RevRico PowerDork
10/9/19 6:38 p.m.

So while I've kind of had my heart set on a slightly newer and larger truck, it's looking like I would be much better off business wise with a van(or box truck but I REALLY don't want that). 

I don't know much about them. I've ridden in and worked out of Fords and Chevy's and really have not noticed an appreciable difference between the two. 

Aside from being less than HALF the cost of a similar aged and mileaged pickup truck, and superior weather protection/security for tools, what are some up and downsides?

According to a precursory search of the list of craig, I can afford 2005-2010 ford or chevy, 2 or 4wd, 150/1500 to 250/2500 style. Chrysler products, aside from an MB Sprinter, might as well not exist as far as I'm concerned unless you can give me a really good argument. 

I personally want the newest thing I can afford in the hopes that deferred maintenance won't bite me, but are there better things about older ones? Are the 4.8 and 5.3 chevy vans I see LS owners?

Does either manufacturer have a better 4wd system or do vans weigh enough I shouldn't need to worry about it? I'll be on call for snow removal for accumulation over 3 inches, and I don't really like driving with PA drivers in the snow already, let alone without a rear view mirror. 

Where should I be checking these things for rust? Do the transmission tend to die around 200k? A lot of what I've been seeing for sale online, could just be great pictures, but look considerably cleaner rust wise than cars and trucks of the same age. They all also seem to have 200k on the clock, whether they're 07 4wds or 2011 2wds. 

Anything to look out for that would indicate a higher tow rating? I know a lot of you guys race cars with the vans, but I haven't really seen anyone towing a backhoe with one, could the right one do it?

I will be using this thing to make a living, so reliability and rust resistance are pretty high on my list.

I'm not running out and buying, but I will be saving my pennies and and keeping an eye out for a potential trade over the winter. Probably looking to buy in April or May, but if the right deal or the right offer comes along I might need to jump on it. 

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
10/9/19 7:14 p.m.

If GM you want a 3/4 or 1-ton w/the 4L80e trans. They changed to something else a few years ago, and while arguable a better trans, they’re WAY more expensive to rebuild/replace. 

There’s plenty of LSx threads, and I don’t have any firsthand experience with them anyway. Honestly, I wouldn’t shy away from an older pre-LS van if it was in good enough condition. 

I don’t have as much experience with Fords, and only 90’s models, so I can’t offer too much info there. I’m not sure if they still use the twin I-beam front suspension either. They’re ok, but there seem to be shops who can’t align them properly from what I’ve read. 

DrBoost MegaDork
10/9/19 8:06 p.m.

The dodge vans are good, but it sounds like you're set against them?  A few hundred thousand trouble free miles is what I call good. 

Kreb UberDork
10/9/19 9:07 p.m.

My company regularly buys vans. We were Ford guys till the problems with the spark plugs on the mod motors came up. Caused us so much grief that we turned to Chevy/GMC and have never looked back.   

Vigo MegaDork
10/9/19 9:28 p.m.

The dodge engines were arguably more reliable than the chevy engines, but the half-ton trannies were about a wash and no stock chrysler trans really compares to a stock 4l80.  At this point I wouldn't really hesitate to buy a ford van either. They actually have the best transmissions but the engine, while itself fairly reliable, can have some really annoying issues regarding things that bolt to it. 

ronholm Dork
10/9/19 9:54 p.m.

I made the move from truck to van more than a decade ago and for everyday work I still choose the van over a fairly nice truck. Having the tools and materials inside and stowed away easy to find just simply cannot be beat.

I have only had older vans, but prefer the dodges.  In what little work I have had to do all the foot room you give up makes them very easy to work on, and often from the comfort of the seat.

My favorite is a bit of a gas hog, but I came across a handicap converted 1998 Ford Last year.  It is an E150 but has a Fiberglass high top and being a handicap conversion the factory floor was lowered through the middle (Fords are always full frame,my Dodges are not).  That extra headroom is amazing for a tall guy like me.  The old ford is also like a tank in the snow.   It nearly refused last year to slide around even when I wanted to, it just went wherever the front wheels were pointed like a champion.  Generally vans don't suffer the same way a 2wd truck would in the snow.  I am in KS, but have NEVER had any issues getting anywhere I needed in the worst of weather.

That being said 1996 Dodge is in the midst of a 4WD conversion..   just because of jobsite use and some other things which would make it handy.


