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Old 11-07-2017, 10:35 PM   #1
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Trip Report / First impressions of new van!

We picked up our new Sprinter 4x4 RB High-top from SMB West 2 weeks ago, and are quite pleased so far.

First, the van! We designed it as a 4-season off-the-grid camper and road-tripper. We wanted 4x4 so we could safely go to ski areas and up forest roads, but don't intend to do the hardcore rock-crawling I've read too many threads about on these forums!

Here's the schematic view, which is all we've had to look at for over a year:


One year later, here's the as-built:

After 9 days of solid use, it is exceeding expectations. The Espar furnace and water heater felt like an unnecessary luxury when we first thought about it. We only barely said yes after learning we could leave it on unattended so we could go play in sub-freezing weather and still have running water. But just being able to use a few drops of diesel and sleep at a steady 60 degrees instead of cold and variable is much greater than I expected. It's a bit noisy, but about the same as the fridge cycling on and off.

Rather than A/C, we got 2 MaxxAir fans, on the theory that we could have one blow in and one blow out to get a whole-van circulation effect. We tested this a bit in 95 degree Bakersfield, and it worked quite well, although we didn't hang out in the van at mid-day.

The AMP running boards work beautifully. My wife is short and has knee issues, so even the grab handles aren't enough to easily get into and out of the van. The running boards are at the perfect height, providing a needed halfway step, but get out of the way when the doors close.

One disappointment is that space constraints prevented us from getting a larger water tank. 16 gallons sounds like a lot for camping, but goes quickly when you've got a shower and sink. Even so, it's easier to overflow the grey water tank than expected, since the sink and shower each have their own smaller tanks, not one big one. We also didn't realize that, since the Espar is on the opposite side of the van from the sink, getting hot water requires running the faucet for about a gallon of cold water before it makes the journey all the way around the back of the van.

It's getting late and I haven't even started on the rookie mistakes -- ahem, learning opportunities -- we've made, not to mention the actual trip. So... to be continued. Meanwhile, here's one more pic, from a random unnamed beach along the SW Oregon coast.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:30 AM   #2
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Congrats! I would love to see some exterior pictures of your new van.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:45 AM   #3
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Ditto. Congratulations!

You have a short time (24 hours?) to edit your posts, it looks like you need to go back and re-insert the schematic links above as I see the reference but not the pictures.

On with the learning opportunities! It will be great fun.
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Old 11-08-2017, 08:00 AM   #4
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You have a short time (24 hours?) to edit your posts, it looks like you need to go back and re-insert the schematic links above as I see the reference but not the pictures.
Sorry, I think it's fixed now. I actually tested the pics, and they looked fine on my end, but I think Google Photos was requiring a login cookie or something. Getting valid, public image links was harder than I expected, and I do this sort of thing for a living! Maybe not for long if this van thing works out...
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Old 11-08-2017, 08:13 AM   #5
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Much better, thanks! Great looking van. I remember when we first picked up our van and drove it from Texas to CA, VERY hard not to just keep on going!
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Old 11-08-2017, 06:48 PM   #6
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Chapter 2

As you can see from the schematic, the bed is in the back. My half is the platform at the rear, my wife gets the dinette, and we sleep width-wise. I'm about 5'9", and just barely fit when stretched out perpendicularly, to the point that I can lay flat but not point my toes! But a little curling up, or using the diagonal, or encroaching a bit, is sufficient room, as long as I don't need to creep out in the middle of the night. On the other hand, I don't think we'll be able to resell this to any basketball players.

After a 2 day family visit in hot Bakersfield, we headed to Yosemite. Some forum members opposed this plan as a tourist trap, but the timing worked out, as not only was it not very crowded around Halloween, we were able to easily get nice first-come-first-serve campsites on both nights by showing up around lunchtime, first at Wawona Campground (tip: loop A sucks, loop B is much better), then in the valley proper at Lower Pines.



