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Discussion Starter #1
I have a chance to buy one of these that had a wheelchair lift (now removed) and has a raised roof, a van I think would be a good candidate for a camper buildout. It's a big van, long and tall and probably thirsty. Has a 360 with a blown head gasket but runs and drives (blows white smoke/steam) and the body appears to be sound with just a little rust on the side doors. I'll need to get on a creeper under it. Doing some research tells me it's the first year of the Third Generation B vans and fuel injected. Anything in particular to look out for?

Am I crazy to be considering this big van? I've done engine work before so the head gasket job itself doesn't scare me, but how's engine access for work like this? I've seen photos of van interiors with the doghouse removed.

I'm currently on the Minivan forum for my '05 Grand Caravan, but I'm not so much a Dodge guy as a useful-van type of guy. This one is cheap enough that it would give me almost the space of a Sprinter or Promaster for a tiny fraction of the price.

Thanks for the input!
 

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Remember that this is a 25 year-old vehicle and may be a constant nickel and dime eater. As an occasional camping vehicle, it may be fine.
If rust has started, make sure that the frame rail around the steering box is still solid. You will need to look underneath and the frame structure. Look for cracked leaf springs. Check for heavily rusted fuel and brake lines.
Do a service inventory. ATF condition? Radiator/heater core condition? Road test if possible.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks. We're seeing it again tomorrow. I had a look last time on a creeper and it looked like any normal vehicle bottom but now I know more particularly to look for. Very little rust that I saw. Our current camper is an '87 Vanagon so this long tall Dodge will be our bargain (we hope) highroof, to be built out for space and comfort. Nothing fancy. More info as we have it.
 

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Engine wise, yes, efi is always a good thing, if not a lot of miles, transmission is pretty good during this timeframe. Only other big ticket item then is brakes, which aren't that expensive, so the rust spot locations to look at and by this timeframe, rubber seals around windows and doors, not much else to go wrong with them.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
We did it. I got to the meetup a little early and crawled around some more. Undercarriage looked good and the steering box area was sound, as were the brake lines. Nice to be on a creeper and scoot around easily without hitting anything overhead. The seller only had it a few months and had put some bucks into it but the head gasket was the last straw for him. He decided to cut his losses and get rid of the van. Lucky (we hope) for us.

I felt much better after a short test drive around the 'hood. The billows of smoke were daunting but the van handled nicely, steered well and it felt composed and surprisingly smooth. Brakes felt strong. Rubber seals look a little sketchy and hardened. Seller said he bought it from a handicapped fellow who gave up driving because of his failing vision. That owner evidently bought the van with about 20,000 miles on it and drove very little over the years. Odometer is at about 63K now.

So, the plan is to have the van towed to our mechanic and let him repair it at his leisure. I could do the work myself but we have two substantial household projects underway and the van would be in the way of at least one of them and with the engine apart we'd be stuck until something got finished. We have a spacious garage and the van would actually fit in it nicely but, at nine feet tall, can't get in under the seven foot overhead door. By the time we get it back from our guy the other two jobs might be done and we can begin the buildout. More as it develops. Meanwhile, some eye candy...
Debbie1.JPG

Debbie2.JPG

Debbie3.JPG

Debbie4.JPG

Debbie5.JPG
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Big day today. We got it loaded up and towed home. This was a big [I should have my mouth washed out with soap for using such terms] load rolling down the road and the Dodge tow truck wasn't even breathing hard. Mechanic does not have space for it right now so it will reside here awaiting repair. I may tackle it if sufficiently provoked. I used to be able to do this stuff. Now to find a Haynes or Chilton manual and see what I've gotten myself into.

