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Old 09-07-2016, 02:35 PM   #41
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This is a great thread with details that is helping me with my order. So many choices but trying to keep within a reasonable budget.

My main usage is similar to your "Use case 4": 2-4 people weekend trips in HOT climate..." A typical summer drive to the mountains require crossing through hot valley areas (up to 105F dry heat in central California). Will the Cab AC keep the rear passengers cool or do you recommend a Danhard rear AC? SMB Fresno says the rear AC requires the 2nd Alternator and 2800 watt inverter.

Thanks in advance for everyone's opinion.
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Old 09-14-2016, 09:58 PM   #42
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Originally Posted by MtShasta View Post
This is a great thread with details that is helping me with my order. So many choices but trying to keep within a reasonable budget.

My main usage is similar to your "Use case 4": 2-4 people weekend trips in HOT climate..." A typical summer drive to the mountains require crossing through hot valley areas (up to 105F dry heat in central California). Will the Cab AC keep the rear passengers cool or do you recommend a Danhard rear AC? SMB Fresno says the rear AC requires the 2nd Alternator and 2800 watt inverter.

Thanks in advance for everyone's opinion.
In my estimation, the Cab AC will not be sufficient to keep the rear passengers cool in 105. The Cab AC is good, but not that good. You should double check this for yourself, but I *think* a benefit of the Danhard (vs. other aux AC) is that it runs directly off the onboard 12v system (e.g., 12V supplied by house battery, perpetually recharged by 2nd alternator) rather than always forcing use of the inverter and associated electrical overhead.

I am happy with the Danhard. It works great, even in 90+ degrees outside and the Cab AC off. Living in TX, I spend too much time on the verge of heat stroke depending heavily on my ability to seek refuge in AC to bring core body temp back down. Some people thrive in the heat and can sleep in 90 degrees, but I would not skimp on the AC myself.

Snowy
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Old 09-14-2016, 10:40 PM   #43
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More updates and answers to questions I have received via email:

What would I do different in ordering the van from MB?
* I ordered the factory integrated Becker GPS because I imagined the integration with voice and everything would offset any deficiencies. However, the Becker GPS is COMPLETELY useless.. It is ridiculous to enter destinations, and not nearly as useful as my cheap Garmin once traveling. If I could do it over, I would simply drop that option. Several hundred dollars as I recall.
* I like the stereo head unit with microphone and blue tooth integration OK. It's not a great unit, but I think it will be OK. I like the steering wheel controls and phone integration, including build-in mic, and it integrates with the LED instrumentation panel. Note from my other posts that you CAN have the factory program the fader control to work. So FAR, I am glad I am using the factory audio rather than stripped down and doing all after-market stereo, which would invariably not have integrated as well. That said, I saw Fitz's setup build around CarPlay and it too is compelling. No steering wheel controls or media info on the dash, but nice setup.
* I got the factory driving lights option. Not even sure what option it was, but these remain on if the van is running even if the headlights are off. What that means is that, say you are camping and want to keep the engine running for the A/C (or other electronics) - your 'always on' lights will of course always be on. If you are around others, or even by yourself, this could be really annoying. I have heard there may be a programming option to turn these off, but factories aren't going to do it because the existence of these always-on driving lights is a factor in insurance policies (I think). For now, this represents a potential problem that I am sure I can solve (pull bulbs or something in the worst case, or add an inline switch to the circuit near the lights). Something to consider. Given that I am stuck with these on anyway, I would have researched the other headlight options more carefully before declining them since I thought it was with those options that would invite this problem.
* I also did not get any of the extra safety stuff like lane assist. I guess I am behind the times, but I didn't like the idea of the vehicle being THAT smart. However, in hindsight, the blind-spot detect might have been a nice option. I would learn more about that before declining it.
* I ordered mine direct from MB to shave 6 months off total time. I have no regrets doing this so far. However, wife brought to my attention that we are having a little difficulty finding insurance for the conversion. I am not sure if this would be different if you bought the vehicle turn-key from SMB as an RV. Several insurance companies don't want to cover a vehicle that I have had converted. I suspect they may have been more receptive if there was a single purchase price for the combined 'RV', but I don't know this for sure yet. UPDATE: ExplorerRV declined when they realized it was 4wd. Went with State Farm, but they only do it if you already have another vehicle with them, so it meant switching another vehicle to SF as well, at significantly more than I was paying before. All said and done, the incremental cost over what I was paying before is over $2K/year to have this van insured.
* No issue with both the factory engine pre-heater (diesel) and the Espar D5 system (furnace and hot water). I do recall a factory option on the fuel system that seemed to support plumbing of outside systems. Not sure if relevant or not. Look at my build list for specific code.

