After talking about doing a van conversion for years, we finally took the plunge! We found a good deal on a 2014 Dodge Ram Promaster. We considered several other makes and models, including the gold standard Mercedes Sprinter, but we found lots of reasons to prefer the Promaster.
First, it’s thousands of dollars cheaper than a Sprinter van. That made it affordable enough to buy new. We appreciate the peace of mind that comes with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty rather than putting our faith in something used from Craigslist.
PROS OF THE PROMASTER * price * front-wheel drive * exterior height * ratio of interior to exterior space * relatively "square" interior space
Second, it’s the only van its class with front wheel drive. We thought this was a good option since we’ll likely encounter snow during trips to the mountains. Front wheel drive also has the side benefit of lowering the van’s exterior height by about 6 inches compared to a Sprinter since there is less mechanical stuff running under to the rear wheels. This makes the van feel a little easier drive and should cut down on the number of tree branches we run into.
Also, we liked the van’s ratio of interior to exterior size. The cargo area is roughly 12 feet long, yet the exterior length is just under 20 feet. 12 feet seems like plenty of living space and 20 feet is actually shorter that an F150 pickup truck. We found other vans’ size configurations always too big or too small. The Promaster felt just right.
Finally, the interior of the Promaster is relatively square. None of the vans we looked at has perfectly straight walls, regular floors, or right angles at the roof. This will make some aspects of the conversion more difficult, but the curves of the Promaster seem manageable.
Dodge offers dozens of options for the Promaster but we narrowed it down to just a few that we really cared about. First, we definitely wanted the high roof since we're both so tall. Andrea should be able to stand up in it when we are done with the conversion. I'll still have to slouch down to fit, but I'm kinda used to that. We debated whether we wanted the diesel engine a lot - it's expensive but provides more power and better gas mileage. Ultimately, we decided it was worth it to help haul us up mountain passes better. We also added a rear backup camera. After driving around a bit, I couldn't imagine driving without it. I thin we'll run into about 90% fewer things with it. Finally, we felt cruise control was a must for long road trips so we added that too.
KEY SPECS * 2014 model year * high roof * 159" wheelbase * EcoDiesel engine * Backup camera
Given the van's dimensions, boxy styling and truck-like driving position, I expected to hate driving it. I figured I'd put up with it in exchange for parking it in beautiful places. But we were both pleasantly surprised with how well it drives. Merging onto highways has been pretty easy given the van's surprisingly good acceleration and maneuverability. Even parallel parking went smoothly thanks to smaller than expected turning radius. It's elephant ear-like side mirrors help a lot too.
A little after midnight last Tuesday I Googled “Waterlox marine sealer interference with adhesives”. Will sealing the plywood subfloor later prevent me from gluing the flooring to that same subfloor? Bleary-eyed, I read the top-5 results. Like many other topics--electrical draw of LED lights or the best sound insulation for cargo vans--opinions are as varied as they are abundant. I've spent countless hours wading through this sea of suggestions in preparation for building out our own camper van. Is it weird to admit that I love it? At least most of it...
Let the conversion begin!