AWD or 4x4 van?


Original Post
Hobo Greg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 115

Been doing lots of research and still not sure what suits me best but I know I need a 4x4 van for my everyday driver/home/office as a traveling dirtbag and wedding photographer. 4x4 diesel e350 would be most ideal, but am I better off spending half as much and getting an AWD Astro? Both are hard to find. Other option is a regular diesel e350 and paying for a conversion. Thoughts? Thanks in advance

Loganator · · blue van, on the highway to no · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 240

I've got an 87 Toyota 4x4 van. After ~4 years of general dirtbaggery, I've found the biggest limiting factor to be clearance. At 8.5 inches from the transfer case to the ground only the most rugged roads in Indian Creek has halted (meat walls, cliffs of insanity). It's slower than a river of peanut butter on hills... If I could do it again I'd get a diesel van, or the 2wd Toyota van

ClimbBaja · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 25

Greg,
If you want relevant advice, then you might be more specific about your needs.
Where in the country do you live/travel? Miles driven per year? What's your budget? Do you need to haul a ton (literally) of gear (the E350 is a one-ton van)? Will you be driving off road on 4WD terrain?

You stated that you need a 4x4 van. AWD is not the same as 4WD, not even close.
Why a diesel engine? Unless you're driving 20K+ miles per year, it is likely not cost effective vs. gasoline.

I'm on my third 4x4 Ford van. Recreation purposes only. At 8 mpg, I wouldn't even think about having one for a daily driver. That's what a mini truck or econo sedan is for.

Converting a van to 4x4 is now in the ballpark of $12K. That's just the drivetrain conversion. That doesn't make sense to put $12K into an older used vehicle. It might make sense on a newer van, if your budget is $35K+.

Questions about buying a 4x4 van come up frequently here and on Supertopo. Read those threads. I often recommend that people research aftermarket locking differentials for the rear axle of a 2WD van. That significantly increases traction. Check out the Eaton "E-Locker." If that will meet your needs, you will save many thousands of dollars.
http://www.eaton.com/Eaton/ProductsServices/Vehicle/Differentials/eaton-elocker/index.htm

ClimbBaja · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 25

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=2916404&msg=2916482#msg2916482

https://www.mountainproject.com/v/4wd-vans/107981854__1

http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1115348/Ford-Econoline-Vans

http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/1340816/SUV-Pickup-or-4x4-Van

I'm "Juan Maderita" on ST

a.l. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2008 · Points: 5

AWD Astros are easy to get around here-maybe it's a Utah thing. Getting them lifted for more clearance is relatively cheap.

Personally-I think a 4wd truck with a nice camper is a more comfortable and versatile option-that's an opinion formed after years of living out of various types of vehicles.

Hobo Greg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 115
ClimbBaja wrote:Greg, If you want relevant advice, then you might be more specific about your needs. Where in the country do you live/travel? Miles driven per year? What's your budget? Do you need to haul a ton (literally) of gear (the E350 is a one-ton van)? Will you be driving off road on 4WD terrain? You stated that you need a 4x4 van. AWD is not the same as 4WD, not even close. Why a diesel engine? Unless you're driving 20K+ miles per year, it is likely not cost effective vs. gasoline. I'm on my third 4x4 Ford van. Recreation purposes only. At 8 mpg, I wouldn't even think about having one for a daily driver. That's what a mini truck or econo sedan is for. Converting a van to 4x4 is now in the ballpark of $12K. That's just the drivetrain conversion. That doesn't make sense to put $12K into an older used vehicle. It might make sense on a newer van, if your budget is $35K+. Questions about buying a 4x4 van come up frequently here and on Supertopo. Read those threads. I often recommend that people research aftermarket locking differentials for the rear axle of a 2WD van. That significantly increases traction. Check out the Eaton "E-Locker." If that will meet your needs, you will save many thousands of dollars. eaton.com/Eaton/ProductsSer...
Thanks for all the prompts! I put 20k miles on my minivan in about eight months.
I'm so mechanically inept that I don't know the difference between AWD and 4x4. What I need is a reliable, relatively efficient vehicle that can get through mud and snow. As a wedding photographer I can't afford to not get there!

Whatever I get will be my full time home and daily driver. Minivan has been too small. I'm open to a 4x4 truck with a shell or slide in camper.

I've been reading those threads but I still have more questions than answers.
Dylan Pike · · SLC, UT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 35

I'd seriously look into a full size 4x4 pickup with a slide in camper. A regular camper shell will probably be too cramped for full time living.

dirtbag · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Feb 2007 · Points: 105

General car-buying advice:

1. i know you're not a mechanic but 3 hours of time spent researchning the engine and transmission reputation for the vehicle you want to purchase will be money well spent. If you don't research now, when your headgaskets blow prematurely down the road because of a well-document engineering flaw (like my 3.0L 3vze that blew in my 4runner - worst engine toyota ever made I found out after the fact), you'll wish you had take the time!

