In the Sprinter/Promaster/Transit craze, low roof cargo vans don’t get a lot of love as a choice for vanlife. When we were shopping for our van, we heavily considered a high roof van, they are spacious, you can stand in them, and there is plenty of space for storage. Many people were surprised when we came home with a low roof Chevy Express. We weighed many options and in the end, we decided the Chevy Express was the van for us. As low roof van owners, we love our vans clearance, price point, reliability, stability on the road, and the fact that we are pushed to live out of our van.
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Having lower clearance helps you out in so many situations, our van clocks in at 7’7″ with our roof rack and solar panels. Some National Forest roads, especially the more isolated ones, are not maintained and branches aren’t trimmed. We can’t count the number of roads we have gone down that we wouldn’t have been able to get down in a high roof without majorly sawing limbs. We love staying in isolated spots and the further you can go in your vehicle, the more opportunities that open up. We may someday want to ship our van internationally. You end up paying more for a shipping container for your vehicle the taller it is. Additionally, you pay more on ferries the taller your vehicle is. We took a ferry in Washington that charged more for vehicles over 8′ tall. We are also able to fit in most parking garages which makes us feel more secure when we park in big cities. You can also go through a drive through (sometimes you just need a Wendy’s Frosty stat!).
Low roof cargo vans have a lower price point to begin with. Additionally the material to build the van is cheaper as you have less surface area to cover. It is also much more affordable to service a Chevy than a Sprinter. We were able to hit the road sooner because we didn’t need to save up for a more expensive van. This also allowed us to get a newer van with more amenities. Our van has cruise control, power windows, a rear locking differential and an alarm system.
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We drove several vans when we were searching for the one. In comparing all the vans, the Chevy Express felt like a finished passenger vehicle rather than a cargo van. Our Chevy has a 6.0 L L96 motor. It is an absolute beast, we feel comfortable pushing our limits in where we can camp and explore. Chevy does not make a high roof cargo van so a low roof is your only option if you want to go GM. We could have converted our van to a pop top or built an after market raised roof, however we didn’t want the stress of worrying about leaks in our van.
Having less height means your vehicle is going to be more stable. A low roof van has a lower center of gravity meaning it is more maneuverable, more stable on the road, and catch less windage. A high roof van has more surface area to catch wind from the side and has a higher center of gravity making it feel more “tippy”.
Depending on what you add to your van, a low roof van is generally stealthier than a high roof van. As a low roof van, you can sometimes pass as a work truck. When we were choosing a van, we put a high value on stealth. After being on the road, we realize stealth factor is not as much of a priority. We have since added bikes to the back of our van which is a dead give away. Additionally, we feel that a cop knows how to identify a vanlifer whether you are stealth or not. We prefer to get a better night sleep and just camp where it is legal.
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Pushes You to Live Out of the Van
We chose to pursue vanlife in part because we wanted to get closer to nature. Having a low roof van definitely pushes us to get out more. Most days we don’t want to sit around in our van, we want to be out exploring. We also opted to have a portable stove to save counter space, this allows us to cook outside which is something we prefer anyways. Having less living space indoors means we want to have our doors open to the outside world. We do have less space when it is rainy and we are cooped up inside with the doors shut, thankfully those days have been few and far between. On the rare occasion that it is rainy all day where we are, we find that the low roof van actually feels pretty cozy rather than claustrophobic.
Would we like to be able to stand in our rig? Sure. But that small amount of comfort does not outweigh all the advantages we see to owning a low roof van. Only you know what van would be right for you. It’s important to sit down and explore all your wants and goals before deciding on a van to build out. For us, building out a low roof van checked many of our boxes, we have been more than happy with our Chevy Express! What do you think? Are you a low roof or high roof person? Let us know! Be sure to subscribe for more vanlife content and travel inspiration!
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