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Old 12-28-2016, 09:30 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jun 2016
Location: Denver, CO
Posts: 242
New Lithium-based Sprinter Build

Hey everyone. Starting a post about our build next year. I know reading other peoples’ build philosophy really helped shape our plans, so hopefully some of this will help someone. Our date with SMB West is Aug 10th. We’re going with a 144 4x4 Highroof 2500 and will be a 2017 MY. After touring the Fresno facility with Brian, we’re pretty happy on the build and just have smaller details to work out.

Our usage will be myself and my wife heading out from Denver for weekend trips plus a few 10-day trips thrown in throughout the year. We climb, ski, and bike - so it’s going to be a rolling home/bascamp for us. And because we still have jobs, it will need to function as an office for two.

Design goals:

-No rear bumper or rear storage. We want to keep the back of the van clean so we can swing the doors wide open to the magnetic stops. We’ll use the roof rack as needed.
-Comfortable year round, regardless of temp/weather. That means roof AC, interior shower/toilet, water usable in the winter. We’ll both need to be able to work in there if we want to really leverage our time.
-No propane
-Open and airy design
-Battery power for 2 days in deep cold without solar.

Penthouse vs high-roof - we’ve spent the bulk of our years in a tent, both in campgrounds and high in the alpine. For the van, we’re looking forward to the quietness and security that comes from the high-roof. After spending all day in the elements, having the protection will be a welcomed reprieve. We’ll also be stealth camping a lot, and in our experience, that means not looking like you’re camping. So, can’t be popping a roof or having a generator running. We can look like a camper, but have to appear to be parked and vacant.

Van Options:

Stone Grey, High Roof, 144 4x4 2500
Active Safety Package
Lighting package Package (HIDs and headlight washers) + fog lights
Adjustable High Idle
Heated seats, heated windshield, heated rear windows and rear wiper
17K Btu Espar Block heater
Rear Coolant Line Preparation (to attache a flat plate water heater)
Optimized Fuel Tap
2nd alternator bracket
Vinyl Comfort seats with swivels
Downhill Speed Regulation
Cruise Control
Factory Alarm
Radio Delete
Cold Weather insulation (which looks more like sound deadening, but I digress)

SMB Interior Options

Lithium batteries. We still need to work out the specifics for this.
Roof AC
2800W Inverter
30g water tank
Dual induction cooktop built in
Flat Plate hot water heater hooked up to the engine block
Isotherm 130 Fridge
Standard porta poti
Leather interior
Aftermarket stereo up front with different speakers
Extreme insulation
Maxxair fan rather than the fantastic

SMB Exterior Options

Linex lowers
Roof rack
Hood rap
Offroad wheels/tires
Side lader
Helper springs in rear
Various lights


We’ve elected to put the dinette in the rear since that’s where we’ll spend most of our time when we’re inside. Having the rear windows and rear side windows means we’ll we can look around outside, and when it’s nice out, have the rear doors wide open. We wanted the bathroom right behind the driver to keep the continuity of the sight lines from the rear as low as possible. The bathroom will be the only “tall” cabinet. The bathroom will be set back about 8 inches from full forward position to create a bit of storage room behind the driver seat. This area will be lined with rubber flooring and adjustable tie-down tracks. We’ll use this space for ski storage in the winter, and hanging our alpine gear in the summer.

Water System:

There will be a single 30 gallon water tank, and possible two gray water tanks if we have the sink on the passenger side. Mercedes has a factory option to extend the engine coolant lines to the B-pillar where they connect the supply/return lines with a rubber hose. SMB then adds their own cooling lines extend this to the rear of the van where we’ll have a flat plate water heater attached. We’ll use the factory block heater or idle the van to get hot water for showers. We can add a simple switch to the dash that tricks the front temp sensor into thinking it’s colder than 40 degrees so we can run the block heater in any temp. This is something we’ll have to do ourselves, though. We don’t really have the interior room for a hot water tank. We originally planned on an Espar D5, but seemed overkill for the occasional hot water. And the D5 is less than ideal for cabin heat in our situation. Sometime down the line, we’ll add a D5 to this engine coolant line extension. With a D5 attached to this line, we get as much on-demand hot water as we'd like without running into the time or temp limitation of the factory block heater. SMB won’t do this, so it’ll have to be something aftermarket.