First thoughts upon receipt of the conversion?
* My experience with the pickup was overall good. They forgot a few minor things that would have been reasonable to do on the fly during pick up, and accidentally reupholstered the front seats (free of charge since I did not ask for it - and it looks great, btw, so I was happy rather than bothered at the error). On the flip side, they were very accommodating with late-breaking window coverage choices (switched from curtains to inserts after seeing Fitz's van), and even trimmed some plastic to avoid tire rub (the vehicle sits lower than it did when I brought it in LOL).


Lessons learned so far (first 2 days of driveway use):
* Broke the awning already. The awning sags in the middle, and I did not think to angle it for drainage. First rain had enough weight that supports connecting to van buckled. Should have had them straight down to the ground rather than coming back to the van, and maybe not extended so far. I can still pack them up and use them, but cautionary tale for others than the supports should be treated gently. I am guessing guy ropes would be good too if risk of even small amount of wind.
* OK, so this is not a common scenario, but it is something to pay attention to. If you are connected to shore power and lose it, such as tripping the circuit, you may not know from inside the van as everything seemlessly just fails over to house battery. I caught it at 11.5V, but you could very easily drain your house battery lower than is healthy for it - especially if you are running the AC! Pay attention to the status indicator on the remote console for the inverter/charging system? Oh, and Captain Obvious says don't run the AC, fridge, water pump, and lights on a 20A shore-power circuit in your garage. No telling when they will conspire to be on at the same time.
* VERY glad I got the Danhard A/C. It's a bit louder than I expected on the outside of the van, but tolerable white noise on the inside to ensure a good sleep on those utilitarian nights where stuck sleeping in van in heat between someplace and anyplace. Works great and took the interior for 91 to 71 in an hour or two one afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised as I assumed it would not be that effective.
* Spare tire (285/70r17) does not fit in the modified cage I pictured earlier in this thread. One other option to mount underneath, and if that doesn't work I am looking at the rear bumper setup from Aluminess. I was on the fence regarding spare tire/rear storage, and am thinking I should have gone wiht the Aluminess rear bumper/tire carrier/storage box + underbody storage from SMB in the first place. I have enough low-access stuff I keep with me (recovery gear, tools, etc.) that I could put in the under-body storage. And I was worried about rattle, but as Fitz pointed out, who cares if it rattles if you can't hear it, and you sure can't hear it back there from the driver's seat while driving. +1 for underbody storage combined with aluminess bumper w/carrier and box.

Snowy
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Old 09-18-2016, 12:58 PM   #44
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sleeping arrangements

Wife gets credit for the epiphany on sleeping diagonally. I had cut a jig out of 2"x10" stock and set it on our bed at home to see what sleeping inside the confines of the Dinette-W would be like, and it was too short for me to comfortably sleep width-wise. However, diagonally worked, and then adding the extra length to driver side beyond that makes this very comfortable. In short, layout works as planned. I sleep solo on the driver side without having to fuss with table and couch on the other side. Wife and I very comfortably sleep width-wise down below. In fact, my daughter joined us as well and it looks like we could all three reasonably sleep in that rear couch/bed combination. (Daughter kicking about not withstanding, which makes even a king size bed tight at times.)

Penthouse top is awesome for two as well. Honestly, 5 could sleep in this van if you were good dance partners.
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Old 09-18-2016, 01:10 PM   #45
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refrigerator

One question I had, that others may have as well, was around the practical use of the standard 3E refrigerator (2.7CF). SMB is always tuning their selection process and the unit is not exactly as pictured on their site. I don't consider this bad - just pointing it out in case people are attending to every subtle aspect of the pictures.