Debbie tow.JPG


Vanagon and Debbie.JPG
 

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Well, it is all pretty straight forward and in the van itself, it isn't as bad as doing it in the other brands with the doghouse removed and the front seats for a little extra maneuvering room (I do things like that when I started getting over the hill, room prevents soft body damage). One fun thing, given you are removing the heads for repair, is the disconnection of the fuel line itself, always fun getting those darn connectors. They take a bit of a special tool, which I find rarely work, so I take a smaller zip tie and push it sideways around the connector and can usually have them disconnected in seconds that way. Be sure to replace the belly pan gasket on the underside of the intake manifold, too.
This of course is based on if you decide to do this yourself. Most everything else is pretty much the same as the LA engine itself.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
First thing will be a compression check to determine which bank is involved. Seller said his mechanic diagnosed a head gasket but did not specify which side so I will need to determine that. I have tools and am willing to buy more but it sure would be nice if the van fit through the garage door. The space is tall, wide and deep enough for the Dodge and our current VW Westy fits under the header with a couple of inches of clearance, but I knew the danger of getting anything taller. As much as I hate the labor and expense of additional projects it might be worth my while to do garage surgery in order to accommodate the van; convert our 7'H x 16'W current opening to a 7'H narrow single next to a 10'H narrow single. For now it's just a dream, and the logistics of doing the job outside are kind of daunting but as long as it's "just" the head it should be doable.

garage%2520interior%2520from%2520northwest%2520corner.JPG
 

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I do have to admit, that looks like a wonderful project upgrade to a taller garage door entrance and really not that difficult to do, and a car lift so you can get under it would be a super wonderful addition, the double post lifts for a couple grand sure do beat the heck out of floor jacks and creepers.
 

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When I had a 1993 Dakota with the 3.9 V6 (the same design as your 5.9 engine, just missing two cylinders) there was no water leaking into the oil, it was just sucked into the cylinders and purged out the exhaust. Fortunately it wasn't bad enough to hydro-lock the engine. Once I started pulling the spark plugs, the plug on the affected cylinder was washed clean, then the cylinder behind it was similar. I pulled both heads, cleaned everything up, redid the valve stem seals and the intake belly pan gasket, slapped it all back together and ran it fine for 3 more years, about 20k miles, before selling it to my neighbor who kept it five more years.

I bought the truck off craigslist (I had a wrecked 1994 Dakota with a good engine). The previous owner's son ran the 1993 until it stopped running from overheating. I ended up not needing the 1994's engine.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I do have to admit, that looks like a wonderful project upgrade to a taller garage door entrance and really not that difficult to do, and a car lift so you can get under it would be a super wonderful addition, the double post lifts for a couple grand sure do beat the heck out of floor jacks and creepers.
During the five years we've lived here I've considered a lift and had previously thought of the high door to accommodate a Sprinter and at the time a tall vehicle was not visible over the distant horizon, but here we are. I should also say that the empty garage in the photo would not be recognizable today. It is totally full of crap, including a large storage platform I built above the door. A lot of stuff would need to be moved, dumped or sold to make space.

When I had a 1993 Dakota with the 3.9 V6 (the same design as your 5.9 engine, just missing two cylinders) there was no water leaking into the oil, it was just sucked into the cylinders and purged out the exhaust. Fortunately it wasn't bad enough to hydro-lock the engine. Once I started pulling the spark plugs, the plug on the affected cylinder was washed clean, then the cylinder behind it was similar. I pulled both heads, cleaned everything up, redid the valve stem seals and the intake belly pan gasket, slapped it all back together and ran it fine for 3 more years, about 20k miles, before selling it to my neighbor who kept it five more years.
Good information and very encouraging. I'm looking for a shop manual to guide me on this vehicle. Haynes is readily available, with Chilton (out of print but available used) and maybe even Mopar (ditto) so let me know your recommendations. And I've never had to deal with a doghouse before.
 

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Oops, I forgot while I had it all apart, I also replaced the timing chain and water pump.

I had both a Chiltons and the factory manual. The factory manual is the best. I used it for all the torque settings. Every now and then Chiltons had a better picture for a procedure so I liked that I had both. But factory manual if picking just one.Look for good deals on eBay on the manuals.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
The timing of the find also bugs me, not that the other projects would have permitted van time before now (and even some time into the future), but of course I find this thing just as cold weather is setting in. Guess I can always run a cord and set up a space heater or an oil-filled radiator in it while working, but that would not get much heat to the engine compartment. I just have to laugh at the irony of having that big garage, both heated and air conditioned, just sitting there with nothing better to do while I'm out in what I'll predict is our worst and longest winter in decades.
 

