Hey folks. Happy to be a part of the community and looking forward to sharing the journey of building and adventuring on the road. Currently in the Northwest US. Been working in carpentry and remodeling for 4 years, basically no experience working on vehicles other than upkeep (oil, breaks, alternators). I’m looking to build out what would ideally be an AWD/4X4 van that is comfortable for two. Seems like Astros and Safaris are great options. There are consistently several up for sale with low miles (less than 175k) on the clists around town and in the region. Wondering if repair parts and upgrades are easy to come by and any other pointers anyone might have on the buying and building process. Many thanks.
Greetings & Welcome!
Not a big fan of astro’s, everybody I’ve known with them has had nothing but trouble with them. One friend is on his 3rd transmission in under 100k miles, and radiator problems, and alternator and alternator mounting bracket problems, and the list goes on and on.
Dodge caravans seem to have better track records and can also be found in AWD. 1991-1995 seemed to have a lot of problems, but earlier or later seemed to do better, and many of the later ones also had sliding doors on both sides which gives you more options. I’d also much prefer the hatchback style tailgate to those funky 3 piece ones on the astro’s. I think they get much better gas mileage too.
From what I’ve heard, many of the Chevy conversion vans also got better gas mileage, and better reliability, than the astro’s. They have more room, and the already finished interiors on any passenger van can save you aa ton of work by keeping the existing floor/walls/ceiling. Just remove extra rear seats, and move your camping interior in and secure it. This method can save you a ton of time, trouble, and money.
Good luck, and we’ll look forward to hearing more from you.
OK, that is some great info to start with! I’ll do some digging and hopefully come back with more questions and findings. Chevy conversions vans seem less common on the auto sale sites than astros, though I’ve found one in my hometown that I’ll be able to check out in person.
I think buying anything with more than 50k miles in my opinion is a very bad idea and 175k is an insane amount of miles. Most cars do not last past 200k let alone last to 300k. We put a lot of miles on our van and we recently upgraded. We traveled across the US in an older van and it was a pain. Blown transmission that still leaked after being repaired and everything was starting to need to be replaced across the board. There are a lot of items on older cars that need to be and should be replaced simply due to the milage. On anything over 100k miles, has the water pump been replaced? does it have a timing chain that needs replaced, a radiator? Do the brakes and lines need work, are there suspension issues? Does it get better than 10mpg on the highway? Depending on where you live will it pass inspection and smog?
I was a fan of the classic vans and I still am within reason or for the weekend warriors. For me having a reliable ride with a warranty was worth the money I spent. You really do get what you pay for and trust me it is no fun spending two weeks in a motel while you wait on your transmission to be rebuilt. At least for us we plan on doing this for years to come so we need a rig that can handle that. With our older van I found myself waking up most days wondering what was going to break or if we would make it the next 1000 miles over the weekend. That just ended up being too stressful. Just food for thought.
While not discounting your experience, I have owned 8 Dodges from the 70’s & 80’s, all with the 318 engine, and 727 transmission. All cost under $2,000, and all were stone cold reliable, and got at least 15-16mpg on the highway. Never had any problem with altitude either, even in the motor homes. Get them dialed in after purchase, then leave them alone, your gauges and your senses should alert you ahead of time to any potential problems.
I’m currently driving a 1973 Dodge Maxi-Van that is a hightop converted into a camper van by Travco. It had 250k+ miles on it at purchase, and it had been gutted. I paid $750 for it, with nearly brand new tires on it. I now have over 450k miles on it, on the original engine and transmission, and it has needed nothing but typical cheap maintenance. I did add a points eliminator kit to it, and put fire injector plugs (with no electrodes) in it. All I’ve done is typical maintenance, oil changes/lube jobs, brakes, tires, hoses, etc. It still passes inspections and smog checks, runs as good as new, and gets 15/18mpg city/hwy.
Since it’s an obvious camper, I have never been turned away from any campground, even though it has needed a new paint job all the time I’ve owned it. I don’t worry about breakdowns because mechanical engines normally give plenty of warning ahead of time, they don’t just die like electronics. You can see/hear/feel any problems before they become catastrophic. Anything and everything is relatively cheap and easy to repair if the need arises, and I have never had any trouble finding parts for old Dodge’s or Ford’s. Chevy’s can be a pain to find parts for though. An emergency fund will take care of practically anything, including full vehicle replacement.
Newer isn’t always better, and on most things these days, price does not reflect quality either. One of the worst mistakes I ever made was buying a nearly new, low mileage, chevy express. It was an unreliable money pit that needed over $10k in major repairs at under 100k miles. Quality is a thing of the past… Today we live in a disposable society and even vehicles are designed to last only a short time before needing major expensive repairs or replacement.
I was involved with dealer vehicle swaps a year ago, and got to drive every brand of new vans, and not a single one of them drove or handled as good as my poor old van. Mine’s as comfortable as a luxury car, like driving a Lazy Boy on wheels. I can drive all day without getting tired or fatigued. Many of the new ones you feel like you need a massage after a couple hours of driving.