Advice for a non USA buyer buying US diesel van?

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
I haven't been on here for years and years, but I hope that you folks will forgive me because I am after some help.

The situation is that I have been interested in getting an Econoline with a V8 diesel for about 18 years. Back then I forgot about it and bought a Peugeot 806 instead.

When our kids were small we did a lot of camping (I towed a caravan/trailer with our 806 HDI) but as they got older they got into more and more activities and it just became impossible to ever use it. In the end after paying storage fees for a whole year and not using it even once I sold the caravan. Living in London I have no where to keep it.

Now fast forward fifteen years. My kids are now all adults (or very nearly so) and my work situation has changed dramatically. Basically I can now work from anywhere in the world with a mobile phone signal (and I was able to long before Covid) and I get 30 days paid holiday every year. My wife and I are really free to just do whatever we want.

I would like to have a go at building a van, and my wife wants to have a holiday driving one about USA. I think that the obvious solution is for me to get something in USA and fly out a few weeks before. I would need to get the van just useable enough for the one trip. Then my wife could join me. We could do the trip and then at the end of the trip I put the van on a boat back to the UK and we fly home.

Why an Econoline? Basically I need something short but wide. I want a diesel because of the cost of fuel in mainland Europe. I want an automatic transmission because of my knee. I want something that can drive at highway speeds on European motorways. Also limited budget. One vehicle that would fit would be the current Peugeot Boxer (sold as the Ram Promaster in USA) but they only recently got a diesel automatic and they're really expensive. The best van is probably the Chevy Express Duramax but they are twice the price of an Econoline. I can get a standard length Econoline in my off road parking space (so no storage fees) but it is just about wide enough to get a bed sideways across the back. This is important because my wife absolutely insists on a proper mattress to sleep on. A think that a pair of 190cm x 75cm mattresses will fit and can fold into a sofa bench as well. There just is no reasonably priced van in the UK that is wide enough.

I was going to wait until nearer the time (Covid) but the thing is that a van in the exact spec I want is not easy to find in the budget that we want to spend, and I may have just found one. When you find these things you have to jump.

Basically I have found a southern state stolen recovered one with a missing catalytic converter with the status of "waiting for title". This could be perfect because there is no requirement to have a cat in the UK on a diesel, and I don't need it in a hurry (probably not until September or October).

So I have some questions.

What is the situation with "inspections" in the USA and what would happen if I put some straight pipe, or a silencer, where the cat is supposed to be. Are inspections annual in the USA or when you buy a vehicle or something? Are there states where a cat straight piped would be a problem and others not?

What is the situation with titles, insurance and road tax (do you have road tax in USA?). Can I as a Brit buy something and use it for a month and then not pay any more? What will it cost me? Do I have to pay for a whole year of whatever? What is minimum legal requirement to buy and drive a vehicle in USA?

Anyone paid for a vehicle inspection and bought a vehicle unseen? Is an inspection worth the paper it's written on or is it better to just risk it?

The problem is that the 6.0 is a tricky engine. If it has oil or fuel in the coolant, or smokes badly I would probably leave it. If it has a minor issue like a partially blocked oil cooler (common), sticky turbo vains, or slightly below par injection pressure, as long as it can be nursed around for a month it would be fine. I could baby it for the holiday and then tear it apart once it gets back to the UK. If I am going to pay for an inspection that I would want it to be done properly by someone who understands these engines.

My plan back in the UK would be to replace the oil cooler, fit a coolant filter and get rid of the EGR (totally legal here). If there is any evidence of low injection pressure I would fit new stand pipes and dummy plugs, and probably the loom that's inside the rocker cover as well. These vans look hard to work on but I could do it.
 

Mozambiquer

Vendor , w/Business number
Joined
Mar 21, 2015
Location
Versailles Missouri
TDI
1998 VW Jetta TDI. 1982 VW Rabbit pickup, 2001 VW Jetta TDI
I work on 6.0s a lot, and I've worked on a lot of Econoline vans with them. I would say avoid them like the plague. The van itself is good, but the 6.0 power stroke engine is bad enough in a pickup truck, but in a van, you have to remove the engine in order to do many of the common things, including glow plugs or injectors. Yes they're cheap, but you get what you pay for.
A 7.3 would be a lot better, though they are still difficult to work on, but don't fail as often.
 

