. The purchase price is just the first batch of money you will put into the vehicle, then the cost of conversion, and then the cost to keep it running smoothly.

  • Ford Transit
    • The transit is a domestic vehicle so parts will be cheaper than imports.
    • Parts should be more readily available because the transit shares alot of parts with the F250 trucks, and there are alot of those on the road.
    • There are about 3000 Ford dealerships in the US and basically any dealer should be able to work on the transit. The limiting factor would be if they don’t have the ceiling space to lift the high roof van to work underneath it.
      • And there are definitely plenty of non-Ford associated repair shops that could work on these as well.
  • Dodge/Ram Promaster
    • The Promaster is a domestic vehicle so parts will be cheaper than imports.
    • Parts should be more readily available because it shares parts with the other Chrysler/Dodge/Ram vehicles.
    • Parts should be more readily available because the transit shares alot of parts with the F250 trucks, and there are a lot of those on the road.
  • Mercedes Sprinter
    • This vehicle is technically an import, so the cost of parts are going to be substantially higher than domestic vehicle parts.
      • Also, because it is an import, the parts you need may not always be in stock at the shop. You may have to wait a day or a week for that part to come in, which could cost you extra money because you will have to find somewhere to stay during that time.
    • When people buy these vans they like to see the Mercedes Certified Service Schedule. If you want to keep up with this you will have to visit the Dealer to get service done every X miles to stay on schedule.
    • There are approximately 350 Mercedes dealerships in the US and not all dealers are able or certified to work on the Sprinter Vans. So if your van breaks down or you need a service keep in mind where the closest dealer is.
      • This is not to say there are no local shops that are willing to work on Sprinters! They just might be harder to find.

We have heard the tale that Sprinters are bulletproof because of their diesel engine, but most people we know or follow have had stories of engine or transmission failure (just like any vehicle). Those are pretty expensive repairs and because of parts availability (mentioned above), you may have to wait days or weeks for your Sprinter to be completely fixed. Since your van is going to be your home so you will want it fixed as quickly as possible! Otherwise, on top of the repair cost, you will also be paying for an AirBnB for a few nights while the van gets worked on.

This is not to say Ford’s or Dodge’s do not break, because they will. However, due to their Domestic part availability and dealership availability repairs should be less costly and quicker to fix.

5.) FUEL ECONOMY

The fuel economy of your van is going to be important because gas money is going to become one of your monthly bills! The mileages listed here are just for the base van. The mileage will decrease once you add in the weight of your build.

Which is better, Gas or Diesel? Gas is usually cheaper than Diesel and can be found at every gas station. Most gas stations have diesel, but not all. If you plan to overland the Panamerican highway, it may be hare to find low-sulfur Diesel fuel (which the sprinter runs on) in Central and South America.

  • Ford Transit
    • Primarily have gas engines.
    • There are a few models, the 3500 dually, that run on diesel.
    • The Gas engine gets 16mpg combined city/highway.
  • Dodge/RAM Promaster
    • Has a gas engine
    • 16mpg combined city/highway.
  • Mercedes Sprinter
    • Has a Diesel engine
    • 17mpg combined city/highway,

All vans get generally the same MPG, so fuel efficiency was not a huge factor in our decision. Once our van was built out and fully loaded with the build and our belongings, it got around 13-14mpg. The added weight decreases our MPG by about 2.

6.) POWER

  • Ford Transit
    • The transit comes stock with a 3.5L engine with 275hp and 260ft-lb torque.
    • The largest engine is 3.5L Ecoboost (Twin Turbo) 310hp and 410 ft-lbs torque.
  • Dodge/RAM Promaster
    • The most common Promaster engine with 280hp and 260ft-lb torque.
  • Mercedes Sprinter
    • The largest engine currently available is 3.0L Turbo Diesel 188hp and 325 ft-lbs torque.

The Ford Transit Ecoboost engine makes 40% more power and 20% torque than the largest Mercedes Sprinter engine. This power increase makes a big difference when considering the added weight of the van build. Typically most builds put the vehicle close to its weight limit so any extra power increase you can get will be very helpful! If you plan on driving up steep hills or mountain passes the increased power is also something to considered.

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Stokeloafvan Ford Transit Grillstokeloafvan

WHY WE CHOSE THE TRANSIT

We ended up with the transit for a few main reasons:

  • It had the ecoboost option for more power.
  • It had RWD, which we prefer for driving in the mountains.
  • It had the tallest roof on the market so we could stand comfortably.
  • It was long enough to fit all of the elements of our van layout
  • The cost of maintenance and the availability of dealers to do the work.
  • Market availability when we were looking to purchase.
  • Initial cost (although cheaper would be been good too).

This list is obviously not all inclusive but hopefully it is a helpful start as you begin your van life journey with the very important decision of, which van!

For more vanlife related info check out our website Stokeloafvan

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We are KJ & James. We have been traveling around the US and Canada for the last 2+ years in our self converted camper van. On our blog, we share articles about Van Lifestyle, Van Build tutorials, and troubleshooting!

Salt Lake City, UT
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