Author Topic: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?  (Read 1293 times)

waltworks

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Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« on: July 19, 2020, 08:51:27 AM »
We've outgrown the minivan! I never thought it was possible, but put enough kids and bikes and camping gear into the equation...

And yes, it has a big bike rack, and a rocketbox, etc. It's maxed out. We can't store or park a trailer of any kind in our neighborhood, so that's out too.

Situation: Family of 6 needs new wheels in the next year or so.
Driving:
-Zero around town, we use bikes and the very good bus system. An average day sees zero miles driven. If we do drive in town, it's to do a shuttle run with the mountain bikes/lots of gear. No solo driving to get groceries.
-Trips to welding/industrial supply stores ~40 miles away once every 2 weeks or so.
-Big road trips 4-5 times per year where we camp, ride bikes, visit family and friends, etc. Obviously those have not been happening this year, but normally they would.

So as much as I hate to say it... are we looking at a Sprinter/Ford Transit kind of situation at this point? What are the pros/cons for folks in similar situations? It seems like it would work well enough for our very limited daily use, and also be great for road trips. But I've never spent more than $5000 on a car in my life (and in fact until we had kids I'd never spent more than $500/often didn't own one). The thought of spending $20-50k on a stupid vehicle...

Thoughts?

-W

RWD

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2020, 09:33:41 AM »
You can find used Ford Transits with the passenger configuration for under $20k. I even found a few under $15k. These get pretty poor fuel economy (14/18 mpg). Even a Suburban/Yukon would be better from a fuel economy perspective (though they aren't really going to be cheaper to buy).

A full size van like the Transit may make sense for your situation. You should test drive one and see if you like it though.

waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2020, 09:46:18 AM »
Yeah, I was thinking the Transit. Our van already only gets 16/20 or so, and we don't drive in town much, so I don't think that's a huge issue. Our total monthly spending on fuel is minimal (maybe 1 tank a month at most) except for road trips, where we go through a couple hundred bucks of gas.

I don't really care how it drives, though, to be honest. I used to race (as a kid) shifter carts, and then motorcycles as an adult, so any street legal car basically feels like driving a bus to me either way. I don't drive for fun regardless. As long as I can park the thing (I'd probably want something with a rear facing camera for backing up!) I'm good.

-W

RWD

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2020, 09:52:16 AM »
I was thinking more along the lines of comfort, ease of use, amenities/features, etc. The platform is a essentially a commercial vehicle so it might be different than what you're used to in normal consumer vehicles. But I've never been in one myself so maybe there is little difference.

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2020, 10:37:00 AM »
We picked up a 15-passenger Chevrolet Express Van for $10k used a couple of years ago. It was over 15 years old, but less than 50k miles as it had been owned by a local government for years that didn't use it very much. The guy I bought it from was only the second owner purchased it for family trips as they only had 2-3 kids. Incidentally his wife decided to go buy a full-size SUV instead without telling him (blows my mind how someone could unilaterally spend $50k+ on a vehicle without talking to their spouse).

We had #6 coming so we had to move up from the minivan. We normally take out the last row which provides a large cargo area in the back. The difference between a 12- and a 15- passenger van is only 20 inches of length. However, with the back row of seats in for the 15-passenger van there's barely room for a few bags of groceries. Mileage isn't great and it drives like a full size van. But it's got lots of room and we're able to spread the kids out two per row so it lessens the "HE'S TOUCHING ME!" type of interactions that were all too common with three boys crammed into the back row of our old minivan.


TheFrenchCat

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2020, 11:02:42 AM »
What about getting a trailer for the minivan?  They can be had pretty cheap and then just tie the stuff down to it. 

ender

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2020, 12:32:45 PM »
What would renting a larger van cost you for the 4-5 times a year you need it?

waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2020, 12:45:21 PM »
What would renting a larger van cost you for the 4-5 times a year you need it?

Interesting question. It's a pain to do (nearest car rental is 30-40 miles away) and obviously we couldn't easily set it up with up/down bunkbeds and other vanlife-type stuff. Kids would throw up in it and such.

The other issue is that our existing minivan is on it's last legs... everything that can be broken is, it's basically ready for the junkyard. So we'll need to buy something regardless - I can't rent any form of vehicle locally, and I need *something* for my biweekly supply runs.

But you're right that it might be the cheap option for road trips! Hell, maybe we could just rent a small RV (I've priced that out before around $250/night but don't remember if there were extra mileage charges and such). I'll have to look into that.

