Can my van live forever?

I have a 1998 Ford Club wagon E 150 with 150,000+ miles on it. We bought it new and have meticulously maintained it over the years. It is a conversion van with a wheelchair lift for my husband’s power wheelchair. We were recently told that the head gasket is “seeping” oil. Not dripping, and our mechanic says we don’t need to panic, but should consider either a new van or a new engine is in our future. My question is: how far in the future? My husband wants to maintain and keep the van “forever.” This could mean anywhere from 10 - 15 more years. Is this reasonable? Should I be shopping for a new van? I have 6 more years to retirement, so I can only make payments on a vehicle loan for 5 years.

It could live forever, at some point people decide new payment is more economical than repairs. choose

Agree with Barkydog.
Your van is 15-16 years old. Age-related repairs will begin to kick in. You don’t mention what part of the country you live in, but if rust is any concern, it is very expensive to try and win against rust.

Here’s another view.
You need a van for another 10-15 years. Yet if it’s going to be replaced, the payments can only occur in the next 5 years.

If you don’t replace it now, and it breaks down for good in 6 years, are you planning to have the replacement money in your bank to buy another one?

If not, what will you do if you have to replace it in 6 years?

My uncle is in a wheelchair. And he drives his vehicles until they’re on their last legs. But when he replaces the vehicles, he get’s the same model/manufacturer so his hand controls can easily be swapped into the new vehicle.

So when you decide to replace the van, if you get another E-150, the wheelchair lift might be able to be swapped over to the new van.


2013 is the last year for the Ford Econoline, the Euro Transit is replacing for the 2014 model year. So keep that in mind.


Questions . . .

How much oil do you have to add?

How often?

What shape is the van in?

If the van is in pretty good shape overall, I wouldn’t lose sleep over a “seeping” head gasket

At this mileage, your van will need a little more maintenance (plugs, trans service, coolant, various filters, etc.), but it should last a few years more

How many miles do you drive each year?

A new limited mobility van will set you back a pretty penny . . .

My brother bought a Ford van that was made in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he and his business partner decided to run 2 vans for their plumbing business. The van had 190,000 when my brother bought it and almost 300,000 when the transmission gave out. The engine was the original 6 cylinder engine. At the end, it was running on 5 cylinders–my brother called it his Ford 5-- but it did run and was in use every day. This van had always seen commercial use and no doubt had many different drivers before my brother bought it. At 150,000 miles, you have a long way to go if my brother’s experience is typical of the Ford van.

Ask your mechanic why you need a new engine. Ask if the cylinder head or heads could use a slight bit of planing instead. Would a new head gasket do the job? There is not enough detail presented to know if you need a new engine. Are you in a winter road salt area? A combination of a rusted body and failing engine can be reasons to get new but that has not been articulated here. Is the oil seeping into the antifreeze or externally to the outside of the engine? Oil seeping, not leaking profusely externally is not a major problem. Is the oil really from the head gasket or is it from the rocker arm cover? Consider getting another mechanic’s opinion.

Does your mechanic have a direct or indirect financial interest in your buying new?

Consider a scrapyard engine if you really need one and if the van’s body is not rusted.

If you can afford car payments for 5 years, start making them now, to yourself. Set aside a car payment every month- don’t touch it- and if your van lasts 2 years, 5 years or 10 years- you’ll have money for a new one. I drive cars until they drop, but never stop making car payments. Do it right and most of the payments are to yourself.

FWIW, I once had oil (or was it coolant) seeping from one area where the head met the block on a Chevy Cavalier. I carefully retorqued the headbolts to the correct torque and the seepage stopped. The car went 207,000 miles.

Thanks for your responses. I live in an area with snow and ice, so there is some rust. I got a second opinion, they said there is rust, but not bad. My first mechanic says there is significant rust. The body is pretty sound, it’s underneath. We have priced new and used vans. The suggestion to save a car payment is a good one. I guess I feel some urgency as interest rates for borrowing are currently low, and I am 6 years out from retirement. That said, I don’t expect to be doing all the long distance driving (to visit parents and in laws, in their 90s) I am currently doing in 10 years.

If you can afford vehicle payments now, but not after you retire - then I think you need to replace the van soon. The key element for me is the rust. A motor and transmission and lots of suspension parts can be replaced multiple times. But rust that you can see means lots of rust you can’t see.

The current van could last 5 to 10 years if you can live with the rusty looks, but will need to be replaced likely in 10 years due to safety issues with a frame so badly rusted it won’t support the weight of the vehicle anymore.

Most new vehicles handle salted roads better due to improved treatment of the metals, but eventually rust wins. In a new vehicle you should expect 20+ years of use before rust issues get critical and that should be long enough for your use in retirement.

Since you have rust, now is the time to look for another one. A rusted van won’t last another 10 years. Getting a new or used Ford van makes sense so that moving equipment is not too difficult. BTW, there is a $2500 rebate on the E-350 now.

Ask your mechanic if re-torqueing the head bolts would be advisable in this situation.

How long you can keep a van( or any vehicle) running, depends entirely on the body condition. If it is pristine with no rust, replacing mechanics can be worth while. Once the body starts to rust and it becomes unsafe, no amount of repair is worth it.


Please post pictures of the “significant rust”

Your van is body on frame

A good body on top of a rusted out frame is not a good situation to be in

In a fleet situation driving 30,000+ miles per year, where spare vehicles are available and system failure can be somewhat predicted and dealt with as preventative maintainance a Ford van could easily be expected to run reliably for 300,000+ miles. But an individual owner should be happy to have enjoyed 15 years and 150,000 miles from a truck. Shop around for a good deal on a van that suits you while your old one still runs is my best advice.

@Tester makes a good point. Ford will be discontinuing the E series vans. Your present lift may transfer to a new E series, but may not transfer to the replacement Ford has in mind for the E series. It might be a good time to get the new van.

With all due respect @joye, we hear often how well people " maintain" their cars yet comment about rust. If you have ANY rust, the maintenance can be a lot better because all rust up to,a point is PREVENTABLE. Talk to most body shop people and they will tell you how. Because you have the start of rust “underneath” and goodness knows where, it is NOT worth repairing. Milk it as long as you can and dump it. Next time, spend as much effort maintaining the body as the mechanics and it will be be worth repairing. Fords are especially poor in this area. I have found GM trucks to be better and easier to keep rust free.
Here is a forum discussion of problems that includes 90s f150s have with rust due to poor preventative design.

One more thing: Do you really need a van? Is it possible for your husband to transfer from a wheelchair to the passenger seat of a car and back with or without assistance? If possible then you have many more vehicle choices available, better gas mileage and better safety. A wheelchair occupant in a van may not do well in a front end collision or a rollover.