Why the ProMaster?
For those curious, I thought I'd quickly write a note about why I chose the standard Ram ProMaster 1500.
When I was looking at vans, I wanted to be able to start from scratch with my conversion. That most likely meant a cargo/tradesman van that was empty from the start. Originally I was looking at extended e-series types of vans (GMC, Ford, Chevy types) and figured I could always deconstruct one if it was a passenger van with seats. Over time, looking at other conversions and seeing different layouts based on space and height, I determined that the traditional cargo van might be too small though.
I was leaning toward finding a van with a high roof when I started actively going to dealers and used car lots. At one dealer, I had the chance to look at a GMC Savana, Ford Transit Low Roof, Ford Transit High Roof, and Ram ProMaster. I took that opportunity to measure them out as well, move around in them, and lie down in different angles. In my notebook, I jotted down some approximate numbers:
- GMC Savana Height: 4'5", Length: 9'6", Width: 5'6", ~ 14 mpg
- Ford Transit Low Roof 250 H: 4'5", L: 9'6", W: 5'6", ~ 18 mpg
- Ford Transit High Roof H: Plenty tall enough!, L: 9'6", W: 5'6", ~ 16 mpg
- RAM ProMaster 1500 H: 5'5", L: 9'5", W: 5'11", ~ 18 mpg
Keep in mind these are only some variations of these models and only rough measurements - the Transits and ProMasters come in various heights and lengths (the Transit has a low, medium, and high roof). It's important to note as well that I kept Mercedes Sprinters out of the mix. I wanted to get something a little newer to cut down on potential maintenance, which, based on my budget, cut out the option of getting something way up in that $30k+ price range where you find semi-used Sprinters.
What I quickly solidified was the thought that the standard 4'5" roof on the GMC and low roof Transit was way too short. The constant level of crouching necessary would really impact my comfort over an extended time. I also came to realize that getting something with a high roof almost always added $6-10k to the price. I was having a hard time justifying that type of extra expense added to the van.
That's where the standard ProMaster came into play. It was about 1 foot taller than the GMC and standard Transit. I'm 5'11", so while it's not tall enough for me to stand in at 5'6", it is way more comfortable to move around in. It also is wider by about 5 inches and that makes a big difference for where I put the bed. I can comfortable lay width wise and plan to make my bed that way, saving space going into the interior for more kitchen/storage space. The cabin was also very spacious and I liked the huge window in the front - I felt like I'd be able to really see the views as I drive across the country. The ProMaster also had competitive gas mileage and a competitive price in the used market.
So the ProMaster was my front runner when I found myself at home in Detroit with family. The market in Detroit for used vehicles is far better than in Madison - keep in mind your markets when looking for a vehicle as it can be worth traveling for the right van. Overall, I found the two best resources for quality used vehicles were CarFax and Kelley Blue Book, but I also found some potential vehicles directly on Craigslist and dealerhip websites.
After many hours of searching, I found a great deal on a 2016 ProMaster from a Metro-Detroit dealer, still with some bumper to bumper warranty, that had only been used by one previous owner. I took it for a drive around some city streets and on the highway for a few miles. Overall it drove smoothly, had good pickup and was maneuverable. But of course there are cons to this vehicle, so I'll list the ones I've discovered so far (I'll continue to update this list):
- Visibility isn't great out the back windows. I think I might get a larger rear view mirror to help with this a little.
- My model doesn't have windows on the side. This also makes visibility on the passenger side sub-par. But the side mirrors are pretty decent and help with this. I am determining whether to put a window in on that side right now and am leaning toward doing so if it can be done for the right price.
- The standard radio isn't great and it comes with a USB MP3 drive... don't be deceived by that. It's a true "MP3" drive. So you need to load MP3 files on a thumb drive to play, which means no Spotify or on-the-fly podcasts for me. I was pretty disappointed when I discovered this... I mean, what's it take these days to play directly from a device once you have the USB connection to the radio? I assume just some software. This is the 21st century, Dodge Ram! Get with the program. So I'll probably replace it with an aftermarket radio, but I haven't figured that out yet.
- The standard model doesn't have cruise control. To be honest, I was just too excited to get the van that I didn't even notice this until after the purchase. Dumb, I know. For some, this could be a major issue while continuously driving, but I don't see it being a problem for me as I often drive without cruise control on highways.
- The clearance on the bottom isn't massive, but it was still larger that the Transit: GMC cleared at 7.5", ProMaster at 7", and the Transit at 6.5".
- Lastly, I did research maintenance concerns and reliability. The ProMaster was only introduced to the U.S. in 2014 as a version of the Fiat Eurovan, so it's newer and that can lead to kinks being worked out (USB music?). And it's definitely been reported as having problems... but I discovered the Transits and Sprinters also had their fair share of reported issues. Basically, it seemed to be luck of the draw or failure to properly maintain the van that impacted the probability of having an issue with all three brands. So there's ultimately no guarantee when you're looking at buying this big a vehicle that you'll get something perfect. .
Overall, I'm pretty happy with my ProMaster. On the drive from Michigan to Wisconsin it averaged 19mpg, but that was also with it being entirely empty. It feels like it's got plenty of space because of it's extra hight and width (it's also a little more boxy), but it also isn't massive and impossible to drive. I'm hoping the clearance won't be an issue, but know I can swap out the tires for ones an inch larger if it feels necessary later.
If you've got additional questions about my search, feel free to shoot me an email through my contact form! Happy hunting for your own new home!