-W


waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2020, 12:47:01 PM »
What about getting a trailer for the minivan?  They can be had pretty cheap and then just tie the stuff down to it.

As I said in the first post, we have nowhere to legally store a trailer, so it would have to get parked at an RV parking sort of place, which A) are all full around here and 30 miles away to boot, and B) cost a fortune. I mean, I guess I could do that, but it seems like a huge pain to be driving back and forth to go get the trailer, paying out the nose to store it, etc.

Then again paying for a big can isn't cheap either.

-W

tawyer

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2020, 01:39:17 PM »
Although we are a smaller family, with a much smaller vehicle, we face a similar conundrum when we go on family camping trips.

It sounds like you use your primary vehicle so infrequently that your main purpose is actually the big road trips four times a year, so I would be inclined to get a single vehicle fit for that purpose, i.e., a large van. Had you not said the minivan was on its last legs, I would have suggested renting a trailer on a per trip basis (provided your minivan is rated to support that load). Notwithstanding your comment about van-life modifications, I would probably try one trip with a rental trailer, then one with a rental van before pulling the trigger.

Papa bear

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2020, 05:21:23 PM »
The newer minivans with stow and go seats (especially the chrysler vans) have a lot of cargo room under the seats when they arenít stored under the floor.  Might be worth looking to see if that space gets you what you need.  Plus I get close to 30mpg highway loaded up.   With a bike rack, got 28+ with 4 passengers and other cargo. 


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calimom

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2020, 08:13:10 PM »
I thought you had 3  kids? 2 boys and then  had  a  baby  daughter awhile back? 

My family car  is  an older  Volvo wagon,  purchased used from the original owner who bought  it  in Sweden. It has the optional rear-facing back seat so seats  7 pretty comfortably, including at one time a booster. It's fantastic, and not caused any major maintenance problems, though it sadly drinks premium gas. Thule box on top and rear bike rack for long journeys or camping. My work vehicle is a Ford  Transit  Connect van, the smaller cargo one. there are newer,  larger passenger Transits that seat multiple people and seem pretty solid.

waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #12 on: July 19, 2020, 09:57:16 PM »
There is a live-in grandma in the mix now. So 6. Once the baby is a little older and the covid disaster is under control we will most likely foster/adopt, too (we were almost certified as a foster family before baby #3 suddenly came along and we got too busy to finish up).

Even with 5/not bringing grandma along the minivan isn't really working for big trips with gear, honestly. I imagine with crazy effort and mad tetris skills I could bury the 8 year old under all the stuff and make it happen but, really, it's not working.

My wife also would prefer to sleep under a solid roof, she's not a tent camper, really. So she's a big part of the impetus here...friends have Sprinters and she's jealous. I'm looking for a reason (Covid!) not to do it, at least not immediately. But I also don't want to skip fun trips because our car is too small. That seems stupid.

-W


MayDay

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2020, 05:03:10 AM »
Can you easily afford it?

Will you really use it (sounds like the answer is yes)?

I'd go for it. Worst case scenario you hate it and sell it. Meh, you might lose a wew thousand bucks but in the big scheme of things it sounds like it's worth the risk.

I have no idea about specific models.

chemistk

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2020, 06:02:10 AM »
I think this is one of those things where a creative solution exists, but is never going to really work as well as the more effective solution.

I'd buy the van. When I was a kid, friends' families who had 4+ kids and enjoyed frequent travel all had Ford E-150 style vans and they were very effective. One of my best friends' families throughout middle/high school had one - they were/are huge outdoor enthusiasts and with their 12 passenger E-150, they could load up the family of 6, the dog, 2 weeks' worth of camping gear, and hitch up the travel trailer and be off and away. There was so much cargo room, everyone just packed their stuff into rubbermaid roughneck boxes which made for insanely easy loading and unloading.

That's probably overkill for your needs, but another upside is that his dad would always volunteer to drive for field trips & scout outings - he was a great driver and I'm sure he felt better knowing he was responsible for a bunch of kids than another parent who might not have been as great a driver.

rothwem

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #15 on: July 20, 2020, 07:03:19 AM »
I was thinking more along the lines of comfort, ease of use, amenities/features, etc. The platform is a essentially a commercial vehicle so it might be different than what you're used to in normal consumer vehicles. But I've never been in one myself so maybe there is little difference.

