Home » Back-To-Work Vans: 2009 Ford Econoline vs 1985 Dodge Ram 250

Back-To-Work Vans: 2009 Ford Econoline vs 1985 Dodge Ram 250

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Good morning, Autopians! It’s Tuesday, even though it feels like a Monday. I hope everyone’s three-day weekend was a good one. How was the race? I was too busy doing landscaping work around the house to watch. But then, I think Emerson Fittipaldi won the last time I watched it all the way through, so it’s been a while.

Today, since everyone is going back to work I thought we’d look at some work vans. But let’s wrap up last week first:

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Exactly as I expected. I hope the new owner of that Mercedes appreciates the incredible deal they got.

Now: They’re big. They’re white. They’re usually laden down with ladders or pipes strapped to roof racks, emblazoned with company logos and phone numbers, and far too often driven with reckless abandon. They’re the unsung heroes of the construction trades, putting in the hours day in and day out, with no respect and very little maintenance. They’re work vans, and today we’re going to take a good close look at a couple of them.

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2009 Ford Econoline – $2,450

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.4 liter V8, 4 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Roselle, IL

Odometer reading: 274,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but has a misfire

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The Ford E-series van has been the answer to so many questions for so many people for so many years, it’s hard to imagine the American vehicular landscape without it. Need a contractor’s van? Ford Econoline. Have twelve kids to shuttle to church camp? Ford Econoline. Have a band and need to haul your gear? Ford Econoline.

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This particular Econoline is the 250 model, rated for a 3/4 ton payload. This is important when you start loading it down with ladder racks and built-in tool chests and portable welding rigs and whatever else you need to do what needs to be done. Gotta leave some weight capacity for building materials.

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This van has all the right stuff: a ladder rack, a safety bulkhead (so that your job doesn’t smack you in the back of the skull in the event of a crash or a hard stop), a built-in cabinet, and what looks like a big power inverter attached to the bulkhead.  The driver’s seat is worn out, but apart from that the front compartment looks all right. It’s all dull gray plastic anyway, which almost looks better scuffed up.

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Mechanically, it does need a little help. The 5.4 liter “Triton” V8 runs, but has a misfire, or maybe two. Expect to pull the doghouse and check out some ignition components. But it isn’t too rusty (by Midwest standards), so it’s probably worth fixing up, even at 274,000 miles.

1985 Dodge Ram 250 – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: V8 of unspecified displacement (5.2 or 5.9 liter), 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Bothell, WA

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Odometer reading: 152,000 miles

Runs/drives? Just fine

Work vans have looked pretty much the same for a long time. This Dodge is more than two decades older than the Econoline, but from a distance, in the dark, you could easily confuse the two. If it ain’t broke, as they say…

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[Editor’s Note: Can we agree that those little circular headlights in the square housing give this van an eager, maybe even surprised look that is somehow just charming? -DT]

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This 1985 model Dodge van sits right about in the middle of a 32 year production run, with a couple of restyles that stayed more or less the same underneath. The ad doesn’t specify which V8 engine it has, but during this time it would have been Chrysler’s LA small-block, in either the 318 or 360 cubic inch size, backed by a good old Torqueflite 3 speed automatic. It’s a good reliable combination, and the seller says this one runs well.

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This van is a bit more barren in back than the Ford, though it does have the safety bulkhead. It has windows, which are sometimes a detriment in a work van. It’s harder to hide tools and equipment, and it’s nearly impossible to install anything along the walls. It also has a sliding door and side interior trim panels, leading me to believe that this might have started life as a passenger van.

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Also note the presence of a control that has long since vanished from cars: a floor-mounted headlight dimmer switch (the little silver thingy next to the brake pedal). I’m not sure when these disappeared, but this would have been a late one.

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I’m not really supposed to play favorites, I suppose, but I really like this van. It’s scruffy and beat-up in exactly the right ways, and I always liked the styling of this era Dodge van anyway.

But as always, the decision is not mine, but rather yours. Which will it be: modern-ish fully-decked-out van in need of a little TLC, or battered DIY workhorse?

Quiz maker

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James Mitchell
James Mitchell
2 years ago

Why do I get the feeling the seat of the Ford looks like that because ten years of accumulated farts suddenly reached critical mass and exploded.
Oh, the humanity…..

