Amid a growing number of vehicles supported by van conversion companies and aftermarket parts manufacturers, three vans stand out due to their versatility, reliability, and widespread support: the Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, and Ford Transit. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into these three vans, comparing them in terms of overall cost, driveability, interior space, and general campervan conversion readiness.

The Vans

The Mercedes Sprinter Van

Vans Gallery Thumbnail Image v2
The iconic Mercedes Sprinter van needs little introduction. Its styling, ultra-reliable diesel engine, factory-optional 4×4, and versatile chassis have made it a favorite among travelers going back nearly 20 years. Ask any would-be van lifer why they like the Sprinter van, and you’ll probably hear something like, “It just looks cool.” We couldn’t agree more.

Key Stats:

  • Powerful 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged diesel engine capable of 22 mpg
  • Iconic looks and style
  • Excellent drivers cabin with modern features like lane-assist and adaptive cruise control 
  • Optional 144”, 170”, & 170” Ext Length Chassis
  • Optional 4×4 (AWD from 2023)
  • Prices starting at $49,900 (Pricing Link)
  • Mercedes Brand
  • Optional 4×4 (AWD from 2023)
  • High Ground Clearance
  • Great Resale Value
  • Fuel Efficient
  • Van Build Community
  • Long-Lasting
  • Online Information
  • Aftermarket Part Availability

    • Expensive to Buy
    • Diesel Def System
    • Expensive to Repair
    • Parts Ship from Overseas
    • Not Stealthy
    • Difficult/Expensive to Find Used 

    The Ford Transit Van

    Ford Transit Blog Post Photo

    The Ford Transit may not have the same level of hype as the legendary Sprinter van, but its 2015 arrival to the North American market was well received by van lifers in search of a cheaper alternative to the Sprinter. The Transit, which came as an update to the Ford E-Series, stands out due to its cheaper price point and versatile options. Many van lifers, when faced with the choice between the Sprinter and Transit, are surprised to learn they like the Transit more.

    “The Sprinter van is much better off-road but we prefer the Transit everywhere else” – Darien Overland

    Key Stats:

    • Surprisingly quick 3.5-liter powered EcoBoost V6 engine with 310 horsepower & 400 lb-ft of torque
    • Optional AWD (or rear-wheel drive)
    • Comfortable powered/heated seats
    • Modern infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, and driver assist features
    • Industry leading 6’ 8” standing interior height (high roof model*)
    • Prices starting at $44,455 (link)


    • Less Expensive
    • Cheaper/Easier Maintenance
    • 6’8″ Ceiling Height
    • Quick, Powerful Engine
    • Comfortable to Drive
    • Great View From Cab


    • Subpar Gas Mileage
    • Low Ground Clearance
    • Super High Exterior
    • No 4×4
    • Lower Grade Interior

    The Ram Promaster Van

    Ram Promaseter - Blog Post Photo
    The Ram ProMaster, despite being the least sought-after of the three vans, is gaining popularity due to its lowest in-class up-front cost and impressive handling. Most notably, the ProMaster features an ultra-wide and square interior that’s a full 4 inches wider than the Sprinter and 6 inches wider than the Transit.

    Key Stats:

    • Excellent turning radius and handling
    • Square, wide interior
    • Low floor
    • Inexpensive Repairs
    • Prices starting at $42,365 (link)


    • Inexpensive
    • Wide/Square Interior
    • Short Exterior Height
    • Cheap/Easy Repairs & Maintenance
    • Excellent Turning Radius
    • Stealth


    • No 4×4 or AWD Option
    • Small Front Side Windows
    • Cheaper Parts
    • Less Comfortable Seats
    • Low Ground Clearance
    • Fewer Aftermarket Parts


    The Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster, are all excellent vehicles well suited for campervan life. Each van features multiple chassis lengths, ample headroom, and modern tech like adaptive cruise control and Apple CarPlay. When deciding between the three vehicles, there is no wrong choice. The right decision comes down to a few personal factors:
    For many van lifers, it’s simply not worth spending an extra $5,000+ on a Sprinter when that budget could fund a significant portion of their build. 
    Travel Goals
    It’s common for van owners to spend money on expensive options they don’t use. Knowing how you plan to travel and what you need out of your vehicle can save time and money.
    Personal Preference
    At the end of the day, the right vehicle is one that feels comfortable. If you enjoy your time behind the wheel of the Transit and you thought you’d prefer the Sprinter, go with it.