The Transit is surprisingly good.  I rented a 15 passenger version of it for a bachelor party, and its one of those vehicles that just cruises right up to the fuel cut at 98 mph.  Its so much smoother than the Chevy Express and the old Econolines. 

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #16 on: July 20, 2020, 07:43:12 AM »
Our family is big (6 kids), and I say go for the van.  We still fit (barely) in an 8-seat Honda Odyssey, but we aren't taking bikes or other bulky stuff, typically.  You'd use it often enough that renting doesn't make sense, even if you ignore the hassle of renting.

Another option is to get a newer minivan with a trailer hitch, and rent a U-haul trailer on those occasions when you need the extra cargo space.  (I'm assuming you're in the US).  It's pretty inexpensive (starts at $15/day).  I recently installed a hitch on our Odyssey (at almost 200k miles), and we rented a trailer to haul some furniture across the country, and it was quite manageable.  Gas mileage was poor, but unlike the larger van options, the gas mileage and ease of driving returned once we returned the trailer.

mountain mustache

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #17 on: July 20, 2020, 07:53:56 AM »
I would get exactly the van you want. Instead of trying to get something smaller (minivan) and add a trailer, or whatever else non-ideal configuration...just get the Sprinter, or E-350, or Transit, etc and make it exactly what your family needs and then enjoy the heck out of it! For the lifestyle you are living (I'm just assuming here...mountain biking, skiing, hiking, camping) I feel like it is worth it to have a vehicle that means you can include the whole family in whatever adventures you are having. Especially since you don't need a daily driver...might as well have the one vehicle that is the "adventure-mobile." I'm just assuming here (because I don't have kids myself) but the easier it is to get family, gear, etc into a vehicle and go, the more you will go.


ketchup

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #18 on: July 20, 2020, 08:16:05 AM »
Another vote for a Transit.  I rented one last fall for a big roadtrip and it was great.  Way easier to park/etc than I thought it would be too.  Chugged fuel like nobody's business but anything of this ilk will be like that.

MayDay

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #19 on: July 20, 2020, 08:41:50 AM »
I would get exactly the van you want. Instead of trying to get something smaller (minivan) and add a trailer, or whatever else non-ideal configuration...just get the Sprinter, or E-350, or Transit, etc and make it exactly what your family needs and then enjoy the heck out of it! For the lifestyle you are living (I'm just assuming here...mountain biking, skiing, hiking, camping) I feel like it is worth it to have a vehicle that means you can include the whole family in whatever adventures you are having. Especially since you don't need a daily driver...might as well have the one vehicle that is the "adventure-mobile." I'm just assuming here (because I don't have kids myself) but the easier it is to get family, gear, etc into a vehicle and go, the more you will go.

This is definitely the case for us. We could Tetris camping gear and 4 people into a civic but it was miserable. When we got a minivan and could just chuck it all in the back with no intense strategy and no fighting about the best way to pack, and no complaints from the kids because they had a cooler under their feet, trips became so much easier to go on!

Just Joe

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #20 on: July 29, 2020, 10:31:25 AM »
Transit. I've filled one with college kids and driven across 3-4 states with them repeatedly. Solid vehicle. Drives great. Thristy yeah but they all are.

Also consider looking at less popular but modern alternatives. The Nissan full-size van might be really great but gets overshadowed by the Ford. I have no experience with the Nissan. Might save you money.

Also for your non-tenting wife:

https://www.thepopupprincess.com

Used examples can be quite affordable. People on that website are reporting renovation costs in the low hundreds in some cases. 

mm1970

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2020, 10:49:29 AM »
I would get exactly the van you want. Instead of trying to get something smaller (minivan) and add a trailer, or whatever else non-ideal configuration...just get the Sprinter, or E-350, or Transit, etc and make it exactly what your family needs and then enjoy the heck out of it! For the lifestyle you are living (I'm just assuming here...mountain biking, skiing, hiking, camping) I feel like it is worth it to have a vehicle that means you can include the whole family in whatever adventures you are having. Especially since you don't need a daily driver...might as well have the one vehicle that is the "adventure-mobile." I'm just assuming here (because I don't have kids myself) but the easier it is to get family, gear, etc into a vehicle and go, the more you will go.

This is definitely the case for us. We could Tetris camping gear and 4 people into a civic but it was miserable. When we got a minivan and could just chuck it all in the back with no intense strategy and no fighting about the best way to pack, and no complaints from the kids because they had a cooler under their feet, trips became so much easier to go on!
We go tetris camping. But the last long road trip we took (we didn't actually camp on that trip though), we rented an SUV and it was SO worth it.  We wanted a standard, ended up with a Yukon.  They couldn't touch each other and they could reach the snacks.

