Deep vehicle database thoughts...with JD Handy...good enough, smart enough...

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Well-known member
Feb 7, 2018
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sitting on a river-bridge playing the banjo...
Kaylee and I had made plans to build CRVL/Vandweller folk a searchable database they could enter a perspective vehicle in "Dodge Van" "1996" "3500" and they would be shown, from thousands of examples of 1996 Dodge 3500 vans, what common repairs and failures occur.
We both thought this was a great idea and would help the wheel-dweller community.
The info below is an explanation of issues that have come up in making this a reality.

This issue is not a one, two or even five paragraph situation.
It is very important to understand the examples here before (and...if) things move forward.
The amount of effort required to make this reality is immense and it needs to be worth while.
If you are in the market for a vehicle or simply seek an understanding of the issues at hand, this should not be time wasted. 
(Well, except for the final three sentences maybe. :) )

    A while back, after I posted some info on a certain van, a member posted an opinion in reply. Without the raw information I gleaned the info from, he said, the post was nothing but my own opinion, in a sea of them. This has been on my mind quite a bit over the last few months. How to do a search-friendly vehicle dBase, get a sticky linked to CRVL...what to include and not include. This sounds easy, but there is a lot to consider. I do this for a living and even I was shocked at the amount of info within that can be misleading.
    Recently, we had a bunch of Ford rear ends fail. Brand new trucks were coming in after 300 miles with hot axles and horrible sounding groans. It ended up affecting 26 trucks to start with and more than 40 of them ended up being affected long term. The reason for the issue was in the assembly, not the design. A new or idiot person putting them together had actually installed the wrong bearings in a group of them.
    After the first batch was discovered, we sent a bulletin out and took brand new trucks apart to ensure the bearings were proper and correctly installed. This was a bill back to Ford and rather simple to do...IF you caught it before the thing destroyed itself. Still, on every one of the VIN’s for those trucks, there is a repair order with a differential issue showing up.
    Same logic applies to much older vehicles. Let’s use the 6.2 GM diesel, often talked about here on these forums. If you look on line and are not a mechanic, you would think they were a troublesome engine to avoid. The truth is, besides a certain year-span with the gremlin-loaded injection pump, they are actually very reliable, solid engines for their power range. There are actually more issues surrounding the early Duramax engines than from the early-injection pump 6.2 diesels. If you looked at the data, however, there are still thousands of injection pump issues RO’s were written on. Before they figured it out, often several on the very same vehicle.
    The 7.3 Ford diesels... A ton of them burned out the harnesses right above the valve covers. Stopped many buses in their tracks and they had to be towed in. A 7.3, turbo or not, is a more reliable engine than any of the other up-to-2016 Ford offerings. However, it had that wiring issue as an Achilles heel. $200 and you could solve the issue, which normally only affected the 150,000 mile plus units...but there are loads of RO’s written on this Ford a bad return on one of their best diesels to date.
     Even the GM engines in the FWD mid sized cars (the 2.8/3.1/3.5 and the 3.8) all had little gremlins in the intakes. Plastic pipes and intakes that would leak, requiring the “fix” to be done. It was a one time thing, but cost money...and generated that RO every time. Unless you knew the whole enchilada, seeing it would present them as problematic. In truth, that series of engine was one of the most reliable 30+MPG unit out there at the time. They usually went beyond the 200,000 mark...JUST like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry...and with a lot more gorilla power for the gallons of fuel burned.
    Internationals shipped thousands of trucks that had chronic fuel injection issues. A little water got into the fuel and the whole computer board and pump assembly would have to be replaced. This cost thousands of dollars on every truck affected and kept it out of service...often for days. The engine? The electronic DT466. One of the truly best mid-range diesel engines ever made. (Many even consider them superior to the Cummins “C” engine.) However, if Kaylee and I work on this dBase...and a bus hunter were to search the info without knowing context...they would come up with “chronic fuel injection failures” as a result of their query. Truth is, the idiots ordering the truck opted out of the secondary water separator...once added, they were still gorilla-strong and Methuselah-reliable. The results from the query would not say this, however.

