First, let’s get some background of where we are coming from, then we’ll go into what the new plan is.
There are benefits and limitations associated with any vehicle you choose as your VanDwelling home. We have been constantly struggling with that fact. We wanted the ultimate do-it-all platform with plenty of space and comfort, yet have good fuel economy and be easy to drive and nimble enough for tight parking and mild off-roading. That just doesn’t exist. We had concluded long ago that the closest we could get was a diesel 4×4 truck with a slide-in camper on it, but after living in both a pop-up and a hard-side camper for the past few years, we’ve found our wants and needs changing a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, the truck and camper combination has been really great, but here’s what we don’t like:
- Size. We had a quad cab, 4×4, long bed, diesel truck. By itself, the truck is over 23 feet long and about 7 feet wide. Part of the wish list is to be off-road capable, which it very much is, however, due to the length and width of just the truck by itself we were often limited on back road travel. The truck is just too big and heavy (and has a horrible turning radius) to feel comfortable in the boonies. Even parking it in the average parking lot can sometimes be challenging. The pop-up we had didn’t add any length or width to the truck, but the hard-side camper certainly did, making matters worse. The Lance camper added a foot of width and nearly 4 feet of length, as well as 4-5 feet of height. We knew going into a hard-side that off-road travel was impossible save for wide open desert roads. Low hanging branches (let alone all the other obstacles) would have done too much damage. Sure, we could unload the camper to go down rough roads, but we’d rather have it all with us. Unloading and loading can be a pain at times.
- Easy to drive. Unloaded, and even with the pop-up, the truck was a breeze to drive, but add a 3000 pound hard-side camper, and the driving dynamics change quite a bit. The strong side winds were especially fun with something so top heavy.
- Fuel economy. Unloaded or with the pop-up, the truck would get 20MPG consistently. That’s pretty satisfying. However, with the hard-side, we were lucky to get 13-14MPG. That is still respectable (a gas truck would probably get 8MPG), but diesel on average costs 30-40 cents more per gallon.
- Stealth. A legally blind person can spot this beast a mile away. We also have to exit the truck to enter the camper. Not very covert.
Now, without listing the pros and cons of every VanDwelling vehicle option, we’ve decided to sell the truck and camper and buy a van. But not just any van, it had to be the right van. So without further ado, meet Carte Blanche. Blanche for short.
Blanche (pronounced ‘blan-chee’, don’t judge!) is a 2014 Chevrolet Express 1500 All-Wheel-Drive Cargo Van. She is small compared to our truck, will get 15-20MPG (about the same as the truck,
but with cheaper fuel), easy to drive, stealthy, and is mild off-road capable (and great in snow) with AWD and even a rear locking differential! Of course, we had to sacrifice the space and comfort offered by the large camper, but we found all that space to be burdensome and unnecessary. Most of the amenities were unused. Blanche is a blank slate inside and we have a lot of work to do, although we want to keep it as simple as we can.
I’m sure you’re wondering why we bought a brand new, 9 miles on the clock van. They say as soon as a new car is driven off the dealer’s lot the value plummets, right? Well, we have been trying to find this van used and couldn’t. At least, not one that was well taken care of, didn’t have 200,000+ miles, was reasonably priced, and was nearby. Truth is that the AWD vans are hard to find. Why not finish paying off our debts first? Chevrolet
is discontinuing discontinued production of the AWD Express van in 2014, and will only sell 2WD Express vans to fleet customers (read: 5 vans purchased per year) in 2015. This is literally our last chance to get this van (new)! We wanted to order custom options from the factory, but found that production stopped only 3 weeks ago!
So in the end, yes, we broke one of our own rules of accruing more debt (we had to partially finance the van), and it was a hard choice. (Happy updated in March of 2015, van is paid off and we’re debt free again!)
Anyway, look forward to many future posts detailing the (probably slow) build-out of our new home. We are currently formulating and prioritizing a long list of things that Blanche needs. Among the top priorities thus far are window tints, insulation, and roof vent. We will hopefully be able to get these done pretty soon. We are going to hold off living in Blanche until at least those are done, so we have to couch surf in the meantime.