In the interest of full disclosure, I started this article on May 9. While the event which has triggered this essay isn’t until late June, it is highly likely my gag reflex will be triggered during the composition phase thus I will need to write this in snippets. Why?
As of June 24, I have owned this van for ten years.
Ten years? How the hell did that happen? Ten years is exactly half the time this van has been in existence, nearly half the time Mrs. Jason (previously referred to as M.A.R.I.E., my Marital Asset Reallocation & Investment Executive, and her name truly is Marie) and I have been married, and for ten of our daughter’s eighteen years.
Ten years? I’ve never had any other car or pickup licensed, on the road, and in my ownership for that amount of time. Yes, I’ve had my 1963 Galaxie longer, but it wasn’t back on the road until 2013 – three years after we bought this van.
While I’ve recounted it before, here’s the thumbnail sketch of how it came to be…
In early 2010, my wife was diagnosed with Category IV or V endometriosis. If you’ve never had to experience, or even have occasion have hear about, endometriosis, be thankful. It is a female condition in which rogue uterine like cells occupy the abdominal cavity. It can range from mild to rampant, with the more rampant cases causing ovaries, intenstines, and other internal organs to have adhesions, fusing them all together. These adhesions are further triggered by estrogen, so women have consistent pain accompanied by monthly and intense flare-ups that coincide with their menstrual cycles.
Let’s just say it’s highly unpleasant for all involved. Let’s also say there are a stupefying number of gynecologists (male and female) who do not comprehend the disease or just want to perform a hysterectomy, which does not treat the condition.
In early 2010 my wife had surgery to diagnose her condition (surgery is the only method of diagnosis). While she was in recovery, her gynecologist spoke with me, saying he had never seen such an extreme case and it was beyond what he felt comfortable treating. I greatly respect his self-awareness.
My wife ultimately found a surgeon who specialized in endometriosis located in Bend, Oregon. To transport her there, we weighed many options, finally deciding to purchase a van. Having to transport a post-operative woman half-way across a continent does prompt some strategic and creative thinking. To provide some perspective for those outside North America, the distance from our home at the time to Bend is about sixty-five miles further than it is from Paris to Moscow.
Marie found this van on eBay, a little over an hour from where we were living at the time. We went to look at it the day before the auction ended. Despite being the high bidders, our bid not meet the reserve. I called the owners, a retired couple, and struck a deal ten minutes after the auction ended. For $5,500 we began our foray into conversion van ownership.
For transporting three people plus two weeks worth of food and clothing to Oregon, our Econoline was ideal; it worked just as well for having five people on the return trip. We visited every national park on the way to Oregon, from Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon to John Day. All the windows were great for our then eight year old to see everything and not feel like she was in the bunker-like backseat of a sedan. The windows give a near panoramic view of things.
But there are still visibility issues.
For instance…the day before Marie’s surgery, we went to visit a museum south of Bend. Marie’s parents had flown out the night before so there were five of us. As I’m backing up in the parking lot of the condo we had rented, I managed to encounter a nice solid post despite having looked. I was rather impolite, stating “I’m selling this son of a bitch as soon as we get home.” The conversation deteriorated from there.
I’m man enough to admit it. During the course of my life I have backed into a fixed object exactly six times. Five of those times were in a fourth generation Ford Econoline like this one. Three have been in this van, the most recent leaving a nice little battle scar on the left rear fender (or whatever you call such an area on a van).
In my life I’ve driven hundreds of vehicles over distances adding up to hundreds of thousands of miles without any major incident (other than one deer, but that can’t really count). Ford vans are my Achilles heel.
During the eight years I’ve been involved with CC, I have written about this van a number of times. In retrospect, part of that has been to rationalize my relationship with it. There has been a large part of the last decade in which the mere sight of this van instantaneously angered me. I wanted it out of my life so badly it hurt. Simply going somewhere in it with my wife and daughter triggered my detestation of it, usually causing a tiff with Marie inside three minutes time. I’ve never hated any vehicle so much – and I don’t generally hate anything. Yet Marie wanted to keep the van around.
