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Old 12-12-2013, 11:32 AM   #1
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Need Advice about upgrading old van

I have not been happy with my choices of new tow vehicle, so we're thinking about hanging onto our mighty van a bit longer, and upgrading it a little. It is a 95 Ford E150 Passenger Van, and it has an aftermarket airbag suspension in the back (installed by the first owner), and a non-locking rear end. The van has 175k on it, but we've taken good care of it over the years and it really hasn't given us any problems so I think it should have many years left in it.

We're thinking of having the airbags removed and having the stock springs put back in, because the rear-end ride has always been very stiff. The first owner was a volkswagon shop and they used the van as a parts runner, so I guess they needed the extra support in the rear.

Also thinking of having the rear end switched to a locking rear end. Hopefully that will correct the problem of it getting stuck when it has one wheel in the mud. At the same time we could see about picking a better gear for towing. I assume the rear end is a standard ford truck rear end that should give us some options for gearing.

Does anyone know if these sound like feasable things to do, or how much it might cost?
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Old 12-12-2013, 11:47 AM   #2
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Going back to springs and putting a higher-ratio locking or limited-slip diff should be easy to do. You'll need to change the speedometer gear in the transmission to get accurate readings for speed and mileage if you change the gearing.

I wouldn't consider a truck that didn't at least have a limited-slip diff, it's not as capable as 4WD but it's a big improvement over an open diff.
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Old 12-12-2013, 12:01 PM   #3
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IME, changing rear ends is generally quite pricey. Removing the airbags should be cheap.
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Old 12-12-2013, 01:19 PM   #4
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We ran Ford 250 window vans for years. Blew through two of them at 135,000 each. We switched to a Chevy crewcab dually and found the handling a lot more stable. When wife drove, she was always worried when the bow wave off a passing truck would push the rig around. No problems now. The van had a lot more flat side area that reacts to the wind.
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Old 12-12-2013, 01:36 PM   #5
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We ran Ford 250 window vans for years. Blew through two of them at 135,000 each. We switched to a Chevy crewcab dually and found the handling a lot more stable. When wife drove, she was always worried when the bow wave off a passing truck would push the rig around. No problems now. The van had a lot more flat side area that reacts to the wind.
Another major difference in the change you made was from Ford's Twin I-Beam to the independent front suspension of the Chevy. Twin I-Beam was probably a huge step forward for trucks... in 1965. The Econoline kept using it long after they got wise in the pickup line.
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Old 12-12-2013, 04:06 PM   #6
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Just my thoughts on the matter, but I would think really hard about sinking any money in a coming up to 20 year old vehicle with 175 thousand miles on it. Especially one with a gas engine.
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Old 12-12-2013, 04:42 PM   #7
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Just my thoughts on the matter, but I would think really hard about sinking any money in a coming up to 20 year old vehicle with 175 thousand miles on it. Especially one with a gas engine.
Yeah, but my other options seem to be sinking $20k+ into something else that will tow, and even that will already have significant miles on it, since most vehicles that are suitable are $30k+ new.

My justification for keeping the van would be that even if the van tranny went out, or the engine needed a rebuild, it couldn't cost anywhere near $20k. And I already know how it has been maintained and not abused for the last ten years while we have owned it.

I appreciate the insight though, because I really feel like I'm in a hard spot to figure out what to do. The thought has also occurred to me that the travel trailer lifestyle is just too much for my budget. Buying a vehicle that is significantly bigger than we need for any other purpose just so we can enjoy the luxury of taking our trailer out a few times a year seems like quite a splurge.
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Old 12-12-2013, 04:50 PM   #8
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Stephanie,

If your avatar and info is correct, it really doesn't take much of a tow vehicle for a 17 footer. You may be able get by with a much less expensive vehicle, and use it as your daily driver also.

As an example, I also own a 17' Casita, and regularly tow it with an '07 Toyota FJ Cruiser with a 4L V6, and it does the job well. I also use it as my "around town car", and it regularly gets 20 MPG doing that job.

Just more info for you to mull over.
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Old 12-12-2013, 05:05 PM   #9
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Steph-
You seem to have a little trailer.. There are a lot of Calif rust-free late 90's/early 00's Chevy Tahoe's/GMC Yukon's or Ford Expeditions around with towing pkgs and low miles that can be had for less than $10K.. They make great tow vehicles for smaller trailers... Not as much passenger or cargo room as the van, but close... Also more comfortable and stable to drive...
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Old 12-12-2013, 09:48 PM   #10
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Steph-
You seem to have a little trailer.. There are a lot of Calif rust-free late 90's/early 00's Chevy Tahoe's/GMC Yukon's or Ford Expeditions around with towing pkgs and low miles that can be had for less than $10K..
If I upgrade to something newer I'd want to get a '07 at least, something about five years old, hopefully 50k or so on it, but I can't see spending a bunch of money on something that already has 100k, and that seems to be all I'm finding in my price range. We've checked out a bunch of small SUVs and I just haven't been very confident any of them could do as good a job pulling the trailer, and there haven't been any we were thrilled with the idea of driving the rest of the time. I'm just having a hard time finding a replacement for the big van. It has been a stable and reliable tow vehicle for ten years now. Still shopping though. Just not very happy with what we're finding.
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Old 12-12-2013, 10:46 PM   #11
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Normally air bags are in addition to the stock springs. If you deflate them it is the same as taking them off. But you can always pump them up to carry a heavy load if you have to.

If you need new tires, by going one size smaller you have the same effect as lowering your gear ratio. Like if you have 70 series tires get the same size, but 60 series.

As for the limited slip diff it would probably cost about $500 installed.

A very good thing to make an old vehicle ride and handle like new, in addition to new tires, is to get new heavy duty shocks and a front end alignment. You will be surprised how much nicer it rides and handles. The old shocks may not be leaking, and may seem to be working ok but they lose their effectiveness after 25000 miles or so.
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Old 12-12-2013, 11:42 PM   #12
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Thanks for those tips
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Old 12-13-2013, 06:46 PM   #13
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If all you are towing is a 17 foot Caravelle I doubt you need lower gearing, helper springs or even a load distributing hitch.
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Old 12-13-2013, 07:01 PM   #14
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No, I agree. The lower gearing might be nice to help it get on up the hills. I don't want helper springs, I actually want to return it to stock, because a previous owner installed the airbags.

We tow on the ball with a friction sway control. The light tongue barely weighs down the back end of the van.

We're going car shopping again this weekend, still not sure if we'll be replacing or upgrading the old van. Just keeping all my options open.
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