The sweet spot for me has been buying conversion vans and stripping them down to fit your needs.  Vans sold as work vans I found are generally beat up, and people seem to take better care of their "nice" van.  It usually gets you a little nicer place to work and the pick and pull lots around here are always full of work vans with cabin walls and shelving units.


Edit..  Oh and I have pulled all kinds of things with the vans.   I wouldn't hesistate for a minute to hook anything I would hook to a 3/4 ton right up to most 3/4 vans.   The difference being you have to watch some of the 3/4 vans really aren't what they say they are.  Dodge as much as I love them did this quite a bit with stuff badged as a 3/4 but really didn't have any of the heavier systems, right down to keeping 5 lug wheels. 

Antihero SuperDork
10/10/19 3:18 a.m.

One of the better things about older is the Ford 300 i6.


They are fairly dirt cheap and can be had with a c6. Not a great combo for mpg but ridiculously time tested. You won't go anywhere fast but if you are patient it'll go anywhere for a very long time

Stealthtercel Dork
10/10/19 5:11 a.m.

I can't talk about what they're like to live with, but around here Sprinters rust, big time: I'm talking rust all over the back doors, all over the roof... they just look awful.  Doesn't seem to matter if they're from the Dodge era or the newer M-B era.  If they look that bad driving by, I can't help wondering what they look like underneath.

infinitenexus Reader
10/10/19 7:20 a.m.

Whatever you get, considering you live in PA I would check the underside thoroughly for rust, and after you buy it I would put some kind of coating underneath if possible.  PA is notorious for eating away at vehicles with rust.

Vans are awesome.  All that enclosed space, and you can build a bed in the back and still have a gigantic amount of room underneath to store your tools.  I can't wait to get one as a tow/work vehicle in the future.

RevRico PowerDork
10/10/19 7:25 a.m.
Stealthtercel said:

I can't talk about what they're like to live with, but around here Sprinters rust, big time: I'm talking rust all over the back doors, all over the roof... they just look awful.  Doesn't seem to matter if they're from the Dodge era or the newer M-B era.  If they look that bad driving by, I can't help wondering what they look like underneath.

Huh. I don't see many Sprinters around here to know about the rust issues, but that's why I stay away from Dodge, well rust and electrical gremlins. I'll have to keep that in mind then. 

A conversion van I could probably work with. I considered a minivan, but don't think that it would have the storage space for my daily load out, although the idea of carrying more than one other person is nice. 

Daily loadout, and why Im thinking van over truck now:

Compressor, generator, shop vac, vaccuum, mower, weed wacker, trashbags, cleaning chems and supplies, power tools, hand tools, door locks dead bolts and pad locks, 2 ladders, and in the winter months plywood window boarding, 2x4s, and bolts to attach. PLUS spare clothes, computer, tablet, cooler, and room for trash on jobs not big enough for a dumpster.

Almost sounds like I need a van and a trailer writing it all out.


alfadriver MegaDork
10/10/19 7:37 a.m.

In reply to RevRico :

With that much that you want to carry- you really need to put all of your requirements for the truck down on paper.  IIRC, 4wd does reduce the amount of stuff you can carry.  On the same thread- you need to figure out how tall of a van you need- standard old style van, Sprinter/Transit (slightly higher), or the same with a raised roof.  

If I read your minor win thread right, this is your new company- so this should be a key tool for you to be able to do your job as efficiently as possible.  You need to get the best fit that you can.

ronholm Dork
10/10/19 7:41 a.m.

I will say I almost always use the truck when going or hauling things with fuel in them.  It doesn't take but a small spill to stink up a van interior for a long time.    

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
10/10/19 7:55 a.m.

Sold since 2012, have you considered the Nissan NV3500 van?  4.0L V6 (Frontier truck engine) is standard on the short model or 5.6L V8 (Titan truck engine) optional or standard on the tall models.  With that V8 it will pull any trailer you throw at it.  I think 8,000 lb tow rating.  

RevRico PowerDork
10/10/19 8:38 a.m.

In reply to alfadriver :

On paper, the best tool for the job is probably a retired uhaul truck. It's what I used to have doing this sort of thing, but the deferred maintenance and downtime that comes with those makes it a non starter. From my previous experience, expect to double the purchase price in maintenance costs the first year. That big cube sure is nice to build off of though. 

I've also done all of this out of an F350 regular cab with toolboxes. It's doable, but insecure and when there can be delays over 60 days from work completion to pay check, I can't afford to worry about tools getting stolen or rain/snow getting into places it shouldn't.