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
I get that. I have done my research. I have a friend nearby with a workshop with a twin post lift. If I have to lift the body off I can, and I won't have to pay a mechanics time to do it. But it would need to drive around USA for one month without that support.

European vans are no better really, and petrol prices are £1.15 per litre in the UK, that's $5.9 US per US gallon.

European vans are also no fun.

the 6.0 got a very bad reputation in the early years but by 2005 they fixed a lot of the issues, and those that remain can be worked around, they also had a much better transmission than the ones in the 7.3.

Finally if it does spectacularly die I can always put a 5.9 in it. 5.9s are actually quite cheap here as they were fitted to a lot of cargo trucks. You can't just fit them in any van but my understanding is that a van that has (or had) a 6.0 is one of the easiest to do.

I would far rather get a rust free vehicle that needs some engine attention, or bullet proofing than a rusty vehicle with a great engine (which is what a 7.3 would be). In the UK climate once something rusts you can never recover, it just becomes a never ending problem.
 

Andyinchville1

Veteran Member
Joined
Apr 7, 2016
Location
Virginia
TDI
2003 Jetta TDI wagon, 5 sp, 226K miles
Hi

Too bad you didn't need something sooner ... I had a rust free econoline van with 7.3 diesel i recently sold.

I would be real paranoid about the 6.0 diesel but you seem ok with them knowing the issues .

Just curious, what is your budget?

As far as buying a van in the USA, if you are buying from a private person its generally very easy .... a stack of cash typically works....

A dealer may require more to do but maybe not but I'm not 100% sure on that since I don't normally buy from dealers and I'm a citizen and not a foreigner since that may complicate issues with paperwork at a dealership but then again it may depend on the dealer too.

As far as titling and getting license plates for the vehicle, due to covid (at least in Virginia) , you have to make an appointment online to do so so there could be a fair amount of delay there .

I don't know what Is involved with issues of not being a citizen may bring up ( or resident of the state for that matter).

As far as inspections for the vehicle, how hard they look at it really depends on where you bring it ... it can be easy or hard depending on where you go ...

Andrew
 

Andyinchville1

Veteran Member
Joined
Apr 7, 2016
Location
Virginia
TDI
2003 Jetta TDI wagon, 5 sp, 226K miles
Oh ... i just noticed in your post you have no issue popping in a 5.9 Cummins which got me to thinking about the 5.9 Cummins powered Freightliner step van I was selling but that is a little bigger ... well somewhat bigger ... than an econoline and goes back to budget etc....

Andrew
 

Mozambiquer

Vendor , w/Business number
Joined
Mar 21, 2015
Location
Versailles Missouri
TDI
1998 VW Jetta TDI. 1982 VW Rabbit pickup, 2001 VW Jetta TDI
the 6.0 got a very bad reputation in the early years but by 2005 they fixed a lot of the issues, and those that remain can be worked around, they also had a much better transmission than the ones in the 7.3.

Finally if it does spectacularly die I can always put a 5.9 in it. 5.9s are actually quite cheap here as they were fitted to a lot of cargo trucks. You can't just fit them in any van but my understanding is that a van that has (or had) a 6.0 is one of the easiest to do.
Actually that is a very common misconception that I hear a lot. I work on 6.0s very often, and no matter if it's a 2003-2004, or 2005-2010 they all have problems. Even "bulletproofing" does not prevent most of the problems they have. That only takes care of the egr cooler problem, not the cracking heads, turbochargers failing, heui system problems (hpop, oil rail seals etc) injectors that are prone to failure, cam lifter bearings that fall apart and ruin the oil pump... The list can go on. My recommendation would be to cummins swap right from the get go, or get a 7.3. your can actually get the Econoline with 4x4 as well. They're not as common, and will be more expensive, for sure.
I realize it's your choice, but I want it to be an educated one as to the risks of the six point blow engine...
As far as the other questions... What state would it be in? You'd have to contact someone in that specific state in regards to taxes, registration and etc, since each state has different laws on that. Same with the catalytic converter. In my state (Missouri) a diesel isn't required to have a catalytic converter to pass inspection, unless you're in saint Louis or saint Charles counties. Each other state has varying laws on those, again you'd have to contact the state you're going to.
 

