Picking a new Vehicle

Posted by Greg

We are selling the Gordita, our 2000 Tacoma TRD with a Flipac camper and a few other upgrades. She has taken me many places and is still a capable rig but since Paige and the kids have come into my life we need more room and after using this type of setup for over 13 years we had a idea of what we were looking for and this is what we looked at and our final decision.

We (kids included) looked at all the options:

Earth Cruiser

Pros:

  • Self-contained
  • Able to get to camper without going outside
  • Already set up
  • Access to refreshments and bathroom while driving
  • 4×4
  • Campsite only needs to be size of vehicle

Cons:

  • Expense.. Maybe someday.. Where is that damn Powerball ticket!?
  • Not practical as a daily driver around town.
  • Everyone wants to visit you in the campground. We experienced this with the Flipac also.
  • Difficult to park in a city

Considered another pickup, Chevy Colorado diesel (Toyota needs to get off their butt and bring the diesel they sell is around the world to the US!!), with a crew cab and then add on of the following:

AT Habitat

Tepui Roof Tent

Cricket Trailer

All of the above share the similar pros and cons, with the exception of the Cricket trailer. We did look at a overlanding or adventure trailer option with a roof top tent but the cost of one of those trailers start at $15-$20k and when you start adding options the price skyrockets. And that price is on top of a new vehicle to tow it. Anyone looking at 4×4 vehicles has come to the realization of how expensive used ones are with low mileage so you are better off getting a new one. We keep our vehicles until they fall apart or no longer meet our needs and spending 30k on used truck with over 100k miles didn’t seem wise to us.

Back to pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Vehicle is a daily driver
  • 4×4
  • Easily maneuvered and parked in a city
  • Campsite only needs to be the size of vehicle
  • Able to set up and leave it (trailer option)
  • Vehicle is serviceable at dealership

Cons:

  • Difficult to park and maneuver in city (trailer option)
  • Limited access to refreshments
  • Exposed to elements while setting up (not as much with Cricket)
  • No access to toilet while moving
  • Special parts to repair tent or habitat, may be difficult to source when traveling abroad.
  • Vehicle has to be packed and repacked if moving to daily objective.
  • No real ventilation or climate control inside (except the Cricket option and after years of using the Gordita and spending days in the rain you don’t want everything smelling like bacon or whatever you are cooking inside).

Of course there is the van conversion option via a upfitter, with name Sportsmobile being the most recognized. This option shares similar pros and cons as the Earth Cruiser above but is a bit cheaper and within reach but we felt we didn’t really get the value for our money spent on the vehicle. It is nice to go down a list of options and watch the money fly out of your wallet and then in a few months go pick up you vehicle but you pay for it.

As homeschoolers (specifically unschoolers – yeah we are those people), we are always looking for educational experiences and converting our own van offers several areas of learning and working together – hopefully not fighting. We wedged the three kids into the extended cab of the Gordita and headed over to Alpine Mechanisms, a local upfitter to look at some options and discuss what we were looking for in the next adventure vehicle for us. Their bumpers and roofracks are clean looking and stout, without looking too bulky like the Aluminess.

 

What was number one on the kids list?

Wifi, to stream YouTube, Vampire Diaries, Netflix, etc. We explained how that is possible but only when we had cell service.

Next on their list.

Space to move. Not sure why this was next but looking at them sitting behind us with their knees around their ears it was readily apparent why.

Our reasons for going the do-it-yourself van route:

  • Self-contained.
  • Room for kids to move around.
  • Easy set-up and take down in weather.
  • Serviceable at dealership.
  • Can be a daily driver.
  • Adaptable to different configurations.
  • Family learning project.
  • Access to refreshments while moving.
  • Ablility to prepare meals without exposure to the elements.
  • Ventilation and climate control.
  • Educational opportunity
  • Customized with our layout with the materials we want to use and for our use.

In a past life I spent a fair amount of time in a Westy and I am well aware of the negative and benefit of going the van route. My experience with the Westy ruled it out for us based on reliability and the ability to get a repair beyond our capabilities. Let alone the cost of one in good condition. If you own a Westy you know what I am talking about.