    Engine & Drivetrain
    Fuel Economy: When it comes to fuel economy, the Mercedes Sprinter van takes the win, but only by a little. Its reported best-in-class mileage accounts for a slight edge over the less fuel-efficient gasoline engines of the Ford Transit & Ram ProMaster. Still, a modest three mpg bump is notable considering the lifetime cost of fuel spent on a vehicle.
    Fuel Economy Table
    *Note: Fuel mileage varies widely depending on vehicle weight, accessories, altitude, the driver, and other factors. The following figures are from Fuelly, a site that reports mileage by aggregating real-user data.
    Power: All three van manufacturers offer multiple engine options that differ primarily in power and fuel efficiency. In general, higher-output engines prioritize power at the expense of efficiency and reliability, while lower-output engines prioritize the opposite (efficiency over output).  Diesel engines typically offer better fuel efficiency, power, and reliability but have higher ownership and maintenance costs. When comparing the engine options of the Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster, the less fuel-efficient Transit EcoBoost stands out for its torque. In contrast, the 4-cylinder Sprinter stands out for efficiency (see mileage figures above).  When choosing between these three vans and their engine options, each van is capable of maintaining comfortable highway speeds while supporting heavy campervan loads, so the decision ultimately comes down to whether you prefer diesel or gasoline, if you require additional power to support your build or to tow, and how much you prioritize fuel economy.
    Power Comparison Table
    Tow Rating: All three vans are similarly equipped to handle weight thanks to their torquey engines and commercially oriented chassis. The Sprinters tow rating tops out at 5,000 pounds, while the Transit and ProMaster have slightly higher ratings nearing 7,000 pounds. When accounting for each van’s gross vehicle weight rating, the Sprinter has a slight edge in terms of total capacity. *The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is the total max allowable weight of the vehicle, occupants, & cargo as recommended by the manufacturer – not including the tow rating.
    Sprinter, Transit, Promaster Tow Ratings
    Comfort & Drive-Ability

    The Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster, all feature modern infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and navigation. The latest iteration of the Sprinter van features an optional 10.25” screen, while the Transit features an optional 12-inch and the ProMaster, an optional 10-inch. 

    Unsurprisingly, the Sprinter feels the most luxurious of the three vans, but the Transit and ProMaster aren’t far behind, thanks to their newly updated interiors.

    Sprinter, Transit, Promaster Infotainment Comparison
    View: The driver’s seat view holds a special level of importance for drivers considering a campervan vehicle. When comparing the Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster, all three vans feature excellent views thanks to their large windshields and up-right seating positions. It is, however, worth mentioning that some ProMaster owners dislike the van’s small side windows. 
    Seats: The Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, and Ford Transit base model seats are all cloth-covered, manually operated, and provide little adjustability.  Surprisingly, even the Mercedes Sprinter van requires expensive upgrades for lumbar support and power adjustability. The ProMaster seats are the most basic, with no optional power adjustments (even when upgraded). The Transit offers a slight improvement over the ProMaster with full optional leather, heat, and power. The Sprinter also has optional heated and powered seats but has the added benefit of multiple programmable seating positions.  In terms of comfort, the ProMaster comes in last place, with many owners complaining that the base model seats are “the most uncomfortable seats I’ve ever sat on,”. The Transit and Sprinter are comfortable but not luxurious by any means.
    Sprinter, Transit, Promaster Seat Comparison Table
    Turning Radius Image_Vehicle Comparison Blog Post
    Turning Radius: (360 degree cameras are optional features for all three vans – photo credit: Ford) The turning radius and ease of parking vary greatly depending on the size and wheelbase of a vehicle. The 170″ Ext Sprinter, 148″ Ext Transit, and 159″ Ext ProMaster are massive vehicles that are difficult to maneuver in tight parking lots and too long to park in normal-length spots.  When considering chassis size, the shorter lengths are always easier to operate, but of course, space is then limited. Overall, the ProMaster is the easiest of the three vans to drive because it’s short front-end and front-wheel drive gives it a tight turning radius and excellent view.
    Turning Radius Table_Van Comparison Blog Post
    Size & Shape: Deciding what chassis length to go with requires choosing between interior space and driveability. The extended Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster offer 13+ feet of interior cargo space, providing more than enough space for a fixed bed, seating, kitchen, and bathroom, but are challenging to drive. On the other hand, the more convenient to operate regular-length chassis vans are more car-like to operate but don’t have the same amount of interior space.
    Regular Wheelbase: The regular 144” wheelbase Sprinter 136” wheelbase ProMaster are separated by just 13” of interior cargo space.
    Regular Wheelbase_Van Comparison Blog
    Long Wheelbase: The 2’ longer 170” Sprinter provides a notable 30” of additional cargo space over the Transit 148” and 25” over the ProMaster 159”.
    Long Wheelbase Table_Van Comparison Blog
    Extended Wheelbase: The 170” Ext Sprinter provides a full 15’ of interior cargo space compared to the 13’ 2” of the Transit and 13’ 1” of the ProMaster.
    Extended Wheelbase Table_Van Comparison Blog

