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Old 04-17-2016, 12:37 PM   #1
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Question Planning a Sprinter 4x4 build

First post, lots of questions! But I'll start with just the really high-level stuff to avoid spamming you with every last detail and insecurity.

I'm still at least a year from retirement, but somehow have become completely obsessed thinking about having a nice, functional camper van, and would love any and all feedback on the ideas so far.

Primary uses:
1. Dry camping for 2 people, for up to a week at a time. Needs to safely drive pot-holed, barely maintained forest roads, often single-lane with turnouts.
2. Overnighters in ski lots without hookups.
3. Long distance road trips.

Non-uses:
1. Very hot weather -- so no A/C
2. Hardcore off-roading
3. RV Parks, except as short-term pit stops
4. Towing

So, with these in mind, we're pretty settled on a Sprinter 4x4 RB with high roof. 4x4, due to rough roads while camping and snowy roads when skiing. RB, so that we're maneuverable enough to get up the road to Harts Pass. High roof, so we have the storage for everything else even though we're in an RB! And Sprinter, because to my knowledge they're the only chassis that comes with 4WD without an after-market re-build, and frankly I'm not handy or skilled enough to deal with something that's not rock-solid, or involves advanced technical jargon like "winch" or "boulder" (when used as a verb)!

On with the actual questions...

We need to have a shower and furnace, but are considering skipping the stove, on the theory that we can just set up our portable camp stove when needed. This lets us delete the propane system entirely, if we get the Espar diesel hydronic furnace and hot-water heater. But does it smell or make obnoxious noises? We really don't want to irritate any neighbors, when we have some. Is it tankless? Do we waste a bunch of water waiting for it to heat up?

Or maybe we include a stove, using diesel, and combine it with the furnace, such as the Wallas 125DU Diesel Ceramic Cooktop? But then we still need hot water somehow.

What's the point of the available dual rear tires? I can't imagine we want those. Is that just for boat haulers, etc?

We're really worried about pipes freezing. I've read through the horror stories at BadgerTrek, but that was a decade ago. Is SMB better about that now? We could just forgo running water for ski trips, winterize everything, and use lodge facilities, although it would be nice not to. I'm still trying to understand David Elmore's plumbing customization, but again fear I'm not handy enough to maintain something like that.

Well, that's enough questions for now! I'll have lots more later.

Thanks for any feedback.
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Old 04-17-2016, 03:15 PM   #2
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Hi from an (almost) neighbor. With regard to your question about dually tires, they're standard on the 3500 version, which gives you a V6 and a higher tow rating. I believe you can get the 4WD on the 2500 chassis if you're not going to tow. But check out with other Sprinter owners in mountain regions if they're happy without a V6. If you don't need the dual wheels and they're not required by the build, then single will be the way to go for cost.

Whenever you plan to use a plumbed van for snow country, you either winterize it (as in, no water) or you have it built with all tanks inside. Even then, unless the build offers a way to keep the interior heated while you're not in it (like, out skiing), you'll be risking frozen pipes unless you keep the furnace on. Make sure to check that you can do that (safely) with whatever model furnace you're considering.

I tow a camper trailer, plumbed, and winterize. When I want water, I carry it inside. And the bathroom is off limits unless you're willing to use potty liners and toss it (the back country version of plumbing).

Re: skipping the stove. Don't forget our notorious rain. Unless you have a camp stove safe for interior use, you'll be wet and cold, often. I had the Wallas deisel stove in my boat. It was great for heating a smallish cabin and for simple cooking. But I didn't consider it in the same league as a real stove. Maybe I just wasn't creative.

Consider rethinking the AC. You won't believe how hot it can get on a summer day in a van or trailer, even in the mountains or at the coast. I use the fan mostly but, boy, when you need AC, you need it. Of course, you can always start the van and sit in the front seats for awhile

Good luck with your plans and enjoy! We live in a great place for adventuring.
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Old 04-17-2016, 03:23 PM   #3
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At a minimum I'd at least look into a diesel stove top although the price might scare you away...it did me. Lots of folks feel it's simple to set up a butane stove (or similar) inside. I did that for a few years but actually like a built in propane stove I have in there now even though I cook mostly outdoors. On those crappy days, it sure is nice to get in out of the elements. The small frame mounted propane tank is for the stove only and last a long time. It's more of a luxury for me but it's nice to simply open the lid and start cooking without having to deal with other equipment/fuel and storage. A diesel stove top would free up space weight...wish I had one.

The Espar can now be purchased as a combo water/cab heater but I don't have the stats on its battery draw or the noise they put off.

My Airtronic D-4 cab heaters exhaust is very quiet on the lower setting and only pulls about an amp. Full out it's not too bad power wise but you can hear it several feet off. The sound is fairly linear from low to high. It also makes more noise as it ramps up to compensate for colder conditions like when you open a door and let cold air in. Once the set temp is reached, the noise drops off provided its set below high and can keep up. The diesel can be smelled during startup and shutdown for a few seconds but is minimal IMO.

