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Viva 10-26-2012 01:46 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by EMrider
The swings from euphoria to despair and back have been numerous. With any complex and iterative process, taking a few steps back and waiting for a process to play-out fully before rendering a verdict can be helpful.

I'm not sure if you're saying that Chumley should have waited to post about his build until things had "settled out" (I may be mis-reading you), but I'm glad he posted as he went along. Because that was his building experience. I've done big projects and ... yep... there are highs and lows. But that's a part of it for many people, and something to be prepared for, unless one is amongst the most laid back of prospective purchasers. A new SMB is a big purchase for most folks.

Also, I never felt that Chumley was "rendering a verdict" in the permanent way. I mean, yes, he did give his opinions and feelings, and they were not always rosy, but on the other hand I felt he was (and is) always open to (and even hopeful of) positive change. Several times he asked us what we thought, mentioned that he was waiting to see how something played out, etc. These instances, to me, indicate an open mind. Also, I felt that even as he called out mistakes and problems, he gave credit for good work and good service when he got them.

I've really enjoyed this thread and have got a lot out of it. I imagine it took a lot of time and effort on Chumley's part to keep it up, and I'm glad he took the time "as it happened."

windguy 10-26-2012 06:19 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by kmessinger

Originally Posted by windguy
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

Oh. That "slider". Probably not. Insurance did pay for it but we don't use it that often.

good to know. thanks Keith.

thanks BrianW and Broncohauler for the window input too.

Chumley 12-24-2012 01:15 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I just realized it has been exactly 2 months since my last post here. I apologize for not keeping this thread up to date since it may have created a bit of a stir some months ago. Well it has been a while and I have some new stuff to talk about now. One of the reasons I have not been posting is because we are actually using Charlie and we love it!

So far our travels have included 2 weeks in the Southwest (actually spent 5 of those days lounging in the Alabama Hills of the Eastern Sierras here in California).

We went to the San Luis Obispo area, San Simeon State Park and Montana de Oro State Park to be exact, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it was just great. We had high’s in the 80’s and it was T-shirt warm into the early evening. Amazing how many families camp over the holiday weekend in this area and the campgrounds were almost all full. Quite a change from the trip to the Southwest where the late October/early November dates meant the campsites were fairly empty. We’ve done a lot of driving around and using Charlie in urban environments in general and really appreciate the short length and maneuverability but I’ll leave that for another post.

We had the opportunity to use every aspect of the van at some point during our trips. From the exploding toilet to the GoLight watching for deer and wild horses in Nevada when a problem forced us into camp late at night in Death Valley (DEF warning lights can be a killjoy – more on that in another post). We definitely found out what works for us and what more to look for (like maybe one of llamadave’s cockpit tables). We found out that the short wheelbase model works for us and wouldn’t change a thing (may be a slight overstatement). We drove over tight winding mountain roads and enjoyed ourselves doing it (ever drive over New Mexico Hwy 152 from Silver City to Hwy 25? Watch out for the big hole on the right just outside of Silver City…). Didn’t get the best mileage overall but then I if I would have spent more time on the freeways I guess the mileage would have stayed up there. Still, around 16 MPG ain’t bad for an 8,500 pound brick with duallies and a buttload of smiles. BTW: I ended up stripping off all of the identifying badges like Spenard did and it looks great and I think I got another 1 MPG with the reduced drag… If there was a road in decent condition we knew we were able to go exploring and know that at night we could retire to the womb like den in the back - on an almost king size bed, decadently watching a movie on the 22” HDTV (should’ve seen the galley some mornings, looked like a party…). Wow, so this is what it’s all about. Driving, dining, drinking and sleeping. I could get used to this. The trips were incredible and nothing but fun. Okay, so we had a couple minor annoyances but that is another post.

Lots of incredible experiences and wonderful use from the big smiling Charlie -ever notice how the front kind of looks like it has a big grin? Let me tell you about why things worked for us and why I had to push for my design at times when SMB’s experience indicated that things might work better another way.

I’ll start at the front of the van. No, actually, let me go back and thank SMB for actually building this van the way I wanted. I am sure that those of you that have read this entire thread know that I rode a roller coaster for a couple months getting to this point, and unfortunately the silly problems aren’t over yet (another post), but I have the greatest appreciation for the advice I received during the design process. I really appreciate the way that this van performs and looks and SMB made it that way. I made some changes to one of their base designs (RB110S) and it just really works for us and makes getting through the work week tough due to the anticipation of getting out on the open road somewhere. Okay back to the functional aspect of the van starting at the front.

