It’s been six years since I bought our 2017 Promaster. It’s been utterly flawless so far, requiring nothing but oil changes, an air filter and a set of new tires. Its role has changed some; since we bought the property in Port Orford that’s been its primary destination, hauling tools and materials to the site and housing us there until the pole-barn garage conversion to cabin was finished. That mostly happened last December when we started staying in it, but I’m going to hold off showing you pictures of its cozy interior until a few more details are done.
Now that PO is getting close to finished, thoughts about new road trips have emerged again.
Like a long trip to southern Arizona and New Mexico in the winter, which we had planned for this January, until certain unexpected family issues put the kibosh on that.
Here’s the van right after I drove it home from Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg, ID. Given the huge run up in van prices in the past couple of years, my timing was good, as I got $8k off its $38k sticker price, for a drive-away total of just $30k. Good luck finding one today for less than $45k; it was even worse a year or so ago; folks were waiting 8-10 months for ordered Promasters.
I didn’t get started on the interior build until February of 2018, but it served me well on a construction job first. I’ve documented the build in great detail here, so no need to get into that now.
Not only has the van been flawless, but so has my build, knock on wood. I’ve had zero issues, and I’m hard pressed to think of what I’d do different if I was doing it again. Well, maybe a few minor details, like a 12V fridge instead of the 110V dorm fridge I used, although it works just fine and has held up despite some brutal off-road driving including, an ill-advised trip down into Saline Valley, off Death Valley. We made it out again, just barely.
And all over southern Arizona, Nevada. California, Washington, and most of all, Eastern Oregon, like to the top of snowy Steens Mountain. I’m not going to recount all the trips again now, but let’s just say we used it very well for over some four years, until we bought the place in PO. It was perfect during the pandemic, allowing us total freedom to travel without any issues. No wonder #vanlife took off during that unpleasant interlude.
I almost forgot; there was one issue, and it could have been very ugly. I had inserted these two plastic tees in the van’s heater hoses, to tap the line for the water heater, which uses the hot coolant for its heat. On the very last stretch of a remote forest road to a trailhead, the engine’s temperature warning light went red about the same time I saw steam erupting from the front.
One of the tees had broken, for two reasons: it was a cheap, non-reinforced tee, and because I had failed to support the two lines that tapped the hot water, on the right. The weight of the line along with the bouncing of the van on that rough road cause it to break. I plugged it temporarily with a piece of wood, and replaced the tees with very sturdy galvanized steel ones, and supported the hoses when we got home.
But it was a bit worrisome, as modern aluminum engines can easily be damaged from a sever overheating event, most typically warping a head. I had to top up coolant a few times afterwards, and wondered if I had a small head gasket leak. But it was probably just getting rid of the last of the air, and the coolant level stabilized.
But other than that self-inflicted wound, zero issues. Good thing, as there’s no Ram Commercial Vehicle dealer in town, although at this stage of the game, it’s past its warranty anyway.
When the Pormaster came out in its US version in 2014, there were a lot of assumptions about it not being reliable or durable for the long haul, given that it was essentially a Fiat and that its Chrysler minivan drive train (Pentastar 3.6 V6 and 62TE six-speed transaxle) wouldn’t fold up to long term use. Well, that’s hardly been the case. Promasters are often used for commercial and expedited deliver use, and a good number have run over 500k miles by now. The Pentastar does have one weakness, the “Pentastar tick” (valve train noise) resulting from some design mistakes in the oiling system for the OHC valve train being starved. Only a certain percentage of them are affected, and it can be fixed (not cheaply), but many have run for 400-500 miles without it happening.
And the 62TE is turning out to be more durable than many expected. Yes, there are a certain number of painful early failures, but that seems to be common with other automatics too. Yet again, many have run up high miles, some even to 500k, without issues. More typically, 200-250k is probably a good expectation. We’re just barely at 50k miles, so I’m not exactly worried on either account.
And one of the major advantages of these is that good used engines are very cheap and plentiful, as they were used in many FWD applications. Otherwise, the Ducato-based body and chassis are tough, having proved itself in Europe over the years.
As to fuel economy, I’m quite happy. Lifetime average is right at 17 mpg, but that includes some city driving as well as some low-speed back-roads and off-road driving as well as hauling the utility trailer on most of the trips to PO the past 18 months. It’s easy to get 20-21 mpg (without the trailer) by rolling along the freeway with the cruise set at about 67 or so. Which is what I typically do: drive along with the bog trucks in the right lane, and relax. Obviously with its tall body, fuel economy drops pretty quickly with higher speeds. But who’s in a hurry?
