Questions on what to look for when purchasing a full size van

Hello, I have been doing a lot of research the past few days and there is SO much awesome info on this site. However, there is so much to process and every new thread I read seems to lead to more questions than answers! So rather than continuing searching, I was hoping you guys would be kind enough to offer some insight.

To preface my questions, I am considering a Ford E150/250/350 or a Chevy Express/Savanah, OR maybe a Dodge Ram Van if the right deal pops up. AWD is a great addition since I wouldn't mind driving it in the snow so my car can stay in the garage; plus, I live close to Colorado and although it would only be 1 or 2 trips a year, I am sure there are situations where I will wish I had AWD. That said, if the right deal pops up, I will settle for a 2WD Econoline (correct me if I am wrong, but they don't come factory with any 4wd/awd?).

I have two basic questions:

1) What size is too big? I have considered everything from an Astro van (not sold on this being quite big enough for what I want), to one of the 15 passenger E350s. I don't really know how much the size will affect my MPG, but I would like to get at least 15mpg on the highway. Like I said, I don't know if that is unrealistic for a 15 passenger van (I wouldn't ever be hauling around that many people of course). If I could get close to 20mpg, that would be awesome. Also, I am worried that it will just be a pain in the *** getting around in one of the 15 passenger sized vans, not just parking but driving it on the highway etc. and dealing with bumps in the road.

2) Am I better off looking for a conversion van that is already a high-top, with 2 sets of captains chairs and then bench in the far back, or should I aim for the cargo van route and add chairs later?

To give you a better idea of what I am looking for: I want to be able to comfortably seat at least 4 adults while driving. Captains chairs for passengers in the back would be great, but aren't a must. I need at least one full size bed, but it would be awesome if I could fit another bed for guests. If I have to, I can look into a rooftop tent or an add-a-room for guests, down the line. For now, I would settle for just 1 full size for myself, my SO, and our 3 dogs. On the dogs... they kind of inhibit myself and my SO from sleeping in a RTT, as I can't imagine them getting up a ladder (they are big) and I don't want them sleeping in the cab alone, at least not until they are more adjusted to the situation. I think they may whine excessively or get into trouble if we aren't sleeping with them. As to the question of cargo van or something already with seats: well, I am somewhat handy but some things such as cutting out new windows are probably out of my realm of expertise. Also, I don't want to have to spend a lot adding seats for passengers. Plus, for now, I don't think I NEED stuff like a sink or a toilet, or maybe even a fridge. Those are things I would like to eventually add as it gets more use. So maybe a cargo van isn't for me?

Any and all insight is greatly appreciated, even if it's just directing me where to look! I didn't mention a budget because it's kind of fluid, but at the start I wouldn't be paying for anything expensive like a 4x4 conversion or adding a pop-up top... something like adding in a rooftop vent would probably be my soft limit when it comes to mods/additions to the vans. Any additions in the realm of kitchen/appliances would be a DIY job by myself. Sorry for the excessively long post, I wanted to be as clear as possible!
 

Bikersmurf

Expedition Leader
If standing up is important, then a pop top or high top is a major consideration... for a hard walled tent, your listed options work. I'm somewhat biased and love my Ambo. I can stand, but not straight since it's only 5'6". I can't imagine trying to live out of something 4' something high.

For size, I'd not hesitate to go bigger since mine is 21' long and it gets around very well. Sprinters are about the only thing that'd give you 20 mpg. 15 is pushing it for most gassers, but doable with most diesels. The cost to maintain newer diesels offsets the savings unless you're traveling a lot... with a 6.0 Ford, the costs can be deal breakers. I can get 17+ mpg in a 8500 lb + Ambo with a 7.3 Diesel. I've not had a good chance to really check out highway MPGs because I've not done any good highway runs that weren't mixed with town and farting around the campsite. Economy goes way up for sustained cruising and the gauge barely moves (not bad for a big brick with rounded corners).

It'll always be more cost effective to buy someone else's project than to build from scratch... so long as you can find what you want and aren't paying for a bunch of luxuries you don't care about... that said, I've got about 5k into a Diesel Ambo, and even if I paid for someone to finish what I want, it'd likely only cost me another 1k.
 
Thanks for the detailed post! I've been eyeing classifieds on various forums to find some vans that are already done. Given that I won't be financing this, my limit is around 8000 but that will go up the longer my search goes haha.

Unfortunately in my neck of the woods, everyone drives big Rvs or campers, no van campers except ones from the 70s. Would it be a bad idea to look in the Colorado area, due to underbody rust issues? I'm in Kansas so it's not like vehicles here are all rust free. There's a ton of really nice options in the Denver area though. I also wouldn't mind venturing down to Texas to pick one up, if it was something already mostly built.
 

Bbasso

Expedition Leader
Don't expect your first van to be the right one. It took me a few to find a suitable one.
 

