Thursday, December 8, 2016

We Got A Van!

Late 90's Ford E350 shuttle-style van with a tall white hi-top, 140k miles

After weeks of watching and searching Craigslist, (Brooke more so than me,) and weighing different vehicle / mobile living setups, (and deciding toward an urban stealth / boondocking van instead of a tow trailer,) we got a big, late 90's Ford E350 shuttle-style van with a tall white hi-top, 140k miles.

Buying a cheap van from Craigslist... never sketchy, right?

We went to a junk car lot outside Providence after speaking on the phone with a soft-talking older gentleman we met on Craigslist. He was stout and hunched over, without too much to say about the thing. and the big grassy field car lot didn't exactly inspire confidence. It lot had a bunch of junk lying around and the van was filled to the top with tires when we first looked at it. That was over forty tires me, Brooke, and him had to take out one by one, many with rims still on, but we didn't mind helping, especially since the other folks there didn't offer their buddy a hand.

The bottom of the van was covered with an even layer of rust and the outer edges were rusted jaggedly in many places all around. It was dusty and in need of some real love. But underneath the rusty outside, and the dozens of tires, the welding array and two boat engines crammed inside, there was an interior and exterior in good shape for our purposes.

Typical rust for its year (late 90's) Will need some work.
Needs some holes patched up before inspection, but nothing major/structural.

Good floor condition, no wood rot, no ceiling leaks, no structural rust damage, clean, serviced, runs... a good start?

The black (typical rubber-or-lino bus floor) was all intact and the floors and ceiling showed no signs of rot. The height with fiberglass hi-top was almost enough for me to stand in (I'm over 6') and could have originally cost more than what we paid for the van ($1200). It had a smooth finish inside, (which costs extra versus an ugly unfinished hi-top interior) and was really quite clean inside and out, an excellent space to start building a mobile living van.

Reliable enough to invest some time and money into, but cheap enough that we can consider it a 'first test.' After all, it only cost about one month of rent up here. (An efficiency studio apartment costs $800-900 in southern Rhode Island, let alone a two bedroom apartment or house which can cost around $1200 a month. Compare that to the $1200 we paid for our van, and now we own it.)

Two of the wheels were in ok shape, two in good shape, all drivable, and a maintenance sticker told me an oil change may not be urgent but was in order. That along with the registration sticker also told me it hadn't it hadn't been out of commission for long. The lights worked, it started up just right, and the brakes turned out to be in great shape, (besides some maintenance needed to one brake line,) and it was actually really fun to drive right out of the lot, even if it badly needed an alignment.

It was much higher up than my little sedan. There was a different feeling while driving it- I imagined myself driving through the U.S. high up in this ugly duckling, and I was fairly aglow. Everything felt cool and pretty as I bumped along the highway in our new gamble, doors all rattling and smelling like it hadn't been started up much in the past year.

Are you sure about this?...

Brooke had more reservations than me, but she couldn't find a reason to say no to the thing, especially for the price. Reluctantly, she agreed, but she was nervous about even making it home down the highway.

We both understood it would need repairs to pass inspection, (which is every year for commercial or camper-type vehicles in RI, which ours falls under,) but it was inspected up to 2015, which was another sign to me that it belonged on the road and not in the dump.

On the outside it was the normal amount of rust you would expect for a '96. More of an annoying but simple job than an expensive disaster. We went out and bought a low-amp, corded grinder and some primer in anticipation of starting to take out all the rust underneath and protective-coat it.

Where we're at...

The mechanics have it at the garage now getting it roadworthy, assuming the engine or transmission isn't going to blow up. I made fun of Fords my whole life but now I'm putting a lot of faith in one!

The awesome local mechanics will have it repaired in a few short days and we'll have it parked at my family's house, where we'll be grinding and spraypainting the bottom and using Bondo to repair the car body, making it look spiffy and rust-free.

Right now I can't wait to just get under it and start taking the rust out. For my part, I want to prove that all that rust can go away for good with a little bit of work, because it's the only immediate, obvious problem when looking at the van.

I also want doubly to prove that this van I pressed for will come out as good as any other van we would have used. It's an important point that our vehicle cost the bottom dollar for running vans of its type in our area, because we're emphasizing the most affordable living that we can (within our own standard of living.)

Brooke is adjusting her plans to the new exact measurements, though we're not sure whether the plastic walls of the van are going to stay or not, or whether the floors truly need no repair. From the looks of things, the floors are good but the walls will go and be replaced by our own. If I find that the walls are doing a job by holding a lot already, maybe they'll stay so the original condition will be achievable again- after all, we may want to resell it, and we expect it to be running for a good long time,

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