Newbie ready to buy van

Hi, I have been considering van life for a year and I’m ready to take the plunge. I want to buy a Mercedes Sprinter van, but I wonder how old, how much, and how many miles? I’m looking at vans that are about $17,000 with 100,000 miles and 5+ years old. Also looking for high roof/no windows.
Any advice???

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Greetings & Welcome!

Sprinter vans newer than 2008 have serious and expensive problems with their complicated exhaust systems. Cargo vans also make terrible camper vans. Factory campers have many windows because of their many advantages, and nobody in their right mind will be happy living in a windowless box. Contrary to the lies of the promoters, cargo vans are also the exact opposite of stealthy, and carry a huge negative stigma in the eyes of both the public and the police.

For newbies, I usually suggest cheap, older, factory camper vans or motorhomes. They’re move in ready, and they hold their value. I have rarely paid over $2500 for a good, reliable, move in ready vehicle. Even if you step up to a $5k-$8k vehicle, you will still be much money ahead of building your own. Save building your own until you have a lot of experience and know what you want and need going in, through your own experience, not the lies of the promoters. Most of us are actually the happiest with the simplest builds, full featured but comfortable, convenient, and easily & cheaply replaceable.

The promoters are after your money, they don’t care about your comfort, your success, or how much money they will cause you to lose. They are not your friends, and in fact are closer too your enemies. They are selfish, and will gladly lie, cheat, and steal to put some of your money into their pockets. They’re getting paid to promote horrible choices.

If you’re still convinced that you want to build your own, at least start with a passenger window van, and don’t put any holes in your roof, because sooner or later, they always leak. Opening windows and a cheap fan provide much better ventilation than an expensive roof vent with a fan anyway. Also don’t gut it, just remove the rear seats and keep the floor, walls, and ceiling intact. It’s best to move your furniture in and secure it, instead of actually building it in. A complete conversion with all the amenities should cost hundreds, not thousands. My current conversion cost under $300 and I have all the amenities of a $100k+ motorhome. My high top van only cost $750 in perfect mechanical condition. It’s old (1973) but it has proven itself to be both comfortable and reliable in the 10+ years I’ve been living in it. It’s nearing 500k miles on the original engine and transmission, and it still runs perfectly and even passes smog testing. It is likely to out live me.

Too many people lose too much by following the advice of the promoters. On a previous build, they cost me over a $30k loss in just under a year. Please don’t become one of their many victims. Money alone, or with the promoter’s terrible advice, won’t buy you the happiness you seek. It takes common sense, and non commercial advice from those of us with actual experience, until you have actual experience on your own, and even then, people like me are still learning from others with even more experience. I’ve been a nomad for over 40 years, my entire adult life, and I’ve been blessed with gaining knowledge by some of the best. Even with my previous experience, I got suckered by the promoters. They promote beautiful dreams, that in reality turn into very expensive nightmares.

Good luck, and we’ll look forward to hearing more from you.

Cheers!

"Never gamble more than you can afford to lose." ~ Dare2Dream

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I appreciate your advice, but it is contrary to a lot of the advice that I have seen. Maybe it’s different strokes for different folks? I need to live in LA part of the year and anything that looks like anyone lives in it is not stealth. That includes having windows or looking like a camper van. Also, I’ll need to drive around a fair amount, so I need something that’s not too old and will not break down on me. The advice I’ve seen seems to be from people who live in Sprinter vans and like them.

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Greetings!

There’s no such thing as stealth, that’s just another lie made up by the promoters to get people to buy cargo vans, and spend a ton of money converting them. The more you try to hide, the more suspicious you become, and the more negative attention you draw to yourself. Somebody is ALWAYS watching!

You’re being brainwashed by the promoters… No honest vandweller promotes vandwelling or cargo vans, we offer support, but we DO NOT promote it. Anybody promoting it is doing it for their own gain.

The mistakes are yours to make, I have only tried to help you avoid them. I am mostly a city dweller, with many years of experience…

GOOD LUCK!!!

Cheers!


"A cheap factory camper beats an expensive project every time." ~ Promoters_Lie!
"Cargo vans are not stealthy, they're a scam!" ~ Road Warrior



Wow! I’m one of those people who’s not been in their right mind as I had no problems with a windowless van. I have had a few problems getting the windows covered in a window van.
All in all, this is a very minor point…

I have a hard time with people who state opinion as fact… But I do agree with you about a used camper van as a place to start.

If you have your heart set on building it yourself, then have at it! This is your life, enjoy it & do it the way that makes you happy!

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welcome to the van life :wink:

Greetings!

I just see too many people getting led astray. It’s not all rainbows and roses out here like the promoters lead people to believe. I work for a living, attend a lot of rallies, and know a lot of nomads, so I can report the facts, without it impacting my income.

People deserve the truth, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They deserve to be made aware of all the options, not just the ones which are highly promoted. There seems to be a never ending supply of $100+ solutions to solve $5 problems.

I want to see people succeed in following their dreams and passions, with honest & sustainable real world solutions, and on their very first try. With enough choices, this is possible in all walks of life, not just vandwelling, and even starting out dead broke.

Cheers!


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


My advice is to buy a 3500 regardless of make and or model. You’ll start loading it up with wood, all your belongings and everything else you can think of as you stuff every nook and cranny. It would be painful to buy a 1500, stuff it full, then realize it is over weight and unsafe after you spend money on it. We sit 2200lb underweight at the end of our build which is nice as we can add batteries, holding tanks, extra family members, etc.

