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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Buying a Vehicle - More on Form Follows Function

I glossed over the different types of vehicles you could buy last blog post, but here are some pros and cons for you to consider.

Left: Chevy Astro minivan

1/ Minivans - This is the type of vehicle that I use. You can usually expect decent fuel mileage in the area of 17-18 mpg in the city, and around 22 mpg on the highway. Good fuel economy is important if you are plan to drive a lot on a tight budget. Space is also tight; you'll need to be very organized. I like two particular models, the older Chevy/GMC Astro/Safari and the Ford Aerostar. These vehicles were built light truck tough; they have proper chassis with rear wheel drive; they can handle some payload and are proven performers. You can buy a used one for a reasonable price, and they are boxy in shape, which make them easier to build out. I also call them midivans; they are larger inside than most of the new front wheel drive minivans. They are easy to park and maneuver through city streets, or twisty dirt roads. One warning though, the Aerostar is very tight for space under the hood when servicing; patience is required.

Left: Ford E250 cargo van

2/ Full-Size Van - The average vandwellers choice. Fuel economy is usually around 14 mpg in the city, and 18-19 mpg on the highway. With more space comes less fuel efficiency. It depends on your preference and budget. For many people who don't travel as much, or use their vehicle for long distance daily driving, the extra space is most welcome and affordable. Ford, GMC/Chevy, Dodge are all good dependable vehicles, but, I still seem to prefer Fords or GMC's. These vehicles are built truck tough; they have proper chassis and rear wheel drive which can handle good payloads and abuse. They are boxy, so they can be easily built out for living in, and are proven performers. The 3/4 ton size van is a good mix of heavy duty running gear, suspension balance and handling for a built-out van. They are still not too large for city use or tight spaces when parking, and can be used for stealth parking if prepared properly. My dream van would be a Ford E250, with factory dual fuel (gas and propane) if possible, with a I-6 300 or small block V-8 engine.

Left: Fully equipped Camper Van

3/ Camper or Conversion Van - These vans are pre-built out vans by outfitting companies, for either camping or limo service, built on the full-size van platform. They can be a solution for some people, but you are buying someone else's idea about layout, creature features, etc. Because they are already kitted out, they come with a higher price tag; the extra weight will effect the fuel efficiency to varying degrees; usually around 10 mpg in the city and 15 mpg on the highway. It's pretty obvious someone is living in a camper van, though you still have good stealth with a conversion van. They are made with the regular or extended version of the full-size van, so they operate similarly.

Left: GMC Box Van

4/ Box Van - These are usually the one ton version of a full size van, modified with a large cube or 12'-14' box over the rear chassis. They are usually classified as commercial vehicles, so, there are challenges involved with parking, insurance, and operation regulations/expense. They do have lots of room in the cube, but again you lose fuel economy ( 7 mpg in the city, maybe 10 mpg on the highway). They are difficult to park on city streets, pretty tricky/heavy to drive on dirt roads, and expensive to service/buy parts for. Some people prefer this type of vehicle, but I believe that unless you really want one, the average person would be better off with just a standard van for ease of retrofit, service and economy.

Left: RV Motorhome

5/ RV or different class Motorhomes - These are the preferred palatial vehicles of the older generation. They will usually have a built-in washroom, kitchen area, big bed, and so on. Think bigger price tag, more custom parts with specialized servicing, lower fuel economy, no stealth factor, difficult to maneuver and park. But, you have very comfortable digs. If I was living only in the country, and could find cheap camping/RV parks, they would be nice. But forget about easy operation in the city, and long distance traveling/daily driving would be expensive (8-10 mpg combined driving).

For myself, I like vehicles that are commonplace and mechanically stock, like my mini-van or a full-size van. Parts are available everywhere; from dealerships, parts stores, wreckers whethor new or used. Because they are stock vehicles with only cosmetic mods, they are readily serviceable by many garages, and are easier to work on for the home mechanic. When you get into specialized or commercial vehicles (types 3-5), your options for parts and service become more limited and expensive.

I believe fuel economy is a paramount consideration for the nomadic vandweller. Last year, I went on a 11,700 mile road trip with my Aerostar, which cost approx. $2400 for fuel in Canada (pretty good). With a lightly equipped full size van, the same trip would've cost $3100 (not bad); a fully modified camper van, $3900 (oh, oh!); a RV, $5,800 (ouch!). I live a streamlined lifestyle, so I prefer having the economy of a smaller, less equipped vehicle, instead of a palatial RV. I like being able to allocate my money to other choices, instead of just fuel!

ed.note - MPG ratings listed here are an approximate average for US gallons, larger Canadian gallons result in a 20% higher rating. But, Canadian gas costs more per same size unit!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your ideas. I am considering becoming a vandweller. Do you have an ideas on what to do with windows to make the van safer against break-ins?