Great questions, and sounds like you’re in the right place for some epic outdoor adventures. I actually worked at the snowboard camps on Mt. Hood for a few summers about a decade ago, good times. However, I never made it over to the coast, even though these days I spend a lot of my free time in the ocean near the California/Oregon border. So, onto the part about the vans. First, Syncros are awesome, I’d love to have one of my own someday. However, you’re going to pay close to double what you’d be for a comparable 2wd camper or van. You can get a decent ’86 Westy for $10k – $15k, but the same condition and mileage in a Synrco will be $20k – $30k. Unless they Snycro has been very well maintained and cared for, working on the 4wd systems can be very expensive and time consuming.
If you budget is only $12k, you’re much better off finding a ’84 – ’87 well taken care of 2wd Westfalia. The years I would suggest are 1983.5 to 1991, which is the water cooled Vanagon. The price jumps for ’86 -> because of the larger motor, better cooling system, larger brake spindles, and some other things. I would never buy a Eurovan, they fetch a high price and very complicated to work on. They’re just a different beast all together.
Here is an 1985 Westy in your area that I think it priced a bit high, but might be worth checking out. $10k – $11k might be a good deal. With no odometer reading, but 255k on a rebuilt motor, it will likely need some work soon. They might have misstated, and there is 250k on the odometer, and the engine was rebuilt at some point.
Here are some basic questions to ask a seller, or things to do if you’re considering a van of this nature. I’m now realizing I should make a section on my site about this. This list could really be a miles long, but off the top of my head.
- Get the VIN and do a title history check. Does the mileage appear accurate? Has it ever lived in a state that uses significant salt on the roads?
- Has the van ever been to burning man? Playa dust can wreak havoc on electronics, metal, etc.
- When you drive the van around in town, stop and go style, how hot does it get? Does the temperature needle go above the little led bubble light? If there is a visible gap between the needle and the light (the needle is more than 2/3 the way up the gauge), it might be running a little hot.
- If you’re buying a van with a camper top that has metal tabs (like the Yakima wide body) for a roof rack, inspect the pop top for cracks near the tabs. These are a pain to install and sometimes people weigh them down too much.
- For $12k+, you can usually find a nice van with minimal rust. Check the seams, around the window seals and the undercarriage.
- Pay to have a compression test done on the engine.
- Try to find a really nice one for sale that is out of your price range. Offer the owner $50 if you can take it for a 5 mile test drive. Try to drive a few of them before you buy one.
- If you’re looking to do snow and sand, get a manual transmission. I’m just personally not a fan of automatics, but I’ve been driving manuals most of my life.
- Sign up for TheSamba.com forums and start reading up on vans, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The folks over there know WAY more about these vans than I do.
- If you’re looking to stay warm, check out getting a propex propane heater installed.
- If you’re going to driving in the snow, a nice set of chains would be a great idea. Before getting chains though, you might want to upgrade your tires and suspension. I’m personally thinking about getting this setup from GoWesty in the next year or so.
- While I’ve never seen or used one of these, GoWesty offers this positraction differential, which can also come with a locker.
I have a job where I can work remotely if I choose, another reason I love having my van. A suggestion for the remote worker, did you know you can buy Verizon Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans on eBay(if you don’t have one already)? I’ve had my unlimited plan for years and use it quite a bit when I’m on the road. If you live on the West Coast, it’s probably the best data plan you could have as a traveler. Tons of super fast LTE coverage in lots of locations.