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tonyvoudy 09-16-2012 02:56 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
One other thing about Indiana: Most of the employees have worked at SMB for 10+ years. (And several are 20+ years) They have been at it for a long long long time.

Chumley 09-16-2012 08:45 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Mike and Keith - Thanks for the support. This whole thing has taken on more of a life than I expected. I am glad that my personal evaluations and injections of philosophy haven't scared off absolutely everyone.

I have issues with the way things are weathersealed but I think they will be okay. I spoke with SMB and I think they have a layer of bituminous material that is encased in another layer of what appears to be silicone. I am not a big fan of silicone sealant since I have removed so much of it over the years because it didn't work as originally promised and created more problems than solved in the long run. Does everyone remember when silicone sealant first came out and we thought we could seal anything, including the San Andreas earthquake fault and save the rest of the US if we wanted (you do all know that the rest of the US will fall off into the Atlantic if the fault ruptures big... :f1: ). I am waiting for the full report on their sealing procedures but I am not that worried, just think it could be done in a more contemporary way.

Windguy - I think I saw about 6 Sprinters in progress in my last visit as well as maybe 2 to 4 4x4 conversions. SMB West has at least 3 lines and maybe 4. I'll take pictures this week. There is a lot going on.

I spoke with the Foreman and he has been there 14 years at SMB West and the carpentry foreman has been there forever. I know that there is not much turnover and that the recent economic slowdown forced them to reduce staff so the best were kept. They are picking up again so I don't know if they are planning on hiring more or if the efficiency expert provided a buffer for now. If my observations are anywhere near true the the atmosphere is very laid back and they work normal hours. I think they are a good place to work.

I still see a great value in building an SMB Sprinter vs one of the other manufacturers. Some of the others are nice but they are a bit more expensive and from what I have seen not as solidly built. I like what I am getting now and I could not have gotten it anywhere else.

Even with what I have been through I am still a big SMB fan. I just wish it could be a little easier for me. I don't have any experience with any other shop but I think that there could be a little bit more modernization in the way SMB does some things, I can think of one or two right off the bat. I could be wrong and maybe everything is much more contemporary than I think but it's hard for me to see. Maybe you all can provide comment on that.


Chumley 09-16-2012 10:08 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 10 Going on 7 or 8

Well I hope you are willing to check in for a couple of more weeks. I have the official planned completion date and it is September 28th. The wife has taken the time off work to do the pickup routine and we are frankly getting very excited, more her than me but I have seen the van every week for the last several weeks. My anticipation is a little higher than getting a mail order jacket from LL Bean but a little less than when I went to pick up my first Harley. BTW: I ride BMWs, Triumphs, Vespas, etc... so please be nice. I am a little worn out on the build so some of the polish has worn off too and I am still a little apprehensive about the last 2 weeks. Not to worry, as soon as the build is on the road and it is proven as well done I will be very f’n excited, and will celebrate accordingly with many cocktails. That toilet may come in handy…

I went this week and it was a non-event. I was there barely ½ hour. I waited almost as long stopped dead in a construction zone on the highway on the way there.

As usual everyone was nice and my Sales/PM was apparently with other customers but came right out. Looks like a busy place. We were walking to the van and he was pretty happy as usual but more so than the last couple of weeks. We had just been notified that SMB checked in and locked in our interest rate at 4.75% which was a full ½ point below our initial quote. There is some silver lining that cloud and he was glad to have something as positive as that to start the tour. (As a side note: we decided to take out an RV loan since we wanted our money to continue working for us. We have almost fully recovered from the economic disaster but like it when the money is working. The interest is going to be tax deductible so it is basically free interest in the long run. This works for us but certainly maybe not for everyone. YMMV)

The van is in more of a normal location versus sitting by itself off to the side of the line. I see that the driver and passenger seats are leather covered now and the tan/black combination is nice. I look inside and see most of the stuff inside is back in place and looks familiar. The heater is in place and it looks like it will look good in the cabinet face. All of the plumbing is back in place so overall it is just about where it was before “Redo-Day”. A nice gentleman came up to us with another SMB sales guy and inquired into the build. There is so much to say but the best thing I could say is that it is like a little home on wheels. I think anyone walking through the first time has to be mighty impressed, I know I was and still am when I look at some of the completed vans being readied for delivery. The Sales/PM and I discussed just a few details but most of it is now back into familiar territory. They still don’t have a plan for the installation of the microwave oven but it was promised that I will get good ventilation on the side(s). I didn’t even feel like looking at the window tint but will again during this week’s visit since it is going to be done so soon. I am simply asking that the edges be a uniform distance all of the way around and that the tint is adhered well enough that I can’t see anything from the inside or outside (meaning sometimes you can see a little lighter area around the edges on the little black dots (that fade to solid black around the edge) where it reflects light or bubbles up as it releases). This appears to be the last critical area since the redo fixed everything else. The interesting thing is that this appears to be the only area where they seem to expect a compromise from me, interesting that their philosophy is so different here. They are replacing virtually anything that gets damaged during the build (glove box door and likely a “B” pillar so far) but will accept less than their normal high standards and I am expected to replace it at my cost in the future if the dogs scratch it when I never wanted it, I just wanted the right color glass. Those 2 e-mails I sent that never got a reply may haunt SMB for a while. They were also part of the trend that made me switch to a new salesman that eventually got me here.


