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Where to start after buying Van: - michaelf2780 - 05-23-2020

I just purchased a 1993 Ford E-150 Econoline Quality Coach Conversion High Top.  Has large windows and a high roof.  Overall a very clean van and I drove it 100 miles after buying it and it had no problems other than being sluggish up hills.  It has 125k miles on it and the miles seem to be accurate as I had no issue with it not working for the 100 miles.

Now the fun begins and that is to get it ready for VanDwelling (part time but month long trips).  I need to find a good mechanic to go over the entire Van and fix all the small things that needs repaired.

1:  Has some electrical issues.  It has power windows and doors as well as a ton of other electrical features and half work and the other half do not.  

2:  AC did not work. 
3:  Sluggish going up a small hill.  

4:  Some of the doors lock and can not be opened unless you open them from the inside.  Shouldn't be a frame issue I hope. 
5:  Very minor rust spots but not sure what is under the Van.

The van itself seems to be in great shape.
My dream list:
1:  Remove the rear seats (2 seats in second row and a bench in third row).  I was going to toss them but these seats are in excellent shape and are very comfortable.  Going to store them instead.  

2:  Figure out a way to have the two front seats Swivel.  If anyone knows a good way let me know.  The seats are awesome so want to keep them but let them swivel to face the back.  Not sure if that is possible since they are powered seats.  

3:  Find seat covers that fit the two front seats.

4:  Remove the carpet.  Hopefully not to discover something bad.

5:  Have a mechanic go over it from top to bottom.  I am ready to put some money into getting it in great shape even if I have to put a new engine in it.  (not sure how much that would even be).

6:  New tires and attempt to lift the van a little.  It sits too close to the ground and makes any rough roads or bumps dangerous.  Lifting it I hope should help.

7:  Fix or replace the AC unit.

8:  The Van has a built in TV so I need to figure out how that works.  Time to read a ton of material I can find on the internet.

9:  Figure out how to go to the bathroom in the van when emergency requires.  I will likely change my bathroom habits but sometimes in the middle of the night nature calls.

The inside will be started after I get the mechanical side and basics done other than gutting it.

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I never had to find a mechanic before and I am scared I will get hosed if I just call around.  Not sure if I should go with a more expensive one I have a little faith in or go for cheaper and hope I am paying what I should for what is done.  I am going to begin digging into these Vans and see if I can find as many videos as possible to know just what I have bought myself into.

I paid $1600 for the Van (when I consider the cash advance fees).  I jumped on it when I saw it posted for sell even though I never bought a vehicle like this before.

Any pointers to finding a good mechanic for some extensive work?

A dream is to put an AC unit in.  I know this is hard to do in a Van but it is important to me.  I need to begin pricing it and designing it so if anyone know a good company that does solar/batteries/generator builds/design let me know.  Building the system will be the last step but making sure I design the interior with it in mind will be important.

If anyone know of any good shops in SW Missouri let me know.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - slow2day - 05-23-2020

For helpful info on the technical stuff join a Ford forum. Here's one that I refer to:

Some of the electrical issues may simply be blown fuses. Or not. Buy a Haynes manual for basic troubleshooting issues. A factory service manual (FSM) will give you detailed info but is hard to decipher if you're not familiar with mechanical repairs. Available on eBay.

A common failure is the plastic cable ends for the door lock actuators disintegrate and the door can't be opened. Cheap fix but a hassle if you do it yourself and can be expensive if you have a shop do it. I would suggest a preemptive repair because eventually you may not be able to open the door(s) at all,even from the inside. Here's a link to repair parts:

Below is a link for a company selling seat swivel bases:

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - slow2day - 05-23-2020

(05-23-2020, 05:22 PM)michaelf2780 Wrote:  5:  Have a mechanic go over it from top to bottom.  I am ready to put some money into getting it in great shape even if I have to put a new engine in it.  (not sure how much that would even be).

Before you put money into it and because you said it was sluggish going uphill, a compression test should be done. With that low mileage you should be OK but you won't know for sure until it's checked. Also oil pressure should be checked. Ideally, this would have been done before you bought it but it's pretty involved to do a compression check. Access to the plugs on the right side is really tight.

BTW: An engine replacement would be expensive. Then you'd still need to worry about the trans. IOW: Old vans can be real money pits.

PS: The low ground clearance you mention is due to the fiberglass trim around the perimeter. These vans actually have prettty good ground clearance but if the shox are weak it may seem it's bad on rough roads. It was a hassle but I removed the running boards from my van as I don't really like the looks. I drove to Alaska last year on some rough roads and had no problems (but had new shox).

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - michaelf2780 - 05-23-2020

Thanks Slow2day. I bought it without checking a lot of things because I thought it was a good deal. $1500 and if it turns out it is too bad to fix I plan on using it for experimenting on Van life. Already finding the seats it had was worth it as I hate uncomfortable seats and I found them to be very nice. What is better is there are 4 of them and I only need 1, so I can just switch out if one wears out.

I figured it would be a money pit. I had budgeted a engine rebuild and transmission rebuilt based on very rough numbers on the internet before I purchased it. If I can get by without having to have the work done than I would place it in the Van fund for when I need to or switch Vans.

Was hoping I can get a rebuilt engine and transmission for around $5-6k. I figured that plus another $2500-3500 for all the other other repair/work for a total of $10k for a reliable van that looks better than the newer more expensive ones is worth it. Than I will add the inside features and generator for AC/Heat. Max budget $16,800 but hope to go way under and if push comes to shove can go over. I will just have to get my money out of it.

