[note:  I chose the Promaster.  I am leaving this page up in case it helps others. It has not been cleaned up after exporting from Wordpress so expect formatting weirdness. ]

This is the main problem I am wrestling with now.  The financial stuff is on track, my plan is in place but so many things hang on the choice of platform.

My requirements in order of importance:

  1. able to run off grid with solar and propane - dry camping/boondocking.  Need huge room for big PV (solar panel) install.

  2. 1996+ due to presence of OBDii.

  3. FI due to snowbirding altitude changes and MPG advantages

  4. able to lie down at 6’, preferably not at a diagonal

  5. be able to stand up at 6’ in at least one location

  6. location for composting/dessicating toilet


Would like to have:

  • fiberglass roof (for trailers and class C)

  • cabover bed

  • hot water.  Dump load or solar heating would be a nice plus!

  • maneuverability - drive easily and park normally

  • stove with vent hood

  • pre-existing hookups and vents

  • receiver hitch

  • minimal shower in wet bathroom.  Aisle shower if I must.

  • stealth

  • no cabover front window

The shortlist, in current favorite order

High roof Eurovan

imagesIn order of preference:

  1. Promaster due to width, rack mounting, and no-frills nature.

  2. Transit - due to wider serviceability.

  3. Maybe an NV if one drops into my lap at an irresistible price.

I love, love, love the idea of the AMT (automated manual transmission) in the Promaster diesel but the diesels are so strangled these days.

(inserting cargo van decision stuff here)


It took a long time to settle on a cargo van of some kind. Other platforms on the short list were a used Class B and a Tacoma + Aliner trailer combo. The long list was… longer. About the only thing I ruled out was a ginormous Class A.

Eventually my desire for ample solar panels ruled out the Class B (due to pre-ordained roof real estate layout) and my desire for passthrough ruled out the truck + trailer. A van with OEM high roof does both things exceptionally well.

So now which van? There are four serious contenders in the standing-height competition: MB/Dodge/Freightliner SprinterFord TransitRAM Promaster, and Nissan NV2500/3500. I will talk about how I chose between them. While I did do a crap-ton of reading, talked to owners, crawled around the vehicles with a measuring tape and annoy dealers, the result was a personal decision that considered my needs, my wants, and my local availability. I am not making objective claims or telling you what you should get.

the German Experience: Sprinter

I was stationed in Germany for four years and loved it. Skilled and disciplined drivers, well-maintained and -designed machinery, high standard of living: motorcar heaven!

The “problem” with German engineering (including cars) is a function of the glowing description above.

German carmakers expect that drivers of their cars will be skilled, disciplined, well-paid, informed about how to drive/maintain the machines **and dedicated to following the carmakers’ instructions.**

That kind of discipline and instruction-following does not fit the American psyche very well. We Americans have many strengths but those are not among them.

German vehicles are excellent when used and maintained according to plan. They are not excellent when “ridden hard and put up wet”, as horse people say. The maintenance and upkeep will always be expensive but when mistreated the costs veer of into wallet-destroying territory.

Having said that, my favorite carmaker is Porsche. The only two vehicles I’d ever owned and loved were a 1972 VW standard beetle in Shantung Yellow, and a (1973?) ex-Bundeswehr VW bus in olive green. They required constant fiddling but were simple enough and old enough I could do the work myself on the cheap. Muir’s famous manual and a few hand tools were usually all it took.

But Sprinters are not simple, and I cannot afford the purchase price or expected levels of maintenance. And the top narrows too much for me. I am rather broad-shouldered; with cabinets built into on both sides I won’t fit well in narrow spaces. Because of this aggresive angling-in at the top the Sprinter is 8″ narrower at the top than some others.

The Sprinter was the first van voted off the island.

the full-sized NV2500

Nissan makes the NV2500/3500 cargo van and the NV mini-van (which is a good looking little booger). I’m talking about the big one here.

I didn’t think the NV was for me but I went to see one anyhow. I should stop here and describe how I assessed vans at the dealership.

  1. look at the van while walking up to it. Where would solar panels mount? Where is the backup camera?

  2. climb into the cab and immediately pass through to the cargo area. Do not sit in the driver’s seat, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. I will be driving the van but living in the cargo area.

  3. stand in the cargo area a long time. Stare. Pace. Feel the space. Consider how things might fit. Hold my arms out and reach the walls. Feel the distance between my head and the ceiling.

