Mileage, and Tons, and Build-outs ..OH MY! (Newbie Buying Questions)

Hellooo Everyone! :smiley:

I am a Newbie in the process of finding the right 1st Vanlife Home for me, and have some questions to run by you.

A bit about me might help: I am a 46 yr old woman from the Washington State / Seattle area. Lots of things have brought me to the point of deciding Vanlife might be perfect for me, as I am sure is the case for all of you…I am SO EXCITED to start this new chapter of adventure in my life’s Journey. Right now it looks like it will be just me and my dog, but maybe a friend and their dog might join as well. I posted a Newbie Intro in the Newbie Corner for more on me…

Important Disclosures: I have 0 mechanical/automotive experience or skills beyond changing the fluids, oil change, change a tire, and putting on various types of chains. BUT I’m a pretty creative problem solver with an analytical mind when it comes to other stuffs. I am also dealing with a LOW VEHICLE BUDGET for this first year, looking to buy outright, but I do have a stable regular monthly income for the road, and at the end of my 1st or 2nd year I might have more capital to upgrade to a newer vehicle or make more major purchases/repairs/buildouts.

Here’s whats currently on my list of maybe’s, all but 1 have been Vanlife Homes previously:

~2006 E-350 Super Duty Extended High Top 2WD Van: build out basically done, everything I think I would need/want, amazing inside-love it, BUT 250,000miles …Automatic…Gas?

~2004 Chevy Express 2500 Extended 2WD Van: build out basically done, everything I would need, would change/add a few things mostly cosmetic, BUT 271.000miles…Automatic …Gas?

~2006 Ford E250 2WD Van: seems it needs some build out–toilet/shower options, sink/plumbing, BUT 177,000miles…Automatic …Gas?

~1990 Coachman E250 class B Van: Built out at its ORIGINAL, needs adds and upgrades, totally outdated, not so pretty, oxidized paint & outdated interiors, has toilet / needs shower options, but baseline totally functional and ready to GO! And Only 89,000 Original miles. Automatic, Gas. Not built for everyday living or Vanlife, at its Factory.

~1990 Coachman G30 350 Extended High Top Van : Built out at its ORIGINAL but with some upgrades compared to the other Coachman–like full shower/toilet, still in great shape, clean and beautiful…BUT 186,000miles. Automatic, Gas.

~1982 Ford E-150 High Top Conversion Van: Built out beautifully, exquisite wood work, absolutely love it and room for continued adds/adjustments to make it mine, needs toilet/shower options but other than that I think everything I would need. Built for Vanlife. Ready to GO! 57,000 ORIGINAL miles on it! BUT an E-150?


  • Tell me your thoughts on these?
  • Whats TOO MUCH mileage?
  • How much value should I place on mileage when making a decision if the maintenance has been good and regular?
  • Whats the disadvantages/advantages of having a 1/2 ton vs 3/4 ton vs 1 ton out on the road in this life? How much value should I put on this in a final decision making?
  • How much value should I place on the age, extent, materials of the current buildout when making a decision compared to other factors–given my current level of understanding and skills?

Anything Else?

A Ton of thanks ahead of time :wink:


From your list I’d go with the E250 with 89,000 miles. May be outdated, but it’s already built and you can get on the road now and upgrade the interior as you go. Have it checked by a mechanic, change all the fluids, belts, and hoses. Replace the tires if they’re more than around 6 years old (even if they have good tread).

Anything approaching 200K miles I’d stay away from if you’re not a mechanic. Everything may be on the verge of failing with that mileage, and with no mechanical skills can get very expensive. Some vans might go a lot further without a breakdown, but it’s a crapshoot and depends on how it was treated in the past and how you treat it.

The 150, 250, and 350 designation refers to the carrying capacity of the van. A 150 is a 1/2-ton, 250 a 3/4-ton, and 350 a 1-ton. With carrying capacity comes heavier duty suspension, brakes, and usually more power. You might get away with a 150 if you have a relatively light/simple build and stay in flat areas at low elevation where you don’t need the heavier duty brakes, power, and transmission, but if you want to go to the mountains or build a heavier conversion a 250 or 350 will work better. I have an E350, but use it a lot in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado. I also haul a motorcycle on a trailer hitch carrier, and sometimes tow a trailer.

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Axel, Thanks for chiming in!

I figured the mileage around/over 200,000 might be a big issue…although I had seen some comments about Vans going 300,000 and even 400,000 plus…so needed some clarification. Anyway yeah, besides changing fluids and tires my mechanical skills are limited.

As far as the F-150…makes me a little sad, cause man I just loved that one as soon as I saw it! But I am a HUGE mountain person, and will be hauling bikes, skis, and probably other gear on top of the everyday load…and will definitely need to be able to climb some steep grades.

I also saw a couple built out Skoolies that looked awesome, diesel, mileage not bad, but again worried about weight and steep grades and mountain traveling…any thoughts there?


