My New Van: Choosing the Right Vehicle

by | Oct 18, 2012 | 75 comments

My New Van: Choosing the Right Vehicle

You are here:
< All Topics

My New Van. It is a 2001 Chevy Express 3500 extended cargo van. It has a 155 inch wheel base, so it is huge inside!

I just bought a new Tow Vehicle (TV) to replace my old pickup. I went back and forth between another pickup or a van and I finally decided on a van. I bought a 2001 Chevy Express 3500 extended cargo van. The thing is huge inside, I could easily live in it and be very comfortable. I think there are some lessons for other vandwellers in my long evolution so I’m going to go over it in some detail and tell you my mistakes and some lessons learned.

It came with two great storage racks (one up front behind the drivers seat and one at the rear on the passenger side). It also came with a divider wall which I like. The bed will go along the wall on the drivers side.

I have known for a long time that I needed to replace my old Ford F150 pickup. There are literally dozens of little things that are wrong with it and I suspect some big ones too. My guess is that getting them all fixed would be thousands of dollars and it just doesn’t make sense to put more money in it. It is a 1993 Ford 4×4 Super-cab F150 pickup with 245,000 miles. I bought it when I lived in Alaska and 4×4 was an absolute necessity. There is so much ice and snow you must have four-wheel-drive. Vans with 4×4 are very expensive and very hard to find so I bought a pickup instead. I wanted to be able to live and travel in it, and I had a very small budget, so I built a camper on the bed and lived in it for 2 ½ years.
Lesson #1: Know When to Get Rid of a Vehicle:
First let me say that it has been a wonderful vehicle!! I bought it with 133,000 miles on it and it was trouble free until 200,000 miles. It was a totally reliable and faithful companion. But, at 199,000 miles, things started to break. They were spaced out enough, and small enough, that I just fixed them one-by-one. So when the transmission went out I thought, “Well, it has been a great vehicle and I’ve fixed everything wrong with it, so I will just rebuild it.” So I spent a bunch of money on a rebuild. Then at 210,000 miles the engine started running really bad and a compression check showed one of the cylinders had lost all compression. What should I do? A rebuilt engine was expensive (I could have bought a decent used van for the price of a new engine) but I had already put so much money into it I hated to lose it all. So I put in a rebuilt engine.
Here it is at 245,000 miles and there is so much wrong with the truck it is not worth anything, so all the money I put into it is money down the toilet. In retrospect, I would have been much better off to walk away from it at 200,000 miles In the business world what I did happens often enough they have a name for it, it is called “Sunk Cost.” It’s like throwing money down the drain and then throwing more money down the drain to try to get that first money back. All the money ends up being lost (for a great explanation, go here: http://www.davemanuel.com/investor-dictionary/sunk-cost/). Getting rid of the truck when the automatic transmission failed would have been the only rational decision, but I made an emotional decision—I really love that truck! That was a very expensive lesson learned the hard way: if the needed repair is more than the worth of the vehicle, walk away from it and get a new vehicle instead.
Lesson #2: Don’t Overload a Vehicle and Then Use it as Your Daily Driver:
Most vandwellers have everything they own in the world inside their van with them. That often makes the van very heavy, maybe even over the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). That’s exactly what happened to me. My home-built camper was heavy and I had all my possessions in it. The result was that it was 1200 pounds over gross. Being overweight caused many problems with the truck. When engineers design a truck, they set a top weight for it and design everything around those weight limits. So the engine, transmission, cooling system, and brakes are designed to work with a set upper limit. Driving it over weight occasionally won’t do any real harm, but when it is constantly driven at 1200 pounds more than that GVWR, things break sooner than they should. The most obvious was that I had to replace the brakes much too often. Because I worked as a campground host in the mountains I drove the truck up and down big hills every day. That wore the brakes out and worked the engine really hard. That kind of abuse greatly contributed to all the money I ended up putting into the truck. My first year as a campground host was in Colorado, which has a very short camping season and pays low wages. After that first summer, I figured out how much I had spent on repairs for the truck and I was amazed to find I had spent more to fix the truck than I had earned.

Looking from the side door toward the back. The bed will be along the wall behind the shelves.

Finally I realized that it just didn’t make sense to take my house and all my possessions on every trip with me. If I had a trailer I could park it in my campground and never move it again for the whole 5 month season I was at work. So I bought and converted my cargo trailer and did just that. I bought a cargo trailer because it was so light that even my tired old F150 could handle it.
Once I had the trailer ready to live in I took the old camper off the truck, and it was like I could hear it give a sigh of relief. Instead of being 1200 pounds overweight, it was 1200 pounds under the GVWR. Since then the major repairs caused by the abuse have greatly decreased, but the minor problems caused by the constant abuse and old age have dramatically increased. The net affect is I simply had to replace it.
Lesson #3 Buy a Vehicle Rated for the Load it Will Carry:
If I had a ¾ ton or 1 ton truck, most of my problems would have been solved because I would have been under GVWR. It would still be old and worn out, but I would not have thrown so much money away on repairs caused by over-load and abuse.
So when I went looking for a replacement, I was determined to buy a van that would laugh at the load I would be carrying, and not cry under it. I bought an Express 3500 van. That means it is a 1 ton van. It has a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, and my trailer only weighs 3000 pounds. It has a cargo capacity inside the van of 4000 pounds and I will never carry more than 1000 pounds in it. In other words, when I am fully loaded to pull the trailer to a new camp, my van doesn’t even know the weight is there; it is insignificant compared to its designed capacity.
Lesson #4 It’s Good to Have a Daily Driver that is Different from the Vehicle You Live In.
This lesson is mainly for Boondockers like me, because it is hard to do this when you stealth park in a city. If you set up camp on Public Land, and are going to be there for a while, the best thing you can do is have a second vehicle that gives you better mpg and means you don’t always have to break camp every time you need to run an errand into town. Here are some ways to that:

  • Carry a small motorcycle or scooter to use as a daily driver. You can carry it on your bumper or trailer hitch, tow it in a trailer, or even carry it inside the van if it is small enough. Many small bikes can get 80-100 mpg!
  • Tow an economy car behind your van or RV. I could easily live inside my 1 ton van and tow an economy car behind it. I would only get 10 mpg in the van while towing, but when I parked it I could drive the economy car and get 35 mpg. Remember, it has a 10,000 pound towing capacity and most economy cars are around 2000 pounds. My van would laugh at that weight! Or I could tow a Jeep (about 4000 pounds) and get decent mpg and have the fun of four wheeling.
  • Tow a light trailer behind your van or pickup. This is what I have decided works best for me. I get the extra room and comfort a trailer offers, and it is very easy to tow. That leaves the van empty so I can carry many things that I had to give up when I lived in the tiny camper. The extra room has made my life much more comfortable than it ever was before. It also has another advantage. While I love living in the trailer, I hate towing it. That’s not a problem when I stay camped in one location for long periods of time, which I usually do. But sometimes I get itchy feet and I just want the freedom to roam spontaneously and travel as I see fit. That’s something the trailer is terrible at. So my plan is to leave it in a storage yard and take the van on trips. For example, in the near future I want to drive up to the Canadian Rockies. In a van that would be heaven, but pulling the trailer it would be hell. I see towing the trailer with a van as having the best of both worlds: the spontaneity, freedom and fuel economy of a van for trips and the comfort of a trailer for extended stays.

