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Old 12-29-2010, 04:27 AM   #1
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So many questions

I saw my first sportsmobile online about 2 months ago and the lust started. Then I parked next to one at a mountain bike trailhead and the owner let me stick my head in, and it just got so much worse. I've been doing lots and lots of reading, but there are still a lot of questions that need answering.

First, I see a fair number of folks say that they would build their sportsmobile differently if they knew then what they know after getting some sportsmobile experience, but they rarely specify exactly what changes they'd make. I'm especially curious to know about the things that folks commonly get and then find that they don't use. I figure a lot of things can be added later, but you are going to take a hit, economically and potentially in space consumption, if you pay for something up front that you wind up not ever using.

I have 2 huskies and we like to go camping and hiking and mountain biking but it is quite a pain in the neck with my Subaru Forester (which is also approaching 200K miles so I'd prefer to keep the long trips to a minimum in it). I telecommute full time, so there is really nothing keeping me from making extended road trips with the dogs so that we can really explore. So I'm thinking about a camping oriented sportsmobile outfitted for fairly long trips. I'm single with no intention of reproducing, so outfitted for 2 humans and 2 canines is just fine. I figure penthouse top and gaucho behind the driver's seat which I could leave set up as a bed for the dogs to lounge on while rolling. That'd allow them to see out of a window and be up close to me, and I could put crates up there if I felt it were necessary.

A lot of folks seem to do away with the propane system. What sacrifices does that entail and what are the benefits? Cooking outside seems like a no brainer except in inclement weather, so living without the stove doesn't seem unreasonable, but I'm not sure what is gained besides slightly lower up-front cost.

Shower and toilet seem necessary. I'm not averse to the occasional squat behind a bush, but if I have the option of a throne, I certainly prefer it. How many times can the various toilet options be used between empties? Which one do folks recommend? Outside shower is fine, but I'm a cold water wimp. That said, I don't need boiling hot water to shower with, either.

I work as a composer, so if I can set up a rudimentary studio (laptop, desk+keyboard, integration with audio system (or separate built-in audio) and speakers placed to left and right of desk at head height, that would make it possible for me to work from the van for pretty much indefinite length trips. That's the fantasy, for sure. Fortunately, as a single guy, I need about 2 cubic feet for clothing aside from specialty outdoor and cycling gear. If anyone has recommendations along those lines, I'd sure like to hear them. Unfortunately, while it seems very easy to build a van which will be good for either a mobile studio or mobile base camp, combining them seems like it starts to involve significant compromise. I could see just replacing the table in the EB-4x layouts with a keyboard stand, or maybe even some kind of specialty workstation, pulling the keyboard off if I really require an interior table.

In truth, however, I'm more likely to buy used, both because of expense and because I don't think I'd have the patience for waiting the better part of a year once I'm ready to pull the trigger - but some of that decisionmaking will be impacted by my final set of questions below...

Financing. I certainly don't have 80-100K just sitting around in cash for purchasing a sportsmobile straight up, even assuming I could get a custom 4x4 build for that kind of money. I could probably live without the 4x4 functionality initially, though it sure would be nice given my intended use. Do most folks pay cash for their van or do they finance? I'm not big on borrowing to buy a depreciating asset, but I gather that RV loans are subject to the interest deduction, which makes it at least a little more palatable - and at the price even a fairly well used sportsmobile commands, I can't see it happening anytime soon without a bank's involvement. I'm willing to buy used, despite the sacrifice of a custom build, though asking prices on used 4x4 sportsmobiles seem only marginally discounted from new. Is it even possible to finance a used RV in this economic climate? I've got great credit and a good relationship with my credit union, but some folks seem to have had a hard time convincing their bank that the sportsmobile is truly an RV - and that was in reference to a new build, not used. I figure that coming up with $30K down wouldn't require that I liquidate savings that I don't want to and there are a fair number of used vehicles with potential that are priced under $70K on the sportsmobile website. Alternatively, I've found a number of unconverted vans in the $10K range that I could purchase and then have the conversion done, but then I'd definitely have to finance the entire process with cash (I assume), so that becomes more difficult despite the lower price. How do other folks solve this issue? I imagine a lot of sportsmobiles were financed via home equity in the bubble years but that's not an option any longer, even if I had much equity to leverage.

