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ransom Dork
1/20/12 12:09 p.m.

Selling off my F250 and looking to replace it with a van. The general idea is to get something in a van that's just a bit nicer, probably budgeting around $4k.

Probably no immediate need to tow, and could see doing an upgrade when I finally have a car that needs to travel that way. OTOH, I lean towards a 3/4 or 1-ton just because I've found it's easy to find yourself needing to move heavy stuff, and because I found driving to shows in an old 1/2-ton Econoline with five people and a bunch of amps kind of terrifying with the bobbing and swaying.

So my first thought is a mid-'90s Econoline or Club Wagon. I lean Ford by default, but I'm not a peeing-on-the-bowtie Ford person.

But my main question right now is what sucks least to work on? While I think a van makes the most sense, every one that I've touched has sucked to work on ('82 Chevy with 350, '7x Econoline with 300-6).

I find myself torn between my default guess and looking for something older/simpler (when did they get disk brakes?) for ease of working on it and aesthetic reasons.

Is doghouse or hood access tons better or worse on any particular era or make of van? The Chevy I worked on made me think I should lean towards an inline 6 just to avoid having spark plugs and so forth jammed against the edges of the bay...

I think the early-'70s Econolines look really cool. I drove a '66 F-250 for quite a while, and it wasn't bad except for the drums-all-round. Trying to get my bearings on whether the general decrepitude of something that old is offset by the ease and cheapness of getting it working again.

FWIW, it won't see tons of use; home improvement errands, parts-fetching, spare vehicle for when my girlfriend needs the WRX, a few trips to bicycle races... But I don't want it to be a total project vehicle. I've already got those.

Thanks for letting me think out loud... What do the voices outside my head say?

Nashco SuperDork
1/20/12 12:15 p.m.

IMO, working on Ford vans is the worst....but none are fun. In general, I think newer is better for service purposes (and also more reliable, requiring less service). I prefer GM vans to others for service, but like I said, none are fun.

With regards to plugs on vans, specifically, they're actually usually not that bad if you know the "tricks"...a proper socket/extension/access combo. For example, lots of times the SOB plugs from the doghouse area are pretty easy from the fender wells with better extensions. Also, it's worth using really good plugs and stretching the service interval so you probably won't ever do plugs on the same van twice.


ransom Dork
1/20/12 12:20 p.m.
Nashco wrote: Also, it's worth using really good plugs and stretching the service interval so you probably won't ever do plugs on the same van twice. Bryce

You, sir, are a genius.

failboat HalfDork
1/20/12 12:22 p.m.

if I had $4k earmarked specifically for a van purchase, and that was my spending limit, I would likely be looking squarely at mid 90's Chevy conversion vans. The last of the old body styles was 1995 (78-95), although I want to say there may have been a few cargo versions sold as 1996's.

Pretty easy to find conversions in good shape and not TOO many miles.

I had a 94 shorty 4.3L, it wasnt completely terrible to work on. I didnt have to do much to it though, I did plugs and wires, cap and rotor right when i got it, maybe paid a place to do a change of all the fluids once during my term of ownership, did oil changes myself. had to replace the starter twice but that was a 5 minute job under the van. When I got rid of it I had ran it up to 176k miles (100k put on by me, driven on very long road trips many times), the front end needed new ball joints (at the very least) and the driveshaft input seal at the back of the trans was leaking a little. But damn that thing was bulletproof.

I miss it a lot. I also hate to choose sides but I did love my Chevy.

that. id buy that. http://fredericksburg.craigslist.org/cto/2739939479.html its probably minutes from my house, can I haz $4000?

Ian F
Ian F SuperDork
1/20/12 12:27 p.m.

I've only worked on a Ford and agree, it wasn't much fun. At first, I thought the additional hood length was good, but soon found it was the opposite - half the engine is under the doghouse and other half is under the dash.

For example, due to the installation angle of SBF's, changing spark plugs was fun... all 4 driver's side plugs were easy from the inside. The front 2 on the passenger side weren't too bad through the right wheel well... the rear 2 were done practically blind from inside. The rear HVAC hoses blocked access to the rear plugs from the wheel well.

That said, since I was working on the van, I've spent a good amount of time working on FWD cars, so I've become used to wrenching in tight confines and have added to my tool collection to make life easier sometimes.

Gearheadotaku SuperDork
1/20/12 1:45 p.m.

I'll suggest GM 1996 or newer. Drive one and you'll agree. Way more foot room than the rest, and still good access under the dog house. Not as cool looking as the 60's stuff for sure, but for pure function its my vote. Note 2 GVW's for 3/4 ton models. Get an 8 lug (8600) for serious hauling. Extended wheel base FTW!

Streetwiseguy SuperDork
1/20/12 2:15 p.m.

Purely from an ease of access standpoint, I'd say Dodge B series. Fords look like they should be easy, but somehow they make the doghouse big enough that its tough to get out between the seats, and the engine in inaccesible from both in and outside. Chevs are a bit of a trick to get the doghouse out, and the spark plugs are low on the engine, kinda behind the frame rails. transmissions are cake, though.

Find an Aerostar, change plugs on it, and all the full size vans become dirt simple.

alex SuperDork
1/20/12 2:31 p.m.
Streetwiseguy wrote: Purely from an ease of access standpoint, I'd say Dodge B series.


ransom Dork
1/20/12 2:35 p.m.

In reply to alex:

I don't want to like that.

But I do.

failboat HalfDork
1/20/12 2:38 p.m.

Ahem. But what is not to like about a van rolling on fat white letter tires with a front spoiler?

ditchdigger Dork
1/20/12 2:51 p.m.

My knowledge of vans is limited to a childhood of VW busses and maintaining a friends Toyota and later previa. Neither of these are of any use to you.