If I were to swap the mower and weedwacker for a thread cutter it's the same load out from my fire alarm days. There we used standard sized cargo vans, and later Transit 250s with utility boxes, but that's a lot more than I have available to spend, although arguably the best tool for the job from a security and comfort to work in point of view. Those boxes aren't cheap though.

I will have a home base for storage and work orders coming in in the mornings to give me an idea of what I'll need for the day, which makes it entirely possible to do this job out of my ranger until I make enough for something bigger, it just requires some Tetris and hoping work orders don't change/emergency calls don't come in while in the field. A regular "work van", fitted with proper shelving, will work just fine as long as I remember to load heavy stuff first, until I can't stoop over anymore.

I don't really have a vehicle choice to start, I will be using my ranger. But I'll have a limited choice in the scale of work that I do. If I have to limit myself to lock swaps, yard maintenance, and trash outs until I can afford to upgrade, I'm fine with that, and it's much less of a headache. It doesn't pay as well, but I can conceivably get more done week to week, which could even out, did I mention it's also less of a headache?

I call this "advanced planning stages". In roughly 7 hours I'll be putting ink to paper, roughly 10 days I'll have my EIN and be eligible for work. Instead, I going to spend the winter building inventory, expanding my client network, and turning an unrelated hobby into a business stream just to cover those first few weeks waiting for pay to be dispersed. I most likely won't be taking on any contacts until late March early April, so there's still time. I might even skip the contract thing all together and luck into a direct gig for a local bank. Foreclosures are on the rise, contracting companies are getting greedier, and we still have some non national banks in the area. 


John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
10/10/19 9:31 a.m.

Is an Isuzu Npr the right thing for you? 

Engine is either 4 cyl Isuzu diesel (slow but stout) or V8 Chevy (common and durable) 

Curtis UltimaDork
10/10/19 10:12 a.m.

Normally when it comes to Dodge/Chevy/Ford, my go-to answer is skip the Dodge, and pick the best of Chevy/Ford.  When it comes to vans, I'm a bit different.

This advice comes from many years in fleet maintenance where I cared for up to 20 of each flavor at any given time. 

The Dodge isn't a bad bet in the vans.  The interiors are crap, plastic, rattly-buzzy and downright annoying, but vans weren't made for a Cadillac driving experience.  Suspensions are adequate, but body roll is big.  Engines are great.  The active cylinder management on the later Hemis is a neat idea, but the software that manages it is awful and makes driving it a chore.  The transmissions are glass.  They will last a long time if you don't abuse them, but any of the HD trans (46, 47, 48RE) will not take abuse, and of the three, they are by far the most expensive to rebuild (7 years running 13 transmission shops)

The Chevy is pretty fair, as long as you go with the LS years.  The Vortec 305/350 in the vans is abhorrently awful.  They don't have enough airflow in the engine bay which means in the summer you'll only have A/C when moving, and even then it won't really cool much.  When the clutch on the fan kicks on, expect the engine to not put out enough oomph to get you to the 2-3 shift point when at WOT.  It will rev up to about 4500-4800 and run out of steam and just hang in 2nd.  You have to let off to trick it into shifting.  These were all brand new vans with under 100 miles on them and they all did it.  LS vans are light years better.  4L60E in the half tons is perfectly fine if you're not abusing it or towing more than 5000 or so.  4L80E is a better choice.  In a cargo/work van, chances are you'll need a 3/4 ton anyway unless you deliver styrofoam or flowers.

The Ford is my go-to in this arena.  4R100 trans is fantastic, as are its successors, the 5R and 6R.  4.6L and 5.4L won't win any races, but they'll easily go 300k without repairs if you maintain them.  My buddy has a 98 4.6L with over 500k and it still sounds like brand new.  The front twin I-beam gets bad-mouthed, but it's bulletproof.  You might experience a little extra tire wear on the fronts, but i never did with any of mine.

I won't speak intelligently on the newer crop of Transits, Mercedes, etc since I haven't owned any.

Vigo MegaDork
10/10/19 10:21 a.m.

What you're describing sounds a little nightmarish to have to do out of the back of a regular van, unless you maybe upgrade to full church-bus spec long wheelbase with maybe a divider in the middle somewhere.  It kinda does sound like you need what landscaping companies are using, which is basically an NPR-ish thing like pictured above, or if you want enclosed, a box on an npr or van, which brings you back to the Uhaul stuff you already dismissed. 