    The Sprinter, Transit, and ProMaster are all designed to withstand daily commercial use. With proper maintenance, the Transit and ProMaster can last up to 200,000 miles (with many owners claiming up to 250,000 miles), and the Sprinter can last up to 300,000. Each manufacturer offers an industry-standard 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty, and a 5-year, 60,000-mile (or 100,000-mile) powertrain warranty.

    Warranty Table_Van Comparison Blog
    Maintenance Schedule & Cost: Every vehicle manufacturer recommends regular vehicle maintenance to ensure sustained performance and longevity. Below you’ll find the standard recommended maintenance schedules for each vehicle as well as an estimate for the total service cost of each vehicle over the lifetime of ownership.
    Mercedes Sprinter:
    Mercedes classifies its maintenance services by type ‘A’ & ‘B’. Service ‘A’ represents standard maintenance and encompasses basic maintenance checks of fluid, filters, and sensors. The average service ‘A’ cost, as reported by several Mercedes dealers, is between $350 and $700 per visit. Mercedes recommends service ‘A’ checkups at 10K, 30K, 50K, 70K, 90k, 110k, 130k, 150k, 170k, and 190k, meaning the total lifetime vehicle maintenance cost for service ‘A’  fulfilled by Mercedes dealers would fall between $3,500 & $7,000.
    Service B: Service ‘B’ maintenance encompasses the same service ‘A’ checks but includes additional servicing of cabin & dust filters and brake fluid replacements. More in-depth maintenance services for timing belts are not specified, but those are expected between 60-100k as is standard on most vehicles. Mercedes recommends service ‘B’ checkups at 40k, 60k, 80k, 100k, 120k, 140k, 160k, 180k, and 200k, meaning the total lifetime vehicle maintenance cost for service ‘b’ fulfilled by Mercedes dealers would fall between $5,400 & 7,200. In total, the estimated cost for all recommended ‘A’ & ‘B’ services over 200,000 miles would be between $8,900 & $14,200.
    Ford Transit:
    Regular Service: Ford recommends similar maintenance over the lifetime ownership of a Transit. At mile 10k, 30k, 60k, 90k, 120k, 140k, and 160k, Ford recommends servicing the brakes, the cooling system, tires, steering components, etc. The average cost to service a Ford is unsurprisingly much cheaper than Mercedes, with regular maintenance averaging $100 to $150 per visit. In total, basic maintenance is estimated at $700 & $1,050. For more in-depth service checks, which involve inspecting and potentially replacing transmission, brake, and engine coolant, average costs are between $450 & $550 and are recommended at 100k, 150k, 180K, and 200k. In total, in-depth services are estimated to cost between $1,800 & $2,200. In total, the estimated cost for all basic and in-depth services over 200,000 miles would be between $2,500 & $3,250.
    Ram Promaster:
    Regular Service: Ram recommends basic and in-depth services based on mileage. Basic maintenance is recommended at 10k, 30k, 40k, 50k, 70k, 80k, 90k, 110k, 130k, and 140k and averages $150 bringing the total estimated cost over 200k to $1,500. In-depth maintenance checks are recommended at 20k, 60k, 100k, 120k, and 150k and average $700, bringing the estimated total to $3,500. In total, the estimated cost for all recommended basic and in-depth services over 200,000 miles would be $5,000.
    Reported Issues
    It’s not all positive with the Sprinter, Transit, & ProMaster. Users report the following list of issues over the lifetime ownership of the vehicle and apply to multiple iterations of each vehicle, so the severity of any given issue may differ depending on the year of the vehicle.
    Mercedes Sprinter
    • Def Problems: It’s not uncommon for people to experience problems with the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) system on the Mercedes Sprinter van, such as DEF pump failures, DEF sensor malfunctions, or DEF system contamination, leading to warning lights, reduced engine power, and emission-related issues.
    • Glow Plug Issues: Another common issue Sprinter van owners experience are issues with the glow plugs, resulting in difficulties with cold-starting the engine, prolonged cranking times, and potential engine misfires.
