Topic: I want a van

I want a van but don't know anything about vans.  I think a van will solve these transportation problems for me:

1.  Dedicated race car tow vehicle.  We tow primarily from Los Angeles to the west coast races;
2.  Lockable storage so that we can lock the race car stuff in the van while we are traveling allowing us to attend races more than a day's drive or allow us to stay near the track on Sunday night and drive home early Monday morning;
3.  Family trip transportation.  Water skiing (boat in tow); Snow skiing; etc.
4.  Weekend warrior work:  home depot runs, etc.

So, I am thinking about a used, 15 passenger van.  Towing capability is obviously of primary concern.  We use a U-Haul trailer.  That and our car together weigh 5500#.  For the snow skiing trips, 4 wheel drive would be very desireable as it would for launching the ski boat on a slippery launch ramp.  It will have to have great AC because our water skiing trips are to the Arizona desert with temps hitting well over 110.

To date, we have used a 4x4 Ford Expedition for the family/weekend uses and rented a U-Haul pickup for the race car.  I tried using the Expedition to tow the race car but that didn't go well for two reasons:  rear suspension is not really setup for towing and the wife wasn't thrilled with tool boxes and fuel jugs in the back of her car.  The Expedition is my wife's everyday driver, it is approaching the end of its useful life and she wants something smaller.

This will not be a new purchase.  I have been focused on a crew cab 4x4 pickup but the security of our junk in the bed is a problem although that could be solved to some degree with a shell.  But the van idea came to me so I am asking the question.

If I had an unlimited budget, I would buy one of those turbo-diesel converted 4x4 Ford E350 based vans.  But those, even used without much in the way of accessories are pricey.  Too pricey for me for a part time use vehicle.

10x loser (Arse-Freeze '11 - Vodden '15) 1x WINNER! Arse-Freeze '14 in the Watermelon Volvo Wagon
Swedish Knievel Skycycle('90 Volvo 740 Wagon)

Re: I want a van

What about an Excursion?

Re: I want a van

You can also look at mini-vans.  They come in 4wd and have reasonable towing capacities.  Also most can fit a 4x8 sheet of plywood flat on the floor, with 10ft lengths down the middle, thats better than most pickups today.

As for vans, I am not super familiar, but I think they are hard to find in 4wd and the seats are bolted in. 

As a side note buying a trailer can reduce the overall weight of your tow setup.  The U-haul ones are 2200lb and you can get trailers that are under 1500lb.  Also be careful with U-haul they sometimes refuse to rent you a trailer if your car cannot handle it.  You may have to lie when you say what car you are towing.

Moot Point Racing - 1991 Volvo 240 - #496

Re: I want a van

I went through pretty much the same decision tree a few years ago and ended up with a 2001 15 pass E350 V10.  I was only going to use it for towing and hauling crap around.  I had a V6 Ranger for hauling crap around but didn't want to tow with it.  I looked at diesel trucks first and the price premium would never be made up with the gas vs diesel fuel cost differential.  For whatever reason there often is very little difference in fuel cost here in CA between diesel and gas.  Sometimes diesel is even more expensive.  So while I would get better mileage with the diesel, I'd never come close to breaking even paying the higher cost for a diesel hauler. 

Since this thing was mostly going to be used for hauling weekend home improvement and race car crap, I didn't want to spend a bunch of money.  I looked at crew cab trucks and thought about a shell for securing junk.  Decent trucks quickly got ruled out because of cost.  I looked at stuff like old ambulances and other utility type trucks but ruled them out because this thing would be parked on the street in front of the house and I try to be a (mostly) good neighbor plus it seemed to me that I'd be hauling around a bunch of unused weight.  Since almost every one of our races requires a trip over the grapevine, spending 2hrs going over that at 30mph wasn't appealing to me.  I noticed vans were cheaper than trucks so I started looking at them.  The diesels were still expensive but mostly beat to shit high mileage work vans in the dollar range I wanted to spend $3-4k.  Then I noticed the 15 passenger E350 vans.  They all seem to be XLTs so they have a lot more amenities than the regular vans that look designed to be cleaned with a garden hose out after every day.  The diesels were still a bit expensive but the V10's seemed to be the cheapest and I figured that would be enough power to tow a 4000lb Jag up the grapevine for all our races.

I kind of got lucky.  I stumbled upon one in the wrong section of CL (household goods or something) so it had been for sale for a while for 2700.  The guy wasn't internet savvy, had his nephew place the ad and I was the first to call after the ad was a couple weeks old so I figured there was room to negotiate.  It drove fine and he had a bunch of repair receipts so it looked to be decently maintained.  Underneath they have gigantic swaybars and disk brakes all around.  While driving around I offered 2300, he countered at 2500.  I got stubborn and stuck at my price, he asked if I was a gambler and I immediately offered to flip for it.  I ended up getting it for $2300.  It came with a class IV hitch, brake controller and two spare tires.  It appears to have originated as a church van.  I've had it for 3 or 4 years now and have towed racecars from OC to Thunderhill and Inde with it.  At the racetrack with all the race car stuff unloaded and the last couple seats out, an full size inflatable mattress makes a comfortable bed at the track.  It's hauled everything from diesel motors for Spanks corvette to a dozen 13yr girls loudly singing along to Taylor Swift.  I can't remember if they were 12 or 14ft beams but they fit entirely inside on the floor with the rear doors closed.  I hauled a 30 ft extension ladder with it last night and tonight it will haul a xmas tree in it.  My friends all make fun of it but anytime there's a boys outing, guess what everyone wants to use.  The girl's friends call it the FunBus.  Fuel capacity is 30 gallons and it gets around 12-14mpg towing.  It will almost go up to Buttonwillow and back on a tank.