But I can give my impressions of working IN vans

Pretty awesome. They are some comfortable footwear.

ransom Dork
1/20/12 3:11 p.m.

In reply to ditchdigger:

I couldn't agree more. I keep two pair in rotation at all times. Unless I'm standing on cold concrete.

Jason's vans? (Not his shoes) You've got some karma built up there

AngryCorvair SuperDork
1/20/12 4:49 p.m.

ransom Dork
1/20/12 5:03 p.m.

In reply to AngryCorvair:

Oh, don't get me started.

Wish I could have a Thames:

Or an early Econoline/Falcon:

I like the next generation a lot, too. Clean.

The early Chevies look really good to me, too:

But none of these is as practical as a later van. Can you even fit a 4x8 sheet on the floor of the small, old vans?

ransom Dork
1/20/12 5:05 p.m.

Heck, a little Dodge love, too. Though I'm not a fan of the pie plates around the headlights, it's a pretty good looking little van...

Toyman01 SuperDork
1/20/12 5:50 p.m.

I'll throw a vote in for the Ford E series, 97 and newer. Working on them isn't the worst in the world. The radiator can be changed in under a half hour, the heater core in under an hour. Plugs on the Triton engines are a PITA, 5 hours, on the 4.2, not so bad, under 2 hours. Alternator, under an hour. That's all I have ever done on a Ford. I've had a transmission put in one, $1500, had the rear end rebuilt in one, $900, replaced ball joints in three of them, $500, and had one engine replaced, $4800. The big jobs go to the shop.

I have 3 E150s and an E250 and just sold my conversion van. All those repairs are over 500+K hard, loaded to to gills miles. There is usually at least 1000 pounds of parts and tools in the back of all of them. The lowest mileage van has 240K on it. The highest mileage just turned over 420K. I put 400 miles on the one I drive today, and it will turn 300K in the next month. I can promise you the next van I buy will, without a doubt, be a Ford.

Mazdax605 Dork
1/20/12 5:52 p.m.

How about one of these?


I also have an 01 Dodge 2500 RamWagon. I like it, but the harsh New England winters and lots of sitting around not being used has taken its toll on the poor thing. It still runs great,and hauls the family with easy, but it is starting to nickle dime me now. It isn't too bad to work on so far. The water pump wasn't the easiest because I have rear AC and the lines travel above the fan shroud which limits your access to the front of the engine. Plugs were easy though aside from maybe one or two which were a little blind. The Dodges have wheel bearing issues as well as ball joints, but none are really expensive or real hard to repair. Also the fan motor resistor packs are always blowing out.

Hope this helps


mad_machine SuperDork
1/20/12 7:42 p.m.

I only ever worked on ford vans. A late 80s straight 6 that was fairly easy to work on (but gutless) and a mid 90s V8.

The first time I opened the hood on the mid 90s E350... my first thought was.. "where is the engine?" It is well hidden in there.

Sadly that van was badly abused before we got it, so we were under the hood a LOT to keep it going.

All I can add.. I do not want to be under the hood of another one

LopRacer Reader
1/20/12 9:26 p.m.

My 86 GMC w/sbc 350 is fairly easy to work on if you don't mind pulling the dog house. Did the heads this summer, it was a job but the hardest parts could have been made easy with a helper. The cast iron heads and manifold were a pure pain to lift into place by myself. Plugs were a piece of cake compared to most modern picks-ups I have worked on. Two on each side were easy from the dog house the other two were easy enough from the front. Radiator was maybe a 1 hour job but I was already there doing the heads so I am guesstimating.

The easiest I have worked on by far was a mid 60's GMC with the stright six right between the seats, just pull the engine cover and the engine was right there between and behind the seats.

ransom Dork
1/21/12 5:20 p.m.

Well, I guess fundamentally this bodes well.

GM '96-newer, Ford '97-newer, and Dodge all have adherents. Nice to have a year at which things improved to shoot for...

Like I said above, I tend to default to Ford, but I guess when it's time to do something about this, I'll just look for the best one of the above-listed vans turns up.

LopRacer Reader
1/21/12 8:03 p.m.

I would add I have been on the look out for the mythical 4.9 straight6 E250 1992-up. I figure it would pull anything I have and it's a 3/4 ton plus the 4.9 might be easier to work on than the v-8. I know they made them, I drove one for three years at Loomis Fargo working on ATM machines. It got out of it's own way well enough and was hauling around god knows how much weight in the form of armour plating on all the doors and walls.

ransom Dork
4/14/12 2:48 p.m.

Van acquired! Today I bought a 2001 Dodge Ram Van 2500, with 139k miles on it. A little over challenge budget, in pretty decent shape overall. Narrowly decided on this over a '93 Chevy G30 ex-city-maint van with very low miles and a worrisome late-shifting 4L80E trans...

Now to go throw a cap, rotor, plugs at it and find out just how much it hurts to work on my new van...

chandlerGTi HalfDork
4/14/12 7:36 p.m.

Plugs are pretty easy on the dodges, we used to haul Amish around and used them exclusively. Timing chain every 100k and forget about it. Enjoy!

Rob_Mopar Dork
4/14/12 8:43 p.m.

Welcome to the Ram Van club. I picked up an '01 1500 a couple months ago with 59K on the clock. My buddy was the second owner and took great care of it.

When you get a chance, check the passenger footwell and floor. Mine has a leak under a steady rain that comes in around where the heater box seals to the firewall. Mine was equipped with the rubber floors so my buddy didn't even know it was leaking. He felt pretty bad about that. The floors are still in good shape so I left the rubber front floor out for now so it will stay dry. I'll deal with the leak when I have some time.

Toyman01 UberDork
4/14/12 10:34 p.m.


Where are the pictures?

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