Lesson #5 Always Take a Used Vehicle to a Mechanic Before you Buy it!
I had a mechanic check out my Ford F150 before I bought it and he said it was in great shape! The fact I got 77,000 trouble free miles out of it convinced me that was the best $80 I ever spent. So before I bought this van I also got it checked out by a mechanic. I hope it is also the best $80 I ever spent.

The van divider wall.

I hope this little trip down my memory lane will give you some food for thought and help clarify your own choices in a vehicle. I have made so many mistakes; it would be good if they helped someone else avoid some of their own.  Bob

Previous Living in a VW Vanagon
Next My Van Conversion: How to Live in a Van

75 Comments

  1. joey

    Hey Bob, Congratulations on the new van! post some more info. and pics. on the forum.

    • Bob

      Thanks Joey! I think I am going to do a very minimal conversion with it since I won’t be living in it for more than a month or two at a time. Although one of these days I may take it to Alaska and be gone from May to October. If so I will build it out a little more. Bob

  2. CAE

    That baby looks HUGE inside. Nice. It would be great to see it when you’ve got it finished.
    Uh oh, now you got a whole bunch of new space for more ‘stuff’.

    • Bob

      Boy you hit the nail on the head CAE. I was transferring stuff out of the pickup and I thought “Wow, I could put a lot of stuff in here!!” That is very dangerous for me! But I don’t think it will be a problem. After I got the trailer there were several things I really regretted not having and bought them. Right now I don’t know anything else I might want except a scooter. Once my arm gets settled, a scooter is a distinct possibility. Bob

  3. Boonie

    You made me smile when you mentioned the transportation costs of being a campground host. I always wondered about questions like that when I see a guy delivering pizzas or newspapers in his own car!
    I’m skeptical about the idea of towing an “economical” motor vehicle behind the van, but I can’t quote real numbers. It’s so easy to overestimate gasoline (even at $4 per gallon) because it’s a VISIBLE cost, and so easy to underestimate repairs and maintenance because they are deferred to some indeterminate date in the future.
    Sometimes it seems that the only real way to save money on transportation is to drive less, and that every other money-saving scheme is just an exercise in cost-shifting rather than true cost-saving.
    I find driving less to be difficult. (It’s like losing weight by eating less!) But it does help to use the AAA figure of $0.70 per mile as the total cost of ownership for a motor vehicle. Maybe 50 cents per mile would be better for a guy who buys used vehicles and has no financing costs.
    But whatever the number is, it’s crucial to choose some number that is reasonable and lets you do the arithmetic in your head, so you can instantly convert today’s perhaps-unnecessary trip to town to DOLLARS. It needs to be turned into a mental habit.

    • Bob

      That is very, very good advice Boonie. Maintenance and repairs are a future certainty. That makes a scooter or a small motorcycle much more appealing. Insurance is cheap, and repair and maintenance are easy enough to do it yourself. They are cheap to buy and get incredible mpg. I have a friend with an old 1982nClass C and he tows a Ford Festiva. The Class C gets 5-7 mpg and the Festiva gets an honest 40 mpg. In that situation I think a towed vehicle is a great idea. Bob

  4. Joy

    Bob,
    Nice van! I can’t wait to see pics of how you fix it up. Hope you add in pics of the trailer set up, so we can see the combo.

    • Bob

      Hi Joy, I’m afraid the van will be a little disappointing because I am going to the minimum to make it livable. It will just be for trips, the trailer is my home. I have an article on the trailer conversion on my website. You can see it here:
      http://cheapgreenrvliving.com/Converted_Cargo_Trailer.html
      Bob

  5. Calvin R

    There’s a lot of food for thought in this for me. I had not realized that your camper on the truck weighed so much. We have had a discussion here about manufactured truck campers, including the “popup” kind, and for those weights are available prior to purchase. I hope others will pay attention to the GVWR and GCWR in making decisions. I know I will.
    I appreciate your list of ideas for separating the “driver” from the “home.” Between them, the ideas give a lot of flexibility for taste and circumstances. I suspect that separating the vehicle from the “home” would give employed vandwellers a way of avoiding unwanted questions at work, and some cities are close enough to camping areas to make the combination viable. At 35-100 mpg, a 10-mile (or more) commute becomes pretty reasonable. That would give me several camping options here in Columbus, Ohio, for example.

    • Bob

      That’s a very good point Calvin. It’s pretty easy to camp in the desert within 20 miles of a major city. Here in Victorville I’m 10 miles from the outskirts and 18 miles from the center of town. If I had a Honda 250 I could ride into town at 80 mpg (or a Ford Festiva at 40 mpg) for a daily job and leave the trailer safely in the desert. It does seem a little risky to leave the trailer out her all alone though. Bob

  6. Cedric

    Nice van, Bob! I hope you update us periodically with pics and stories of the progress on the van build.

    • Bob

      Thanks Cedric, I will do that! Bob

  7. Kim

    Very nice! Keep us posted on the outfitting of your new home.

    • Bob

      Thanks Kim, will do! Bob

  8. Lost Camper

    This is why we use a small popup and a small truck- MPG and freedom to go back and forth without breaking camp. However, we do not live in it full-time, but your suggestions are valid.
    The 3500 is a lot of van and should prove its might in anything you do. I look forward to see what you do next.
    As always, thank you Bob for sharing your knowledge and experiences,
    Lost Camper

    • Bob

      Thanks Lost Camper. I am a really big fan of the small trucks and light campers. If I didn’t live in it full-time it would be my first choice. I am just not enough of a minimalist to live in that small a space. However, it has occurred to me to tow a 4×4 Toyota Tacoma pickup with a tall shell and use it as my daily driver and then take my long trips in the Tacoma and put the van in storage. That would work very well for me. Plenty of space in the van and tremendous freedom with decent mpg in the Tacoma.
      That’s the beauty of the 1 ton van for me. It leaves me lots of options for the future. I can go smaller by towing a Tacoma or I can go bigger by towing a full-size RV. A Casita fiberglass travel trailer would be my first choice. Options are good! Bob

  9. Nelda

    Bob, we am so happy for you. We are looking forward to seeing it!

  10. James

    Congratulations on the new van Bob! Eager for Many new adventures and posts following your blog with the new wheels!!

    • Bob

      Thanks James! Where are you guys at? If you are in the area we would love to see you again. I ran into the exact problem you had with your solar. The sun dropped below the trees and I was always out of power. Here in the desert I have more power than I could ever use!
      Weather has been very good; highs around 90 and very pleasant evenings.Supposed to drop down into the 70s for the weekend. Come see us! Bob

      • James

        Hey Bob!! After meandering our way through Lake Isabella, we decided to take 395/190 and wound up in Pahrump!! We really see why you like it here! Yep, our solar is running like a champ out here.
        We haven’t decided how long we are going to stay as yet and haven’t had a visit by a ranger. Power lines construction is under way just east of the municipal buildings where we are so we are thinking about heading over to the west side of town.
        Stopped in to Saddle West for water a couple days ago and looked for Fred. Must be too early in the season yet for him.
        2 for 1 buffet at the Nugget for $11 bucks sounds like a deal before we head out. Wishin’ I had a bike out here. GOOD TIMES, MISS YOU GUYS!!!!