Yep, most of those photos should look pretty familiar.

On the way home I got a call from Rob of IA who is installing the A/V systems. He said that he felt that the sealant around the roof penetration for the XM radio antenna did not look good to him so he is getting an ABS cover to install over it to clean it up, nice. I’ll show you when I see it. We are also working on getting a larger safe for the van now that we have the final dimensions.

Overall the build is back on track. But I can’t say that my confidence is back yet and it may not be until I have been in the van on a trip and everything does indeed work as promised. I will confirm this but it appears that the credit check is done for the loan so we can get my wife her car now, I hope. We sold the minivan so we are either on the hook but if something blows up I guess we can use the $21,000 deposit to go back and buy one pretty much just like it (Mazda5s are one of the best deals on the market). I am not anticipating that kind of a problem but I am always mentally prepared for the worst, I just don’t know if the wife is...

I have been working on getting insurance and so far it is about $1,000 year (Good Sam) but I am still working on it. We need to outfit the van with the basics like a patio rug, the Stowaway2 cargo basket, and all of the little “things” you just have to have and can only get at some special RV outfitting shop.

It has been a long strange trip but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is not a train, it is the light of day and it looks like a trip to the Alabama Hills and Bishop in a few weeks as a shakedown. We go to the Southwest in early November for a couple of weeks so I am going to start conditioning my GI tract for some serious heat by way of red and green chili sauce.

Life is good, getting really good. Hope you are enjoying your week and this report.

Thanks for checking in.


Chumley 09-19-2012 08:49 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hello All,

I am getting prepared here in the week before we pick up the Sprinter at SMB West and a lot of things are happening.

I am working on finalizing my insurance. What I have found out that is a lot of companies promoting their “RV Insurance” policies are going to be providing quotes for auto policies with “assigned values”. I have found this to be true with AARP (The Hartford). You have to be diligent and provide a full inventory of items installed and pictures will help. When an adjuster is needed they might not be RV savvy and you could get a depreciated value of all of the items installed right off the bat. My current understanding is that it might be hard to get true replacement value from an auto policy with assigned values. I am doing more research on this since I do not want to mislead anyone and I need to know. I finally received a quote from State Farm (current insurer) at something over $830 and one from Good Sam for about $800 that included their 5 year full replacement value feature (State Farm does not have this). This is a lot of work and I think I’m done here. Please note that I have included rough quotes based upon my particular circumstances and deductibles and they vary the price dramatically.

The financing is substantially complete. I was told, however, that I should not go out and buy a car right now because the Texas office may want to run some more financials(?). Okay, I will wait like we had planned. Since I keep hearing how this has to be approved and that has to be approved through Texas I must deduce that Texas is the “mother” office. I guess this is a franchise or something. Maybe I can get this clarified tomorrow.

I received an interesting e-mail yesterday. To preface: a couple of months ago I asked SMB if they could make leather seat covers to protect the nice leather seating from dog nails. The SMB rep. said that he spoke with the upholstery department and they said they could do it but could not give a firm quote, just a rough estimate and then charge what it took to get it done. I agreed. I was asking the Sales/PM guy to make sure that the seat outer protective covers I was having would be made without any additional accent seams so there would not be doubled up seams on the seating/sleeping surfaces. So I get this e-mail yesterday (basically 2 days after the question is asked, they are busy) responding to my e-mail sent Sunday night, saying that they don’t think they can do it in a way that would meet my standards. I will dedicate the next paragraph to this…

