So you have done your homework and decided the the transit is the right platform for your dream camper build. But what size, what options? There is a baffling array of choices. In this post, I will lead you through our thought process and describe the options that we chose.
Cargo or Passenger
Unless you want lots of windows and intend to transport large groups of people, I recommend the cargo van over the wagon. For a dedicated camper, it provides a blank slate with windows only where you want them. It also has more head room (due to lack of a raised floor). If you need a people mover that converts to a camper part time, you might want to consider a wagon.
The transit comes in three lengths and three roof heights, although all nine combinations are not available. The height and the length are the most critical choices, so spend some time thinking about how you will use this vehicle. Every aspect of the design involves some compromises, so make sure the that you understand your priorities.
Our key height requirement is that we be able to stand up inside. This eliminated the low roof. At just under 5’-11” I can barely stand in the medium roof cargo van with the stock pvc floor. I wish that it were one inch taller (like the Sprinter). The high roof is a full eight inches taller, giving ample headroom, even with an insulated, raised floor. The high roof is also about 100 lbs heavier and cost about $1000 more in the 148WB length. The center of gravity is higher since it raises the entire roof weight (plus any roof load added later, eg. solar panels). We decided that the medium roof was adequate for our needs. We especially wanted to keep the CG low since this will be an off-road vehicle. The medium roof may also handle better in winds and get better fuel economy but the differences may not be significant. The main compromise of the medium roof is that we will not be able to install a thick floor.
Three lengths available: 130” wheelbase, 148” wheelbase and 148” wheelbase with extended body. In order to preserve the off-road capabilities of our 4x4 van, we eliminated the extended body; the very long rear overhang is a problem at sharp transitions of grade. The 130” would have been the best choice for 4x4 but we wanted room for an extra row of seats and we wanted it to be comfortable for long-term living at some point. So we ended up with a medium roof / 148” wheelbase. This compromise aligned best with our use cases.
If you are not picky about options and like white, you can probably find a good deal either used or from last year’s dealer stock. We decided to do a custom order. If you are going to do a custom order, ask your dealer (or ask on the Transit USA Forum) for a copy of the “Order Guide” for your model year. Study it! Read the fine print. Some of the option dependencies are quite confusing. Soon will know more about it than many dealers!
Alpine Van Option Configuration
|Trim Option Type||Option||Order Code|
|Configuration||T150 (GVWR 8600), 148” WB Van, Passenger-side Sliding Door||E2C|
|Engine||3.5L EcoBoost V6||99G|
|Axle||3.73 Limited Slip||X7L|
Configuration: We already discussed the length and height. There are two other pieces of information here: sliding door and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). The other door options are: double sliding doors or 60⁄40 swinging doors. Most people choose the single slider.
The weight rating is interesting. The transit comes in a wide variety of weight ratings. As far as anyone I’ve spoken to can tell, the only difference is the rear springs. It cost nearly $1000 to get an extra 400 lbs capacity (9000 lb GVWR). Since the springs are easily upgraded later, we chose the 8600lb GVWR. Also, we plan to keep our build as light as possible. Only time will tell what the final weight will be.
Engine: As noted in a previous post, we wanted a gasoline engine because: a) it’s easier to find a place to service it and b) ULS diesel fuel is not available in many countries south of the US. We decided to go with the 3.5L Ecoboost, twin-turbo GDTI engine. This engine is widely used in the F150 pickup truck. It has more power than the 3.7L stock engine and super-flat torque across the RPM range. The turbo charging will also help at high altitude. Yes, that’s us passing you on the uphill near the top of the pass!
Transmission: Six-speed automatic is the only choice
Axle: If they offered a rear locking axle, we would have bought it. But they don’t, so we went with the limited slip differential for a bit of extra traction. The rear axle is offered in three ratios: 3.31, 3.73 and 4.10. The most common gearing for the 3.5L EcoBoost is 3.31. This is optimized for economy at highway speeds with stock tires. If you are towing or planning larger tires, you should probably go higher. The 4.10 may be a good choice if you are commonly towing heavy loads. But we wanted to preserve some fuel economy so we went with the 3.73. Even after upsizing the tires to 245/75R16 (about 9% larger than stock) we are turning less than 2000 RPM at 70 MPH. You can have fun comparing ratios with the awesome spreadsheet attached to this post on the Ford Transit USA Forum.
Color: It’s not white!
|Option Packages||Order Code|
|Premium Group (Van)||96J|
|Heavy Duty Trailer Tow||53B|
Premium Group: This includes: Interior Upgrade Package, Exterior Upgrade Package, Pewter Leather 10-way driver and front passengers seats. We wanted the fancy seats and cruise control as well as some other minor interior items. It turns out that the premium package was about the same price (slightly less) than all of the individual options that we wanted and it includes a bunch of other nice to haves (eg. cargo wall liners and floor which we intend to use initially). The lesson here is study the order guide and do the math. It may be less expensive to order a package.
Heavy Duty Trailer Tow: While we don’t immediately plan on towing a trailer, we added this package that includes trailer hitch, 4⁄7 pin wiring and tow/haul mode on the transmission. It’s nice to have it all wired and working from the factory. If you think that you may pull a trailer, you probably want this.
|Individual Options||Order Code|
|Heavy Duty Alternator||63C|
|Single AGM Battery||63X|
|Fixed Rear door glass and fixed cargo door glass||17B|
|Remote Keyless Entry Keypad||52C|
|Trailer Brake Controller||67D|
|Keys, 2 additional (4 total)||86F|
Heavy Duty Alternator: This one we were not sure about, but at the last minute we decided to go for the 250A alternator in case we add a winch or other heavy load later. Even if you don’t need 250A, you get higher current at lower RPM than the standard 150A alternator
Single AGM Battery: We decided to upgrade from the standard battery because AGMs are zero maintenance, perform better and last longer (at least on paper!). I declined to go with the double AGM because most of my loads will be on the house battery back and we did not want the extra weight.
Glass Options: There are several glass options, study the pictures in the order guide! Factory glass is a bargain compared to ordering it later.
Keyless Entry Keypad: With this, your “hide-a-key” can be inside the van.
Securilock PATS: This uses a an RFID chip in the key to enable the engine computer. Its an inexpensive and effective anti-theft feature.
Trailer Brake Controller: This complements the trailer tow package. You could add and aftermarket unit, but it’s nice to have all the wiring integrated at the factory.
Two additional keys: $75 now for two more keys or $150 each later at the dealer…you decide.
Those are our choices, yours may differ. But most importantly, take the time to think through your needs and to study the order guide carefully. If you do this before you get any price quotes, you can send the exact specs (including order codes) with your request for quote. This will make comparison shopping easier.