To its credit, this van has been ultra-reliable. Only once has it failed to start. Even then I wasn’t stranded as the fuel pump decided to call it quits while in the driveway. This happened after only eighteen years of service.
The reliability of our E-150 is all the more remarkable given how much it sits. When purchased in June 2010 it had 89,000 miles. In our first year we put around 12,000 or so miles on it.
It has just under 125,000 miles now, so we are averaging less than 3,000 miles per year over the last nine years. It once had 1,400 miles put on it in two years.
It has also had several bouts of sitting for months without movement. In early 2012 we moved the 110 miles from Hannibal, Missouri, to Jefferson City, the state capital. In our temporary digs we had no room for the van so it was put in a storage unit for five or six months while we attempted to sell our house in Hannibal – a twenty-one month ordeal. This sitting was then followed by it sitting at my in-laws house for several months. When we finally brought it to Jefferson City, it sat a lot more, with it sitting for several months after the fuel pump crapped out.
Yet after sitting at my in-laws for months, the day it came back it had a load to pull. On stale gasoline, and being tasked well beyond its rating 6,500 pound towing capacity, she did as asked without protest. There is also a certain irony to this picture. I loved that F-150 and hated the van. Since then the F-150 has gone away while the van remains. That’s a story for another day.
The van is now twenty years old but, like a woman with good genetics, time isn’t making its presence known. The paint is still quite shiny, there are no squeaks or rattles, the underneath is pristine, and it still runs as smooth as silk. I replaced the upper and lower radiator hoses about three years ago, the fluid in the differential about eight years ago, and the brake rotors last year. The brake rotors were pitted, likely due to sitting, and she got another set of brake pads in the process. The right brake caliper was a little too grabby and it was replaced in June 2019; the left brake caliper soon followed suit and I replaced it in May 2020. There was a bad ball joint in 2013.
Last fall, on our way back from Kansas City, the “Service Engine Soon” light came on. The scanner at the auto parts store said the original thermostat was not opening all the way. Five dollars later we were back in business. At that time I also replaced the original and still new looking PCV valve since it was due as per Ford’s maintenance schedule. Except for the fuel pump and ball joint I’ve done all the work in the driveway.
Replacing wear items and following the maintenance schedule is primarily all we’ve had to do to this van in a decade – and it was a decade old when we bought it.
However, there has been one little wrinkle. Two years ago the battery kept losing a charge. One night I went outside for something – likely to take the trash to the curb. Walking by the van, the light over the step servicing the side doors was lit. It would not turn off. So, being pragmatic, I removed the bulb. Problem solved and two years later the formerly discharging battery is still in place and doing well. (Update: This battery self-immolated and I replaced it on June 24; there is a certain degree of irony in this.)
We have no compunctions about driving it anywhere. Last November we drove it to Bloomington, Indiana, which is over 350 miles each direction, to obtain Harp #3, with Indiana being one of the seventeen states we’ve driven it in. Really, that’s not too bad given I recently read the average American person has been to only twelve states. While I’ve been to vastly more than seventeen states, I have never driven any given vehicle in so many.
Despite my past detestations of this van (I’ve either softened after a decade or I’ve become senile) it isn’t all bad. This van is phenomenally quiet and smooth in its operation and the 5.4 liter V8 powering it was, in my view, its only redeeming quality for many years.
As an aside, this Ford is, despite all its physical presence, invisible to the police. This past February I drove it to my parent’s house in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. On the trip there, I was behind a slow poke on a two-lane section of US 50. Seeing a large opening down into a valley and back up the other side, I nailed the throttle and got around this rolling impediment to my progress. As I pulled back into my lane, I saw two of Missouri’s finest sitting in a field entrance clocking people. I glanced down to check my velocity. It was 78 mph in a 55 mph section – and I had already slowed down some. They never looked at me. They did, however, see and pull over the second vehicle to pass Rolling Impediment.