        • Bob

          I’m with you, I really do love Pahrump! But the weather can be so bad in the winter. How has the weather been since you were there? I just realized I let my drivers license expire, so I may have to take the new van up there and get my license renewed. How long do you plan on being there? Bob

          • James

            We had rain from that low that came through Shaver Lake, otherwise about 85 and dry. We plan to stick around through the first week of November, maybe longer. Let us know if you come through!!

          • Bob

            James and Kendal, went to your blog and it is great as usual. Seeing your pictures made me homesick, I really do love Pahrump. But November and December are generally VERY cold and windy. The desert tortoise hibernate in winter, so it’s unlikely you will see them now, especially with it going to cool off this coming week. But next March through April they come out and you see them everywhere! I really love them. I am planning on being there March-April because the low desert is getting to hot for me but Pahrump is still cool. After the first RTR I left Quartzsite where it was 95 degrees and got to Pahrump on March 1st and it snowed that night! I’d rather have snow than heat!
            Maybe we can meet up there in the Spring. Bob

  11. Linda D.

    Hey Bob! Nice van! I had considered one of these long extended vans myself, but was a little leery of the mpg. What kind of gas mileage are you getting?

    • Bob

      Hi Linda, I’m sorry but I just got it so I haven’t got any idea yet. I’m very curious to know myself! I’ll keep you posted! Bob

  12. Cheryl

    Nice van Bob! Yes…….keep the pics coming! Love the Eye Candy!
    Cheryl

    • Bob

      Hi Cheryl, you know you are a vandweller if … A 1 ton cargo van is “eye candy.” LOL! But I agree, it really is eye candy! Bob

  13. GARY GREEN

    dang bob,thats a nice van.work out of your trailer an live out of the van,maybe a small scooter or motorcycle.you could haul it in van or trailer? well it look like you will be bizzy.you will have lot’s to blog about.gary

    • Bob

      Thanks Gary! a scooter is a possibility! You can always come stay while and help me do it! Bob

  14. Linda Sand

    Excellent choice. A bed and a port-a-pot and you can go pretty much anywhere.

    • Bob

      I agree 100% Linda, and that is my exact plan! Bob

  15. Tara

    YAY for a new ‘home’ even if it’s just for temporary purposes! That van looks like the Chevy equivalent of my van! 1 TON (I just learned what this meant!), GIANT living area! Yours is cleaner looking, because mine is much older.
    Hope to see you down the road somewhere,
    Tara

    • Bob

      Tara, when you get tired of the cold, rainy, dreary Northwest winter, come join us here in the glorious desert! You will be glad you did! Bob

      • Tara

        I totally will! So far I’m doing ok. I finished off the roof insulation, and it’s already SOO much warmer, so I’m feeling better about surviving the below zero of Montana. I’m still in Washington now, and will be here thru the end of the month. Once I see my boss in Montana, I have zero plans. I was sort of planning to rush rush rush south, to get out of the cold, but if I’m doing ok, I may just mozy slowly down and get in some great nature time along the path south. We shall see! The best thing about living in a van! I’ll make it there by the RTR for sure, but if I start to get cold I may be there a LOT sooner! 🙂

        • Bob

          Tara, sounds like a great plan! One of my favorite places in the country is southern Utah in November and December especially Zion NP. I highly recommend a stop-over there. From November on the Rockies from Colorado north are very iffy on weather. Big snowstorms can come in at any time. Have fun, see you in January at the latest! Bob

  16. Robert Witham

    Some good food for thought here. Thanks. I am preparing to make the transition to full-time nomad/van dweller somewhere between January and June. I still need to upgrade the car to a van or truck/trailer combo, and I have been debating the merits and drawbacks of both for some time. Considering that everything I own fits in my 1990 Acura sedan with room to spare, I do not need a lot of space. I have been concerned with potentially overloading the vehicle and causing premature mechanical problems though, so I am glad you discussed that issue.
    In my best-case scenario of hitting the road in January, I hope to make it to RTR in Quartzsite this year {fingers crossed}

    • Bob

      Hi Robert, there are so many variables in choosing a vehicle, it can be pretty confusing. It would be nice if there was just one, simple answer, but every bodies needs and priorities are so different it becomes pretty tough. I have to admit I think the van-trailer combo is a very good one. You may want to look at the Casita trailers, they are really outstanding. The fly in the ointment, of course, is the cost of gas. Who knows how high it will go. That makes a minimalist lifestyle in a mini-van look pretty appealing.
      I hope to met you at the RTR, I think this is going to be the best one yet! Bob

      • Boonie

        I wish I knew more about the Casita. The last one I inspected had nice 15″ tires, which is great.
        But are higher ceilings an option with them. I’m only 5’11.5″ and I couldn’t handle brushing my head against the air conditioner.
        Also, is it true that they have virtually no insulation? (A thin layer of indoor/outdoor carpeting glued to the inside walls doesn’t “count”. Grin.)
        How do you mount shelves or furring strips inside without drilling THROUGH the fiberglass shell and using bolts and nuts?

        • Bob

          I’m sorry Boonie, I don’t have answers to any of your questions. I’ve never spent anytime around a Casita. I have several friends with them and they do look great, especially with their light weight. And I’ve never worked with fiberglass, so I have no experience their either.
          That’s the main reason I built a home-built camper out of wood and now I am in an aluminum cargo trailer, it’s easy stuff to work with. Fiberglass is a mystery to me! Bob

  17. Libertad

    Congrats. I’d love to see pics of how you turn your cargo van into your castle. Just started looking through craigslist for used van. I really appreciate your tips.

    • Bob

      You bet, Libertad, I will post updates on the van conversion. Just don’t get your hopes up to much, it is going to be very simple! Bob

  18. Wolf

    This is a great post. I’m looking at getting a van myself and I’d like to get a similar setup on the inside.
    For a secondary vehicle, I was going with a bicycle. I can do 5 miles one way easy, plus I just love to ride.
    I guess my biggest question would be outfitting the interior. Do you have tools or access to a garage? How do you go about building in a bed, desk, countertop, or other amenities?

    • Bob

      Hi Wolf, great questions! I have basic carpentry skills and I carry basic tools with me. I have a 18 volt cordless circular saw and drill and I also carry a Honda Generator and 110 volt Skill saw and jigsaw. I also have a pretty good selection of hand tools and hardware I carry. That is one reason the old pickup was so over-loaded–I carry lots of tools!! But It is possible to convert a van with very minimal tools or skills. A great method is to shop thrift stores for drawers and desks, and shelf units. You just load those into the van. You will need a drill to secure them to the wall/floor using L brackets. You really should carry a drill because they are so handy. For a bed you can find real milk crates (behind convenience stores) and lay them down with the empty side up. Then fill them with storage and go to Home Depot and have them cut a piece of plywood to fit on the milk crates. To get to the storage under the bed, just lift up the plywood and find a stick the right length to hold it up.
      With luck you can convert the van for less than $100 and very minimal skills.
      The bicycle is a great idea!! Bob