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
Concerning cam followers, that's one issue I heard about which I haven't researched. They are a standard (and I suppose cheap) GM part aren't they?
But what do you have to remove to change them? Do the heads have to come off?
I know that if the heads crack that replacements are $2000.
 

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
I just did some quick calculations. The most reliable Econoline is the 4.6 right?
If I do 100,000 miles at current European fuel prices I think a 4.6 is going to burn through about 35,000 Euros worth of petrol. A 6.0 would burn about 22,500 Euros of diesel.
The question is then, would the 6.0 get through more than $15,000 in parts over 100,000 miles?

The other thing to consider is that any European diesel is absolutely covered in emissions control devices, with EGR, diesel cats and a DPF, and a weak front wheel drive automatic gearbox.
 

Mozambiquer

Vendor , w/Business number
Joined
Mar 21, 2015
Location
Versailles Missouri
TDI
1998 VW Jetta TDI. 1982 VW Rabbit pickup, 2001 VW Jetta TDI
I just did some quick calculations. The most reliable Econoline is the 4.6 right?
If I do 100,000 miles at current European fuel prices I think a 4.6 is going to burn through about 35,000 Euros worth of petrol. A 6.0 would burn about 22,500 Euros of diesel.
The question is then, would the 6.0 get through more than $15,000 in parts over 100,000 miles?

The other thing to consider is that any European diesel is absolutely covered in emissions control devices, with EGR, diesel cats and a DPF, and a weak front wheel drive automatic gearbox.
The cam followers require the heads to be pulled, and often the bearing needles will go through the low pressure pump, taking that out, which requires a new front cover, new lifters, then head gaskets and all other gaskets for that, which on an e series requires engine removal.
Often the cost on repairs to get a 6.0 to be at least somewhat reliable is $10-15k depending on the situation. I would assume that parts are not near as easy to get there in the UK?
I have had a couple of the 4.6 liters, though not in an e series. They are tough, but heavy on fuel and not super powerful. But I kinda like them, just from a reliability standpoint. I worked on one last week that had 330k miles and still runs great.
I'm a diesel mechanic though, and like them the best, but would recommend either a 7.3 or even the old Chevy 6.5 could be decent, but to some they're up there with the 6.0, just with less power.
 

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
Thanks for your replies Mozambiquer. I am quite a stubborn person which can make me come over as argumentative, however you clearly know what you are talking about. Even if I don't follow your advice at least my eyes will be wide open.

What do you think of the 6.6 Duramax? I haven't looked seriously at the Chevy Express and the diesels are rare and pricier.

I know everyone loves the 7.3 but the newest ones are twenty years old now, and to get one in the configuration I am looking for will be a unicorn vehicle. Most of them are really high mileages now and yes the engine can do it but the rest of the vehicle is going to be seriously worn.

Also I did some reading about the 6.0 cam followers. It seems that you have to separate the transmission to change them all as well as pulling the heads off. I read one theory that it is the only engine that requires that particular follower/lifter to open two valve springs. They were saying that they are the same part as in the 7.3 but in the 7.3 they only open one valve. It sounds like they pushed them too far on the 6.0.

Do you have an opinion on how long the followers/lifters can last before they need changing as preventative maintenance?

Do the needles drop into the sump and then get sucked into the oil pump that way? Is there no strainer on the oil pump to stop things like this getting into the pump?

In Europe it's not particularly uncommon for diesel engines to need total overhaul at 200,000 miles. I ran Peugeot XUD engines for half my adult life and they were considered a simple and tough engine, but I never got much beyond 200,000 miles from one before I the head bolts would stretch and exhaust valves would be wafer thin by then.
 

oilhammer

Certified Volkswagen Nut & Vendor
Joined
Dec 11, 2001
Location
outside St Louis (where it's safe)
TDI
There are just too many to list....
You'd have to have been dropped on your head to want a diesel E-van. Then you'd have to have been kicked in the head to want to ship one back to Europe.