    • Clogged DPF filter: Clogged DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) filters are a common issue in the Mercedes Sprinter van, causing reduced engine power, increased fuel consumption, and potential warning lights due to restricted exhaust flow and the accumulation of soot and particulate matter.
    • Torque converter: Issues with the torque converter in the Mercedes Sprinter van can lead to transmission slipping, overheating, delayed or harsh shifting, and reduced overall performance.
    • Injector Issues: Injector issues in the Mercedes Sprinter van can result in fuel delivery problems, leading to rough engine performance, reduced power, potential engine misfires, and the need for inspection and repair.
    Ford Transit
    • Water Leak Issue: A prominent water leak caused by a poor windshield design has caused a lot of issues with water penetrating the cab of the Transit van.
    • Throttle Body: The throttle body on earlier Ford Transit vans prematurely wears out, leading to rough idling, poor acceleration, and reduced engine performance and economy. 
    • U-Joint: Earlier versions of the Transit van featuring a Guibo coupling were recalled because of premature wear that caused vibration.
    Ram Promaster
    • Door latches: Door latch issues are common on the Ram ProMaster and can result in doors not staying shut or not opening.
    • Headlights: Numerous ProMaster owners report faulty headlights, which necessitate early replacements.
    • Parking Brake: The parking brake of the ProMaster is notoriously problematic not only for its effectiveness but location. Owners report difficulty getting the brake unstuck after use and complain that its location is problematic when getting in and out of the vehicle.
    • Brake Noise: Squeaky brakes are commonly reported by ProMaster owners.
    • Blind Spot Monitoring System: The software associated with the ProMasters blind-spot monitoring system commonly has errors that result in the system disabling itself without user input.
    Mercedes Sprinter
    • Limited Availability: Due to their popularity, Sprinter vans are in high demand, making them difficult to find, especially in 4×4.
    • Higher Upfront Cost: The Sprinter van is not cheap. If you’re on a tight budget for your conversion, the up-front cost of the Sprinter might be a challenge.
    • Repair Expenses: Mercedes vehicles, including the Sprinter, are more expensive to repair and maintain than other brands. Sprinters often require specialized tools and training, resulting in higher costs, and finding qualified mechanics can be a challenge.
    • Difficulty in Sourcing Parts: Being a German-made vehicle, finding specific parts for the Sprinter can be challenging, especially in remote or non-European regions. Importing parts can be time-consuming and expensive and can cause delays and difficulties when repairing and maintaining the vehicle, particularly during long trips or in unfamiliar locations.
    • Diesel Engine & DEF System: Most Sprinter vans come equipped with diesel engines, which require more maintenance and have higher fuel costs than gasoline engines. On top of that, the need for Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) adds complexity and ongoing maintenance to the vehicle.
    • Lack of Stealth: The design and reputation of the Sprinter van make it less than ideal for stealth camping. It’s recognizable design and large size attract a lot of attention.
    • Interior Design Constraints: The interior shape of the Sprinter van is more curved than the Transit and ProMaster, making it more challenging to build in.
    Ford Transit
    • Plastic Interior: The interior of the Ford Transit features a significant amount of plastic, which does not look as good as the interior of the more expensive Mercedes Sprinter; this can be a big setback for some van purchasers who want the best when a lot of money on a new vehicle.
    • Less-than-Ideal Gas Mileage: The Transit gets decent fuel economy for a large van, but its powerful EcoBoost engine makes it very easy to get poor fuel mileage if you are not careful.
    • Limited Ground Clearance: The Transit van has low ground clearance compared to the Sprinter, which limits its off-road capabilities.
    • Height Limitations: The best-in-class 6’ 8” standing headroom of the Ford Transit high roof comes at a cost; it’s by far the tallest van of the three making it challenging to fit in some urban environments (drive-throughs are not an option) and off-road.
