Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby Vander [OP] » January 5th 2021, 11:43pm

It seems there is a drought of AWD Safaris/Astros out there. I'm looking to buy an AWD cargo van, and from what I'm seeing, I have 2 main options:

1. Buy a van that has recently been overhauled - newer engine and transmission - for about $5k - $6k.
2. Buy a van that has no current problems (usually around 180k miles) for about $1.0k - $2k, and then put the 4k difference aside and get it overhauled when it starts having issues. Is $4k enough to account for most unforeseen problems?

What is the cost-point where it just isn't worth fixing? The already-fixed-up ones seem to be fairly pricy compared to the ones that will likely have problems in the near future.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby Rod's Trucks » January 6th 2021, 8:09am

That is a very tough question.
I am a relatively new Astro owner, but a long time gear head/auto shop owner/mechanic/diagnostician.
I guess, if I was going to buy an Astro/Safari that would likely need potential work ( 200K and unknown history), I would definitely have a reliable mechanic check it out. That might cost you $100 or more, but it should provide some insight and comfort, knowing there was no obvious problem lurking to rear it's ugly head around the next corner.
That advice would go to anyone buying a used vehicle, even with very low miles on it.
And have them look hard for any signs of rust. Rust may not be expected in California, but the car may have recently come from Minnesota or the New England states ( sorry NE guys, but you know about RUST more than me).
Rust is not the end of the world, but you definitely want to know where it exists, and what rust repairs may cost, before purchasing any vehicle. It is also a very good way to get a price reduction, if an owner is at all willing to deal.
If purchasing any older used vehicle, you should plan for the unexpected. Have to plan for a major engine repair/replacement or a transmission overhaul. If you are comfortable covering those potential costs, you should be in good shape. There are always lots of little things that can go wrong, that can eat into the equation.
If you spend $2000 on a van with unknown history, and and have to put a motor or a transmission in it in the next year or two, it may more or less balances out. If you have to both in two years, it is not such good of a deal, and you will ha spent more than on the $5-$6 K vehicle; but at that point the likelihood of another major expense should go down significantly.
There is no guarantee the $5k-$6K vehicle with under 100K on the clock will be good for another 100k, without major repairs. If it was well maintained, the it is very likely to go much more than that, but most used vehicles do not come with much in the way of records. You also have to be careful with paperwork records, apparently showing work done.
I owned a busy foreign car shop, many years ago.
A regular customer came in with a very nice looking foreign sedan , that he had recently purchased for his high school kid. It looked great for one with 150K on it. "It had been owned by the sellers grand-mother"
It had developed a small engine knock that I was to check out.
The oil was thick like heavy syrup ( almost like straight STP additive). The car had no oil pressure gauge, but the new owners kid said he had seen the oil light flash a couple of times and had asked his dad to see what that meant.
With that oil in the motor, we measured less than 15psi oil pressure at a low road speed, and it was not up to operating temperature. Our gauge went to nearly zero withing a few minutes and the knocking was obvious.
Upon pronouncing significant engine problem, the owner produced a stack of receipts from the previous owner showing a list of motor overhaul parts; among other things rod bearings, main bearings and 16 lifters a timing gear and set and a timing chain( this motor used a cog timing belt) . The paperwork purported to show the parts the previous owner had installed when he 'rebuilt' the motor.
This was a 4 cylinder motor with an overhead cam, so there should have been no lifters and no timing chain.
A quick call to a parts house to check part number applications, showed the part numbers matched with an early Chevrolet V-8 .
I was called into court to testify as to how I did the diagnosis and what I we found when we opened up the motor. It had apparently been run out of oil, and had wiped the rod bearings.

Back to your original question:
I would probably go with the higher mileage, but much lower cost van, assuming a thorough inspection reveals no major problems; and be prepared for cost of the the unexpected failure, and to get your hands dirty if you are the type to give it a try.
Please know you will get a lot of support here. The Astro/Safari knowledge base shown by the members here is unbelievable. The willingness to to share that knowledge is a huge help to us all who are relatively new to Astro/Safari ownership.

