The idea of living and traveling the world in a van is a dream for many. But when turning this dream into reality you’re faced with some difficult questions and decisions like – which van should I get, will my van have issues down the road, and what should I know before I buy it? We know because we had the same questions as we searched for a van to drive down the Pan American Highway.
After lots of research, tests, and trials we settled down on a Ram Promaster 1500 campervan. We lived in our Promaster campervan for nearly 2 years as we traveled through 15 countries from sandy ocean beaches in Mexico to cloud forest jungles in Panama, across endless mountain passes in Patagonia, and so-called Death Roads in Colombia.
During this journey, we learned all the ins and outs of traveling in a Ram Promaster – from the pros that make it a great van life vehicle to the smallest little things that absolutely drive us nuts and wish we could change.
If you’re thinking about getting a Ram Promaster, this guide covers 14 Pros and Cons that you should know before you purchase one!
Pros Of Having a Ram Promaster For Van Life:
It’s Very Affordable Compared To Other Vans
One of the things that attracted us to getting a Ram Promaster van is the price tag. We bought ours only a few months used with 8,000 miles for $20,000. You definitely won’t find that with any other van.
Our main goal was to find a reliable car that would get us through all of Central America and South America without having major issues. Originally we had our sights set on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van but as Sprinters continued to rise in popularity, we found ourselves priced out of getting a newer one without a ton of miles.
After a long search, we eventually bought a used Sprinter van which unfortunately turned out to be too unreliable. A couple of months after owning it broke down, and even after months of throwing money at it in repairs, it never made another journey farther than from one specialized Sprinter mechanic’s lot to the next. Not a car that we’d ever trust on a long-term international journey.
Eventually, we threw in the flag, sold the Sprinter, and started looking at other cheaper alternatives – like the Ram Promaster. Within days, we found a bunch of barely used Ram Promasters scattered across local dealerships with less than 10,000 miles for around $20K and picked one up to use on our campervan build instead.
Even when new, the Promasters are typically found for around $5-10k less than a comparatively equipped Sprinter or Transit van which many times are found at dealer lots with asking prices higher than the window sticker price.
Read More: Van Life – How Much Does It REALLY Cost?
Parts Are Cheap & Easy To Find Throughout the World
Another notable thing about the Ram Promaster van is that it shares the engine and transmission parts with just about every Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Ram made in the last 10 years. It’s also a worldwide platform that’s sold with different brand and model names throughout the world.
This means that it’s very cheap to maintain and parts are easily available in every part of the world – which helped us a lot during our Pan-American road trip when things needed to be fixed.
Because the parts are so easily available, you don’t have to deal with expensive dealerships which is probably the biggest downfall for the Sprinter vans. Ford Transit campervans are also more costly to repair because it doesn’t share parts with a lot of vehicles. Outside the US, Transits are extremely rare and so are the parts.
Mechanically, these are very simple vehicles with very few electric components which means every corner mechanic in any part of the world can work on and fix the Promaster without the need for advanced tools. Try saying the same about the Sprinter or Eco-boost Transit.
The two biggest issues on our trip were having our mirror stolen in Mexico and crushing the catalytic converter during a river crossing in Colombia – not too bad for a long-term journey like this.
Pssst! Check out these popular posts from our Pan-American road trip:
- 10 Unique Places In Mexico You Didn’t Know Existed
- 15 Incredible Things To See & Do In Colombia
- 20 Of The Most Beautiful Places In South America
The Boxy Build Creates a Spacious Interior
Compared to other vans, the Ram Promaster has a boxy interior with nearly vertical walls that maximize the interior space. It is also the widest van by a huge margin and the only van where you can fit a bed crosswise without doing major expensive modifications.
Our finished bed dimensions came out to be 74” across and 54” wide which is the size of a full-size bed – perfect for us who are 5’8″ and 5’9”.
If we were any taller, we would have installed less insulation on the sides (we used a total of 1.5 inches on each wall) and made the space as much as 77” wide.
It Has More Roof Space
Because the Ram Promaster is wider and has flat walls, you have more usable roof space than other vans. This means that you can add solar panels, a couple of roof fans, and still have plenty of space left for a roof deck as well.
The Promaster Van Sits Low To The Ground
Having a front-wheel-drive means that all the drive components are located in the front and there is no axle going to the rear wheels. Because of this, the floor sits very low to the ground, allowing you to step into the van easily.
More importantly, sitting closer to the ground provides a better center of gravity while driving than any of the other vans and the best stability when taking corners and driving over rough terrain, especially if you stick to building your campervan with the heavy stuff down low.