    Another member here eluded to the 4.3 GM V6 having chronic intake gasket issues. On all my info, the vehicles with these engines got used like mad and were swapped out quickly. These issues happened over time, more than wear. The gaskets would give up and the oil would mix with the coolant. POOF! goes the engine. I had no idea this was something to watch out for based on my info. Now I do. Had she not grilled me on it, I would still tell people the 4.3 is a perfectly solid engine. Just a 350 missing two pistons...a lot better than Fords (OR Chryslers) comparable V6 engine. While this is all true, because of the specific use of the units in my data, I would have failed to warn the prospective buyer about the specific year(s) with the “questionable gaskets.” The repair does not ruin the value of the engine, but without knowing about it and knowing how to ensure it wasn’t starting to happen, the average nomad would be blissfully happy with their purchase and unaware of trouble...till it popped its engine. A search of the data would only reinforce the “thumbs up” on a 4.3 GM engine.

    Without context, the raw data will do as much harm as it will good. I changed engines, transmissions, replaced rear ends, brakes...traced electrical...all before I could even legally drive...and still it took years to fully wrap my head around what I was looking at. Being able to prompt some visual SQL generator is not going to properly dissect the information. Even the experienced mechanics among CRVL members are not going to remember the idiot who falsely gave Ford 40 rear end issues... There is no place for that in the database and frankly, it would take longer, on an RO-by-RO basis, to go through and assign an explanation for than I am willing to spend.
    I have nearly half a million VIN’s I now have permission to do with as I please. The stuff that is older now and not so valuable to the outfits I work for. The only thing that would not be there, would be the actual vehicle VIN. A simple script to replace the VIN with a “JD-CRVLxxxxxxx” number would take care of this. (...and a bunch of work on Kaylee’s part for the front end.) Of this number, a large percentage is van and one ton type vehicles, directly applicable to the vans and RV’s many of us travel in. Only, you wont have the ability to see what outfit the units were leased to. Was the van leased to a courier service who loaded it with 800 pounds at the most and put 40,000 miles a year...all highway...on the thing between NYC and Boston??? Or was it a van with a reefer unit that hauled signature kosher meats, loaded beyond it’s limits, throughout the boroughs? Do you see the reason why the raw data might present poor info without the background?

    I am still very torn about what to do. I am paid to interpret the info for a reason. Been doing this since the 90‘s and even after all the clever dBase tools they have created, they cannot trust a green college IT graduate that has not worked in the truck shops and knows the business.

Let me give another glaring example we recently “stressed” over...
    We recently had to make an order of $36 million in new trucks. The owners were headed in one direction, based on a recent bad experience with “brand A.” The data from my own efforts seemed to agree with their decision...but they asked me (actually ONE of the owners gave me the purchase order to investigate the decision further) to look into why the numbers were coming up this way. “FRAME BODY REPAIR/RUST” was the billable repair. Over and over again. Too many, they thought. (So did I.) These trucks previously lasted far past their life in the leasing fleet, giving us a very resalable unit at lease end...but there were these rust repairs needed over and over again in nearly every one of them...and dealers do NOT like a patched/welded frame.
    I called the shop foreman I know well. “What do you think of this situation? They are pissed the frames are rotten and needing patches all the time...and ready to switch brands for this fleet.” (Think about this now. You have, lets say...4600 trucks leased to this customer nationwide. Now think about how a new truck brand means a complete second set of spare parts that need to be stocked. In every shop. Mechanics have to learn the tricks to fixing an entirely new beast...and all the little idiosyncrasies that come with each new model.
Cha-CHING!!! When your profit margin percentages are often in the single digits, you have to make sure each and every decision you make is the right one, or 264 men and women lose their livelihoods.)
    He cleared it all up for me in 30 seconds. This company back hauled bags of rock salt in their reefers. It was clean and did not stink, so it did not cause issues with the load of food inside it the next day. A quick rinse out of the walls and floor and you could not even tell it had been in there. Of course, it caused holy ruckus with the aluminum floors and the drain holes in the reefer body dropped the salty brine run-off from the ice, (that builds up naturally) dripping on the salt bags...right on those perfectly solid, well-made frames. For 20 inches of that frame, it may as well have been 30 feet deep in the ocean. Took the paint off the rest of it and made a 7 year old Southern truck look like a 30 year old Northern truck underneath...on one side, anyway. (The RO’s did not define WHY the repairs were required other than “RUST/CORROSION.”)
    I had no idea what they were hauling. Had I not made the call to the foreman, they would have likely gone to a new manufacturer. Forget the 36 million in trucks that may have or may not have been as good...the parts inventory costs and training the mechanics on the new iron would have been astronomical. It’s a tricky business. Cut throat and often, thankless. I am ready  to retire for good now. Truly. Point to all of you is, there truly is a lot more than repair orders to consider.