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The doghouse is nice because you can get to the back of the engine, most of the sides, and top of the engine very easily. Two bolts on the back, and a clamp on either side and you have really good access from the top so really pretty nice. The rest is pretty easy to get to from the front (brackets, accessories and hoses), and the seats removed makes it more roomy. Wiring on the engine, along with hoses and sensors are not bad compared to other brands (amazing really), and as far as shop manual goes, you can also get the Ram truck book, it's the same engine, torque specs and parts, the vans just moved some things (non-engine mostly) parts around to fit in the space.

I know what you mean about garages getting filled up. I built a nice 24X30 garage, and after getting three cars and parts into the garage, not as much room as I thought I would have. I have rafters, and it is filled with body panels and interior parts. After some arranging a couple weeks ago I was able to get a car inside to do some maintenance on and close the door with enough room to work under the hood with comfort. I'm hoping to actually start on one of my projects pretty soon, then I will have lots of room to actually work on the others one at a time.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Just another random question or two for now, since the van did not have its owner's manual and I'm finding conflicting specs online.

I found an online VIN decoder that appears to be correct from what I've seen on the van.

Would this B350 extended van have a 22 gallon fuel tank or the larger (is it 30 or is it 36?) one? With the gas gauge not reading correctly, the seller said he always filled up at 300 miles to be safe and this indicates respectable mileage if a 22 gallon tank but not so good with the larger one.

I expect I'll be distracted with my other chores for a while and the van is not due to be worked on for a few weeks, so I may not be here consistently. Thanks for the info and encouragement so far. I'll post more pix and details on the repairs and the camper progress as it happens.
 

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Hard to say what size tank it has in it, you would have to crawl under it and take some measurements to make sure. Hard to say what the mileage is, too, based on the 300 miles fill-up, also, because you didn't say how much gas he then put in it, he may have only filled the tank halfway, or, three quarters tank, so not a good measurement of mileage or size of the tank, more of a rule of thumb he set for himself. My Dakota is that way, too, it's the 22 gallon tank, and when the gas low light comes on, it fills up at about 14-15 gallons, so I know I still have almost two hours of driving before I start running on fumes, so kind of the same thing. Son-in-law runs out of gas when his gauge says just a hair under quarter tank. Go figure.
 

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There may be an equipment sticker that has that information either under the hood or inside the glove box. Otherwise you’d need a Dodge dealer to run the VIN and give you an equipment report. You may be able to get the report on your own in the owner section of dodge.com.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Hard to say what size tank it has in it, you would have to crawl under it and take some measurements to make sure. Hard to say what the mileage is, too, based on the 300 miles fill-up, also, because you didn't say how much gas he then put in it, he may have only filled the tank halfway, or, three quarters tank, so not a good measurement of mileage or size of the tank, more of a rule of thumb he set for himself.
He was pretty adamant about the 300 mile rule but was fuzzy on the number of gallons he put in at that rate. Seems like twice-weekly fillups would provide a consistent number that would stick in the brain, so he was most likely deliberately trying not to scare me away with a huge number. I'll measure the tank and do some calculations; I needed to do the same when I built my rainwater catchment system to figure drainage from the roof.

There may be an equipment sticker that has that information either under the hood or inside the glove box. Otherwise you’d need a Dodge dealer to run the VIN and give you an equipment report. You may be able to get the report on your own in the owner section of dodge.com.
Thanks! I'll check both of those. I'm sure the dealer would love to charge me for the privilege of finding out what I have. The van's white paint is a not-too-neat respray so any stickers might be covered.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Okay, finding out some stuff. While running errands in a little town north of us I found a Haynes manual at their AutoZone store and the Dodge dealer was kind enough to print off the build sheet for me. If I'm reading this thing correctly the van has the 360 MPI (multiport injection?) engine, the 4-speed automatic with lockup torque converter, 4.10 rear axle and a 35 gallon fuel tank among much else. Sounds like a mighty beast.
 

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OK, meaning she has fuel intjection, thus the Magnum engine with the barrel intake and all that. Given the 4.10 rear end, I wonder which rear end it really is, and whether or not you can find a set of 3.55 gears, as 3.90s aren't going to do much for highway cruising rpm drop for some additional mileage. Your tires don't look like they are any larger than a half ton truck, so not some larger tires to overcome or need of the 4.10 gears to offset rpm (if that makes any sense). The rear end itself (not sure if it is a Dana 60 or something smaller), to find a direct swap will be easy or not.
 
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