Van Shopping

Not being forced to rush the buying of a van or other vehicle-type to live within gives you freedom.

Freedom to wait for the best deal. Freedom to buy the best vehicle make and type to fit your needs.

For various reasons I decided a Chevrolet / GMC cargo van is the best van for my needs.

A long-wheel-base style (LWB) will offer the most interior living room.

A 3/4-ton version with the beefier 4L80-E transmission (tranny) will hopefully allow vehicle longevity.

I would prefer a 6-cylinder engine but I think the 4L80-E only comes with the V-8 engine.

Good gas mileage is a minor factor since if I live in the van I plan on keeping it parked as much as possible. That minimizes vehicle operation expenses and reduced wear and tear.

Also, having the pulling power of a V-8 along with a van of the 3/4-ton capabilities that exceeds the towing abilities of the 1/2-ton van type would allow me to pull a small trailer; perhaps a trailer I can park somewhere with water, sewage and electricity hook-ups and live there legally cheaply with no concerns about trouble from the jack-booted thugs.

Maybe somebody will have a rural place that they would allow me to live for free and having my presence as a deterrent to vandals, thieves, etc.

A few days ago I drove past a used-car lot with a 1999 Check Express 3/4-ton van with a V-8 engine and the 4L80-E tranny. The asking price was $2,700 for a van that looked decent but had a few mechanical problems. It was a regular length and not the LWB I would prefer but… if all else was okay and the price was right and the repairs to make the van reliable were affordable… well, let’s check it out!!!

A test drive revealed some strengths and weaknesses so I told the lot owner I might return.

There is an “art” to dealing with a used vehicle seller. Search the Web for tips and tactics if you do not feel confident in your existing abilities to get a vehicle at the lowest possible price.

Also, if you do not have the “right stuff” and equipment, place to do it, etc. to thoroughly inspect a used vehicle I highly HIGHLY advise taking the vehicle to a mechanic who knows his trade and can raise the vehicle and inspect everything possible. Have the mechanic write an estimate for repairs / maintenance needed / recommended to assist you in deciding if the vehicle is worth buying. Look for a Web site that concentrates on used vehicle inspection for more very useful information.

I made an appointment at a repair shop and the owner said it would likely take 2 hours to inspect the van. His shop rate is $45 per hour. That $90 total could possibly save a BIG pile of money if the van needs far more repair than what it is worth. It can be far wiser to pay more at first to buy a vehicle than pay a little not but a LOT later to make it reliable.

On the drive from the used car lot to the mechanic, around 3 miles, the van displayed some problems the first test drive did not reveal. I am not a mechanic but I have dome basic repair work on vehicles and was in the used parts industry for awhile and used many types of mechanical and electrical devices over the years.

My subjective opinion when I arrived at the mechanic’s shop was to not buy the van.

The shop owner had spent around 20 minutes with me when we first talked so when I told him about my decision to shun the van due to the new problems I had observed I gave him a $5 bill and thanked him for his time and that when I found a better van I would make an appointment to have it looked at.

Some folks may shudder at the thought of giving that 5 dollars but he was pleased to receive it and I believe then when I find a van worthy of being inspected he will inspect it and do his best to give an accurate assessment of the vehicle.

Obtaining the vehicle that best fits your needs is a personal decision.

One drawback of vans that are in my price range is that it is difficult to access the engine since there is so much of the van body surrounding the engine and the components attached to it.

If you do not have to worry about stealth living, being unnoticed as much as possible by people who would complain to police or being noticed by the police themselves, you are very lucky.

There are larger vehicles that would make great non-traditional living places!!!

If there is a place to park and you do not have to hide that you are living in the vehicle you may be able to afford to live divinely!!!!

My finances require I find a used cargo van.

Below is a 2013 long-wheel-base GMC (GMC and Chevrolet nee Chevy are basically the same thing with minor visual differences) cargo van.

GMC cargo van

The pic above is from Edmunds.  It is a handy place to get information about new and used vehicles. Some vehicles have owner reviews to assist in a buying decision.

There are some places where a van that long would be troublesome. Some towns and cities have limited parking. The older the town or city the harder it can be to find a parking space for a long vehicle.

The further west you go in the USA you will typically have towns/cities with more room for streets and parking… it’s not as “tight” as it can be in the eastern USA.

You will know your area and how much room is available.

If you plan on relocating with your “mobile home” be cautious. It would suck if the place you moved to made having a long van an impediment to stealth living.

Below is a pic of a new van showing the difficulty of engine access. Some work is best done from underneath the engine and interior access by removing covers also allows access but working on a van engine or related components can be a nightmare!!!

van underhood

Safety tip

If you are ever forced to hit the brakes hard or you hit another vehicle or solid object even at a slow speed loose items in the cargo area can fly forward with a speed that can hurt, maim or kill.

Make sure items are bolted or firmly attached to the van so they do not become dangerous flying objects.


Here is the safest way to ensure things do not fly forward if an impact should happen. The metal barrier can protect you from flying debris but it also can assist your personal security when sleeping. If an evil person broke a door window and entered the driver area you can have the door in the metal panel secured from the inside to keep people out.

Just be sure you can open that door or any door leading out of the cargo area to allow quick escape if a fire occurs.

I have large fire extinguishers in my humble hovel, the real house shanty, to use to beat back a fire if one happens. When I am forced to live in a van they will be present to be a possible life and shelter saver!!!

More advice, tips and opinions coming soon!!!


Post updated July 13, 2022 to remove the dreaded dead link.

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