Ford Transit vans also drive pretty well but the Transit has less ground clearance than the Ram Promaster and has a higher floor. In order to give the Transit the same amount of ground clearance as the Promaster, you have to do a suspension lift and get bigger tires, raising the floor even higher and giving it the same tipsy feeling while driving as the Sprinter.
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It Will Go Anywhere You’re Willing To Take It
I’ll be honest, nothing compares to having an all-wheel-drive or a 4WD vehicle when trying to get over rough terrain. But with the right set of tires, your Ram Promaster will go anywhere you are willing to take a huge, heavy, built-up van.
Instead of buying an expensive 4WD van, your money will be better spent on this set of really good all-terrain tires, a tow strap, and a tire inflator. Learning how to properly air down tires to maximize traction can go a long way!
Here are our recommendations:
If all you’re worried about is being able to drive it in snow, then know that front-wheel drive Promaster with 60% of the weight over the front tires will drive way better than any rear-wheel-drive Ford Transit or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Get yourself a good set of winter tires and you’ll forget all about the all-wheel drive.
It Will Make It Through Roads With Deep Ruts
The lowest point in the Promaster van is the rear axle connecting the two rear wheels. While it might seem low, it actually gives you more clearance than the Transit and slightly less clearance than the Sprinter.
The combination of front-wheel drive plus what seems like a low rear axle might not seem like such a good thing, but it’s actually great for driving on roads with deep ruts. While the other RWD vans can easily high-center themselves and get stuck, the FWD Promaster will pull through just fine.
The reason for that is that the Transit and Sprinter will high center themselves on the rear differential, leaving the rear-drive tires up in the air with no traction to get them out. The Promaster, on the other hand, will high center itself on its rear axle but still allow the front wheels to continue pulling it forward. I don’t know how many times this proved useful as we just powered through rocks and ruts as the rear axle banged over everything and continued moving.
The rear axle clearance on the Promaster is something people always point out as being an issue off-road, but it’s really just an illusion. The rear end of the Promaster sits incredibly high and makes the axle look lower than it actually is.
At 6.9″ of ground clearance, the Promaster is just shy of the 7.4″ of ground clearance for the Sprinter and higher than the 6.3″ of ground clearance for the Transit. And because the lowest point on the Promaster is not its drive axle, it can easily make it through places where the other two vans would need even more clearance.
Cons Of Having a Ram Promaster For Van Life:
The Promaster Has A Low Resale Value
Compared to other vans like the Transit or Sprinter, the Promaster has a lower resale value. We got our nearly brand new Promaster for just 20K, a 35% discount after only a few months of use. An equivalently priced Sprinter would have been around 10 years old with 100,000 miles driven on it.
This doesn’t mean that the Ram Promaster is a bad car. It’s actually a testament to just how popular and sought out Sprinter vans are, which hold their resale value really well (and sometimes even increase depending on the demand).
Unless you get a really good deal on a Promaster, a new Sprinter is simply a better investment long term.
The Parts Are Cheaply Made
As one of the pros above, we mentioned that the Promaster parts are cheap to buy. But this also means that they’re cheaply made.
The Ram Promaster is an Italian-designed & engineered car that is made in Mexico. From fit to finish, a bunch of small things constantly fall off, rattle loose when they shouldn’t, and break easily (or are broken, to begin with).
Even though the Promaster was nearly brand-new when we got it, it had the following repairs done before its warranty was over:
- both headlights were replaced, wouldn’t hold in the bulbs
- bent e-brake replaced
- missing door jam bolts
- the radio’s USB connection stopped working
- door speakers went out
- the rear tail light developed condensation
- transmission resealed after the transmission started leaking fluid
- radiator fan replacement after the radiator fan bearing failed
But one of the most notable irks of this vehicle are the sliding and rear doors that need to be slammed shut so hard that the entire neighborhood will hear you. Like rock-the-whole-van and it-hurts-your-hand kind of hard.
All of these things initially made us question the long-term reliability of the Ram Promaster vehicle. However, it did get us through 15 countries and never left us stranded, unlike our van life friends who travel in older vans and constantly have to deal with major issues and breakdowns on the road.
Luckily, being a simple design, repairs are extremely simple and don’t require expert mechanics (i.e. we can do our own repairs) when needed.
The Driver Seat Is Extremely Uncomfortable
Another major con of the Ram Promaster is how uncomfortable the driver’s seat is. The seat itself is very hard and has no lumbar support plus the steering wheel has zero adjustment options. This combination of a bad seat plus no adjustability is destined to create a formula for back problems in the long term.
Essentially the car seat was designed to help people get out of the vehicle quickly, which is helpful if you’re a delivery person. But it’s certainly not made for long-haul drivers.