The previous owner was forced , by the court)to either buy the car back ( still disassembled) or to pay 75% of the motor repair cost.
The new owner found another car for is kid.
Rod J
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby chevymaher » January 6th 2021, 12:33pm

These are all your calls. Nobody can make them for you. You will not find a cheaper no matter what you got to put into it, to maintain vehicle. Once they are right they last forever.

Rust is the only issue. Make sure it has none. So you have a good base to work with.

180 thousand mile van that is unhurt. will with proper care last you twice that mileage.

Motors are dirt cheap. It is a hassle but worth it. I got a crate motor for 1500 bucks love it. On the other hand i had a warentee replacement in the boat on another motor. So I had to do it twice. But it was worth it. Both were marine engines.

So is the extra cost worth not having to do work. Only you can answer that.

I have spent about 4 grand on mine in 20 years. New paint 2 motors 2 rear ends. Mine had a rough life before I got it. and after. Seems it had a bullseye on it. Totaled 4X.

I still drive it every single day.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby AstroOafAdventurer » January 6th 2021, 1:55pm

Yeah, agree with above. Plus there is no blanket answer, you really need to assess on a case by case basis, You may find something other than fits into 1 or 2.
When you're talking vans this old, there's a lot of things to consider to weigh pros & cons aside from what you've mentioned that may make the van a good option or a give it a pass.
Plus, for cost point of worth for fixing, are you paying or DIYing?
That will be a big factor...
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby markmitch » January 6th 2021, 3:33pm

depends on both you and what state you are in. I grew up in Maine but now live in California. If I were to buy one here -no brainer but to find a decent one in Maine or close by probably not so good due to rust as Chevymaher said. If your willing to travel to get one without rust then that would be a decent idea.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby tungtide » January 6th 2021, 4:22pm

I found Astro about 3 years back. Fell in love with the AWD and had to have one. I now have two. One low miles from Indiana pretty rust free. I gave 5 k for that one. Some think that’s high, but they don’t make them anymore. I bought a cheap one from Ohio and it’s a rust bucket. I use this one for parts/learning. If I had it to do over I would pay the big bucks for a west coaster. Dealers have found out there is a group of people who want these units and have really bumped up the price. New vehicles are expensive and they rust out quickly. It’s up to you. COPPERFIREMIST just sold his van for around 9 k v-8 already done I almost bought it. I think the price on that van was cheap. ( hard to convince the wife I need three ) This site has a lot of people posting random vans for sale so you get a lot of eyes all over the country looking out for you. My next one will not matter the miles just the rust. Engines and transmission can be replaced. Food for thought is at 20 years of age no matter the miles things need replaced. Another consideration should be that an Astro with 20 grand in it would need special insurance to be covered properly. They book at 3800.00 here in Kentucky. I personally just gamble and carry regular insurance. This may change when I get done with my van. ( it’s always the other guy who hits you ) my 2 cents buy a rust free and do everything at once.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby AlpineVan » January 6th 2021, 4:54pm

As with all car finances, its best to buy someone else's depreciation. I've learned this the hard way, after building a 5-figure autocross car, and finding I could have bought someone else's nearly done project for $4k. And that was with my own (free) labor!

I believe that lesson is universal to all kinds of automotive builds, and it doesn't really matter to the particulars of the Astro/Safari platform. For you, especially if you're paying someone else to perform the labor, I just think will be cheaper to find an already overhauled van.

Two caveats:
1. The market. Right now, used auto prices are high across the board. Since new auto production has been low this year, and demand hasn't gone down to match. I also believe van prices in particular are severely inflated right now, due to trending #vanlifer's. Paying $12k for a non-overhauled Astro (yes, I've seen them on marketplace) is just asking to get kicked in the nuts with depreciation.
2. Do you WANT to or ENJOY fixing up cars? Then that's a great argument to buy a cheaper van to overhaul it yourself.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby 90safari » January 6th 2021, 7:28pm

