What's the best van for offroading? Needs to fit a bed (1 Viewer)

existnchill

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I'm going to be selling my sedan to get a van or truck! I'm going to start with camping and make the transition into van life.
Currently, I'm looking for a 4 wheel drive, 6 cylinder, with automatic transmission*. Needs to be able to handle (mild) offroading in the desert. >* (Edit: These are just suggestions from a mechanic I know).
Space to travel with multiple people. I'm still learning about vehicles, so any information helps! Any vehicle options besides trucks?
 
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Faceplant

Mmmm . . . Taste the Ballast!
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Member BroDiesel is a diesel mechanic, and will likely chime in with some advice. But I can tell you, 4 wheel drive diesel vans are very spendy. I want, or should say wanted one, but had to get realistic when I started researching prices. Really good, already converted examples go for sometimes upwards of 50K, leaving me out in the cold.
 

existnchill

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Member BroDiesel is a diesel mechanic, and will likely chime in with some advice. But I can tell you, 4 wheel drive diesel vans are very spendy. I want, or should say wanted one, but had to get realistic when I started researching prices. Really good, already converted examples go for sometimes upwards of 50K, leaving me out in the cold.

Wow that is quite a bit to spend. One can only dream. I haven't looked too much into diesel since I'm hoping to spend around $5000. A shortbus might be nice in the future. I know someone who converted his van to vegetable oil and would call restaurants looking for leftover oil for free. That might be a good way to save.
 

Faceplant

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Wow that is quite a bit to spend. One can only dream. I haven't looked too much into diesel since I'm hoping to spend around $5000. A shortbus might be nice in the future. I know someone who converted his van to vegetable oil and would call restaurants looking for leftover oil for free. That might be a good way to save.

I have never even seen a 4WD gasoline engine van go for that cheap.


Biodiesel is about done as a thing, in my area. The idealists of 15-20 years ago have given up and either given away or dismantled their processing plants. I never hear anything about it, guess the true believers have gone extinct.
 
D

Deleted member 24782

I deleted myself
Wow that is quite a bit to spend. One can only dream. I haven't looked too much into diesel since I'm hoping to spend around $5000. A shortbus might be nice in the future. I know someone who converted his van to vegetable oil and would call restaurants looking for leftover oil for free. That might be a good way to save.

Like faceplant said I think those 4x4 vans are really pricey, I see em pass through northern Nevada and they all look really suped up and expensive. You'd be surprise have much you can do with just a 2WD rig, unless you really trying to get out there.

I ran a 1st gen dodge Cummins off WVO in 2007. It was fun for a little while, hopping fences with 5 gallon totes of vegetable oil that break open spilling grease all over, leaving some poor vietnamese guy to have to mop it all up the next day. I don't recommend ever running a vehicle off vegetable oil, you will not save $$ and it will ruin your car.
 

existnchill

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Like faceplant said I think those 4x4 vans are really pricey, I see em pass through northern Nevada and they all look really suped up and expensive. You'd be surprise have much you can do with just a 2WD rig, unless you really trying to get out there.

I ran a 1st gen dodge Cummins off WVO in 2007. It was fun for a little while, hopping fences with 5 gallon totes of vegetable oil that break open spilling grease all over, leaving some poor vietnamese guy to have to mop it all up the next day. I don't recommend ever running a vehicle off vegetable oil, you will not save $$ and it will ruin your car.

Yea I severely underestimated the price, but there are no shortage of trucks here in Nevada. Thanks for suggesting a 2WD, I'll look into it! I'm not trying to do CRAZY offroading, just need something safer, as driving a Camry into the desert was a risk. I got a rock stuck under it and had to kick it out. If I popped a tire, we'd be in trouble. How did your dodge treat you? I'd like to stick to Toyota, but Dodge doesn't seem too bad either.
 

TheDesertMouse

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You can definetly find the AWD Astros for 5,000, You’ll have to look around though. The problem with off roading with vans though is weight and clearance. A small jeep or subaru type car can get through sugar sand and navigate inclines well because there a good 1000lbs lighter then a van.
And 4wd wont do you much good if you fuck up something in your drive train on a rock. And van’s arent known for their high clearance.

I’ve been concidering this problem for a bit myself, as I like the ammount of space in a van but not its lack of terrain options.I dont think there is a cheap, offroadable van option.
 

existnchill

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You can definetly find the AWD Astros for 5,000, You’ll have to look around though. The problem with off roading with vans though is weight and clearance. A small jeep or subaru type car can get through sugar sand and navigate inclines well because there a good 1000lbs lighter then a van.
And 4wd wont do you much good if you fuck up something in your drive train on a rock. And van’s arent known for their high clearance.

I’ve been concidering this problem for a bit myself, as I like the ammount of space in a van but not its lack of terrain options.I dont think there is a cheap, offroadable van option.

Thanks for the suggestion! With a van, I would be limited by weight, but I'm sure I could still find some great spots in nature that aren't too far out. I'm learning that everything is a compromise..

Just a thought, but I realized driving a van around the desert is bound to look like a meth lab. Hmm..

If I was going alone, I wouldn't be as worried about space, but I'm going to be traveling with at least 1 other, maybe 2 people plus a dog. We could always just get a decent truck and set up a tent or sleeping bags outside, depending on the weather. But I'm not sure how it would work with stealth city living.. That's a lot of us to be crammed together.

Many things to think about.
 
D

Deleted member 24782

I deleted myself
Yea I severely underestimated the price, but there are no shortage of trucks here in Nevada. Thanks for suggesting a 2WD, I'll look into it! I'm not trying to do CRAZY offroading, just need something safer, as driving a Camry into the desert was a risk. I got a rock stuck under it and had to kick it out. If I popped a tire, we'd be in trouble. How did your dodge treat you? I'd like to stick to Toyota, but Dodge doesn't seem too bad either.