Papa bear

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2020, 11:13:32 AM »
Yukon: In its standard configuration, the Yukon has 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seats, 51.7 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 94.7 cubic feet with the second and third rows collapsed. The majority of competitors offer more cargo space.

Pacifica minivan: Behind the third-row bench, the 2020 Chrysler Pacificaís standard cargo area measures in at 32.2 cubic feet. With that third-row bench folded flat the Pacifica can bolster up to 87.5 cubic feet of cargo while still seating up to 5 passengers. For particularly demanding hauls, you can drop the second and third row to reveal an impressive maximum cargo volume of 140.5 cubic feet.

I canít find any info on the cubic foot space Under the 2nd row seats, but quick measuring (irregular shaped) gives me about 2cubic feet under each seat for a total of 4 more cubic feet. Thatís about 2.5 carryon luggage size worth of space.

Fight me on the minivan. Best vehicle ever.


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waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #23 on: July 29, 2020, 09:52:00 PM »
Transit. I've filled one with college kids and driven across 3-4 states with them repeatedly. Solid vehicle. Drives great. Thristy yeah but they all are.

Also consider looking at less popular but modern alternatives. The Nissan full-size van might be really great but gets overshadowed by the Ford. I have no experience with the Nissan. Might save you money.

Also for your non-tenting wife:

https://www.thepopupprincess.com

Used examples can be quite affordable. People on that website are reporting renovation costs in the low hundreds in some cases.

I'd love to do the tent trailer, but we can't store it at the house, and I'm not willing to pay to store it and go back and forth to get it when we need it.

I think the Nissan isn't tall enough to set up a bunked bed system, but I might be wrong.

-W

Just Joe

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #24 on: July 30, 2020, 07:30:23 AM »
I'll jump back in here to say I've driven the extended 1990s Dodge van - the one with the big overhang at the rear. Terrible to drive at interstate speeds unless it was loaded heavy. Wandered all over the place. It had 80K miles on it. New tires and perhaps an alignment might have helped.

The GM full size van rental was new, bouncey and definitely an older design but okay. Same with the older Econoline van.

The Transit drove like a modern SUV. Good ride and didn't wander all over the place. The passenger seats were a little small (narrow). Definitely test the seats.

rothwem

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #25 on: July 30, 2020, 08:35:06 AM »
Do they still have the diesel option in the Transit?  I know it was a thing for a little while, but I wonder if dieselgate did it in. 

Paper Chaser

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #26 on: July 30, 2020, 11:08:12 AM »

I think the Nissan isn't tall enough to set up a bunked bed system, but I might be wrong.

-W

The Cargo versions of the Nissan NV and Ford Transit both have taller rooflines as an option, which can allow an adult to stand upright in the back.



As a drawback, I'm not sure you can get these with rear windows and I'm unsure of seating options. That's probably fine if it's being converted into a camper. It may be less fine for a normal family hauler. I suppose seats could always be added back, but either one might be a hassle.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2020, 11:14:39 AM by Paper Chaser »

waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #27 on: July 30, 2020, 01:37:17 PM »
I've looked into rear seats in cargo vans and unless you're getting it installed at the factory/OEM, it's sketchy AF, and voids insurance on the vehicle in most cases.

So we will probably have to start with a passenger van.

-W

rothwem

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #28 on: July 30, 2020, 01:38:39 PM »
I've looked into rear seats in cargo vans and unless you're getting it installed at the factory/OEM, it's sketchy AF, and voids insurance on the vehicle in most cases.

So we will probably have to start with a passenger van.

-W

They make a "crew" version with windows in the middle and a middle row, but no windows in the back.  Seems like a good compromise. 

jeninco

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #29 on: July 30, 2020, 02:05:09 PM »
I don't remember where you live, but if you're going to be driving in windy areas, think carefully about getting those higher roofs. I've about gotten blown off the road driving a Eurovan across Wyoming on I-80: I think anything higher would've resulted in us pulling off for a day or so.   If you're going to do a conversion, I'm a big proponent of getting the lower roof and adding a pop-top.

Zamboni

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #30 on: July 31, 2020, 03:01:20 AM »
jeninco is right about being blown around, but I'll offer the counterpoint here.

