Whats the best van? - Sprinter vs Transit vs Promaster - Van Conversion Comparison Guide

DIY Van Conversion Guide: Whats the best van for a van conversion

So you're looking to build a custom van conversion but you don't know whether to shoot for the Mercedes Sprinter van, the Ford Transit or, last but not least, the Ram Promaster? 

Below we do a deep dive into everything you need to know before starting this everlasting van conversion journey. Whether you're having a van conversion company, like us, build you a custom sprinter van conversion or you're going the DIY route, we have some great information for you below that will save you a lot of ‘Googling’ and ‘YouTubing’!

The sum of this journal? The PROS & CONS of Sprinter van conversions, Ford Transit van conversions, and Ram Promaster van conversions.

We pit the most popular van chassis’ against each other with specs, experience, and information from other people in the van conversion industry to help you make an educated decision when buying your van! 

By now, I’m sure you’ve realized that the world of van conversions is a wormhole of amazing custom projects, DIY tutorials, conversion companies giving tours, and more. You may have even lost track of time (again) and it’s 3 am while you're reading this. So, buckle in and get your notebook out, we're going on an adventure!

Here's your crash course template on purchasing a conversion van:

  1. Overview & dimensions of a Mercedes Sprinter
  2. Pros and Cons of a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion
  3. Overview & dimensions of a Ford Transit
  4. Pros and Cons of a Ford Transit van conversion
  5. Overview & dimensions of a Dodge Promaster
  6. Pros and cons of a Dodge Promaster van conversion
  7. A recap comparison between the three main conversion vans
  8. 4x4 VS 2WD
  9. Gas vs Diesel

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What’s the best van chassis to convert a van conversion?

Each 3 of the main high roof cargo vans has 3 wheelbase conversions, each van different having pros, cons, and van interior dimensions. So it’s important to have an idea of what you’re looking for in a van conversion in terms of layout, sleeping arrangements, power systems, water systems, and appliances 

It’s important to ask yourself questions like:

Will you be hauling mountain bikes or other gear?

Are you a weekend warrior? 

A full-time van lifer?

Do you need multiple sleeping areas and additional seats?

All of these will present different layout needs that may dictate the minimum WB (wheelbase) size you’ll need for your van conversion.

Let’s dive in.

Mercedes Sprinter Van Conversion Overview

    sprinter van conversion

    Sprinter van conversion details:

    Ah yes, the ever-so-popular custom sprinter van conversion! The Sprinter van has earned its sterling reputation in the van conversion field with its sleek look, fantastic diesel engine, and its sought-after 4x4 option, which is changing to a newly designed AWD option in 2023. 

    The Sprinter van arguably offers the best-looking exterior for a stock cargo van in addition to the most options for aftermarket parts from companies like Aluminess, which specializes in van conversion accessories.

    The three different wheelbase options for the Sprinter van are:

    144"
    170"
    170" EXT

    Sprinter vans offer the largest interior cargo space leaving you plenty of room for extra amenities and activities when creating your van conversions layout. The 170" wheelbase can comfortably fit a family of 4 and fit most of the amenities you’d need in an adventure vehicle with room to spare. There's plenty of standing height in the Sprinter as well, we break down the dimensions below.

    The biggest knock for getting a sprinter van conversion is the price. It's easily the most expensive option to buy from the factory. You're paying for the luxurious nature and the name of Mercedes. 

    To go with the big price tag, your maintenance fees are generally more expensive than a Ford Transit or Ram Promaster. Along with a higher maintenance fee, you're gonna have a tougher time finding places to actually maintain and work on these units as there are much fewer Mercedes Dealerships in North America than there are places that work on Ford and Dodges.

    Overall, the Sprinter van conversion is the most popular option for most van lifers and for good reason. We've converted them before and continue to do so!

