Adventurous mom looking for best camping van for under $3000

I looking for a camping van that meets the following:
-can fit 2 carseats in bench/bucket seating.
-has fold down bed in back, or space to build platform for bed.
-is reliable and safe

I’m looking for something to tow my baby and toddler around in while we adventure this summer. Typically I don’t drive very much in the city (Seattle), but I do like to get out of town. I’m torn between a '93 manual eurovan and then some sort of conversion van (Chevy??), the latter I don’t know much about.

Looking for any sort of advice/experience. Thanks!

Any $3000 van you get will NOT be reliable for what you want to do. That goes double for a $3,000 Eurovan. A conversion van might be an option, but the mpgs will be quite low. Whatever you get, pay $100 or so to have it carefully inspected, most all vehicles in that price range will need work, you’ll want to know that before you buy.

There’s no way for us to guarantee that any used vehicle is going to be reliable. I can guarantee that a used vehicle at that pricepoint is almost certainly going to be unreliable unless you have other monies budgeted to fix what’s wrong with it.

At that price range I’d be looking for a mid-late 90’s Ford Econoline conversion van with the V6. It was a good motor, much more fuel efficient than the V8’s and V10’s, and if you get a good conversion package that’s been well cared for (this may be hard to find) it’s basically a personal limo. Waldoch, Elk, and Quality Coaches are a few of the (back then) better conversion companies. Be careful with Universal conversions - they tended to use very cheap materials that would not hold up to use. Especially in the seat fabrics. The rear bench seat will fold into a bed, and the middle captains chairs can hold car seats. Most of them had blinds/shades/curtains for all the rear windows for privacy when you’re camping.

@shadowfax - do you mean the 300 cid straight 6 (not v6)?

@texases Depends on the year. 1997 got a 4.2L v6 that could deliver 20mpg. Before that, yes, it’s a straight 6.

I know $3000 is low, but that would allow me to have $1000 saved for inevitable repairs–or do you think it’s better to raise the price point search?

$3000 + $1000 for repairs is absurd. Triple that if you want something decent.

It’s a tough call. Really anything under 5 grand is probably going to need something. Even if it’s just catching up with the maintenance that the previous owner didn’t bother doing, that’s still going to cost you, so it’s never a good idea to blow all of your money on the initial purchase. Really, the difference between 3 and 4 grand in the used car market really isn’t that much as far as expected fixes, although from a brief search it looks like you’re more likely to get a good conversion package with a better-condition interior at $4k than at 3.

What if, instead of the cost to buy, fix up, maintain, and insure a vehicle you rent? I bet you could do several trips a year on the money you would spend on the above.

I personally know several ex-Eurovan owners. This vehicle is unreliable and an older one will ruin your travel adventures. Stay away from any VW van.

I agree that a rental may be your best option, especially if you’re only planning occasional summer trips.

But if you must buy, it’s not impossible to find a decent conversion van in the $3-$4k range. Here’s one in my area, for example:

Avoid Eurovans!

If you now have an SUV or pickup with sufficient towing capacity, you could also rent/buy a popup trailer camper.

I second the popup trailer. You can buy a used one for easily under $5k and possibly under 3k. this will allow you to just use it and enjoy it. as it will be lightly used/abused. keep the car as a separate issue and just tow your fun wherever you go.

You might consider an extended cab pickup truck with a camper shell, or even full camper!

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The most reliable $3k vehicle will be the one that has been maintained the best.
Yes, I know that Eurovans are a repair money pit, but no matter what brand/model she is looking at, the OP needs to focus on the maintenance that was done by the previous owner(s).

Just as the key words with real estate are location, location, location, the key words with used vehicles (especially old cheap ones) are maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

And you know this is mechanically good vehicle…HOW??

What if, instead of the cost to buy, fix up, maintain, and insure a vehicle you rent?

It all depends on where you live and what’s available to rent. It’s NOT that easy. And the very few they do have to rent are usually reserved MONTHS in advance.

Honestly, I would feel very, very uncomfortable taking my toddler and my baby on excursions in a 20+ year old $3000 camper. I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t think this is a good idea.

I liked jesmed’s idea of renting a camper when you wish to take a trip. You’ll have something reliable and with all the modern safety systems. It’ll be much, much safer for your little ones.

In the Seattle area there is a much better chance of finding someone who knows Eurovans with the exception of being within a few miles of gowesty in California who restore the camper versions of these. A manual Eurovan with I assume the inline 5cyl will be more expensive to maintain due to rarity and the fact that it’s a heavier van more designed for commercial use than passenger duty. Any Ford/Chevy/Dodge conversion van could work but the repair history and the report from the mechanic who inspects any prospects will be the key. My uncle and his family love their eurovan but the transmission replacement cost (automatic v6) and other expenses have pretty much kept the van to within 10 miles of home while they use a Honda Crv for the daily stuff.

Buying a 20 year old anything is a crapshoot unless a thorough inspection is done prior to purchase and even that is no guarantee of zero problems.

Since this appears to be a mom with 2 little ones my vote would be to rent a vehicle when needed.
Getting stuck in the sticks with a broke down 20ish year old vehicle and little or no mechanical skills while having two tiny ones on board is not a pleasant or safe thing to happen.

I would also imagine that any camping season in Washington state would be comparatively short anyway due to locale and altitude.
It would be no different than the multitude of boat owners around here who fund the yearly expense of that pasttime while using them maybe 2-3 times a summer.

“Getting stuck in the sticks with a broke down 20ish year old vehicle and little or no mechanical skills while having two tiny ones on board is not a pleasant or safe thing to happen.”


For reasons that I have never been able to fathom, most people seem to think that mechanical breakdowns will take place in their own driveway, or some other convenient/safe location. However, it is much more likely that breakdowns will take place on the road, putting the vehicle’s occupants in possible danger from other vehicles, or extreme weather conditions, or even folks with bad intentions.

It is fine if somebody is only able to afford an old, cheap car for local transportation needs, but to seek an old, cheap vehicle with the intention of taking small children to out-of-the-way places for purposes that are…less than vital…is something that some people would view as being…not a well-thought-out idea.

Reliable, safe and $3000 I agree are mutually exclusive when it comes to a ( any possibly) vehicle you can use for camping. If many of us could come up with them, we would certainly keep it a secrete. ;=)