If you’re set on getting this car for van life road trips, do yourself a favor and get lumbar support for your back. Your back will thank us later!
The Van Has A Hard Time Making It Up Steep Inclines
The driving Achilles Heel of the FWD Promaster is really heavy inclines on loose surfaces like steep dirt hills, where the van’s weight shifts to the back, and the front wheels will just spin endlessly. There are a couple of times in Central and South America where this almost left us stranded in the middle of nowhere (in the car’s defense – we shouldn’t have been driving on these roads in the first place).
Luckily there is something that you can do about it if you find yourself having a hard time making up steep hills:
- Air down those beefy front all-terrain tires
- Shift as much weight from the back to the front as possible, like water jugs, camping gear, anything
- Tackle the hill with some momentum and don’t stop until you’re over the hill
Doing this got us over every incline we ever tried, even places where many people documented getting stuck on iOverlander with RWD and heavy 4WD campers.
Lack Of Customization Options
Just about everyone doing van life these days has (or wants) a Sprinter van. With that comes a lot of companies that create customized gear and offer products for Sprinter vans (and Ford Transit to some degree). But almost nobody makes or markets anything for the Promaster vans.
Want underbody parts to protect the engine while off-roading? You’ll need to start fabricating it yourself. Want a lift? There is only one company in Germany named SPACCER that does it. Want a roof rack? There are only a couple to choose from. Want a spare tire mount for the rear doors? Time to get creative!
Everything on our Promaster campervan is Do-It-Yourself, from the leveling kit down below to the roof rack up above. But while some see this as a con, others may see it as a pro because it also means that you won’t spend all of your savings “decking out” your van with modifications.
Let’s face it – the Promaster won’t win any beauty competitions. This is a vehicle that’s best to cheaply and quickly build out, hit the road, and enjoy – which is the ultimate goal anyway, right?
The E-Brake Is Poorly Placed
One of the biggest engineering flaws of the Ram Promaster is the placement of the emergency brake. It’s located on the door side of the driver’s seat and is straight-up dangerous when getting out of the van while wearing shorts.
When engaged, the e-break is right at the same height as thigh-high shorts. So, when you’re getting out, your shorts easily get caught on the e-break pulling your legs back and sending you face-first into the dirt.
While I would have thought that it was really just user error and I simply don’t know how to get out of a car, it’s clearly an issue others encountered before me because even our nearly new Promaster already had a bent e-brake that had probably claimed other victims before.
The leaf Spring In The Rear Needs To Be Removed
To avoid regular car emission standards, Ram added an extra leaf spring in the rear of the Promaster 1500 to increase the GVWR and classify it as a commercial vehicle. Some Promaster 1500’s sold in other parts of the world don’t have this extra leaf spring.
Because of the extra leaf spring, the back of the van sticks up in the air and the rear suspension is extremely stiff. This is great if you’re doing a really heavy build, but on lightweight builds like ours, the rear suspension needs to be modified.
It’s an easy fix, you just have to take the time to do it. It only takes a couple of hours to take out the smallest leaf from the rear spring and it’s well worth it. Your van will end up riding much softer and it will be completely leveled for sleeping at night.
If you leave the additional leaf spring in, the back will always stick up in the air, the rear will feel really stiff on bumpy roads and the rear tires will lift up when turning in and out of driveways.
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few other helpful resources and blog posts that you may like:
- 85 Van Life Essentials That You Should Be Packing
- How To Make Money While Living In A Van
- 15 Tips For Traveling Van Life Couples
- 10 Things You Should Know Before Living In A Van
- 12 Helpful Tips For Traveling With A Cat
Interested in stepping up your photography game? Here is the camera gear that I carry everywhere I go to create amazing travel photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7c Camera. The Sony a7c is tiny, light, full-frame, and durable – in other words, amazing!
- Polarizer Filter: Hoya 40.5 mm Filter. Polarizing filters reduce glare in water, protect the lens from getting scratched and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside. Having a polarizing filter is a must-have if you plan to photograph lakes, oceans, rivers, and waterfalls.
- Wide Lens: Sony 16-35 mm F4. Great for capturing wide panoramas, nature landscapes, and cramped city streets. Mounts to any Sony mirrorless camera and features autofocus, image stabilization, and incredibly sharp images.
- Lightweight Travel Tripod: Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod. A good tripod is essential for capturing images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects when shooting waterfalls. The Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is very sturdy, light, and folds small so you can take it on all of your adventures!
- Memory Cards: SanDisk Extreme 256 GB. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme is ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.
- Camera Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery Set. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize my camera is out of battery. Always keep your batteries charged with this camera charger set.
- Camera Bag: Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something you should definitely invest in! Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it.
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