  19. Annie Andre

    Wow, i am truly amazed that you have lived in a van for over 10 years. Do you know any families that do what you do? I know a few that live in RV’s but a van wow. I have so many questions. I don’t think i could do what you do but i’m fascinated in some of the things you are doing and how you do it which could be applied to anyone who travels or does road trips i suppose. right.
    Anyways, loved the video..
    cheers,
    Annie

    • Bob

      Hi Annie, your reaction is very typical when people learn about vandwelling. Like you said, the idea of living in an RV is hard to accept for the average person, but living in a van is incomprehensible. Like many others, life’s circumstances forced me into a van. My choice was live in a van or live on the street, and the van looked like a BIG step up from the street! And then I fell in love with it!! It is my deepest desire to never live in a house again.
      We all know the old saying that freedom isn’t free, but vandwellers take it further and say that radical freedom requires radical simplification! I have gained a level of freedom in my life that very few modern humans can even imagine. Oddly enough, the simplification that is required, turns out to be the best, most enjoyable part of the equation, and not a hardship at all.
      BUT, this lifestyle does not lend itself well to families. I know many couples living in vans but I don’t know any with children. After my divorce i stayed close to my kids and spent a lot of time with them. They didn’t mind the van at all. I had electricity so after they did their homework they watched TV or played Nintendo. When they were young we spent a lot of time at the parks playing and picnicking outside. I parked my van outside their moms house and when they came home from school they would spend some time with me, have dinner with their mom and then come back out. It was like I was in the next room, not living in a different house. But as soon as they turned 18 I took early retirement and hit the road. So vandwelling can work with famiies.
      You and your questions are always welcome!! I’m glad you are here! Bob

  20. Tina

    Hi Bob,
    Very happy for you, that looks to be a great van and able to tow a lot. I do plan on getting a van so really liked this post about your reasons why and lessons learned. Looking forward to see what you do to the inside and the mpg.
    Tina

    • Bob

      Thanks Tina. Yeah, I am very curious about the mpg as well. I still have 15 gallons in the truck so I am going to burn it before I start driving the van. The conversion is going to be very simple because it will be for trips, only not to live in. I will keep you informed as I progress. Bob

  21. Boonie

    Bob, did your Chevy Express 3500 come with an auxiliary transmission lubricant cooler? They’re easy to see by looking through the front grill; they are usually mounted in front of the radiator, and look like a small (10″) finned radiator.
    Do you agree that an auxiliary transmission lubricant cooler is highly recommended for someone who does a lot of towing?
    I’m asking because I was looking at used cargo vans last week at a place in Albuquerque that specializes in them, and none of the Chevy vans — even the 3500 — had transmission coolers. I couldn’t believe it! Ford puts them in on their E250 and E350s.

    • Bob

      Hi Boonie, my van didn’t even have a trailer hitch or a transmission cooler. So I took it to U-haul and had them wire it, install the hitch and install a transmission cooler. The grand total was $413 for all that. I thought that was a great deal and highly recommend U-haul for hitches. I totally agree every auto transmission should have a cooler. heat is what kills trannys and so reducing it can only help them go longer before needing a rebuild.
      I think the Cooler was about $130 with parts and labour by itself. So if you find a van with a hitch already, but no cooler I would take it to U haul and get the cooler installed.
      I can’t tell you how glad I bought an extended van! It has so much room, I could easily live in it. Bob

      • Boonie

        Bob, thanks for the information about U-haul installing a transmission cooler in the Chevy Express van. I thought they would just install the receiver hitch. This subject was really bothering me and getting in the way of getting a Chevy van.

        • Bob

          Boonie. it surprised me too that they installed tranny coolers, but it makes perfect sense. Towing is very hard on the transmission, so installing one with a hitch is a great idea!

  22. joey

    Hey Bob,I was just wondering,how many miles are on the van? I am looking at one now and it has 200k miles on it. thanks,joey.

    • Bob

      Joey, that was the one thing I didn’t like about the van, it has 150,000 miles. That’s more than I wanted, but I took it to a mechanic and it checked out good. It is a Los Angeles van which is a good thing since it has never seen snow and most L.A. traffic is on the freeway. Everything else was so great that I took a chance on the mileage. I would not buy a van with 200,000 miles. It will be causing you problems right away. Bob

  23. cyndi

    Congratulations on the new vansion! That thing is HUUUUUGE!!!

    • Bob

      Thanks Cyndi!! It really is Huge! I’ve started transferring stuff out of the truck into it and it just sucks it up like it was nothing. The risk is that I will fill-up the extra space. I will have to be very diligent about not getting more stuff. We will be moving to the Quartzsite area in November. Maybe we will get a chance to see you then? Bob

  24. hitekhomeless (jenn)

    That sure is a nice looking van if I do say so myself. Congrats on finding it so quickly. I know that you will be sad to see that old ford go.

    • Bob

      Jenn, it isn’t nearly as nice as your van, but I am not nearly as patient as you are. You should give classes on finding exactly the van you want! Bob

  25. Rae

    Congrats on the Van Motel Bob! And to rent a room is how much?
    Rae

    • Bob

      Rae, for you it’s $1 a night!! Unless I am traveling in it, then the tent is free!! Stop by and give it a try! It’s only about 3000 miles from Soldotna to here. Bob

  26. Lynnzie

    Bob,
    I intend your van lasts another 200K! thanks for the history of vehicles. Your post shows me I need a new used van or something else, as I now have transmission problems starting to show up and I want something that can pull my new used 1982 Ideal camper trailer to the RTR. I loved my 2004 Chevy Venture Van. It was rated to pull 3,500 and my camper is 1,600 not loaded up. Can you recommend a low gas mileage hauling vehicle for it? or do you still think I should get the Chevy tranny fixed$$!. Thanks,Lynnzie

    • Bob

      Hi Lynnzie, it is always a tough call on when to give up on your car. The problem is it seems obvious afterward, but not at all clear while you are going through it. I have some questions before I can offer any advice. Are you going to go full-time in your trailer, or just take trips? How many miles does it have on it and what kind of shape is it, both mechanically and body. Have you gotten an estimate on repairing the transmission? What mpg does the Venture get? Do you know how much it weighs, or are you just guessing? All the info you can give us will help us give you better advice. Bob

  27. Austinboat

    Congratulations Bob on your new van! I’m excited to see what you end up crafting your van into, granted you’ve already explained it won’t be as extensive as is your trailer. I do have a question if you don’t mind. I notice you chose a sliding door. Will you please share a couple of determining factors for you over swing doors?
    Thanks Bob

    • Bob

      Hi Austin, like most people, I prefer swing doors, but I liked everything else enough that I tolerated the sliding door. The sliding door is a bit of a hassle, but not enough to rule out the van. But the ideal van would have had swing doors. Bob

      • Austinboat

        Thank you Bob, it makes sense that it really is about the complete package. I’m sure you’ll find things you like about the slider that you never would have thought about.
        I’m about 2 months away from being in the market and I’m pretty sure I know what I want. Like so many things, it will come down to the nitty gritty green paper.
        By the way Bob, I can’t thank you enough for all you are doing to help so many others with ingenious ways to find their own freedom. You are a real inspiration to me, I look forward to reading more of your experiences and insights.
        Jason

