Newbie buying a van, Please advise

Hi guys, I am looking at purchasing a van for almost full time living. I found one and am looking at it tomorrow. It has been converted by Vanworks in Colorado. I am looking for a second opinion on the van as I am the first of my friend group to make this purchase. Here are the details of the van, can someone tell me what else I should definitely add to it to make it worthy of a part time home.

thank you for your time.

Van is a 2008 Dodge sprinter 2500 170 with high roof and 159k with a recent transmission rebuild.

Technical specifications & Maintenance

  • New BFGoodrich all-terrain T/A KO2 tires
  • New exhaust system, including DPF
  • Brakes and calipers new in 2019
  • Transmission rebuilt in 2019
  • Fully serviced by Mercedes of Westminster (CO) in 2018
  • Factory interval oil changes with Mercedes specified 100% synthetic oil


  • 12-volt Nova Cool fridge/freezer combo with Dan Foss compressor
  • Espar Digimax D1000 diesel heater with high altitude kit
  • House battery system (2 yellow top 12-volt batteries)
  • 160-watt solar panel with solar controller
  • Winegard Pathway X1 satellite on the roof
  • 12-volt 24-inch TV


  • XL Queen size memory foam mattress with ample storage underneath
  • Sink with pump and countertop
  • Swivel passenger seat
  • Insulation with soundproofing
  • Plenty of shelving
  • Fantastic fan vent with remote control
  • Back-garage that can be used for bikes, surfboards, second bedroom, etc.
  • Blackout window covers
  • 7 feet (84 inches) of interior headroom
  • LED lighting throughout


  • Yakima solar RoadShower with roof access ladder (10 gallon)
  • Rain-guards windows
  • Keyless entry and alarm system

Greetings & Welcome!

Like so many others out there, it sounds like it was built to sell, not to actually use.

A) It was not a good year for Sprinters, you want a pre 2007.

B) Is it RVIA certified? If not, the conversion holds no inherent value.

C) Older, factory camper vans and RV’s can be found very cheap and in excellent condition with low miles. I’ve bought both a Class B and a Class C recently for friends, each under $2500. Both with low miles and recent mechanic inspections and work all done. One was $2500 ready to roll, the other was $1200 and needed $1,000 worth of deferred maintenance to make it as good as new.

D) If you’re going to be living in it, you want your own toilet & shower.

E) Ignore all the YouTube and Instascam BS. 99.9% of it is all posted by promoters, who are far worse than any typical sleazy car salesman. Whether it is obvious or not, they’re after your money, and could care less if you crash and burn once they get it.

F) Opening windows all around are far better than roof vents. For the most part, solar is a terrible investment that will never pay for itself. A generator and an isolator is much cheaper and far more reliable. The same holds true for 12v compressor fridges unless they’re 20+ years old. Anything newer dies shortly after the warranty is up. 3-way fridges are a far better choice.

G) Older campers really hold their value because they are far better quality than newer stuff, but they can still be found cheap from people who don’t realize their value.

H) Many places require either factory campers (RVIA), or at least fully self contained campers (toilet/shower etc.) before you’ll be allowed to camp there.

I) Insurance companies will often be a problem for non RVIA certified campers. Even “IF” they will insure you, they will deny any claims later and cancel your policy. Insurance companies don’t like anything that has been owner modified.

J) Newer rigs depreciate in value very quickly, while fully depreciated rigs hold their value quite well. The price you pay has absolutely nothing to do with quality, comfort, convenience, or reliability. Older American is usually much better quality than newer Euro style. These days newer means cheaper to produce and lower quality products. It’s a trap best avoided.

K) The best way to save money in this lifestyle is in the purchase and repair costs. Older American gassers are cheap to repair or replace. The simplest systems also have less to go wrong with them. That doesn’t mean going without, it just means adjusting to more efficient, and/or sometimes unusual solutions. Highly promoted stuff is rarely good stuff, they just pay well, to get people to buy their over priced garbage. It’s all made in China these days. Older American stuff is much much better quality.

