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Seeking advice on vehicular homes— truck campers, vans, or ambulances.


yetidogs
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Hi all,

Seeking advice on vehicular homes—truck campers, vans, or ambulances.

I split time between Colorado and Vermont, every 3-4 months. It's hard to find apartments for such short time periods, so I'm looking toward portable homes. With these climates, I will need to stay warm. I will need a kitchen and bathroom (toilet + shower). I am a videographer and will need to charge a lot of batteries and a computer.

I have no mechanical, plumbing, or electrical skills/experience. I do have experience building furniture. I can drive manual.

Before I get to searching for deals, I want to know exactly what I’m looking for. I have a maximum budget of $35K— conversion and all.

If I go the truck + camper route, I will want a Dodge Ram 2500, year 1994-2002 (2nd Gen Cummins). They are durable and reliable. I would also want a non-slideout camper, but I don’t know anything about the brands/models. What is the best truck camper under $15,000?

On the ambulance and van side, I know nothing. I am cautious about leaning that way, as they will require conversions, but I know once converted they have their benefits. 

What model van is best? I want a solid engine, not something that will break down often. Diesel? Ram ProMaster looks like a solid choice. 

Ambulances… not a clue. I am biased toward Cummins engines, and I’ve seen some Ram 4500 Ambulances that look beautiful. What ambulance models do you recommend?

Overall, which route would you recommend? Would love to hear the internet’s advice.

Other concerns: MPG, insulation, storage, height (low bridges in VT), drivability/maneuverability (tight winding roads, high speed high ways, etc.).

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Welcome to the Escapee forums! We are here to help and will do our best.

It has been a long time since I was last involve in the conversion of another vehicle to be an RV, but that experience did teach me that such conversions is not usually an economical choice unless you do the work yourself. To hire the work done would probably cost more than it would to buy an RV already built. Like you, I have a preference to the per-DEF Cummins diesels and currently tow a travel trailer with a 2003 Dodge/Cummins. 

Here is a link to an article on truck campers that you may find to be helpful.

I do have some experience with cold weather RV use. One of the more important considerations when choosing an RV for cold weather use is the insulation. Many RV companies have what is called a 4 season package or sometimes an arctic package, or similar name. Unfortunately there is no common standard for what any of those mean. There are companies who have a better than average reputation for such use and Arctic Fox is one of the examples of that. Another issue for cold weather use is the location of the plumbing so that it will not freeze in severe cold weather. To be usable in cold all of the plumbing needs to be in heated areas, including the waste tanks. Another potential issue that you may have is locating an RV park that stays open all winter and many close when freezing becomes an issue. 

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As I understand it you are not into RVing except for the need to travel between Colorado and Vermont.  A truck camper sounds like a poor choice.  They are quite expensive for the amount of space you will have.  Trailers are much less expensive and can provide considerably more space.  Also you can get by with a much less capable truck.  

Dealing with winter cold will be an issue no matter what type of RV you get.  Most are just not insulated or built to handle winter weather.  

 

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It's going to be hard to find something mobil you can live in during winter in Vermont. I suggest you start by looking at brands built in Canada. They tend to be better insulated. I wish I could remember the name of the company that coverts vans there. They are not cheap but maybe you could find a used one? Good luck with your search.

Linda Sand

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As an ex EMT and Paramedic I thought a retired emergency vehicle would be a good choice and then I remembered all the times I started one and headed off to an emergency call without any warm up of the engine or mechanicals at all. Sure they can be low miles, but a lot of time can be on the engine as they are hardly ever shut off while on a "Call".  Complete maintenance records could be there, but unless you know who has been driving you don't know much. I would take the box off of an ambulance and put it on a vehicle that had been driven well. The compartments are usually well built and the units often come with large alternators and a good sized inverter. The heating and cooling systems are usually pretty good too. The larger ones that look like a truck, also ride like a truck. One would think the suspension would be worked on to provide a smooth ride, but the ones I drove or rode in it wasn't the case. 

 Someone told me a long time ago that he felt he could stay in first class hotels eat out all the time and still have money left over vs the purchase of an RV, the depreciation loss almost immediately, the need to replace it at least once over the number of years you may think you will want to use it and of course the upkeep.  I'm pretty sure he was correct. I have spent a lot of money to live full time in an RV, much of it in rental of a space to park it which has no long lasting value at all especially for me. If I had two places I spent time at I would figure out a way to purchase real property in each with the ability to spend unlimited time when I desired and for it to pay for itself by a person or family who had ties to the area and to you. You may already have that situation at one end of your trek or the other. Spend a bit of time searching out the other end. If I knew then what I know now I would do a few things differently. 

Rod

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I have often thought of the EMT option in the past for extended travel and camping including very remote BLM areas of the west and in the end decided on a 28 foot TT towed behind my Dodge Ram pickups.  Cheers and good luck to you.

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My mission is complete and successful!!!!!!

 

Edited by NamMedevac 70
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1 hour ago, lappir said:

If I had two places I spent time at I would figure out a way to purchase real property in each with the ability to spend unlimited time when I desired and for it to pay for itself by a person or family who had ties to the area and to you.

