how to live, travel and explore the world from your van


Mini Van Camping and Fuel Issues

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QUESTION: Robert on mini van verses full size. Minivans; I don’t know if you discuss them more on this website or not. Your book chapter on vans recommends a full-sized van, i.e., Chevy Express. However, the gas mileage on these is daunting at today’s gas prices. I was looking at minivans from curiosity and found that the Dodge Grand Caravan/Town & Country are extra large compared to some other minivan brands. At the dealership, we measured between the wheelwells and from behind the driver’s seat to the rear door and you could fit a 4x8’ sheet of plywood in there (they have the stow-away seats that fold into the floor, both the 2nd and 3rd row, which is also nice). I realize it wouldn’t look like a “work” van, so some city guerilla camping scenarios wouldn’t work, but if one mostly wants to camp in the country, what would be the downside vs. a fullsize van? (You may recall from an earlier email exchange that I am 6’1” and thus couldn’t have a bed cross-ways in a van as you do anyway, so a lengthwise bed would be needed either way). Obviously, somewhat less room, but worth the tradeoff? (25 mpg Hwy vs. 16-20 for Chevy 2500/1500 vans). Not worth it?

MY ANSWER: If your only issue is fuel mileage here's what you need to do. Calculate the amount of miles you will drive in ONE YEAR and devide by 14 (for full size chevy van, you can get a v6 to save a little). I try not to do more than 6,000 any more because we like to stay put for longer periods of time to assimilate everything. Do the same for your mini van mileage per gallon. Then multiply both figures by $4 a gallon and compare. You will find the difference is very little in the big picture of OVERALL COSTS of living. EXAMPLE drive 6,000 miles divided by 14 = 428 gallons of fuel x $4 = $1,712 a YEAR! Compare that to the minivan at 22 mpg = $1090 a YEAR a savings of $622 or $50 a month. If the room, reliability, and resale issues are not worth the extra $50m a month then go with the mini.

Otherwise as many find, the full size van can be a real blessing. Remember it is all mileage realted. If you only drive 3,000 miles the first year then the savings are only $25 a month. If you are not worried about stealth and if you will not be going on bad dirt roads like we do then the Dodge Sprinter diesel is the best on fuel.

QUESTION: If I had enough money for a Dodge Sprinter then I wouldn’t worry about the cost of gas for a Chevy! LOL. Seriously, I get your point, but I’m facing a somewhat “transitional” Vanabode livestyle. My wife is not ready to go fulltime and sell the house, even though I am itching to. So my budget is constrained. I want to therefore do a Vanabode type lifestyle as best I can afford it but for road trips of 1-2 months at a time with extended home stays in between. She wants to visit relatives. So using that as the “carrot”, I can get her out of the house and onto the road for trips that I hope will build her enthusiasm to the point of eventually selling the house. At that point the cost/size of the van will be less of an issue and the need for space/comfort more of one, making it likely we’d move up to a full size (or maybe even a Sprinter?!). Meantime, I’m trying to figure out an affordable way to do this. Given that we’d still be living 8-9 months/year at home and need a vehicle to drive around here, I would like something that works in both settings (without having to have a van and a separate car). That’s why I’ve been curious about that option. Oh, and for example, in this year, she wants to see our son in Tennessee, her parents in Philadelphia, and our daughter in another state; we live in Texas. So that’s one big loop road trip of about 3000+ miles. And then she wants to go to her niece’s wedding; that’s another 6500 miles. So the mileage starts to rack up quickly without even doing any local driving. But such trips would give the opportunity to introduce her to van based camping. (We’ve only done tent camping thus far). That is why I’m concerned about fuel efficiency. Maybe I should have asked if a minivan would be a good transitional vehicle. Or, maybe it is a bad one because it would give a less enjoyable experience? Since there will be some transactional losses in buying and selling a minivan vs. just buying the van once and for all, I need to compare that cost to the extra gas cost expected.

MY ANSWER: In your particular situation it sounds like minivan would be good to start with. It would also serve to show her how the full size van has much more room (later). Have fun!

QUESTION: What about the price of gas? Has this not affected your bottom line in a big way? Can you buy a hybrid or electric van?

MY ANSWER: The BUDGET is always affected when the price of anything included in the budget goes up UNLESS you simply adjust your behaviour a little to compensate. In other words simple drive less miles. Do more hiking, biking, boating, camping, walking, swimming, skiing, fishing, hunting, photography, loving, eating and playing INSTEAD along the way.

I would LOVE to purchase a hybrid van to help increase my fuel mileage but budget does not allow at this point. The cost savings in fuel would not exceed the intial increased expense of the more technologically advanced electric vehicle. Though some research into whether you could convert a vehicle to run SOLELY on solar power would be warranted for those with the time. I would highly recommend you also reread the "van" chapter in Vanabode as there are many important reasons, come critical to success on the road, for my choosing and recommending the exact kind of van I use.

You may also find best camping vehicle and Vanabode strategies without a van helpful.

This is a question from a list of camping questions those on my email list have asked my help with.
Please email me anytime if you need help with anything related to Vanabode, camping, travel, road trips, equipment, or living off the grid in the United States.




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