The next decision was which van? For us there were only three options:

Mercedes

First is The Mercedes or “Sprinter”, the most widely recognized van out there. This is also the most expensive van in this category and if you add the AWD option the price really goes up. I used AWD and not 4wd because the 4wd drivetrain is not super stout and is not in the same class as a true 4wd rig, our opinion so feel free to disagree. This is the one I drooled over when it came out and would always look at them wistfully when I would spot one in our travels. But like many dreams there can be a ugly reality and talking to friends with them the ugly came out.

We have several friends who owned them, with the operative words being owned them. All said “never again!” when asked if they would buy a Sprinter for a conversion now. Horror stories of random alarms that wouldn’t shut off without a dealer visint, going into limp mode for no reason, cost of repairs and the requirement of finding a Sprinter Mercedes dealer for service all sealed it that this would not be the van for us. Sadly, I was deflated and a dream crushed.
Mercedes

Dodge Promaster

Dodge was the original seller of a rebadged Sprinter back in the day but then Mercedes decided to pull the model and sell them under the Mercedes name when the new diesel motor came out. The Promaster is the design and vehicle Dodge came up with. It is a capable platform for conversion but the styling, handling and layout were less than the other options.
Dodge

Ford Transit

My past experience with Ford products did not go well so the Transit wasn’t high on my initial list of choices. Ford did some homework when developing this van because several reviews from magazines place it over all the others, even the Sprinter. I am not a big fan of the cockpit styling of Ford but it is fairly well laid out and everything is in reach and works. All the vans have different sizes and low, med, high, extended, long and extra long all varying with different manufacturers. The medium height and long wheel base (148) struck a perfect balance for us with space, styling and the ability for some light off road exploration. Needless to say this is the one we picked. There isn’t a 4×4 option but there are several companies doing them now and we will entertain that option if the LSP differential doesn’t perform like we would like.

Next decision was new or used? Our view is to not go the new route if possible. The immediate loss in value when you drive off the lot is a bitter pill to swallow and takes money out of the coversion budget. So we set out see what is out there in the used market and if it was possible to find the options we wanted. It is easy to find used ones white, stripped down and low roof but because we live in Colorado, converting to a camper and towing adventure motorcycles from time to time there were a few must have options for us:

  • T250/350 – rating of drivetrain and suspension
  • Ecoboost motor – torque and mileage (if I can keep my foot off the accelerator)
  • Heavy duty alternator
  • Limited Slip Rear Dif – snow and offroad traction with 3.31 gearing preferred
  • Cruise Control
  • Upgraded interior – you spend time there getting places and surrounded by vinyl from top to bottom is not the way to go.
  • Low Mileage
  • Hopefully not white
  • Medium Roof
  • Long Wheel Base (LWB 148) but not xtra long

When we started the search it was like looking for a mythical unicorn and expanded out to a nationwide search. The largest stumbling blocks were the Ecoboost motor and LSP rear differential and we started to think about what we could possibly give a bit on. The one option you can add later is the LSP rear with either a electric or air locker but that conversion costs over $1k. As luck would have it we found a ’15 demo at a dealership in Peoria, IL with all the above and red and several other options that were on the nice to have list (it is pictured above)! Not sure if having to fly to Peoria is lucky though..

The Toyota was known as the Gordita and we are tossing names arond for the van.. Van Wylder is the front runner at this time. Stay tuned for updates on how the build goes.

Next step is flying to Peoria next week and driving across back to Colorado across Nebraska or Kansas. Sadly it will be a solo trip so I can’t medicate with alcohol to make the drive across those visually stunted states. We do like our beverages so stopping at Beer City USA in Nebraska and John’s Grocery for some hard to get beers will make it worthwhile, I hope.

You can follow our conversion on the blog here or over at Fordtransitusaforum.

Found this pic of red Transit in our color with some some of the exterior upgrades applied, not sure on a front bumper yet.. Looks a bit different than the dealer pic above. HELL YES!

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