I'm not sure how to make a fancy vote type of post, but I want to poll the collective mind of my fellow vanning aficionados here for some sage advice.

Background
I've mentioned in another thread that my 98 Ram 3500 Maxi-Wagon has rusted through in a couple spots on the roof. It has been raining quite a bit lately, which is rare here in south Texas, so now I'm dealing with a soggy interior, moldy carpet, and it being smelly like a high school locker room.

Fix:
- I originally bought the van off a gov auction site for $650 plus shipping, so part of me is hesitant to put too much money into it, customizing it much further than my awesome rattle can flame job. It runs like a top and not having shiny new paint while hauling a family of 8 (soon to be 9), is a luxury. I have found other similar vintage vans at the gov auction site but they all seem to have the same rusty roofs. I like that era Dodge Van, and especially the Dajiban look, but the design of the roof begs for water to pool up and corrosion to attack! I have put aluminum backed tape over the hole last year, and it held up till this last rain. The corrosion has since spread under the tape. I have read about patching RV roofs with a tape called Eternabond with good results but the rust and surrounding metal will need converted or cut out first. That is my cheapest option, and likely will do that anyway, at least as a stop gap measure.

Restore:
- Body shops in my area only do panel swapping, not metal fab. Got quoted $7000 to replace the whole roof, not including the re-paint! There is a custom car shop here but I haven't been able to contact them. I doubt they would be much lower. I found a new roof panel online for $900, but its not an extended roof. Maybe I could bite the bullet and get a used MIG and learn to weld, cut the patches needed from the new roof, performing the job myself, learning a new skill, and saving a few grand in the process. If it turns out well, maybe I could advance into some real custom touches, like shaving the stock taillights and frenching in some '59 Caddy Tail lights in their place! Shaved door handles, chop and rake the top... This new skill might come in handy!

Replace
- On the gov auction site, I found a few 1st gen Sprinter cargo vans than were former prison transports, that I could add windows and seats, in order to serve my families needs. They are Freightliners but they are only a badge swap away from being a Mercedes! It would fit into our neighborhood a lot better than our current van, blending in with the other MB's, BMW's etc. Windows are all fixed from the factory and should be fairly easy to do a diy install. Not sure how much the oem glass would cost. I have priced out a set of "pleather" 12 passenger seats at roughly $2000. They are also an easy bolt in solution. The remaining interior would remain bare frame, or I could cut up the 1/8" thick aluminum box the prisoners ride in to form pretty cool looking panels. Kind of an industrial vibe. All this sounds pretty straight forward, however, I see quite a few 1st gen sprinter owners have issues with sensors, electronic gadgetry, etc, and are never able to sort out all the grimlins. Then again, others have gone over 300,000 -1 million miles without a hick-up. Electronic Grimlins make me nervious. MB parts are expensive! I have heard from numerous ppl that maintenance is a PITA, since everything is so compact.
- I briefly considered a new or lightly used van. I like the idea of the diesel option, although they are on the puny side. Its hard to complain about mileage in the mid twenties! I just cannot wrap my head around how much they all cost! I'm not that old, but I can remember when you could buy a super-nice fully optioned Caddy for under $20K!!! No way am I paying over twice that for a van... especially not a used one! So that option is out the window.

Conclusion?
What do y'all recommend? I have to reign in my ambitions sometimes since this is the only family transportation that can haul us all at once, and my wife's only wheels, since she can't drive a stick shift. Any paint, body work, restoration, etc, will have to be limited to a week at a time or possibly two weeks at the most, since it is the family hauler. We originally budgeted $6500 to the purchase of a new 2013 MB Sprinter, that fell through, so I feel somewhat comfortable with that as a strict budget.


Last edited by TABrinn; October 07th 2018 1:02 am. Reason: typos