The front seats are eminently comfortable; I’ve done 12-14 hour days in them, with no ill effects. They’re very tall, just like in a bus, which is great. The visibility is excellent too, except of course for the fat A-pillar. It’s a pleasure to drive, although the programming on the 62TE is less than ideal. The biggest complaint from me is its very aggressive insistence on maintaining the same speed down a grade; it will downshift as low as it needs to to keep the same speed, which is obnoxious and counter-intuitive, as one rather prefers to take advantage of a downgrade to go a bit faster and just let the engine loaf a bit. Oh no!
There’s nothing to be done about it except just get used to it. Since I almost invariably have headphones on, I barely notice it anymore.
The gear ratios in the 62TE are not exactly as evenly spaced as would be ideally so, since this is essentially the old four speed A604 with two more gears kludged in. But it all works well enough, if not exactly as well as ideally so.
I resisted buying a second/vacation house/place for a long time, because I didn’t want to be tied down and I knew it would require work and maintenance, but I have zero regrets about buying the PO property. After all these decades of traveling in the Chinook and then the Promaster, it’s nice to have a place to go that’s so beautiful and relaxing; our dream 7-acre “campground” all too ourselves. And I really do enjoy the process of restoring/fixing places, and this one was in desperate need, having been abandoned for quite some years.
Stephanie has transformed the banks of the pond after cleared out the jungle.
The trail down Niedermeyer Gulch is splendid, with a few big old spruces, a wetlands full of skunk cabbage, and of course the endless sword ferns.
It’s our own temperate-climate rain forest.
And at the bottom is the beach.
The Bromaster is a keeper. I couldn’t be happier with it, or in it. I’ve always had a thing about being self-sufficient and on the road, and it scratches that itch perfectly, even it it’s just shuttling between two “homes” now.
My New Future Campsite Classic: 2017 Ram Promaster 2500 – I’m Going To Build My Own Camper
My Promaster Van Build: Rear Entry, Hidden Bath/Shower, and a Few Other Unusual Details
Van-Tripping Chronicles: The Magical Metolius River and the First Van Breakdown – Lightning Does Strike The Same Place Twice
Auto-Biography: Port Orford Journal, Part 1: The F100’s Junkyard Transmission Is In, But It’s…Junky – Meanwhile I’ve Taken On A Much Bigger (Coastal) Challenge
I’m glad you’re happy with it. It seems like it has served you well, and you’re right about it being a commercial vehicle that should serve several hundred thousand miles.
I wonder if you’ve had it weighed post-conversion. I have to assume it is well within GVWR, but I think that the further below GVWR you are, the longer it will last. Less stress, and all that.
I’m way below gross GVWR. These have a 4,000 lb payload capacity; my build only added some 1,000 lbs. I’ve got 3,000 lbs to spare. 🙂
So sweet – I’m jealous.
I’d love to see Steens Mountain, Donner and Blitzen River and the desert.
It would be a dream trip for me.
Amazing how fast the years have flown by. It seems like only yesterday you started tramping around Port Orford.
Very nice, you are certainly. very talented finish carpenter, most of us would be quite hard pressed to accomplish building out an interior like that. The site and placidity of that vacation spot is really hard to beat. Look forward to photos of the finished (are they ever finished?) building.
The overheating experience brings up a question: are any cars or light trucks still built with iron blocks and/or heads? For all the downsides of weight & efficiency, iron is in some ways an idea engine metal. We once drove 20 miles on I-95 in a Volvo 122S with B-18 engine after the bottom rad hose had blown, hoping to get to the next exit. When we pulled off the plug wires had started to melt and the manifolds were glowing. You do really dumb stuff when you’re 21, but after a cool down and new hose & fluid it ran for several years thereafter… Amazon strong! Can’t beat an iron block & head for toughness.
VW EA888 among others. Grey cast iron block only weighs 33kg.
“… I got $8k off its 438k sticker price…”
I’d be happy with that discount but not with the “sticker price.”
You can delete this once the “sticker price” has been edited by pressing the SHIFT key!
I made that exact same mistake in the original article after I bought it. I’m trying to impress you with my negotiating skills.