A couple of coop parks that will rent your site for you when you are not there is an easy way to do the two park system. Of course, if you are always there for the best season your rental income will be low. :)

Linda

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I always warn people away from truck campers (I've owned four and two trucks).  You're better off getting something like a Class C and possibly towing a small vehicle.  Or a truck and trailer combination.  Unless you really need a truck for hauling or towing, I can't recommend it for you.

 

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I would caution against using an RV for the stated purpose. Very few if any,  will survive -20/30 below zero without water or waste system freeze up. Most units will struggle to maintain +65 when the outside temperature goes below +10. Summer conditions easy. Spring and fall okay. Mid November through mid April not really doable in, even in a well insulated unit.

Sorry to be a wet blanket but advise against.

 

Bill

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We did some winter camping while doing car shows and can offer our opinions.

Most vans could be insulated in the roof and side walls but not much in the floor and and I doubt any ambulances are insulated very much at all. The same would be for truck campers. 

As you will probably need to rely on propane heating sources for extreme temps, you will want space for extra propane tanks or availability to have a larger tank delivered and filled. 

You will want to verify that campgrounds are open in the winter and will have water and sewer hook ups available. You will need heated hoses for the winter time (I don't even know if they make heated drain lines). 

I would probably look at travel trailers like Artic Fox and Northwood or even a Fishing Ice House as they can be lowered to the ground to help keep cold air out from underneath.  May have to use a composting toilet and portable drain tanks if no sewer hook ups are available. 

You will want the truck to be separate so you can use it as a daily driver without breaking camp just to go in for supplies, etc...

You will want to look for extra insulation, full body pans, use rugs on the floors, dual pane windows with insulated panels to cover them. 

In the long run, it may be cheaper to get a motel or extended stay for the duration. Do the math to determine what works the best but plan high for heating costs.

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I have a Canadian built Roughneck trailer. It will maintain it's systems and function at -40F/C. ...but... it has 2 of 40,000btu furnaces so pretty much has to have AC power supplied - shore power or generator.  The walls are structural panel construction R12 foam, R20 roof and floor. The belly is spray foamed to seal air out of the tanks area. Dual glass windows.  My floor plan has 3 walls of windows in the rear office area for great views. The passenger side windows are not under "storage" but extend up so a 6ft plus individual can see out of them without bending to 90 degrees at the waist. 

There are no slides to let winter in. 

It is 32ft long.  The tongue can carry an 80gal propane cylinder. They are often equipped with 2 of 40lbs. cylinders.  This is not enough fuel on hand in cold weather. (-20F). It weighs around 9000lbs dry/12 sumthin sumthin 000lbs gross,  has 110gal fresh water, 110 grey and 35 black.  Tongue weight full of fresh water and trimmed for travel for me is 1450lbs. Axles are tandem 7000's. 

It has high ground clearance. The frame is 11" deep (double stacked 5-1/2" x 1-1/2") tubing. 

They are designed as a working person's accomodation / office with desk space etc. They are not full of cavernous storage for "stuff" but there is sufficient. 

They tow nice. 

New they list around CAD $70,000.  Look for used ones on the Canadian classified site "Kijiji" search under Roughneck trailer in RV's. You want one that has been "owner operated" not one that has been a rental or used for employee accomodation. 

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But if you are thinking build out something more nimble and compact a cargo trailer as a base unit, then super insulate it and very simple amenities that don't give trouble like Star Dreamer said ^ is maybe an option.

With a towed house, you aren't out of your house if you have a vehicle break down, you can change vehicles, you can base it at a camp and run around with the tow vehicle, etc.

Downsides - long rig, towing, low ground clearance possibly... 

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I got a 2011 NorthStar TC.

8.5 Adventurer (2016) For Short or Long Bed | Northstar Campers

Had it down to about zero degrees. I got 2 furnaces in it. Standard forced air and a ventless mini non electric propane. The ventless is only used to supplement the forced air furnace in cold weather. It is OK by itself if it is 35 - 40 degrees. But if it is real cold it won't heat up the cabin well. Maybe it will heat to 55 degrees on high if it is 20-25 outside. 

If I have electric I use a mini electric heater and don't need propane. If I heat the cabin all is OK with the water. If I don't heat the cabin everything is frozen. Can't open or close faucets. I have a wet bathroom with shower. No push outs. TC was about $16-17K 10 years ago. No AC, no basement.

The TC's have shot up in price. Looks like it is $28K. I could not afford one now. If I could do it over I would rather have a little Class C. But I wanted 4WD and it paid off a few times where I got stuck. 

Good luck OP.

Edited by slackercruster
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1 hour ago, Ray,IN said:

There is at least one motel chain that advertises monthly rates, which IMO will be a much wiser choice than trying to survive in a camper through winter months.

We spent a month living at an Extended Stay America hotel when our last house was being built (behind schedule if you can imagine that) and liked it. If we got chased out of here by storm damage, that's where we'd go again.

Linda Sand

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