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​3 Best Vans for Van Life

Apr 10th 2024

camping van on mountain


Rising mortgage rates and inflation in the rental market are pushing more people to trade in their four walls and a roof for a life on the road. Van life, or living out of a van, has exploded in popularity since COVID-19. According to Yahoo Finance, the number of so-called “van lifers” in the U.S. increased by 63% over the last four years, from 1.9 million in 2020 to 3.1 million in 2022.

What’s not to love? You can explore the open road and sleep wherever you park without paying rent or putting a down payment on a house. You only need a reliable van to keep you comfortable and safe at night. Considering the average house costs around three times as much as a new camper, you can save money and still have the adventure of a lifetime.

Choosing the Right Van for Van Life

Set a budget for your new life on the road to see how much van you can afford. You can purchase a new camper with built-in accommodations for around $130,000 or convert a Sprinter van into a suitable living space for anywhere from $2,000 to $30,000, as per Yahoo Finance.

Calculate how much you’ll need to spend on travel and maintenance. Multiple the vehicle’s fuel efficiency by the average cost of fuel per gallon to see how much it costs to fill up. Consider how far you plan to travel daily to estimate how often you need to fill up. New vans will need minimal repairs, but used vans may require extensive work before making a long trip. Review the van’s service history to see which systems or parts need to be replaced based on the average lifespan.

road view from inside car


Diesel vans last longer than gas-powered vans. They need fewer repairs and have more horsepower and torque for towing and climbing hills. However, diesel vans are more expensive upfront than gas vans and diesel fuel costs more per gallon than unleaded — but the increased reliability will give you more peace of mind when your vehicle is your home. Diesel vans have a higher resale value if you ever decide to settle down. Make sure this fuel is available in your area. Diesel can be hard to find below the southern border. What Is Diesel? Consider your ideal comfort level on the road. Are you looking for a slice of home with all the amenities of an RV or a no-frills bunk with a few shelves for your essentials?

Discover Quality Diesel Parts

Best Budget Van for Van Life

Ford E-350 Camper

If you’re on a budget, the 2009 E-350 Super Duty will serve you well. It comes with a 6.0L V8 diesel engine for up to 235 horsepower at 3,150 rotations per minute. Towing capacity is 7,300 lbs with a combined mpg rating of 27 mpg and a spacious storage area that will fit a full size mattress. The company ceased production in 2014, but used models remain a hot commodity on the van market. It’s not the most reliable option around, with over $1,000 in annual repair costs, but it will serve you well for years to come.

When repairs occur, they tend to be severe. Check your high-pressure oil pump (HPOP) to increase lubrication. The oil allows the fuel to fire as a fine mist for peak fuel efficiency. Replace your fuel injectors if the mpg rating drops or you have trouble accelerating.

man raised arms on van


Best Mid-Range Van for Van Life

Ford Transit Camper

Ford replaced the E-350 with the Transit Camper in 2014 to appeal to van lifers, ideal for camping customization. Newer models come with the all-wheel drive option for going off-road. Used AWD Transits are hard to find, so expect to buy new if you want to leave the pavement behind.

The 3.5L EcoBoost V6 is a direct gasoline injection engine that produces around the same horsepower and torque as a 6.0L diesel. It also has a high ceiling for more storage and headroom. The extra space reduces fuel efficiency, with an average rating of 15 to 16 mpg. However, it is easy to repair on the go, with most mechanics keeping parts in stock.

Best Luxury Van for Van Life

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Nothing will wine and dine you in the outdoors like the Sprinter. It makes up for its high price tag with a spacious, ready-to-camp interior complete with built-in appliances, tech ports for all your electronics, sliding doors and retractable awnings for a scenic day in the woods. The standard output 2.1L turbo-diesel 4-cylinder engine produces up to 170 hp and 295 lb.-ft of torque, while the high output goes up to 211 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Both average a fuel efficiency rating of 14 to 17 mpg.

Find a van in your price range to make sure you have enough money for food, repairs and fuel. Change out older parts before the trip to avoid any hiccups along the way.