The way things work out in life is weird; I learned long ago to never speak in absolutes or it’ll come back to bite. Never would I have anticipated we’d still have this Ford after ten years and with no plans of selling it. The reasons are simple; we need it to haul Harp #3 and I’m wanting to visit the six remaining states in the Continental US I’ve not yet visited (New England, I’m heading your way) and this Econoline would be a good way to do it cheaply. It isn’t like it’s ever really depreciated on us.
Prepping for such trips will not require much effort. Just take a couch and a stove. Easy peasy. I may even be able to cook while sitting on the couch.
Sure, that 5.4 does like fuel, although we’ve routinely achieved 18 mpg on the highway. While not great, that’s not unlike what most SUVs and contemporary vans will routinely see. This old girl has a lot of life left and numerous adventures waiting to unfold.
So, Ford van, Happy Birthday. Dammit.
My then-girlfriend (now wife) and in-laws once drove an RV Econoline (the 8 liter V10) from Toronto to Vancouver with most of the trip being in the US. I really liked that big thing. I totally get why you keep it around. If I lived in a place with low cost of ownership and fuel, I would have one.
We still have collision insurance on this thing. A few years ago we looked into liability only but it would have only saved us about $3 per month.
I suspect your feelings toward the van are because you purchased it for a necessary but very unpleasant task, to which the van is forever linked. Only that can explain your feelings in the face of its faithful service and other positive attributes. It;s like a loyal dog that one inherits from a detested relative, which one just cannot bring himself or herself to love back unconditionally, due to the circumstances of its acquisition. I’d pass off the initial collision with the post to nerves; you obviously had a lot on your mind.
I hope you achieve your goal of touring NE in the van. If it uncharacteristically gives you trouble in CT, drop me a line; I’d be happy to provide any assistance you and yours may need.
Thank you. You are correct in the van being guilty by association. When that realization hit is when my thoughts started to soften.
Yesterday we drove it to my in-laws house for my father-in-law’s 82nd birthday. It has just now hit 125k on the odometer.
Great tribute to the old van Jason! 10 years is a solid commitment, and it looks like the old van has served you well in that time. I can see why you have some loyalty to this darn van, as it was there for you and your family during a time of need. We have a few Econolines at work and they have all served us well, although the ones we have tend to be plain E-250s or E-350s. They are hard on fuel, but they take abuse well and seemingly run for a long time. A good friend of mine was what I’d describe as a “van enthusiast” and he has owned several. I recall looking at a Econoline conversion very similar to yours with him. He ended up with a Chevy Express, which I did get to drive on a long trip and it was quite a nice highway vehicle (except in cross winds). His was used to tow a travel trailer as well, and it did it quite well.
Too bad the F-150 has moved on. I am curious what you replaced it with.
The replacement may or may not surprise you. All I will say is my life would be greatly hindered without a pickup. Never in the course of mankind has a van successfully replaced a pickup.
“Never in the course of mankind has a van successfully replaced a pickup.”
And there are those of us who maintain that the opposite is true as well. 🙂
The only obvious solution is to have one of each.
I’M part of that camp–a 2011 4-cylinder Ranger and an ’05 Astro replaced my ’96 Aerostar.
Paul is right, there are a lot of tasks they can both do similarly well, but each have their on niche where they are far superior to the other.
Jim, that is said from a point of supreme bias. However, for what I tend to do, and having one of each, it fits my case quite well.
A few weeks ago I hauled a bunch of dirt, obtained via skid steer bucket, for the raised bed garden I built. That would be tough to do with a van and no trailer. Same with hauling off all manner of refuse, primarily the ongoing abundance of brush I generate.
Scoutdude said it best – each has their niche. The niche is just orders of magnitude bigger with a pickup. 🙂
I think if I had to go to a single “work truck” I’d have to keep the van and in fact historically I’ve put more miles per year on average on my vans than I did on any of my work pickups.
The two things I’d miss is being able to go get a load of gravel or dirt and the fact that my pickup is a 4×4 rolling on much taller tires than you can get on any of the factory 4×4 vans. When we had the freak snow storm a couple of years ago, the F250 with its 35″ tires was the only vehicle I had that could get out of the neighborhood for the first couple of days. It also beat down a path so the SUV could make it out of the driveway a few days later.