        • Bob

          Jason, how long it takes to find van depends on the size of the cities in your area and how specific you are in your needs. Getting exactly what you want can be very hard! I have some good friends who wanted an Express van with AWD, positraction, and “wings” (that is an option that lifts the side panels of a cargo van for direct access into the van). They did a nationwide search on Craigslist for several months before they found the perfect van. Then they had to fly into Kansas City, buy it and then drive it back to California. But they were diligent and found the perfect van for them.
          I’m not that diligent, I just took one that met most of my needs. Although I think I may regret not waiting and buying a van with the 5.3 V8 engine.
          Thanks for your kind words about the blog. I feel like I have been given a great gift by discovering vandwelling and the wonderful life it has given me, so I try to pass it along. Bob

  28. larry

    have a friend doing delivery work with 06 with 625000 miles no problems. I have 07 and I get 18 loaded at 60 mph and 14 at 70 mph

    • Bob

      Larry, Wow, 625,000 miles, I have never heard of such a thing. Very impressive! I am assuming you both have an Express Van with the 5.3? I am hearing nothing but great things about the 5.3 and starting to regret the fact I have the 5.7 instead. I don’t expect to get that good of mpg out of the 5.7, but we will see. Bob

  29. Charlene Swankie (aka SwankieWheels)

    Hi Bob (copycat),
    Just kidding. You know I love you. But that van sure does look familiar. My is only a 3/4 Ton but hardly knows my trailer is behind it, as heavy as my trailer is (still haven’t gotten rid of all that genealogy yet.) I know the van will make things better for you. Seems like a flip down bed would work nicely and stow easily.
    Charlene

    • Bob

      Charlene, I don’t mind admitting I am a copy cat, I love your van and I’m glad to have ended up with one just like it. is your trailer still loaded up with rocks? I am headed toward Quartzsite very soon, I expect to be over in the Scanlon Wash area we looked at together last year. Be sure to find me when you get there, or if you get there first give me some directions. Bob

  30. larry

    Bob I do not know what engine he has but I know he followed the maintenance schedule to a t.I have the 4.8 and a 4 speed trans. I now have a new one with a 6 speed trans and the 4.8 motor.my old one was totaled last month a drunk hit me on the interstate doing about 120 mph.he hit me in the rear we are both ok .I took a 600 mile trip in the new one it was empty and I got19.5 at60 mph and 19.4 at 70 mph and 20.3 at 65 mph have not checked pulling my trailer 6×12 hope I get at least 16 mpg

    • Bob

      Larry, I am very impressed with those kinds of numbers. I would think you are exaggerating but I have heard several other people report the same thing. I”m looking forward to hearing what you get towing, 16 mpg towing would be amazing! Bob

  31. larry

    Bob. I took another trip in my van about 150 miles on tn back roads up and down hills and no cruse control van is still empty. on board mpg gauge read about 18 mpg. also using ice cooler I have found what works best for me is to put a hose on the drain and run it outside . no more wet soggy food but you do loose the extra water. also on my window screens I use small earth magnets about the size of a nickle and put them on the outside and it does not not interfere with opening and closing the windows but you have to remove them before driving. hope to see at rtr

    • Bob

      larry, Wow, 18 mpg, it is amazing how much vans fuel efficiency have improved in the last decade or two. Those are all good tips, especially about the water hose. Good to remind people to buy a cooler with a spigot on the side so they can attach a hose to drain it. And adding screens with magnets is also a great idea for summer time heat when the bugs are out. Thanks! Bob

  32. Utah mobile mechanic

    I love that van. You can do anything with that van. You could transform it to a camper van.

  33. Mitch Miller

    We just purchased a 2018 Express 3500 Extended Passenger van. We decided on the passenger van because 1: Most of the cargo vans I could find were either too small or had a quarter-million miles on them. 2: we wanted something with rear a/c. We traded a 2017 F150 that we used to carry a rooftop tent on. it worked great but like was mentioned above, once you set up camp, your stuck there. (Moab Utah is not a bad place to be “stuck” however”
    we also have a 2002 Jeep TJ we plan on trailer (aluminum ) towing. behind the van and still use the rooftop tent. Cant wait to start this conversion!

Table of Contents

75 Comments

  1. joey

    Hey Bob, Congratulations on the new van! post some more info. and pics. on the forum.

    • Bob

      Thanks Joey! I think I am going to do a very minimal conversion with it since I won’t be living in it for more than a month or two at a time. Although one of these days I may take it to Alaska and be gone from May to October. If so I will build it out a little more. Bob

  2. CAE

    That baby looks HUGE inside. Nice. It would be great to see it when you’ve got it finished.
    Uh oh, now you got a whole bunch of new space for more ‘stuff’.

    • Bob

      Boy you hit the nail on the head CAE. I was transferring stuff out of the pickup and I thought “Wow, I could put a lot of stuff in here!!” That is very dangerous for me! But I don’t think it will be a problem. After I got the trailer there were several things I really regretted not having and bought them. Right now I don’t know anything else I might want except a scooter. Once my arm gets settled, a scooter is a distinct possibility. Bob

  3. Boonie

    You made me smile when you mentioned the transportation costs of being a campground host. I always wondered about questions like that when I see a guy delivering pizzas or newspapers in his own car!
    I’m skeptical about the idea of towing an “economical” motor vehicle behind the van, but I can’t quote real numbers. It’s so easy to overestimate gasoline (even at $4 per gallon) because it’s a VISIBLE cost, and so easy to underestimate repairs and maintenance because they are deferred to some indeterminate date in the future.
    Sometimes it seems that the only real way to save money on transportation is to drive less, and that every other money-saving scheme is just an exercise in cost-shifting rather than true cost-saving.
    I find driving less to be difficult. (It’s like losing weight by eating less!) But it does help to use the AAA figure of $0.70 per mile as the total cost of ownership for a motor vehicle. Maybe 50 cents per mile would be better for a guy who buys used vehicles and has no financing costs.
    But whatever the number is, it’s crucial to choose some number that is reasonable and lets you do the arithmetic in your head, so you can instantly convert today’s perhaps-unnecessary trip to town to DOLLARS. It needs to be turned into a mental habit.

    • Bob

      That is very, very good advice Boonie. Maintenance and repairs are a future certainty. That makes a scooter or a small motorcycle much more appealing. Insurance is cheap, and repair and maintenance are easy enough to do it yourself. They are cheap to buy and get incredible mpg. I have a friend with an old 1982nClass C and he tows a Ford Festiva. The Class C gets 5-7 mpg and the Festiva gets an honest 40 mpg. In that situation I think a towed vehicle is a great idea. Bob

  4. Joy

    Bob,
    Nice van! I can’t wait to see pics of how you fix it up. Hope you add in pics of the trailer set up, so we can see the combo.

    • Bob

      Hi Joy, I’m afraid the van will be a little disappointing because I am going to the minimum to make it livable. It will just be for trips, the trailer is my home. I have an article on the trailer conversion on my website. You can see it here:
      http://cheapgreenrvliving.com/Converted_Cargo_Trailer.html
      Bob

  5. Calvin R

    There’s a lot of food for thought in this for me. I had not realized that your camper on the truck weighed so much. We have had a discussion here about manufactured truck campers, including the “popup” kind, and for those weights are available prior to purchase. I hope others will pay attention to the GVWR and GCWR in making decisions. I know I will.
    I appreciate your list of ideas for separating the “driver” from the “home.” Between them, the ideas give a lot of flexibility for taste and circumstances. I suspect that separating the vehicle from the “home” would give employed vandwellers a way of avoiding unwanted questions at work, and some cities are close enough to camping areas to make the combination viable. At 35-100 mpg, a 10-mile (or more) commute becomes pretty reasonable. That would give me several camping options here in Columbus, Ohio, for example.

