The Dodge Ram Promaster can and has been used by many people as an excellent base for a DIY camper conversion. Are you thinking about using a Promaster for your next camper conversion?
If so, here are 11 important things you may want to consider before you get started.
The Promaster is Front Wheel Drive
The Promaster is currently the only full-size cargo van with a front-wheel-drive system. This offers many advantages that you won’t find in a rear-wheel-drive system.
For starters, front-wheel drive systems are less expensive to buy and less expensive to maintain than their rear-wheel drive counterparts. The system even has fewer parts to it, so there are fewer parts that can break down.
Front-wheel drive vehicles also offer much better gas mileage. This is why the Promaster is able to get up over 20 miles per gallon even with its sizeable 6-liter engine and large non-aerodynamic frame.
These vehicles are also known to perform better in snowy, rainy, and icy conditions. If you’ve ever driven a rear-wheel drive and a front-wheel-drive vehicle through snow, you know just how true this statement is.
This means you’ll be safer on the road, you’ll get stuck less often, and you’ll be able to go more places in a Promaster than you would be ready to go in a Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit Conversion. Avid skiers and snowshoers would do well to consider getting a Promaster versus the other large cargo vans on the market today.
Of course, front-wheel drive vehicles have their disadvantages as well. The foremost of these disadvantages is that they cannot tow as much as rear-wheel-drive vehicles. We’ll talk about this in a little more detail further down in this article, but it is something to keep in mind when considering a Promaster conversion van.
Also, front-wheel drive vehicles may not brake or accelerate as well as rear-wheel-drive vehicles. I’ve never found this to be a problem, but it is something to think about when you’re doing a lot of traveling at highway speeds.
Cutaway Options Are Available
One option that you don’t see van lifers taking advantage of very often is the fact that you can buy a cutaway van. The Promaster sells new cutaway models that can make customizing your build-out a lot easier.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with cutaway vans, these vans are the same except the entire cargo area does not exist. You have the frame and axels behind the driving area, hence the term, cutaway.
The benefit of this is that you can build your box on top of the frame. This gives you the ability to make it as tall or as short as you like, and you can even add a bit of width as well. On top of this, the box can be made a square, so you have fewer angles to work with and more cubic feet inside of the living quarters.
Some people have even built campers on top of cutaway vans that can be demounted. This makes them extremely versatile as you get the benefits of having a camper van while simultaneously getting the benefits of having a travel trailer.
Professional companies like Tonke have built them on Mercedes Sprinters, but you could build your own on a Promaster as well.
One thought to keep in mind, however, is that legally, the vehicle will not be able to be more than 8’6” wide or more than 12’ tall. Stick to these dimensions, and you’ll be able to travel on U.S. roads legally, and you’ll also have an easier time finding a campsite.
Just keep in mind that even these legal dimensions might be a bit too large for some streets and campgrounds, so go smaller if you can, and you’ll open up even more travel options for you and your van.
There Are Different Lengths, Different Wheelbases, and Different Heights to Choose From
As with most large cargo vans, the Promaster has many different lengths and wheelbases to choose from. There is a 118” wheelbase, a 136” wheelbase, and a 159” wheelbase. The 118” wheelbase has a floor-length of 105.1”, an interior width of 75.6”, and an interior width of 65.4”.
This vehicle does not offer a taller interior height. However, people have found that this height is much better for parking in parking garages as it will usually fall within a garage’s limited height parameters.
136” wheelbase models have floor lengths of 122.8” and an interior width of 75.6 inches. The interior height is 76” which makes it easy for most people to stand in.
Most people will choose to go with either this model or the 159” wheelbase as the 136” model just isn’t tall enough for most people to stand in without crouching over.
The 159” wheelbase has a floor-length of 145.9”, an interior width of 75.6”, and an interior height of 76”. However, there is also an extended version of this that offers a 160.2-inch floor length with all of the other measurements being the same.
This model offers up a lot of room but it could be difficult to park for its size.
You Have More Width Than Most
Most cargo vans are not wide enough to comfortably fit a full-size bed horizontally. This isn’t the case with the Ram Promaster. A full-size bed measures 75” long and a Promaster is 75.6” wide, which is perfect for laying a full-size bed horizontally in.
One thought to keep in mind, however, is that the insulation and lining you put on the walls can eat into this space. To avoid this, leave a gap in your insulation so that you can easily slide your bed in.
This lets you put a real bed in the back of your van without having to make any alterations to the bed of the van.
Windows Versus Walls
Another option you’ll have to consider is whether or not to go with windows or walls. The window versions of this vehicle are fantastic. Promaster windows extend along the entire sides of the vehicle and provide amazing views for would-be campers.
You can even get windows in the rear doors to provide an almost 360 view of the surrounding area. The windows will also let a lot of airflow in, so not only will you have a great view but you’ll also have great ventilation with the windows as well.
The downside to this is that the windows will take away your stealth camping capabilities. To combat this, you’ll have to get blackout curtains, and you’ll have to leave your interior lights off as well.
Also, when you install windows all around the sides, you lose your ability to hang shelves and cabinets from the walls. Space is limited in campervans, so having additional storage on the walls and ceilings is often essential to the campervans buildout.
Be sure to carefully consider which way you’d like to go before making your purchase. If you’re still in doubt, go with a windowless version as it is much easier to add windows after the fact than it is to add hard side panels.
Hauling Capacities Are High
One significant advantage that the Promaster has over some of the other large cargo vans on the market is that it can haul a lot of weight inside of it. In fact, you can haul up to 4,680 pounds inside of the vehicle. With this much weight to work with, you can get really creative with your build.
For example, I’ve seen people who have created nested slide-outs that come out of the rear of the van. These slide outs increased the space of the camper to more than three times its original size.