Promasters have become extremely common in my area, and with most of them being white, they make me think of yours whenever I see one. Of course, none of them is fitted out as nicely.
You have assembled the perfect pair – a simple place to go where you can sleep indoors while enjoying your own land – or- a fully fitted out camper that allows you to go wherever you desire.
I am happy that the van has turned out to be so durable. I wonder – has the Ford Transit proved any better or worse in normal service? Other than your PM, I don’t know anyone with either of them.
Actually we’ve been staying in the “cabin” since December. 440 sq.ft. feels really spacious compared to 72 sq.ft. 🙂
We have 34K miles on our 2020 Ford Transit with the 3.5 EcoBoost and the new-for-2020 Ford/GM 10 speed auto trans. Zero issues so far. Ours is AWD so more complex than Paul’s but 🤞it is doing great, despite many miles of rough desert washboard and even a bit of real 4wd trail here and there. Our camping buildout is very heavy but we’re below GVWR; with the turbo engine, a high roof with crap on top, a suspension lift and larger all-terrain tires, I can only dream of getting Paul’s mpg.
62TE are better than most people give them credit for but the one in my company van (Town and Country) did die last year at 156k miles. Honestly for a vehicle that was used by multiple people and was often loaded down with tools and equipment that’s not bad.
Glad it’s working for you, and impressed with the conversion you did.
I still think that generation of Promasters’ (and Fiat Ducatos’) headlights don’t quite fit visually, somehow.
I’m amazed it’s been six years already….wow! Glad to hear it’s still performing as well as always. Keep an eye on the oil filter housing/cooler assembly, it’s made of plastic in the 3.6l PentaStar and they crack due to either people overtightening the filter, cold weather, and/or hot underhood temps, resulting in oil leaking everywhere. Ask me how I know….
Dorman makes a replacement cast aluminum part that’s finally back in stock and should last the lifetime, I have one on the shelf and need to tackle this soon/finally. (Mopar still makes and sells the plastic one with no improvements.)
I’ve read about that at the Promaster forum. I made a point to ask the woman who did my last oil change to not overtighten it. She said only dolts do that!
It sounds like the Promaster is working out very well for you. That’s great. Your build and the interior pictures are inspirational.
Also appreciated are pictures of Lil’ Man. At least that’s what the doggos out here maintain. 🙂
As to the heater hoses, I’ve recently had occasion to think about hose clamping options on my vehicle. I’m actually fascinated by this tool that makes clamps out of standard wire. I figure if it works for aircraft, it’ll do for non-flying cars as well.
Wow time does fly, seems like you just bought and built the Promaster
Many more years of adventurous use ahead!
re. the doggos…
Nice to have the right tool for the right job, and this certainly seems to be the right tool for this time of your life. This appears to have turned out as well as you could have hoped for, maybe even better. Congratulations!
I, too, am amazed that it’s been six years; peak pandemic seems to have been a ca. 24-month hiccup in whatever “normal” day-to-day living is, and it often disappears from my timespan calculations.
I’m still impressed at all the build-out camper work, Paul, and very happy for you that things have been (nearly) trouble free. Hooray!
Glad to hear the Bromaster has been a great ride and 100% trouble free. The build quality of your conversation is absolutely top notch and will easily last for decades. In a lighthearted way the Bros headlamps appear to be inspired by Luchadore masks.
Looks like you have one very contented dog there!
Not to take away from the Promaster, but I thought it was a shame that Daimler-Chrysler ended the Dodge van after 2003. By that time the Dodge design had been perfected. It appears that Promasters won’t fit in most garages, whereas every Dodge would easily fit. There had to be many customers who passed on a Promaster for this reason, so Dodge lost that entire market. Those customers went to full size Chevy or Ford vans
“Perfected” is a strong word in reference to the ancient Dodge van. 🙂 Ford gave up on their van besides the cutaway cab shortly thereafter too, GM is the only holdout, likely due to not having a suitable van in their stable that I’m aware of.
Both Dodge and Ford likely picked up just as many or more customers that were tired of crouching in the back of their high floor, low roof legacy vans, as they lost by people pining for the old vans.
It’s funny though re the garage thing – one of the biggest reasons the anti-EV crowd gives against EVs is that not everyone has a garage to charge their car. But you posit that there are oodles of people that apparently insist on garaging their work van in a residential garage. I can count the number of full size American “legacy” vans that I’ve ever seen in a garage on one hand, if not less. Far more of the full size family van loyalists switched to minivans decades ago and never looked back.
