New or Used: Dude, Where's My Gig Van?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used dude where s my gig van

(courtesy: Jan London Band)

Hman writes:


Long time reader, first time emailer. (Except for two published Ur-Turns.) Anyway, I’m in a two-piece “rock” band and we are doing a 6-week tour in April and are shopping for a van. I’ve long been a Toyonda/Hondota fan, but alas, they make no full size cargo vans, so I’m forced to go domestic.

A prior band of mine used a Ford E250 to great effect, and I’ll admit I’m partial to the brand. Craigslist is chock full of Econolines of all trim and year. I’d like to solicit the advice of the B&B here at TTAC ASAP! I.E., years to avoid, brands to avoid, etc. All suggestions welcome.

Mr. Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist has $3-4 grand to spend, so lots of miles is expected. All told we will have three people, one drum kit w/trimmings, three vintage Fender tube amps (Hi, Jack!), two guitars, one bigass pedal board, t-shirts, cd’s, vinyl, and clothes.

This will be a coast-to-coast-and-then-some trip, so reliability is paramount.

Sajeev Answers:

Luckily this is a small(ish) band, so just about any full size, 15 passenger (i.e. long wheelbase) van should do the trick. Diesels aren’t necessary and are probably not worth the pricing and servicing premium, even with the amount of miles you’ll be driving. Having spent a lot of time behind an E-150 and a little with a Chevy Express, I’m pretty certain that the Ford is the way to go. The older GM G-series vans are just as good, maybe even better than a similar vintage Ford. But you probably can get a newer van with your budget, and I like the seating position/wheel arch design better in the Econoline versus the Express. This holds true for long periods behind the wheel, something that has been verified from a LeMons racer/HVAC tech that has experienced just about every van on the market.

Honestly, the Ford also looks better inside and out. I know some have spark plug thread problems (mostly from less-than-anal installation when installing new plugs) and transmissions are always a concern on vans of any shape and size. That said, if you find a clean Chevy for the same price as a ratty Ford, go ahead and pull the trigger. It will be condition and service records above all else.

There’s no wrong answer here, except the Freightliner/Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter. While some perform reliably and get good mileage, I’ve heard an overwhelming number of complaints about this vehicle’s difficult diagnostics, expensive parts, lack of parts, and overall poor value compared to the Ford or Chevy.

Steve Answers:

I will disagree here.

The best option for a band is a conversion van. How do I know? Those are the only young folks who ever bother to look at these glorified mastodons.

Get a 1996-1997 Chevy Conversion van with a 350 and low miles. With this generation you get the benefit of OBDII diagnostics along with a powertrain that will easily chug along for 200k+. It’s not a sin to get a small enclosed trailer should your needs expand. But if I were you guys, I would look at a few and see if they can handle all your gear. Some bands do remove the third seat for extra space. But you may want to keep that for other purposes.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 30 comments
  • Wheeljack Wheeljack on Oct 08, 2011

    I'm going to be a contrarian here, but I've known a lot of people who've put a ton of reliable miles on the full-size Dodge vans. I think the last year they made them was around 2003-2004-ish. I would imagine the resale on them is poor, making it perfect for a vehicle you are going to run into the ground.

