10 Requirements for Buying the Van
Updated: Apr 3, 2018
Buying the van took almost 2 years between searching and saving. When minimalistic van living became a dream of mine, I was looking to buy a camper van for around 8k. Looking back I'm not sure exactly how I came up with that pretty number, but after much research I realized it was going to take me quite a bit more. One of the biggest changes to the vehicle price was learning that I didn't want to buy a camper, but to build one out. So for months I scoured the internet (craigslist, eBay, auto trader, etc) for the perfect van.
It took me a long time to come up with the parameters for my search, but several months in realized I needed to set some boundaries so that I wouldn't go over budget, or get a van that didn't meet my needs out of angst to get on the road. Here's a list of what I narrowed my search to and why. Also I didn't actually type these things in to my searches, as a lot of postings don't include specifics. I would go as vague as "sprinter" but used the list below to filter out vans in my mind.
1) Dodge, Mercedes, or Freight liner Sprinter Van It was hard switching from the a
esthetics of a VW camper van, to that of boring white cargo van, but for space, longevity, and stealth- it was clear this
was the way I needed to go. I watched several videos comparing different cargo vans, and it was clear that the Sprinter was best on gas mileage, affordable maintenance, and easiest to drive. It was a little confusing to me that the same van held so many different brand names, but all of them are powered by Mercedes, so I actually leaned towards a Dodge or Freightliner to save a little on logo cost.
2) Diesel Engine
3) Less than 200k miles This Number was hard to arrive at. It took me a while to adjust to the idea that 200k was considered a "low mileage" Sprinter van, as
they typically have a life of 500k-600k miles. It was also frustrating that some people advertised their sprinters at low mileage with 350k miles on it. Shockingly, no matter how many miles were on a sprinter, it appeared they maintained their value quite well. It was really slim pickings in the 100k-200k search for sprinters. There were plenty with 25k or 30k, and they were costing between $30k-$60k. There were plenty with 300K+ miles and they were selling between $7k-$15k. $14K was on the high side of my budget before the build out, so it was often discouraging to see a van with 426k miles on it listed for $14k. But I planned to stick to my budget and not go above my mileage barrier. I believed the right van would appear for me at the right time.
4) Extended High Roof I looked at an already built out cargo van a few months into my search. The pictures looked great online, and I was getting anxious to depart, so I thought I would go take look. I stepped into the "kitchen" with my body almost in the shape of an upside-down J. I turned my head, not my body left to the "bedroom," and I knew right then and there that standing room would absolutely be a necessity. And it was going to cost me at least 2k on top, as I guess many others had come to the same conclusion- whether working or living in a sprinter, space to stand tall is invaluable.
5) NO rust Rust is the herpes of automobiles. I wasn't going to risk a cold sore turning into full- blown herpes. No rust was a must.
6) 158' WB This was a preference more than a necessity. The sprinters came in 3 different lengths: 144', 158' and 170' wheelbases. While I was wanting to live a minimalistic life, i also realized I didn't want to say good bye to my art supplies, photography gear, reading books- not nooks, and yes, shoes. So storage space was something important to me. 144 seemed to short, not just for storage but also for living quarters. Its amazing what an extra 14 inches will do. 170' would be great for living space and storage, but much harder for me to drive, and specifically park, in metropolitan areas.
7) No dividing wall between the cab and cargo There were a couple forms of dividers between the cab and cargo. One, welded from side-to-side with a small window. Another, metal sheets attached to the wall with bolts. I would take the latter, and not the former as wanted that to be open space. I was planning on putting in at least one swivel seat and also wanted the option to drive a way in a hurry from an unsafe situation.
8) Cargo Van, not empty Passenger van The passenger vans typically had windows surround the entire vehicle. for insulating purposes, as well as privacy and darkness for sleeping- the fewer windows the better.
9) Within 500 miles of me. The best way to get a good deal on a sprinter is to buy it on eBay, or online auctions. I decided I needed to step foot into my Sprinter before purchasing it, and flights or long road trips to see the "might-be" van wasn't in my budget. I needed to find a van local, or at least in the state of Florida.
10) Less than $14,000 At some point you have to pick a budget and STICK to it. After researching all my needs, I realized getting one for this price would be a steal, but a steal is what I needed and what I would wait for.