  4. lay down in the sleeping position[s]. Dissuade the care salesman from dialing 911 to report a lunatic in his van.

  5. look at where wiring runs would go

  6. exit the side cargo door[s] and re-enter through the back cargo doors (or vice versa)

  7. if it’s still a candidate, pass back through to the cab and sit in the driver’s seat. Get a feel for the cockpit.

I went through the motions on the NV but by the time I entered the cargo area I knew it was a no-go for me. The space was weird and didn’t fit my body or my idea of something I would want to live in. I didn’t like the super trucky feel of the cockpit (it’s a Titan underneath) or the incredibly long and space wasting hood.

Having said that, I think Nissan could develop a cult Millenial and vandweller following if they had:

  1. an option for the Titan’s 4wd driveline; and

  2. an “expedition lite” vibe like an Xterra or Honda Element

And then there were two: Transit and Promaster

I think both of these vans are terrific, and I could have gone either way. I was leaning 60/40 toward Promaster by this point but I was still reading Transit forums, stalking Ford lots, watching for deals on used Transits, etc.

I like diesels but modern versions are so regulation-strangled that they are losers for me. So that leaves gassers.

Going into this final round this is how I saw the situation:

**Ford Transit** **RAM Promaster**
Pro: High roof is _very_ high at 81″. I could play basketball in there. Popularity means easier service and community knowledge. I like Ford in general. Many used Transits available. Bigger fuel tank. RWD means mechanical limited slip is a possibility. Pro: Superior living space. Widest van, wide enough for a transverse bed. Cavernous interior. Greater cargo space at each wheelbase length. Straightest walls for easier build. [2nd **lowest** Total Cost of Ownership](http://rvwiki.mousetrap.net/doku.php?id=rv:cargo_van:comparo#total_cost_of_ownership_comparison) (NV is lower). Lower used purchase prices. Simple. Off-the shelf gas powertrain: engine and trans are serviceable everywhere and extremely cheap in junkyards if needed. Huge amount of tiedowns in cargo area. Abundant places for wire runs. High roof available in 1500 tier. Longer wheelbases at each length but tighter turning circle. FWD means greater traction and lower roofline relative to standing room.
Con: [2nd **highest** Total Cost of Ownership](http://rvwiki.mousetrap.net/doku.php?id=rv:cargo_van:comparo#total_cost_of_ownership_comparison) (Sprinter is higher). Too feature-laden for my needs. I wanted a very simple/fleet model. Lowest ground clearance of any full size cargo van (shock mounts). Con: sales are a fraction of Transit; relatively few used models. Even dealers don’t know what they are. FWD means no mechanical limited slip will be available, even in the aftermarket. Only one gas option, and the 3.6L Pentastar is overpowered for my taste.


Subjectively, the Transit’s cockpit felt like a quality minivan, very carlike. The Promaster felt more like a bus or work van. Either way was fine with me.

I liked the cargo area of the Promaster better. It was wider and felt much bigger.

I found a clean Promaster at a good price from a great dealer and bought it.


used Class B

small Class C or B+

Something like a Thor/Four Winds Chateau 19G seems perfect.  A Sunseeker 2300, Coachmen RV Leprechaun 190CB, Coachman Freelander 19, or Minnie Winnie 22R would be good if I wanted a corner bed (I don’t think I do).

Pro: **Stand up room.  Roomy.  Inexpensive used. **

**Con: **Generally poor build quality.  Poor maneuverability.  Worst stealth.  Lots of pseudoluxury crap.  Problematic roof for big solar grid.  Terrible MPG.

**Needed modifications: **better converter. Solar.



4x4 with small trailer

image-1I’ve always wanted a Toyota Tacoma, one of the early 2000s small ones before they got huge and mutated.  I could do that with this scenario, or some other 4x4 pickup or SUV like Xterra, 4runner, suburban, etc.

A good scenario for this might be to put a camper on the truck and use the bed to carry fresh water and house batteries.  Run a long rack (outside the shell if so equipped) and cover with solar.

download-2This setup would require a heavy cable like a shore power cord to tie it to trailer.

