During our search for the perfect camper van, we learned that each van chassis has its pros and cons. No one platform is perfect. Whether you’re looking to build out your own camper van or buy a used or new camper van, it’s important to consider the van chassis used for the camper van conversion. Roof height, bed layout, off-road capability and fuel type are just some of the things to consider when looking for a van to suit your way of camping.

While this is not an exhaustive list, this post will cover the most widely used van chassis for camper van conversion and I will share my opinions. I’ve provided, what I feel are relevant specs to give you a good comparison between van chassis makes. Specs like GVWR, carrying capacity and towing capacity are not included because it can vary widely depending on the trim level, engine choice, duty rating and other variables.

Top Van Chassis for Camper Van Conversion

Van Chassis For Camper Van Conversion
Photo Credit: Storyteller Overland

1. Ford Transit – Highest Roof

  • Trim Levels
    • Cargo, Passenger Van XL and XLT
  • Lengths
    • 130” wheelbase, 220” long
      • Interior cargo length, 118” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
    • 148” wheelbase long, 236” long
      • Interior cargo length, 129” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
    • 148” wheelbase extended, 264” long 
      • Interior cargo length, 158” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
      • Only available in high roof configuration
      • Available with optional dual rear wheels
  • Height
    • Low: Max height from floor to ceiling, 57” 
    • Medium: Max height from floor to ceiling, 72”
    • High: 81.5” 
  • Interior Width 69”
  • Engine Options
    • 3.7L V6
    • 3.5L Eco-Boost
    • 3.2L Inline 5 Diesel
  • Rear Wheel Drive*

*Note: 2020 model year will include all-wheel-drive as an option from the factory for vans with the gas engine. 

Ford Transit Pros:

  • Transit has the highest roof of any van, providing more head room and space to build.
  • We’ve heard great things about the 3.5L Eco-Boost engine from owners, telling us that they get around 20 mpg and that the van has quite a bit of power.
  • We’ve driven the Transit with the diesel engine and found power to be quite good, good fuel economy (16 mpg avg), the front seats comfortable and like the driver’s layout and ergonomics better than any other van.
  • For those who are more adventurous, you can convert the Transit to 4×4 by various companies. In 2020, certain Transit models will be available with all-wheel-drive.

Ford Transit Cons:

  • While the Transit has the highest roof, the extended version has the longest rear overhang. We’ve talked to owners who say that even in an empty van, they’ve scraped the back coming out of driveways.
  • Compared to an equivalent length van, the Transit has the least room between the front seats and rear door. The reason for this is the longer nose of the van.
  • If you convert the Transit to 4×4, the wheel wells are too small to fit larger tires without rubbing so you either need to stick with the stock tire size or cut/modify the wheel wells to accommodate slightly larger tires. 

Final Thoughts on Converting a Ford Transit Van:

With the combination of the highest roof, the Eco-Boost gas engine and ability to either convert to 4×4 or get AWD as an option, the Transit would be my top pick for a van build.

Ford Transit Camper Van Conversion Video

This is a fully converted van on the Ford Transit 148″ wheelbase long, high roof that has been converted to 4×4.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


2. Ram ProMaster – Widest Body

  • Trim Levels
    • Cargo, Passenger Van
  • Lengths
    • 136” wheelbase, 213” long
      • Interior cargo length, 112” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
    • 159” wheelbase, 236” long
      • Interior cargo length, 132” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
    • 159” wheelbase extended, 251” long 
      • Interior cargo length, 146” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
      • Only available in high roof configuration
  • Heights
    • Low: Max height from floor to ceiling, 64” 
    • High: Max height from floor to ceiling, 74” 
  • Interior Width 73” 
  • 3.76L V6 Gas (a diesel option is available in non-US models)
  • Front wheel drive

Ram ProMaster Pros:

  • ProMaster is the widest van available and the additional 4” allow people 6’ and under the ability to sleep side to side, which is only possible in the other vans with the use of aftermarket flares.
  • ProMaster has the lowest floor height due to the fact that it’s front wheel drive and doesn’t have to work around a drive shaft to the rear wheels.
  • During the almost two years we had one (159 wb extended), we found it easy to drive, comfortable and got an avg of 12-16 mpg depending on terrain.
  • We’ve heard many people who sit in a ProMaster on the lot find the front seats to be uncomfortable. We felt the same way until we spent some time adjusting them.
  • One of our favorite things about driving the van was it’s turning radius which was as good, if not better than standard cars we’ve driven.
  • Dealers who were able to work on the van were abundant and oil changes averaged $35-50. 