    Sprinter Van Conversion Pros:

    • Until Ford came out with the AWD Transit van in 2020, the Sprinter Van was the only van with a factory 4x4 or AWD option. 
    • Sprinter vans hold their value extremely well for resale value.
    • Diesel gives you the option for a Webasto or Espar heating system.  without building an auxiliary diesel tank.
      • NOTE: There are now Petrol/Gas air heater systems that make this a pro for all van models, regardless of fuel type.
    • Better than average MPG in the 6-cyl diesel.
    • More availability in aftermarket van parts like roof racks, ladders, tire carriers, bumpers and more.
    • Sprinter vans are known for their longevity so you can go further for longer in your van conversion.

    Sprinter Van Conversion Cons:

    • A Mercedes vehicle comes with a higher cost upfront and maintenance fees. If anything happens with the electrical systems it is going to cost a lot more than if you owned a vehicle from Dodge or Ford. Even oil changes are more (however they last longer).
    • When it comes to service, there are far fewer Mercedes dealerships than a Fiat Chrysler Dodge or a Ford shops. In saying that, this is not taking into account any specialized import vehicle mechanics. However, from experience, the rates at shops like this are often more expensive.
      • Mercedes dealerships (21 in Canada, 370 in the USA).
      • Ford dealerships (440 in Canada, 2500 in the USA).
      • Dodge dealerships (400+ in Canada, 3000 in the USA).
    • If you opt for a diesel sprinter van conversion, you need to think about where you’ll be travelling. It’s harder to travel to more southern countries where diesel and low-sulphur fuel are less-available. With that, the quality that is available isn't what Mercedes recommends for use in their vehicles.
    • The dreaded DEF debate. You can read more on this here.

    Mercedes sprinter van conversion dimensions 

    Body

    Interior Height

    Interior Width

    Wheelbase

    Conversion Length

    Exterior Length

    Regular Body
    (144” WB)

    Low Roof -
    5' 4"

    69"

    144"

    123"

    19' 4"

    Regular body
    (144” WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 3"

    "

    "

    "

    "

    Long Body
    (170” WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 3"

    "

    170"

    165"

    22' 9"

    Extended Body
    (170” EXT WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 3"

    "

    170"

    180"

    24"


    Ford Transit Van Conversion Overview

    Ford transit van conversion

    Ford Transit van conversion details

    Did you know that Ford has released an all new 2023 Ford Transit Trail directed right at people like you and me who are looking for a van conversion?

    It's pretty awesome, check out our blog post on it here.

    Anyhow. You may be wondering to yourself... I thought Ford produced cargo vans that were shorter and boxier. You'd be right. They used to manufacture the E series vans also known as the Ford Econoline. They've replaced those gas-guzzling, turnin' like a tank, short vans that you needed a pop-top campervan or roof cap with these beautiful Ford Transit cargo vans. 

    The Ford Transit van conversion is gaining popularity with vanlifers, especially since 2020 after they came out with the AWD cargo van to rival the 4x4 Sprinter van. With the gain in popularity, so grows the popularity of aftermarket parts. Companies like Aluminuss, Flat Line Van Co, Backwoods Adventure Mods, and more, are quickly making amazing aftermarket Ford Transit van conversion parts.

    The three different wheelbase options for the Ford Transit van are:

    130"
    148"
    148" EXT

    We stick to the 148 wheelbases, both regular and extended length, for most of our conversions. It offers plenty of room to fit everything you need for 2 full-time adventurers with some space to spare. However, we have also made Ford transit van conversions to seat and sleep 4!

    We love the fact that Ford Transits are much more affordable than the Mercedes Sprinters and still come with an 'intelligent AWD' option for those tougher terrains like we have up here in Canadian winters. Additionally, Fords can be fixed everywhere at any mechanic.

    The biggest knock on the Transits, which will be fixed over time, is that there are no used ones because it's so new. They've only been manufactured since 2014. Additionally, there's the never-ending Dodge vs Ford debate in the truck community which, of course, boils into the van conversion community which brings Mercedes into the mix.

    With Ford offering an AWD model and easier-to-obtain service, more and more of our clients have switched their decisions from Sprinter van conversion to Ford Transit conversions. 

