A Great Moto-Hauler That Won't Break the Bank - Part 1

Jim Williams
by Jim Williams

Finding the right vehicle for the job

Looking for a new moto-hauler but don’t like the idea of shelling-out $35-50 large? There’s a great option out there as long as you’re not hell-bent on having a brand-new vehicle. Ford has been selling the new-style Transit Van in Europe and other markets for a while now, but it only came to the U.S. in 2015. To be clear, we’re talking about the full-size Transit Van, not the Transit Connect. The Connect is the mini-van style and not really suitable as a moto-hauler.

Each year, literally thousands of lightly used Transit cargo vans get turned over by the likes of U-Haul, rental car companies, and other fleet-based operations. For about $20,000 you can get your hands on a nearly-new van that still has 12-24 months of the factory powertrain warranty in effect, and most of these vehicles only have 10-20k miles on them. Best of all, it’s not just a regional phenomenon; these vans are available all across the U.S. in significant numbers. For moto heads like us, it’s a veritable goldmine of inexpensive moto-haulers and stealthy little campers. As equipped, the 2016 T-250 I bought had an original sticker price from Ford of around $35,000. That’s some pretty hefty savings, more than enough to put a new motocrosser or dual-sporter in the back.

a great moto hauler that won t break the bank part 1, Bone stock and ready for a little moto carrying love
Bone stock and ready for a little moto-carrying love.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, a few disclaimers up front. This article focuses on the standard wheelbase (denoted as “SWB” in ads), low-roof Transit T-250 cargo van. Why? Because in my search and ultimate purchase, I found that this model comprises about 80-90% of the pre-owned units available for sale. Longer and taller units are available, but you’ll pay a significant premium for them. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the SWB, low-roof model is fine for up to three bikes, three people and gear. We’ll talk about where to find them at the end of the story, so let’s get into the fun stuff.

I don’t know if the purchasing manager at U-Haul is a moto guy, but the way these vans are equipped, you’d certainly think so. For me, the van I bought was pretty much the way I would have ordered it from the factory. Fortunately, I found that other fleet companies often purchase the same basic equipment package as U-Haul, so you’re not limited to a single resource. Color choice is wide and varied, as long as you like white.

If you have your heart set on the 3.5L Eco-boost turbo, fughettaboutit. All of these vans have the normally aspirated 3.7L V6 “Flex-Fuel” engine, a proven, 24-valve configuration with very respectable power and torque specs. Comparing against the older 4.6L V8 (which was standard fare in the preceding Econoline E250 series), the new 3.7L yields 275 hp vs. 225 for the 4.6L V8 and 250 lbs/ft of torque at 4,000 rpm vs. 286 @ 3,500 rpm for the V8. Pretty impressive, given that it’s a full liter smaller than the V8. Acceleration is improved at 8.0 sec vs. 9.6 seconds for 0-60 mph, thanks in large part to the fact that the Transit is about 400 lbs. lighter than the comparable E250. In my experience, gas mileage is better at a reliable 17-18 mpg, and with the 25-gallon gas tank, it has a range of over 400 miles.

a great moto hauler that won t break the bank part 1, The engine is packed neatly under the hood instead of in the cabin like in the bad old days
The engine is packed neatly under the hood instead of in the cabin like in the bad old days.

The V6 is coupled with a really cool 6-speed, hybrid shift automatic tranny, which is a fancy way of saying you can shift it manually if you want to. The vast majority of these fleet units do not come equipped with Ford’s optional Tow-Haul feature, but frankly, any moto guy worth his salt shouldn’t need it. If you haven’t figured out when to shift your motorcycle for optimum performance and longevity, you have bigger problems. In reality, the primary thing the Tow-Haul feature does is simply alter the shift points (typically higher rpm) vs. the standard shift settings. It also provides some engine braking when going downhill, but again, you can manage that with some thoughtful and prudent down-shifting when needed. The rear axle ratio of 3.73 is a good all-around compromise for good towing and decent highway speeds at moderate rpms.

My towing needs are modest with a ski boat at about 3500 lbs and a small camper at 1500-2000 pounds. A friend of mine tows his ’57 Chevy on a trailer to car shows and has been very happy with the standard V6. But make no mistake, if you’re used to a big diesel truck with 400-600 lbs of torque, you just better stick with that set up or save your nickels for a new van with the turbo.

As for the goodies and gadgets, these vans come “nicely equipped” with air conditioning, power windows & door locks, tinted windows, tilt & telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, 4-wheel ABS with disk brakes all-around, traction & stability control, air bags everywhere, hill-start assist, intermittent wipers, AM/FM stereo with MP3 input, cloth seats w/driver’s lumbar, dual 12v power ports up front, and about a million cup holders and bins. As I mentioned earlier, my van was equipped pretty darn close to the way I would have ordered it from the factory, right down to a nice array of killer cargo/tie-down hooks. One feature I didn’t think I would need but have come to appreciate is the rear back-up camera. It’s handy for hooking up the trailer solo and has done wonders for my relationship, if you know what I mean!

If the aforementioned level of equipment sounds like what you want, here’s a little hint for you: Look for vehicles that have the pretty hub caps on them. This is generally a clue that the van has things like cruise control and the other items above. The vans with very basic steel wheels are generally the ultra-baseline models and lack many of the key amenities. Also, if the U-Haul package is attractive to you, look for the big steel running boards along the sides. These are unique to U-Haul vans. I actually removed them because I regard them as “shin-busters.” But some people might actually like them especially if they plan to do a lot of off-roading where they may provide extra protection.

a great moto hauler that won t break the bank part 1, Relive those glorious days of yore
Relive those glorious days of yore.