Ram ProMaster Cons:

  • To date, there is no way to convert a ProMaster to 4×4. The Fiat Ducato in Europe, which the ProMaster is based on, does come in a 4×4 version however there’s no indication this will become available in the US market. There are ways to raise the ProMaster, however larger tires would most likely not fit without modification.
  • We found that while the ProMaster would happily cruise at 80+ mph, the engine struggled on steep grades (our van weighed 9,000 lbs fully loaded). Due to the lack of power, I would not want to tow anything with the ProMaster when it’s fully loaded.
  • In most conditions, the front wheel drive was fine, however the few times we parked in wet grass or muddy conditions, the van struggled to extract itself. One reason for this is more weight is carried on the rear wheels so the front wheels would have a tendency to slip trying to pull the van out of something.
  • We did not like the on-board navigation system and chose to simply use our phones.
  • Finally, the ProMaster has a face that only a mother could love. 

Final Thoughts on Converting a Ram ProMaster Van:

We put around 33k miles on our ProMaster and really liked it. The extra width of the ProMaster really makes a difference inside and can provide more options for bed layouts. If 4×4 isn’t a requirement and you’re not planning on towing anything, the ProMaster is a great platform for a van build. 

Ram ProMaster Van Conversion Video

This is a fully converted van on the Ram Promaster 159″ wheelbase extended, high roof.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


3. Mercedes Sprinter – Factory 4×4

  • Trim Levels
    • Cargo, Crew, Passenger
  • Lengths
    • 144” wheelbase, 234” long
      • Interior cargo length, 128” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
      • Available with dual rear wheels
    • 170” wheelbase, 274” long
      • Interior cargo length, 170” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
      • Only available in high roof configuration
      • Available with dual rear wheels
    • 170” wheelbase extended, 290” long 
      • Interior cargo length, 180” (from front seats in most rearward position to rear door)
      • Only available in high roof configuration
      • Available with dual rear wheels
  • Heights
    • Low: Max height from floor to ceiling, 64” 
    • High: 75”
  • Interior Width 69” 
  • Two engine options
    • 4-Cyl Gas (new in 2020)
    • 6-Cyl Diesel
  • Rear wheel drive and four wheel drive

Mercedes Sprinter Pros:

  • Until the 2020 Transit is released, Sprinter has been leading the pack with the only van available from the factory with four wheel drive (the Chevy Express Van had AWD but that option was dropped in 2014). Shortages and long wait times are a testament to how popular 4×4 models have been.
  • Owners we’ve met have reported that the 6 cylinder diesel engine produces excellent power that is undeterred by steep grades and the drive is fantastic. We’ve test driven a few Sprinter based vans/RVs and have found that they drive well and power is more than adequate.
  • Owners report gas mileage to be in the high teens/low 20’s for the diesel engine.
  • Resale tends to be higher for the Mercedes. 

Mercedes Sprinter Cons:

  • With options, the Sprinter tends to be the most expensive van in upfront cost. While the argument has been made that they make up for this by the increased gas mileage, diesel tends to be more expensive, the diesel engine requires DEF fluid and is more expensive to maintain. After our first oil change in the ProMaster, we called a couple Mercedes dealerships and inquired how much an oil change would be. We were given quotes ranging from $350 – $1,000.
  • While Ford and Ram dealers are prolific throughout the US, there are fewer Mercedes dealerships (about 370 MBZ dealers compared to about 3,000 Ford and about 2,500 Fiat Chrysler dealers). One thing to note, not all dealerships are able/qualified to service vans (true for all brands), which further limits where you can take your Sprinter if/when there is an issue.
  • Mercedes states that bio-diesel blends higher than 5% are not approved for use and any damage caused by using non-approved fuels will not be covered. B20 (20% blend) is common in the US and may cause issues with the Sprinter. Also, if you plan to take your van to different countries, due to the engine requiring ultra-low sulfur fuel, you’re limited to countries who have that fuel available.

Final Thoughts on Converting a Mercedes Sprinter Van:

While we really like the amount of cargo space in the standard 170, the sticker price, maintenance costs and diesel fuel limitations would deter us from purchasing one. That said, with the gas engine as a future option, that opinion may change. Despite the extra cost, the Mercedes badge carries a certain cache and the Sprinter has been a proven platform in the van world.

Mercedes Sprinter Van Conversion Video

This is a fully converted van on the Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 170” wheelbase extended, high roof.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


4. Nissan NV – Truck Design

  • Trim Levels
    • Cargo, Passenger
  • Length
    • 146” wheelbase, 240” long
      • Interior cargo length, 120”
  • Heights
    • Low: Max height from floor to ceiling, 56” 
    • High: 77”
  • Interior Width 70” 
  • Engine Options
    • 6-Cyl Gas (1500 and 2500 models)
    • 8-Cyl Gas (3500)
  • Rear wheel drive

Nissan NV Pros:

  • The NV is based on a proven platform used by the Nissan Armada and Titan. We’ve had a chance to use an 8-cylinder Armada and enjoyed driving it.
  • There are aftermarket options to convert the NV to 4×4 and room to add larger tires (some owners have reported that wider tires can affect the opening of the sliding door).
  • The high-roof NV also has the second highest ceiling in the group.