You can take virtually any vehicle into the mountains as long as you don’t overload it, and as long as you know how to drive in the mountains. I see too many people complain about roasting their brakes or worse because they’ve never been taught how to shift their transmissions on upgrades and downgrades. There’s a reason for those lower gears that automatic transmissions are equipped with. In the mountains you don’t just put it in “D” and go, regardless if it’s a half-ton or one ton. If you do that, it’s a recipe for transmission failure, brake failure, or a runaway situation that you might not survive.

Also, on narrow curvy mountain roads I constantly see incompetent drivers crossing the centerline or shoulder because they don’t know their vehicle enough to keep it between the lines. It’s dangerous to oncoming traffic, motorcycles, and bicyclists. Those vehicles usually have Texas, Oklahoma, or other flat-state plates on them.

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I drove school buses for a living between the time I retired from the military and when I started college. Drove 40-passenger buses for the most part, and also transported wild land firefighters on some very rugged dirt roads in a converted school bus. The schoolies are built on a rugged chassis, and should be capable of almost everything as long as you know how to drive and maintain them. An important thing to know is how to deal with air brakes and how to keep them adjusted. There’s a fine line between having brakes and no brakes at all if you don’t keep air brakes adjusted.

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OH, yeah I have lots of Mountain driving and snow/weather experience…I am from a small town in the Mountains of WA (Roslyn) and I have lived in the Mountains of OR, ID, CA, MT, UT, AZ and Alaska.

I am just usually driving a SUV or Truck…never a Van built out for Vanliving; so wanna know the do’s and don’ts …and the what NOT to buy considering that.

But if its just a matter of lighter packing and smart driving—F-150 might still be an option it sounds like.



Once upon a time I was in the car business. The Ford E-150 was heavy enough that it was used for ambulance builds. The GM had to use the 3/4 ton frame. I don’t recall the differences that allowed the E-150 to be used as an ambulance; however, I’m sure that some gear head nerds could tell you.

I’m a newb. I ain’t one of these build experts. But I once had a Ford camper van on an E-150 with a 4.9 liter engine (a big 6 cylinder - the Mustang used the 5.0 liter v-8) and I seriously doubt that it weighed what an ambulance on the same frame weighs. As long as you don’t make it top heavy and keep good tires, my experience tells me that an E-150 is heavy enough to handle just about any build you could fit in it.

Balancing the mileage vs the upgrades necessary for you to be comfortable is your test.

I saw a lot of full size Ford vans while I was in the car business. They are tough. But Axel is correct when he says 200k is a lot of miles.

And mountain driving is mainly common sense.

Good luck

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Agree with everything Axel’s said here, and would definitely stay away from anything over 200,000. That being said my old gmc safari ran to 300,000 before it died and I can’t say I looked after her very well (but Im one of the lucky ones there)

Also if you are planning on only having it for a year or so before upgrading then it’s maybe less of a concern. It’s worth considering as well, if you’re wanting to get on the road pretty quickly the level to which the van is already converted may be more of a factor than mileage as it’ll massively reduce your build time.

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Regarding mountain performance, when driving up the grades of the Blue Ridge from the flat land in Carolina, it was acceptable to me. It was never going to be the first one up; but, I didn’t have to get in line with the semis over in the very slow third lane. Of course, the mountain passes over here are often lower altitude than the flats out west which will decrease your engine’s output. I can’t tell you what the EPA MPG estimate differences are between the smaller vs the larger V-8s; but, there will certainly be a noticeable difference.

I have a friend who has an E-150 Ford cargo van he used for business and when he retired he put a murphy bed, 110v AC unit and a cord to plug into electricity hookups at RV parks. He’s got the newer 6 cyl and over 200k on it and he’d not hesitate to drive cross country. Actually, he’s gotten to the point where he’d probably sell the thing.

Those Ford vans are tough to beat and tough to beat up. I’ve got no dog in the fight and ain’t trying to sell anything, just think those old Ford vans are better than their counterparts.

And it is true, you can’t get those miles back.

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I much prefer the pre-computerized vehicles, so much less to go wrong with them, and so much cheaper & easier to repair.

I would probably expand my search to include small motorhomes. They can often be found cheap, with low miles, and in excellent shape.

I never recommend non factory, or owner modified rigs. Factory rigs have to meet certain safety standards, while owner built or modified rigs can be a real can of worms.

Floorplans mean EVERYTHING! Keep looking until you find ones that feel right, and have all the essential amenities.


"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy

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Thanks for your reply. I have thought the same, as Axel has also mentioned, the balance between getting whats needed, whats comfortable, and a reasonable amount of mileage is definitely the test.

The inventory out there is sparse! Especially in my price range, and I am not looking at 60k-150k rigs, at least not yet…looking for something much cheaper, that I can afford to buy out right and do this for a year or two before I drop that kind of money.

Hope to see you on the road someday!


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Hellooo Van_Dweller!

Thanks for your thoughts…

I think I am beginning to see your point, as I search for a vehicle, regarding pre-computerized rigs. It seems so much simpler when it comes to maintenance and repair. Especially at my mechanical knowledge/skill level.