    At present, I thought about grabbing certain example vehicles/engines and listing what to look out for as more of a general thing. Only...on this very forum, an excellent write up on vans lists Ford OD transmissions as being great or excellent. The C6 was the last “excellent” automatic I saw from Ford. Every OD since then, (1996 ish) up to 2016 ish, has not compared to the GM heavier stuff. (Not even counting the Allisons behind many 8.1 gassers and the Duramax powered trucks.) “Excellent” to me, means at a 250,000 mile say-good-bye point, the truck has the exact same trans it left the factory with. Untouched. Maybe a speed sensor or a linkage/prop shaft seal repair...but the thing never had major failure and remained bolted in place. The great majority of Ford OD’s fail to deliver this kind of service. So how do I explain this differing point of view? The author of the sticky I am talking about is no dumb-ass. His obvious experience tells him something and he posts it. Most people think a service life on an automatic trans should be 150,000 miles. If they get that out of it and have to rebuild it, it was a success. This is why if you read my posts to shoppers here, I often ask the “how long do you want it for” question.
    For light trucks, we only entered the era of 250K+ life spans in the last 10 years. Before that, nothing light was kept nearly that long. By the time we knew which units could do it, there had already been a huge exodus of perfectly worthy vehicles to auction @ low mileage. Even the long term data I have is somewhat rare. Many lease outfits still drop light duty units @ 150,000 no matter what.
    Not sure how this is going to work out or what is going to happen. All are urged to post their input. I am wide open to suggestions/solutions. Every way I go at this, be it too little of one model/make/era or 340 units being unnaturally loaded and strictly used in city deliveries (reducing service life greatly, through no fault of the manufacturer) thus far, I have not been able to come up with effective compromise. Not sure if the generalities are less effective than a small sliver of the CRVL community who would actually enter search parameters and send a statement to the database.

(I want everyones input except High Desert Ranger. LOL ;) His vote does not count. )

Wow, I took way too much perverse pleasure in typing that last line. I keep smiling as I review it...should I hit POST, or be a good Mongo?? After all, HDR is but a pawn too...right?
In the end, I just cannot resist the opportunity to bust his chops.  :cool:  (It's the little things that make life worth living.)

(Kidding about HDR though. I could use his valuable input...or viable solution.) 

Time now for the tin foil hat, then curling up with my ham radio for a bit (tuned to illegal frequencies, of course.)
I just had a really nasty  fall in the bathroom & couldn't get up but no one else has put thier 2 cents in so I will. I read all your reviews even if I'm looking for a vehicle or not as you know your stuff & I'm a sponge for knowledge & may use the info in the future. I think your opinion & knowledge is invaluble & hope you don't stop because someone said negative things. I'm new here & among the fine people here are a bunch of "negative nellies" that know it all about everything they've never owned or seen from diesel heaters, batteries to soap clothes & they are the vocal ones, must be unhappy people. I have a diesel mechanic I take every vehicle I plan to keep & he changes all the fluids, fixes anything questionable & "zero times" it so I have a base line. I know aircraft, took 3 years of auto shop & was a forklift mechanic long ago but am not up on  the new stuff as you are & hate vehicle computers as one just cost me a truck because the manufactuar doesn't care & doesn't want to support old computers so I try to by the last ones before computers which my 2 diesels are. I do research things to death via the internet. Vehicles are so different even my diesel mechanic which I feel is the best there is is a Ford expert & cost me a tranny on one of my Cummins in a Dodge wrapper. So IMHO keep the info coming, I'll be reading it as you can't get info like you give. I hope the "Know nothing negative nellies" read this & recognize themselves & research things before shooting their mouth off. I think you're a huge asset here & please don't stop. Thanks for all you do!
Wow, JD, thanks for all the energy you're investing in this. You're truly a valuable resource for those in the need to choose the best overall vehicle or just someone wanting to make sure all is as it appears in making a decision about buying a vehicle.