This may turn into a whine or rant so you can skip this part… From the beginning I tried to tailor my expectations to this custom recreational vehicle industry. What I found out was that it is normal to go a couple days without response when you are keen to make an important decision, I get that. I see that the work completed is good, actually very good, but not at the highest levels that I have seen. I accepted that. The quality of the materials are very good but not the best but again I see the reason and balance of quality versus cost that represents a good value. I accept that. I did however have difficulty with the level of design detail provided but that has nothing to do with the actual construction quality. Overall I see why things are the way they are and accept that. However I don’t accept mistakes that could have been easily avoided with good sense. I have spent the better part of the last 30 years estimating and managing commercial construction projects. I’ll tell you a favorite story. I was on a jobsite one day and saw the brother of a painting shop owner who did most of my work dilligently painting away and went to talk to him. He appeared a little nervous so I left him alone. I asked the painting company owner what was going on with his brother. He said that I made him nervous (short history was that I made him redo work I did not accept). I tried to apologize but he said “no - thank you”. Of course I asked why and he said that he always makes good money on my projects because I tell them what might be a problem before they move off the job so they can fix it. Their projects look good and they get fewer call backs and make more money that way. It’s not just me but anyone who cares about their work helps others get their job done right when it effects them all.

So I get this e-mail and it says that they are afraid that they will not be able to meet my expectations after all of this time expecting the work to be done. From the beginning of this build I told them that I would expect good quality work and when they would not define what that meant to them I accepted it. I will ask them what I have asked for that is out of the norm or is in excess of what they are expected to deliver because I don’t know. Except for possibly the demands that the window tint be nicely done I have not asked for anything extra, well maybe that roof stuff sealing job too... I have however observed and pointed out several of their mistakes but I don’t think that it is the same as complaining about quality. Mistakes and quality of the completed product are 2 different things to me. Well I am sure not going to push it on them now but it is disappointing at this point. Just another thing to do in a time crunch now. Also, I remember it was one of the things mentioned that would make it difficult for me to walk away from the build if they made for me because it was an expensive custom item... Hmmm... Okay, done with the rant.

I will go tomorrow and I expect it will look pretty good. I hope that the SMB Sales/PM guy will be in a good mood. I am still a apprehensive because of something I heard today that threw me off a bit. I will go prepared but am thinking maybe it is a good time to have Alan Feld join us for a while… I have my reasons...

I will tell you all about “The Ether” in my next post.



WeLikeWheels 09-20-2012 04:49 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Glad to see things are coming together for you Chumley and you are at the point where you can see how nice the end product will be!

I mentioned before that I make custom products. I customize motorcycle fairings(plastics). One of the very earliest lessons I learned is when you've cut a hole in someone's fairing - you either wait to send them pictures until you've re-molded whatever will go in it's place, or you provide a lot of explanation for the stage you are at. And again during the sanding stages of flow-coating the paint or wet sanding before buffing we are reserved with sending photos of these stages to keep our customers from cringing. In other words, the process for creating a perfectly polished finished product isn't always pretty. Sometimes there is only so much you can do to explain that this ugliness is a necessary part of the process. I would say that better than 99% of our customers are very satisfied with the end product, but more than a handful have also expressed concern during the customization process.

I think it is perfectly normal, when something you are so emotional invested in like a much believed motorcycle or a new home on wheels is having major reconstructive surgery, that you would have anxiety about the process. Despite having hired the best surgeon in the country, you aren't the one holding the scalpel. You have to put your trust in the surgeon and for most people sitting in the waiting room is probably easier than being on the observation deck watching every cut.

Mistakes happen and when they do it is no fun for either customer or company. In this case it looks like you are actually benefiting from them, because not only is SMB fixing them, but they've also had the extra time to find better financing for you.

I am glad to see that SMB has done almost everything to make things right by you. I can't wait to read the report and see pics next week of your and your wife's huge smiles as you drive your new home off the lot.

kmessinger 09-20-2012 02:37 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Check Progressive. They know what a Sportsmobile is and have replacement total just based on the purchase price.

I have had two claims they handled great. One was for the original glass on the sliding door. I wanted to replace it with a CR Laurence which was several hundred dollars more than the standard. They approved going with the more expensive. I had it done at SMB and paid for the labor.



Wsgraham 09-22-2012 09:26 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Like Keith, I too have RV insurance with Progressive. You really want to go with one of the insurance companies that has specific RV policies. I am paying about $800/year for a new (July) Sprinter RB with a Sportsmobile conversion. It has five year replacement as well as many other coverages not included with auto type policies and is much less expensive, about one half to one third as much based on the quotes I was given before I found that RVs should not be treated the same as cars. Since I was buying the Sportsmobile in Texas and live in Iowa there was some confusion at Progressive. They finally found an agent for Iowa who understood RV insurance and I was insured in about an hour with a fax confirmation. It did require some work in the Progressive phone tree. There are other companies like Good Sam that understand and offer RV insurance and I think that all would be competitive and offer similar coverages. They asked me what replacement cost would be and I told them $80,000 and they were OK with that. Bill

DonSt 09-27-2012 02:51 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I finally went through this whole post on your build, and I can't believe it. The rebuild seems like a waste of creativity, time, and money for all.


tonyvoudy 09-27-2012 06:49 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
How's the build going Chumley? Have not heard from you in a week or so...

