I decided I should start a singular thread for our van, I use the forum a lot to ask questions and see what other work people have done but the info for our build is kind of all over the place!
About our family and our van:
- We are a family of 4, and our kids are currently 18 months and almost 4 years, as of Jan 2019. As such, when we camp the little guy still sleeps in a pack n play in the back of the van but that's only going to last for probably 1 more year.
- We live in Phoenix, AZ so obviously summertime temps are high, but we like to go camping where it's cool (go figure!). We have even done some very cold high altitude winter camping quite a bit pre-kids.
- We like to cook outdoors, so I intentionally looked for a van that didn't have the full RB build-out. I wanted the Atlas 4x4 and suspension that SMB installs, but flexibility with how to use the inside.
- Also wanted to be able to use the van as a "cargo van" when needed, since I don't have a pickup.
- Originally we thought we would be towing a little Turtleback camper so we didn't want an EB for fear of bottoming out the trailer tongue, but found after a long road trip in August 2018 (link here) that towing wasn't our cup of tea - we like to stop in the little towns we pass through and it was too hard to park, not to mention stressful on long climbs / steep downhills.
So we purchased a 2006 E350 6.0 about 15 months ago now that was converted by SMB to 4x4 with the lift and all the Aluminess goodies just like I wanted. Van had about 190k on it, I bought it out of FL sight unseen and shipped it back to Phoenix. Price was great and I decided if I needed to go through the whole engine-out bulletproofing process it was still a good buy. I was really hoping not to spend that coin though
Got it home, man this thing was big! And we usually drive electric cars so the diesel was something we had to get used to, but aside from a little oil drip it seemed to be in decent shape. I took it into a reputable local diesel shop in Phoenix, Strictly Diesel (thread here
) to have them go through it. In the process of doing so we found some really shoddy work (silicone used as a seal on places on the engine!) and I decided if I'm going to be taking the family on long trips into the boonies I better have confidence it's not going to break down on me.
So we went through the ~$12k process of bulletproofing the engine, that thread is detailed here
. Head studs, all the BPD parts, and so on.
Took a few little trips and everything was good to go, so we took our first big trip August 2018. Phoenix all the way up to Jasper BC, over to Whistler, Whidbey Island, down the pacific coast, through Tahoe and back home. We did have a couple of random issues that held us up for a few days - wiring harness was replaced as well as the brake vacuum booster. That is all detailed here
Learned a LOT on that trip about how we like to camp. As I mentioned we decided towing wasn't for us so when we got back I called up CCV and ordered a pop-top to be installed this spring. We want to be able to just push a button and be mostly ready to hit the hay. Pretty pumped about that, chose the high-top version as space is at a premium in the RB and excited to be able to stow luggage up there. I'll be detailing some of that here
. I also like to still feel like I'm in a tent, and we have loved having roof top tents in the past but this seems like the best of both worlds. Tent-like, treehouse-like, but with immediate access to your interior.
We plan to tent camp a lot of times, but want to be able to camp in the van for nights where we are arriving late or getting up early, or where it's just too cold to camp outside. And as I mentioned want to be able to use the van as a cargo van at times as well, so I wanted to find a way that would make the interior modular. I saw some of the Sienna seat conversions people were doing and then ended up talking to MG Metalworks about their Sienna seat bases. That flowed into doing an airline-track (or L-track) setup with Unwin seat mounts on the bottom of the MG seat bases. I just got that install finally finished and I'm really happy with the results. I can quick-release all 4 of the rear sienna seats and move them around as I want. Additionally I have tie-downs now with the L-tracks so I can strap down our 12v Fridge and any cargo we want. Most of the time we will probably just take 3 of the rear seats with us, and the plan when we camp inside the van is for 2 to sleep up top and 2 to sleep on cots or camping pads down below.
We also installed an espar diesel heater below the driver seat. I had a local van upfitter (Action van, no association with the OR guys) in Mesa do that install for us. Haven't gotten to really test it out yet but will do so when I drive the van back from CCV late-March. Put a FrontRunner Outfitters roof rack on the top with two 100W Renogy Solar panels, and then had Action Van also install a charger/inverter for the van so I could hook up to shore power when desired.
Alright that was incredibly long-winded but all caught up now. Forum record for words in a single post? Now I have a thread to add all of our adventures, photos and modifications to! I am sure over the years our needs will morph, especially at the early stage our children are in.
Thank you everyone on the forum who has been such an amazing help for us!