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
2 years ago

The Ford is realistically a much better choice for an actual work van but the Dodge is more interesting so I’m going with that one

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
2 years ago

If I’m buying it to actually work.. the Ford. If I’m buying it to own.. Dodge all day!

Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
2 years ago

If I were in the market for a white work van in that price range, the Ford would be my pick. Since it’s a work van, it needs to look respectable, and the Dodge is just beat-up. And I’m not afraid of the misfire. The seat and engine would be a single junkyard trip to remedy, at worst. And I’m not gonna enjoy trying to make anything from the mid-80s pass smog.

Fruit Snack
Fruit Snack
2 years ago

Driving a van like that without windows is absolutely horrible. Changing lanes, turning sharp corners, everything is a blind spot even with those special mirrors. And that Ford interior looks beaten to hell. We have E250’s from 2002 that aren’t a fraction of looking that abused.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
2 years ago

Just depends on what you are going to do with it. If you have a business, and need a van, the Ford is the way to go all day long. If you are looking to build a camper, maybe get the Dodge. You can address all the problems with the Ford, and be done with it for awhile. The Dodge is going to be questionable even with some work, because there are just so many age-related things that are on the brink, and even if it is easy to work on, you will be constantly fiddling with it and losing money with it sitting if dependent on it to haul stuff for work.

Tacofan
Tacofan
2 years ago

The dodge looks less like a free candy van with the windows. The lack of misfire is also nice so I’ll throw my vote behind that one.

Sklooner
Sklooner
2 years ago

I learned to drive in the 78 verson of the Dodge and had a motorhome on that chassis, but I also used Econolines as work trucks for a few years. I have to give the Dodge my vote as it is closer to my heart but the Ford is probably better- unless the engine is shot

10001010
10001010
2 years ago

“Misfires” are such a nebulous thing. The cause could be something as simple as a worn plug wire to a real PiTA like a sticking exhaust valve. Really rolling the dice on that Ford.

Sklooner
Sklooner
2 years ago
Reply to  10001010

Or the plugs are shot and broken off in the head

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
2 years ago

Ford. Even though steering every Econoline I’ve ever driven is more like pointing it at the horizon and constantly correcting it as it drifts.

A better seat for the Ford is in pretty much every junkyard. Nothing short of a full restoration will make the Dodge’s cabin less depressing, and this example isn’t worth that kind of effort.

A3pownot
A3pownot
2 years ago

Unless I had no business being seen by anyone, I’d choose the Econoline. However it seems fair that Dodge’s price was adjusted to $2,000.

MP81
MP81
2 years ago

My dad had a ’98 E-150 as his work van for over a decade (with the 4.2L V6 – something that van never should have ever come with), so I am obligated to go with the E-250 out of sentiment.

VanGuy
VanGuy
2 years ago
Reply to  MP81

Just reading that displacement and configuration always makes me shudder. Mine had the 4.6 and always sounded like it was struggling on hills (even though it never actually gave me trouble). I can’t imagine how THAT engine would do/sound.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
2 years ago

I would pick the Ford. With a little effort, it could be a great stealth camper. Do an RV conversion on the inside, but leave the outside as-is, or maybe add the logo of a fake plumbing company. You could park it anywhere.

While I like the Dodge, it has too much of a “free candy” vibe for an RV conversion. If you parked this on a random street, the police would be there in minutes.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 years ago

Ford. Too many windows on that Dodge. Would be a nightmare trying to keep victims hidden.

Forrest Devine
Forrest Devine
2 years ago

Oh boy, do me and work vans have a long relationship. While my current job has no need for one, I would gladly go all kinds of #vanlife with that Dodge.

05LGT
05LGT
2 years ago

Dodge. I’d rather not have windows, but I have lots of good LA upgrade parts around so ….

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
2 years ago

Dodge, if only to recreate the Possum Van.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 years ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

I had to look that up.

Damn, now I want a Possum Van.

David Smith
David Smith
2 years ago

Gotta go Ford. You can’t have windows on a work van, at least not where my business’s work vans go. It’s not ease of breaking into either. It’s not letting crooks see if there’s anything good to steal.

