WHAT IS IN THIS POST?
This is the main post, where I have links to pages that cover my DIY campervan conversion on a new 2019 Ram Promaster 3500 159 EXT Wheelbase cargo van. It contains my process, materials used, and things that I think would have been helpful to have known during or before building.
I am not a van conversion professional or professional handyman. This is a documentation of my experience and so you should make your own decisions on how to build your own van, and seek professional guidance if you are unsure. This blog post also contains affiliate links, so if you click a product link and buy from the merchant, I will receive a commission fee at no additional cost to you. So, buying through my product links is the best way to say thanks if this blog post was at all helpful to you. In addition, If you’d like to support me more directly, check out my Print Shop to order fine art prints of my photography work.
- VAN OVERVIEW (This Page)
- Why Promaster?
- SOUND DEADENING + FLOOR INSTALL
- WINDOW INSTALL + WINDOW FRAMING
- MAXXAIR CEILING FAN INSTALL + REVIEW
- WEBOOST CELL PHONE SIGNAL BOOSTER INSTALL + REVIEW
- WALLS + CEILING
- BED + CLOSET
- KITCHEN COUNTER + WORKSPACE
- BENCH SEAT TABLE + DRAWERS
- OVERHEAD STORAGE
- NATURES HEAD COMPOSTING TOILET INSTALL + REVIEW
- WEBASTO GASOLINE HEATER REVIEW (Coming Soon)
- CAMPERVAN ESSENTIALS
Click to enlarge/for slideshow
Built for full-time living and working for 2 people and 1 dog. My conversion design is also centered around these storing gear for these activities:
- Mountain Biking
- 2 Mountain bikes, helmets, tools/pump, pads, and bags.
- 4-6 pairs of skis, poles, helmets, BC gear, outerwear.
- Rock Climbing
- Big ol’ rack
- Backpacking bags, tents, sleeping bags, gear.
- Camera equipment, tripod, computer & electronics storage, comfortable work area for two.
- Food storage, bowls, toys, leash, etc.
There are way better resources than me for this question, but here is why I picked the Promaster:
- It’s wider
- It’s boxy. This is really, really nice when you’re working with such a tight space. Shorter people can even put horizontal beds in quite comfortably, and this gave me room to have a pretty big clothing storage area next to a bed that is approximately full-size in width. I am 6’1″ and therefore standing in the van is huge for me.
- Front-wheel drive
- The turning radius is nice. It handles nicely in the snow. Plenty of people online arguing about whether FWD is actually better or not. It still feels like your driving a big heavy 2wd cargo van when conditions get slippery. There’s pretty solid reasoning behind all the weight being on the back tires for RWD when you are going up a hill, but I have driven Teton Pass (10% grade) in the middle of a 16″ storm without chains on (with Ko2 snow tires). I have heard people say they like the 2wd Sprinters better than the 4wd ones for winter conditions. I have heard people brag about cruising past 4wd Sprinters pulled over chaining up in their Promaster. You can basically find every opinion possible on the internet and in the end, you just gotta pull the trigger on something!
- Because I haven’t always had the best experience with Ford in the past and the Mercedes are notoriously expensive to repair according to the info I have read, I was leaning towards the Promaster here. I don’t imagine there is a big difference overall between the Dodge and Ford maintenance costs.
- Diesel vs. Gas
- I didn’t want to deal with a Diesel vehicle because of their performance in winter and the maintenance costs of diesel mechanics. I also read that they stopped producing the Deisel Promasters because they were “lemons”. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration but it didn’t instill confidence in me.
- New vs. Used
- I went new because I couldn’t find a good deal on the extended size of the Promaster lightly used. Since I was going to put so much money and use into it I wanted to start with a new or lightly used vehicle.
- In my opinion, the Sprinters look the best, and similarly, the Promaster and Transit are pretty neutral. The Nissan’s aesthetic is horrible though and that’s why I haven’t even mentioned them. Those are the only 4 models I considered because I was looking at cargo vans exclusively.
Frances BenesJan, 7, 2020
Awesome post, thanks for sharing!
Debra fazioFeb, 24, 2020
Interested in what the full cost was for the conversion?
charlesstemenFeb, 25, 2020
It came in around $20k
Adia WilliamsApr, 8, 2020
How much did you end up paying for your new Promaster? Is that included with the 20k you invested into the van? I am definitely going with a Promaster for my build, basically for all the reasons you stated. It is boxy, cheaper than competitors, and I am short. Where did you find yours? I am finding it difficult to find lightly used ones in my area ( San Antonio, Texas).
charlesstemenApr, 8, 2020
Bought the van new for around $40k + the $20k for the build.
John McQueenApr, 26, 2020
Great build, Charles. How do you feel about the 3500 159 EXT now that you’ve had some time in it? I’m 5’6″ and single with no dog, so thinking the EXT is not so critical. I started off considering the 2500 159. Maybe the 3500 non EXT is the just right for me. How does the EXT handle drive-wise, parking, etc? Also, what kind of MPG are you getting with the EXT? Thanks for all your excellent info, and I will use your links when I’m ready to purchase equipment.
charlesstemenMay, 11, 2020
Really sorry for the slow response here!!
I LOVE having the extra space. It makes a huge difference, especially considering 2 people and a dog. That said, If I were building another just for myself to use alone, I would probably have some thinking to do, I’d be 50/50 on the upgrade to EXT. For me, it would be tough to downsize because I couldn’t take that length off my bed since it is the length of skis, and so I would lose 2′ of counter space, which already feels tight at times. So I think your question is also a little bit design dependant, what will you gain/loose with that extra couple feet? In the end when I went bigger I was thinking it would be better to feel a little more awkward to drive than to feel cramped and like you wish you had the extra room.
I was also really worried about parking it and handling in general. You kinda get used to it, and 95% of the time just park a little further away and you don’t even have to worry about a tight spot. Even in those 5% of times, it might just take a little bit of a K turn and the backup camera/giant mirrors makes it easy. It is also not soo long that you have to worry about sticking out too much. It definitely pokes out, but its not super obnoxious like the biggest size of sprinter is. I should note I avoid cities but have been in SLC and some really tight roads in Seattle. Not really ideal but it works!
Fully weighted down it seems like we are averaging 14mpg. Could probably get that up to 15+ driving a bit slower on the highway more regularly.
charlesstemenMay, 18, 2020
So as a follow up on the MPG – I just drove to Fruita and back this weekend, ~700 miles. I drove 60-65 instead of the 70-80 posted speed limits and got 18mpg average round trip. It was almost all highway driving.
MelMay, 2, 2020
Looks great- thanks for sharing…
Is there an active link for the van tour?
charlesstemenMay, 11, 2020
Thanks for your comment.
The tour is just the photos I have on the page. I have not created a video tour, sorry!