Reader Question: Family Bus?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Jack asks: We have six kids and are trying to find something useful that we can all fit into. We have considered doing a conversion on a Ford F-350 truck but  would prefer something factory built.  We currently have a very unreliable 2015 Mercedes Sprinter. Do you have any advice?

My reply: My immediate go-to thought is a Suburban or GMC Yukon equivalent. These have the room you need, both for six kids and for cargo. A Ford Expedition would also get the job done – and all of them would be less cumbersome to deal with than an F350 as well as less expensive than a conversion.

I’ve also got a wild-card suggestion for you:

A Ford Transit Connect or Dodge Ram ProMaster van. These can be bought in a variety of configurations and are designed to be custom fitted-out to suit; they’re smaller and easier to deal with than a Suburban or similar, too. Might be worth taking a look!

. . .

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  1. I would recommend Ford full size Econoline window van. They come in short and long wheelbase versions. The short WB has seating for 8 (buckets and two rows of benches). Nice thing @ that is there is lotsa room behind the back bench, as the back bench rests over the rear wheels. So, room for vacation stuff. I had an E150 short WB, with factory seating for 7. Later, I added a 4-person bench in the back.

  2. There’s one big downside to actual vans like the Ford Transit or Dodge ProMastrer – Uncle. I know someone with six children, and he went with that option. He’s constantly being pulled over by AGW’s who ask to see his commercial driver’s license. He has to constantly explain that it’s his children. They don’t always believe him, though, and one AGW went so far as to not allow him to drive it away because of lack of CDL, so he had to have it towed home and fight the resulting criminal charge of driving passengers without the correct license. He won, but it cost time and money, and now, he has to drive with all his kids’ birth certificates in the car. It’s disgusting.

    • Hi OP,

      I hadn’t heard about that – and you’re right, it is disgusting. Even more so because I know for a fact that one does not need a CDL to legally drive a Transit, ProMaster City, NV van or even a Benz Sprinter. Once again, AGWs don’t even know the law… but enforce their own made-up laws… and get away with it.

      It should be a automatic firing offense for an AGW to enforce a non-existent law – and he ought to be prosecuted criminally for it as it’s assault/battery under color of law.

    • Unless it’s a specific state requirement, federal regs only require a class C CDL for vehicles that are 16+ passengers.

      • Not only that, but those mini buses are noticeably BIGGER than even a extended version conventional van. Plus they’re specially built to be small shuttle buses, so they look nothing like a full size van. Car rental companies and parking garages run them at the bigger airports. AGWs must be gettin’ REAL stupid if they can’t tell the difference between the two…

  3. Honda minivan – reliable as rocks, cheap (relatively), easy to buy used. I have gotten two adults and six boy scouts in one for a three day car camping trip without resorting to a roof luggage rack. Also a lot easier to sell.


    • I dunno about the newer models, but I’ve talked to folks whose families had Honda Odysseys as they were growing up and they weren’t fans in terms of reliability.. it’s also one of the Honda models susceptible to having the crank pulley bolt back out and send the harmonic balancer into a wobble chewing up the crankshaft in the process, ultimately costing it the engine.

      I’ll let my old Civic nickel and dime me with that shit because it’s my baby, but with all that in mind the Odyssey always struck me as something of a crapshoot for a family car.

      • Honda Odysseys are notorious for having one of the worst transmissions EVER!

        Older full-size Ford Econoline van- can’t be beat. I had 300K on mine when I sold it, and it was still running perfect. Most reliable vehicle I ever had. And lots of room- unlike a minivan- which really are pretty cramped.

        That or an Excursion! Excursion’s built on a 3/4 ton chassis- a real truck- and with the third row seat comfortably seat 8, and still have cargo room. Very comfy and safe, with a commanding view of the road. To me, it’s the ultimate vehicle; there’s no going back!

        • Excursions have a lot of front end issues as they get miles stacked on them. I’d go with a suburban. Front ends are cheaper and easier to repair. Another issue with excursions is that they are weighted strange. If you pull a trailer, they seem to not trailer well–unlike an F-250 pickup. My buddy has a ton of kids and he had a 2014 F-350 converted into a six door excursion basically. He loves it and it trailers just right.

          • Dunno about that, Anc- I have both an F250 and an Excursion- and they’re the same exact chassis; same exact parts…drive exactly the same…. Either one of ’em’ll run over a Suburban…..

            • I know two people that have excursions. They are ford guys through and through. One of them buys wrecked excursions, F-250 and 350’s and repairs them. Both of them claim that they don’t trailer well. It’s something with the weight on the rear end. My friend that has the six door converted from a 350 long bed says it’s not like that. He has 2 older excursions and they whip with a trailer.

              As far as the front axle’s, that’s my observation. I have worked on Ford’s and GM’s. I prefer the independent front suspension. Easy and cheap to replace and the replacement parts last longer on them than the funky Ford axle’s. I don’t know much about the new F-series solid front axles, but I do know I pretty much hate everything about my brothers 2017 F-350 alumiford except the diesel power. You couldn’t pay me to drive one of them. My dad has a 2016 Chevy 3500 with a Duramax. I prefer it in just about any meaningful way over the Ford. I believe the Ford best’s it in Torque slightly, but they both have plenty of power. Minus the diesel power, my 2016 Tundra is preferable to them both. I spent $400 to beef up the rear suspension and it handles a load like a 2500 series pickup minus the rattles, and squeaks of the poorly put together in Mexico big three offerings. My favorite is my 96 Tacoma with 310,000 miles on it. Used and abused and still doesn’t have the rattles that the big three gives you at 20,000 miles.

              • Hmmm, I don’t know about the cost of front-end parts on the F250/350/Exc’s, ’cause I’ve never had to replace any, in my decades of driving Ford trucks- including car carriers- such as a measley F350 with a 17′ steel rollback on it and a bang bar for towing one behind it…. And I usually keep my Fords for 300K miles.

                Ditto a friend of mine, who regularly tows over 20K lbs with his single rear wheel F350 all over the country……

                Maybe it’s the newer trucks that have the sissy front ends and squirrely rears?

                All I know is I had a Chevy car-carrier back in the 90’s….and it was horrid. Nice enough to look at, and comfortable- but for doing work? Pffft! Replaced it with an equivalent Ford, and it was literally twice the truck- rock solid.

                I’m talking pre-’03 trucks though. I don’t like ANY manufacturer’s trucks that are newer than that. I don’t doubt that ALL the late model ones have issues- even Fords.

                It’s the Dodges that are famous for the front-end “death wobble”.


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