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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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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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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...
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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.

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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.

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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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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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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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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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Discussion Starter · #21 ·
Mine has 245/75R16s all around. Since it needs new rubber I was going to ask about running taller tires on the rear to help improve mileage. I know of at least one Vanagon guy doing this, and a guy in the 'hood with a Ford E350 has taller rears, 285s, I think. I'll have to ask him how that affects his mileage. Build sheet says 200mm rear axle, but that's all the detail that's available until I crawl underneath and look for ID tags or markings. If the stock rear end is okay I'm unlikely to consider a gearing swap unless the fuel mileage is abysmal (pleeeease, no).

I did measure the fuel tank and it is the larger one.

The van has a large space behind the tank and ahead of the rear bumper. I'll have to see about mounting a spare tire there instead of the interior mount that is stock in order to free up space for the camper build.
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 · (Edited)
Did some field work today since the driveway work got rained out. Went by a small bike co-op in town to speak with the owner, who has a stock-roof '02 B350. I wanted to pick his brain about the vans. He loves his, having owned it for about two years after having a Ford van and he's also planning a camper conversion. He much prefers the Dodge for ride and handling, although he says it is thirsty. Oh well, good to know there's a higher-geared rear axle available somewhere. If my van gets 16 MPG on the highway I'll be satisfied. Our Vanagon barely does better than that.

I did some more measuring and calculated that the Vanagon would hold about one cord of wood behind the front seats while the big Dodge would hold almost three. That's a huge interior volume difference.

I also hit a nearby junkyard that turns out to have about eight Dodges; a couple of my vintage ('94 and '96) plus some earlier ones and some later and most of them maxivans. Not too much of interest for me since everything is already too damaged or beat up or missing. No owner's manual to be found. One interesting item I saw is an accessory console thing that bolts onto the doghouse and has cupholders, cubbies and drawers in it. Might be worth grabbing one of those if I can find one that is not sprayed some awful color or cracked and chipped beyond usefulness.

The '94 may have something I can use. On mine the gas gauge stays on empty, according to the seller, and the temp gauge is pegged at H all the time. If the temp problem is in the gauge I can probably salvage the one from the junkyard, while I expect the gas gauge sender to be the issue there but I'll grab the unit since it contains both.

Junkyards are sad places if you let them get to you. One of those vans was severely caved in on the left front and the airbag deployed. I don't see how the driver could have escaped uninjured but I hope he did.
 

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Discussion Starter · #26 ·
...but given the cost to buy and swap either gears or the whole rear end you can buy a lot of gas.
That was sort of how we decided on buying this instead of one of the newer highroof vans. Lots of money not spent on a newer van that could be spent propelling this one. Back to the driveway tomorrow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 ·
Pulled the doghouse today to assess the underhood situation and prepare for a compression test. Man, it looks busy in there. Sprayed PB Blaster on all pertinent fasteners for my benefit (or the mechanic's) when surgery begins. I want to keep it in running condition until I'm sure which way we're going here in case it needs to move under its own power before work begins. At that point it will be stuck in place until the work is completed.

I also hit another junkyard that had not one single full-size Dodge van. Wow, I remember the place differently. Took the opportunity to look for some pieces for the Grand Caravan, then it was home to work on the driveway all afternoon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
Temp gauge pegged at H at all times.
 

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Discussion Starter · #34 ·
I had already seen and read that B-Series van column and found it very informative. Thanks. I'm also interested in hunting down the aftermarket upfitter of the handicap accessories, especially the distinctive high roof. I've seen the Fiberine website but this top does not look exactly like that company's offerings. I'm interested in the top construction and wiring with an eye toward future mods; the roof has several lights along the top of each side of the roof walls just below the ceiling.
 

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Discussion Starter · #35 ·
Seeking info on the highroof I contacted Fiberine to see if they recognized this roof. They said it is not one of theirs and that they do not know who might have made it. Seems like they would know competitors' products also, but I guess I'll have to keep searching.
 

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Discussion Starter · #36 ·
Well, when it rains it just freakin' pours. Here's a second '94 Dodge B350 maxivan with highroof for sale in the area. This one looks like it has tall side doors and normal rear doors, the reverse of the one I bought, but it also probably does not have the head gasket problem mine does although I do prefer the shape of this roof to the one on my van. I'm not going to call about it because if the roof is the same height as mine and permits standing up I might just go nuts and buy it.

94 dodge van (at https://richmond.craigslist.org/cto/d/94-dodge-van/6737771900.html )

94 dodge van - $1500 (Richmond)




1994 Dodge van

fuel: gas
title status: clean
transmission: automatic

1994 dodge van with power washing equipment tank ,pressure washer etc. runs great call or text me @ show contact info
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
Still seeking info on the roof manufacturer or conversion company, I spotted a van locally with a similar roof but a different door configuration. This one is at a nearby hospital and I will follow up with that facility but first I contacted Braun, whose sticker is on that van. I have not heard back yet but hope someone with the company will recognize the roof/conversion from the photos I sent. Meanwhile, not much progress on the big white van due to ongoing projects and weather. I should be ready to get started on it right when the really cold weather hits.
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