2. If you can't do your own work, save half your car-buying allowance for overdue maintenance (new glow plugs / spark plugs, transmission fluid change, transfer case oil change, differential oil change, clutch, timing belt, cv boots, steering and suspension linkages - ball joints, tie rods, sway bar end links .. stuff like that is often overdue by the time someone wants to sell) , and improvements (snow tires, chains, a selectable locker) if you really really want a capable and dependable rig.

3. If you get an older diesel, make sure the modern fuel ratings are in-line with what the engine was engineered to burn. If not (like my 88' 7.3L idi), you'll want to run some additives to boost the cetane and lubrosity of the fuel. IN my case, that means adding an ounce of diesel kleen and an ounce of 2-stroke oil per gallon of diesel).

4. Buy a hanes or chiltons manual and and use your rest days to learn about your car so you can make your rig last make simple repairs. It's not rocket science. You can learn anything on google.

If you want a specific recommendation, include what you're willing to spend in your post. If you want a 4x4 van that does all the things you want it to and you don't have the time to learn how to work on it, I'm guessing you're lookin at around 40k minimum for something that has been well maintained and low-miles.. or you'll be soending less and being in the hole when you need to visit the mechanic not far down the road. Better off getting a full-size truck that's been well-maintained.

Hobo Greg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 115
dirtbag wrote:General car-buying advice: 1. i know you're not a mechanic but 3 hours of time spent researchning the engine and transmission reputation for the vehicle you want to purchase will be money well spent. If you don't research now, when your headgaskets blow prematurely down the road because of a well-document engineering flaw (like my 3.0L 3vze that blew in my 4runner - worst engine toyota ever made I found out after the fact), you'll wish you had take the time! 2. If you can't do your own work, save half your car-buying allowance for overdue maintenance (new glow plugs / spark plugs, transmission fluid change, transfer case oil change, differential oil change, clutch, timing belt, cv boots, steering and suspension linkages - ball joints, tie rods, sway bar end links .. stuff like that is often overdue by the time someone wants to sell) , and improvements (snow tires, chains, a selectable locker) if you really really want a capable and dependable rig. 3. If you get an older diesel, make sure the modern fuel ratings are in-line with what the engine was engineered to burn. If not (like my 88' 7.3L idi), you'll want to run some additives to boost the cetane and lubrosity of the fuel. IN my case, that means adding an ounce of diesel kleen and an ounce of 2-stroke oil per gallon of diesel). 4. Buy a hanes or chiltons manual and and use your rest days to learn about your car so you can make your rig last make simple repairs. It's not rocket science. You can learn anything on google. If you want a specific recommendation, include what you're willing to spend in your post. If you want a 4x4 van that does all the things you want it to and you don't have the time to learn how to work on it, I'm guessing you're lookin at around 40k minimum for something that has been well maintained and low-miles.. or you'll be soending less and being in the hole when you need to visit the mechanic not far down the road. Better off getting a full-size truck that's been well-maintained.
The overwhelmingness of cars has made me prefer to pay for repairs from a reputable mechanic rather than try and mess something up myself. I can budget $15-20k but that will include a decent solar setup and probably an ARB cooler.

Im not set in stone on anything. Diesel or gas, truck or van? Cost effective wise, maybe I am better with a Astro AWD (not easy to find with less than 125k miles). Or a truck and a camper. Very confusing, but Im tired of the mini van and really want to upgrade by March when my registration is up.
Hobo Greg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 115

And as far as doing research is concerned, I am trying. But Im looking at so many different vehicles and years that its not easy.

climbing coastie · · Wasilla, AK · Joined Feb 2011 · Points: 90

I don't think the Astro will be much bigger than your current minivan. Chevy did make a full size AWD van that would probably be your best bet as far as vans go. They quit making them in 2014, so there is that equation.

I'm still trying to decide on a van or truck/camper combo.

James T · · Livermore · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 80

I know you want 4WD or AWD and I don't disagree with that.

However, I've driven a lot of miles in both 2WD pickups and E350's, and the difference between a truck and a van is stark. We were always surprised at what the vans could get through (snow, sand, mud) that the truck would not. Even after loading my bed with stumps in the winter, traction was still poor. Obviously 4WD would have helped with all this, but something to consider if you go 4WD over AWD as much of your driving will be spent in 2WD.

If you want more space and a bigger vehicle then you'll probably have a hard time finding something AWD (not saying they don't exist) and will most likely end up with 4WD. Personally, I would be more concerned with the vehicle type than 4WD vs AWD.