I’ll start with the entertainment and navigation center. We absolutely love almost all aspects of the Kenwood 6990 head unit which acts as the entertainment center and GPS. I did have to make a felt mask to cover the screen (that doesn’t dim acceptably for my night driving) and solved the biggest problem. You may want to ask about the ability to switch off the display for night driving if this might be a concern for you too.

Having the stereo installed with the upgraded speakers up front was the right decision for us. All of the hours on the road were accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack. Having the option to easily use the iPod controls, that actually worked, and then switch to satellite radio offered endless hours of music and entertainment, and leading up to and including election night, all of the news we could ever ask for... We had to turn the sub-woofer down pretty low because it is mounted all the way in the back under our couch/bed – right under the dog’s normal roost. The sub-woofer is very powerful and it really booms back there so we were worried that the dogs were about to get tinnitus. We really didn’t practically need all of that low range anyway. I remember seeing Genesis play “Squonk” live in the 70’s and it is the only thing I remember rivaling the bass coming out of that sub-woofer. The sub-woofer stays turned down and the fader is set to move most of the sound way up front since the speakers in back area really powerful too. Not real thrilled with the Bluetooth phone setup. I just seems that most of the aftermarket (heck, even factory) systems have the all too common problem of tunnel voice and breakup using the generic and not so strategically placed microphone. The incoming sound is great so it must be the mic (you can see it in the pictures on the left side of the instruments center stack next to the steering wheel). Also, right now the AM/FM radio reception really sucks but it may yet get fixed (another post). Has anyone tried a taller aftermarket antenna that might help? I am also thinking that if I can find one about a foot or more longer then I can use it as a warning feeler for the height of the van too. The GPS (Garmin) is okay but feel that it is not as good as our other portable units for our type of use. Still, easily on par with most auto manufacturer’s systems and easy to use with the touchscreen. Scrolling though the options or playlists using the touchscreen can get finniky so don’t let your fingers dry out (try that in the desert). These kinds of systems don’t work well for me when my fingertips approach the moisture and texture of tusk. Slight glitch in the GPS is a complete system lock up when we switch to a certain screen view but we hope reprogramming will fix that. No problems getting satellites for the satellite radio or the GPS even in the canyons we spent time in. Watching a movie in the back with the sound piped through the sound system was awesome, decadent. Very happy overall with the audio visual package, just waiting for a couple of tweaks. Would do it all over again, except the Bluetooth cellphone aspect (I believe it’s standard so no big deal).

The Leather steering wheel cover makes a huge difference to me so really like having it installed. The company (Wheelskins) did not make one for the Sprinter but a cloth tape measure and two tries (I blew the first measurement) got the special order cover just right. You have to stitch it on and it usually takes me about an hour to install and my fingertips are sore for a couple days from pushing the needle through the eyelets and pulling the thread tight. This installation doesn’t look as good as usual this time since there is some puckering at the wheel spokes but it feels very good in the hands when driving. It makes the steering wheel noticeably thicker and has nice grip.

The seats have been recovered in leather and are very comfortable. So far the light tan color in the center of the seats is holding up quite well with just a little darkening over the last 6,600 miles.

I want to mention the GoLight up top. It is controlled by a small remote control and it is just awesome. Driving at night it helped see far enough off to the sides that I was not as worried about deer and wild horses as usual. The wife enjoyed looking for wildlife on the very remote 2 lane highways through Nevada. Using it in camp is very handy when you want to go outside and then just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a while knowing that if need be you can blind yourself with light with a push of a button. That light is really cool. Be forewarned, it annoys other people if you accidentally turn it on and it is pointed anywhere near someone for just a moment…

The next step back takes us to the cabinet right behind the driver which is one of those things that makes me smug happy.

It allows us to feel like the front is very open. I don’t get the sense that there is anything right behind me while driving and my wife can look out the little window too. It has kind of turned into that entry table that you toss the keys on so you always know where things will be. There is a little galley shelf hanging from the microwave shelf that works really well. There is a hockey puck light in the bottom of the microwave shelf that is focused on the countertop and lights up the galley shelf perfectly too. This area is one of those details that I borrowed from the example on the SMB website (RB110S modified) and it just makes me happy every time we use it since it is just so handy. I gave up a full height closet in the original plan but haven’t missed it yet (maybe a business trip will show the need but until then…). Besides, where would the microwave have gone? A low drawer for silverware on top is perfect for just that and the three remote controls that came with the build. Did I mention that the Kenwood comes with a remote control? There is a large drawer below the silverware drawer and it holds all of the major cooking stuff. We got very lucky and found a set of pots and pans that nest perfectly. A 3 quart sauce pan nests into the 8(6?) quart pot that sits in a 10” non-stick skillet. All heavy duty multi-ply stainless steel clad that really works well on the very hot stovetop. I have a knife roll that keeps my nice knives safe and there is still room for plates and bowls and the darn cutest stainless steel miniature kettle. I have to say that I got real lucky in how everything fits but then I guess I would have spent a lot of time, if necessary, to get it right since room is at such a premium. Below the big drawer is the propane heater. The heater makes quite a bit of noise so I am glad it is at the other end of the van, away from the bed. It took a while to burn off some oils or sawdust so it smelled for a while (one night it mysteriously set off the smoke alarm too…). I keep an extendable handle window washer and squeegee right behind the driver’s seat where Velcro on the handle keeps it tight to a strip of Velcro on the countertop edge, very handy.