Now if I had to consolidate to a single vehicle then yeah it would be a F150 Crew Cab 4×4, most likely with the 6.5′ bed.
Jason, based on your history here, I was pretty sure even before your comment that it’d be another pick-up. 🙂 I was just more curious if you got another F-150 or strayed from the blue oval. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
As for the pick-up versus van, I agree both have their advantages. If you can’t afford or don’t want both, I’d say pick the one that best meets your needs. I haven’t owned a van, but I had a GMT-400 Suburban, which had similar (but smaller) cargo to a van and 8 passenger capability. It was a great vehicle, but the pickup I replaced it with better suits my needs. There are still times though, when I wish I still had the ‘Burb, especially when carrying fragile cargo in inclement whether.
Yes, I need to start writing that saga up. All I will say is it, too, is V8 powered and is four-wheel drive.
Ha, June 24 is my birthday, and I’m a ’63 model like the Galaxie! And I love vans.
Happy (belated) birthday!
And our wedding anniversary. We’ve come from 998cc Mini Metro and a Fiat Uno to an Afla, an MX-5 and a 207CC, along an indirect route.
Great story, thank you. After having owned G vans for 35 years I can relate. Vans are such a useful configuration, more so than a pickup truck, but not very pleasant to drive. I get the love/hate, so useful when needed but one doesn’t want to drive it unless necessary, hence the low mileage.
I’m interested your’s is invisible to the police. My vans are the opposite, they attract police attention and random stops, so much that I’ve recently stopped driving them. My cars never draw any such attention.
BTW I’m sorry to read about your wife and hope she’s doing better. My wife was similarly affected but to a lesser degree,
and yes, it’s very unpleasant
I hope your wife has been able to overcome that nasty challenge. Mine is doing okay but the condition is still making itself known.
Aw, you’re finally coming around on the van! I know you were trying to audition me for it when you drove me around in it during the Midwest MeetUp a few years ago but sadly for you I didn’t bite. Perhaps if I’d known in advance that my flight home would be cancelled, one never knows…
The best part of this van (which is very plush, comfortable, quiet, and in phenomenal condition for anyone who wants to buy it) is the footwell in the door cutout where a foot can idly dangle while in motion, as long as all errant thoughts of side impacts are held firmly at bay.
Correct on all counts! In fact, I even partook of the same seat and footwell last night when Marie drove us on the last half of our return trip.
You have children going for higher education quite soon. Think of all the money you could save on housing if you bought one of these and they lived inside. It would also negate the need to buy them a car for college as it would be both all wrapped up into one!
One of them is actually considering this of his own volition, believe it or not. We’ll see how he feels about it when the time comes…It’s a very thin line between just saving money and…”living in a van, down by the river” which sounds romantic and all, but may wear off after 24hours or so.
There’s an excellent youtube video (amongst many) of a girl your daughter’s age buying the Chevy version of your van, completely gutting it and re-imagining the interior and building it out a la Paul virtually entirely by herself and then traveling around the country for a year in it, including roof solar, furnishings, sink, and insulation and wall cladding. It’s inspiring to read and see what Paul did with the ProMaster but watching a high school girl do similar is even more inspiring.
I knew you would eventually come around – I figured that anything with a big ol’ Ford V8 up front would eventually make it off of your s-list.
I still miss mine – the 94 Club Wagon Chateau that we bought at 1 year old and about 20k on the odo. We kept it 11 years until the need for a diff rebuild during a time of record fuel prices doomed it to the donate pile. And wow – you went that long before having to deal with ball joints? My van ate those like candy – I was on the third set by 80 or 90k. But then mine was early in that generation.
I am envious of your gas mileage, my 351 (5.8) V8 with the 3:55 trailer towing axle never broke 16 on any trip. And never got under 12 in city driving, either, making it the narrowest gas mileage window of anything I ever owned. It appears that in true Ford fashion, once they decontented the interiors starting in 97 the reliability improved dramatically, with the later ones being really great.