Issues I've had.  One of the original rear tires had a tread separation which took out the rear HVAC hoses in the LR wheel well.  Found a replacement in a DIY junkyard.  The windows use a cable system which get worn and are kind of hard on the motors.  I've replaced some of it with JY parts but the driver's window needs a little help coming up.  The window/doorlock switches have gone out but are cheap on RockAuto.  I need to replace the carpet because accumulated automotive spillage has added ambiance.  Brand new $300 on CL from a conversion van place.  I have a new serpentine belt for it but for the life of me can't get a good angle to release the tensioner.  I did have a sparkplug come out of the head.  Ford supposedly had fixed this problem by 2001 by adding more threads to the spark plug holes but I still blew one out.  It was the middle one on the passenger side which apparently is the one that goes and isn't fun to fix but I did it without taking it apart.  If you go the modular Ford route, I suggest you not be lazy like me and just go ahead and change the spark plugs.  When the plug came out it also took out one of the coils.  The coils are held in with a bolt requiring a 7mm box wrench.  My 12pt 7mm just spun so I had to chase down a 6pt 7mm combo wrench online so I didn't strip the bolt heads.  The 15 passenger has quite a bit of rear overhang but it hasn't given me an issue with my 18ft open trailer or 26ft enclosed trailer.  With Spank's 187 1/2 foot long trailer that he uses to haul two cars the distance from axle to hitch on both van and trailer can apparently under some circumstance set up a weird oscillation if the trailer isn't loaded just right.  As far as 4x4, for as often as you'd use it I'm not sure it's worth the cost.  Just rent for the weekend or whatever.  I suspect you will have a hard time finding a 4x4 15 passenger van.  As to boat ramps, you can come borrow the PedoVan any time you want and see if it will haul a boat out of Long Beach Stadium, Lake Elsinore or whatever.

1990 RX7 "Mazdarita"  1964 Sunbeam Imp (IOE 2013 Sears Pointless) 2002 Jaguar x-type (Winner C-Class 2021 Sears Pointless)
Gone bye-bye
1994 Jaguar XJ12 (Winner C-Class 2013 Sears Pointless)  1980 Rover SD1 (I Got Screwed 2014 Return of Lemonites)

Re: I want a van

AWD/4wd is your limiter. 

Excursion or Suburban 2500 would be ideal and closely followed by a correctly equipped Suburban 1500 or the Avalanche 2500 if you can find that platinum farting unicorn in good condition.  Distant third is an Expedition with the correct factory equipment. 

Now, do you really need 4wd is a real question?  Thousands of folks run 2wd for towing and launching boats as well as going up the mountain to the ski resorts.  Your towing needs alone are actually very modest.  Your towing needs with gear and meat cargo tips the edges of 1/2 ton capabilities into 3/4 territory and I am not aware of 15 passenger vans outside the Quigley conversions that do that (Savana 4wd is half ton only as far as I know).

So Suburban 2500 are less common that 1500 but about ideal for the list of your needs.  5 adults plus a crapload of spares and your issue.  Boat launch and ski laughs at these tasks.  You can get then for between $2-5K often and Yukon XL's for a bit more.

Excursions are even more rare but regardless of the motor would meet your needs.

Re: I want a van

You ALREADY own an Expedition.  And the wife wants a smaller car.  Buy the wife a nice Honda and you a set of air bags for the back of the Expedition and tow on.  You know the history of the Expedition so there are no real surprises like with another vehicle.  All the parts you need to upgrade what you have are readily available and way cheaper than a different vehicle...


Focke Ewe racing -> Muttonheads! Racing -> Torque Junkies
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Re: I want a van

zebrabeefj40 wrote:

You ALREADY own an Expedition.  And the wife wants a smaller car.  Buy the wife a nice Honda and you a set of air bags for the back of the Expedition and tow on.  You know the history of the Expedition so there are no real surprises like with another vehicle.  All the parts you need to upgrade what you have are readily available and way cheaper than a different vehicle...


VERY valid point.  Assuming this is a 5.4 Expo can get half the parts from the PnP and the other half for about $300 online.

You need the tranny cooler from the big tow package
You need rear airbags
You need the HD shocks from the tow package (I think)
You need the class III hitch if you do not already have it
You need any brake upgrade on the tow package
You SHOULD go to trailer with real electronic brakes instead of surge brakes on the Uhaul trailer but absolutely required.

Done and done

Re: I want a van

Excellent points by all.

