Friday, March 08, 2013

Promoting - Looking For A Van Replacement

I have a Dodge 15 passenger van, 2002 or so, bought really so that I could get stuff to/from Bethel. I rarely drive it, sometimes just 400-500 miles a year. The main thing is driving it from home to Bethel and then from Bethel to home. When I get scolded by the mechanic that looks after it (he says I should drive it regularly) I drive it to run an errand or two, like to go grocery shopping or pick up something at the hardware store. It has 51k miles on it now. I think I bought it 7 years ago with 45 or 46k miles on it. There have been at least a couple years where I used less than one tank of gas for the whole year. This year, as an example, I am just finishing off the tank of gas that went in early last year.

The van would be fine except it's starting to rust. There's a lot of surface rust on the chassis, the bottom of doors are getting bad, the step area to the back (from the side doors) is getting crunchy, and overall I know there's a limited amount of time left in the thing.

This means I need to get a replacement.

I figure the street value of the van is close to zero, maybe $1000-2000. It runs fine, meaning the engine and transmission. There are minor electrical issues (dash lights don't work for example, and blower up front isn't working), and at some point I'll need to do the brakes and get new tires.

As far as the benefits of having the van - I definitely need the space the van offers and in fact I could use more. Based on what I know I have a few choices.

First, I could fix the van. This is time consuming but would allow the van to serve more of its design life before going to the scrap heap.

I have a contact that can weld chassis/frames as I think this is going to be necessary eventually. He's also done body-off restorations of his own trucks and those of the company he works for, so he could do that stuff. As I said before the van is functionally good - it has good size, seems reliable, and it fits what I need. The work involved would mean lifting the body off the chassis (I think it's a ladder/body vehicle), redoing all the stuff on the chassis (brake lines, fixing rust, rust resistance stuff, suspension bushings, brakes), and then putting the body back on. I'd need to fix a few of the electrical things too, like the dash light thing, the front blower, but that would be it.

A deluxe thing would be to convert the rear to a duallie set up, with 4 wheels on the rear axle. With 2 wheels the van is inherently unstable and apparently dangerous if a tire blows. A duallie set up fixes that.

I imagine that this could take a long, long time, and these kind of projects tend to grow problems and extra work like a lawn grows weeds in June. The good thing is that I'd know what I was dealing with after finishing the project. The bad thing would be finishing the project.

Cost-wise I'm guessing it would be in the $7k range without the duallie conversion, another $2k for the duallie conversion.

Second option -  I could get a similar van that isn't as rusty. This would be the cheapest and quickest option. I prefer diesel just because we already have two diesel cars. Gas works too as all the little engines are gasoline powered (leafblowers, generators, etc) so either would work. Poking around a bit it seems like street price for a diesel van is $6k-10k for a similar size van. If gas it's on the lower end of the scale. Since I wouldn't drive it much fuel type is less critical. It would be nice if it were a passenger van because then we could use it to go to races and such, giving it a chance to actually drive a bit.

Issues include not knowing what I'm getting with a used vehicle, higher miles on the drivetrain, and less space. I rarely see a 15 passenger size van for sale and I have yet to see a diesel 15 passenger van out there.

I suppose I could get a sister van and then use the current van for parts. The rear axle, for example, is really pricey. The welder guy could help with any swaps and such. Of course we're dealing with project creep again so...

Third option - getting a panel type van. These would be huge relative to the current Dodge. They're usually diesel. And they seem to be about the same price as a regular van. I could modify it so that I could do race registration straight out of the van. In fact, if things were okay with it, I could probably rig it so that the start finish stuff is on one side, registration on the other, and the finish line camera on the roof. It would be a "pull up, park, open the sides, and hold a race" kind of vehicle. I'd need to ask the help of my welder friend but this idea really appeals to me.

Disadvantages include where to park it, the inherent lack of passenger space, and the fact that I've never driven one before. I don't know if I need a different license for example. It's definitely not a family friendly vehicle so I can't use it too much for anything else so it would sit a lot. This isn't good from a rust/use point of view - my mechanic would be scolding me regularly.

Fourth option - a Sprinter type van, i.e. a newer type van that is more efficient. They're diesel so that's good. Street price $12k-17k for one that's 5-7 years old and has 90-120k miles, with new ones it the $30k range. This is getting up there for me as I would have to take out a loan and pay it off through the race promotion business. I may even have to trade in the (2011) Golf to get enough equity for one of these things.

The benefits include a much more efficient machine overall, a lot of room, possible passenger seats (there are two seater cargo versions, five seater "crew" cargo versions, and then passenger type set ups).

In the long distant future a larger Sprinter type van could be converted to resemble that panel van described above.

The drawback is that I'd rarely drive a Sprinter type van "just because". I'd feel pretty ridiculous driving one to go grocery shopping, for example. It's possible that I'd be using it more during the summer to go to races but... yeah, no, I don't think it'd get much use.

Fifth option - well it's sort of the "catch-all" option. I'm not sure what else would work. Pick up truck (crew cab) plus a trailer? Minivan + trailer? Mid-size SUV + trailer? These would need trailers and I'm not sure if I want to do that - with a trailer there's additional registration stuff, taxes, and maintenance. Plus I'd have to buy the actual trailer and make sure the tow vehicle was strong enough for the trailer. Right now a friend lends use of his trailer for the finish line camera but if his situation changes and he decides not to have a trailer any more then I need to get something to replace it.

I admit a trailer would be useful for photo finish stuff because I could separate the two - leave the trailer at the start finish area and go to registration with the tow vehicle (pick up, minivan, or SUV). If it were a self contained unit then set up would be quick and simple.

The trailer would have to be big enough to carry stuff for Bethel - 2 leaf blowers, 2 Echo weed wacker type gizmos, at least 1-2 hand held leaf blowers, gas cans, generators, etc. I'd use it to store all the street cleaning stuff as well as house the camera review stuff (small table, monitor). We'd use our storage bay to for the trailer and the stuff that's inside of it.

My estimate is that the trailer needs to carry about 2000-2500 pounds of stuff, max.

With a considerable size SUV that might work well. For example I saw a locally listed under 100k mile Suburban for about $10k. That's big enough to pull a decent sized trailer but the Suburban is also a nice stand-alone vehicle - we can use it if necessary by itself.

The one drawback is that it would be hard to create a "pull up and race" vehicle out of a Suburban or similar (pick up, minivan). It might be possible with pull out awnings and such but it wouldn't be quite the same as dropping some side panels and leaning out to take the first release form. Still, though, to have a "E-Z Up Registration Vehicle" would be nice.

Of course at the end of the day I have to remember that my main thing would be to do Bethel. I don't need to go crazy, I just need to be able to hold Bethel.

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