By perfected I mean body, doors, heat-vent, drivetrain, suspension, steering. Dodge went all out to redesign and perfect their vans, changes continual. Even middle 90’s through 2003 major changes. To me a shame to throw the design away. I’m thinking of the typical custom passenger Dodge vans, interiors, paint, fancy deluxe seats, or even the long body passenger vans. These would almost all be garaged when nice and new. These roomy vans can’t compare to the cramped mini vans. And the full size Dodge van could tow a heavier bigger trailer than any mini van. I am curious if someone buys a Promaster passenger van lots of money of course, how they feel about parking outside in the weather?
Huh, interesting. I can’t imagine anyone really cares, the new vans are watertight, they don’t leak. Or they have the money to own a taller garage. I’m guessing Dodge gave up as they saw the innumerable advantages of the new designs. The only people buying the old vans in any quantity at the end were people who would make other people (their employees) drive them.
Or to put it another way, if I wanted to buy a camper or “luxury” van, I would happily buy a ProMaster or Sprinter or Transit high-roof and park it outside (or raise my garage door) but I simply would not buy one of the old van designs, my parents used to have a Dodge Tradesman camper. Life’s too short to shuffle around like a hunchback inside one. Or I suppose do what people did, i.e. add a high roof to an old van but then you’re back at square one…There’s a reason the ceiling in any house built in the last century is at least 8 feet tall, and more recently at least 9. 🙂
The newer (2003 and slightly older) Dodge vans don’t leak. Much better design. I think Chrysler was with Daimler in control, and Daimer wanted their van front and center to be marketed and sold, so the old Dodge van was dumped. Can’t blame them, it’s business, but I was sad to see the conventional Dodge van disappear. One of my Custom Dodge vans has the fibreglass raised room, but still easily fits in the garage at home. I do see conventional Chevy and Ford custom passenger vans around, so there is a market for them, maybe not as much as it used to be. One of my friends said that if he had to give up all of his vehicles except for only one, he’d keep the Dodge van. I concurred. They are really about the most handy vehicles to use. Shopping, hauling parts, I’ve hauled engines in them, and the long body pass model can haul like 15 people. I sometimes see those vans on the interstates hauling loaded car trailers, but I’ve not done that.
My wife’s VW’s have been mostly garaged since the first one almost 25 years ago. I kept my Alfa Spider in the garage for the 6 or 9 months I owned it. Other than that, I’m not sure I’ve ever garaged any other in almost 50 years of car ownership. Now motorcycles, that’s a different story …
The Sprinter, ProMaster and Transit vans were a huge improvement over the legacy vans for vocational use. Designed with up fitting in mind, different roof heights, different wheelbase models, big range in GVW’s. There are Transit cab chassis units used with dump bodies on them, others pulling goose neck trailers, very versatile.
Our concern with the ProMaster when it first came out was a Car and Driver review that just torched it for lousy drivetrain.
The Promaster is very popular for motor home conversions in Europe, glad you’re happy with yours. Also looking forward to the P O update.
I didn’t realise the word ‘kibosh’ was in use in America, quite took me by surprise !
Nice article and build, Paul! I built van conversions in the 70’s-80’s and I often think about building out a PM much like you have done with yours. I also agree with your travel method of slow-lane cruising, but here in southern Idaho I still get blown off the road by trucks (and everyone else) at 70 in my Wrangler, with the 80 mph speed limit. Drive safe, and as always, I appreciate the inspiration!
I’m glad your long term experience is good as we are thinking of a van for traveling and camping.
Port Orford is nice to visit but the South Coast is a little too rainy for my taste
How wonderful to read this. It must feel so great to experience little to no regrets with the execution of how your Promaster turned out. It’s also hard to believe it has already been six years since the Chinook went bye-bye.
Good Ram. The same van as the Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer and Citroen Jumper.
The interior of your Promaster looks so warm and inviting with all the wood; love it!
Also, isn’t it wonderful having vehicles that you can depend on, without having to fret about the next repair job? My wife and I are enjoying the same situation, with our now 8-year-old Toyota Camry Hybrid and 1998 Nissan Frontier, both owned since new.
Also good for you in finding a lovely second home in Port Orford.