1.  Expedition won't work.  It has air suspension and despite having the "tow package" it tows terribly.  Also, the transmission is starting to slip as we near 200k miles.  The real deal killer is that it really doesn't hold enough stuff.  I can't put my rolling tool box in it and I can't lock bikes in it.  The van with all but one bench removed will move all of our stuff and still work to carry 5 people.

2.  As I have become accustomed to, Chesero is the wiseman of the interwebs.  You have locked me in on my inclination toward a full size van.  I can see myself utilizing a 15 passenger van in much the way that you have used yours.  I can already see it with a roof platform and an awning.

3.  I concede that 4WD/AWD is not really necessary and I can easily live without it.

4.  Minivan is out.  I've towed too often with undersized tow vehicles and I'm too old for that $4!t.

5.  If storage space were not an issue (Los Angeles) I would get an enclosed trailer and a pick-up.  Space is at too much of a premium here.  So even a nice, aluminum open trailer with electric brakes is out of the question.  I just don't have anywhere to store it and I don't want to pay to store it either.  I am allergic to the whole negative cash flow annuity thing.  The U-Haul trailers have served us well.  They are tuff and tow well as long as the tow vehicle is heavy and has solid rear suspension.  They cost me less than $200 per race to rent.  That's a lot of rentals to make up a $5,000 trailer and $50-$75/month for open storage.

So, it's settled:  full size van.  Now I need to focus in on the chassis and drive train that I want.  Chesero has provided a terrific amount of detail with regard to his experience with an E350 but what about the Chevy Express?  I have owned more Fords than Chevy's but that doesn't really figure here.

Let the Ford vs Chevy argument begin!

10x loser (Arse-Freeze '11 - Vodden '15) 1x WINNER! Arse-Freeze '14 in the Watermelon Volvo Wagon
Swedish Knievel Skycycle('90 Volvo 740 Wagon)

9 (edited by Spank 2016-12-08 10:36 PM)

Re: I want a van

FWIW, I do about 35-42mph in my non-turbo 7.3 ford diesel crewcab over the grapevine at my lowest speed sections towing 2 lightweight cars and a bed full of spares and I get about 10 maybe 11mpg.

If I were to buy again for Lemons, I'd go the Van route but possibly the shuttle van route. I LOVE my liftgate. Super Bonus if you can find a commuter van with a liftgate.

Re: I want a van

NYS auto auction. Lots of vans and such.
They are done for the year. I did not see new schedule yet.
This car....Is said to have a will of it's Own. Twisting its own body in rage...It accelerates on.
1978 Opel/Buick Isuzu(C>B>C>B) , 1996 Nissan Maxima OnlyFans (B) , Sold 1996 Ford Probe GT(B),

Re: I want a van

Buy a van, never look back. I'm squarely in the GM corner. I own a 2010 GMC Savana AWD 1500, recently sold a 2007 AWD Chevy Express. The AWD vans are very hard to come by and are only half tons, but living in snow country makes it a necessity. My thought process was much the same as Cheesaroo's: I needed a tow vehicle for a small camper and couldn't justify the cost of a crew cab 4x4 for as little as I used my previous hauler.

I drive 12 passenger Chevy 2500s all the time (vanpool) and my wife asked if they came in 4wd. I jumped at the opening! It's now my daily driver, horrible mileage be damned. I've used it to haul the race car, pick up engines/transmissions, xmas trees, haul kids to birthday parties, and my wife gets recruited to drive on girls night out. I load my van down with tools + parts as well as the car + trailer and have a cozy place to sleep on a cot. All this with room for 1 bench to haul my kids to grandma's house.

I'd love to have an older 2500 with the 6.0L and the 4L80, its my favorite engine combo. But my 5.3 w/ 4l60 does just fine with towing. The vans have a longer wheelbase than they appear, and are great tow platforms. And since Ford and GM have both made about 16 million of them over 20 years, parts are stupid cheap.

BTW, my buddy has a V10 Excursion setup to tow with the stiffest rear suspension I've ever had the misfortune of experiencing. He envies my van and it's ability to swallow all his speakers and DJ gear.

Get a van, never regret it.

Low Road Racing:  Stylemaster/Mustang II/Sunbird/Spirit AMX

We will not compromise our morals and build anything but a class C car.
"You take the high road, we'll take the low."

Re: I want a van

We fell into a Winnebago, but a van was on our list. They usually have some decent low miles fleet vehicles at the Ford commercial truck lot. I was looking at a nice E250 with factory extended warranty when we bought the RV. We may go back to a van if the RV ever fails expensively.

Everybody grab your brooms, it's shenanigans!

13 (edited by EyeMWing 2016-12-25 05:37 PM)

Re: I want a van

If you're not afeared of rust, fleet vehicles and long distance buying, Pennsylvania is fucking weird and has a shitload of 12 and 15 passenger E-350's operating as school buses. Many of them are Quigley 4x4 conversions because Pennsylvania loves them some garbage rural roads and snow (this is probably why I see more of these vans than real school buses - the roads simply cannot handle medium duty trucks)

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