The shower and toilet enclosure is right behind that low cabinet and countertop. I love it. It is 35” long and 24” wide on the inside. The bi-folding door is plenty big for access and has a couple of mirrors on the outside for those vanity checks. The enclosure has a big window that has the regular blind and a waterproof roll-up one that cover it. I pushed SMB to make the interior window trim out of the same FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) sheeting as installed on the walls and it works to keep the inevitable shower spray off the blinds and running down behind the wall panel, I am glad I did. The stall is just big enough for us to do our business comfortably and move around taking a (brief) shower.

The shower controls are down low but are not really a problem considering my back problems (I don’t take a shower first thing in the morning when I am really stiff). The one thing I will say is that the flat plate water heater is a bit of a chore to get working right. We do not have the high idle option (that may have been a mistake) since we got the generator. With the engine idling it does not seem to generate enough heat in the engine to really heat the water well enough for a comfortable shower. Our solution has been to have one of us rev the engine while we are showering and want hot water. Our shower routine has been to use some waterless shower soap and lather up real good. We then just rinse it all off and feel very nice and clean. God I love that feeling when on the road and camped out for a few days. The toilet is a porta-potty and I have come to really like it. I won’t try to open a debate between a marine toilet with black water tank and the porta-potti but I will say that I have got the system down for emptying and cleaning the system pretty well. On a recent trip I watched another Sprinter based RV come up and dump its black water tank and clean up. I was much quicker and when I put everything back in the van everything was very clean (I rinse the holding tank at least 3 or 4 times). Just my take on the deal. So here is one I give all of you for your enjoyment. We started the day in Tucson, Arizona, (approx. 4,000 feet) and ended the day in Silver City, New Mexico (approx. 5,900 feet elevation). We set up camp and I have my first beer, a mighty good and quick beer. So after a bit nature calls so I go in and use that beautiful Thetford Curve. In case you don’t know how it works the flush valve is on the side of the toilet about half way down. So I tinkle in the bowl and lean over to open the valve, with the top up so I can see if the bowl is flushed clean. I swing the lever and there is a pop and a flash, or something, and I scream like a little girl. So if you search the internet and type in Thetford Curve and altitude you will get an explanation. Hmmm… So I take a shower and rinse down the entire enclosure for good measure. This is where I notice that the shower pan is not entirely drained and holding good bit of water. We are dead nuts level so I guess I will discuss this in another post…

Across the shower enclosure is the galley.

We have the stove mounted over the Isotemp refer (CR100). The refer really works well. It is very quiet and it keeps a very steady temperature. We have had to adjust it back up a few times since it tends to get cold and have frozen a couple of the extra water bottles we use for thermal mass. Great size efficiency. Did I mention its quiet?

The stove is amazing and it boils 8 quarts of water in no time. I love pasta so this was something I was really concerned about but it is no problem. We can get a pound of pasta cooked without any lag time making it soggy. Cook sauce and have it simmering while boiling pasta, too much! The sink is great to have and it works fine. Under the sink is cabinet space that now houses my travel bar in a padded stand up box big enough for 6 bottles of wine and spirits. Overhead is a cabinet upper that extends over the sink and ends before the stovetop. There is a hockey puck light over the sink and a regular swivel fixture with LED lamp pointed down at the stovetop (or out the door to the ground). It is built into the rest of the cabinet upper set and is not tacked on like before the rebuild. Okay, now I have to comment on the countertop. Originally it was black and had no backsplash. During the rebuild I had to go to a brown with speckles and it is actually a very nice color and happy we made the change. A bone of contention and a real struggle with SMB was to get a full length backsplash around the countertop. I was told they don’t do them because people accidentally rip them off using them as a grab handle. I am here to say that SMB is right and several have tried to grab the backsplash but I cannot imagine the kitchen area without it. I am glad I insisted on it. It keeps stuff from falling off the back and I don’t know how some of you do it. It keeps my bottles up there when I’ve turned the van into a party room.

