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Old 07-22-2012, 01:44 AM   #51
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

This is week 2 of the build itself.

I made one change this week, I added in the remotely controlled (wireless) Golight Styker GL-3051 (you can find it in the 4wd area in the bumpers and lights section). This will satisfy my need to know what went bump in the night when boondocking - at least until I settle into the routine and get comfortable with the idea of boondocking with just my wife. Due to my management background I will always keep a "change order log" so I know when I approved an additional item and how much the agreed upon cost is. I will share this with the SMB folks periodically to compare notes. If there are changes for any reason from SMB I will need to be alerted immediately so it can be added as this change order log will become the basis of cost reconciliation at the end of the project (we'll see how this works). No surprise is the best surprise.

I will confirm some fabrics next week since I realize that I am still not sure of the entire fabric selection for the van, even to this day. I came to realize that there are materials used for the headliners (a cloth material) and around the windows (a vinyl) that need to be confirmed. I assume that there is a standard color palate used when you pick brown or grey as your base color but I have too many material swatches in my standard sample set for the number of places where they might be used. Which ones will be used and which ones are extra for some unkown reason I don't know (different vehicles use different materials?). I also have two light tans in vinyl now so we have to figure out which one is going to be used (I was just sent an additional sample of tan leather and vinyl). To completely settle all of the material selections I will assemble a sample board, glue on samples of material to be used and identify it's location, and confirm it all with SMB so there will be no question later (or now for that matter).

I have some photos attached. The window openings have been cut in and the edges sealed with what appears to be some bituminous material (tar like - I have not received confirmation of the material). The generator is attrached. It is a Powertech PTRV-3, weighs 260lbs, and hangs just over 15 inches below it's mounting point. I should have a minimum of 6"-7". I could have as much as 10" clearance but I couldn't get a commitment, this is one of the reasons for the 3500 selection (+1" extra ground clearance). This is all according to the Powertech rep in Florida, not SMB. They are starting to pull in the electrical wiring and have the flooring/platform at the door installed.






I am going to visit briefly to look at the work and confirm the materials this next week. If there is anyone looking for pictures of their build please let me know.

Thanks.

Chum
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Old 07-30-2012, 02:48 PM   #52
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Week 3 of the build is behind us.

Not much to say this week. I added a backup light since it looks like it will be tough to get a good view behind me at night even with the backup camera. My experience is that the low light from the van's backup light isn't good enough to really light up the background well and then messes up the nightime vision of the backup camera. Besides, I am on a crusade to fill the blanks in the dash. I don't know how much it will cost yet since they might have to split a standard order of 2 lights or find another vendor.

I am still looking for a nice dash upgrade kit. Something to spice up the center stack. Mercedes used to offer a set of replacement dash trims, one that looked like black walnut and a painted silver set (termed "Cockpit Trim" kits) but no more. They were plastic, and no doubt expensive, but at least you had some options. Still looking but options appear limited. Apparently a lot of stuff offered for the previous version Sprinter are not offered in the same quantities for the new version, strange. Sportsmobile has promised to help me find something since they used to offer on the older version but it too fell by the wayside. I found one product from Remin but they only sell a whole kit for everything from the vents to the door locks which I don't need, I just want a few pieces on the dash and maybe the door handles. Any feedback would be appreciated (but I don't want the warped kit that RoadTrek offers on their vans). Note: After an exhaustive search I have found that there are really only 3 companies offering dash kits for our vans. I had to cross reference the Dodge Sprinter to get some listings. I found Sherwood and B&D consistently. At he Carid site I found Remin which appears to be made for them by a vendor that offers the same thing to at least one other company under their name. I read some disappointing reviews about Carid so may think about other vendors. In talking with the Sherwood folks I will likely go with their product as I can purchase direct from them or another site I found. Still have not heard back from SMB about their options.

I plan on visiting later this week to make up for last week. I have missed viewing some items I wanted to see or get pictures. Items like what the insulation looks like (is it standard residential housing fiberglass? I think it is), I wanted to see the electrical routing for the stuff on the roof and in the walls, and any plumbing stuff. I guess I like to see how things are fastened and protected from chafing. I also want to know where things are in case I do some work in the future or have a problem on a trip that I might have to look into myself. Hopefully I can see a van in process to see how things are normally installed and will post those pictures.

I also overnighted an approved sample of the tan vinyl we wanted to use for trim around the windows. I will update my sample board since I had the wrong one glued up previously, it's worth tracking this stuff for me. Again, no surprise is the best surprise for a control freak like me.

Here are pictures for the week.







