How important is 4wd?

My house is now in escrow, so I’m aiming to purchase a van in a couple weeks. Here’s the story…

I want 4WD but how important is it? I will be traveling through mountains plenty and I won’t exactly be in Mexico all winter. Issue is price… the Mercedes 170" with 4WD run about 75K empty. Then I figured I’d go with a Ford and have it converted to 4WD by Quigley’s in PA, since they have a contract with Ford to do so and not void other parts’ warranties. I contacted them and it would be 6 months before they could even take in the van for this conversion. Ouch! Plus the build out can take nearly that long- not really wanting to wait for 2020 for my first vanlife trip. So… do I need 4WD? Another option is to purchase an already-converted Ford in Portland from a dealer that already has a few that they sent out to Quigley’s but the markup is substantial- $66K. I was looking at low 40K range to purchase a new van and $13K for Quigley’s to do the conversion. That’s much less than $66K, but also would be 6 months down the road.

How important is 4WD?

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I’ve got an old 2wd hightop Dodge van, and haven’t found anywhere I couldn’t go if I wanted to. With a good tow strap, you can use a drive wheel as a winch, plus I carry a come-along. If there’s nothing to tie to, a shovel and your spare tire can create a ground anchor. I’ve had to get myself out of trouble maybe once in every couple hundred times, and to be honest, I shouldn’t have been there anyway.

There’s plenty of great places near decent roads, and you have a lot less negative impact on the land and environment. Way too many people destroying our natural resources these days, and the best places don’t need any 4wd to get there. Many people hike, bike, or cycle to explore farther off the beaten path.


"Happiness only comes before money in the dictionary." ~ Smilin Sam

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That’s a good point. I just know, locally, I live in the High Desert in Southern California and the place I’ll be going most often is Big Bear CA and the road to it is closed to 2wd quite often in the winter.

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If where you want to go legally requires 4x4, then that put’s a whole new spin on things.

I think I’d go with an older 4x4 or AWD van and let somebody else take the depreciation hit.


“When one door closes, another opens.” ~ Anonymous

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That’s another interesting topic. From what I’ve seen, these things don’t appear to depreciate much. The used ones are priced in the range it costs to build them. Anyone else notice that? I’ve been a little less worried about spending big on my van for that reason, I should get this money back when I’m done with it.


I’m not so sure about that, I’ve seen a lot of 10 year old ones going for under $20k…


"The grass is always greener... Until you get there..." ~ Happy Camper

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It all depends where you want to go and what you’re into… but if you’ve got a house behind the drivers seat, how much off-roading do you really wanna do? My girlfriend and I traveled for nearly 2 years and drove up some pretty ridiculous mountain roads in Northern CA in an old high top Chevy G20. We crawled up some 4x4 trails in Colorado… and we cruised along washboard and over fallen cacti in Arizona.

You can go pretty far with 2WD… get some recovery gear if you wanna get wild… but wheeling a house is sketchy, haha.

I think options for conversions are pretty good these days, and getting something like a Ford e350 and getting Ujoint Off-road (or similar company) to do a 4x4 conversion is a better bet in terms of actual capabilities compared to a factory 4x4, and you can find a decent used Ford with a high top for a good price, and the resale on 4x4 vans is great.

But again… get the vehicle that suits your lifestyle and you’ll be happy!


Sadly you’re the only one that can answer that question… because it’s all based upon where you want to go, but the fact you already talked about one of your favorite places being 4x4 only makes me think you need it.

Can you go most places with 2wd only? Of course!
Our goal (every night we weren’t stealth camping in a city) was to get at least a mile beyond the last person or all the way to the best view/vista. Did we do okay for a while in our old 67 VW bus? You bet we did (though to be fair, that bus could tackle trails many 4x4s turned back from)… but when we finally upgraded to a 4x4 our entire life changed simply based on new places we had access to and the confidence to get to.

Remote parts of BC, NWT and Alaska we never would have attempted before, multiple winters sleeping in mountaintops and chasing snow we would have run away from in a 2wd…
Just decide where you want to be most nights and buy the right vehicle to make sure you can safely get there. 4x4s are like gold right now… and resale is amazing (sucks when buying but feels great when selling)! :wink:


Yeah, I think that last part is the key. It’ll come back to me when I’m ready to sell. Being able to have it there when I need it and, in the end, it not costing me anything sounds like a good way to go. Just sop bummed it’ll put me back another 6 months.