My brother (bigger family than you have) bit the bullet and bought one of those tall mercedes vans. he loves it! Especially if you are using it for sleeping, being able to stand up is a big win!

waltworks

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #31 on: July 31, 2020, 09:08:31 AM »
We live in UT, but we never drive I-80 through Wyoming because it's miserable (as well as always windy). Hwy 40 for the win...

But the tall vehicle/crosswind problem is a good one to point out.

-W

mntnmn117

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #32 on: July 31, 2020, 09:27:12 AM »
Family of 6 here in the same boat. Mtbing, Skiing, Camping. Have a very trusty Land Cruiser right now but carrying bikes and camping, even with a roof box  is this 1 hour game of tetris. Coolers under the kids feet etc.

I've also been eyeing the Transit/Sprinter but overwhelming amount of configurations. The passenger ones are nice because you get more than the 5 seats of the cargo version. But then the entire rear is trimmed and finished such that your bunk bed install is complicated.  Also from what I've read of vanlife builds, for camping you really don't want any windows as you have to close them all up for nighttime privacy.

bigblock440

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #33 on: July 31, 2020, 09:32:22 AM »
We've outgrown the minivan! I never thought it was possible, but put enough kids and bikes and camping gear into the equation...

And yes, it has a big bike rack, and a rocketbox, etc. It's maxed out. We can't store or park a trailer of any kind in our neighborhood, so that's out too.

Situation: Family of 6 needs new wheels in the next year or so.
Driving:
-Zero around town, we use bikes and the very good bus system. An average day sees zero miles driven. If we do drive in town, it's to do a shuttle run with the mountain bikes/lots of gear. No solo driving to get groceries.
-Trips to welding/industrial supply stores ~40 miles away once every 2 weeks or so.
-Big road trips 4-5 times per year where we camp, ride bikes, visit family and friends, etc. Obviously those have not been happening this year, but normally they would.

So as much as I hate to say it... are we looking at a Sprinter/Ford Transit kind of situation at this point? What are the pros/cons for folks in similar situations? It seems like it would work well enough for our very limited daily use, and also be great for road trips. But I've never spent more than $5000 on a car in my life (and in fact until we had kids I'd never spent more than $500/often didn't own one). The thought of spending $20-50k on a stupid vehicle...

Thoughts?

-W

You don't have to spend $20-50k, full size vans have been built for decades.  Definitely sounds like that's what you should get, but you have no need to go with a new one.

Just Joe

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #34 on: July 31, 2020, 10:27:01 AM »
We live in UT, but we never drive I-80 through Wyoming because it's miserable (as well as always windy). Hwy 40 for the win...

But the tall vehicle/crosswind problem is a good one to point out.

-W

I'll keep that in mind in case we ever venture west in our 1970s VW Westfalia which wanders under all conditions! Probably wanders when its parked in the garage... ;)

Just Joe

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #35 on: July 31, 2020, 10:29:29 AM »
Might help you to look at CarMax while you're kicking tires to see what the different configurations are and what the interiors look like. They have a big Transit passenger van version on there for $24K and 50K miles right now. Looks just like the rental I used last time to haul a load of people across several states.

CarMax will show you want all the vans look like inside and give you a realistic idea of what they cost used. You may or may not be able to buy it cheaper elsewhere.

slugsworth

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #36 on: August 01, 2020, 11:32:52 PM »
Much smaller family hear, but similar interest in an adventure mobile. If you are buying time during covid, you might consider a uhaul / home depo truck/can y rental in the short term to get your welding supplies while you look for the proper rig.

Agreed fully about the aftermarket seats, with the exception of those that were designed for it. E.g. passenger versions. Also the Nissan van didn't get great reliability reviews from what I saw.

Dicey

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Re: Not a car person - should my large family buy a big van?
« Reply #37 on: August 02, 2020, 02:16:00 AM »
We recently bought a very gently used RV on a Sprinter chassis. DH is a car guy and knows his wrenches. He wanted the diesel and looked for a long time before he chose this rig. Because of Covid, we've only used it once so far, which has given DH plenty of time to work it over. So far, he is less than pleased with how fiddly the Mercedes platform is. He says everything is overcomplicated and expensive. For example, the correct motor oil isn't readily available, and has to be purchased at the dealership (uh, no) or on line. It drives like a dream and handles well. We're FI, so the money isn't that important, but for your purposes, my vote is 100% Ford Transit. Can't wait to see what you decide.