The Hydronic water heater works similar to the D-4 except it uses a bit more power and mine is way more noisy than the cab heater. Even with the muffler on it, friends claim my van sounds like a jet on the tarmac but that is a bit of an overstatement. I figure I can hear it about 3x as further than the Airtronic. If I'm in cold weather I like to run it from about 4-6AM. This helps to keep lines from freezing a bit and preheats the engine. A suggestion would be to insulate the lines and flat plate so you can handle sub freezing temps. It's pretty quick (a minute or so) to go from start to hot water at the tap during a dead cold start.

I don't know anything about the D-5 combo unit.
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Old 04-17-2016, 03:30 PM   #4
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Welcome and enjoy the process. It never ends! Regarding the dual rear wheels, skip them. They will not help with what you're wanting to do (may actually hinder) and you'll sacrifice interior space and add cost. Most of the 4x4s on the market appear to be single rear wheel anyway and to the best of my knowledge selecting 4x4 requires you to get the v6.
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Old 04-17-2016, 06:12 PM   #5
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Thanks for all the thoughtful replies! I suppose it's inevitable that the more information I get, the more questions spring up!

Re: no A/C, maybe it's foolish but we're pretty set on this part of the plan. We're aiming for a low-power build, so no generator, no microwave, no TV. We'd have a nice fan of course, and could resort to the dashboard A/C in an "emergency", but the default would be to move to higher or more northerly territory.

Re: freezing... yeah, very useful tips. I don't think I'd be comfortable leaving a furnace running while out playing in the snow, so full winterizing sounds like the way to go.

Re: stovetops... I'm not quite sure whether the camp stove is suitable for indoor use (maybe turn on the fan, even in cold weather). But it seems weird to me that it would be any different from the ordinary propane stovetop. I'm not opposed to spending on an expensive diesel stove, especially if having no stove completely kills the resale value of the van. (While we don't anticipate re-selling any time soon, the future is hard to predict.)

Re: dual rear wheels... thanks for the confirmation. We saw these on a RoadTrek (maybe?) at a dealer who gave us some line about them all having that, but it didn't ring true.

Now, off to do way too much research on diesel appliances!
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Old 04-17-2016, 09:50 PM   #6
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The dual wheel option isn't just about towing -- it increasing the payload capacity of the van itself. The RB 4x4 High Roof with the single wheels (2500 chassis) is rated to a 8,550 pound GVWR. That rises to 11,030 pounds GVWR with the dual wheels (3500 chassis). The larger Roadtreks are all 3500's just because of the sheer number of luxuries on board.

Your build may not get that heavy if you're staying away from the generator and other extras. But our 2500 with a penthouse top, medium fridge, sink, shower, pantry, two 4D batteries and no generator weighs in at 7,200 pounds. Once you add people and their gear it gets very close to the van's maximum.
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Old 04-17-2016, 10:39 PM   #7
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We rented a 144 wb Sportsmobile Sprinter before buying that had the Wallas DT diesel cooktop/heater combination. It mostly served as a heater with secondary benefit of a cooktop. But it's slow to heat up, cool down, and respond to heat settings so I wouldn't particularly recommend it for just cooking. It throws off a lot of secondary inside heat which would be fine in the winter but likely problematic for summer use.

An induction cooktop would be an option if you're getting the secondary engine generator option and have adequate electrical capacity. And some homebuilts have used a standard propane cooktop with an adapter for standard 1lb propane canisters. But I suspect Sportsmobile wouldn't factory install such a workaround.

Propane campstoves have much higher power (and pressure) burners than are allowed for inside cooktops. So there would be a risk if using inside the camper.
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Old 04-17-2016, 11:38 PM   #8
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Hmm, all this discussion about indoor campstove use and minor but non-trivial annoyances with diesel, triggered my wife to ask "remind me again why you wanted to delete the propane system?"

Originally, it seemed like an elegant solution to have only 1 fuel to refill, and maybe an easier time with ferries and border crossings, but on further reflection that seems to be more than offset by other costs. We barely go through a pound of propane per season nowadays while car-camping, so it's unlikely to be a constant hassle to refill.

Thanks for helping me think through the options.
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Old 04-17-2016, 11:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned5555 View Post
The dual wheel option isn't just about towing -- it increasing the payload capacity of the van itself.
Important point. You can either trailer more stuff or carry more stuff. My 350 can't carry a lot because I want to be able to pull it.
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Old 04-17-2016, 11:44 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ned5555 View Post
The dual wheel option isn't just about towing -- it increasing the payload capacity of the van itself. The RB 4x4 High Roof with the single wheels (2500 chassis) is rated to a 8,550 pound GVWR. That rises to 11,030 pounds GVWR with the dual wheels (3500 chassis). The larger Roadtreks are all 3500's just because of the sheer number of luxuries on board.

Your build may not get that heavy if you're staying away from the generator and other extras. But our 2500 with a penthouse top, medium fridge, sink, shower, pantry, two 4D batteries and no generator weighs in at 7,200 pounds. Once you add people and their gear it gets very close to the van's maximum.
Weight! Another variable I hadn't even considered.

In our case, I don't imagine we'll be at great risk of exceeding the lower limit (2 people, few luxuries, no generator) but I'll be sure to do the math.
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