I own a full size van and i wouldn't want to do what you're describing with it. My .02. Sounds like if you want one vehicle to do all those things you're solidly into the commercial vehicle bracket which is going to be unpleasant to drive, have more maneuverability issues than just not having a rear view mirror, be expensive to maintain compared to a car, and have a higher buy in. 

Silly option: Find a wrecked truck with an 8ft+ utility bed, cut it in half and weld a tongue to the rear frame, and tow around a full size utility bed behind your ranger. Then you've got two truck beds, a bunch of lockable storage, and the ability to convert your Ranger back into a Ranger by unhooking the trailer.

wspohn Dork
10/10/19 10:28 a.m.

I know  couple of people that do their businesses out of the back of Chrysler minivans (both 2WD and 4WD) with the Stow-n-Go seating option where the seats fold into the floor. They both tell me that being able to shovel out the back of their work gear and pop the seats up for weekend family stuff is a great asset.  Might not be big enough for you depending on what particular use you have for it.

Have two friends with Sprinters that swear by them, not at them....

RevRico PowerDork
10/10/19 11:55 a.m.
John Welsh said:

Is an Isuzu Npr the right thing for you? 

Engine is either 4 cyl Isuzu diesel (slow but stout) or V8 Chevy (common and durable) 

I don't know anything about them. They always seem to be for sale though. My old cement contractor used one for his laborers and tools and stuff. Seem like tanks, but difficult to maneuver here at the house but a definite possibility.

I also have my buddy the Nissan tech looking out at his dealership. I can't go buy a trade in if it heads to auction, but he can, so it's is something I'm keeping in mind. 

I've been going back and forth in my head, and soon to be with my accountant, about whether I'd be better off taking $10k and buying something used outright or just making a deposit on something brandy new. Doesn't change I still need to make that money first, but just to give you a idea where my head is at. 


Bigger is definitely better, but there's something to be said about proper organization too. Being able to scale my work is also helpful in that if something turns out to take up a lot of space but pays for E36 M3, I can just opt out of doing it. 

Bigger also has some downsides, like berkeleying fuel costs, more insurance, etc that I'd really have to go over to decide if saving 5-15 minutes a day is with the extra $xxx/month. 


Edit: Vigo, I know what you're saying about the utility bed trailer. I rather like the idea, but utility beds are averaging $4500, while s regular enclosed trailer can be had around $2k. I'm also not sure how a truck bed trailer would take with Pennsylvania police and inspectors. There's got to be a reason I don't see many of them here like I do in other states.  Although I am going to spend a little time to see what it would take to turn my open 4x8 utility trailer into an enclosed hauler. 


Double Edit: One of my friends does have a great vehicle, but I'm not interested in it for financial and parking reasons. 26 foot former Snap on truck. 4BT with 200k miles, already loaded with work benches and pegboard on every surface. He bought it, found out it needs a kingpin and rear brake line, and it's been sitting since because buying the tools to work on something like that, let alone paying someone to fix it, is almost prohibitively expensive. I drove it around the block when he got it, and despised the visibility. For being so high and so forward sitting, it was hard keeping track of that giant body behind me. 

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
10/10/19 12:14 p.m.

In reply to RevRico :

On the NPR.  The ride is a little rough given that you are seated on the shock towers but the visibility and therefore the subsequent maneuverability is exceptional.  There will be less DIY given the bigger size of the whole thing but the engines are very accessible given the whole tilt cab thing.  

Also make note that 6 tires are more expensive than 4 tires and the single tires are likely more expensive too.  Maybe not given that the rear tires can be retreads.  

Interesting configuration that looks like it used to be a former lawn chemical truck.  Fiberglass box!  How much of that interior stuff can be removed?  Do you need a water tank?




Ransom UltimaDork
10/10/19 12:55 p.m.

I liked that my Dodge cargo van had no windows and was thus fairly secure, which turned me away from conversions. That said, I think the reason work vans tend to be so cheap on average is that pickups are often the family car and cared for as such and replaced as such, while work vans have all their utility extracted and are only spit out when they cost more in repairs than it costs to replace them. My $2000 Dodge van was great by the time I was $5000 into it (not counting a lot of hours and working around some epic utility-extraction bodges, like the welded-in upper ball joints). It was way floatier at speed than the Fords and Chevys I'd driven, even after doing a fairly comprehensive suspension rebuild (though not the lower A-arm inner bushings).

This is an underinformed gut reaction, but I'd be wary of springing for new unless you're in a position to do all that extraction of utility, and can capitalize on the new-van reliability. Not that just not having to worry about it isn't worth something.

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