My intent is to break even on Van life and what I saved from my mortgage. Calculating everything I spend $8,400 on living space currently per year. My goal is to live on the road for at least 2 years. Thus my max budget I am aiming for is $16,800 to get the Van ready. These numbers took as many factors as I could take into account.

If I end up not lasting 2 years I will calculate 1 night in the Van when I do go to the casino or a road trip at $50 a night. I will likely do this 60 days a year so I would save $3,000 a year. Overall it would take between 5-6 years to break even. I am happy if I break even. ($50 a night is taking into consideration of gas for AC/Heat).

Ill do a compression test next week and check the oil pressure.

I would essentially like to find a great mechanic and shop to do much of the mechanic work. I will begin looking to see if I can find any highly recommended one and if they specialize in them I may consider the cost to take it to them worth it even if it is across country.

I will look into those that you linked and before I take it to the shop I will try to see about the door and fuses.

A new power-train (engine, transmission) may also pay for itself with improved gas mileage. I bet the current engine gets around 13-15 MPG (going to use 14 MPG for my math). A new rebuilt one should get 20 MPG hopefully. Driving 30k miles a year at $2.50 a gallon of gas.

Current Engine: $5,357 a year in gas.
New Rebuild Engine: $3,750 a year in gas.
Thus in 1 year I would save $1,607
It would take me 120,000 miles to save enough in gas to pay $6k for the new engine/transmission. I drive 30k is about my average now and I work from home. That is just weekend driving and joy riding. I assume a nomad life will increase that.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - slow2day - 05-23-2020

$5-6K for both is a bit low I would say. For a rebuilt motor with installation and a good warranty it's going to be close to that by itself. Last summer I was in WY and was quoted $3700 for a trans rebuild. Luckily, I didn't need it.

There will be lots of variance in different parts of the country though.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - michaelf2780 - 05-24-2020

If that is the case I think it is even more important to find a great shop that specializes in these types of rebuilds. I will begin looking and may even drive across the US if needed. Depending on the work that needs to be done it could be worth it and since I love road trips anyway it will give me an excuse.

Depending on what options I find I may even splurge and build something more extreme.

I understand it would probably be cheaper to just buy something else if this one needs to much work. I would just feel safer if I knew the one I was driving was dependable since I had everything replaced. I love the body style (more than the new ones but not as much as some of the classics). Being in the middle of no-where and breaking down can be scary and end up being very expensive so I will feel much better knowing everything is in top working condition.

After I know more of what needs to be done I may decide to find another but that would depend on what I find. If it ends up in great shape and just needs a little work I may end up doing that and use the Van as a starter kit for myself. Afterwords I can just attempt to sell it (only if I know it is great mechanically) and buy something that actually needs a engine/transmission system. I really want something with a new system as I will be deep in Alaska and I am unsure I want to trust an old engine/transmission even if it seems in great shape.

My first step of actually buying something has me excited and either I purchased something that will not work (because it is in to good of shape) or I have something that will work (because it needs many things replaced).

So depending on what the mechanics say I will either just fix everything but spend time designing the back then attempt to sell and buy another, or I will rebuild the engine/transmission and most other features and keep it.

For the numbers I got was just a google search and I used the average cost to rebuild an engine and transmission but I guess those numbers are skewed more in favor of sedan type cars. A heavy van probably needs more expensive ones. I will not be getting the cheapest one but the one with the best performance for the price. These normally mean about the middle price point. I will find some extra work to cover the increase cost in the estimate budget.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - michaelf2780 - 05-27-2020

Dropping off the Van tonight at the Mechanics. What all do I need to have them look at?

1: A compression test and oil pressure check (thanks slow2day).
2: I am having a complete inspection done (not really sure what that entails).
3: I am going to ask they check the heater and AC unit.
4: I am going to attempt to fix the electrical issues and door myself.

I think when I ordered the inspection they assumed I mean just a normal vehicle inspection to get it registered. Can I just ask them to go over everything or should I be more specific. I am not sure if I am keeping it yet or not but even if I do not I want to make sure it is a great buy for the next person even if i loose out on all the repair cost.

Anything I need to point out to make sure they check? I know some things should and should not be flushed and replaced and will get the oil change once they say I should. I shouldn't be so worried because it has driven great the few times I have drove it.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - slow2day - 05-27-2020

There should be a checklist on what an inspection entails in your state.

Safety items--brakes,frontend,exhaust,emissions,etc.

An inspection of the engine condition is different; compression check, checking for error codes, vacuum,etc.

When was it last tuned up? Have any records from the PO? The plugs are pulled for a compression check so may as well have them replaced plus the other ignition items.

This is all labor intensive and you can expect to pay quite a bit for the service. You'd also want to use a mechanic who is familiar with these vans.

Did the previous owner use a local shop and was happy with the service?

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - nature lover - 05-27-2020

michaelf2780 - sounds like your on the right track -Don't forget to ask them to check the belts and hoses. Buy the way I am not able to bring up or see your pics, maybe it's just me. I have a conversion van also. It had a tv and vcr over the drivers head. I don't need or want a TV so I trashed them. The space behind them is really large and great for storage. And although it is just my opinion, 20 mph on the rebuilt engine may be over optimistic.

RE: Where to start after buying Van: - slow2day - 05-27-2020

(05-27-2020, 11:49 AM)nature lover Wrote:  ... 20 mph on the rebuilt engine may be over optimistic.

+1  The best I got on a 7000 mi. trip last year was 17.5 mpg.

That's with a fresh tuneup and driving on flat terrain at 55-60mph.

Overall it was 16.3 mpg and I'm pretty happy with that for a full-size van.

I have the 5.8 L engine and I suppose a 5.0 or the straight 6 would do a little better.