Astros or Safaris are probably too small for a guy and three DOGS(might be pups now..but later..) It's crowded with two people.
I had a 2001 Ford E series 3/4 ton(cargo model with "operable" side window in the slider door and rear ones) with the Triton V8(from 2008-2020?) which are quite popular with the working class and still got about the same mileage on the road as Astros and Safaris..say 15-18MPG on Hwys and that extra 2-3 feet of length gives you a lot more room.
There are lots of those vans out there.The 2001 didn't change up until something like 2015? or so...but the changes were minor like Ford emblem,license plate placement and putting in crappier plastic bins and shelves inside,so the other works remained the same so there are lots of parts available out there,and pretty universal fit or change for those years.
I bought mine from a contractor friend and I took him to pick up his new one,driving his old one,then mine..around 2015?..so we compared them sitting side by side.We liked the 2001 better for interior quality METAL cabinet/shelves parts..and one can't really tell them apart outside unless you owned the two,and they were about 14 years apart! He gave me his new bumpers and bought chrome ones for his.I stuck with my old rear one,just painted it to match..because it had the step/hitch and easier to get in and out of that way.The metal cabinets held more weight and not as bulky inside.
The Triton 5.4 engine has a system of 8 coils and fuel injectors,one above each cylinder..and the recommended spark plug change is at 100K!..shows you the longevity of those engines. Maintenance isues/space can be as tight as Astros around the engines requiring extensions with spark plugs 4" down inside with Injectors and Coils right over the plugs,easy to change out the Is and Cs.Don't expect to do much less swearing in that aspect..just less often.From 77K to 135K,I only changed the plugs once overall but had some codes that drove me nuts until I changed 1 spark plug to a hotter one..and the problem was solved. You kind of have to figure coils,injectors,O2 sensors are $50 each but the OBD2 codes are usually pretty specific to the cylinder/problem.,,and most are easy to get to and replace..without having to jack up the vehicle;lots more room and clearance under there
The walls are straighter so they are easier to finish out inside,mostly just with plywood sheets over insulation.. and most are used for construction(contractors,plumbing,electrical,remodelers,and the carpet lay-ers with that longer version yet(need a separate bathroom?)..Overall mpg might be down on those longer extended ones(?) and more bottom end wear from packing more weight) are usually bare when you get them..if all the cabinets are removed;or easy to remove and reassemble in different layouts if you want only some inside,more room in A/S in the medium/common length.. I finished mine out inside around the cabinets using the white "Abiti"(?) board.a kind of waterproof hardboard coated with a white hardwood surface.The panel areas have an indent at just the right depth for that and self tapper screws to make the side walls flat inside..easy!
The price here in the Pacific Northwest with somewhat the same climate as yours and RWD runs about $8-12K,but the new ones now are about $30-40K and probably not much different other than the newer body style "added parts".4x4 used are $20K and up.. and hard to find,lower mpg,etc..
I was going to convert my Ford for camping but it was stolen a year ago last Christmas..but I paid $8K back in 2008 and the insurance paid out $12.5K for the van with 135k Milers on it in really good cosmetic condition.Most last like Astros and don't need much for 200/300K.
You can tow most larger things with it..more than an Astro.
I've built a camper out of my Extended Astro,but things are really tight just as a weekend camper for two of us at 5-7 and 5-0.Dogs would end up in your face or lap in a shorter vehicle like an Astro.Having even a couple extra feet for length would have made a huge difference in storage(we have minimal),sleeping areas(eating and sleeping means having to change layout for each activity.
Some Astros have rear vents in odd places like right where you want to build in a cabinet and just inside the rear doors(you can't sit on a bench there without hitting your head for the first foot inside the door,,if it has rear Heat/AC.like in my newer 2004.
Those year Ford vans are more reliable overall,not finicky about things like fuel pumps,countless sensors/grounds,etc.. and you can get parts in just about any smaller town because the vehicles are well used all over from farming to city vehicles.It seems like 95% are "white" and therefore the exterior parts are "prepainted" 😁when you need one... the right color.
Just things to think about! If I was in your position..I'd consider looking into them.I went "Astro" because I'm retired and needed a van only a few times still to carry larger things after the Ford 250 Econoline was stolen..but live near Seattle where parking can be tight(or in ridiculously small spaces) and I needed to work on my 1990 one also..so the engines are the same between my two and the parts/problems are similar,if not the same.. I owned an '86 Astro previously so knew what to expect also as far as problems with them
My Ford..I wouldn't have thought twice about going across the country with it(I knew it well!)..and back. My Astros..I'll carry as many extra parts and sensors as I can.
Okay guys..I'm not putting down A/S(I own them also!)..but in this person's shoes,pets,mechanic-a-bility,..it might be a better option for him..
Sorry about the long post..