The 18 MPG is not bad at all. I had a 1997 F150 with the 4.6 V8 and I was lucky to get 12 MPG in town and 16 MPG on the highway. I’m sure that some of this thirst was due to the 3.55 final drive that Ford put in the truck. Apparently Ford installed the 3.55 axle to spin the engine up into its operating range more quickly. I’ve only driven a full size van on rare occasions but I would think it would be the ideal vehicle for vacations and moving things that don’t need to be exposed to the weather. If I had the space at my house I would seriously consider having an additional vehicle for occasional use.
The ’07 F-150 had a 4.6 with a 3.73:1 axle. Routine around town was around 12 to 13 mpg; pulling a trailer was 12.5 regardless of weight. Highway driving was 16 to 18 with a one-tank record of 20.5.
Your experiences weren’t great for fuel economy at all.
This van does have a 3.55:1 axle, the same as the one JPC had.
When I first got my ’05 Astro, it would only get 15-17 mpg, but there were several small (some not so small) things wrong with it too (it was also winter at the time). It was also going on 15 years old with 260k miles. As with Jason’s E-150, a lot of the work was simply replacing all the worn out parts (suspension, trans cooler lines, oil pan, door lock actuators, battery, distributor cap & rotor, tires); STILL has original engine & transmission! As of recently, the highest it’s ever gotten is 20.7 mpg with nice steady driving around 60 mph. It can still nail 18 even while pulling a car trailer. According the RPO code sticker on the inside of the front passenger door, it has a 3.42 axle ratio–marked by the code GU6–so anything around 20 is quite reasonable for a 4.3L Vortec V6 with a 4-speed automatic.
I believe my ’96 Aerostar was geared similarly–it almost touched 27 mpg even with a 4.0L Cologne! Routinely got anywhere between 22 & 25 depending on the traffic conditions. I’ve managed 32 once with my 2011 Ranger (remember, it’s a 4-cylinder) but usually get around the same that the Aerostar topped out at. Your mileage WILL vary!
I’m getting close to joining the Ford van clan, in my case T series (Transit) not Econoline. With standard rear view camera, and optional front camera, Blind Spot Assist and Cross Traffic Alert, backup warning, and/or full Parking Assist, I hope my new van as well as local parked cars, pedestrians, and fence posts will remain unscarred.
We (ok, I) reviewed the Transit when it was released here, it’s a nice van!
I too considered the Transit (in its smallest configuration possible) for my next van, but then I found my ’05 Astro. For the price & overall shape it was too good to pass up! And I ain’t giving up on it now… 🙂
Congratulations, I’m looking forward to the next articles in the series at 15 and 20 years. 🙂
How can the average American only have visited 12 states? I’m just a Canadian and at a quick count I’ve been to 29 if you count states like Colorado where I’ve only been to Denver airport. Clearly a lot of people are really missing out. You should bring a full van load on your New England trip.
The count of twelve surprised me also. Then, thinking about various people I’ve met over time, I was shocked it was that high.
You are with Colorado like I am with New Jersey – you’ve physically been there but never set foot on the ground. Does that really count? Plus, I’ve seen Quebec from Ottawa but my father refused to cross the river. It was 1984 and the whole road signs in French thing really intimidated him.
There are a surprising number of people who never leave the state they were born in. That skews things considerably.
I have been in every state east of the Mississippi with the exception of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Some of these I just drove through but I was physically there. The states west of the Mississippi are more hit or miss. I have never been to either of the Dakotas (do we really need two of them?), Montana, Idaho, Washington and the two that you can’t really drive to (yes, it is possible to drive to Alaska but it isn’t something that interests me).
By the age of 12 I had visited 12 states. Three because I lived in them so default. The other nine on the family’s cross country move in 1966. After that add Florida in 1980, Washington in 1992, and Oregon in 2013 for a total of 15. The amount of countries I have been in is 20. On top of that I live in California and have yet to see all of it still.
Thank you for the writeup on this special Econoline, I cannot believe it’s been 10 years. New England is pretty and since the roads are chewed up this van is perfect.
