Used Chevy Express
If you are a climber, then you probably know Alex Honnold used to drive one of these (link). This is a traditional cargo van, with no factory high-tops available, but they have been produced for a decade and there quite a few on the market used, so this could be the cheapest option to go with, while still keepign the blank canvas on the interior. But, I would not consider buying this model new for our purpose, since the previous three are similar cost and taller.
- Many available used, at any price point
- No high-top available
- Poor gas mileage
There are also reasons to stick with a minivan, and here's a couple that loves living in theirs (youtube link). If you are trying to be super covert or as small as possible, this could be a great option.
- Many avialable, at any price
- Could be very cheap
- Small physical footprint
- Relatively great gas mileage
- Easy getting insurance
- Super small space inside
- Covering the windows every night (if being covert)
- Super small space
For me, after thinking about everything here for a few months, I came to following conclusions:
1. A new van was not worth it
Initially I thought this is the route I would take. A new van would have a warranty, better gas mileage, and probably last longer. Plus, if I wanted to be able stand up in the van, my choices were either a used Sprinter, which are not only hard to find but also costly, or a newer American-made model.
So one day I went to a Ford dealer, and looked at a couple Ford Transit vans. They had a medium-length, high-roof model that I was interested in. After about an hour, all I had to do was sign the financing forms, but the price tag was well over $40k. I told them I would sleep on it, and call the next day, and ended up backing out.
If you are living in the van, than this is probably a strategy for lowering your living expenses. Paying a price that high could still be logical, but I wasn't willing to swallow it, so I kept looking.
2. I still wanted a tall van
This slowly became the most important criteria for me. If I were just going to be using the van for weekend trips, I probably would not have put such a value on the height, but I pictured myself getting dressed every morning sitting down, and was not too excited on that.
So, I kept looking. I was officially limited to used Sprinters, or a newer, and hopefully used, Promaster, Transit, or Nissan NV.
I found a used Promaster!
A few weeks later I was scanning dealer listings, and, weirdly found a used Ram Promaster with only 5,000 miles on it, and marked down about $7k from the new price. I immediately hopping in my car and drove the hour-and-a-half to the dealer, trying to come to terms with the scenario of driving back home with the van. I got there, took the van for a spin, and felt like it was perfect. Here's what it came down to:
- The van is 6'4" tall inside, with only a 136" wheelbase. This was eight inches shorter than the Transit and Sprinter, yet just as tall.
- The dimensions and angles were instantly appealing for building it out.
- The gas mileage is over 20mpg on the highway. Really.
- Nice to have: A navigation system with Bluetooth.
So, I gave them my car (almost literally), and drove home with the van.