    • Bob

      That’s a very good point Calvin. It’s pretty easy to camp in the desert within 20 miles of a major city. Here in Victorville I’m 10 miles from the outskirts and 18 miles from the center of town. If I had a Honda 250 I could ride into town at 80 mpg (or a Ford Festiva at 40 mpg) for a daily job and leave the trailer safely in the desert. It does seem a little risky to leave the trailer out her all alone though. Bob

  6. Cedric

    Nice van, Bob! I hope you update us periodically with pics and stories of the progress on the van build.

    • Bob

      Thanks Cedric, I will do that! Bob

  7. Kim

    Very nice! Keep us posted on the outfitting of your new home.

    • Bob

      Thanks Kim, will do! Bob

  8. Lost Camper

    This is why we use a small popup and a small truck- MPG and freedom to go back and forth without breaking camp. However, we do not live in it full-time, but your suggestions are valid.
    The 3500 is a lot of van and should prove its might in anything you do. I look forward to see what you do next.
    As always, thank you Bob for sharing your knowledge and experiences,
    Lost Camper

    • Bob

      Thanks Lost Camper. I am a really big fan of the small trucks and light campers. If I didn’t live in it full-time it would be my first choice. I am just not enough of a minimalist to live in that small a space. However, it has occurred to me to tow a 4×4 Toyota Tacoma pickup with a tall shell and use it as my daily driver and then take my long trips in the Tacoma and put the van in storage. That would work very well for me. Plenty of space in the van and tremendous freedom with decent mpg in the Tacoma.
      That’s the beauty of the 1 ton van for me. It leaves me lots of options for the future. I can go smaller by towing a Tacoma or I can go bigger by towing a full-size RV. A Casita fiberglass travel trailer would be my first choice. Options are good! Bob

  9. Nelda

    Bob, we am so happy for you. We are looking forward to seeing it!

  10. James

    Congratulations on the new van Bob! Eager for Many new adventures and posts following your blog with the new wheels!!

    • Bob

      Thanks James! Where are you guys at? If you are in the area we would love to see you again. I ran into the exact problem you had with your solar. The sun dropped below the trees and I was always out of power. Here in the desert I have more power than I could ever use!
      Weather has been very good; highs around 90 and very pleasant evenings.Supposed to drop down into the 70s for the weekend. Come see us! Bob

      • James

        Hey Bob!! After meandering our way through Lake Isabella, we decided to take 395/190 and wound up in Pahrump!! We really see why you like it here! Yep, our solar is running like a champ out here.
        We haven’t decided how long we are going to stay as yet and haven’t had a visit by a ranger. Power lines construction is under way just east of the municipal buildings where we are so we are thinking about heading over to the west side of town.
        Stopped in to Saddle West for water a couple days ago and looked for Fred. Must be too early in the season yet for him.
        2 for 1 buffet at the Nugget for $11 bucks sounds like a deal before we head out. Wishin’ I had a bike out here. GOOD TIMES, MISS YOU GUYS!!!!

        • Bob

          I’m with you, I really do love Pahrump! But the weather can be so bad in the winter. How has the weather been since you were there? I just realized I let my drivers license expire, so I may have to take the new van up there and get my license renewed. How long do you plan on being there? Bob

          • James

            We had rain from that low that came through Shaver Lake, otherwise about 85 and dry. We plan to stick around through the first week of November, maybe longer. Let us know if you come through!!

          • Bob

            James and Kendal, went to your blog and it is great as usual. Seeing your pictures made me homesick, I really do love Pahrump. But November and December are generally VERY cold and windy. The desert tortoise hibernate in winter, so it’s unlikely you will see them now, especially with it going to cool off this coming week. But next March through April they come out and you see them everywhere! I really love them. I am planning on being there March-April because the low desert is getting to hot for me but Pahrump is still cool. After the first RTR I left Quartzsite where it was 95 degrees and got to Pahrump on March 1st and it snowed that night! I’d rather have snow than heat!
            Maybe we can meet up there in the Spring. Bob

  11. Linda D.

    Hey Bob! Nice van! I had considered one of these long extended vans myself, but was a little leery of the mpg. What kind of gas mileage are you getting?

    • Bob

      Hi Linda, I’m sorry but I just got it so I haven’t got any idea yet. I’m very curious to know myself! I’ll keep you posted! Bob

  12. Cheryl

    Nice van Bob! Yes…….keep the pics coming! Love the Eye Candy!
    Cheryl

    • Bob

      Hi Cheryl, you know you are a vandweller if … A 1 ton cargo van is “eye candy.” LOL! But I agree, it really is eye candy! Bob

  13. GARY GREEN

    dang bob,thats a nice van.work out of your trailer an live out of the van,maybe a small scooter or motorcycle.you could haul it in van or trailer? well it look like you will be bizzy.you will have lot’s to blog about.gary

    • Bob

      Thanks Gary! a scooter is a possibility! You can always come stay while and help me do it! Bob

  14. Linda Sand

    Excellent choice. A bed and a port-a-pot and you can go pretty much anywhere.

    • Bob

      I agree 100% Linda, and that is my exact plan! Bob

  15. Tara

    YAY for a new ‘home’ even if it’s just for temporary purposes! That van looks like the Chevy equivalent of my van! 1 TON (I just learned what this meant!), GIANT living area! Yours is cleaner looking, because mine is much older.
    Hope to see you down the road somewhere,
    Tara

    • Bob

      Tara, when you get tired of the cold, rainy, dreary Northwest winter, come join us here in the glorious desert! You will be glad you did! Bob

      • Tara

        I totally will! So far I’m doing ok. I finished off the roof insulation, and it’s already SOO much warmer, so I’m feeling better about surviving the below zero of Montana. I’m still in Washington now, and will be here thru the end of the month. Once I see my boss in Montana, I have zero plans. I was sort of planning to rush rush rush south, to get out of the cold, but if I’m doing ok, I may just mozy slowly down and get in some great nature time along the path south. We shall see! The best thing about living in a van! I’ll make it there by the RTR for sure, but if I start to get cold I may be there a LOT sooner! 🙂

        • Bob

          Tara, sounds like a great plan! One of my favorite places in the country is southern Utah in November and December especially Zion NP. I highly recommend a stop-over there. From November on the Rockies from Colorado north are very iffy on weather. Big snowstorms can come in at any time. Have fun, see you in January at the latest! Bob

  16. Robert Witham

    Some good food for thought here. Thanks. I am preparing to make the transition to full-time nomad/van dweller somewhere between January and June. I still need to upgrade the car to a van or truck/trailer combo, and I have been debating the merits and drawbacks of both for some time. Considering that everything I own fits in my 1990 Acura sedan with room to spare, I do not need a lot of space. I have been concerned with potentially overloading the vehicle and causing premature mechanical problems though, so I am glad you discussed that issue.
    In my best-case scenario of hitting the road in January, I hope to make it to RTR in Quartzsite this year {fingers crossed}