OK, if you are still with me, I look forward to your answers. Thanks.
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Old 12-29-2010, 07:56 AM   #2
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Re: So many questions

Usually when I say "differently" I personally mean one of a few things- I would add a blackwater tank and a permanent marine toilet. Our Thetford portable is for emergencies and boondocking, with getting up in the morning often qualifying as an emergency. You're probably good for more than a few days, but it depends on how you use it- however the tank can be dumped in any toilet and there is a simple float meter on the front.

Another "differently" would be as in doing a DIY build. Given the space and the time, the real crux is missing out on anything while doing the build. Responsibilities already steal enough time, I'd hate to miss a trip with our niece or anything else because I was half done with the floor.

One of the benefits of used is you get by with what you have. While I use everything in the van, I'd rather have an Espar too, mainly because the propane heater takes up so much space. That said I wouldn't lose the heater or the propane, which for me is heat/hot water, without a replacement. I don't want a built in stove because even with an inset one the counter space still has to be cleared for use.

Apart from appliance space (like countertop for not having the built in stove) deleting propane frees you from finding places to fill it, and maintaining a separate system.

As far as keyboard layout, I wouldn't discount the front seats with swivels as a platform, between them and the front console you might be able to have a set-up, tear-down studio for when you work. Obviously noise would be an issue, if you need a quiet environment to work it might be a bad idea.

Buying used without an unlimited source of funds, compromise will always be an issue. I recommend getting the big pieces (layout, top, and appliances) right. You can always add a pure sine invertor or even 4x4 but if you're going to change the basic layout you might as well start with another van.
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Old 12-29-2010, 09:06 AM   #3
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Re: So many questions

My short list:

Maximum braking capacity. You want the heaviest brakes you can get.
Maximum load capacity. Too many SMBs are running just at, or over their GVWR.
Avoid the smallest engine in the class. V8 or better.
Maximum engine/tranny cooling (tow package).
Maximum alternator capacity (high output and heavy duty).
With the reserve capacity this creates, you can expand other things later.

Personally, I would avoid built in systems like the propane or central air conditioner. The AC especially involves a lot of the internal van components. Modular stuff like the Mr. Heater and a countertop butane/propane/alcohol stove can be replaced when they break or wear out.

Similarly, I would steer away from solar. I want it for reasons I can't explain but I've got LED lights that will burn a solid week (24/7) on two AA batteries and the ice chest stays cool for 5+ days on a couple of bags of ice.

One good house battery, a 5 day cooler, and a small camping stove and you have most of the functionality needed and have saved many thousands of $.

Also, I camp with a couple of dogs. The drawers that open into the cabin are a pain with the dogs always in the way. If you can find sliders, that might be better.

Tom
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Old 12-29-2010, 09:15 AM   #4
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Re: So many questions

If you haven't seen them yet, these two topics should be of interest to you.

viewtopic.php?f=8&t=2374
viewtopic.php?f=8&t=2380
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Old 12-29-2010, 09:42 AM   #5
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Re: So many questions

cornercarver:

You obviously have thought everything out well. You are on the right track and will be in a Sportsmobile sooner than you think with such research and insight. I highly suggest you read everything in the links charlie56 provided. I also suggest you look at the gallery pictures in people's profile pages. That will give you a good idea of the various types of van interiors that are available. Also look at the pre-owned vehicles for sale at Sportsmobile.com. And watch the classified section every day on this website. There are quite a few very nice vehicles available right now in a variety of price ranges. I paid $32,000 cash for my 2002 E250, 5.4 V8, 4x2, RB50 floor plan van in Oct 2009. Eventually you will find just the right Sportsmobile for you.

Good luck. Welcome to a wonderful group of people!

