Pricing for a Custom Build

Hi there! Hopefully some of you can help us because pricing a custom van is getting so confusing! We’re thinking of going for a custom build on a 2018 Mercedes 4x4 2500 144WB. Everything inside is custom…cabinets, kitchen, shiplap on walls, etc. We’re going all out with a roof rack, custom wheels, Owl Van add-ons for the outside…we need racks for mountain bikes and surfboards…etc. We want to be as self-sufficient as we can. The van has 14,000 miles on it…no navigation…seems like a pretty simple package that came with the van. Our estimate came back at $150K-$160K. I know a lot of costs can depend on what we add to it…batteries, inverter, fridge, etc. But say we want to go pretty close to top of the line stuff, does this estimate seem ok??
Any feedback would be hugely appreciated! We’re supposed to put a deposit down tomorrow. :woozy_face::grimacing:

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Greetings & Welcome!

You’re considering dumping a ton of money into a rapidly depreciating vehicle.

If it was built by a major player like Roadtrek, Pleasureway, etc; AND has an RVIA certification, then MAYBE it’s worth that much. Without those, the value is only slightly higher than an empty van, and without the RVIA certification you are taking a huge gamble on the quality of the build.

There’s a ton of people with questionable skills that throw these things together then start looking for a sucker. The van is worth $40k max, and without an RVIA certification, the interior is worth no more than $10k no matter how nice it is.

Most of those listed for over $100k actually sell for about half the asking price, and even then they’re very hard to sell. You can get brand new ones off the showroom floor for around $80k, maybe less considering how slow their sales have been.

A friend just bought a 2005 MB Cruiser for $19k with under 35k miles on it, and that’s with the RVIA certification. He then put $12k into it to get converted to 4x4. That’s also a good example of depreciation on these things, it sold new for $156k. That’s $135k depreciation in just 15 years for a like brand new rig. One owner, and only 2 cross country trips.

I always suggest that people don’t buy anything that isn’t fully depreciated. Let somebody else take those huge losses. My vintage rig paid for itself within 3 months, and done nothing but save me money for the past 11 years.

That new, with those miles on it, I would also be suspicious of it being a lemon.


"For every complicated problem there is usually
a cheap, easy, simple, & safe solution." ~ Road Warrior

A lot of builders buy these with 15k to 20k on them to get a but of a discount. I would still expect that van empty to be more than 40k but, I could be wrong but a 2020 2500 starts around ~60 I think if not more.

I would definitely figure out the insurance first. It might be harder when you think. If you say you’re insuring it as a motor home and they can’t find the brand good luck. Might be easier with MB but it took us days of calling around for our own build out.

Another thing to consider is the warranty. It’s definitely a game of give and take on value. I personally would never buy anything old gain that I plan on putting 30k miles on a year. Which is where we are trending right now. I think 150k is crazy. We have had our transmission go on our old ride and out new. The first one cost us a new transmission and a two week hotel stay out of pocket. This cost ust about $3k as it wasn’t a nice hotel. The second one we also got a new transmission at 8k miles (it was bad off the line, never broke down, never had issues, just made an annoying noise) This also required a 2 week hotel stay. The lifetime warranty paid for the what would have been about a 10k bill on the van and for the hotel stay. If your 150k van doesn’t cover at least that I’d tell them to go kick rocks.

IMO if you spent $20k - $25k (and that might be overkill) you could put top of the line everything in your van. Aluminess rack, lithium batteries, heater, huge solar setup, dometic fridge, etc. Essentially you’re adding that to the cost of van. I could be way off but it sounds like you’re paying 150k for something you could put together yourself for < $100k

Local shop takes 11k for the basic conversion, you supply the vehicle.

That shop has been doing conversions since 1988. Materials do not cost much, it is the man hours spent designing and building that up the price.

This is their production from 1988:

They do all kinds of custom stuff, this one has wheel chair ramps in the back and electric elevating seat:

And this is brand new, 100km on the clock:
Under 50k, granted it doesn’t have all the bell and whistles yet installed…

Anyways. 150k sounds pretty darn expensive, especially if the builder does not offer detailed breakdown.

I would like to know what kind of pricing Norva people have in their builds:
I’ve always liked their designs, modular stuff that adapts to your current needs. More a week-ender type than full time living though.

I’d think twice about a Mercedes. They have a long reputation of quality - I’ve had three Mercedes cars and they were all great, but that was a long time ago. The vans they sold in Europe the 1990s were really good too - but far simpler than today’s offerings. I’ve driven their older vans extensively - D208 etc., and they never broke down. Everyone I know who has a more recent Mercedes van however, has had nothing but trouble.

Last weekend for example, friends from back east who were planning to travel to Colorado ended up spending several days camped in my driveway awaiting parts. They installed the parts, took off, and had to spend another day and a half repairing another issue. They finally made it to Colorado yesterday, and hopefully won’t have anymore issues.

My brother has a Mercedes van and a few months ago was driving through town. He was having a problem with a sensor that had to be replaced. A friend of a friend has a brand new Mercedes camper van and is having nothing but trouble, and I’ve heard other stories.

They used to make good stuff, but it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. You’ll probably have less trouble with a Ford, and pay a lot less.


All the computerized stuff is trouble. The stealerships make the bulk of their money in the shops, and building reliable vehicles was costing them profits. That’s why I’m back to rigs from the 70’s & 80’s for better reliability and lower overall cost of ownership.


"Swamp coolers for the win to beat the heat." ~Road Warrior