    • Bob

      Hi Robert, there are so many variables in choosing a vehicle, it can be pretty confusing. It would be nice if there was just one, simple answer, but every bodies needs and priorities are so different it becomes pretty tough. I have to admit I think the van-trailer combo is a very good one. You may want to look at the Casita trailers, they are really outstanding. The fly in the ointment, of course, is the cost of gas. Who knows how high it will go. That makes a minimalist lifestyle in a mini-van look pretty appealing.
      I hope to met you at the RTR, I think this is going to be the best one yet! Bob

      • Boonie

        I wish I knew more about the Casita. The last one I inspected had nice 15″ tires, which is great.
        But are higher ceilings an option with them. I’m only 5’11.5″ and I couldn’t handle brushing my head against the air conditioner.
        Also, is it true that they have virtually no insulation? (A thin layer of indoor/outdoor carpeting glued to the inside walls doesn’t “count”. Grin.)
        How do you mount shelves or furring strips inside without drilling THROUGH the fiberglass shell and using bolts and nuts?

        • Bob

          I’m sorry Boonie, I don’t have answers to any of your questions. I’ve never spent anytime around a Casita. I have several friends with them and they do look great, especially with their light weight. And I’ve never worked with fiberglass, so I have no experience their either.
          That’s the main reason I built a home-built camper out of wood and now I am in an aluminum cargo trailer, it’s easy stuff to work with. Fiberglass is a mystery to me! Bob

  17. Libertad

    Congrats. I’d love to see pics of how you turn your cargo van into your castle. Just started looking through craigslist for used van. I really appreciate your tips.

    • Bob

      You bet, Libertad, I will post updates on the van conversion. Just don’t get your hopes up to much, it is going to be very simple! Bob

  18. Wolf

    This is a great post. I’m looking at getting a van myself and I’d like to get a similar setup on the inside.
    For a secondary vehicle, I was going with a bicycle. I can do 5 miles one way easy, plus I just love to ride.
    I guess my biggest question would be outfitting the interior. Do you have tools or access to a garage? How do you go about building in a bed, desk, countertop, or other amenities?

    • Bob

      Hi Wolf, great questions! I have basic carpentry skills and I carry basic tools with me. I have a 18 volt cordless circular saw and drill and I also carry a Honda Generator and 110 volt Skill saw and jigsaw. I also have a pretty good selection of hand tools and hardware I carry. That is one reason the old pickup was so over-loaded–I carry lots of tools!! But It is possible to convert a van with very minimal tools or skills. A great method is to shop thrift stores for drawers and desks, and shelf units. You just load those into the van. You will need a drill to secure them to the wall/floor using L brackets. You really should carry a drill because they are so handy. For a bed you can find real milk crates (behind convenience stores) and lay them down with the empty side up. Then fill them with storage and go to Home Depot and have them cut a piece of plywood to fit on the milk crates. To get to the storage under the bed, just lift up the plywood and find a stick the right length to hold it up.
      With luck you can convert the van for less than $100 and very minimal skills.
      The bicycle is a great idea!! Bob

  19. Annie Andre

    Wow, i am truly amazed that you have lived in a van for over 10 years. Do you know any families that do what you do? I know a few that live in RV’s but a van wow. I have so many questions. I don’t think i could do what you do but i’m fascinated in some of the things you are doing and how you do it which could be applied to anyone who travels or does road trips i suppose. right.
    Anyways, loved the video..
    cheers,
    Annie

    • Bob

      Hi Annie, your reaction is very typical when people learn about vandwelling. Like you said, the idea of living in an RV is hard to accept for the average person, but living in a van is incomprehensible. Like many others, life’s circumstances forced me into a van. My choice was live in a van or live on the street, and the van looked like a BIG step up from the street! And then I fell in love with it!! It is my deepest desire to never live in a house again.
      We all know the old saying that freedom isn’t free, but vandwellers take it further and say that radical freedom requires radical simplification! I have gained a level of freedom in my life that very few modern humans can even imagine. Oddly enough, the simplification that is required, turns out to be the best, most enjoyable part of the equation, and not a hardship at all.
      BUT, this lifestyle does not lend itself well to families. I know many couples living in vans but I don’t know any with children. After my divorce i stayed close to my kids and spent a lot of time with them. They didn’t mind the van at all. I had electricity so after they did their homework they watched TV or played Nintendo. When they were young we spent a lot of time at the parks playing and picnicking outside. I parked my van outside their moms house and when they came home from school they would spend some time with me, have dinner with their mom and then come back out. It was like I was in the next room, not living in a different house. But as soon as they turned 18 I took early retirement and hit the road. So vandwelling can work with famiies.
      You and your questions are always welcome!! I’m glad you are here! Bob

  20. Tina

    Hi Bob,
    Very happy for you, that looks to be a great van and able to tow a lot. I do plan on getting a van so really liked this post about your reasons why and lessons learned. Looking forward to see what you do to the inside and the mpg.
    Tina

    • Bob

      Thanks Tina. Yeah, I am very curious about the mpg as well. I still have 15 gallons in the truck so I am going to burn it before I start driving the van. The conversion is going to be very simple because it will be for trips, only not to live in. I will keep you informed as I progress. Bob

  21. Boonie

    Bob, did your Chevy Express 3500 come with an auxiliary transmission lubricant cooler? They’re easy to see by looking through the front grill; they are usually mounted in front of the radiator, and look like a small (10″) finned radiator.
    Do you agree that an auxiliary transmission lubricant cooler is highly recommended for someone who does a lot of towing?
    I’m asking because I was looking at used cargo vans last week at a place in Albuquerque that specializes in them, and none of the Chevy vans — even the 3500 — had transmission coolers. I couldn’t believe it! Ford puts them in on their E250 and E350s.

    • Bob

      Hi Boonie, my van didn’t even have a trailer hitch or a transmission cooler. So I took it to U-haul and had them wire it, install the hitch and install a transmission cooler. The grand total was $413 for all that. I thought that was a great deal and highly recommend U-haul for hitches. I totally agree every auto transmission should have a cooler. heat is what kills trannys and so reducing it can only help them go longer before needing a rebuild.
      I think the Cooler was about $130 with parts and labour by itself. So if you find a van with a hitch already, but no cooler I would take it to U haul and get the cooler installed.
      I can’t tell you how glad I bought an extended van! It has so much room, I could easily live in it. Bob

      • Boonie

        Bob, thanks for the information about U-haul installing a transmission cooler in the Chevy Express van. I thought they would just install the receiver hitch. This subject was really bothering me and getting in the way of getting a Chevy van.

        • Bob

          Boonie. it surprised me too that they installed tranny coolers, but it makes perfect sense. Towing is very hard on the transmission, so installing one with a hitch is a great idea!

  22. joey

    Hey Bob,I was just wondering,how many miles are on the van? I am looking at one now and it has 200k miles on it. thanks,joey.

    • Bob

      Joey, that was the one thing I didn’t like about the van, it has 150,000 miles. That’s more than I wanted, but I took it to a mechanic and it checked out good. It is a Los Angeles van which is a good thing since it has never seen snow and most L.A. traffic is on the freeway. Everything else was so great that I took a chance on the mileage. I would not buy a van with 200,000 miles. It will be causing you problems right away. Bob

  23. cyndi

    Congratulations on the new vansion! That thing is HUUUUUGE!!!

