I’m thinking of chucking it all and taking this show on the road, caravan style w/a few friends. What should I be looking for in the way of traveling self containment?
In real vans, where versatility counts, I like Chevy Express and it’s GMC twin. Lots of cargo room and conversion options. Friends share travel cost of course and $ is well spent as there is always a good market for a used one in good shape.
GM mentioned above or Ford Econoline.
Read John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” before you go.
Roadtreks have a very good reputation.
If you want to save gas, and can stand being cramped into something small, the Ford Transit Connect would work. You could tow a very small pop-up camper (like the ones small enough to be towed by a motorcycle) for one or two people, and the other two can sleep inside the Transit Connect. Otherwise, you should be looking at regular full-sized vans, of which I like both the Ford and Chevy varieties. Try to stay away from the Mercedes/Freightliner/Dodge Sprinter. As a diesel, it has a high sticker price, and with a Mercedes engine, repairs are frequent and expensive.
I would go with a Ford Econoline chassis. I use them in my business; very reliable and generally put 300k on them before retiring.
Now we take a statement like “taking this show on the road” with “a few friends” extrapolating a little and suggesting too, a crew cab truck pulling a fifth wheel camper.
Full size vans from the big three are very hard to work on and get even harder when converted. Simply putting the vehicle on the rack to raise it up can be very difficult and time consuming (mostly due to the running boards). I remember spending hours on one checking the TV antenna cabling (the customer thought it should get better reception, what a waste of time).I would not touch one unless someone else was doing the maintenance (and then you must find someone good as the top guys do not want to waste their time on them when drivability issues pop up). There are so many easier ways to make your money.
I use/abuse the heck out of a Sprinter, it’s been rock solid for me, overloaded it, towed w/it (using Euro tow # not the lawyer derived US #), never an issue. Lifetime MPG is hovering at just over 20 mpg. I am aquainted w/a FedEx fleet supervisor and they love the cost factor of their Freightliners, he said there were a few, now known, issues but overall costs have been low for the Sprinters. BTW FedEx was the first customer in the USA for the Sprinters. It was mainly upon their insistance that they were badged Freightliners, FedEx felt that if they delivered packages in Benz vans that customers would percieve that FedEx charges too much. Sheeple!
All that said there will be maint. jobs on the Sprinter that will be a real pain due to restricted access but I’ve had to be inventive in tighter spots in marine repair so I’ll figure it out when the time comes.
If you want to have everything you need in a compact unit check out Sportsmobile.com. I have a 2003 E350 and have driven it for 140,000 miles in every imaginable condition and terrain. I not only was not only able to drive in any city, on any hiway and into remote areas but was able to get into very remote areas (I was able to get back out too). Great way to travel. You don’t have to pay for a motel and you can prepare all of your food in the van. They also have a Sprinter option.
I like the Express. But if MPG is a consideration, the Sprinter. Expresses (depending on engine and model year) vary from 12-16MPG city, and 16-20MPG highway, more or less. Sprinter is unrated but people report getting between 20-30MPG highway (mid 20s is pretty average), and about 20MPG city. Caranddriver in an old article online from 2003 (must have been one of the first Sprinters in the US...) got 30MPG in a 10-passenger Sprinter (with the 5-cylinder.. some now have a 6-cylinder), compared to 17MPG in the Express and 13MPG in a Dodge 3500. That's a diesel engine for you. The Express did get to 60 over 4 seconds faster though. I find it informative to figure gallons per 100 miles (this is what they do in Europe, liters per 100 km, it avoids the silly situation with MPG where going from 10 to 15MPG is a huge difference, but going from say 50 to 55MPG isn't..) Sprinter got 3.33 gallons per 100 miles (or 4 assuming a more-average 25MPG), Express 5.9, and the Dodge 7.7. At $4 a gallon, that is $13.33 (or $16 at 25MPG) to take the Sprinter 100 miles, $23.60 for the Express, and $30.80 for the Dodge. That could add up depending on how much driving you want to do!
We’ve had a number of Sprinter owners comment in the past about very poor reliability, something the OP seems to rate as important.
I wonder what they’re planning on - several folks and a conversion van will either need a popup trailer or tent(s).
What no one recommends a VW Synchro Westfalia? Perhaps with a Subaru powerplant…
“We’ve had a number of Sprinter owners comment in the past…”
I recall posters talking about Sprinters that their boss owned. I don’t know how much access they have to the owner’s records. They may not have a good idea what it costs compared to other work vans the owners had before.
I worked at a company that had Sprinters and Ford E250 Econolines for our van fleet. We had a lot of equipment in all of them, bringing their weight to about that of an average class-B RV - which is what the OP is going for. At the time I worked in an industry (television) where lots of other companies ran the same mix of vehicles. Our Sprinter was always in the shop for something. The most notorious that I recall was the time the (1.5 year old) crankshaft pulley fell off. After that, just for fun, I conducted an informal poll of other Sprinter drivers from around the country (we’d meet up from time to time at big news events). To my surprise, a LOT of their Sprinters had lost the crankshaft pulley. Brilliant. Most of the users that I talked to loved the room, the power (turbo-diesel), and the fuel economy, but despised the bizarre control layout (take a look at cruise control on a Sprinter some time) and really hated the reliability. The Fords were far more reliable. Just from my company’s perspective, 1 Sprinter would be in the shop more often than 4 Econolines combined.
Keep in mind, though, that this was the old Sprinter. I’ve not really followed Sprinter much lately, and don’t know if the new version is all new, or if it’s just new sheet metal on the same old truck. I also don’t know if Mercedes kicked some butt at the factory from a quality control perspective - most of what went wrong with the Sprinters was obviously crappy assembly - so it’s entirely possible that the new crop of Sprinters are much better. Your mileage may vary.
Well maybe (I would hope) FedEx has better fleet maint. than the TV industry. Anyway, the engines have changed, newer Sprinters have a V6 vs. the older I-5. Changeover to the V-6 was '07 IIRC. Mine is the older I-5, like I said, rock solid despite the abuse I throw at it.
RE: Debate on Sprinter Reliability
I am not surprised to see claims that the Sprinter is reliable. FedEx probably does a good job of maintaining them, and diesels are good for vehicles that do more traveling than sitting.
In an RV application, diesels are expensive, and they are best for people who live in their RVs or use them a lot. There are other brands of diesel chassis out there though, and personally, I would rather have a Cummins or Caterpillar diesel engine than a Mercedes.
I don’t think either of those engines are available in class-B’s, which is what I think OP is referring to by “camper van.” If he’s up for getting a class-A, however, absolutely.
Of course, it’s been a week since his post with no word from him, so it’s likely this was a flyby posting and we’ll never see him again
What about the possibility of a Cab Over Camper that fits in the bed of the truck?
In my view it seems the best way to go because the pickup can be used as a pickup with the camper removed.
I have a friend who did lots of research and found that the most cost effective, safest, convenient, reliable way of moving several people around while camping out was a fifth wheel camper with a crew cab PU. Much easier on the people and truck.