There's a lot of info in your post. A brief summary or cliff notes before/after might be helpful as well as I've noticed that online people get used to reading a few lines then moving on.

Again, what I think you're trying to do seems very kind of you.
A worthwhile endeavor for sure.
The last half of my career was spent as a supply chain manager. Between engineering, purchasing and sales we created a "configurator" to be used to "build" a unique product for the customer. These were cryo trailers with a few hundred variables from one to the next. Consisted of an excel spreadsheet with drop-down choices. This eliminated miscommunicated information between the seller (us) and the Buyer over a 6 month build process.

I do not know where you are with an easy to search database that's crvl (anyone) friendly. If a standard spreadsheet header was created for year/make/model/engine/trans/etc that would allow easy contribution and search by all then your good. The issue arises with the "problems" and "fix" header category. And it is a given, everything is fixable but, at what cost.

just 2¢ into your project
not sure if you want my 2 cents or not, your going to get it anyway. LOL

a lot people don't want to hear that their choice of vehicle is a piece of junk.

a lot people even if they know their vehicle has issues will not admit it.

some people are brand loyal to a fault.

others would never own certain brands(me), for various reasons

many on this forum have no clue about vehicles and their pluses and minuses.

as Gr8ful said don't worry about the negative nellies. they are everywhere a lot of their info is not based on facts it is emotional. also a lot of people who purport to know about this or that just read about it on the internet and we all know everything you read on the internet is the truth.

so in summary keep it coming JD you are providing a valuable service. weather or not people will except it is their problem.

MaTaLa said:
There's a lot of info in your post. A brief summary or cliff notes before/after might be helpful as well as I've noticed that online people get used to reading a few lines then moving on.

I totally hear you.
Very open to anyone making it more concise, while retaining the context.
HDR, if you think you can cut and slice to make it more readable, run it. It can be edited without any butthurt on my part.
The whole thing is a work in progress and I am not ashamed to say I am kind of baffled.
I REALLY do not want to spend time doing the wrong thing for the end customers.

Folks need to speak up and tell us what they want.
Wait, for the skimmer-readers:

Thus far, a Cliff Notes format on generalities across the manufacturers seems to be a good idea.
How far back to go? There is truck data back to 1992 in the big group I already have.
If I get the OK from another source, I will have 1.2 million more VIN's to sort. Of these, there are likely to be 400,000 or so shuttle buses across decades with the very same drive lines as class C RV's currently 'a-flood' in the used market.
What to include?
The Skoolie crew would drool at all the 4700 data...but I am not sure it would be worthwhile to include that huge amount.
Here we go again...another lengthy post. SMH

I REALLY do agree with you about keeping short format, but there is so much to consider here, I am lost at how to effectively do it.

I truly wish some of the silent keys would become brave and post their thoughts.
The non-mechanically inclined especially.

Have not heard from Kaylee in a while, but her input is key as well.
Matlock said:
I do not know where you are with an easy to search database that's crvl (anyone) friendly. If a standard spreadsheet header was created for year/make/model/engine/trans/etc that would allow easy contribution and search by all then your good.

We have not moved forward that far as yet.
This front end would be more Kaylee's department than mine.
The spreadsheet format is a great idea that most everyone is familiar with.
Glad to see others sharing some of the ways companies do things. Thank you!