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Old 12-29-2010, 09:54 AM   #6
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Re: So many questions

My quick list:

Drop the microwave, never use and it really draws a lot of power.

Built in marine toilet/shower would be great, but that would use up a lot of living space. For two people and dogs, probably a good trade off.

Would drop the extra rear AC unit. Factory air is good enough.

Get the biggest fridge possible, that thing is always crammed full on trips.

Without kids and the need for safe front facing seats, I would prefer a walk through interior configuration.

No solar. Too expensive and complex, and a small portable generator is easy to carry and very handy to have around.

A heater is a must have. We use the propane heater often and it works great. Espar would be fine too.

Maximize exterior storage for toys and other dirty stuff. Aluminess boxes are great. I MTB a lot, and fish, hike, hunt......and dirt covered gear is no fun inside the van.

For your work needs, it should be easy to setup a work station.

Good luck with the search.

R
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Old 12-29-2010, 10:16 AM   #7
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Re: So many questions

One more:

No built in hot water system. Just a big PITA. A solar shower or other on demand hot water source is fine for showers.

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Old 12-29-2010, 10:17 AM   #8
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Re: So many questions

Tom makes some good points regarding not including appliances, etc. But, remember that, whatever isn't built in, still needs a place to store it. Yes, you can save money by not including a refrigerator, but that means you need to be able to buy ice every few days. You can get by with a portable heater but you need a way that the dogs won't knock it over. Leave out the stove but what about preparing something to eat when it is cold and raining outside?

We approached our design differently. We started backpacking back in the late 1960s. In those days, we could put up with a lot...sleeping on the ground, being cold and/or wet, etc. We can't do those things anymore and felt we had "paid our dues". We still wanted to be able to get out and away from campgrounds and crowds so the 4x4 option was a no-brainer. We wanted to be able to go out for a week without going to a grocery store so we chose a 4 CF frig. We don't like to spend a lot of time fixing meals so we included a microwave and inverter. Having propane on board is no big deal so we kept the stove and added a hot water tank and propane heater. When solar became available, we added it and when electric pop-tops became available, we retro-fitted one to our van.

Regarding propane...propace is a very efficient fuel. We turn our hot water heater on every morning in order to have warm water to wash up with and wash our hair and then turn it on in the evening to wash dishes. We use the stove to cook most dinners and use the heater on many evenings in the Sierras. We can go out for a couple of weeks and still only use a half a tank or less.

So, what I'm saying is that you need to look at what will make the van work best for you. Someone who only takes short 2-3 days trips due to work pressures, etc. would probably not get their money's worth from a hot water heater and wait to shower when they get back home. But we love ours...nothing like a warm shower after a day outside fishing! Likewise, we also snow camp in our rig...we'll dress warmly in the evening but keep the thermostat at 69-70 degrees. It doesn't come on at night (even with the penthouse up) but the programmable feature ensures that it comes on in the morning an hour before we get up so that the van is at least in the mid-60s when we get out of bed.

We have a EB-50 and love the space it provides. It works well for two people since there is room to move around and lots of storage behind the sofa for sleeping "stuff", a BBQ, fishing gear, a duffel of warm clothes, etc. For long trips, having places to store things is very important...you don't want to be tripping over things all of the time and you also want to know exactly where everything is stored. (We met a couple on a trip to Baja years ago and they complained that they could never find things in their SMB. But, they later admitted that they never put things back where they found them! Duh!)

You asked a couple specific questions. Regarding the shower...I mentioned we have the 6-gallon hot water. While we bought the "shower in a box" for taking showers inside the van (it does work and is nice when there is snow on the ground), we also have an outside shower connection and a pop-tent for taking showers outside, even in campgrounds. When in the boonies, we skip the tent.

As for the Porta-Potty, we use it only for #1. If in the boonies, we resort to backpacking proceedures. We'll even use it in campgrounds at night and in the morning...I don't want to get up in the middle of the night and head outside. We find we need to empty it every few days...no big deal. A marine toilet option would be nice but it can be a problem to find a place for it. You also need a dump station to empty it. The Porta-Potty can be emptied in a campground outhouse, at a dump station, or even into a deep hole in the boonies.