Frodo
Frodo
2 years ago

That Econoline is of the 2 piece plug vintage yes? screw that nonsense. I’ve done plugs on one of those once and that was enough. At one point both my dad and I were pulling on a 1/2″ breaker bar trying to break a plug loose.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
2 years ago
Reply to  Frodo

If I remember correctly the first generation of Triton heads had spark plugs that stuck and broke off while the following generation overcorrected and ended up spitting plugs. Not sure if they ever worked that out or said “Fuck it” and concentrated on the turbo V6.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 years ago

Perhaps some emotion, as this morning my trusty E150 sailed off after 4 years of wonderful adventures. That design is so ancient it is incredibly easy to fix, modify, and research (except for everything suggesting F150 info…). That 5.4 may be worn at this point, but any junkyard has a dozen for under $500, and the doghouse makes it a pretty easy swap, if you can get the frame lifted high enough. Also, you may survive a crash in it, unlike the dodge.

But, I want the Dodge for the headlight dimmer switch alone!

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
2 years ago

If there’s absolutely no electrical problems, Dodge, period. But only if it has not a single electrical problem and no fuckery in the harness. The electrics may be simple, but they are goddamn temperamental and quite literally will disintegrate before your eyes. You’ll fix a simple short in a tail light and take out the headlight switch.
But this one as an ’85 D150 will have a 2bbl carbureted 318 probably with an A727. If it’s got a wheezy 4bbl, it’s a 360. But these things will run till the end of time and then some.

Ford with a 5.4 3v and a misfire? Do I REALLY need to say anything at all? It’s a fucking Ford 5.4 3v with a spark problem. An engine where changing the plugs on a good day involves multiple heli-coil kits. Where ‘spark plug repair kit’ is the first Google search suggestion. I’ve already said more than needs said.

05LGT
05LGT
2 years ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

I’d go Dodge either way, but I can confirm after many hours down the jumpering rabbit hole that old Mopar harnesses are all Demons, no matter what chassis they’re in.

Also, WHO KEEPS BUNDLING fusible links into the wiring harness on used Mopar harnesses?

KillinTime
KillinTime
2 years ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Doesn’t the 5.4 also have the phaser issue?
For pure nostalgia, my pick is the Dodge.

Mantis Toboggan, MD
Mantis Toboggan, MD
2 years ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

Having replaced half the wiring harness on a Dodge van of similar age and having sold a Ford van because I wasn’t going to attempt changing the plugs again I can confirm all of the above. Also neither one resists corrosion well at all. Had a sway bar bracket break off on the Dodge and it took a chunk of the rail with it. That was the end of the line for that one.

Root
Root
2 years ago

I don’t have a use case for a big white van, but somehow feel like side windows would be nice (you can always tint them). I vote Dodge.

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
2 years ago
Reply to  Root

Walk up to the tinted window at night, press a flashlight to the glass, turn it on, see everything. Then smash the glass, take what you want, and scarper. Windows have no place on a work van.

Evan Finn
Evan Finn
2 years ago

for work? econoline, as long as the misfire isnt a loose roller follwer. those little fuckers come loose and it will grenade the whole goddamn engine. otherwise its worth patching up that V8 (and the front seat) for the extra dough. better safety equipment (lol not much, admittedly), can mount stuff on the walls, definitely a nicer roof rack.

Derek Miller
Derek Miller
2 years ago

I’m going for the Ford. Without seeking any data to validate my generally held opinion; I’m going to guess after a tune up, the Ford is going to have generously more power, slightly better fuel economy and if running a business it gives the appearance of having a fleet which may be between 8 and 14 years old vs looking like a member of the wet bandits.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
2 years ago
Reply to  Derek Miller

Wet Bandits! Hahahaha! Beaut!

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
2 years ago
Reply to  Derek Miller

I would love to buy the dodge, set up a home security business and commit fully to the wet bandits look. Tack a few ornaments to the dash, make fingerless gloves part of the company uniform…

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
2 years ago

Both vans are old designs, as the Ford dates back to 1975

The Ram has more street cred tho and even JDM popularity “Dajiban” yo

The Ford is newer, and the power inverter is a plus too.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
2 years ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

I chose the Dodge because of one word: “Dajiban.” Imagine pulling up to an SCCA autocross event in a van like that? Mad, loud fun.

Anthony Henderson
Anthony Henderson
2 years ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

I’ve pulled up to many SCCA events in both! The Dodge was identical, with a 318, but the Ford is an E350 7.3 diesel, because I got a bigger trailer. Power difference aside, the Ford is a much nicer interior to spend time in and has been bulletproof, although the factory 6-disc changers have been taking my CDs hostage.

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