Chumley 09-30-2012 09:57 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Weeks 11 and 12 – The End, Kind of…

Hello, I did not post last week for a couple of reasons, I was busy and I was conflicted. I apologize for not being regular but strange things happened at week 11 and I thought I had better see how things went this last week before I posted. I now have the motorhome that I have been dreaming about for months sitting in my driveway. It is an incredible feeling! I wish I could tell you more about it after a planned short trip but a sore throat popped up Saturday morning so we bailed. We still got out Saturday night for a family drive and made a run to McDonald’s which is a family tradition on my wife’s side. Everyone piles into the new car and they go to McDonald’s. I guess you can tell what generation that one stems from. Instead of sitting in the driver’s and passenger’s seats we got to sit in back in incredible comfort. We even got a couple local channels to come in on the TV and the picture is just dazzling. Eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers and French fries in Hollister while watching TV in a motorhome built locally is one of the American dreams for us. The stereo simply makes driving a joy I can tell you. The overall comfort is right where we expected. SMB delivered on this motorhome that they helped me design. So most of it is just wonderful and my wife is just ecstatic that we have fulfilled a dream. This is really for her, she works long hours at a stressful management job and this will be her decompression chamber, the golden carrot hanging right there every day. The dream is now reality and Sportsmobile really delivered on the substance of that dream. This kind of dream needs to merge with reality at some point and we are there. This dream has to yield to the bright light of the day called reality. Turns out that the dream included pimples and other blemishes, just like me. It’s been a long strange journey, and it’s apparently not over yet. Conflicted?

Con•flict•ed - adjective \k?n-?flik-t?d\
: experiencing or marked by ambivalence or a CONFLICT especially of emotions. Chumley during portions of his SMB build.

I am a professional builder and can critique a project with no emotion because it is a world of defined specifications and, if I have done my job well, established expectations. There will be more about this in the future posts.

So due to what has happened the last couple of weeks I thought I would break my posts down into a couple or three different ones so that I could focus more accurately on what is going on so that you will not see a series of conflicted sentences right next to each other. Don't get me wrong, this is a 98% good end to the story, history just tells me that the last couple of percent can be boogers.

First, let’s bring this all back to why I documented my build in the way that I did in the first place. I wanted this thread to help others who were looking for more information than appeared conveniently available in a single place. As a general practice I read the forums for whatever it is that I might be buying or participating in before I get fully committed. I read overwhelmingly good comments about SMB West but there are always gonna be a few negative comments no matter who you are so I saw a few of those too. I understand that a lot of posts on forums are simply a way for people to complain about issues they feel wronged. I also think that it has become fairly easy to determine when it is simply an isolated complaint and when there is merit to an issue. I think we have all dealt with the companies saying that forums are populated by nothing but whiners. Now many companies use them to their benefit and pay attention, I think SMB does. Sometimes people come out of nowhere with an issue on these forums and there is no reliable background history so it’s hard to evaluate without a lot more information, there are 2 sides to these stories. I decided that my thread would be contemporaneous so everyone would live it as it happened and I would be detailed enough so that there would be no doubt as to what I was feeling at the time. I am the customer so what I think should matter. You would think that a company would love to read this stuff since they can check it themselves as it is happening. I also know that a good company should not respond too much to posts on forums so to be fair the posts should be as honest as possible otherwise it becomes a hollow thread. I actually spoke to my SMB Sales/PM guy about this and he agreed that responding to a post on a forum can easily be seen as petty or combative but if he is viewing I honestly offer him to chime in during the last series of posts. SMB delivered a product as promised but it still needs a little work to call it good. I had been very determined not to have to go back right away for correction work but I guess that stuff happens and as long as SMB stands behind their work and we get things resolved within the next few weeks it will be okay. My schedule will be very tough so they will have to work with me but I believe it can be done.

So here we go. Let’s see how this wrap up works. Three more posts to come shortly.

But here are a couple pictures to whet the appetite.

Thank you all for tuning in and contributing. :b5: Thank you SMB! :l2: :l8: :q1:


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