I love and need that backsplash and will make a sheetmetal cover for the backsplash with a sign stating “No Grab” on it to keep it intact. The other thing I really like is the flip up countertop extension. It makes the whole kitchen area workable since it is so tight. What it has also done is turned into a desktop. My wife turned the passenger seat around and slid it up close to the flip up top and she worked from there during our trip. I wonder if we can declare this as office space and write it off?

Power outlet right there for her computer and light overhead and she is working while I sit comfortably in back watching TV or reading. It’s truly and amazing use of such a small space. I still can’t get over how well this all works for us.

We go to the back and there are two ottoman (now properly covered in leather) and the couch/bed. It is a very comfortable place to sit during the day. We have spent several days in there looking out the windows at Mount Whitney and reading comfortably when it was in the 30s and 40s outside in the Alabama Hills.

This area converts to a nearly king size bed that is firm but ultimately very comfortable for us. I designed the bed to be 5” longer than me and it is perfect, thank you SMB design guy. We have been very surprised at how well the van retains heat at night. We do have the extra layer of window insulation in the way of the vinyl protective covers all around the rear so that probably helps. It is also very quiet (as TonyVoudy has commented with a thousand revelers partying just outside well into the night) and feels like a womb or den. No cold air leaks on our heads as I was originally worried since the barn doors are right there too. Again, the extra protective covers likely help. We sit or lay there watching the 22” HDTV and just can’t get over it. The TV does some weird stuff with my home recorded DVDs but otherwise watching a movie knowing Mount Whitney is standing sentinel over us is one of the reasons why we did this in the first place. At Montana de Oro State Beach campground we left the top vent open (always do, at least a little) and could hear the waves pounding on the beach. Sleeping is never a problem in Charlie, especially when the bartender gets to working his shift…

So we have the PowerTech diesel generator right below the couch/bed. We run it when the batteries are getting low and have used it to run the heating element in the ac unit too. I must say that it takes some getting used to and I would not want to be camped next to somebody and run it into the evening. It is loud and it vibrates quite a bit. The dogs were very unsettled for a while but now they are used to it. Another issue is the smell of paint burning off and it has strangely persisted to this day and is quite noticeable inside. We will have the generator looked into and I will post more about it later. Good to have but prefer to use it as little as possible. Still, knowing we have the power available was what we really wanted so we are willing to pay the price, literally. Oh, another thing. There are sturdy steel posts with a set of steel wheels mounted to the trailer hitch to protect the generator and they work! I would say that in the 6,600 miles we have hit them maybe a dozen times. The generator hangs down to about 7” above the road so I am careful on driveways since it is set way back. I am impressed that those steel standoffs are working so well with no signs of bending.

Outside we have a cargo basket plugged into the trailer hitch. It is about 20” x 50” and has worked really well. We like to keep the interior uncluttered while we travel so put things like chairs, table, B-B-Q, patio rug, and the dog pen (3 sections) back there and don’t worry about it. Everything fits into a big weatherproof vinyl carry case and are strapped on and it all works really well. I can open the rear doors when there isn’t anything in the basket and could probably stand in it since it is rated for 200 pounds but maybe I’ll just play it safe for now. Only thing I worry about is that it blocks the rear license plate but so far no issues…

The awning is wonderful and there isn’t much interesting to say about it other than it works and doesn’t seem to introduce any noticeable noise when driving and it is easy to set up and take down.

So the world with Charlie is not perfect (another post) but it is just so overall convenient to go out into the driveway and fill him up with goodies and the dogs and the wife and we’re gone. Our design works very well for us, unbelievable so. I am sure your design works for you and you have all of your reasons. That is what is so special about building a Sportsmobile. You built what you want, as weird as it may be, and you don’t have to accept what some production line dictates. It’s special because it can be uniquely yours.

It is all just what we wanted. The van and the experiences.

And you get all of those people coming up to you or pointing at you as you pass by. I wonder what they are dreaming of and where they would go. I am still dreaming of places to go, and we will go there if there is a road.

Thanks for hanging in there.

Happy Holidays All!


Spenard 12-24-2012 03:30 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hi Chumley. Your travel photos have me envious. Our van is covered and tucked in for the winter up here. We have the Kenwood Unit as well and love the sound system. I agree the blu tooth mike is not optimal sound wise and mic location. I wonder if it was mounted to the overhead console would work better? Regarding screen brightness I would see if theres a way to change screen display colors to find a color that might be less distracting for night driving.

I would go look at mine but that would take some snow shoveling and chattering teeth waiting for van warm up with our 10 F weather. (trickle charger on the Inverter seams to be working OK

Wishing you more Happy Trails for the new year!

jage 12-24-2012 09:52 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
One GoLight covers both sides of the road for wildlife? Or was that pointing towards one side?

