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Comparing the Different Options for Your Van Conversion Chassis



If you’re just getting on board with van life travels and looking to build a custom van conversion, one of the biggest decisions you need to make concerns the chassis. The chassis is a critical element and is key to a camper van's overall quality.


However, there is no single best van chassis to convert into a camper. They all come with different capabilities, and each has its shortcomings, so it all depends on your style, needs, and budget. In this post, we will pit together three of the best options for your van conversion chassis—Mercedes Sprinter vs. Dodge Ram Promaster vs. Ford Transit.


Whether you're having a camper van conversion company, like 27North, build you a custom Class B motorhome, or you're going the DIY route, this guide will help you make an informed chassis choice.


Let’s get started.



Option 1: Mercedes Sprinter

Overview of the Mercedes Sprinter Van Conversion Chassis


First introduced in 1995, Mercedes-Benz Sprinters have grown to become one of the most popular models for a conversion van camper. These vans have earned their sterling reputation in the van conversion field thanks to their advanced technology, sleek look, safety features, and sought-after 4x4 option.


You can decide to build your van around a Mercedes Sprinter Cargo Van, Crew Van, or Passenger Van, and they all have varying dimensions. However, cargo vans are the most popular to turn into a camper as they’re a blank slate.


Dimensions


All Mercedes Sprinters have either 144-inch, 170-inch, or 170-inch extended wheelbases. If you opt for the cargo van, you can pick the 144” wheelbase with an overall length of 233.5" or the 170” wheelbase with an exterior length of 274.3”.


The length you pick will depend on the amount of interior room you want, but the 144” wheelbase is the easiest to drive and maneuver. On height, you can pick the standard option, which has an exterior height of 96.3 inches, or the high roof measuring 107.5 inches. The width of all models is 92.3, including mirrors.


Powertrain


All Sprinter cargo, passenger, and crew vans are offered in several engine choices—4-cylinder gas, 4-cylinder diesel, 6-cylinder diesel, and 6-cylinder 4×4 diesel. If you want to travel off the beaten track, opt for the 4WD. Keep in mind that diesel engines also last longer.


Pros and Cons of Mercedes Sprinter Van Conversion

Pros


Great Fuel Economy - The diesel engine on a Mercedes Sprinter camper van means it gets better MPG than similar-sized vans.

4x4 Option - If you want to build an off-road capable Class B RV, the Sprinter offers the only factory-ready 4x4 cargo van option.

Safety Features - This van is brimming with features and options that make it easy and safe to drive, such as active brake assist, attention assist, active distance assist, traffic sign assist, and lane-keeping.

Superior Interior Appointments - The Sprinter offers more interior refinement than the other models, such as the leather-covered steering wheel, Wi-Fi hotspot, and an infotainment center with a large touchscreen.

They are an Asset - Sprinter vans hold their value extremely well for resale value.

Reliability - Sprinter vans have an outstanding reputation for excellent reliability.


Cons


More Expensive Than the Competition - Mercedes Benz Sprinters tend to be the most expensive vans in terms of upfront and maintenance costs.

Fewer Mercedes Dealerships - Finding a dealership to service your Sprinter van can be tough as they are few dealer shops around the US compared to Dodge and Ford.

Fuel Limitations - Mercedes requires you to use ultra-low sulfur fuel, which may not be available in all places. They also state that any damage caused by using non-approved fuels will not be covered.



Option 2: Dodge Ram Promaster

Overview of the Dodge Ram Promaster Van Conversion Chassis


Dodge Ram Promaster is another great choice for camper van conversions. It’s a spacious, powerful, and efficient van that suits practically everyone who wants to experience van life. Most importantly, it has the widest body among the three campers.


It also has a boxier profile, with more square than rounded interiors, helping maximize the interior space. Although it doesn’t quite pack in the adventure features of the Sprinter and Ford Transit, it has a few of its own perks.


Dimensions


The Promaster is available in multiple configurations, but the largest and best option for a campervan conversion is the 159-inch wheelbases—standard(236” exterior length) and extended(251” exterior length). The standard has an interior cargo length of 132”(from front seats in most rearward position to rear door).


On the other hand, the extended wheelbase has an exterior length of 251” and an interior cargo length of 146”, and it only comes in a high roof configuration (6’4” interior). You can find the standard Promaster with a regular roof(5’6”) and a high roof.


Powertrain


The new 2022 Ram ProMaster features an upgraded 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine producing 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. While the van remains an FWD, it has a new nine-speed automatic transmission that helps with acceleration. This engine offers maximum efficiency and the ideal level of capability for most campers.


Pros and Cons of the Dodge Ram Promaster Van Conversion Chassis

Pros


Widest Option - Promaster is the widest van of the three options. The additional width allows you to install a side-by-side bed that can accommodate anyone who’s 6’ and under.