I’ve heard some people wax nostalgic for the old “stabbin’ cabins” of yesteryear. They say those vans had the space and true truck feel that we, as macho moto-men just gotta have. Well, as one who has owned a few of those good ‘ol stabbin’ cabins including a Dodge B-300 Tradesman and a Ford E-350 Club Wagon, I say: “Good riddance!” IMHO, the drivability and general handling manners of this new Transit are so vastly superior to prior generations of our beloved rolling boxes that you couldn’t pay me to go back to the old days. With its unibody construction vs. body-on-frame architecture of the old vans, it steers quicker, rides nicer, and feels a whole lot more car-like than any van I’ve ever owned. Out of the box, it’s also quieter than the comparable E250.

From a styling perspective, I like the fact that the Transit looks more than just a little bit like a tiny space shuttle. After all, part of the appeal in owning a van is having your own private escape pod to take you to far-away places, right?

a great moto hauler that won t break the bank part 1, The modern accommodations of the Transit keep the doghouse outside where it belongs
The modern accommodations of the Transit keep the doghouse outside where it belongs.

Other nuances I’ve come to enjoy vs. the older styles include: Almost no “doghouse” (engine cover) protruding into the cockpit area, a lower step height at the rear of the van for easier loading/unloading of bikes, and significantly greater width of the cargo area at handlebar height. The older vans tended to be more contoured toward the roof line whereas the new Transit is more boxy. While that generally isn’t a flattering term when it comes to automotive descriptors, if you’re a moto guy, it’s like saying “My new bike is 100 lbs lighter than my last one!” The extra width provides a lot more room for your bikes and allows more space in the middle for gear bags, ramps, camping stuff, gas jugs, etc. In addition, the door opening at the rear is about 6” wider vs. the Econoline. That may not sound like much if you’ve never had a van before, but trust me, it’s a BIG difference. It’s actually easier to load three bikes in this short wheelbase Transit than it was in my extended E350 Club Wagon. Overall interior height of the cargo area is about the same as it was in the E350 with a slight edge in favor of the Transit. For you spec-a-holics out there, total cargo space in the T-250 Transit vs. the comparable Econoline E250 is 247 cubic feet vs. 230.

Where can I get one, Jim?!

Since the full-size Transits are relatively new to the U.S. market, availability from private parties is almost nil. And compared with passenger cars and pickups, vans tend to be a thinly-traded commodity. So, where do you find one of these nifty moto vans? I had great luck on CarGurus.com. The site is really fast and allows search by radius and a host of specs you can choose.

The vans from U-Haul and others are generally sold at big wholesale auctions to franchised dealerships and independent car lots. I opted for one I found at a Ford dealership which came with Ford’s “Certified Pre-Owned” warranty and provides 7-years/100k miles on the powertrain and 12-month bumper-to-bumper coverage. Virtually all dealers will offer to sell you an extended warranty if desired, but do your homework and decide if it’s worth the extra money. As I mentioned earlier, many of these Transits still have a good bit of time left on the powertrain warranty anyway.

One word of caution: Beware of aftermarket “security systems” installed on any used vehicle. They’re generally cheap junk and installed quick & dirty style at a cost of about $50-75 to the dealer. The dealer then tries to charge you as much as $750 to “activate” the system at purchase. It’s a slick way for the dealer to add some easy margin to the deal, but the stock OEM Ford security system is more than adequate. What’s more, most of these systems are installed using those horrible splicing connectors that basically cut directly into the wiring harness. If the dealer tries to tell you it’s part of the deal, consider saying ‘no thanks’ and move on to the next one. On that point, be sure you get TWO keys with the van. I looked at several units where one key had gone missing, and these smart key replacements from a dealer can run anywhere from $150-250 each.

a great moto hauler that won t break the bank part 1, While the T 250 can carry bikes perfectly well in stock form wait until you see how much better a modified one can do it in the next installment
While the T-250 can carry bikes perfectly well in stock form, wait until you see how much better a modified one can do it in the next installment.

In Part II of this story, I’ll go into detail about how I outfitted the van for moto hauling, towing, and insulated it for a quieter ride and occasional camping. In the meantime, if you’re thinking this might be a good option for you but still aren’t quite sure, go rent one for a day at any U-Haul store. For only about $20 bucks a day plus mileage, you can rent a late model T-250 and simply drive it around… just don’t tell any of your friends that need help moving that day!

Join the conversation
5 of 21 comments
  • Kos Kos on Apr 11, 2018

    Great article. Looking forward to Part 2!

    I've been rocking a Sprinter since 2007, and I think it will go for another 10 years. Two rows of seats and 3 bikes in the back. Love it!

    • See 1 previous
    • Kos Kos on Apr 28, 2018

      144 wheelbase (shortest in the "new" version) and regular roof. And there is ample room behind the rear wheel of a KTM 250 XC-F. It's not any kind of squeeze at all.

      FWIW, it's exactly 8 feet tall, so fits in a standard garage door.

  • Shaun M Shaun M on Apr 13, 2018

    I love the idea of a van but if I ever got one for hauling a bike, I'd want a sealed cabin so I don't have to breath fumes from bike. Its not a big deal on short hauls to local track but long hauls out of state could be problematic. In 2nd installment, would love to see how you store / haul fuel.

    • Kos Kos on Apr 28, 2018

      I can't say I notice any fumes, though I've got a modern, FI bike. I do, however, haul gas in a steel safety can with spring-hinged cap. Nothing gets out of that sucker!