All of us living vicariously through you at the moment appreciate the post!

Viva 12-25-2012 09:06 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thanks for the detailed evaluation/photos and your travel tales too!


JayBea 12-25-2012 09:30 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hi Chumley,
Great to hear of your adventures in your new SMB Sprinter. I'm like you in that the Sportsmobile DYO experiance allows all of us to make differing choices as to our vehicle and build details yet end up happy and with a design that works for us. Whatever our needs, we don't have to accept a "off the rack" design.
Not wanting to hijack your thread, I must say that I love the space in my 2500 EB and find no problems in getting around town on even the narrowest of streets. I love our propane heat and have no lack of hot water with the Suburban water heater. Opting for solar rather than a generator gives us the quiet freedom that we desired. Our Sprinter has given us 18 to 22 mpg and, yes, we experianced the DEF panic at about 4400 miles. Fortunately we were near an interstate truck stop! I like your Kenwood and pretty much hate our Sound 5 but am holding this issue for a future upgrade.
We have given many a tour at fuel stops and rest areas and love to feel that we too are contributing to the dreams of those we see looking and pointing as we travel through their towns.
Sorry that we missed you in Silver City and glad that you missed the big hole off of NM152. By the way, traveling NM152 over the Black Range is a great example of why we love our B's. They are ment for narrow roads like this that climb and dive and twist and turn. There are many more roads like this in our great country and we will be out there with you. Maybe we will meet up some day!
Thanks for maintaining your post...

Chumley 12-28-2012 06:17 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Spenard (Dan): Thanks for the comments. I am sure you are busy planning your next trip, although being in Alaska I don't think you have to go far to have an adevnture. I lived in Juneau as a kid and I spent a lot of time walking a half mile into total wilderness and some really cool stuff (well, and uncool, like devil's club). I will probably have the bluetooth microphone removed at my upcoming 2 day repair visit at SMB West in a couple weeks. I will ask Rob to play with it a bit to try to focus it to see if that helps since it has noise cancellation and I think it considers me noise since it is not pointed at me. Wouldn't be the first thing to treat me as noise. I could not get a good color to dim the Kenwood screen, I think purple was good but not enough for my aging and spectacle wearing eyes. Rob said that he thinks he could install a switch that would turn off the display but thought that might be a bit much for me, the felt cover works fine and it cost about $1.25. I want ot thank you for getting me started down the path of removing all of the badging. I removed everything (including the hood ornament) except the Sportsmobile on the sides and the rear (also removed the ".com" on the sides) and the rear Mercedes logo on the rear doors. That rear door logo may go black like the one in front too. I painted the license plate holder and the Mercedes logo up front with some black truck bed coating. Seems to be holding up really well so far.

Jage: The GoLight is towards the front right in the center of the van. It shines forward and about 90 dgrees off to the right (blocked by awning) and more than that on the left. It doesn't shine down on the ground near the sides but works really well looking off a hundred feet or so (my guesstimate). More than anyhting it can keep someone from getting too bored staring at nothing much at night. It can be annoyingly fun in camp.

Viva: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get your van just right. I have a feeling that it will be built to a very high standard, especially if you do some of it yourself. Good luck.

JayBea: I am sorry we missed you too. We ended up rolling in fairly late (like most nights since we dawdle in the morning) and stayed at a nice place in Silver City with few guests, I was thinking you probably had a few more in your place. Still, you might have heard me scream when my toilet exploded! If we lived in a nice place like Silver City we would probably have gotten a longer wheelbase model too. Just so much to do around where I live where I have to park in a standard space.

You too are blessed by living in a really cool area. You have the history of Billy the Kid being born there in town and with the Santa Rita mine nearby even the likes of Kit Carson lived and worked there. There is so much history and beauty near you, we just loved it all. BTW: I was just awestruck looking at that big hole in the ground. It's got ot be 2 or 3 miles across? That NM152 really caught me off guard because it was so tight but it was never a problem for the van and I really got to enjoy the drive.

I am going back to SMB West to take care of some more silly stuff and it will take 2 days to repair it all. It can be so disappointing to see simple things like completely missing sealing an important part of the shower or not getting the shower pan drainage slope right. I know that even SMB is frustrated and they will fix it but I just can't keep goiing back and look forward to it being completely done at some point soon. The customer service guy is really working with me but the rest of the SMB guys have gone dark on me, I guess they are pretty frustrated.