  • TheShivers TheShivers on Apr 11, 2013

    I'm going to help be contrarian with Wheeljack. I toured for years in my first few bands with a Ford Econoline E250 v6 extended (long wheelbase). My guitar player built a sleeping loft in the middle, and we stored all gear in the back in a cage, with the personal effects and merch under the loft. There were 7 of us (it was actually 2 bands touring together, sharing a bassist (me) and a drummer), so it was front seats only and then we all hung out on the loft while driving. It worked amazingly well! The cage didn't begin until the back of the rear wheel wells, so the loft was BIG. Oksy, so that's solution #1 - works great. For the last 10 years though, I toured with a smaller band (3-piece) AND MY 3 KIDS. This was awesome in the extreme, and still my favorite lifestyle. I could have done that forever. This is how we did it: We bought an RV - a Dodge Sportsman (the 440 V8 engine - best engine ever made, IMO) front-end with a 24-ft chassis/RV buildout. I think the company that built it was called Beaver, out of Oregon. The Beaver was awesome. It slept a gazillion (there's a sleeping loft above the driver's seats, for X's sake!), and having our own kitchen/fridge/shower etc cut down on hotel bills like you wouldn't believe - nicer too! We had zero mechanical trouble with this setup. We also added a 10-ft cargo trailer for our gear - it made things a lot nicer. Be sure you lock the ball and the trailer doors with everything you can think of. Nothing screams "valuable equipment" like a van with a trailer! That Dodge 440 engine was amazing, It was a 1984 engine, 10 years old with 160K miles at the time, and we drove it cross-country at least 14 times. Also, having roof AC is great because it takes the load off the engine. We had a propane genny, and that was great when no hookups were available, and even better if we wanted to play a gig out in the middle of nowhere, which happened a fair amount of the time, on an impromptu basis. Based on many stories shared about band vans with my peers (and with mobile mechanics dedicated to servicing band vans - these people actually exist, and are our saviours!) over the years, these two seem to be the best solutions. Stay away from the Chevy's IMO - they seem to be much more prone to swaybacked suspensions and mechanical troubles. The only issue with the Dodge 440 is that I don't know when or if Dodge stopped putting them in vans - they may be harder to come by. One thing is for sure - the Econoline is far and away the most popular van on the road, so finding parts and service while touring is going to be as easy as it gets, and that's nothing to sneeze at when you're stranded in Kansas (and it will be Kansas) in the middle of the night. We eventually sold the RV when our label dropped all their rock bands and went all hip-hop(!), and I took a break for a few years. I just bought another E250 (non-extended - I couldn't find one for sale!). I paid $2,200 for it. It's a 2003, and I've had it checked out by 3 mechanics at this point, while making little non-essential improvements in preparation for another tour. It has 200K miles and runs like a dream - the engine, transmission, brakes, all in perfect shape. It purrs like a cat. And it's seen very light use, since a flower delivery service was the original and previous owner - the springs have had an easy time of it (until now, mua ha ha). As best I (and my mechanic friends) can tell, this is as good a bet as it gets. these friends say they regularly see 400K + miles on Econolines as long as they've been regularly serviced - one guy said he replaced the brakes on one that had 667K miles and was still running strong! The end of the story: buy a Ford Econoline or Dodge with a 440 engine, give your van a little love, and you should be good. Best of luck, and enjoy your time on the road - it's a rare pleasure!

  • Tassos There is nothing 'weird' about Finland's fine system. A few other nations have it too. Switzerland maybe, I am not sure.But you do not specify WHAT was that clown's income that required him to pay $120k for a speeding ticket?I am sure that for somebody like ELon Musk, $100k will barely operate his megayacht ONE LOUSY Day.
  • Bkojote On paper, GMC is supposed to be the understated, more sophisticated member of the GM truck family.In actuality, GMC is total garbage in the truck world - by the time they're on their second owner they're decked out with amazon wheel spacers, pizza dish wheels, punisher stickers, and really angry opinions about any president who's won the popular vote in the past two decades. And man, these things are ugly as sin too.That's because GM trucks as a whole are kinda the also-rans in the truck category. Yeah, they do sales, but they aren't anyone's first choice. Not as extreme as the Ram, not as category defining as the Raptor, not as well engineered as a Toyota, so you end up with owners who compensate big time to distract others from the endless repair bills. The only owners I know who are worse are the rollin' coal lifted Super Duty drivers. Like you bought a GMC because the guy who sold you your wife's acadia is less scary than having to grovel for a Raptor and you take the Ford guys making fun of you personally.
  • Tassos The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I have mentioned this before, and it applies here again.Go to the U of Michigan College of Engineering parking lot. How can you say what car the $300,000 a year (ACADEMIC year of 9 months, mind you, summer pay is extra, and consulting a whole lot on top of that) and what does the $50,000 a year secretary drive?Hint: Teresa was out chair's secretary, started a year ago. She had to resign in just a few months because her 75 mile EACH WAY from her home in Lapeer MI to ANn Arbor MI just KILLED HER when gas prices rose.What car did Teresa drive? Take a wild guess. An F150? A Ram pickup? A Silverado? One of these. In a fee months she had to resign and find a lesser job in the whole lot lesser U of M Flint (but why would she care? she's just a secretary), which halved her commuting distance to a still significant 75 mile round trip every damned day.So the poor keep buying pickups and get poorer, and the rich keep NOT buying them and get richer.
  • Cprescott It is ugly enough. But why? You refuse to build enough of your products for your consumers.
  • Cprescott Only if your income also gives you more votes.