Affordable - Even when new, Promasters are $5-10k cheaper than similarly equipped Sprinters or Transit vans.

Parts Are Cheap and Easy To Find - Finding parts, dealerships, and mechanic shops for your Promaster van is a breeze no matter where you are, plus these vans are less expensive to repair.

Super Easy to Drive - The turning radius on Promaster is amazing for a cargo vehicle, so maneuvering in busy streets and narrow back roads won’t be a problem. It also comes with driver-assist and active safety features.

Great MPG - The Promaster has a front-wheel-drive system and is very fuel efficient.

More Roof Space - Thanks to its box design, it has more usable roof space than other vans, allowing you to add things like solar panels, a couple of roof fans, and a roof deck.


Cons


Lack of a 4x4 Option - Still, there is no four-wheel version available, so nomads who want an off-road van may need to consider other options. Also, it has quite low ground clearance.

Not Great for Towing - These vans have no diesel option and have a lower amount of power overall. It may have a hard time making it up steep inclines, and it isn’t good for towing, especially when it’s fully loaded.

Small Interiors - Compared to Sprinters and Transits, the Promasters have the smallest length for a van conversion, so it will limit van lifers who want more amenities for full-time living.

Unimpressive Aesthetics - Many owners aren’t proud of the vehicle’s aesthetics due to its box-like profile.

● Lower Resale Value - Compared to other vans like the Transit or Sprinter, the Promaster has a lower resale value.




Option 3: Ford Transit

Overview of the Ford Transit Chassis Van Conversion Chassis


Flexible, fuel-efficient, and hugely varied in terms of load lengths and roof heights, the Ford Transit is an ideal base for building your conversion van. Starting in 2014, Ford began offering the tall roof Ford Transit as well.


The Transit has been gaining popularity with vanlifers, especially since 2020, when the all-wheel-drive cargo van model was released to rival the 4x4 Sprinter van. Today, it has some outstanding features, such as pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking. Additionally, there are plenty of options to choose from if you want some luxury extras.


Dimensions


Basically, the Ford Transit comes with a 130" short wheelbase(220” exterior length) and 148" long wheelbase(236” exterior length). Inside, the short model has a 118” length (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door), while the long one maxes out at 129”.


The long option also has an extended version with a 264” exterior length and 158” interior cargo length. Plus, it’s only available in a high roof configuration. Regarding Ford Transit height, there’s a low(57”), medium(72”), and high(81.5) option, giving you more flexibility.


Powertrain


Ford transits either comes with a 3.5 liter 275-hp V-6 engine or a 3.5 liter 310-hp twin-turbo V-6 engine. No matter which engine you pick, every Transit is equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission. RWD is standard, while the AWD is optional. Fuel economy is rated as 14-15/18-19 city/highway MPG.





Pros and Cons of the Ford Transit Chassis Van Conversion Chassis

Pros


Greatest Headroom - Of the three vans, the Transit has the highest roof, providing more standing room and space to build.

Moderate Price - Ford Transits are less expensive upfront compared to Sprinters and have lower maintenance expenses.

Easier to Service - There are plenty of dealerships all around the US to service your Transit van, plus parts are easy to come by.

Driving is a Breeze - Features like the front automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic braking make driving much easier. Plus, the Transit’s tall stance gives you a great view of everything in front.

All Wheel Option Available - If you prefer off-the-grid adventure, you can select the AWD option as it's designed to enhance handling and traction. There are also various companies that can help you convert the Transit to 4x4.


Cons


Problems with the Extended Version - The extended version has the longest rear overhang, so it's easy to scrap the van's back when coming out of driveways.

Not the Most Fuel-Efficient - Although it still offers decent fuel efficiency, it can’t match the Sprinter.

Low Clearance Height - The height of the high roof transit can be problematic when you need to drive through some areas, such as McDonald's drive-throughs.

Transits are Relatively New - The Transit is quite new in the van life lineup, it can be hard to find used models for sale, plus there aren't too many resources if you want a DIY conversion van.


Mercedes Sprinter Vs. Ram Promaster Vs. Ford Transit: Which Chassis is the Best for a Van Conversion?


Ultimately, the choice between these three van chassis options comes down to your personal preferences. If you want a powerful, advanced, and efficient 4x4 van, go for the Sprinter. If you’re looking for a van with extra width to provide more options for bed layouts and you're willing to sacrifice power, choose the Promaster.


Seeking the perfect middle ground? Then the Ford Transit may be the best fit. It gives you the option to pick between a low, medium, and tall roof; you can convert it to 4x4 or get AWD as an option, plus it offers decent fuel efficiency. Also, it has a moderate price tag.


Whichever option you settle for, 27North Inc. can help you build your preferred van chassis into a complete Class B motorhome.


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