Combine a station wagon and a camper van?
March 6, 2019 7:58 PM   Subscribe

We've merged from being a two-car family into a one car family. Our small car + camper van strategy is now a single station wagon. This is not quite working. What vehicle would be the next best thing for us?

For years the missus and I maintained two vehicles, a VW Transporter plus a smaller car for use around town. The bus was very useful, great for hauling big items, we could sleep in it, go camping on long trips, all the usual things. Eventually, the extra maintenance costs for two cars and the lack of air bags in an older Transporter led to its sale (a sad day to be sure). Anyhoos, we now tootle around in a Volvo station wagon, our single vehicle.

This has a lot of utility. A station wagon has an extended rear cargo space useful in my partner's business as a weekend market artist, great for driving long distances plus is easy to use around town. The Volvo wagon has a good 6' of linear cargo space with the back seats down. We need that kind of space for doing business.

The wagon is not so great at hauling a couple of bales of hay, sleeping on the road, driving down dusty passes in the wilderness, or staying in a friend's driveway while traveling.

I'm looking for vehicles that combine the best aspects of a station wagon and a camper van.
Vans in general are kind of big vehicles to be wheeling around a city doing errands. Station wagons are great for city driving but aren't too hot at hauling big stuff or going camping or off road, at least ours is not of that pedigree.

Mini vans seem like good candidates but aren't camper vans. The interiors are bleak compared to the relative comfort of the Transporter interior, though I am comparing apples and oranges there.
The Mitsubishi Delica is a tough van, relatively small, but isn't produced in the US. I would be inclined to get one of those except the maintenance might be difficult with no local dealers or people familiar with the vehicle.
I've been looking at vehicles for awhile now and starting to get a bit blocked on the subject. Any ideas on this would be helpful.
posted by diode to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm looking for vehicles that combine the best aspects of a station wagon and a camper van.
Vans in general are kind of big vehicles to be wheeling around a city doing errands. Station wagons are great for city driving but aren't too hot at hauling big stuff or going camping or off road, at least ours is not of that pedigree.


This is basically the elevator pitch for SUVs. My stepfather, who has about the same use case as you, swears by his Land Rover LR4. He gets them a few years old and then drives the heck out of them. Maintenance costs are high, if that’s a concern.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:18 PM on March 6


A bit out there, but I wonder if what you might want is a compact commercial van, like a Transit Connect or a Nissan NV200.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:20 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


There’s a fella over on the next block who picked up a bare Mercedes Benz panel van (I know, not cheap) and all winter he’s been transforming it into a camper van; ikea cabinets, power outlets, the whole bit. Says he’s going to drive to Alaska in it this summer.

Maybe one of those smaller panel vans like mentioned above, but you kit it out yourself?

Or how about a used pickup with a campershell?
posted by notyou at 9:19 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I’ll be interested in these answers myself!
Perhaps a Honda Element? These are available as 4x4, but may be small for 2 adults to sleep in. Maybe with one of those roof-top tents?
posted by TDIpod at 9:31 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I have a Honda Element and it’s pretty great for these purposes. Great for moving furniture, two people can sleep comfortably inside (we built a plywood platform that we slap a foam mattress on top of, but people do lots of different things), but also still basically a car, not a van.

The major con to the Element, of course, is that they haven’t made them in years, and don’t think the interior is really any more comfortable than a minivan.
posted by mskyle at 4:08 AM on March 7


How much parking space/yard space do you have? If you have the room, one solution might be a smallish SUV that can handle the terrain you like to be able to handle, with a towing package and about 2,000 lbs towing capacity. That plus a small utility trailer for when you need to haul sheets of plywood or furniture, and a small pop-up camper for when you want a semi-comfortable camping experience. However, judicious use of a roof rack might be able to cover most of your local hauling needs and you can always rent a trailer at Home Depot for pretty cheap (I can fit 3 bales of hay in my Prius, but those are East Coast 2-string bales).
posted by drlith at 5:30 AM on March 7


The wagon is not so great at hauling a couple of bales of hay, sleeping on the road, driving down dusty passes in the wilderness, or staying in a friend's driveway while traveling.

This sounds like you should consider a 4wd SUV or pickup with a rooftop tent. There are a bunch of manufacturers, but they all look pretty much like these and these. Sometimes people leave them on the vehicle all the time to have it always ready for camping, or you can pull it on and off the roofrack as needed.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:22 AM on March 7


I went down this rabbit hole a few years back and came back to the idea that renting a truck, van, or SUV the times we needed it and keeping our primary car a tiny car made way more sense for us. It's also fun because we can rent things that were immensely impractical as every day cars.
posted by advicepig at 6:32 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]


Have you perused #vanlife on Youtube? It tends to sprawl not just across van conversions but RVs, travel trailers, teardrops and Scamps and A-frames and pop-ups and truck toppers. It's a hell of a rabbithole, but it might help you figure out what all the options are and what does/doesn't appeal to you.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:04 AM on March 7


My next car will be a Prius, RAV4, or Highlander Hybrid. Great mileage, Toyota reliability. Priuses are hatchbacks, able to haul a surprising amount of stuff. The Highlander and RAV4 can pull a trailer, but be really conservative about the weight, small trailer for hay bales, yard waste would be okay.

Toyota Hybrids are excellent for camping because they will keep the temp stable running off the battery, and you can run 12v stuff or use an inverter with ease off the storage battery, leaving the starter battery charged. Other hybrids are not set up to run anything off the storage battery.

I went on an extended Road Trip in a Honda minivan with the middle seats removed and it was mostly a pleasure to camp in, especially after I made a tent extension to fit over the liftback. That provided lots of fresh air, and a nice place to cook, or just hang out. But keeping my phone and laptop charged was a constant struggle, and I had to be super careful about using 12v cooking tools, even just the immersion heater (hella dangerous but useful). I finally got a solar panel to resolve the issue. The 3rd seat folds down, so it has tons of storage, but can still set 5 if needed. Minivans may be un-cool, but easy to drive, good sound, safety features of a car, roof rack.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


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