The other thing is to think about insurance and resell value. I can tell you that you probably won’t find an 83.5+ Westy that is worth buying for less than $15k. You total that and your insurance company might give you $2k your fault or not. That same can be said for anything that is vintage or that could be considered a classic. In my home state classic insurance is no go as it has to be garage kept, you have to own another car and basically can’t drive them. For resell value using a westy as an example again, you’re likely to get more value out of it in the end if it has 4WD or AWD. The synchros command a very high $$$$, so do many of the other conversions like sportsmobile. Just food for thought.

Lastly think about maintenance costs. Can you fix it? How much would parts cost? Are parts even available for your car. Even with a new vehicle with a 3 - 7 year power train warranty, if you take it in for repairs there is a good chance that labor isn’t included in that coverage. Paying to replace the engine or transmission could be costly if you’re on the hook for labor charges.

I agree that used campers are a great place to start, but they likely are going to need some type of work done to them unless the owner has been meticulous with their records.

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this. i find it hard to get used equipment that can last long… you save now, and get a hefty bill later :frowning:

Greetings!

Most people when they’re thinking old, they’re not thinking old enough. A well maintained pre-computerized vehicle is likely to outlast and of the computerized ones, be cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, more reliable, and hold it’s value better.

Mine is a 1973, which I put under $1500 into, cost plus conversion. I have lived in it for over 10 years now, and it would still sell quickly for $5k+. It has been stone cold reliable even though it is approaching 500k miles on the original engine and transmission, and it even still passes smog tests. If/when the time comes, even if I have to replace the engine or transmission, it will have still saved me many many thousands of dollars over something newer.

My van paid for itself within a few months, not many years. It drive, rides, and handles better than any of the newer vans on the market today. It was built in an era when quality was more important than greed. Back in the days when they needed to satisfy their customers, not just their stock holders. Even though my van is now 46 years old, that quality still shines as brightly as it did the day it rolled off the showroom floor. Computerized vehicles are worthless garbage in comparison to the older, higher quality vehicles.

Cheers!


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


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yes man! like this quote!
you are so right about the extra maintenance and work needed for an used camper.
thanks for sharing this!

Greetings!

@Bretty wrote:
I agree that used campers are a great place to start, but they likely are going to need some type of work done to them unless the owner > has been meticulous with their records.

@sillysassy replied:
yes man! like this quote!
you are so right about the extra maintenance and work needed for an used camper.
thanks for sharing this!

Used commercial vehicles are a huge gamble, no matter how new they are or how few miles they have on them. Most have been driven hard and put away wet. Maintenance has been minimal or non-existent, and if it has low miles it is likely a lemon.

Never commercially used, privately owned vehicles almost always have had better care and maintenance, regardless of how many miles they have on them. There are tons of cheap older used campers in excellent condition for sale just because the owners have grown old and no longer go camping. Over the years, I have owned a number of factory motor homes and camper vans, in excellent condition, mechanically, and camping wise, all for under $2500. Not a single one of them ever needed any major repairs, just cheap typical maintenance that even that is much cheaper than on newer and less reliable vehicles.

Today I understand that “Total Cost Of Ownership” from purchase to parting with it, is the important number. This includes purchase price, maintenance & repair costs (including interior amenities), renovations/modifications (if applicable), insurance (much higher for newer vehicles, and commercial vehicles), and depreciation (HUGE on newer vehicles!), minus the actual sales price later. [Insurance on my vehicles that were factory campers or RV’s never exceeded $250/year. My cargo van was $175/month!!!]

When you consider all those important factors, a cheap vehicle in excellent shape, even IF it requires some major repairs down the line, will still be considerably cheaper than newer vehicles. My general rule of thumb is if the repairs cost more than a replacement, then it’s time for a replacement. If a vehicle won’t pay for itself within a few short months, then let some other sucker buy it, because I’ve been there and done that, and that absolutely SUCKS! My goal is to live comfortably while traveling, and doing it cheaply, not impressing others by how much money I can spend. An expensive rig won’t increase my comfort, improve my travels, or my life in any meaningful way. My money is better spent enjoying life and helping others.

Cheers!


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


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One other thing to thing about here is the 2020 transit cargo vans are AWD for about a $4500 upgrade and you can get windows all the way around. (good bye quigly I suppose) Kind of a game changer in the sprinter van game.

Although, that being said, after attending the asheville vanlife rally last weekend and seeing the insane number of white cargo vans, I’m pretty glad I opted for an oldie but goodie. All in all I spent $4500 for my '83 xplorer and about another $700 to get it into what I considered good running shape. I am a DIY kind of guy and fix everything myself if I can. That cost was simply for a remanned carburetor, installing it, replacing belts and just general things that should be done when you buy a used vehicle.

If you buy an older one, get a Chiltons or Haynes manual. They are a necessity and you would be surprised how is easy it is to diagnose and correct some of the problems in older vehicles.

I agree with @Van_Dweller - buying a used cargo van is a huge gamble. The person driving probably got paid shite and it could have cared less about the condition of the vehicle.

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hmmmm live comfortably while traveling, and doing it cheaply… i like this :smiley:

wow i like this a lot… $4500 + $700 thats really great value.
DIY is a terrific skill and fun if you adopt a healthy attitude to it :stuck_out_tongue:

This was incredibly helpful thank you!!!

Greetings & Welcome Kai!

We’re here to help if you have any questions, and look forward to hearing more from you.

Cheers!


"Proper Planning is preferable to premature failure" ~ DreamLife