As you can see I get a pretty tiny propane tank, and it was the biggest they could fit. It will fuel only the stove and heater so I should be okay, I hope. The generator really hangs pretty low but I still don't how low, still waiting for that dimension but I guess there isn't much I can do about it. There is a really long exhaust pipe on the muffler that looks like an old WW1 watercooled machine gun. That may be an issue for boondocking but I have a 4wd truck for getting back into the boonies so I will have to prioritize what I want to get out of a trip.

I look forward to this week's visit. This is going well and the communication with my salesman/project manager is quite good. Still no one trying to sell me on anything.

Thanks.

Chum
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Old 07-30-2012, 03:28 PM   #53
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chumley
.... That may be an issue for boondocking but I have a 4wd truck for getting back into the boonies so I will have to prioritize what I want to get out of a trip...


Chum
I agree completely on the prioritizing. I've found that you can make a vehicle do just about everything, but only at the expense of the vehicle doing anything particularly well. It's all about achieveing the right balance, which is different for everybody.

Congrats on getting so close to taking possession. You sound like an expectant parent.


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Old 07-31-2012, 04:11 PM   #54
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Herb,

I agree with the "too much compromise" train of thought. I wanted the generator for everyday comfort and that is a priority but I love getting back on the remote dirt roads, I hope I still can on the better ones. Good news is that there are a lot of well kept dirt roads in California and I have some guides that list the road conditions sensibly. I drove the beautiful road from Bodie to Masonic and passed a couple of low slung street cars even though it just didn't look like they should be there. In reality there weren't a lot of places where they wouldn't be fine, you just don't see many people trying it. I think this new van may be able to drive that road, just need to learn what airing down the tires mean on one that normally takes +50 psi.

I was duly warned about the low hanging height of the generator but I did not know it was going to be set back that far. My fault but I didn't visualize it properly. One person, on another forum, warned me that the generator will drag on some driveways but I think it should be okay. The 3500 sits a little higher and it looks like maybe the rear is jacked up a little higher than the 2500, maybe (here's to hoping...).

I am trying to get a warning flap the same height as the generator set at the front of the van so that it will scrape and give me warning before I hit something, if for no other reason than to set my mouth guard before it hits.

I am asking a lot of questions of the SMB sales/PM because I love my details. I guess that is like an expectant father asking the good doctor if everything that happens is normal... at least I don't call in the middle of the night...

So Herb, when does your next project fire up? Taking a break from having a SMB for a while to plan those next trips? Hope you're on the road soon in something special, if you're not already saddled up.

Chum
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Old 08-06-2012, 08:23 PM   #55
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Week 4 is when you can really see things happening.

But first let's visit the dictionary for a moment:
Def: picayune (adjective) so small or unimportant as to warrant little or no attention <irritatingly picayune complaints>, Related words: hairsplitting, nitpicking, Example(s): Chumley

Def: project manager: A project manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the stated project objectives. Key project management responsibilities include creating clear and attainable project objectives, building the project requirements, and managing the constraints of the project management triangle (quadrangle), which are cost, time, scope, and quality. Forecast of possible scenarios resulting in avoidance of undesireable outcomes. Fretting a lot. Example(s): Chumley

I made no changes that I am aware of... Really there were a couple of changes afoot that were not cost issues just confirmation of items already in the works. I'll explain later.

During the week I got a call from the audio/visual guy Rob of IA. Rob was calling because of a question regarding switching, there is a lot of switching going on with this unit. God that worries me. Anyway I in turn asked him about where on the roof they installed the XM radio antenna. He said they don't, they install the antenna on the dash along with the GPS antenna. I did not know that and promptly let him know that I was surprised (I don't like surprises). My past expereince had always been that satellite radio antennas were on the outside of the steel (albeit perforated steel) boxes we travel in. I used to build a lot of RF (radio frequency) shielded rooms in the early days of cellular telephones for companies like GTE Mobilnet. These rooms were basically regular rooms with expanded metal panels in the walls along with some grounding. Okay, that's where my expertise ends but I use it to sound like I know what I am talking about. I don't. So I made my concern known and Rob was very, very accommodating in settling my concerns. He also went to the SMB shop and found out that the center speaker cover on which they usually lay their antennas can be removed so they might be able to place the antennas under it now. No guarntee about how well it will work but he will move them back on top of the cover if it doesn't. That is what I call customer service. He has been doing this a long time and likely forgot that someone picayune like me might come along and question his routine. He was willing to accept that I had a concern, founded in science or ignorance, and worked with me. I like that. I am going to once again be a guinea pig but as a BMW motorcycle owner I am used to the role. Only this time it won't cost me thousands of dollars to fill out the reports...

I went to SMB West last Friday to see the build progress for myself. I had been looking forward to this for a couple of weeks. I was hoping to go more frequently but things conspire to keep you away. At the current rate of construction I may only get to visit once during the build because it is progressing so quickly. I was told that they had an efficiency expert visit and make recommendations a couple months back and they are starting to realize the fruits of that effort. My van will likely be done before originally forecast. I should know later in the week when it might be expected. Gotta sell that old van now...