My family’s 1995 Plymouth Voyager and I visited about 30 states between 1995 & 2012. You know, as a member of the class of 2008 I can’t really complain anymore about having it difficult because I graduated as the Great Recession started when I see what the Class of 2020 is dealing with.
Happy birthday, van!
Ten years, eh? I’ve had my F100 for 33 years now. And I’m taking a bit of time right now to do some deferred maintenance. Like a new heater core, which means I’ll have heat in the cab this winter for the first time in three years. And turn signals! I’ve gone two years with only hand signals, which 99.857% of drivers on the road have no idea what they mean anyway. The probably think I’m making an obscene gesture or such.
I might even find someone to do a bit of welding for me, to patch the holes in the floor and roof. Who knows how far I’ll go? Window channel guides? Weatherstripping?
That’s a very slippery slope there, better be careful or you’ll make it so nice you won’t want to use it for work. OK the reality is you’ll hopefully make it nice enough so you don’t put of using it for work because it is not cold inside and the windshield isn’t fogged over.
No worries on that account. Strictly functional elements.
I was joking, I know you won’t fall into the project creep trap that so many people do when working on old vehicles.
The weatherstripping and window channel guides will certainly help reduce the drafts the heater will have to overcome.
And depending upon where it is welded, you may find it needs some paint to protect that metalwork.
How are the brake hoses looking?
It’s so mild here in the winters that that’s not the issue; in fact I was surprised at how little I missed it on the few dump runs I did these past couple of winters.
The windows rattle like mad; that’s the main reason. My poor ears! 🙂
The hoses look ok. Paint? That’s going a bit far. It would take a very long time for sheet metal to rust through from surface oxidation. Way past my lifetime.
Yes, I tend to forget about your healing rains and more hospitable automotive environment out there.
Next time I’m in the market for a used pickup I may branch to way out west or select areas of some southern states. Less corrosion.
It is funny that you average about 3,000 miles per year on your van that you dislike which is about what I put on mine that I do like. Though to be honest if I ever fixed the AC it would probably get more miles put on it since I’ll take the pickup over the van if it is hot and the pickup is similarly suitable for the load at hand.
Happy birthday… I guess!
For the record, I like conversion vans, and I wish vans like this were still available at reasonable prices.
I never thought about how many states my cars have visited… turns out my Odyssey has been to 25. Our Sedona is still a youngster, so it’s been to just 21.
Oh, and for a full Police Invisibility Cloak, may I suggest a silver minivan?
Ha! A silver minivan is not out of the realm of possibilities. However, it sounds as if you have some experience to form this determination. 🙂
Ten years? You’re just getting started my friend. And I’ve seen those vans regularly go past 300K so if you’re waiting for a major mechanical failure to get rid of it, well, you’ll be waiting awhile.
I remember the radiator hose debacle, and very glad to hear your wife is doing better. Here’s to many more miles together.
We’re friends with an itinerant evangelist/singing family that owned a similar Ford van of this vintage. It finally died on them after over 500K miles (!). When they went shopping for a replacement at the local Ford ‘pre-owned’ lot, word quickly made it up the chain, and Ford actually bought the dead van from them, perhaps to do a forensic analysis on why it lasted so long. Our friends of course had a Providential answer for them!
There is a FB group for Econolines and I’m a member. 500k isn’t too atypical for what they have talked about. Perhaps Ford bought it due to premature failure???
Impressive! The way they related the story was the service people (presumably at the local dealer) had never seen one go that far before…
Yeah 500k isn’t that uncommon. The places that do paratransit around here won’t even consider retirement until they hit 350-400k and somehow they still manage to sell them for good money.
Then there is the champ that came so close to 1.3 million miles before its engine said enough.
Brilliant writeup, Jason. I really enjoy your writing style. I was going to scroll past the article, having seen the van in the pic, but then saw the title and clicked. Wasn’t disappointed.
I just borrowed a 2001 F150 with that 5.4L. It’s a nice, torquey and smooth engine, I enjoyed it. It doesn’t like to be pushed through the broad 4 ratios of the automatic, but driven at closer to 50% it leaves the line nicely and provides an effortless little burst of torque. Great for everyday driving.