First (Diesel) Van

12-16-2009, 11:59 PM
Wow, used cars are cheap these days.

My wife and I are looking to buy a van to travel the country in. Our budget is $2000-$5000, and I don't have any experience with vans, so any suggestions are appreciated.

So we are looking for a van to travel the US in, but we don't want it so big that it is unwieldy in the city. My preference is for something like a contractors van, empty with a lot of space, although a conversion van or Westfalia might be an option.

My primary concerns are lowest operation costs (mileage, maintenance) and highest reliability (will a diesel engine last longer than gas engine?). Looks don't matter to me at all (I kind of like some of those old conversion vans with their stripes). Right now, I'm thinking an Econoline or Dodge equivalent.

So the first question, should I get a diesel van? Is it worth double the cost?

I guess the second is what mileage I should shoot for. I'll probably resell it in a few years. How should I estimate the price/mileage/age differences between vehicles?

12-17-2009, 01:24 AM
I really like the older full-size vans. Generally, thy are really cheap to buy, but they are very capable.
Imo find a low-mileage passenger vehicle, either a factory 5 or 8 passenger version or a conversion van (with the stripes!) A regular cargo van probably will be a high mileage wreck in that price range. At best, these cargo vans are very basic, not very comfortable and a bit noisy inside.

IMO don't bother with a diesel. You will have to drive something like 100,000 miles to make back the increased purchase price.

Diesel engines do last longer than gas ones.... but they are much more expensive to repair, particularly the fuel injection system. These diesel FI systems usually need rebuilding long before the engine does, but often cost $3500++.

Also, diesel vans are either expensive or worn-out wrecks. Given that the great majority of vans are gas, you have a much better chance of finding a low-mileage, nice gasoline van in your price range.

I prefer the Ford Econoline and the GMC/Chevrolet vans to the Dodge. The Dodge is a very old design, with an engine that really intrudes into the passenger compartment. Generally it is more fragile than the Ford or GM versions.

Ideally, you want a '1992+ Ford or a 1996+ GMC/Chevy, since these were redesigned for better handling, more comfortable ride and greater safety.

Older vans, from the late '80'sto early '90's are fine, so long as you find a really good one. Get electronic fuel injection. The older carbureted ones were not as fuel efficient.
A 1/2 ton version is fine for passengers. Go for a 3/4 ton version if you are carrying lots of cargo. But avoid the heavy-duty 1-ton version. The suspension is way too stiff unless you are carrying 10 pianos.

Price..... look for the passenger vans or conversion vans with lots of options, like upgraded interior, air conditioning, power windows etc. These vans will be in better shape than average because they will not have been used commercially.

If you are lucky, you will find an older one with low mileage, that was kept by a family specifically for highway trips. Such vans often are in really excellent condition, but priced cheap, because people won't buy them due to poor fuel economy.

As for economy... 20+ mpg highway can be achieved pretty easily. The secret is to drive slowly. 50 to 55 mph will give you decent mileage, but a slight increase to 70 will dramatically reduce mileage, due to the aerodynamic drag.

One more thing.... up to 1995, GM made a fairly-rare short wheelbase (110 inch) version of the full - size van. I have owned 2 of these. The shorter size made them much more manoeverable and handy in the city, compared to a full-size. yet they still had 8 ft of cargo space behind the front seats. (The standard van has 11 ft. ) Unless you really need the extra room, they are a good choice.... if you can find one. The ride is slightly choppier, though.

12-17-2009, 01:18 PM
Wow, great post, thanks for all the info!

I'm going to keep looking, and post back.

Is 160k considered 'high miles' for a '96?


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