Something I just learned on this visit is that the SMB build process is kind of like watching a hot dog being made or a cow being butchered to make that rib eye steak. You will likely love the results but the process is not for the faint of heart...

It started with me being late again, I hate that. Apparently the SMB staff is pretty casual and don't seem to mind but I hate it since it can reflect a lack of respect for other's time. I just have bad luck... I met my Salesman/PM and as usual he was cheerful and welcoming. He had been showing what appeared to be potential customers the Fuso prototype, man that thing is cool. The wife and I have been discussing a 4x4 SMB option and maybe we will build a Ford 4x4in a few years when we have more time to use it properly. First gotta get this one done.

We started with the usual walk around and I noticed that an LED backup light had been installed.



That was great except I didn't know we had decided upon a light fixture or the associated cost yet. I had been thinking rectangular and it was round. Not a huge deal in its own right but a surprise. Saw the Golight mounted up front on top and it looked good. Later I was taken to a completed floor sample and shown the remote control and how well the light worked even in a fully lit workshop, impressive. The remote was like a small TV remote which turned it on as well as rotated and aimed up and down with the beam of light shining bright in the corner about a hundred feet away. Every annoying thing should have one of these.



Next I checked the generator. I measured it and the enclosure hung about 8" from the ground but a bracket with bolt on the mount for the muffler hung down to about 7". I can live with that. The decision to go with the 3500 seems to be paying off since it provided that extra inch (notice how I keep reaffirming my decision?). I say that because the van is likely going to settle a bit as it gets loaded with interior improvements. It already appears to have settled a bit since looking at in the parking lot that first time. SMB will work with me to figure out if a flap can be hung down below and warn me if clearance issues come up.



I went inside and it was impressive.




The base cabinet frames had all been installed. You can see how the cabinets are bolted thru the floor with "L" brackets and several small "L" brackets screwed into the floor to keep them from vibrating and help retain shape. Everything is screwed together and looks like it should last a long time plus I can perform any modifications or repairs myself. It was mentioned by another member that there are better construction methods available, like those used in the boating industry, but this appears to be a good balance between cost and effectiveness. I gotta say that I am blowing that one out of my arse, I am just familiar with the "L" bracket assembly and it works for me (but I bet that efficiency expert knows).



I then started looking around and the part about not seeing it in progress sunk in. There were plastic parts piled up on the unprotected dash. That just happens to be a pet peeve of mine. Dashes are incredibly expensive and I don't know why anyone would take a chance blemishing one but I was told that this is normal and they never have damage. Only time will tell, I'll let you know at pcik up.



There was a lot of glue on everything from the interior wood panels to the flooring and the body itself. I was told that they have detailers remove it all and am not really worried, it just looks scary and I'll be checking for it upon pick up (I wonder what that efficiency expert said about that). I wonder what the heck the workers look like at the end of the day, can they even sit on something without having to be pried off later? Bet they never drop their coffee mug. There appeared to already be a scratch on a wall but it may just be a splash that looks like a scratch. But edge trim covering part of it leads me to believe it might have been there before assembly... Mind you, nothing is perfect but a possibly damaged piece that is still installed does not meet my sh!t happens philosophy of acceptable goofs.

The cabinet base for the refer that sits at the edge of the sliding door opening is hanging out in space. The cabinet is pretty far over and maybe they have only one floor substrate plan for these vans so it just didn't fit, otherwise someone mis-measured. I would like to know how they would normally handle this. I have seen that they normally put a flooring covered panel as a closure plate under the floor extension. I could only hope that they find a creative way to put an operable door over the open end that looks like it supports the cabinet and make storage room for something.



I was happy with the amount of aisle room, I could pass my wife as long as I stay away from too many hot dogs and rib eye. The counter height is about 34"-35" (normal 32") since the refer is so tall and I like it since it is close to what we have in the kitchen at home.

Overall I am very excited. As a recovering project manager I know that many, many industries have an "ugly phase" where the uninitiated would freak out if witnessed. Most try to hide it, SMB does not. To me that means that they believe that they have it under control and are not worried, the end product will speak for itself. I hope that they can put up with the picayune project manager client in the meantime because it creates reason for fretting. When I fret, we all fret.

I would recommend SMB and my salesman to anyone in the future at this point. I think that there is still a minor issue with communication at times but I also think that if you have an issue they will listen and fix it for you. These guys are fitting a house in a van and there is no end to the possible complexity you can create but that is what you pay these guys for so they gotta perform. It appears they do.