Electrical System:

We’re going with a lithium setup because we need the ability to camp in the winter when solar won’t add anything (panels covered in snow). Since we want to stealth camp, that means no generator. With lithiums and a 2nd alternator, we get the capacity we need plus the ability to quickly recharge the batteries by idling the van for 10-20 minutes every few days. We also have the ability to put in big discharges without harming the batteries (running AC). We’re planning on having around 300-400 AH of lithium. At 85% discharge, it’s equivalent to 510-680 AH of AGM. The batteries will be mounted inside to protect against the cold/heat. The battery management system will have temperature cutoffs in place, cell balancing, etc. Magnum makes inverters and chargers setup for a lithium profile. Every piece of the coach battery system will be come spec’d for lithium - from the regulator on back. We’re either using lithionics or victron for the components as both are reputable and build the batteries and BMS system. It's going to cost about $5k net over the cost of a small AGM system with a few solar panels. This won't pencil out for everyone, but for our usage, it's money well spent.

We are undecided whether we’ll have solar. If we have the space, we’d rather get a larger lithium battery to handle the longer stays away from the van (backpacking) but still want to run the fridge. We don’t typically sit in one place for long periods of time as we’re often driving from a camping spot to a trail head daily. At idle, the batteries will get 150 amps from the 2nd alternator, and high-idle or driving about 230 amps. People are always talking about idling being bad for the engine, but if that were really the case, MB would not install a high-idle option. We’ll have plenty of driving in high-load situations for the emissions system to keep itself clean. Our idling times will be relatively short, so we’re not worried about costly emissions system repairs.

We'll use a dual induction cooktop since we have the battery power to run it and don't have to deal with slow heating times with the diesel cooktops. Because of the location of the cooktop being in the doorway, we can keep the door open for ventilation or turn the roof fan on and crack a T-awning window that's located in the door. That will pull fresh air right over the stove and then up and out of the roof.


Because we want reliable use out of the water tanks in the winter, we need reliable heat. We elected to go with dual D2 for redundancy. The D2’s will be a more simple install compared to a D5, they’ll heat faster and respond quicker to temp fluctuations, and they’ll use less power than a D5. One D2 will be installed in the rear with the 2nd unit being installed under the passenger seat. We’ll alternator between them so they see regular use, but they’ll be setup at different temperature so that if one craps the bed in the winter, the other will take over at a lower temperature. We’ll also gain a bit of heating power during those -30 F days when we’re at high altitude.

We went with roof AC as it frees up interior space, and they’re much more quiet. The unit will run straight off the inverter and will have the factory Dometic soft start so we don’t trip a fault when it starts. We’re going with a maxxair fan over the fantastic fan for a few reasons. The primary reason is that we can keep it cracked open without spindrift getting in during those blustery winter evenings. The downward facing intake will also allow us to confidently run the fan in the summer without any worry of rain getting in. We don’t have to depend on a rain sensor to close the vent. The Maxxair also comes with a 10-step fan that, on the lowest setting, only pulls 0.1 amps. We can easily run this fan on the 1 setting for extended periods of time without worry of rain or energy usage. At this setting, we can also run the fan in exhaust mode during the winter to keep a bit of fresh air coming into the van from the front vents on the dash. This will help keep humidity down. The only downside to this fan is that it takes up a bigger footprint on the roof.


We'll do the hood rap and sprayed lowers for protection. We'll likely do this back in Denver, though. If there are issues with the work on this, it'll be nice to take it back to the place that did it.

Roof rack will be from aluminess. We need as much space up there as possible as it's going to contain most of our hard gear, recovery stuff, and anything else that doesn't fit inside. We would like to not use ski boxes unless we absolutely have to.

We won't be installing a front or rear bumpers. We'll use the hitch for our bike rack (kuat), spare tire is going under the van, and recovery gear on the roof. We'll only take the recovery gear on trips where we need it, and it'll be left off the van to save weight when we don't need it. We want the ability to swing the rear doors wide open, so that means keeping the rear of the van clean. We want to maintain the crumple zones up front so we won't be installing a front bumper. We have insurance to cover damage from hitting a dear or something. No matter how you look at it, a beefy front bumper means more force transmitted directly to the frame, and ultimately to the passengers. If we do a winch, it will be a clean install in the factory bumper.

We'll likely do some type of light bar on the roof. But, we're not going crazy with it as I think the factory lights will provide plenty of lighting for our use.

Wheels and tires will be the 17" methods and KO2 tires.

