Van Build: Our Experience – Part 1

back of ambulance

Summer reading list? Travel plans? Nope. Here was our plan for the summer of 2021:

Step 1: get married in June 
Step 2: buy a van
Step 3: renovate said van
Step 4: move out of apartment and into van 

Easy enough… we thought. It turned out to be the most demanding three months of my life, physically, emotionally, and monetarily. 

Getting married was a dream come true, but no one who has planned a DIY wedding can say that it is stress free or cheap. Up until literally a few hours before the wedding, we were working like crazy to create our dream day. Our hard work paid off in the backyard of my childhood home. It was the happiest, fastest, and hottest day of my life. 90 degree heat is really damn hot in a wedding dress. 

We gave ourselves ONE WEEK of a break. We took a short honeymoon to Michigan, and exactly one week after we got married, we drove to Ohio to buy our lovely ambulance. Jake and I found it listed on Facebook Marketplace for pretty cheap, and we drove the six hours to see if it was a fit. 

After quickly test driving it (just down the road and back) we were sold. The dealer said it has no engine issues, and it seemed to run great. This is the first car we have ever bought, and we learned a few things… the hard way. 

We signed papers that we were buying it “as is.” Did not think much about that signature until exactly one hour later: it broke down on the way home. We did the logical thing and cried for a hot minute. Being practical people, we thought, no big deal, probably a fluke, let’s start her up again and try to drive. We got about 10 miles down the road before she quit again. We ended up staying the night at a dumpy motel before deciding, very logically, that maybe she just needed a rest before driving the long way home. 

Wrong again, she broke down very quickly into the drive, and we had to get her towed all the way home. Not as expensive as you might think, a few hundred dollars. 

At least we were at home base, where we could figure out a game plan. We took her to the mechanic nearby for a 44 point inspection; the ambulance failed 21 of those points. Battery, fluid leaks, brakes, shocks, stripped tires, and more. The shop even asked us if this vehicle (from 2003) had ever been serviced. 

It was expensive, and again, we cried. We never asked for an inspection report before buying a vehicle with “no engine issues.” We decided to move forward with the repairs. I was hooked to my phone, waiting for the mechanic to call. Soon, I dreaded feeling my phone buzz, because without fail, every couple of days, the shop would call with more issues that they found. 

In a couple long weeks, she was out of the shop, and we took her for her first drive. You”ll never guess what happened…. SHE BROKE DOWN. And subsequently, so did we. 

We went back to the mechanic, and they found that the gas tank was completely rusted out. When Jake stopped by, they showed it to him. It had literal holes in it. To this day, I am still frustrated they didn’t catch that big of an issue in the first place, but they fixed it in another couple of weeks. 

For a long time after getting her back, I didn’t want to drive the ambulance anywhere. I had developed this fear that she would break down if we went anywhere. I put so much trust into the first round of repairs, that when she broke down after that, I didn’t trust that any repair would be enough. 

It was a difficult few weeks, as our lease ran out about the same time the repairs finished up. We had to move out of the apartment we loved, say goodbye to the town we had lived in for two years. We were emotional, not to mention exhausted from moving. We didn’t even begin to meet the deadline we had set for ourselves, move straight into the van from the apartment. Sure we had a running vehicle, but nothing more than that. 

So we moved in with my parents when the real challenge began: the vanbuild.