Chumley
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Old 08-07-2012, 01:28 AM   #56
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Chum,

Why did you decide on the 144 WB vs 170 WB? Van looks great! I've wanted to go with a 170 but the 144 seems to hold all the major stuff.

Brian
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Old 08-07-2012, 06:12 AM   #57
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

As always chumley, great update!
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Old 08-07-2012, 12:16 PM   #58
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Hey All,

I received a prompt response from my SMB Sales/PM to my questions which captured what I had also posted here in my previous post.

One issue was the backup light. They are changing it back to the original rectangular light. The reason they went with a round one was that they had one around and did not have to split up a pair or charge me extra. Now they will buy a pair and charge me for only one so there is one now available for a backup light (or?) for some other lucky person.

The issue with the dash will be resolved with whatever it takes to make sure the dash is not scratched when I receive it. That is all I want. Good to go.

There is no scratch on the wall, it was a splash. The evil eye cuts both ways, it cut me that time... I apologize for that one because it was an issue that could have implied they were trying to get away with something. Well I guess I did imply that but I was wrong, I do apologize.

The hanging cabinet will have an end panel installed under it. The face closure plate, as typically installed, will be installed under the floor. This additional plate (cover) will now be installed to cover the edge of the floor (not under) and the closure plate and will have to be notched on the top at some point where it meets the floor area further in towards the aisle because of the radiused return of the subfloor. This is not my first choice since now it might look like an afterthought. I will have to see this for myself to see whether or not it looks like an afterthought to me. I am a detail kind of guy, see picayune. Where I come from your work is judged by the details.

The window tint issue will likely be an issue that will haunt me to the end. If you order a van and you order one with the sliding door window and the rear windows option how do you know if the tint of the factory windows will match the aftermarket windows to be installed? You have 2 options from MBZ, light and privacy (dark) tint. There is no place on the SMB van order form to add tint. If you order the aftermarket windows for SMB to install they will be dark tinted (equivalent to the MBZ privacy tint). I think a factory tinted (privacy) option should to be offered on the order form and the customer informed that the option should be taken or a window film (tint) will need to be installed during the build if you want window tints to be consistent between factory and SMB installed. The cost of the film is over 2x what the option order would cost (if I have the right option noted, still not sure) and is not as durable, obviously. If the customer did not choose the factory privacy glass option or the window film tint it would not be a big deal to the owner until they looked at the side of their van and the sliding door window appeared clear compared to a dark tinted aftermarket window next to it but they made their informed choice in advance. Strange to me that this is not automatically addressed.

Can you tell that I am a person who deals a lot with establishing company standards and policy? I think that the picayune definition comes into play somewhere here... My employee file includes a picture of a bulldog foaming at the mouth with eyeglasses sitting crooked (eyeglasses taped together at the bridge) with a steaming pile under the tail. There are also pictures of a walrus and ferret in there too...

Taking a stinker for the betterment of all future SMB customers... I hope.

I am making quick judgements here becasue the build is moving quickly. There is nothing worse than not being able to make a correction because it was buried and became too much to correct in terms of distruption and possible lost time so remains unresolved. Many people/firms rely on this to keep from making corrections. SMB does not do this, that I now know. One more check in the positive column. I keep reading in posts that SMB will take of their issues, sometimes even well past warranty, and are committed to their customers. Seems true to me.

I am a tough customer but I will pay a fair price for my demands, just let me know where I am being excessive and unreasonable and what it should cost. So far no one has been able to define that line.

Thanks.

Chumley
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Old 08-07-2012, 12:34 PM   #59
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Brian,

We chose the short wheelbase for urban convenience. We live just south of San Jose, California, and deal with going into the big city for work and other pursuits. This van is our 3rd vehicle and one that will allow my wife to carry more than one other person that her sports car dictates.

The 144" is over 3' shorter than the 170" model. A standard parking lot stall is usually 9' wide by 18' long. The 144" is about 20' long so fits well.



On the street a parallel parking stall is usually about 9' wide by between 22' to 24' long (although I have seen stalls as short as 20'). The van at just under 20' so should fit reasonably well where anything more really would be tough.

We also figured out that we could get most of what we need into the short wheelbase and it would be a little easier to drive day to day for the wife. The bad part is that I have put myself into a position where I have less storage space than desired though. I will post in the future about that since the SMB Sales/PM helped me figure that one out too.

If I did not need to venture into the city as much I would definitely go with a longer van. The incremental cost is nothing compared to what you can get out of it.

Thanks.

Chumley
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Old 08-07-2012, 08:51 PM   #60
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Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Quote:
Many people/firms rely on this to keep from making corrections. SMB does not do this, that I now know
I would not make that statement after my build.
Still I really love my SMB despite some things taken out of my control and not shared till it was done.
my two cents from a centless person.
Don
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