I'm not sure about where you live, but here it wouldn't be too hard to find a long bed 4WD pickup and a slide-in camper to go with it. A brand new empty pop-up truck camper shell will run ~10k. If you're lucky you could find a used one at a much better price.

There's some great advice above about researching engines and learning maintenance.

Hobo Greg · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 115

One route that was offered to me was to forgo 4x4 and AWD and get an aftermarket locking thingy for added traction on a 2wd. This idea came from a friend so I don't think he's screwing with me. For snow and mud and washboards will that do me well enough?

txclimber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 10

Capable. Reliable. Cheap.

Pick two. You can't have all three.

Dylan Pike · · SLC, UT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 35
Hobo Greg wrote:One route that was offered to me was to forgo 4x4 and AWD and get an aftermarket locking thingy for added traction on a 2wd. This idea came from a friend so I don't think he's screwing with me. For snow and mud and washboards will that do me well enough?
I have locking differentials on my rear axle of my Silverado. I rarely find that I need to engage 4x4. Lockers are the shit. Manual lockers are bomb but Chevy's come with an auto locker which is "automatic" and is good enough for the light duty off roading that I do. A van or truck with a factory tow package will often have auto lockers installed on the rear axle. Hope this helps.

For your reading pleasure: offroaders.com/tech/limited...
curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 63

twin air mattress fits in the back of my '06 xterra just fine. capable truck and super reliable. you can find an early 2nd generation with 120xxx miles for under 7k...

Craig Childre · · Lubbock, Texas · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 4,950

I'd suggest look full on at a 4x4 truck, with slide in camper... check out the pop ups for improved efficency... long term... lets say you end up hating it... shouldn't be hard to sell either part.... where it might be more work to unload a van or conversion sort of set up. Plus... suppose you get an F Series 4x4... you'll never struggle to locate replacement parts or finding a mechanic who's worked on one. Benefits of driving America's most popular truck if you will.

My 2nd thought, was a Subaru Outback V-6 pulling a compact teardrop trailer camper. Only terrain capable if you drop the trailer... and deep mud and snow might be an issue. Trading efficiency for capability.

Craig Childre · · Lubbock, Texas · Joined Aug 2006 · Points: 4,950
Dylan Pike wrote: I rarely find that I need to engage 4x4. Lockers are the shit.
Not to dispute this assertion... just understand lockers do have some rather unique drawbacks that can prove catastrophic if they are ignored. Such as spinning out on ice and hard packed snow. Locked up, both wheels spin, and unless you are on a flat surface, most roads are crowned, it's significantly easier to find yourself spun out and stuck in a ditch. When a car spins just one wheel, the other usually doesn't, maintains the cars attitude, keeps the tail of the car from rotating off the road surface.
curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 63
Dylan Pike wrote: I have locking differentials on my rear axle of my Silverado. I rarely find that I need to engage 4x4. Lockers are the shit. Manual lockers are bomb but Chevy's come with an auto locker which is "automatic" and is good enough for the light duty off roading that I do. A van or truck with a factory tow package will often have auto lockers installed on the rear axle. Hope this helps. For your reading pleasure: offroaders.com/tech/limited...
you don;t have a real locker. you have what's called an LSD (limited slip differential). the term "locker" is mis-used in GM vehicles and is a marketing ploy.

depending on the type of limited slip you have, both rear wheels are locked together ONLY under very specific circumstances (wheel speed, applied torque, load etc...). a true locker (i.e. selectable) can engage both axles all the time. this is usually done via air pressure or electronic solenoid.

i have both a chevy with an LSD and an xterra with a true locker. its night and day...
erik wellborn · · manitou springs · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 355

I own a E350 4x4 with 7.3 diesel. A friend owns the chevy van AWD with the gas 5.3 . Unless you're into off roading, I would suggest the AWD is more than adequate, idiot proof, and much quieter and smoother on the highway. Expect milelage in the mid teens

Dylan Pike · · SLC, UT · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 35
curt86iroc wrote: you don;t have a real locker. you have what's called an LSD (limited slip differential). the term "locker" is mis-used in GM vehicles and is a marketing ploy. depending on the type of limited slip you have, both rear wheels are locked together ONLY under very specific circumstances (wheel speed, applied torque, load etc...). a true locker (i.e. selectable) can engage both axles all the time. this is usually done via air pressure or electronic solenoid. i have both a chevy with an LSD and an xterra with a true locker. its night and day...
Sure, that was probably a bad description of LS differentials in my earlier post. However, the G80, at least in my experience, works well enough to keep my hand off the 4x4 knob when leaving the road. Since the OP isn't building a true off roader, a LSD might be sufficient.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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