When we first decided to spend a year or two on the road traveling North and Central America, we didn’t plan on four-wheel-drive. We had already decided on the Ford Transit, and Ford didn’t offer 4wd at that time. As we thought about the places we like to visit, we realized that four-wheel-drive was really a must have for:
Boondocking and exploring remote locations in the American West and Alaska
Winter travel skiing and around our cabin in the Washington mountains
Travel in Central America
Overall peace of mind
There are only two companies that do four-wheel-drive conversions for the Ford Transit – Quigley and Quadvan. Quigley will only convert a vehicle with 0 miles on it delivered straight from the Ford factory – and you can’t touch the van until they are done with it. With a six month minimum waiting list, we didn’t want to lose that much time in our build process. Quadvan builds a quality product, and they are located just three hours south of us in Portland, Oregon.
QuadVan 4wd installation
Starting at the front of the vehicle, Quadvan:
Modified the k frame to fit the various 4wd components.
Replaced the steering knuckle with their proprietary knuckle, shifting the knuckle position from behind the hub centerpoint to in front of the hub centerpoint. The knuckle integrates a 2” lift as part of the casting.
The stock transit hub is modified with a drive spline through the center. They are functionally identical to a standard Ford Europe AWD Transit hub, but easier and cheaper to build than import.
Replaced the Transit steering tie rods and shafts with F150 parts
Installed F150 driveshafts, including the CV joints and IWE’s. The IWE’s are vacuum actuated hubs. If the vacuum fails, the hubs are locked. The front driveshaft tubes are cut to fit the Transit. More info on the IWE’s here.
Installed the F150 front differential housing, with an optional Eaton Truetrac limited slip differential. Eaton truetracs are an upgrade from the base price, but the performance of this LSD is superior to Ford factory LSD’s.
Installed the F150 manual transfer case. Ford no longer uses manual transfer cases, but new OEM cases are readily available from them for this older model year.
Installed a Jeep manual transfer shifter to the right of the e-brake lever.
Installed a “4wd ON” indicator light and a “Lock hubs” lighted switch on the dashboard.
Retooled the Ford Transit 3 piece driveline into a 2 piece driveline with greasable zirc fittings. The transfer case is further back, so the middle segment of the driveline is removed, and new tubes placed into the front and rear segments. A new carrier bracket holds the u-joint in the middle.
Replaced the rear 3.31 gears with 3.73 gears. I intentionally ordered the van with the 3.31 ratio, knowing I would be putting bigger tires on. Switching the gearing to 3.73 along with the bigger tires means the transmission shift points and the overall van handling is unchanged.
Installed an Eaton Truetrac LSD in the rear diff.
Added a 2” inch lift above each side of the rear axle, with a horn for the bump stop.
Cut off 2.5” of the rear lower shock mounts and installed an adaptor to improve rear shock clearance. Sway bars are still supported, and the bolt on adapters can be moved to a new axle should that ever be necessary.
Installed their own brand of skid plates from behind the intercooler to the gas tank.They also have a gas tank skid plate but I had to draw the line somewhere.
Using the 4wd
The process for engaging and disengaging 4wd, as well as recommended speeds, is very similar to the F150, with the exception of the manual switch to engage the front hubs.
Regarding the transfer case shift lever (which is a Jeep part), Quadvan prefers this manual lever for its reliability (no electronics or vacuum to fail) and usability (positive feedback on all shifting points, impossible to accidentally bump into 4H, Neutral, or 4L). The downside is the missing convenience of all electronic operation, but in my experience the extra effort is minimal, and the pause helps dial me in to the changes in terrain and what I need to be doing. Here is a cheat sheet I put together.
Off road performance
I’ve spent the last 2 days driving logging and 4wd roads in eastern Washington near Lake Wenatchee. My van is empty right now, so performance is at its best. None of these roads are particularly challenging, but they represent typical access roads for great campsites, fishing lakes, and remote trailheads.
I crossed small streams and puddles, climbed hills, straddled ruts, and pushed the limits on entry and departure angles. I also turned around a fair amount when running into difficult trail. I drove in 2wd, 4H, and 4L, both forward and reverse, uphill and downhill. There are some scrapes on the front differential skid plate, scratches on the sides of the van, and my front license plate is wrapped around my receiver hitch – in other words – I came out unscathed!
Realistically, this conversion turned the van from a pavement only creature to one that can explore moderate off road trails, including logging roads, beaches, muddy conditions, and snow and ice. It has the ground clearance of a typical SUV, and the drive train of a Ford pickup. It’s still a long, wide, tall, and heavy vehicle, but within those constraints the 4wd adds a great deal of opportunity.
Shifting was solid and straightforward after some practice. I did have it pop out of 4L on a downhill one time. This was early on, and I may not have settled it fully into 4L on the shifter detent. I haven’t had that happen since. Quadvan will take a look at the shifter cable tension the next time I’m in town.
One differentiator from a typical SUV (and the 2020 AWD Ford Transit) is the low range – allowing the van to creep up and over obstacles with some finesse and torque where an SUV would be compelled to get momentum and bounce to get over. This makes taking a heavy RV type vehicle over bumpy trails safer for the contents and the occupants.