Our van is going to be stored indoors at an RV storage park. It's unheated, but it doesn't get too cold for very long in Denver. It's a private storage spot, so we'll be able to keep the bike rack, recovery gear, and other bits of gear stored there. We'll have a small ceramic heater powered off the wall outlet in the storage bay to keep the van warmer in the winter so we don't have to drain the water tanks constantly. We'll be using the van 3 days a week in the winter. The rest of the time, we'll use the pressure method for clearing out the water after each trip. We don't plan on ever "winterizing" the van, though.

We have time to make changes, so if people have feedback on what works and what doesn't, we're all ears!
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Old 12-28-2016, 10:33 AM   #2
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Very well thought out build, I like everything you are doing. I would love to convert to Lithium, hopefully it will drop in price within the next couple of years.

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Old 12-28-2016, 12:48 PM   #3
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Sounds complicated and expensive lol. You've done a lot of research so it will be great to get it built.

Where do you plan to winter stealth camp? I'm in CO as well and have been doing it for many years.
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Old 12-28-2016, 04:23 PM   #4
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It sounds complicated, but I think in many aspects it will be much more simple than something with solar, D5 hot water heater, etc. The flat plate heating system will be setup like it is on Fords, but with the benefit of a factory Espar block heater. The second D2 will add some complexity, but if done right and maintained correctly, should be reliable. We're pretty lucky here in Denver having two Sprinter dealers, Thermoking, and Tourig is moving from nederland down to Golden.

Crested Butte will be a primary destination for us. Loveland is where we have season passes to, and while they don't advertise it or even confirm if you ask, they'll allow camping in the lower basin lot if you stay out of the way of plows. Berthoud pass, WP, and camping in the downtown area of various mountain towns will be common. Jackson WY will also be common for us, but it looks like it's a tougher city to camp in. They have a few campgrounds north of Jackson that are massive, and in our experience, always have camp spots.

Where in CO are you at? What's been your experience with stealth camping?
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Old 12-28-2016, 11:24 PM   #5
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Location: San Francisco Bay Area
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Glad to see you've made your decision to proceed, really looking forward to following your build! It's obvious you have given this a lot of thought, it will be great to see it all come together.

BTW, is August 10th the build start or build finish date?
“Flint” - 2016 SMB Sprinter 4x4 144" RB 150S w/ PH
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Old 12-29-2016, 07:16 AM   #6
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Aug 10th is the start date. So, should be completed just in time for a shakedown before ski season kicks off.

We ironed out most of the interior colors and materials, but SMB is supposed to have some new colors for the interior coming out this spring.
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Old 12-29-2016, 07:22 AM   #7
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Location: Boulder
Posts: 127
Nice vision. Building mine now. SMB North PH top in and Backwoods front bumper installed. It's at LinDen Engineering to have the aux alternator, fuel tank tap (not t'ing off heater booster as this results in cavitation), and trying to get the cornering lights enabled. I'm in Boulder so maybe we can connect.

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Old 12-29-2016, 07:33 AM   #8
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Holy sh!t. That bumper looks like it will haunt the dreams of small children! Yeah - will definitely have to swing up and check out that beast when you're done. Good color, too. We love the darker colors, but I don't have it in me to maintain a color like that.

Have any more info on the fuel tank tap? How does SMB tap in to get fuel? I was under the impression that there was an aux fuel tap already at the tank.

Let me know if you're able to get that cornering light enabled. Our Cayenne has a cornering light, and it is really helpful. Can't imagine why MB disabled that for the US market, but they must have had a reason. I doubt a dealer can legally do it given that MB purposely disabled it, but I gotta believe any indy shop could code them on.
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Old 12-29-2016, 08:09 AM   #9
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Mine came with the heater booster which uses the auxiliary fuel tap. Rather than T into that line, my research has found that it's preferable to install a completely new tap into the fuel tank. T'ing into the already used line can result in cavitation i.e. not good. Not sure how SMB does it.

Keeping my fingers crossed on the lights.
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Old 12-29-2016, 08:28 AM   #10
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For heater fuel tap, make sure it is able to draw from close to the bottom of the tank. Some taps are set to not draw from below 1/4 tank, which in my thought is not the way to go.

The D2's come with Espar's fuel pick ups. According to Lubrication Specialists, best if you can use those.

Beastie 3: 2002 7.3 EB Cargo: Agile TTB, CCV Mid Top, Custom Walk Through, Lots of stuff added.
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