I will have another post with the next set of problems for you to see. It's not as bad as before but surprising still.



durangatangs 01-01-2013 06:00 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hello Chumley,
I can understand how after many months of posting frequently, sometimes multiple times per day, you dropped off the radar for two months after finally taking delivery of your van. We have just finished two years of ownership of our SMB Sprinter. While in the planning stages and for the first few months after we got it we were on this forum almost every day. But over time we and the van got to know each other and figured out how to work together, and the need to visit the forum for a regular "fix" diminished. Today being New Years Day I found myself checking in for the first time in quite a while and quickly became engrossed in your saga. You certainly have had your ups and downs with SMB, and I think it's great that you shared your story, that's what this forum is all about. (Thank you Jage!) I am glad for both you and SMB West that your story seems to be on its way to a happy ending.
We did not have the luxury of frequent factory visits, since we live in Colorado. We set foot in Fresno only two times.
First time was when we dropped off the van. We bought it directly from a dealer - one of the last of the Dodge-badged vehicles from the brief unhappy marriage of Daimler and Chrysler, but a MB under the skin. So we had the vehicle and a preliminary interior design, and drove it to SMBW in July 2010 to deliver it for its makeover, see the factory, and finalize the design. We didn't see it again until we picked it up just before Christmas that year. During those six months we felt exactly like expectant parents. We pestered the staff for photos, which were slow in coming. One of my prime suggestions to them (had they asked - we never did get the post-delivery survey that their website claims they send) would be to find a high-school kid who needs a little spending money and pay them to walk around the factory once a week taking photos and sending them to the owners to keep them up to date. We had to rely on our salesman to do it, and he was busy selling new units - not a lot of time to expend on those of us who were already on the hook. I envy you your ability to visit frequently in person!
Our second visit was the week before Christmas 2010, to take delivery. The van was beautiful, the orientation was overwhelming, we drove away dizzy with euphoria and immediately started having questions because there was just too much to take in all at once. We went to Yosemite for a few days and made a list of questions/issues. We called them, they said come on back. We went in and they swarmed us with workers, taking care of several small but important fixes, while we got supplemental training on a couple of things. We headed home, happy. Got as far as Tehachapi California, where we spent the night. In the morning we climbed up front and started to roll. Immediately water poured out of the maplight console in the ceiling between the front seats. [I sooo identify with how you felt when your heater vent spewed water!] Mr Durangatang opened up the sunglass cubby, more water poured out. Dropped the whole console, it was soaking wet up there. Called SMBW they said come on back, so we did. They conducted a thorough check for leaks and found none. The problem was determined to be condensation. We had Dynamat installed throughout for soundproofing, and I guess it also acts as a vapor barrier. While we were in Yosemite and during our first re-visit to Fresno, the area was having a 100-year Rain Event, so we had kept everything buttoned up tight, and the humidity was about 300%. Combined with the Dynamat vapor barrier, large amounts of moisture had collected in the roof space and found its way out through the maplight console. Lesson learned: leave a window or the fan cracked, even if it's cold and/or wet outside. Since we've been doing that, no further moisture problems.
I'm glad to hear that your van is starting to live up to your expectations. Ours certainly has. Of course Mr Durangatang (an engineer and talented all-around handyman) has made a number of changes and improvements, some small some not so small, and always seems to have a project in the planning stage or underway. But none of that can be laid at SMB's door. The only big thing they did that we've changed was they installed our Espar heater with the exhaust coming out the rear driver side, such that when our awning window was open (to prevent excessive condensation) the fumes came directly into the interior. We had that re-routed by an Espar specialty shop in Oregon and it's ok now. And hey, that was good for a road trip to Crater Lake National Park and the Oregon Coast, so what's to complain about?
I guess my point in posting is to encourage you (and your wife - this is gal to gal) to stick with it. Your problems were way beyond anything we had to deal with but I'm betting that things will smooth out in time and you will end up loving your van. In our two years with our SMB we've put on 43,000 miles (at 19.5 mpg) and had many unforgettable experiences. (I've just uploaded some new pix to our gallery - thanks for motivating me to do that and I hope you enjoy them.) Some people, when they retire, they buy a condo in Florida. We decided to buy a SMB instead, and our retirement home is wherever it's parked. Hope to meet you on the road some day. :a3:

Chumley 01-06-2013 06:52 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
This post is about the Mercedes Sprinter van itself. I felt that the platform deserved a post of its own, it was one of the major decisions I had to make when deciding what I wanted in a Sportsmobile. For “Class B motorhomes” (if motorhomes is what we can agree to call our rigs) we appear to be moving towards a shrinking number of platform choices and within that limited selection the Sprinter is available only with 2 wheel drive while most of the others offer the option of 4 wheel drive, albeit at a premium. I guess I may not have embraced the Nissan yet, forgive me. We all have our reasons for selecting our platform and they are uniquely right for us so only you can tell if you made the right or wrong choice. Only we will ever know if we made the wrong choice. So why do some of us choose the Sprinter platform?