Buy a Sprinter. Done.
 

christi

Top Post Dawg
Joined
Feb 22, 1999
Location
Ruislip, Middlesex, UK
TDI
Peugeot 806, 607
You'd have to have been dropped on your head to want a diesel E-van. Then you'd have to have been kicked in the head to want to ship one back to Europe.

Buy a Sprinter. Done.
Just to put my "head" into context.
I currently run and am restoring a forty five year old Peugeot 604. I have to make or repair body panels myself because they no longer exist. It has the same hated 2.7 PRV engine that you are probably familiar with from the Volvo 264 and Delorean's, the one that spits camshafts out for fun, and has the crazy untunable one small one big carburretors. There are less than ten left in the UK probably because there are only ten of us who can be bothered with them.
I also spent eighteen hours lying on back on my drive last January to change one of the turbos on my Jaguar XJ V6 diesel. You can't get to them from above because the heads are too near the inner wing, and from below all of the suspension, cross member, steering rack and engine mounts are in the way. You have to pull the cat off the back of the turbo and the power steering pump off the front of the engine and work through a kind of triangular cross section tube to get to it.
Years ago I dismantled a Peugeot gearbox and replaced one of the syncos and rebuilt it. I did this in my mother's utility room when she was on holiday.

If it is totally impossible to get a 6.0 reliable then fair enough, but if it can be done then I can probably do it.
 

Mozambiquer

Vendor , w/Business number
Joined
Mar 21, 2015
Location
Versailles Missouri
TDI
1998 VW Jetta TDI. 1982 VW Rabbit pickup, 2001 VW Jetta TDI
Thanks for your replies Mozambiquer. I am quite a stubborn person which can make me come over as argumentative, however you clearly know what you are talking about. Even if I don't follow your advice at least my eyes will be wide open.

What do you think of the 6.6 Duramax? I haven't looked seriously at the Chevy Express and the diesels are rare and pricier.

I know everyone loves the 7.3 but the newest ones are twenty years old now, and to get one in the configuration I am looking for will be a unicorn vehicle. Most of them are really high mileages now and yes the engine can do it but the rest of the vehicle is going to be seriously worn.

Also I did some reading about the 6.0 cam followers. It seems that you have to separate the transmission to change them all as well as pulling the heads off. I read one theory that it is the only engine that requires that particular follower/lifter to open two valve springs. They were saying that they are the same part as in the 7.3 but in the 7.3 they only open one valve. It sounds like they pushed them too far on the 6.0.

Do you have an opinion on how long the followers/lifters can last before they need changing as preventative maintenance?

Do the needles drop into the sump and then get sucked into the oil pump that way? Is there no strainer on the oil pump to stop things like this getting into the pump?

In Europe it's not particularly uncommon for diesel engines to need total overhaul at 200,000 miles. I ran Peugeot XUD engines for half my adult life and they were considered a simple and tough engine, but I never got much beyond 200,000 miles from one before I the head bolts would stretch and exhaust valves would be wafer thin by then.
So, I don't have a specific number on how long they last, sometimes they don't fail, sometimes they do randomly. As I understand correctly though, there is a passageway that takes oil directly from the camshaft area and dumps that into the oil pump without straining it, since there is also a strainer in the sump. It was a big design flaw which is one more strike against that engine.
The 6.6 Duramax is for sure a better engine than the 6.0, so long as it's not the LML (2011-2016) but I don't think they actually put that one into a van. (I could be wrong on that for sure)
We mostly work on Ford diesels, and heavy duty trucks, but we do work on the other ones as well, but we've got the local reputation for being able to work on the Fords. I've not done any engine work on a van chassis Duramax, I've worked on a few ambulances with the van chassis and Duramax, but never had to get into engine mechanical yet. I know that of the same era engines, you'll find many more duramax's and cummins with high miles that still run great. We had someone bring a 2008 chevrolet pickup with a Duramax and it had 850k miles and had never had any major engine work, and had just had transmission work for the first time. We were doing a safety inspection on it, not even working on it. I was a bit impressed.
We also have a customer with a 600k mile 6.7 cummins which still runs great.
 
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