I have thought a lot about expanding my search to include small motorhomes and even a travel trailer because I have a Honda CRV I could tow it with, and your right, much cheaper…but I also have a lot of concerns with that, I decided to make a whole new post on the topic, I would love to hear your thoughts regarding those concerns that I list.

Nice meeting you (virtually)
And Hope to see you on the road some day!


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Thanks for your thoughts!

I think if I find the right Van with the build outs I think I need (and some I want) to be comfortable, but its a E-150, I am going to seriously consider it now and not worry as much about it, the advice on here has been really helpful. The worse case scenario in my mind is that I find it doesn’t have the guts to do what I want to do in some places given the build and pack weight and I alter my travel plans accordingly until I can upgrade to a newer/different rig, and some lessons learned with experience, I’M STILL ON THE ROAD!
And alternatively, it may do and be everything I need. :grin:

And yeah, mileage vs upgrades–tough decisions.
I will try to get as low mileage as I can in my price range, I figure I can always gut the Van and build it out from scratch if I wanted but I can’t get back miles :wink:

Anastasia, With regard to older motorhomes, they commonly have very low miles. The owner demographic is older, not poverty stricken, and generally inclined towards proper maintenance. A year or two later it’ll be easier to sell, you’ll have been more comfortable in it, and you’ll sell it for near to what you gave for it.

It’ll also give you an idea about downsizing even more. As the van_dweller has remarked, you will not be inconspicuous in a motor home.

The motor homes will probably be a bit more than a low miler E-150 and easier to find with extremely low miles. Good luck.

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Just remember a pre computerized vehicle is almost 40 years old at this point and unless you understand carburetors, they aren’t cheap to fix. Not when you pay a guy $100 an hour to rebuild one. There is likely a laundry list of stuff ready to go at that age.

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Note taken for sure.
My mechanical skills are pretty much limited to fluid, tire, and oil changes, and putting on chains of various types. I worry if I go too old, too much mileage–maintenance / repair might end up a huge issue. But then again new and low miles is more money up front.

It seems such a crapshoot in many ways.

Finding something in the middle with a balance btwn the two is ideal.
And inventory is limited right now.
So wish me luck!



Actually they were much better built, are much cheaper to repair, parts are easily available, and there’s much less to go wrong with them. Heck, I could replace my whole engine & transmission for $1k, labor included. I priced it because my rig is approaching 500k miles, even though it still runs great and passes smog tests.

Everything built in the 70’s & 80’s is at least 10x better quality than anything available today. The early 90’s seem to be the dividing line between well built & designed vehicles, and cheap chintzy garbage, with the possible exception being Toyota’s that seem to still care about quality instead of just profits.

Other than typical maintenance, in nearly 300k miles I’ve put on my 1973 Dodge Van, it hasn’t cost me a single major repair or breakdown. I can say without a doubt that the 70’s & 80’s Dodge vans and motorhomes have treated me far better than anything newer. Everything on them is cheap and easy to replace, as well as readily available, and their reliability & durability are second to none.

I don’t prefer these older vehicles because they’re cheap, I could pay cash for any new van or motorhome I wanted. I drive them because they’re the best vehicles I’ve found. I wouldn’t trade my van for any van 90’s or newer, and I’ve driven all of them.


"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy

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I must agree with the old dweller of vans. I was in the car business in the 90s and you could see the changes in the used vehicle trade-ins. It seemed like the Dodges (and Chryslers) had strong power trains but they got cheap on all the other stuff. Their door hinges were/are? smaller, the trim cheaper, the latches flimsier. The old-timers attributed the decline in quality to the aftershocks from the Arab Oil Embargo of the 70s, the increasing acceptance of and competition from the imports, and the manufacturers attempting to keep up with the changing consumer landscape.

As I recall, Honda had a Civic that got nearly 60 mpg in the day… but it looked like it would fit in the trunk of a Cadillac. A Ford PInto felt like a more solidly built, heavier vehicle; but, it was Ford trying to make a little car with the big car mentality of making them.

I know someone who has a 90 Corolla. It runs great; but, slam that door and you hear how tinny it is. And compare the older ones to today’s models and you can feel and hear the difference in how heavy they are.

So, yeah, those old E-150s and their peers were better back then. At least, it seemed like it to those of us who saw used ones come and go on a daily basis. @Van_Dweller has lived it for years and I saw the same thing for years. I always liked the Fords better than the Dodges tho…



Once upon a time I had a 1969 Subaru 360 micro van. I think it was about 4’ x 8’, and it got 109 mpg. Rear engine, air cooled, torsion bar suspension, and talk about nimble… It was like driving a go-cart that you just couldn’t get stuck. It sported a continuously variable transmission, and could cruise all day long at 90mph+. It had 3 bench seats, front, middle, & rear, and they all folded down to make a very comfortable bed. The front & middle seats could also face forwards or backwards, to create either a fore or aft dinette. The kitchen was over the engine, and a portable toilet was under a seat.

It was a cute little camper that I loved to drive, just not terribly convenient due to packing so much versatility into such a small package.



PS: It only cost $1200 brand new!

"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy

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So why don’t you show me a picture of one of those Subies instead of a photo of a unicorn in somebody’s back yard?