I’ll be interested to see what happens to performance when an additional 3000 pounds of RV is added to the van.
Clearance was improved by 2 inches from the lift, and .5 inches from the tires. About 1 inch was lost at the front and rear diffs from the skid plates. But I’ll trade the loss of clearance for the ability to skid over moderate obstacles, where without the skid plate I would not even try.
There were a number of spots on the trail where without the skid plate I would have stopped and turned around. The skid plate gave me ability to push clearance limits without fear of catastrophic damage.
|Location||Clearance in inches|
|Front differential skid plate (low point is extends 4" front to back and protects front diff)||8.5|
|K frame skid plate||9.5|
|Transmission skid plate||10.5|
|Gas tank skid plate||13|
|Rear diff skid plate||7.5|
I may elect to install the Bilstein B6 struts, which will add .75” of clearance. Hey – it’s an 8% improvement, right?
Turning radius and backing up
The turning radius is as bad off road as onroad, no surprise there. I measured the turning radius two times to the left, for 51’, and one time to the right, for 50’. This is a 2-3’ decrease in turning radius from stock configuration. I was able to turn around when needed, although I did have some long backups on occasion. The Ford 4” backup screen was pretty small, and not easy to use to sort out overhanging branches and other trail obstacles when backing up. I will definitely be installing a higher performance rear facing camera and rear view mirror once my rear windows are partially blocked by my bed. The backup proximity indicator gave a number of false alarms, although it did alert me to actual potential issues as well.
Suspension and weight
The stock suspension performed adequately. I seldom bottomed out. Articulation in the rear is minimal. Once the build is complete and the weight distribution dialed in, I’ll be adding Bilstein’s in the front and Fox shocks in the rear.
However, I had an unpleasant surprise when I returned home, and weighed the front/rear axles. I knew that the QuadVan conversion added 410 pounds overall, but I hadn’t understood just how little capacity there is in the front axle for additional weight. To summarize for anyone else concerned about weight:
Front axle rating (GAWR) for all trims of the transit - wagon and cargo, 150, 250, and 350 is 4,130 pounds
The empty curb weight of the front axle on my van was already 2,965. You can find curb weights for all trims here: https://www.caranddriver.com/ford/tr...it_2018/394616
This leaves only 1,165 for people, gas, and conversion
Rear axle rating for transits varies based on trim and the strength of the springs. There is no other apparent difference in parts other than the rear leaf springs (and dual rear wheels if equipped). The range goes from 5,070 up to 7,275. The full details are here: https://madocumentupload.marketingassociates.com/api/Document/GetFile?v1=4426902&v2=080718014657&v3=60&v4=9cc33355780f69f668a05334c4eb9c5650d62a22254a175229f71951&v5=False
The TOTAL GVWR is slightly less than the total of the individual axle GAWRs. Your van curb weight, plus conversion build, gas, water, propane, grey water, passengers, gear, etc, must be less than the GVWR
For all trims and conversions, the front axle is typically going to get closer to the GAWR than the rear, because the front axle starts out from the factory with only 1,165 pounds available vs 2,000-4,000 for the rear. Here's how that got consumed by my build:
300 pounds two front passengers
69 pounds – 50% of a full gas tank
250 pounds – QuadVan conversion weight on front axle
103 pounds - VC hitch receiver, skid plate (128 pounds VC parts minus 25 pounds from the discarded ford parts)
103 pounds - winch with synthetic cable
60 pounds - Scopema swivel seats
Total is 885 pounds, leaving only 280 pounds available to carry additional passengers, floor, walls, solar, vents, roof rack, galley, bed, bench seating, etc. Any significant 4wd conversion must be accompanied by a lighter weight build toward the front of the vehicle.
Adding weight behind the rear wheels of a long wheelbase doesn't do much to unload front axles as there's only about 34 inches of space from the center of the axle to the rear door.
I spoke to Quadvan about this, as well as researching how companies like Sportsmobile and others handle weight issues. Apparently, going over weight on the front axle is not uncommon. Quadvan will not convert an already overweight van, but some conversion companies leave so little capacity for passengers and gear that going overweight is impossible to avoid.
I’ll be monitoring front axle load and spring travel as I progress with my build. I may have some difficult decisions to make if I go over the GAWR, such as removing the winch, hitch receiver, or skidplate.
Remember to put the transfer case in Neutral if the van will be towed with the front wheels down.
I’m still waiting on the maintenance recommendations from Quadvan. There are a lot of opinions floating around on maintenance, with Ford perhaps less focused on what happens after the warranty period, and others erring on the side of caution. These recommendations assume moderate 4wd use. Heavy immersion, towing, hot environments would all suggest increased frequency.
Quadvan provided me with part numbers for all of the Ford parts installed in the vehicle. The Quadvan custom components are obtained directly from Quadvan.