On another subject...
I really did not want to imply the "nellies" were an issue.
(Assume the lotus position. Oooom)

There are a ton of tricks and know-how available from members here I would also like to see included.
Cannot think of who it was, but there is a Ford diesel GURU here who rarely posts anything.
And the Mopar crew...before the Promasters, they represented a viable platform. I have much less info on them than I would like. I think it was "HEADACHE" who clued me into the 4.3 GM intake issue.
This was a prime example of how all that info can fail if not properly presented.

Another example of how this should work.
If a person finds a smoking deal on a Ford 6.0 diesel with ultra low miles, what are the fixes they came up with to make them last? For me, I stopped paying attention and swayed to other brands when purchase time came around.
However, there are many who insist these can be made to last if done right.
What should a buyer look out for on a 6.0? (A little shiver just went down my spine.)
(No sarcasm there, even the Cummins B series had troublesome 24 valves and "53" blocks.)

How can we get the tricks out of the members here for a thorough guide to nomadic-prone vehicles?
For myself, at least for this purpose, I need to shut off my sarcasm and calling anything "junk."

Is it possible to assemble a thorough guide to the used market with input from all sides?
There was a high-top Dodge recently sold on Marketplace that, at its price, if you knew what to look out for, could have represented a VERY good buy.

The deleted thread on that Ford van yesterday for example...
(THANK YOU Cyndi!!!! :) Big biker hug is owed! You made me feel the digital love! :) :) :) )

There were a ton of little things included in that most would not think to check on.
HDR, what do you think about having that level of "cheat sheet" on xxxx year span xxxx make?
Not just for the square 75-91 E series...but all of them?
Even one of the EXCELLENT vans out there few talk about...(Nissan full sized) have some tricks and uh-ohs to be mindful of.
My info is really thin on these, compared to the others.
I had to read this twice to understand what you are on about and what you are intending to do. This is a major project, that will take a lot of work. Good luck, I don;t see how you can make it accurate or not confusing, especially if you are partially relying on people from forums like this to give you input on their vehicles. You don’t have to look very far away from this thread to see people talking about stuff like they have owned and used them for years, minutes after purchasing them to see how much emotional misinformation floats around about how good certain vehicles, gadgets or accessories are. As you mentioned about the rust, there is no way that you could have access to all the information needed to make a proper accessment based on fleet records. Perhaps having links to forums that talk precisely about certain engines, years, makes and models would be more realistic.
Regards Nellie.
JD it appears that I will be buying a Class A this year. Probably a Newmar. I know they have several different engines and I’ll look them up. Your input would be invaluable to me.
I have no answer to the database issue.
Perhaps you just make your comments and some nice person grabs them and makes into individual posts with or without option to comment so we can search when looking for info on an engine, year model.

However am still waiting for your comment on that ton Ford. If it’s here I miss it in my daily skimming.
If I’d seen that for sale would think it had good potential for a van dweller or inexpensive work van. If right like to know why, if wrong same thing. —Don’t remember all the info on it except early ‘90s and a ton. Don’t know engine and rest.

Happy Fall Forward Day
I deleted the thread with the 1 ton van. I thought I already said that. oh well it's gone because it broke forum rules. I know, I know I am a big meanie. highdesertranger
highdesertranger said:
I deleted the thread with the 1 ton van.  I thought I already said that.  oh well it's gone because it broke forum rules.  I know,  I know I am a big meanie.  highdesertranger
Yes you said that. I read that. 
Guessing the reason for the delete was something about the original posting?

Got the impression JD made a reply that went to the reliability of that type vehicle. Don’t know what he said as it went away with the thread. So what I’m after is to know what JD said about the reliability, usefulness of that year, engine, tranny, etc, as a vandweller vehicle. If he didn’t say anything about that, then someone just say that.
he did and that was also address somewhere. he will post the info when he gets around to it. highdesertranger
JD, you're to be commended for the effort in helping/ sharing with all on here with your knowledge and experience.

From what I have read, looks like you wish to make some sort of JDCarfax to access specific vehicle history and maintenance?

FWIW, thoughts that come to mind:

There are approx. 10k members on here, and decreasing interestingly enough, with less than, say 200 regular posters or <2% at most. The silent majority and non members stay that way, so the feedback will be from a very narrow range, too small sample size for representative feedback to determine utility.