This also gave the owner the option to completely slideout the camper and use the van independently. A perfect example of this is the ioCamper, which comes out to offer the camper a freestanding shelter that is four times the size of the van.
Even if you don’t want to build a slideout into your camper, you can still benefit from the additional hauling capacity. For instance, a motorcycle enthusiast might design a build that they can drive their motorcycle into.
With over 4,000 pounds of hauling power, the Promaster won’t have any trouble transporting the motorcycle as well as the rest of the camper inside of it.
Heavy appliances like mini-fridges and camping ovens can also be used in a Promaster build. In fact, you can even combine these appliances with high-end materials like marble and hardwood, and you still won’t have to worry about going over the vehicle’s GVWR.
Towing Capacities Are Smaller Than Other Vans
Unfortunately, even though the Promaster can haul a lot, it cannot tow a lot. The Promaster can only tow 5,100 pounds. This might seem like a lot compared to a regular vehicle, but it’s small in comparison to the average truck or cargo van. In fact, my small half-ton truck can tow 5,500 pounds, and it’s a lot smaller and more maneuverable than a large Promaster van.
What all this means is that you won’t be able to tow anything but lightweight travel trailers and cargo trailers behind your Promaster campervan.
While this might not be a problem for weekend campers or heavy travelers, it could become a problem for people looking for a little more space. This being said, a well-built campervan combined with a lightweight trailer may be all a person’s needs, and if so, the Promaster might be the right campervan for them.
Consider The Costs
The Promaster is one of the least expensive cargo vans you can buy. These vehicles start out around $30,000 and won’t go anywhere near the high prices that you’ll find when looking at new Sprinter vans.
On top of this, the maintenance costs are lower than what you’ll find with other vehicles in the same class. This is partly because the vehicle is front-wheel drive, partly because the parts are easier to find, and partly because the vehicle is a gas vehicle rather than a diesel one.
Unfortunately, you will have trouble finding used models under $20,000. The reason for this is that these vehicles haven’t been around for very long, so you won’t find many used models on the market. Even the ones you do find will only be about five years old (2014 models), so you really won’t have any inexpensive models to choose from.
Also, this vehicle is a commercial vehicle. Commercial vehicles cost more to insure than regular consumer vehicles. For this reason, you may want to look into converting your vehicle’s title to an RV title. Doing this will save you a lot of money on vehicle insurance as RV insurance is the cheapest type of vehicle insurance you can buy.
Promaster Has Caught The Eye of Professional Camper Companies
It’s always a good sign when professional companies like Sportsmobile take notice of a cargo van. This is because it proves that the van is viable as a camper and it also gives you the option to buy some of the mods you might otherwise have to do yourself.
For example, Sportsmobile offers popup roofs for the Promaster, which can even extend high enough for you to add a loft into your campervan build. This creates a tremendous amount of extra space that you can use for additional storage, a mobile office, a larger living area, or whatever else might suit your personal needs.
Alternatively, you could decide to get the entire camper built out for you. While this might add five figures to your initial expense, it will cut down the amount of work you need to do and will get you out on the road much sooner than if you’d spent the time doing your own conversion. On top of this, the van will already come RVIA certified, so you won’t have to go through any additional steps to get it titled as an RV.
Reliability Could Be An Issue
While these vehicles will cost less to work on, they might need to be worked on more frequently than others in the same class. This could drive costs up, and the worst-case scenario could leave you stranded on the road or at your campsite. There have been some reports that this vehicle isn’t very reliable because of this.
RepairPal.com gives the Ram Promaster 2500 a reliability breakdown of a 2 out of 5. This gives it a ranking of 20 out of only 21 commercial vans.
Although this looks bleak, the average annual repair cost of this vehicle is still only $1,147.00 a year. Comparatively speaking, the average repair costs for commercial vans is $963.00 a year.
This means Promaster owners will end up spending about $184.00 a year more or just $15.00 extra a month. Consider that the Promaster is less expensive to purchase, and you might still end up with a far better deal with the Promaster when compared to another cargo van.
My advice would be to make sure you get a AAA plan and an extended warranty with this vehicle. This way, you’ll have peace of mind, and you won’t have to worry so much about being stranded somewhere without help.
Also, if you decide to buy used, be sure to check out the CarFax vehicle reports for any significant issues or deferred maintenance. You don’t want to buy a used van only to find that you have to spend several thousand dollars just to catch up on the maintenance needs that the previous owner failed to address.
The Ram Promaster City Could Be An Option
Just like the Ford Transit has the Ford Transit Connect, the Ram Promaster has the smaller Ram Promaster City. This vehicle is a much smaller cargo van that is easy to navigate through narrow city streets and forest roadways.
It is also front-wheel drive but offers a smaller 2.4-liter engine that gets almost 30 miles a gallon. With this kind of fuel savings, you can use the extra money to rent a hotel or a cabin now and then, which could very well make up for the loss of space that occurs when you go with a Promaster City versus a full-size Promaster.
The cargo area of the Promaster City is only 48.4” wide in the back, but it does offer a floor-length of 87.2” so a person could build this camper out with a bed-mounted vertically within the camper instead.
This version of the Promaster won’t provide nearly as much interior space as the larger versions described earlier. Still, it will provide better gas mileage, better handling, and a much better stealth experience when compared to its larger cousins. On top of this, you’ll never have to worry about finding a big parking space again.
The Ram Promaster can be used to make a fantastic campervan. With the Promaster, you have many different styles and sizes to choose from, and even people taller than 6’ can still find one large enough for them to stand up in.
If you’re thinking about converting a new or slightly used cargo van for your next camper, don’t hesitate to take the Ram Promaster for a test drive!
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.