Here is my completely unbiased and objective review of the Mercedes Sprinter van platform (uh-huh). It is surprisingly all pretty good! As a person who admittedly never even considered a Mercedes before, due to a long history with supposedly more “performance oriented” autos, I am impressed with the overall driving experience – of an 8,500 pound van! From handling to acceleration to fuel mileage it all belies its size.

I guess I should start at the beginning, when I ordered the van. I made specific choices when ordering the van and it was purchased through Sportsmobile. At the time it was a gesture to allow Sportsmobile to make an extra buck and save me some extra legwork. This choice can leave you without the aid of a dealership salesman, who may or may not have been helpful. The Sprinter seems to be an interesting addition to the normal Mercedes Benz dealership routine and I have had to weave my way through staff to find the right folks to talk to. I have learned a lot but it was funny to see some of the staff struggle so much with seemingly basic information on what is likely their most basic vehicle. I now speak with the Sprinter service foreman and he is a wealth of knowledge.

The color of the van I have is Pebble Grey. I have no idea where the grey comes into play but I just don’t see it anywhere. What we have is similar to the Ford van beige or tan color. It’s a very subtle color but definitely more towards the tan with some yellow but no grey in evidence to me. We love it and I think it looks really nice with the black trim and wheels. Basically the van is two tone except for some minor chrome in the way of the rear Mercedes logo and the headlight reflectors. Simple and uncluttered. It is fun overhearing people saying that the thing is a Sportsmobile made by Mercedes… oh, and I added AMG license plates frame to further confuse matters.

Ordering options, man there are a lot of options. I deviated from the Sportsmobile listed items and added some of my own and they did order them for me but I took responsibility for them. A mistake on my part was ordering the “daytime running lights” and then compounding it by adding the light sensor for automatic headlight operation. I complicated my van order by breaking up standard SMB options packages to get what I wanted - they are still offered in a way that you can order them together so beware and ask questions. The daytime running lights are just simply the headlights on all of the time, unless you learn the secret handshake and learn to turn the lights off at the switch. Arriving at a campsite when dark and then leaving the engine running to park and level can leave you with less than thrilled neighbors. It was actually pretty funny at Death Valley but… it wasn’t nice. Don’t need the light sensor if the lights are always on, oh well. You can turn off the headlights if you switch the controls to “parking lights” but this will still leave the parking lights, tail lights and license plate lights on.

If you are ordering the van with the factory windows in the sliding door and the rear doors and having SMB add any new windows take the factory tinted window option, that’s my suggestion. This is now offered by SMB on their order form for only $117 (thanks to your’s truly) instead of a window film tint job for $85/window or $255 total. The factory window tint would be a deal at twice the price.

Ordering the 3500 vs the 2500 was perfect for us. The ride is very nice and the thing handles like a big car. I am always pleasantly surprised how well it does when entering a series of medium or high speed corners and how it doesn’t understeer like I expected. The brakes deserve mention, they work flawlessly and I have never felt any fade. They have very good feel and just flat out haul the big beast down to a stop when you want it to. I am not saying you can drive carelessly and expect to stop safely every time, just that they do their job and provide a margin of safety not normally expected for such a big vehicle. We have been in crosswinds which were reportedly spiking at 75 miles per hour driving next to Owens Lake in the Eastern Sierras coming in from Death Valley (Nov. 8th I believe). While I don’t think we were hit by the highest speeds we were shaken by some very very high wind gusts and it did nothing more than shake us and create total white out conditions at times when the dust blew in off of the dry lakebed. We did not wander around our lane and took little more than some mild steering correction during the worst gusts (or was I just bracing myself on the steering wheel?). I think that the dual rear wheels and the “high gravity center suspension package” option (package “PS1” when we ordered it) really did the job. The combination of ride, handling, and stability are just amazing for a van this big and tall. This is a testament to the German engineering that can work magic to make big feel small and practical.

