Van Build Cost
Vehicle Cost: $20,500
2008 Dodge assembled Mercedes Sprinter
1 previous owner local to Asheville NC - Appeared to be some sort of company that transported dogs, or some other small fluffy animals
69,000 miles (Really quite good for a used Sprinter)
A few exterior dings, and a bit of rust on the underside
Fully carpeted interior...
We got pretty lucky finding this van. There are countless used Sprinter vans in the 20k price range that have well over 100-200k miles and multiple owners. After what felt like ages searching for a decent Sprinter van, this one popped up out of the blue in Asheville, and we got it a couple days later. Due to the high price tag I got a loan to pay for the vehicle. Fortunately, to qualify for the loan I wanted, the vehicle needed to be no older than a 2008 and under 70k miles!
Note on Additional Costs/Reliability
Since setting out on our adventures a little more than a year ago, we have put just north of 30k additional miles on the van. We have driven on steep slick mountain roads in Colorado, through 60+ mph cross-winds in Wyoming, on fully snow-covered roads in North Dakota, and some bumpy dirt access roads. All of these conditions present their own challenges. Sprinter vans of this vintage may not be the first choice for any of these conditions, but they can definitely do it! Steep mountain roads require speed reduction, strong winds require extra attention and good judgment, snowy roads may require chains. Be smart and safe. The van may not be capable of serious off road challenges, but it can do almost anything else. Be kind to your vehicle, and it might just return the favor.
Though Sprinter vans come at a high cost, and with expensive mechanic labor rates, our van has been very reliable. We have replaced an AC blower motor, changed the various oils several times, and currently need a new glow-plug module, but all said and done, it mostly just does what its supposed to.
Build Materials Cost: $10,000
As it turns out, you can put a lot of cash dollars into building a custom van. This $10k figure comes from a spread sheet we kept of all of our expenses during the build. Some parts of the conversion were free for us, thanks to Eva's generous parents, and other parts were way more money than we wanted to pay. Van conversions can definitely be done for much less than what we paid, but we're very happy with the choices we made. More than a year of #vanlife later, and there are few design choices we would change if we did it all again.
Sample of High Cost Items (Includes Shipping)
Gennett Lumber - formaldehyde free, Forest Stewardship Council certified - ~$1,100
Nature's Head composting toilet - $935
Savvy Rest organic latex mattress - $860
CRL T-Vent window - $565
Black Mountain sheep's wool insulation - $500
Grizzly Mini wood stove - $435
Goal Zero Yeti 400 - $400
Origo 3000 alcohol stove - $320
Wood stove hearth materials - $300
Maxxair 5100 roof vent fan - $215
Lots of extra bits, parts, expert help, finished, etc - $$$
Labor Cost: Two Months Full-Time
It took Eva and I almost exactly two months of full-time work to get the van completed. Eva's parents were very nice to let us borrow shop space at Square Peg, so we were able to keep a very consistent work schedule. On average, we each worked 40-50hrs per week. Assuming 45hrs per week for each of us, we put about 720 combined hours of labor into the build.
Putting a cost on labor is tricky. How much do you get paid per hour? Should we value our labor more for all of the decisions and design choices we had to make? Should we value our time based on what we could have been earning? Should we lower our labor value because of our level of wood-working experience? I'm not sure what the right answer is. There is some total vehicle conversion value that balances how we value our time vs how others value their time. Someone making $200k+ per year would likely much rather pay someone else to do a conversion like this. Someone making a decent $40k per year might think this whole conversion is outrageous.
Sample Labor Costs
$15/hr = $10,800
$20/hr = $14,400
$30/hr = $21,600
$100/hr = $72,000?!
Comparison to Other Conversion Companies
So, how does our build experience compare to some of the other Sprinter van options on the market? Let's take a look! To note, the pictures below are all borrowed from other websites. The costs are taken directly from what is available from the sources, but may vary widely depending on vehicle and build choices. These are mostly full-on class B motorhomes, so have many additional features we chose to leave out. No two vans are the same! Many van conversion companies do not list prices online, but here are a few.
Sportsmobile - ~$94,500
- Vehicle - $48,000
- Conversion - $46,500
- We've seen a lot of these sweet looking vehicles on the road
- They do 4x4 vans, Sprinters, pop-tops, etc
Winnebago - Starting at $136,248
- It's super expensive by my standards, but it comes with a lot of stuff
- Premium leather options
- Many years of experience
Pleasure-Way - Starting at $122,655
- Clean design and premium features
- Full Class B hookups (same as others)
- Motorized sofas, bug nets, other thingamabobs
Kaya Lindsay 2006 Sprinter - $16,000
- 2006 Sprinter for a cool $11,000 (not bad!)
- Everyone has different needs and wants
- Super comfortable looking
- Check out the link for her perspective!