    • AWD instead of 4×4: The Transit has optional all-wheel drive (AWD) but no 4×4 option. AWD is great in inclement weather conditions but does not perform as well off-road.
    Ram Promaster
    • Lack of 4×4 or AWD: The ProMaster van utilizes a front-wheel drive (FWD) system, which does not provide the same traction and handling as rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 4×4/AWD vehicles.
    • Stiff Suspension: The ProMaster suspension is considered by many as “stiff,” which can feel less comfortable than the Sprinter and Transit.
    • Cheaply Made Parts: Some owners report that certain components of the ProMaster van are constructed with low-quality materials that can break or wear out prematurely.
    • Uncomfortable Seats: The seating in the ProMaster van is criticized for its lack of comfort, especially during long drives or extended periods of sitting.
    • Limited Ground Clearance: The ProMaster has lower ground clearance than the Sprinter and Transit, which can pose challenges off-road.
    • Customization Options: The ProMaster has a relatively small aftermarket parts community compared to the Sprinter and Transit, which limits its off-the-shelf customizability.
    • Resale Value: The ProMaster has a lower average resale value than the Sprinter and Transit, which could be an issue for those interested in building a new van with plans to sell after a year or two.
    Category Winners: Which Van Is Best?
    Final Comparison_Sprinter_Transit_Promaster
    When it comes to driveability, the ProMaster gets the win. It’s the most car-like to drive, thanks to its front-wheel drive and short front end. In second place, the Transit gets a nod thanks to its comfortable seats and surprisingly powerful engine. In last place the Sprinter van. The Sprinter is the most luxurious feeling and performs the best off-road, but it’s not as easy to maneuver as the ProMaster or Transit.
    All three vans feature multiple chassis lengths and roof heights, but the Ram ProMaster gets the number one spot because of its super wide interior and boxy shape. In second place, the Transit. The Transit features the highest roof of all three vans, and although its walls are not as square as the ProMaster, they are easier to build in than the Sprinter. The Sprinter gets last place due to its rounded interior shape.
    In terms of reliability, the Mercedes Sprinter van takes the win. Its ultra-reliable diesel engine can last for upwards of 300,000 miles. In second place, the Transit. The Transit’s solid build quality and tested powerplant make it a reliable option that you expect to get 200,000 hard miles out of. In last place, the ProMaster. Although the ProMaster is just as likely to hit 200k, it just seems to have more quality control issues than the Sprinter or Transit.
    The ProMaster is the cheapest of the three vans. For thousands less than the Sprinter or Transit, the ProMaster offers virtually the same platform and features. In second place, the Transit. The Transit strikes the best overall balance of build quality, cost, and features, but it is slightly more expensive than the ProMaster. In last place, the Sprinter. The Sprinter is the nicest of the three vans, but its luxury brand name comes at a price.
    Aftermarket Parts
    Finally, in terms of aftermarket parts, the Mercedes Sprinter van is the clear winner; with a wide variety of aftermarket options available, from roof racks to premade wall panel kits, the Sprinter is by far the most customizable van of the three. The Transit van comes in second, with a growing number of aftermarket parts manufacturers now producing accessories. In last place, the ProMaster. The ProMaster is far behind the Sprinter and Transit in terms of aftermarket support.
    Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with any of these vans. The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Ram ProMaster are all excellent vans that make them ideal candidates for a van conversion. The best choice will ultimately come down to your budget, travel goals, and personal preferences. We’d recommend test-driving each van if possible before deciding, or even better, renting. When you’ve made your decision, if you’d like professional help building out the campervan of your dreams, contact us to discuss build options.
    Written by Taran Causey