Here’s my working list, which I’ll update once I have final details from Quadvan.
|Front and Rear differential - Ford 8.8" IFS Eaton Detroit TrueTrac | 28 Spline, Ford 9.75" Eaton Detroit TrueTrac | 34 Spline||Change oil at least every 90k miles. Quadvan recommends every 30k for hard use. Use Motorcraft 75w/85 premium synthetic hypoid gear lubricant. Note: For Ford OEM limited slips, also add in 2 bottles of Motorcraft Additive Friction Modifier. Eaton's do not require this.|
|Transfer case||Change ATF every 90k miles or 2 years, whichever comes first. Use Motorcraft Mercon ATF. Quadvan also recommends the same maintenance interval for the Ford OEM transmission, and both can be done at the same time. Easiest approach for the transmission is to suck 4 quarts out of the dipstick tube and replace. This restores the friction modifiers with minimal effort.|
|U-joints||No maintenance required unless submerged. Then use a moly fortified high pressure grease to force out any water.|
|CV joints||No maintenance. Monitor for tears in boots, replace joint after failure|
|Steering ball joints, knuckles||No maintenance.|
|Front wheel bearings||No maintenance.|
The Quadvan warranty seems designed to match the manufacturer warranty, and is similar to the Quigley warranty. It is transferable to a new owner, as long as the new owner signs the terms and conditions.
There have been reports online of owners encountering warranty issues, and of Quadvan honoring the warranty with a minimum of fuss.
Quadvan has been in business for many years, with thousands of vehicles currently on the road (mostly Ford Econolines). They have experience with crafting and executing warranties that are fair to both parties.
The base price as of this post was $13,680. My options and accessories pushed the total to $19,753. Here’s a breakdown:
|Transit 4x4 Conversion Manual Shift 2"||13,680||1||13,680||13,680|
|BFG KO2 Tires (10% speedo error)||914.95||5||182.99||914.95|
|Les Schwab mount and balance tires||209.96|
|Shop supplies oils and loops||45||1||45||45|
|Shop supplies nuts and bolts||175||1||175||175|
|Eaton Detroit Truetrac Rear||636||1||636||636|
|Eaton Detroit Truetrac Front||750||1||750||750|
|Install Front Truetrac||358.50||3||119.5||358.50|
|Gears rear 3.73||445.6||1||445.6||445.6|
|Labor for gear change||358.5||3||119.5||358.5|
|Cutbacks for bigger tires||200||1||200||200|
|Shorten rear shocks mount||200||1||200||200|
|Skid plates two fronts||500||2||250||500|
|Install van compass skid plate, winch mount, and winch||537.75||6||119.5||717|
|Front wheel well liners||173||173||173|
|Light bar light harness||39||39||39|
|Install light bar||1||119.5||119.5|
|Install dashboard switches||.75||119.5||89.63|
Working with Quadvan
My overall experience with Quadvan was pretty good. I appreciated the quality of the engineering for strength, airflow, maintainability and simplicity. Their prices are competitive with Quigley. They did seem to have more flexibility in scheduling, customization of the conversion, and being able to drive and work on the van prior to beginning the conversion. The aftermarket parts I had installed (winch, lightbar, hitch receiver) were installed with a high level of fit and finish.
I did have a fair amount of trouble reaching them before, during, and after the job. I have heard similar stories from others. I was able to reach them at key points in the process – such as scheduling the van drop off, finalizing the work to be done, and picking up the van. But in between those times it often took many phone calls and emails to reach someone. They are a small shop and John, the owner, is often out wrenching or supervising. Adisa, his wife, while very knowledgeable, is running the business side of things. They would benefit from having additional staff to handle the customer service side of things.
AWD vs. 4WD
Ford announced an AWD option for the 2020 model. The most relevant point is that Ford is positioning this as primarily for on road use in slippery conditions.
Limitations of Ford's AWD:
No low range. Without low range, to get decent RPM's/power out of the engine, you have to be doing about 7mph. Too fast for some conditions – you really don’t want to be doing 7mph over big rocks and bumps. It’s possible that the new 10 speed transmission will add some lower gearing, but there are conflicting reports on this.
No increase in height/ground clearance – Ford wanted to maintain the easy entry/exit to the vehicle. I’m sure lift kits will become available, but might require new front drive shafts. TBD.
No direct control over power ratios between front/rear, or left/right. All managed by computer. In a true 4wd system, 50% of power is applied to front and 50% to rear. With AWD, the computer makes the call.
And here's a statement on AWD from Quigley - which of course is biased, but kind of aligns with my own thinking on the subject: https://www.outsideonline.com/239267...transit-review
“We anticipate the AWD Ford Transit being sufficient for on-road needs and for use on the occasional forest road,” says Brent Hawk, sales director at Quigley Motor Company, a van-conversion outfit in Pennsylvania. “But what we’re hearing from RV manufacturers we work with is that many recreational customers still want traditional four-wheel drive, which allows you to go farther off-road than any all-wheel-drive system.”
I’m super happy with the conversion process, the performance of the van off road, and the greater opportunities for getting into remote areas. I have no hesitation in recommending Quadvan for other Transit owners looking for true off road capabilities.