My favorite truck is the "1st gen." Dodge Ram D250, 89-93. You MIGHT be able to get a 4x4 for your 5k price. They are very very reliable work/travel trucks if basically maintained. I've also seen guys put those big Lance brand drop in campers too. Most of my friends in "weed world" rock variants of late 80's to late 90's Toyota Pickups, usually with a camper, sometime 4x4.
 

Jerrell

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I put my FWD Dodge Grand Caravan through some rough roads and trails.
I love when I'm camped at some "4x4 Recommended" spot and rando dude comes thru with their expensive rig with all the bells and whistles thinking they're badass. Then they see my soccer mom van...the looks I get are priceless.
My biggest complaint is ground clearance. I carry (locally sourced) firewood to lay down in ruts to drive over. Also carry a shovel to level out a trail a little if needed. Traction boards are nice as well.
My second complaint is elbow room. I'd like more space inside.
I keep coming back around to the Chevy Astro AWD whenever I start thinking about my next vehicle.
 
D

Deleted member 24782

I deleted myself
Thanks for the suggestion! With a van, I would be limited by weight, but I'm sure I could still find some great spots in nature that aren't too far out. I'm learning that everything is a compromise..

Just a thought, but I realized driving a van around the desert is bound to look like a meth lab. Hmm..

If I was going alone, I wouldn't be as worried about space, but I'm going to be traveling with at least 1 other, maybe 2 people plus a dog. We could always just get a decent truck and set up a tent or sleeping bags outside, depending on the weather. But I'm not sure how it would work with stealth city living.. That's a lot of us to be crammed together.

Many things to think about.

OH yeah, like Jerrell said look into the Chevy Astro AWD, those are getting sparse but I think have quite the cult following. Not necessarily a "pussy wagon" but super practical regardless.
 

existnchill

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I put my FWD Dodge Grand Caravan through some rough roads and trails.
I love when I'm camped at some "4x4 Recommended" spot and rando dude comes thru with their expensive rig with all the bells and whistles thinking they're badass. Then they see my soccer mom van...the looks I get are priceless.
My biggest complaint is ground clearance. I carry (locally sourced) firewood to lay down in ruts to drive over. Also carry a shovel to level out a trail a little if needed. Traction boards are nice as well.
My second complaint is elbow room. I'd like more space inside.
I keep coming back around to the Chevy Astro AWD whenever I start thinking about my next vehicle.

I've considered a Grand Caravan for years. Your suggestion about covering ruts with firewood is super helpful, thanks! Last time we went out I definitely could've used a shovel too. I'm still weighing the pros and cons of having a more spacious vehicle.
 

Matt Derrick

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i have a 2004 chevy astro AWD rotting away in my driveway because i had the same idea you did to basically build a cheap 'overlanding' vehicle, but it turned out to be a rust bucket on the underside so im getting rid of it. still, if you can find one that isn't a piece of crap, the astro AWD is a good alternative and you can find one for under 5k.
 

Troubie

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You can definetly find the AWD Astros for 5,000, You’ll have to look around though. The problem with off roading with vans though is weight and clearance. A small jeep or subaru type car can get through sugar sand and navigate inclines well because there a good 1000lbs lighter then a van.
And 4wd wont do you much good if you fuck up something in your drive train on a rock. And van’s arent known for their high clearance.

I’ve been concidering this problem for a bit myself, as I like the ammount of space in a van but not its lack of terrain options.I dont think there is a cheap, offroadable van option.

existnchill:

I spent a bit of time in an older Subaru Outback and it definitely got the job done. It fit two of us sleeping in the back fairly comfortably while still being able to store a minimum of necessities (and a couple stringed instruments). It was able to go off road in wooded and grassland areas. If just getting off the main path without literally going 4 wheeling is what you're after, it worked fine for us in that regard. I can't speak to the mechanics of them and wouldn't even begin to try, but I will say that I've heard multiple people mention something about head gaskets going out on older Subarus? I'd ask google about it if you became really interested in one.
And a family member picked up an Outback in good condition for ~ $7k, so fairly close to your $5k budget.

It sounds like you might be looking for something more spacious and comfy, but if you end up going for something more barebones, I'd give Outbacks a look. Good luck!
 

Darren Scout

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Jun 29, 2020
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I have a 99 awd Astro that I got for a grand, years ago. It has a 2 inch lift and bigger tires. Does great in snow, works good in the woods. But it isn't a climber.
 

mouse

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Oct 22, 2017
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Then they see my soccer mom van...the looks I get are priceless.

Same with my barn-sized Promaster. I tend to go far out enough that the other vehicles I see most often are UTVs, ATVs, dirt bikes, and the occasional Jeep. If I'm right off a forest road I might see normal road vehicles.
 

Dutch

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I'm on my 2nd dodge caravan. These motherfuckers Will. Not Die. I used to be the type to not give a shit about brands, but I'm sold on dodge. Sold my first caravan with 275,000 miles on it and it was still chugging right along.

I'm not sure if their toughness carries over to full size dodge vans, something big enough for a bed/multiple people. I'd imagine it does tho.
 

stormy412

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Aug 5, 2014
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Ive got a rear wheel drive astro and i take it down some gnarly texas roads for my winter job. Never got stuck. Its a heavy ass vehicle on a truck chasis w a silverado engine (6cyl). My only complaints are the low clearance and the engine is turned sideways so working on it is pretty tight and difficult.
 

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