Yes, you can fit a half-gallon milk/juice container in door if you remove the second shelf in the door. I have some pics that show relative sizing. It is deeper than I realized. The gatorades are arranged to show sizing without measuring tape. These are the smaller 12oz bottles. Sorry, didn't have beer handy, which would have been at least as good a measure, I know.

Yes, it gets cold enough to make ice. Made a tray of ice in less than 2 hours. Not sure how much less, because I hadn't been checking. BTW, I advise against the soft ice trays. The ice tray is far back and the soft trays are floppy. Much easier to get a stiff tray in there without it bending over and spilling on the way in. Plenty of room for frozen meets in there.

Snowy
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Old 09-18-2016, 01:17 PM   #46
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3rd chair between couch/kitchen and front passenger

Another question I had was how much room there would be for the person on the 3rd seat in my configuration, given I squeezed it in between a couch+kitchen behind it, and the front passenger in front. I am happy to report that this is going to work great for me. Pics attached. It is lower to the ground than the other seats, which was awkward for my 6' passenger, but it is adjustable for-aft and was fine. I think it would be less awkward for people with shorter legs. It is a stark contrast in view from the front seat though, which sits up high and I have come to like a lot.

Regarding the seat, I also had questions on how easy it is to add/remove. Though I haven't pulled it out yet, there appear to be 5 easily accessible bolts with permanent threading in the plating underneath. Should be no problem, other than weight of the seat itself. Assume this goes as planned unless I post back with an issue later.

P.S. While not my use case, it is worth noting that this might be a good option for those that occasionally need a front-facing seat for baby car seat.
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Old 09-18-2016, 01:29 PM   #47
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water

I was originally going to go with the 20G fresh water tank, but I started thinking about the relative frequency that I need to carry that much fresh water; the downside of having all that weight otherwise; the downside of how infrequently I would be cycling through it, etc.. In the end, I opted to go with the 10G tank (less space, lighter, easier to keep pressurized, cycle through much more often), and carry extra water outside the tank for those rare occasions where I had to go more than 10G worth of time between filling opportunities. In the past I have just used 3 7G tanks, which I like just fine. My question was whether I could fit one (or two) of these 7G tanks under the couch inside the van, and I am happy to report that the dimensions are not a problem.
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Old 09-18-2016, 02:07 PM   #48
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Originally Posted by trailsurfer View Post
Not to rain on your parade. But I wouldn't count on their 8 week build. Having spoken to a couple of people getting builds done currently in Austin, they haven't been able to complete builds within 8 weeks.

I think 12 weeks would be prudent to count on. And I hope I am wrong, and all works out for you in the end! I just wouldn't want to see a long trip ruined by a delay in the delivery.

Good luck, and you will love your van!
I just wanted to follow up and give credit where credit is due. I rescheduled my first major trip to CO in case there were delays, but SMB completed the build in 8 weeks as promised (after the screw up on start date). I visited their shop twice during this time. They seem to run a tight ship, with a full team of people really busy. Looking at them from a business perspective, there seems to be good morale and a lot of energy among the folks on the front line. Full props on this particular dimension.
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Old 09-20-2016, 12:45 AM   #49
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I just wanted to follow up and give credit where credit is due. I rescheduled my first major trip to CO in case there were delays, but SMB completed the build in 8 weeks as promised (after the screw up on start date). I visited their shop twice during this time. They seem to run a tight ship, with a full team of people really busy. Looking at them from a business perspective, there seems to be good morale and a lot of energy among the folks on the front line. Full props on this particular dimension.
I need to echo Snowy's comment. My build started on July 25th and I picked up on September 8th - 7 weeks. Add to that the fact that I could have picked it up one week sooner if I had wanted to, but I opted to wait until the week after the Labor Day weekend vs. the week before.

Ditto the tight ship comment also, I was very impressed with everyone I dealt with in Austin and with the way the entire organization ran.
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Old 09-21-2016, 08:16 PM   #50
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I observe that the sliding door routinely opens further than the mid-point, which is as far as I would ever want to open it. Lets all that Danhard A/C out. Anyway, when I get some matching material from SMB, I am going to mount a 20" 2"x4" (covered with matching material) on the sliding door at the two bumper locations.This should halt it at the mid-point just past where the 'catch' can hold it open. Considering screwing right into the door panel, or screwing in straps to hold it in place (and allow for small amount of for-aft movement).

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