    • Bob

      Thanks Cyndi!! It really is Huge! I’ve started transferring stuff out of the truck into it and it just sucks it up like it was nothing. The risk is that I will fill-up the extra space. I will have to be very diligent about not getting more stuff. We will be moving to the Quartzsite area in November. Maybe we will get a chance to see you then? Bob

  24. hitekhomeless (jenn)

    That sure is a nice looking van if I do say so myself. Congrats on finding it so quickly. I know that you will be sad to see that old ford go.

    • Bob

      Jenn, it isn’t nearly as nice as your van, but I am not nearly as patient as you are. You should give classes on finding exactly the van you want! Bob

  25. Rae

    Congrats on the Van Motel Bob! And to rent a room is how much?
    Rae

    • Bob

      Rae, for you it’s $1 a night!! Unless I am traveling in it, then the tent is free!! Stop by and give it a try! It’s only about 3000 miles from Soldotna to here. Bob

  26. Lynnzie

    Bob,
    I intend your van lasts another 200K! thanks for the history of vehicles. Your post shows me I need a new used van or something else, as I now have transmission problems starting to show up and I want something that can pull my new used 1982 Ideal camper trailer to the RTR. I loved my 2004 Chevy Venture Van. It was rated to pull 3,500 and my camper is 1,600 not loaded up. Can you recommend a low gas mileage hauling vehicle for it? or do you still think I should get the Chevy tranny fixed$$!. Thanks,Lynnzie

    • Bob

      Hi Lynnzie, it is always a tough call on when to give up on your car. The problem is it seems obvious afterward, but not at all clear while you are going through it. I have some questions before I can offer any advice. Are you going to go full-time in your trailer, or just take trips? How many miles does it have on it and what kind of shape is it, both mechanically and body. Have you gotten an estimate on repairing the transmission? What mpg does the Venture get? Do you know how much it weighs, or are you just guessing? All the info you can give us will help us give you better advice. Bob

  27. Austinboat

    Congratulations Bob on your new van! I’m excited to see what you end up crafting your van into, granted you’ve already explained it won’t be as extensive as is your trailer. I do have a question if you don’t mind. I notice you chose a sliding door. Will you please share a couple of determining factors for you over swing doors?
    Thanks Bob

    • Bob

      Hi Austin, like most people, I prefer swing doors, but I liked everything else enough that I tolerated the sliding door. The sliding door is a bit of a hassle, but not enough to rule out the van. But the ideal van would have had swing doors. Bob

      • Austinboat

        Thank you Bob, it makes sense that it really is about the complete package. I’m sure you’ll find things you like about the slider that you never would have thought about.
        I’m about 2 months away from being in the market and I’m pretty sure I know what I want. Like so many things, it will come down to the nitty gritty green paper.
        By the way Bob, I can’t thank you enough for all you are doing to help so many others with ingenious ways to find their own freedom. You are a real inspiration to me, I look forward to reading more of your experiences and insights.
        Jason

        • Bob

          Jason, how long it takes to find van depends on the size of the cities in your area and how specific you are in your needs. Getting exactly what you want can be very hard! I have some good friends who wanted an Express van with AWD, positraction, and “wings” (that is an option that lifts the side panels of a cargo van for direct access into the van). They did a nationwide search on Craigslist for several months before they found the perfect van. Then they had to fly into Kansas City, buy it and then drive it back to California. But they were diligent and found the perfect van for them.
          I’m not that diligent, I just took one that met most of my needs. Although I think I may regret not waiting and buying a van with the 5.3 V8 engine.
          Thanks for your kind words about the blog. I feel like I have been given a great gift by discovering vandwelling and the wonderful life it has given me, so I try to pass it along. Bob

  28. larry

    have a friend doing delivery work with 06 with 625000 miles no problems. I have 07 and I get 18 loaded at 60 mph and 14 at 70 mph

    • Bob

      Larry, Wow, 625,000 miles, I have never heard of such a thing. Very impressive! I am assuming you both have an Express Van with the 5.3? I am hearing nothing but great things about the 5.3 and starting to regret the fact I have the 5.7 instead. I don’t expect to get that good of mpg out of the 5.7, but we will see. Bob

  29. Charlene Swankie (aka SwankieWheels)

    Hi Bob (copycat),
    Just kidding. You know I love you. But that van sure does look familiar. My is only a 3/4 Ton but hardly knows my trailer is behind it, as heavy as my trailer is (still haven’t gotten rid of all that genealogy yet.) I know the van will make things better for you. Seems like a flip down bed would work nicely and stow easily.
    Charlene

    • Bob

      Charlene, I don’t mind admitting I am a copy cat, I love your van and I’m glad to have ended up with one just like it. is your trailer still loaded up with rocks? I am headed toward Quartzsite very soon, I expect to be over in the Scanlon Wash area we looked at together last year. Be sure to find me when you get there, or if you get there first give me some directions. Bob

  30. larry

    Bob I do not know what engine he has but I know he followed the maintenance schedule to a t.I have the 4.8 and a 4 speed trans. I now have a new one with a 6 speed trans and the 4.8 motor.my old one was totaled last month a drunk hit me on the interstate doing about 120 mph.he hit me in the rear we are both ok .I took a 600 mile trip in the new one it was empty and I got19.5 at60 mph and 19.4 at 70 mph and 20.3 at 65 mph have not checked pulling my trailer 6×12 hope I get at least 16 mpg

    • Bob

      Larry, I am very impressed with those kinds of numbers. I would think you are exaggerating but I have heard several other people report the same thing. I”m looking forward to hearing what you get towing, 16 mpg towing would be amazing! Bob

  31. larry

    Bob. I took another trip in my van about 150 miles on tn back roads up and down hills and no cruse control van is still empty. on board mpg gauge read about 18 mpg. also using ice cooler I have found what works best for me is to put a hose on the drain and run it outside . no more wet soggy food but you do loose the extra water. also on my window screens I use small earth magnets about the size of a nickle and put them on the outside and it does not not interfere with opening and closing the windows but you have to remove them before driving. hope to see at rtr

    • Bob

      larry, Wow, 18 mpg, it is amazing how much vans fuel efficiency have improved in the last decade or two. Those are all good tips, especially about the water hose. Good to remind people to buy a cooler with a spigot on the side so they can attach a hose to drain it. And adding screens with magnets is also a great idea for summer time heat when the bugs are out. Thanks! Bob

  32. Utah mobile mechanic

    I love that van. You can do anything with that van. You could transform it to a camper van.

  33. Mitch Miller

    We just purchased a 2018 Express 3500 Extended Passenger van. We decided on the passenger van because 1: Most of the cargo vans I could find were either too small or had a quarter-million miles on them. 2: we wanted something with rear a/c. We traded a 2017 F150 that we used to carry a rooftop tent on. it worked great but like was mentioned above, once you set up camp, your stuck there. (Moab Utah is not a bad place to be “stuck” however”
    we also have a 2002 Jeep TJ we plan on trailer (aluminum ) towing. behind the van and still use the rooftop tent. Cant wait to start this conversion!