Data and stats, always up for interesting debate. Interpreted differently by different people. At what point is a repair, or maintenance, considered normal vs unsatisfactory? That is the problem and debate with reliabilty of vehicles.
Mine is great so all must be as well argument.
Even your fleet stats give a generalization and as we all know, usage can vary, and does impact reliability.
Imho, without knowing the actual driving and load conditions, how will you know which were extreme or light duty and the impact on durability?

Service records give an indication, as overall repairs to failure/ repair problem issues but not complete. Understood, it's the best info available and better than nothing but the devil is in the details that aren't available. Of course, if it can stand up to extreme abuse, great, but in today's reality, how many do?

Generally, vehicles are updated every 3-5 yrs, same or longer for RVs? This subset of users? Van dwellers who make up the majority here based upon thread posts #s? So if it's only occasional use or frequency, why put in all that work?
For all your work, would it be worth it, is my question.
Maybe, just a reliability sticky of JD recommendations, with issues for model/years, like the Ford spark plugs and GM heads, early 2000s intake gaskets issues, etc... with repair cost estimates. In essence, updating the current van/ minivan sticky. That would be simpler, easier and just as beneficial. Think more effective than all the work for a database. Not to discourage of course, if you have the time and desire to do a database, that would be great. Track access and that will tell you how beneficial it is.
And then separate threads for repair issues for specific models. Those already exist on other forums so maybe just links required there.

Once again, your efforts and info are appreciated by many on here am sure. Thx.
Hey JD,  Here's my take on the situation...  It's like they say, opinions are like a-holes, everybody's got one, but I'd much rather get my info from an a-hole who really knows his stuff... LOL!  ;)   It seems some people have such strong opinions about issues of minutia, and if you dare disagree with them it's like war is declared.  When I read those posts I find myself shaking my head and mumbling... 'it's just words on the screen people'.  When I was in academy learning investigation they gave an example of four people, one on each corner of an intersection, who all witness the same traffic collision but each gives a different account.  It's just human nature that everyone will see the world from their own viewpoint.  I believe in working with human nature, not against it...  Individual perspectives will vary.  The best you or I can do is put info out there, just speak the truth as we know it, and let the rest fall where it may...  I don't think we'll ever be able to stop naysayers and contrarians.  Mod's will certainly do what they can to keep the over-caffeinated people in check.

As for the database, I think you might put the info out there with a caveat or disclaimer to the effect that these are just observations of fleet tendencies and your individual mileage may vary...   I for one would be most concerned about the potential issues and breakage that cost me big dollars, more so than simple nuisance problems and nickel/dime repairs (although also good to know).   What's going to break and leave me stranded, what am I looking at for big ticket items and when does it happen, when should I do a preemptive rebuild/replace to prevent a breakdown?  It's all about knowing the tendencies, and as a fleet manager I trust that you see patterns that ordinary people don't.  The data doesn't lie.  Commercial use may be more intensive, but I still think the tendencies are highly relevant because I see that as a worst case scenario.  If you can just give people a sense of what to expect, what to look out for... it will be successful.
Firtree said:
If he didn’t say anything about that, then someone just say that.

I did and you now have it waiting in your PM inbox. (It was for that specific van, but pretty much all I could think of to check on one of those. See if my brain pan agrees with your own experience.) :)

The ideas so far point to more of a printable cheat sheet for looking at each vehicle...and then a listing of most-often occurring issues with each you can click on for more in-depth info.
All you folks who get that this is a major project... kudos, you grok it! :)

In my experience, something with so many unknowns, is best tackled with a relatively tightly focused working prototype, for the developers to work out issues using a small subset of vehicles. It's easier to understand a forest if you start with a copse of trees.
I'm pretty sure that JD would also be enthusiastic about starting by focusing on low end vans for folks in "survival" mode (which conveniently is my demographic!). We could cap the Bluebook value at something like 5K$ (possibly lower). JD is infinitely more qualified to pick criteria for the bottom range. :)

That prototype should focus on creating an info summary for each vehicle model, and have one high level comparison table/page, with links to each model's summary page. There would be one separate detailed summary and one very detailed "repair issues"  page for each model year.
It doesn't have to have a fancy UI, in the beginning. Maybe just a few questions up front to guide folks with what their priorities should be.