Nissan NV Cons:

  • Despite it’s 20’ overall length, it has the least amount of cargo space compared to the mid-length vans from other makes that are slightly shorter overall…and the shortest Transit only has 2” less cargo space than the NV despite the Ford being 20” shorter overall! This can be credited to the long nose on the NV which is designed more like a pick-up truck than a van.

Final Thoughts on Converting a Nissan NV Van:

Due to the lack of cargo size compared to the it’s length, we would only consider the NV if we were looking to build an overland vehicle where 4×4 and larger tires were a requirement. The truck platform of the NV lends itself well to this task.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


Chevy Express / GMC Savana – Most Engine Options

  • Trim Levels
    • Cargo, Passenger
  • Lengths
    • 135” wheelbase, 224” long
      • Interior cargo length, 121”
    • 155” wheelbase extended, 244” long
      • Interior cargo length, 141”
  • Height
    • Low: Max height from floor to ceiling, Not Provided
  • Interior Width Not Provided
  • Engine Options
    • 4.3L V6 Gas
    • 6L V8
    • 6L V8, CNG/LP capable
    • 2.8L 4-cyl Diesel 
  • Rear wheel drive

Chevy Express Pros and Cons:

I’m mixing the pros and cons because the Express is a special case. 

  • The Chevy van is a relic when comparing it to the other cargo vans and while it may not have the bells and whistles of it’s counter parts, it’s only $5,000 less expensive than a similarly equipped Transit High Roof new. Once you add an after market high-top roof you’ve now spent as much or more than the Transit. So why would you consider one? Because you can pick them up in the used market for cheap.
  • They’ve been making the Express and it’s twin the Savana since 1995 (and other versions well before that) and they are plentiful, have plenty of after-market support, can be converted into 4×4 and are built on a truck chassis’.
  • We’ve had the opportunity to borrow a 2002 Savana with 210k miles on it and the V8 still pulls the van up steep grades like they aren’t there.
  • Many RVers chose these vans to tow their trailers as an alternative to pick-up trucks for good reason, they have up to a 10k pound tow rating.
  • Added bonus, they made an AWD version of the Express/Savana and limited examples can still be found. 

Final Thoughts on Converting a Chevy Express Van:

If we were looking for a budget van build, a used Chevy Express / GMC Savana would be the van we use. That is unless we got a Ford Econoline.

GMC Savana Van Conversion Video

This is a basic van build on the GMC Savana 135″ wheelbase, low roof. Learn more about our temporary camper build: Basic DIY Camper Van Build.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


6. Ford Econoline (Discontinued) – Used Market

The Econoline was put into limited production when the Transit was introduced. Since 2017, only the cut-away version of the E-Series van is available. The specs for the E-Series van are very similar to the Chevy/GMC van. These things have been around since the 1961 model year and they’ve held a strong grasp of the full-size van market ever since making them even more plentiful than the Chevy. With a strong after market, parts availability and ability to convert to 4×4, the Econoline is another good choice for those looking for a solid van on a budget. 

Ford Econoline Van Conversion Video

This is a fully converted van on the Ford Econoline 350 cutaway that has been converted to 4×4.

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies


Final Thoughts on Choosing a Van Chassis

NOTE: The specs were compiled from various sources and may not match the current model year or the specs may have changed since publication. A good resource is Sportmobile’s website where they list the various vans and specs. In some cases, I was unable to find certain dimensions on the manufacturer’s website and sourced them elsewhere so assume all dimensions are approximate. Refer to the manufacturer’s website for the most current specs.

Pay attention to carrying capacity. Options like different engines can affect how much carrying capacity is available. For example, a V6 Chevy van has 200 lbs more carrying capacity than a V8.

Service and Maintenance. Mercedes only has 12% of the number of dealers in the U.S that Ford does. Consider the cost of maintenance and maintenance intervals when choosing a van chassis for your camper van conversion.

Diesel vs. Gas. Modern diesel engines in the U.S. and most first world countries require ultra low sulfur diesel. If your adventures take you to Mexico, for example, you may have a hard time finding the right diesel and adding the higher sulfur variants will cause damage that voids your warranty.

Which van chassis would you choose for your camper van conversion?

Learn more about our GMC Passenger Van Build.

Van Tour Videos Playlist on YouTube

List of Camper Van Conversion Companies

Camper Vans for Rent

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