I get it. Tough market out there right now, especially in the 4x4 realm.
If you think you can get by without it for a year or two, maybe things will get better and you can upgrade at that point. Maybe a way to have you cake (start sooner) and eat it too (end up with a 4x4)!

As others have said, only you can answer how important 4x4 is to you. If you plan on staying within the continental US and on the road, you will probably be able to get by without it.

If you are a big fan of the desert, backwoods trails or the snow, I would advise you to get what you really want from the start. If you have deep enough pockets, build it once: the way you want. If you can’t do it that way, you can always talk to your vendor of choice and get on their schedule for a later conversion.

4x4 systems are great, but they also have their drawbacks. They cost more, they raise your center of gravity, they likely hurt your mileage, while offering greater mechanical complexity and more things to go wrong. Some are willing to put up with these trade offs for the increased capabilities. After all, getting towed out of the back country in Death Valley is a $1000 tow, so know your capabilities and have a ready plan of what to do when things go off plan. That’s my two cents.

I drive a 4x4 E350, and I like taking it places that no one in their right mind would take a motorhome, etc. My usual limiting factor is considering if I want an epic story, or if I’d like to be able to drive away from this adventure under my own power. How far off the beaten path do you dare take your home? You have to honestly weigh out the risk vs rewards for yourself.


This is one of the reasons I have a CB radio, to date I have never needed it for me, but I have rescued many others who called out for assistance.

With a CB or possibly a HAM radio, your chances of finding help somewhat close are greatly increased. Sure beats an expensive tow bill!

Do you carry a ground anchor? They have gotten me out of every situation I’ve managed to get myself into. I use a drive wheel with a tow strap for a winch if it’s needed. I also carry a come-along, but they’re a lot of work…


"Smiles are contagious, pass them on!" ~ Van_Dweller


The issue I see with a 4WD class C is that, for the most part, the wheelbases are too long, the overhangs too great (at least in the rear), and they don’t have enough ground clearance to get to places where 4WD is really needed. I’ve seen Cs that weren’t able to get into regular back-in sites in a National Forest campground where we hosted because there was an incline to get up into the site and the rear of the vehicle grounded. The suggestion for a truck camper on a 1-ton (or higher) DRW 4WD truck makes sense to me.

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You make a really good point actually

ground cleareance and good all terrain tires are way more important then 4x4 in my opinion !

get a liftjob and proper all terrai mn tires and you will get anywhere you would want to go with your home anyway ! has also a very good article on this subject !

I don’t even own my first real van-size van yet, but I do have a 4WD SUV and I must say it’s a pretty cool feature.

My first post…newbie here to van life, but I have owned several 4X4 [trucks] and currently own one, but in all the years I’ve had them, I’ve only HAD to use it once and looking back on that one time, I coulda got someone to help pull it out.
If and when I get my van, I’m gonna get the best tires for traction and maybe think of duel rear tires and know my limitations.
My 2 cents only…

I’m fine with FWD as we have now (definitely not RWD). In the last few months we’ve been all over the desert and just left the snowy grand canyon. 4x4 is great, but I’ve never owned one and I’ve driven in snow my entire life. The trick there is being smart and going slow. Also 4x4 doesn’t help you steer or stick to the road, forward and reverse that is it.

For the record the 2020 transits are 4x4 with an option that I heard is about $4.5k, which is considerably less than the 4x4 conversion options out there such as quigley. Granted you have to buy a brand new vehicle at that point.

We thought 4wd was going to be a necessity but bought a 2wd because it was all we could find. Turns out it’s a non issue to us. I’ve driven that sprinter in over 6 inches of snow and ice and it performs way better than I expected. Been on tons of muddy roads and never had an issue. I think once they’re built out the weight makes them get through most anything.

Greetings & Welcome!

I carry a long tow strap, lots of rope, and a come-along (hand powered winch). That way I can hook to a tree, or use my spare for a ground anchor, andd winch myself out of far more than 4x4 would ever get me out of.


"Tis the season... To make bank selling Christmas Trees!" ~Van_Dweller