Updated May 2021: Oil consumption problem – read more about it here on our post about Problems with the Ram Promaster City.
We have done a good bit of road tripping over the last year in several different vehicles. From tent camping in a Toyota Matrix, RVing in a 1976 Toyota Chinook, and stealth camping in a 1998 Toyota 4 Runner, we’ve gone as far north as Canada on the east coast and as far west as the San Juan Islands in Washington. For a multitude of reasons (the Matrix is impractical for living out of and the other two vehicles died roadside mid-journey) we have recently invested in a new adventure mobile. Below we explain why we chose the Ram ProMaster City for van life!
About the Ram ProMaster City
Make / Model
Ram ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo Van (For such a compact vehicle it’s got a whopper of a name!)
2.4 Liter Tigershark MultiAir 1-4 Engine
9 Speed 948TE FWD Automatic Transmission
Bright white exterior/black interior
What makes it a Cargo Van?
The Tradesman Cargo version is completely empty in behind the front seats. No carpet, headliner, interior panels, or seats. It’s designed for working out of it. You can install shelves and drawers for tools and equipment, etc. This version was exactly what we wanted because we plan to live out of it for several months at a time. The van also does not have any rear windows. As they are it makes stealth camping much much easier and we welcome the added privacy it will give us. If at some point we want more visibility we can easily replace any of the metal panels with tinted glass.
Pros of the Ram ProMaster City
It’s a blank canvas
The cargo area makes it perfect for outfitting for van camping. We will be able to cook, sleep, and work out of this van. Our Chinook was similar in size to the ProMaster. The Chinook beat out the ProMaster City in one area: the top of the vehicle raised up so you could stand up to full height. It’s nice to be able to fully stretch out your legs after driving for longer spells.
Good Gas Mileage
The 4 cylinder transmission gives us the best opportunity for efficient gas mileage. At 21mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, we get an average of 24 mpg. Both the Chinook and 4Runner were gas guzzlers. In the last 2 months we have driven over 6,000 miles, so fuel economy really makes a big difference on our overall expenses.
Shape and Size
The near vertical side walls in the cargo area of the van allow for more comfort. No more feeling cramped and squished getting in or out of bed. And goodbye to the permanent forward head tilt when leaning against the side while trying to read, write or type. At roughly 17 feet, the ProMaster City is easy to parallel park and also has no problem going in or out of parking garages. (We would like to NEVER repeat the time we came up out of an underground parking garage in NYC to hear the entire roof of the Chinook scraping the roof beam of the garage.)
Up until this point we have done the majority of our travel either in a vehicle older than ourselves or close enough to it. We have lost an entire week to sitting at different mechanics waiting for our old cars to get fixed. This lead to a significant amount of stress worrying that at any point we might become stranded or held up again. The unreliability of our adventure mobiles affected the confidence we felt in driving into remote areas to explore. Not to mention, our pocketbooks and our financial planning. We can’t wait to get back on the road feeling sure footed and backed by a hefty warranty.
Update: Our battery died after two years. It was the original battery that came with the van that, come to find out, only had a 12,000 mile warranty on it and not a 6 year / 72 month warranty. We were pretty dismayed to have to shell out $191 for a new battery so soon after purchasing the vehicle new.
Cons of the Ram ProMaster City
We can’t stand up all the way.
At some point we may eventually upgrade to a vehicle that allows us to stand up all the way rather than stoop or crawl. Also it doesn’t have a bathroom or a sink. For now, we’re tickled pink with our new rig because it’s a huge upgrade from what we had previously been traveling in.
We’ve also had numerous problems with the Ram Promaster city engine burning oil.
The first time we realized we had a problem was summer 2019. (Our van was about 1.5 years old at this point with only about 55K miles on it.) We were in Canada on a months-long road trip and the tech changing our oil let us know. We were surprised as we weren’t overdue for an oil change and there wasn’t a light on our dash to indicate that we had a problem. We monitored our level closely after that and have found that at irregular intervals, we are burning about a quart of oil, sometimes more, before we are due for another oil change.
Once we returned home after our Canadian road trip, we decided to take our van to the dealer to see if they could help us with our oil problem. Long story short, after many appointments and two ‘tests’ we were told that our van was fine and that it did not have an oil consumption problem. We were not happy about this news since we had a new vehicle and were having to add oil, often more than 1 quart. According to the dealer, the dealer states that “the accepted rate of oil consumption for engines used in the vehicles listed above (our Ram Promaster city) is 1 quart (.946 liter) in 2,000 miles (3,200 km). The catch is that in order to pass this test you have to let your vehicle get dangerously low on oil. Why would anyone do that and risk damaging their vehicle? We ran into such a problem on a work trip, while we were under a test, and ended up adding oil.
In April 2020 we actually had our van turn off while we were in ‘Drive’. Luckily, it was as we were pulling into a driveway and there were no cars behind us. Otherwise it could have been really dangerous. We didn’t know what the problem was as there were no lights on the dash. A quick google search revealed that maybe we were low on oil and that the vehicle had gone into ‘limp’ mode. We’re not mechanics but we pulled into a parking lot about a mile away, popped the hood and sure enough, we were low by a quart and a half of oil. The thing is, we had an oil change just 1,300 miles ago.
In April 2021, we received a recall notice from Ram. It was related to the fuel consumption issue. We took our van in to start a test and were told to come back in 2,000 miles. Unfortunately we burned through almost a quart of oil and took it back. Ram said that they saw the consumption but we’d need to fail another test in order for them to do something. We’re headed out on a trip so we won’t be able to do this test until we return.
Very Difficult to Get a New Key
In addition to the oil consumption problem, we’ve also struggled to get a new key. In November 2019, I misplaced one of our two key fobs. It was one of the ones that came with the van. We wanted to have two in case something happened to the one while traveling and set out to replace it. Five months later and we still can’t get a key! We’ve been to two dealers, one of whom said it would be in in about a week (it never showed up until we had already moved on 6 weeks later and after numerous phone calls to inquire about it!). The other dealership ordered two different keys but each time we were told they weren’t “cut” correctly. So, another long story short, it’s been several months and we still don’t have a key. Meanwhile, they have charged us $131.61 for a key, which for a month and a half now, they still can’t get the correct key in and after four phone calls inquiring about this, we have received no follow up or solution in 6 weeks. We’re frustrated to say the least. We’re only sharing about this because it feels irresponsible to not do so.
Recap: Why We Chose the Ram ProMaster City for Van Life
We have a full-on obsession with VW vans (and adventure-mobiles in general). Caroline even had a ‘67 split window bus for a few years that served her quite well. Though we didn’t even consider a newer VW for our next camper van, we were thrilled to find a small company to buy our camper kit from that feels like a Volkswagen! Ian of Wayfarer Vans – Plug N Play Camper Van Kits has come up with two different kits to turn your cargo van into a camper van. His kits work for the ProMaster City Cargo Tradesman and the Promaster Cargo Van High Roof.
Have you outfitted your van with one of these kits? If so, what did you think? We’d love to hear from you and are excited to hear what you’ll think about our van conversion!
Update: We took our cargo van and turned it into a camper van with the Wayfarer Vans Kit! Come and see?! Also, to see what we’re bringing on our trip, check out our Van Life Essentials.
** A special thank you to Erin’s Mom and Dad who helped us shop around for this van, find the perfect one for us and also get a great deal. We love you both so much!!! Thanks for all of your support in our adventures.
Additional Resources for the Ram Promaster City Van