Corneilius

Adventurer
Don't expect your first van to be the right one. It took me a few to find a suitable one.
Way to be a downer Bbasso

OP: Extended body (15 passenger) vans don't signifigantly effect gas milage, If you find one you like buy it, the extra space is worth it. If you need to seat more than 2 people then buy a passenger/conversion van. The cost to add seats/windows/seatbelts/trim to a cargo van is cost prohibitive.

Sounds like a passenger van with the rear most seats removed would be perfect for you. I would definitely chose a gas over a diesel for availability, noise, maintinence costs and overall ease of ownership.
 

dar395

Adventurer
Don't expect your first van to be the right one. It took me a few to find a suitable one.

Or Corneilius is it that Bbasso may be light years ahead of us in his searches and may have a fine bottle of wine as we still have nothing but domestic beer?
 
Way to be a downer Bbasso

OP: Extended body (15 passenger) vans don't signifigantly effect gas milage, If you find one you like buy it, the extra space is worth it. If you need to seat more than 2 people then buy a passenger/conversion van. The cost to add seats/windows/seatbelts/trim to a cargo van is cost prohibitive.

Sounds like a passenger van with the rear most seats removed would be perfect for you. I would definitely chose a gas over a diesel for availability, noise, maintinence costs and overall ease of ownership.
This answers a lot of my questions, thanks! I have never owned or worked on a diesel so I never really considered them... Plus I don't think I've seen any diesels coming up in my searches anyway.

BTW, does anyone have some good keywords to search for on Craigslist to find vans already built up? I've been using words like "awning" and "sink" which seems to work well.
 

EWizard

New member
I was about to create a thread very similar to this one!
I am pretty sure I've figured out mostly what I want. 15 passenger (extended body) E-350.
It also seems like the wheelchair vans come with a high roof already most of the time. You would just have to remove the lift and sell it off.
Not sure how difficult that would be.

Is it worth it to look for the V10?
Does the 5.4L V8 not have enough power?

There are way more V8's for sale than V10's.
 

boardrider247

Weekend warrior anarchist
Again a biased answer but to me it sounds like a high top GM conversion van would get you started in the right direction.
My stock AWD GMC with a 5.3L was getting 17mpg hi way average before I added the bigger tires.
Depending on how tall you are you may be able to stand in a standard high top conversion van, it will already have four captains chairs and most likely a rear bench that converts to a bed. So a lot of your boxes are already ticked.
Downsides to a conversion are the obvious questionable paint schemes and crappy running boards. Both a relatively easy to deal with.

My wife and I decided early on that we didn't want a bunch of Windows or seating for more then two so we never did look much at conversion vans. But now looking back I can see the beauty of starting with one rather then a cargo like we did.

Cheers!
Danny
 
I was about to create a thread very similar to this one!
I am pretty sure I've figured out mostly what I want. 15 passenger (extended body) E-350.
It also seems like the wheelchair vans come with a high roof already most of the time. You would just have to remove the lift and sell it off.
Not sure how difficult that would be.

Is it worth it to look for the V10?
Does the 5.4L V8 not have enough power?

There are way more V8's for sale than V10's.
The best deals I've seen so far have been on the wheelchair lift vans. Wonder how much of a pain it is to remove them, and I wonder how much the lift would sell for?
 
I used to work valet and always had an up close look at wheelchair lifts. Wish I had paid more attention! But I am pretty sure it is nothing too difficult to remove beyond a few bolts. Some of the wiring may even be repurposed?
 

Corneilius

Adventurer
I would avoid wheelchair vans at all costs. There is often NO resale market because insurance companies won't pay for an upfit with used parts and installers won't want to deal with unknown lifts. In addition some wheelchair vans have body lifts (!!) and drop floors installed, side doors and floor modified irreversibly and other permanent modifications. Unless I was using a rear lift to load a motorcycle inside I would stay away.

Edit: the 5.4 v8 has plenty of power, the v10 has more, but at the expense of gasoline
 

Corneilius

Adventurer
Or Corneilius is it that Bbasso may be light years ahead of us in his searches and may have a fine bottle of wine as we still have nothing but domestic beer?
Im personally familiar with Bbassos van, I would stop short of calling it fine wine.:bike_rider: lol just poking fun
 

EWizard

New member
I would avoid wheelchair vans at all costs. There is often NO resale market because insurance companies won't pay for an upfit with used parts and installers won't want to deal with unknown lifts. In addition some wheelchair vans have body lifts (!!) and drop floors installed, side doors and floor modified irreversibly and other permanent modifications. Unless I was using a rear lift to load a motorcycle inside I would stay away.

Edit: the 5.4 v8 has plenty of power, the v10 has more, but at the expense of gasoline

Good to know.
And regarding the power, I'm used to dealing with old VW's (currently have a 1966 bus) so anything is going to be more powerful than that!
 

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