Could live minimally in tow vehicle (TV) while shopping for trailer. This would allow a staged approach:

  1. buy truck

  2. buy camper and rack

  3. build minimal living quarters (bed, lights, fan)

  4. install solar, batteries, water

  5. buy 300# carry rack for receiver hitch

  6. go mobile

  7. find scooter at leisure, carry on receiver rack

  8. find trailer with rack at leisure, move scooter to trailer rack and store receiver rack in TV bed

The a-frame trailers I could find with a small rack are:

Pro:  4x4 truck, separable for city runs, recons, etc.  Serviceable by any mechanic.  Lower overall height than stand-up vans so could be put on lift in the shop.  Long rack could carry massive solar and other items.

Con: trailer theft when separated.  Unable to pass between trailer and truck.

Needed modifications: everything


The longer list of possibilities

DIY high roof cargo van

**Pro: **second-to-least expense, easiest to source.  Can set it up how I like. Good stealth.

Con: **high roof hard to find.  solar mounting may be a problem over the high roof. **

**Needed modifications:  **Everything.


Class B

If I could find a clean Class B that checked all my boxes (and I had the $$$) I’d do it.  Heck, I’d probably pull the trigger now and start boondocking while I still have fulltime employment.ClassB

Pro: Can be driven and parked normally.  Relative stealth.  Good MPG.  Better construction than other retail RVs.  Hookups and vents.  Better looking.  Fits my general approach.  Needs little modification.

**Con: **$$$ and most rare.  Usually have aisle showers. Boo!

**Needed modifications: **better charger from shore power. Solar.



Step Van

A bread truck / UPS van would be epic.  Unfortunately there are at least two factors that limit availability:  people converting them to food trucks and people selling the aluminum bodies for scrap.  :-(mWtQKE3bXutHQvTw8mTOP4A

Pro: large, angular space amendable to RV mods.  Massive roof area for PV.  4bt and 6b engines renknowned for MPG and reliability.  Large but relatively stealthy because people see them regularly.  Big pass-through.

**Con: **increasingly hard to source for a decent price.  Slow (not a problem for me), homely (again, not a problem).  4bt engine expensive to get serviced if it does fail.  Diesel availability.

**Needed modifications:  **Everything.

Box Van

boxvanHeavier-duty than I would like but shares many traits of the step van.  Must have pass-through from cab to box;  this rules out Isuzus and others with separate cab.

Pro: as with step-van only, except the pass-through is a little duckable port rather than a walk-through.  Space underneath for hanging tanks.

**Con: **terrible MPG.  Very tall both externally and internally.

**Needed modifications:  **Everything.

truck + slide-in trailer

Pro: **Stand up room.  Roomy.  Inexpensive used.  Can park camper with effort and use truck as driver. **

Con:Poor build quality.  Poor maneuverability.  Worst stealth. Can’t get from cab to house area.** **

**Needed modifications: **better charger from shore power. Solar.


DIY cargo van (normal roof)

extended**Pro:  **Easy to source.  Best stealth. Good expanse for solar installation.

Con: **normal roof limits interior vertical space. **

Needed modifications:  **Everything. **

DIY Conversion van

**Pro:  Easy to source.  Good stealth. **chevrolet-chevyvan-20-conversion-van-08

**Con: **raised roof not very high.  Likely poorly insulated.  ** **

Needed modifications:  **Everything. **



truck + travel trailer

Pro: **Stand up room.  Roomy.  Inexpensive used. Can leave trailer and use truck as driver. **

Con:Poor build quality.  Poor maneuverability.  Worst stealth.  Can’t get from cab to house area.  Need $$$ truck. ** **

**Needed modifications: **better charger from shore power. Solar.


Checked out in person

  • Aliner

    • Aline Ranger 12 - surprising amount of headroom in main/center area.  Easy to set up.  Won’t use the optional AC or trick exterior but offroad package might be good.  Outside shower.  Would sleep on made-up sofa and use extra space for Nature’s Head composting toilet.
  • Forest River Wildwood

    • 195BH - A little long at 21.5’.  Good fresh water tank at 28gal.  Bunks are sufficient;  would use bed area for something else.  Several inches of headroom (6’ 6” maybe?).  Dry bath with good shower.
  • Jayco Jay Flight

Interested in

  • Aliner

    • Expedition - more interior space although getting long at 18’

    • Ranger 15 - Bigger with spot for optional toilet.  Would mount the Nature’s Head there.   3’ longer than the 12.