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How to choose a van is one of our most frequently asked questions. Van life is becoming increasingly popular, and more and more people want to know how to get started.
The discussion on what van to buy took us about a year. Greg and I are very thorough, and we like to know what we are getting into. We went back on forth on many factors. How much to spend? Do we want new or used? Should we do the build ourselves or should we hire someone? It was going to be a big investment and we wanted to make sure we did it right. We spent a TON of time doing research, reading forums, and cataloging pros and cons of each option (I even started a spreadsheet!!). We took how to choose a van pretty seriously because we knew we would be living in it full time one day!
Choosing a van: New vs. Used?
The first big decision was to buy new or used. Used has a nice price-tag compared to new, but we’ve had lemon vehicles before and it’s not a fun experience. A new van loses value the minute you drive it off the lot, but you have a completely blank slate to customize it however you want. Greg and I hate wasting money, so I really wanted to take our time and find a good deal on something slightly used. Ultimately, the make and model that we wanted contributed to our decision to buy new. How to choose a van will likely be mostly based on your budget.
CHoosing a van: What Brand?
That leads to the next question, which is, why did we choose the Dodge Ram Promaster? We compared the Mercedes Sprinter, the Ford Transit and the Dodge Ram Promaster. This is where my spreadsheet came in handy. We had interior dimensions, exterior dimensions, features, cost and all other relevant factors in Excel for a good side-by-side comparison. After test-driving them all, and then test-driving them again, we narrowed it down to the Mercedes and the Dodge. The cab in the Ford makes you feel like it is a car, but it didn’t handle very nicely. The Mercedes clearly had more features and options available, but we could buy the Dodge as a bare bones cargo van and build it from the ground up.
CHoosing a van: Gas vs. Diesel?
So that led us to the discussion around gas vs. diesel. We all know the pros and cons of going with one or the other. Ultimately, our biggest determining factor was the costs of maintenance and labor on diesel vehicles keeps increasing. With additional restrictions on diesel vehicles such as DEF, taking a diesel engine into the shop can be an expensive trip. In addition, the Dodge Ram Promaster uses the same 2500 motor that is in the Dodge Ram trucks, giving us the reassurance that most mechanics could work on it and replacement parts would be easy to find. So, after a lot of research on diesel vs. gas, we decided we wanted a gas engine. That narrowed the field to the Dodge Ram Promaster.
Earlier I mentioned that the make and model contributed to our decision to buy new. This is because Dodge did not start making the Promaster until 2014 Used vans are virtually impossible to find. We bought a Promaster with the 146-inch length and 90-inch height. This is almost identical to the dimensions of a typical Mercedes Sprinter van. It came with standard features in the dash such as navigation, Bluetooth, and Air Conditioning, but the back of the van was a completely empty box.
An empty box that was ready for us to make it our home.
Check out our blog for Top 10 Van Life Accessories that make Van Life a Breeze to see what essentials we keep in the van and use daily!