Wawona was where we first learned about how not to use the Espar hot water. Clearly I wasn't paying enough attention during the demo about which switches do what, but we went through a few gallons of cold water, became convinced it was broken, and only then went back to the owner's manual to find out that yes, the Furnace has to be switched on in addition to the System switch and the Hot Water switch. D'oh!

From there, it was a long drive to the coast, skirting north of the Bay Area and the fire-ravaged Santa Rosa by taking California 20. We almost made it, stopping just short of the coast at Big River campground in Jackson State Forest (meh) for an uneventful night, before spending the entire next day in Fort Bragg, at the quite nice Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and the rest of the day at our much nicer camp (but expensive!) at MacKerricher State Park.



To be continued...
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Old 11-09-2017, 10:33 AM   #7
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Glad your trip went good. There is something about the coast I miss when I haven't visited it for a while. Hard to beat Yosemite in the Fall after school starts. The primitive campgrounds are almost deserted.

Looking forward to more pics. I've yet to visit the upper northwest.
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Old 11-09-2017, 12:08 PM   #8
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Chapter 3

If you look closely at the Yosemite picture, you'll notice a tiny blue piece of paper taped inside the front window. Part of buying a van in California and registering it back home is that we don't have a license plate yet, even one of those temporary paper licenses that tape to the back window. That blue paper is a "Trip Permit", which is essentially an IOU saying we'll register this vehicle soon, please go easy on us.

Both the friendly gentleman at the Washington Dept of Licensing and the woman at SMB who we signed all the purchase papers for emphasized that the exact nature of a trip permit is somewhat ambiguous. It supposedly grants the right to drive back to your home, but there's no mention of how slowly or directly you're allowed to go, it's a little unclear if any intermediate states (Oregon!) will honor this agreement, and it's totally up to the cop who pulls you over whether you're in compliance or not. So be friendly, and try not to get pulled over in the first place.

Anyways, that's a long-winded way of saying we took it real easy on the road speeds, and didn't push any envelopes as to quasi-legal places to camp, staying only in paid campgrounds. I look forward to stealth camping and dispersed camping soon, when we're less vulnerable legally.

I'll wrap up the remainder of the trip later today.
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Old 11-09-2017, 06:05 PM   #9
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Wawona was where we first learned about how not to use the Espar hot water. Clearly I wasn't paying enough attention during the demo about which switches do what, but we went through a few gallons of cold water, became convinced it was broken, and only then went back to the owner's manual to find out that yes, the Furnace has to be switched on in addition to the System switch and the Hot Water switch. D'oh!
Here's something I learned about the Espar the hard way. Make sure the power breaker is turned OFF for the heater if you're not plugged into shore power. Otherwise, when you turn on your inverter, you'll drain your batteries in a matter of minutes

On the other hand, if you have shore power, turn on the water breaker and off the furnace switch and you'll get electric heat instead of diesel. If you don't turn the furnace switch off, you'll get both electric and diesel. Electric is much quieter.
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Old 11-09-2017, 08:58 PM   #10
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Here's something I learned about the Espar the hard way. Make sure the power breaker is turned OFF for the heater if you're not plugged into shore power. Otherwise, when you turn on your inverter, you'll drain your batteries in a matter of minutes
Yeah, I saw that mentioned in the SMB owner's manual, but haven't learned that particular lesson in an indelibly memorable way. It's awfully strange that the breaker is the only thing that controls that, but c'est la vie.

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On the other hand, if you have shore power, turn on the water breaker and off the furnace switch and you'll get electric heat instead of diesel. If you don't turn the furnace switch off, you'll get both electric and diesel. Electric is much quieter.
Our campsite in Oregon had electric and water (aside: California state parks are incredibly expensive and have few amenities other than location; in Oregon, it's still a bit expensive compared to National Forest campgrounds, but you're at least getting a well-equipped site for the bucks). I gotta admit, having electric heat and hot water was very nice. Not nice enough to entice me into an RV park, but I'll go back to Oregon State parks again for sure.
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