This is a tough one. Randy's right, in that you want rust free, and once they are right, they are like that for a long time. Since you want AWD or 4WD, you're in a niche market, and will need to find almost exactly what you want right from the get go, or you won't be happy (you could always do a stent, or a Mark M and build what you want too). Some on here have been looking for a certain van that they either want to build exactly what they want, or to just use for their given purpose.
In my case, I've had a couple of Astro's over the years (all 2WD and shorties), starting with an 85 Astro cargo van that needed an engine and trans (was bought that way). I put a V8 in it, and drove it for several years only replacing what I had to on it. Eventually it suffered from serious rust, and had to be put down. Next was an 86 window van that I traded labor for (got it for my wife). It didn't really need much for the first year or 2, but eventually it lost oil pressure and an engine (while sitting at a traffic light). I put in a "long block" and she drove it daily for another 3 years or so, until rust ate a good portion of it away (we live in the salt belt). We had my dad look for a clean Texas van, and found one that needed an engine (had a rod knock) for 420 bucks. This one was a 90 GMC, that looked exactly like the Chevy it was replacing. I swapped the engines out, and my wife drove it (we called it the bus) for at least 5 years until it needed a trans, which I pulled, and got rebuilt, and re-installed, and the van was back in service (we still have it, but it's being used for dry storage due to rust). In the mean time, I replaced my cargo van with an 88 Astro window van that I got cheap from Texas (the AC didn't work). I've had it ever since, but don't drive it in the winter, which is why it looks good still (no rust). I've replaced the trans in it, along with the engine over the years, but then I've used it to move my son twice, and went to western Missouri to tow a car home. In my case, I use my van for work, and hauling stuff. Like I said at the beginning, you have to decide what you want it for. Some want to build a camper, others want to haul people or trailers, and some just want a reliable work van.
Another thing that will be a deciding factor, is whether or not you have a place to work on it? Or whether you're paying someone to work on it.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby Vander [OP] » January 6th 2021, 8:09pm

Wow, I really appreciate all of the help, and honestly I wasn't even looking out for rust.

I would 100% be paying a mechanic for any work done.

I'm of 2 minds still: on one hand, if the engine has recently been replaced with another used engine, there's no guarantee it won't need replacing a second time in the near future. On the other hand, I don't want to buy a van without any work done and have its issues pop on me on a long trip out in the boonies.

The two I'm looking at currently says it has a "newer" engine and transmission, so I'm assuming it was replaced with used ones. It's going for $4800. Another one for $6k that says they have $6k worth of receipts for repairs over the past couple of years.

Also, just because a van looks decent and has low miles (~100k) doesn't seem like much comfort since I'm hearing people need to replace their well-maintained engines at 75k-100k miles anyway.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby AstroWill » January 6th 2021, 10:07pm

It really comes down to condition for me, mileage doesn't matter as much as being well maintained and rust free.

I have seen brand new engines fail within 40,000miles, and some rebuilt engines go hundreds of thousands, but it also goes the other way. Do your research, pick a nice vehicle that is well maintained and rust free and you should have plenty of relatively trouble free miles. None of these vans are new anymore, so some maintenance and repairs are to be expected.

Good luck!

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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby Rod's Trucks » January 6th 2021, 10:12pm

"I'm hearing people need to replace their well-maintained engines at 75k-100k miles anyway."

That is not common, fora ' well maintained engine'. It take a lot of abuse or neglect to kill one of these motors in 100K miles, but I am sure there are instances of that happening.
Overheating the motor (and not realizing it) on a long uphill climb, while pulling a trailer, in the southern summer with the A/C on, could reduce the life quickly.
200K seems more common, with many going much longer. Mine had 210K when I bought it, and with no known maintenance history, except for the recent front suspension parts having just been installed.
Yes, it was a bit of a gamble, but I was willing to take that risk. I have a total of about $3700 invested over the three years, in my '98 AWD, with the new windshield and steering box ( both were known issues when the purchase was made), and the basic 2"lift and new LT tires.
With the exception of the windshield and the steering box, I have done my own work.
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Re: Best route? Buy it pre-fixed, or buy it post-fixed?

Postby dcsleeperdcsleeper is online! » January 6th 2021, 10:13pm

The first major thing will usually be an intake leak. It's famous. It happens just after 100k unless it has been lightly used. Find one that has been done already.
Next is the transmission.
THEN the engine unless it has been badly neglected.

So don't worry about the engine replacement first.
More than simple light surface rust should be a big red flag.

Here's the underneath of my 2004 w 180-200k miles, can't remember
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