If you are going to use your van as a mobile office, be sure and include solar. Yes, you can use LEDs and go to bed early but, without solar, the house battery won't be charged unless you are driving. And, as the house battery ages, its capacity drops. With solar, you can work all day, charge a laptop, etc. and stay in the same camping spot until you run out of food.

SMB provides a "portable" table... it is reasonable size and the center leg comes off to stow it. But it is too high be be used as a work surface. I modified the leg on ours to get it lower but, in the end, we just didn't use it so we no longer carry it with us.

Sorry, I can't help with financing. We refinanced out home and took out the equity to buy our van. But that was back in the days with inflated home prices...
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Old 12-29-2010, 11:11 AM   #9
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Re: So many questions

By now you have figured out that what is perfect for one person (or family) doesn't work for another. You really need to decide what is right for you.

For us:

- Solar is a must. We have a generator, but prefer the quiet. Generator is for emergencies and preheating the engine on very cold days when we have to move.

- Walk through (center aisle) makes everything accessible from inside. With curtains, you can separate it into two spaces for privacy

- Penthouse with bed. A nice down comforter for cold nights.

- Propane. Inside stove and furnace for cold mornings. We don't run the furnace at night, it is too loud and the down is plenty warm down to single digits. Stove is always used to make morning coffee.

- Porta-Pottie. We use it when we need to. We try to use campground facilities when available. Easy to use, easy to empty.

- No microwave, no inverter, no electronics. We are camping.

- Non slippery flooring. Nothing like a fall to ruin a trip. Ours is operating room linoleum from SMB Indiana. Throw rugs on top for warmth.

Now you have several opinions that differ. You may get more that differ. But, we all agree on an SMB.

SMB - they are all the same and totally different.

Mike
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Old 12-29-2010, 11:24 AM   #10
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Re: So many questions

I bought used so couldn't get exactly what I wanted. That said the things I would change can all be added on with enough $$.

I like the RB50 layout and think it makes a nice open living space for a family.

I hate the fact it is a bench seat with no head rests on it and only one shoulder belt. I think SMB has taken a serious shortcut here and compromised safety. I am going to retrofit two headrests that can be taken off when we fold the seat down to bed position. Also need to figure out a shoulder belt for the other position. Because of this if we were to do it again I might opt for two bucket seats behind driver and passenger and a different layout.

My short list of add ons to be completed when I have the $$;

Need to add an onboard accurate outside temperature display. Ideally a nice rear view mirror display but something that shows me accurately the outside temp when driving since I drive a lot in snowy areas I can tell when the road is freezing.

some sort of on board heating system (espar, propex, or suburban) since it came with no propane and is gas. Have the Mr Buddy heater now. At this time will probably eliminate the rear AC built in unit as it takes up space and we never use it. We live in PNW and the car AC does fine.

another house battery and solar to keep them topped off.

adding the aluminess box on the rear bumper with a family of four storage is critical. The more storage the better.

Would love to add an electric top but seriously spendy! Will try to adjust mine better so my wife can actually lift it. This will be crucial considering if I add solar.

going to rhino line the PH top for maintenance reasons.

when brake pads need replacing going to use Brakeman kit for an upgrade



not a necessity but things I may add over time;

a winch going to remote places don't want to get one of these beasts stuck
considered adding an ARB air locker for same reason
HID driving lights
would love a deaver spring upgrade but won't be happening anytime soon
not a necessity but would be nice to have an on demand hot water heater. They make a nice electric unit for such occassions. I have used the shower and it would be so much better with hot water.


Things on it that we use all the time;
LED interior lights
microwave and inverter
shower
PH top
extreme air compressor
4 wheel drive
galley box
porta-potti only for #1
storage/storage/storage we have the XL floor storage and Thule box on top
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