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I have probed the off-road limits of our stock 159" 2500 on some rugged back roads in Eastern Oregon as well as in California. On that Eastern Oregon trip, to Derrick Caves, I had to go down a very rugged steep and rocky section at a crawl, and only did it because I assumed there was an easy way out. That turned out to be locked now. I tried to go back up the same way, but the front tires lost traction in the soft sand between the rocks. It simply didn't have enough traction. If I'd had better tires, or those plastic traction mats, i probably would have made it out. Fortunately we found another way back up that wasn't so steep, and made it. But there were a number of very hairy sections where I had to position the van very carefully to avoid large rocks. I was pretty concerned about making back out, but we did. The ground clearance was adequate, although I did hear the back axle hit some rocks once or twice, but that was harmless.

We've also spent a lot of time with it on more typical dirt and gravel back country roads all over Eastern Oregon, without issues.

In a later trip in January 2019 to Arizona, Nevada and CA, we spent a lot of time on similar back country roads, including some snowy and muddy ones. A few hairy moments, but always made it through.

The most challenging day was a trip into Saline Valley, which is near Death Valley. I had not planned to do that, so I was utterly unprepared for it. I assumed it was a branching sort of valley. No, it's a 3+ hour trip over a high plateau and then into a dead end valley 5000 feet down. There were some snow banks in the shady parts of the road heading down that worried me, as well as a few steep, loose sections. The only vehicles we encountered were all serious 4x4 trucks and SUVs.

We spent the night on the valley floor and made it back up, although the steep loose section and the snow banks were hairy, and required me to build up as much momentum as possible to make it. No gentle way through them.

The whole road was punishingly rough and rocky; it was deafening inside the van. When we finally got back on the pavement it was like flying.

I now know what my Promaster stock can and can't do off road, which is quite abit more than I might have expected. I like off-roading and have toyed with the idea of a mild lift and bigger tires, but will not do either of them. As others have pointed out, the lifts have limited benefit, as the ground clearance is not really that bad, and can be mitigated by careful driving. And the lift will undoubtedly worsen fuel economy. Same with bigger tires: they will undoubtedly mess with the economy of the Promaster, as 6th gear will become that much harder to maintain. It's hard enough with a strong headwind or gentle upgrade. But I can get 19-21 mpg at about 65mph, and that means a lot to me, and I'm not willing to give that up by having to spend most of the time in 5th gear. I have read comments by those that have put larger tires on, and that was their experience.

I will get somewhat more aggressive tires when the original ones wear out. And carry some traction devices. But otherwise it's not worth it. There's a very few places I know I can't go, but 99% of the back roads are going to be doable, as my experiences have shown. It's a very reasonable trade-off.

I don't have any pictures of the worst sections I've been on, as I was too engrossed with the challenges. But here's a few after I made it through them. :)
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I took my wife's explorer limited down a 5 mile fire road in New Mexico in street tires. And it is low! There was some traversing but directing your vehicles over the bad stuff and driving the right speed are very important. Never once needed more than the 7" of ground clearance. And once I got back on the main road it was stable Comfortable and better mileage being lower. And my van is for work. But carrying almost 4000# makes it more stable than being empty
 

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I went with the 1.5" front lift kit from vancompass.com and rhino Havasu wheels. Lift kit is $300. I added Bilstein B6 struts for another $350. You can also go with Koni's for about $100 more. Wheels are about $250 each. I kept the original tires to save some money because they were almost new, but when they wear out I'll look into replacing them with BFG K02s. You can also lift the rear 1.5" and add Fox shocks for another $600 or so, but I just wanted to get rid of the downward slope.

You can get a kit from Wildernessvan.com that lifts the front and rear approx 3", but I thought this was too much.

Again, neither one of these lift kits raise the rear axle.
Incorrect - the kit from WV does lift the rear axle - like a portal hub.
The larger AT tires have made very little difference to fuel economy and a huge difference to ride and traction.
 

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I would like to level my van, preferably by raising the front. What is the “easy and cheap” way? Installing the spacer kits seems pretty involved for a home gamer like me.
You will level it out, until you start converting then slowly you'll end up with the front looking silly up in the air.
 

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Then that would relocate the wheels without limiting the distance the rear axle can travel when the suspension compresses.
Unlike modifying the axle tube itself.
I'm guessing it would also push the wheels out some, so you'd need a new wheel with a different offset if you didn't want it to stick out more.
Do they sell a spacer for the front wheels to match how much the rear is kicked out?
 

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Discussion Starter #48
Wow this post blew up, and I took a 5 day hiatus without explaining myself haha. I'm most certainly not trying to drive through rivers and go "mudding" with this thing. That being said one place at my buddy's cabin up in maine is about a 3 mile drive in a, not so great fire road. So its gravel based and not very well maintained with rather large inclines. So basically what i've gleaned from the pages of info on this thread is I would probably be fine putting on some all weather/offroad tires and not worrying about anything else which I think would be the best use case for me.

to repeat, I think I gave the impression that I was trying to go rock crawling with this thing. I'm more or less trying to just improve its stock Highway tires to maybe something with a bit more tread, and i'll ignore any suspension things (my van is pretty much level because of the weight in the rear)

Here is one option for a skid plate: Ducato / Jumper / Boxer Skid Plate

I added Cooper tires to my van for winter snow and summer back roads. $97 each with free shipping on Ebay. View attachment 63443
I like the aesthetics of these tires, and I would assume they would be more efficient in these light offroady areas.
 

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2017 2500 HiTop 159 Cargo Van white.
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Lowering the tire pressure is something that helps quite a bit offroad. I have not done it in my van but with my F150 4x4 we often go down to 20lbs.
Once we change over to an AT tire I would not hesitate to lower the pressure to 25lbs or so.
 

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.... I would probably be fine putting on some all weather/offroad tires and not worrying about anything else which I think would be the best use case for me.
....
That has been my experience with most vehicles I have owned, the right tire completely changes the performance. More important than just about anything else.
 

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I was intrigued by the axel raising Wilderness Vans Lift kit. Here is a pic and some links.

Promaster 3.5″ Lift Kit $US1,684.00 + $US702 for optional installation (on site only at their location)


The big black things are used to lower the front struts. The silver things lower the rear stub axel.



Instructions - with more photos:
 
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