    Although the AWD option is attractive, the affordability up front, lower maintenance costs, mechanic availability and the eco-boost engine have the Ford Transit throwing a pretty heavy counter punch at the Sprinter Vans for first place.

    Example: Check out our most recent Ford Transit Van Conversion here.

    Ford Transit Van Conversion Pros:

    • Ford Transits have the tallest roofs available in a factory van. So if you're tall, this choice may be a no-brainer for your van conversion. Even if you're not tall, that little extra space might make a world of difference to you!
    • The Eco-boost engine is awesome, they have a lot of power and are fantastic on fuel getting similar MPG to that of the 6-cylinder diesel Sprinter.
    • As of 2020, Ford has an AWD option, so you are no longer limited to the Sprinter van for 4x4/AWD van conversion options.
    • Availability of service. Plenty of dealerships and mechanic shops can work on these vans and they are cheap to have work done on.

    Ford Transit Van Conversion Cons:

    • With the long body van chassis, they have a long rear end overhang (having the shortest wheelbase in the longer options) so the rear end can scrape coming out of driveways or be a hindrance when going off the beaten path.
    • The wheel wells are small so it makes adding aftermarket van conversion accessories and wheels a bit more challenging, but doable.

    Ford Transit dimensions

    Body

    Interior Height

    Interior Width

    Wheelbase

    Conversion Length

    Exterior Length

    Regular Body
    (130” WB)

    Medium Roof -
    5' 10"

    69"

    130"

    106"

    18' 4"

    Regular Body
    (130” WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 5"

    "

    "

    "

    "

    Long Body
    (148” WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 5"

    "

    148"

    124"

    19' 8"

    Extended Body
    (148” WB)

    High Roof -
    6' 5"

    "

    148"

    154"

    22' 2"


      Dodge Ram Promaster Van Conversion Overview

      dodge promaster van conversion

      Ram Promaster van conversion details

      Yes, the Dodge Sprinter was a thing. Now it's the Mercedes Sprinter and the Dodge Ram Promaster. Confusing right?

      Well, these vans are not really that alike. In fact, they have quite a few differences. Like the Ford Transit, Promaster vans are much more affordable than the Sprinter van. The Ram Promaster is the most affordable van you buy for your van conversion. So if you're a budget-conscious van DIYer, this should be a no-brainer choice.

      The big attraction to Promaster van conversion, besides being the most affordable, is that it's the widest van chassis, allowing you to sleep sideways without adding flares (depending on your height).

      The three different wheelbase options for the Ram Promaster van conversion are:

      136"
      159"
      159" EXT

      We're typically sticking to the 159" WB for our Promasters van conversions for the extra space. However, if you don’t need much and you want a smaller van, we’ve seen great Promaster van conversions done on the 136" WB.

      Again, our clients love the fact that Dodge, along with Ford, are much more affordable and easily maintained when compared to the Mercedes Sprinters. The width and straight walls are additional bonuses.

      The biggest knock on the Promasters is aesthetic, it sorta looks like a cute little bug with wheels. 

      The biggest problem with the Promaster van conversion, for most, is that there’s no option for 4x4 or AWD. I've talked to a couple 4x4 conversion companies and you cannot even convert these into a 4x4 van conversion, even if you wanted to, because of the way the chassis is built. They're the most bare-bones cargo van you can convert out of the three so in this case, you're getting what you paid for.

      Overall, the Promaster is a great base for your van conversion. We love converting them, just like we love converting the Sprinter vans and Transit vans. A Promaster van conversion is a great option for you if you're looking to keep it simple, affordable, yet functional and don't need a 4x4 or AWD option.

      Example: Check out our most recent Promaster van conversion here.

      Dodge Promaster Van Conversion Pros:

      • Promaster vans are the widest available cargo van, which makes side to side bedding a breeze - depending on your height you may not even need to add flares.
      • The turning radius on these vans is amazing for a cargo vehicle. Depending on what your intended use is, this may be beneficial for manoeuvring back roads and bushwacking. This is even noticeable in daily driving and super nice to have.
      • Plenty of dealerships and mechanic shops can work on these vans and they are cheap to have work done on.

