COAL Update: The Promaster Turns Six, And It’s Been Flawless So Far

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