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 2:02 am. Reason: typos
Re: Fix, Restore, or Replace Van?
#741359 October 07th 2018 10:05 amOctober 07th 2018 10:05 am
Seems to me like at $650 plus shipping you should just use them / patch them until you can't (most economical), sell to vanner who can put the $ into it and then buy another that is practical ($) for the growing family.
Nico, that is what my practical/ uber-cheap side says too, however, I may still be able to repair the roof, perform a modest resto, a have a van I can be proud of... built not bought, while staying within our $6500 price range.
While taping over the holes and surrounding area with some foil backed asphalt window flashing tape, I noticed that if I cut just outboard of the perimeter of the roof ribs, the replacement panel could be easily made with a bead roller. There are numerous metal fab shops here that mainly cater to the petro industry but I'm sure they could easily handle such a job, at a fairly reasonable price too. I'll have to call around.
Re: Fix, Restore, or Replace Van?
#741370 October 07th 2018 5:49 pmOctober 07th 2018 5:49 pm
Living in the RV world for several years now we have had many friends use eternabond. Yes, it works on RV roofs and it does what it is intended to do. You could also pull a hi-top from a pick-n-pull and have that installed which would also make it easier for everyone to get to their seats.
Niko, I definitely considered that too. Sadly the only high-tops I have seen in my local yard are either the Super high Bus conversion tops which are hideous or the shorter conversion van roofs that are more sculpted. I considered possibly getting 2 of the conversion van roofs and trying to splice them together to get the needed length since it is a maxi-van. I imagine some pie cuts would be in order to get it to visually flow right, but I am pretty handy with fiberglass so it shouldn't be too hard. It how hard would it be to remove one from a Junkyard van? Would just a cordless Sawzall get it done? Or would I need to remove all the interior trim, insulation, upholstery, etc to get to some secret hidden hardware? I emailed the company Fiberdine to price a new top as well. Haven't heard back yet.
Re: Fix, Restore, or Replace Van?
#741384 October 08th 2018 12:06 pmOctober 08th 2018 12:06 pm
I really don't know how hard they are to get off. Ours is just screwed in all the way around the drip rail edge so not that hard but others may be done differently. Not to mention that if you'll have young'uns in the back you may want to ensure that you have some sort of roll bar set up as an additional safety measure.
Fiberine quoted around $2500 for their 16" Aerodynamic hi-top. Install there would be cheaper than the crating fee and shipping. Can't remember how much it was at the moment. As much as I'd like to fix her up, she doesn't have any sentimental value and likely will never be collectable, so I gotta know when to cut my losses.
Had a good rain the other day and no leaks! Probably going to just pull the front carpet to get rid of the thick layer of fungus that is growing there. The area from the front seats back has some kind of rubber floor from it's previous life, that reminds me of a school bus. Not pretty but it is quick and easy to clean! Might lay down some bed liner in place of the carpet. I'll likely sand down the surface rust on the roof and paint it "properly" with Rustoleum. The holes I'll clean up with a wire wheel and soak with rust converter before laying down some Eternabond tape. We are headed on a road trip to FL for Thanksgiving, 3 days over, spend a little over a week there, and 3 days back.
We have our eyes open in the mean time for a good deal on a full size van with a good body, maybe a mechanics special, at a bargain basement price. It'd be nice to have a cushion in the budget for what ever work needs done and maybe some personal touches to make it our own.