      Dodge Promaster Van Conversion Cons:

      • There is no way to do an AWD or 4x4 conversion on the current Dodge Promaster models.
      • With no diesel option and a lower amount of power overall, these vans are not good for towing.
      • Overall, these vans have the smallest length for a van conversion at 140" in the interior. If you plan on having a lot of accessories or full-time living in this unit with multiple people, this van might not be for you.
      • The hardest van to cover internally with panels (if you plan on a DIY conversion)

      Dodge Promaster van conversion dimensions

      Body

      Interior Height

      Interior Width

      Wheelbase

      Conversion Length

      Exterior Length

      Regular Body
      (136” WB)

      Low Roof -
      5' 4"

      73"

      136"

      106"

      17' 9"

      Regular Body
      (136” WB)

      High Roof -
      6' 2"

      "

      "

      "

      "

      Long Body
      (159” WB)

      High Roof -
      6' 2"

      "

      159"

      126"

      19' 8"

      Extended Body
      (159” WB)

      High Roof -
      6' 2"

      "

      159"

      140"

      20" 10'


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        Mechanical comparison between conversion vans 

         

        Engine

        MPG

        Transmission

        HP

        Torque

        Sprinter

        6 Cyl 3.0L Diesel

        20

        7 Speed Auto

        188

        325

         

          4 Cyl 2.0L Gas

        17

        9 Speed Auto

        188

        258

        Transit

        Gas 3.5L V6 Eco Boost

        17

        10 Speed Auto

        306

        400

         

        3.5L V6 Gas

        17

        10 Speed Auto

        271

        260

         

        2.0L Turbo Diesel

        20

        10 Speed Auto

        210

        369

        Promaster

        3.6L V6 Gas

        17

        7 Speed Auto

        280

        258


        Why does this mechanical information matter?

        • It's nice to look at this chart to compare the vans for your conversion for a few reasons. If you are going to be towing gear or doing a lot of mountain driving, a transmission with more gears and a van with more torque is going to be beneficial.
        • An easy way to remember how this works is a quote from Tims Capital Trucking. "Torque does the work, but horsepower makes the work go fast".
        • A higher torque will allow you to tow more weight with lower RPMs which in turn results in greater fuel economy.

        Recap of the best van to for van conversions:

        Mercedes Sprinter van conversions: 

        • The Sprinter van has the longest available wheelbase and interior length available. This makes it a great starting point for you if you need the extra space.
        • Option for 4x4.
        • Lots of aftermarket accessories.
        • Reliable. 
        • The most expensive van from the factory but holds its value.

        Ford Transit van conversions: 

        • Highest van interior.
        • The option for AWD after 2020. 
        • Mid-range price.
        • Lots of aftermarket accessories
        • Some people don’t like their eco-boost engines.

        Dodge Ram Promaster van conversions: 

        • Widest van interior. 
        • The most affordable van conversion chassis. 
        • Does not come with a factory 4x4 or AWD option and at the moment, it is not possible to do an aftermarket 4x4 conversion.
        • Not the most aesthetically pleasing cargo van until you put aftermarket accessories on it.

        There are so many things to consider when it comes to choosing the right van for your van conversion. Additionally, the vans listed above aren't your only options. You'll find that people are converting older vans like a Chevy express, or Ford E Series, and some smaller vans like the Nissan NV, Mercedes Metris, and Ford Transit Connect. If you'd like some information on one of these vans and want me to add it to the article, let me know in the comments!

        Choosing the right van to convert for your #Vanlife isn't for the faint of heart, especially if you're living in your campervan full-time. It takes a dedicated individual to live in a small space. Downsizing and living minimal is an attractive task for a lot of people but considering what you really need is a crucial part of your van conversion process because it determines your entire van conversion layout.

        Here are some additional questions to ask yourself before starting your van conversion:

        What will your average length of trip be? Will you be near civilization and amenities?

        Will you need a toilet or shower in your van? If so, you might need a longer wheelbase for your van conversion as it'll provide more layout space.