L) Last but not least, CARGO VANS ARE NOT STEALTHY!!! Obvious campers who don’t try to hide are MUCH more accepted everywhere. People who try to be sneaky or hide are like a magnet for trouble. Nobody fears an obvious, honest, friendly camper who has nothing to hide and is a good neighbor.

My current camper van easily paid for itself within a couple of months, and that was over 10 years ago now. That’s the kind of return on your investment that I look for, and they’re not that difficult to find. You might need to expand your search area though, and watch out for rust and outdated tires. A pre-purchase inspection could save you a bundle in the future. Look up recalls, and specific problems with different makes and models. Don’t get suckered into a diesel, their repair and maintenance costs will end up costing you far more than a gas model, and their supposed better gas mileage doesn’t even compare to the higher costs. I once ended up putting over $10k into diesel repairs on a highly recommended diesel that had under 100k miles on it. I could have driven a million miles on gas engines for less repair/replacement costs.

Popular doesn’t mean practical, just better promoted for someone else’s gain. History is often a far better teacher than “New & Improved”. I grew up without electricity, which didn’t mean we did without, it just meant we did things differently, and I don’t mean with solar panels because they weren’t even around yet. This is the kind of knowledge that truly helps with this lifestyle. Newer is newer, but rarely better than tried, proven, and time tested older technologies. Today, off grid air conditioning appears to be a major and expensive problem, yet using older technology is easy, cheap, and equally effective. That’s what I use. Knowledge is often far more effective than throwing money at questionable solutions.

Many people are also much happier with larger rigs than vans, and older motorhomes can often be a steal. I’d consider and compare as many options as possible before making a final decision. Each has different pro’s & con’s.


"Be creative & recycle, reuse, & repurpose." ~ The Camper Van Man

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Everyone I know who has a Sprinter/Mercedes has had problems. You should ask yourself why a van with only 150K miles has already had the transmission rebuilt. They used to make good products - I’ve had 3 Mercedes cars and drove their 1990s era vans extensively, but something has happened since then.

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Heya Van Dweller, I have been really digging your advise. How do I find one of these rigs your talking up?! I’d love a sweet retro 70’s 80’s van on the cheap, but not finding them in plenty not good quality. I’m willing to travel. I live in WV but for a safe bet I’d get there.


Here’s a few that I found, and you might also want to try


"Always avoid expensive solutions to cheap problems." ~ OffGrid

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Wow! That’s so awesome of you! I’ll check these out

For starters, Axel is spot on. The Sprinter is not reliable. To have had that many repairs already should say something about the quality. I once had a client with a Sprinter (2007 I believe) who said whenever they stepped on the brakes the radio stations would change/cruise engage/wipers operate, or something like that. I found fretting around a brake bulb shorting out the tail light assembly. That was one of the weirdest failures I’d come across in my 20+ year career.

The newer Dodge Promasters are no better. The engines suffer from valvetrain failures and the transmissions fail even more often. I’m talking less than 80,000 miles on average are on these vehicles when a major event occurs.

I can not agree with Van Dwellers suggestion to buy an old vehicle. No insults meant in saying that. Yes, they were great vehicles and still are if you can find a well kept one. The truth is you will be looking for a needle in a haystack. There just aren’t enough of them out there to have a good selections. If you find a decent one you will likely spend a small fortune on front end work, fluid leaks, possible rebuilding of units (transmissions, ps pumps, engines, etc.) and that’s IF you can find parts. Carburetors are great if they are working properly but a nightmare for the non-mechnaic on the road. IF you go the old van route, be sure to have the vehicle completely overhauled before you hit the road. With all of that negative I must add that Van Dweller is right that if you find and rebuild an older Chevy or Dodge van you will get a seriously reliable vehicle.

As for me, I’m shopping around for newer vehicles. The transit may be my choice although I am not a fan of Ford. The Nissan is quite reliable if the rear differential is upgraded but the cargo area is quite short for my needs and no factory 4wd option. I have no interest in the Promaster or the Sprinter. They have proven too unreliable for my tastes.

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