Esteemed member frater secessus has an excellent overview table of the high-end high-top vans. I highly recommend that as an example of a tremendously useful resource.
I'd like ours to be more detailed in the operating costs & "issues" data.

Each vehicle profile should have:
  • basic specs
  • pros & cons as a dweller vehicle
  • MPG (theoretical, and actual based on contributor data)
  • list of known issues, in a nice easy-to-print format that can be handed to an inspector
  • estimated annual cost of ownership
  • expected repairs (e.g. known lifetime ranges of principal parts) and reasonable estimates of costs (including contributors' real experiences)
  • some indication how "complete" the profile is (e.g. rough first draft, still need to crunch data, thoroughly vetted)

JD, I can probably help you find some of the patterns in your data, and maybe create some tools to help you find & further refine stuff (e.g. finding anomalies, classifying each fleet's usage pattern(s)). That level of improvement doesn't need to be available online. The final data would be static, generated from a major offline database.
You did an excellent job in your first post, providing examples of data dilemmas. :)

flying kurbmaster & Doubleone: yup, you nailed it.
Fortunately forum user "reliability" is a well understood problem, and we already have an expert on the development team. :)
We do need:
  • more raters (i.e. known reliable members)
  • lots of data contributors (the more diverse, the better)
  • at least one graphics/web designer (i.e. not a coder, an artistic/esthetics person)

Note that I've already arranged webhosting for the project, provided it's non-commercial and cybersafe. :)
There will also be a support forum for contributors (it will be tightly limited to project discussion, as there's already plenty of general van dwelling discussion places).

Disclosure: As I've mentioned elsewhere (just take a quick look at threads started by me before today), I have two major obligations that I have to finalize before I can put significant time into this.

In the meantime, as JD mentioned, it would be great to get feedback, and find out who's able to contribute time & data. :)
I hope the above will spark more input. :)

If not, here's a fundamental question to get y'all started...
What specific van(s) would you recommend to complete beginners who have very limited money?

Ideally one needs more info, however those of you who are knowledgeable about one or more specific type(s), should be able to mentally run thru your own list and share any that you feel are worth discussing further.
When you post, please include some brief pros & cons.
Thanks! :)
I hope you can do it. It would be fascinating particularly for those of us who want to keep our vehicles long term.
Sounds like you trying to put CarFax, KBB and any other VIN reporting site out of business if you are able to manage this as this would be way more info all of those combined. Great to have that database, but like other websites not everything gets reported.
If anything start small company that employs/contracts people like us to do inspection of said vehicle one is looking at in radius of miles. This employee or contractor would have to pass background check, knowledge test, have their own tools and feedback rating implied. I'm sure there is more can be added to prerequisites though this is a start.
In my experience, something with so many unknowns, is best tackled with a relatively tightly focused working prototype, for the developers to work out issues using a small subset of vehicles.

Paretto principle: 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes (so we can focus on 20% of the vital points and ignore the rest)

That prototype should focus on creating an info summary for each vehicle model, and have one high level comparison table/page, with links to each model's summary page. There would be one separate detailed summary and one very detailed "repair issues" page for each model year.

Similar to what Consumer Reports' Car Issue is doing for cars and minivans.

It doesn't have to have a fancy UI, in the beginning. Maybe just a few questions up front to guide folks with what their priorities should be.

Consumer reports does it in a print format. Static file solves 80% of the questions, rest are custom and are better asked in this or other specialized forums.

  • list of known issues, in a nice easy-to-print format that can be handed to an inspector
  • estimated annual cost of ownership
  • expected repairs (e.g. known lifetime ranges of principal parts) and reasonable estimates of costs (including contributors' real experiences)

Note that I've already arranged webhosting for the project,
Great place for it would be frater secessus - RVwiki, a natural outgrowth of his evaluation how he selected his van (worth a read if you missed it). Wiki is easy to update by several contributors.

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