        Additionally, think of your lifestyle, as we talk about in our 'What bus is the best for skoolie conversion?' guide. Are you going to the gym daily and can use their facilities to save space and money on your van conversion?

        How many people will be travelling with you? Do you need to add extra seating and bed options?

        If you answered yes, you need to take the convertible interior space into consideration as every inch counts in these small spaces. A longer wheelbase conversion van might be a better option for you.

        Do you prefer gas or diesel? How will this affect your heat and hot water sources?

        Regardless of your van conversions fuel source, gas or diesel, you can tap into your tank for cabin heat.

        Hot water in a gas-powered van is a little harder as there is no 'dual top' or Espar setup for a gas-powered van leaving you needing something else.

        We prefer using the Isotemp hot water heater for gas-powered van conversions because you can power it from your battery bank as well as your coolant lines! The unit is extremely insulated and your hot water stays at usable levels for days at a time and is brought right back up to scalding as soon as you drive (from your coolant lines) or run the power on your off-grid system. 

        Other options available to heat water are to run on propane (we love TRUMA for all of our propane units), create an auxiliary diesel tank that is mounted underneath your van to run the same diesel systems, or use a glycol/electric system, similar to the Espar.

        Sound confusing and way too hard? Contact us, we can help!

        Are you planning on going off-roading and taking my van conversion to paths less travelled?

        If you answered yes, you might need to consider a 4x4 or AWD option. These are only available with Sprinter van conversions and the Ford Transit van conversions newer than 2020. However, a 2WD van with the weight of the conversion in the cargo bay, and some aftermarket upgrades, will take you most places. Regardless of your chassis choice, if you plan on getting off of the pavement, you’ll want to consider some suspension and wheel/tire upgrades!

        Are there height restrictions where you live that you'll need to take van height into consideration?

        If so, a shorter van like a low/medium roof Ford Transit or Mercedes Metris and Ford Transit Connect might be a smarter option for your van conversion. Keep in mind these options also greatly limit your van conversions interior space.

        A great option with these vans is adding a pop-top! But these can increase the work and cost of your conversion significantly. However, this along with the interior conversion of one of these micro van conversions can come in at a more affordable price than the cost of a high-roof cargo van.

        Where will you be travelling in your van conversion?

        If you plan on adventuring south of the US border where diesel options are limited, you may want to steer towards a gas option for your van conversion.

        Dealerships and service stations, this is also something you want to consider for the maintenance of your van conversion. Breakdowns and maintenance are a part of any vehicle, mitigate risk before you make your investment. Ford and Dodge can be fixed at virtually all mechanic shops whereas a Sprinter Van conversion requires a dealership or a specialty mechanic that charges premium rates.

        What brings the comforts of home to your campervan?

        Think of the belongings you can't currently live without. What do you use every day?

        Do you want a big stainless steel sink to wash dishes and a bigger shower so you feel at home? You're going to need a bigger kitchen galley to fit that sink and you'll wanna think about adding a bigger fresh water tank for those showers!

        We had a client that was compelled to bring her sewing machine! So naturally, we built a custom cabinet for her.

        There's only so much storage space in campervans so pick and choose accordingly.

        To wrap it up…

        This info should give you a good base to start thinking proactively in your search for the optimal van to convert.

        Overall, there is no bad choice for your van conversion, only personal ones. Each van has it's pros and cons and your choice is dependant on your use. We go even more in-depth on what to look for if you're ordering from the factory below!

        If you have any further questions or are interested in doing a custom van conversion, contact us! Paved To Pines is a full-scale custom van conversion company based in the prairies of Canada. We work with clients all over North America from Austin Texas to Anchorage Alaska and everywhere in between!

        If you need some inspiration for your own build, check out our van conversion gallery to see our latest builds.


        7 comments


        • Shannon Thein

          Great information!!! Thank you!!


        • Geri

          Good info. I am interested in a van conversion and wonder if you have a checklist that can be filled in which would give you an idea of my needs. If so, send it to geripeg@gmail.com


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