We Have a Van!
So, here’s how it happened.
After Eva and I decided to start looking at sprinter vans instead of school buses (thank goodness), I dove headfirst into Craigslist searching for used vans. We started out looking for a vehicle with 100-200k miles at around 10-12k buckaroos. If well maintained, sprinter vans have a reputation for living very long lives, meaning 500k+ miles before the engine is toast. Due to this reputation, and other factors, they maintain a pretty high resale value. This is great for post-purchase, but makes getting a good deal on one a huge pain. My search into the pits of Craigslist led to some real gems. Notably, there was a totaled (front end collision) '06 sprinter listed at $7,500. In general, all sprinters in half-decent condition with mileage between 200k and 500k miles seemed to be listed somewhere between $8k and $12k. It was quite frustrating sifting through countless overpriced vans to find the few reasonable listings.
Eventually, I found a listing for an '06 sprinter with 220k miles for $7,500. This seemed like a great deal! The catch was that the body of the van was in good condition, but the original engine had issues and was replaced with one from a donor vehicle. Undeterred, but cautious, I asked as much as I knew to ask to see if this van would work for us. The replaced engine was a natural warning, but the price was too enticing to back away. I ended up finding out that the guy who had listed the van was doing work on it for his friend who owned the vehicle and a used car dealership. They guy who did the work was a retired mechanic, and the donor engine came from another '06 sprinter with similar mileage.
There wasn’t much else we were going to learn over the phone, so Eva and I decided to make a trip to see the van. By trip, I mean that the van was located just outside of Norfolk VA and we were in Pittsburgh… Eva rented an Enterprise car, picked me up from work on Thursday afternoon, and we got out of town on what was supposed to be a quick weekend adventure. If the sale didn’t work out, we intended to spend the weekend camping and hiking before heading back to Pittsburgh. Our first stop was in DC on Thursday night to split the trip and stay with Eva’s cousin Neal. After a quick game of Pandemic and a needed nights rest, we were off again in the morning en route to see the van.
The van… Well, I’m glad we went to see the van, but it did not work out for us. Ninety percent of the van was awesome. Unfortunately, the engine was… crunchy… The donor engine started up great and drove well, but it looked like someone had submerged the whole thing in a tank of salt water. Eva and I toyed with the idea of purchasing the van, but the engine issues far outweighed any of the good features. The van would likely be great for anyone in search of a local hauling vehicle for cheap (sprinter van cheap), but it was definitely not ready to reliably take us on any kind of journey. Disappointed, we made our way to the Enterprise to extend the length of our rental and figure out what our next move was.
Eva had been in contact with a few sprinter van owners in the Atlanta area the week before, and so we decided to continue the adventure in that direction by way of Asheville. In Asheville we’d be able to hang out with Eva’s parents for a little, pick up a car from them, and go see the vans in GA. After another long drive, we rolled into Asheville around 3am and crashed for the night.
By an awesome coincidence, we were able to meet Eva's friend Liz for breakfast the next morning before she flew back to Salt Lake City. After breakfast I decided to search around the Asheville area to see if, by chance, there were any new listings for sprinter vans in the area. After a decent amount of searching I found a great van. A used car dealer was selling a '08 Sprinter with 68k miles. It was a single owner vehicle, local to Asheville, and had had regular maintenance. The only issue was that it was listed at $23k… which is a pretty painful number to see when you’ve gotten used to looking at listings for old school buses. Despite the price, we figured we should take a look. It was a great price for what was being offered, and would make for a good comparison to the previous sprinter we looked at.
We made our way across town, looked at the van, and the rest is history.
But actually, the van was amazing. Aside from some minor dings, scrapes, and a small bit of rust, the van was in perfect condition. Everything under the hood was minty fresh, it drove well, and it had windows in the back doors. We revisited our initial purchasing plan, discussed with two sets of parents and decided that given our need for reliability, a car loan wasn't such a scary prospect. After some negotiations with the dealer, and after we secured a car loan/insurance, we were able to settle on a price that worked for our plans. Now I’m the proud first time vehicle owner of a 2500 chassis, '08, Dodge Sprinter van!
It was a whirlwind weekend of decision making, driving, searching, and purchasing, but it was all worth it! Eva and I are incredibly excited to get to building out the van as the perfect (for us) adventure-mobile, and have no regrets with where our decisions have taken us.
TLDR; Went to look at a CL listing of a van in Norfolk VA. The van was not what we expected. We drove to Asheville NC from Norfolk. Looked at a local listing for a van we thought was out of our price range, but enticing. We were hooked, did some planning, made it work, and bought a '08 sprinter van with 68k miles on it.