The above noted praise for the handling and ride was not always the case. It always handled surprisingly well but there were distracting issues too. I had to have another wheel alignment performed since the rig either came from the factory out of spec or the alignment that Sportsmobile said they had performed did not help enough or maybe put it out of spec (?), I have no way of knowing. This could be an example of possible issues for me regarding buying the van from Sportsmobile instead of a local dealer since I could not go back for a proper alignment. But then SMB did effect the balance dramatically so it may not have been covered by the factory. I had the front camber adjusted and that really made the steering feel weighty and stable and it greatly improved straight line stability, it had felt like it was on its “tippy toes” and wanted to wander. Moving from positive camber to neutral or slightly negative camber up front really made a huge difference. During that front end work I also fixed one of the most incredible situations of the tires being out of balance and one of the worst the shop had ever seen. This was not a complete surprise since it is very well commented on in the “Sprinter Source” forum. One tire was disposed of since it was likely defective (that’s another issue with buying from Sportsmobile – the dealer is several hundred miles away) and the other is now in storage as a spare (really only as a last resort). As I mentioned previously in this thread, if the steering feels less than really stable or wanders or there is unusual vibration my recommendation is to get to a reputable alignment shop that can handle rigs of our size. For over a thousand miles I was convinced that driving in the far right lane in California (where heavy trucks are mandated to drive) caused the incessant vibration due to road wear but it turned out to be the tires. All in all night and day difference.

The towing package came in handy since it was ultimately used to help protect the generator and now also carries our cargo basket. It is cheaper to have it installed by the factory from my experience.

The engine is just wonderful. It runs so smooth that it can be deceiving. It is a diesel but it is easy to forget. I love the sound of the turbos spooling up and the acceleration is very respectable for a van this size and with its weight. I wonder how quick they are when empty? There have been only a few occasions where I wished we had more power and it was only when going up long steep grades at highway speeds but those occasions were few and far between. I don’t get the higher mileage some you do but I am still happy with my 16 mpg. I do have the lower gearing (higher axle ratio), dual rear tires, and a heavy build so I am not surprised. Doesn’t help that this thing is very comfortable at higher speeds so tend to drive well over 65 when it is allowed and safe…

One of the interesting things this engine uses is Mercede’s BlueTEC diesel technology. This includes the wonderful fluid that I now carry an extra half gallon of whenever we travel. It’s amazing since I cannot smell diesel exhaust even when near the van but it can also be a bit of a pain. I was initially told that I would have enough “Adblue” diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to get me to 9,500 miles (1st service). My assumption is that he must have thought that I had the under vehicle full size +5 gallon tank and not the 3.2 gallon under hood tank I had (most of you have). Just to be safe I bought a small bottle of Adblue which is ½ gallon for about $15. So we are literally in the middle of nowhere (between Page, AZ and Kanab, AZ) and the warning message pops up telling me to check the DEF level. This scared the crap out of me since I had read about the warning and the countdown starts. But we only had about 4,300 miles on the odometer, didn’t we have another 5,000 miles to go? There is no cell phone coverage so no service tech help so I pull over and add the Adblue. Pretty cool installation with the screw on bottle and all. But the warning doesn’t go away, even with a reset, so we continue driving. I get to Kanab and finally get someone at the dealership and they tell me more about the warnings and then the countdown. I am informed that the actual countdown begins with 40 starts left but that they are not a linear countdown. Depending on how you drive it could go from 25 to 21 starts depending on how the computer thinks you’re doing. Crap, we were several hundred miles from the nearest Mercedes dealer and we hadn’t even seen another Mercedes for days. I am told that the major auto parts stores now have the fluid, where is a major store around Kanab? Long story short the warning goes out the next morning but comes back on again about 800-900 miles later. There are a few contradictions, mysteries and inconveniences surrounding the whole Adblue thing. I am told you can’t check the fluid level yourself, only the dealer can check it. There is a label in the engine compartment that states to add a minimum of 2 gallons of Adblue whenever adding it. Not sure how that works when your tank only holds 3.2 gallons and it is sold in .5 and 1.5 (?) gallon quantities by Mercedes. I am told that there are three sensors, one for the warning, one for the countdown warnings and then when it just shuts down the engine operation. I would like to know more about what level each one is set. I get about 850 miles from a .5 gallon bottle and it is easy to store so it goes everywhere now. What I have learned is that when the check DEF level warning comes on just put a half gallon in and go to the dealer for a fill up. The fill up was only about $35 bucks or so so it’s not worth stressing over. I guess you can buy the DEF made by others and sold at parts stores but Mercedes worries me so I will stick with their stuff unless absolutely necessary.

Another engine note is that I should have thought more about getting the adjustable high idle option. Our flat plate water heater does not get very warm when the engine is just idling. Considering that either my wife or I could rev the engine I am not completely sure I would add the complexity to the van but I have not heard of any problems with it either. The generator takes care of our battery charging needs so it would be the only reason to have it. Something to think about if we did it again.

There are little things like the automatic windshield wipers that I ordered separately from a standard SMB package. The system works better than any other automatic windshield wiper system I have had. Rarely does it get too wet before the wipers kick in however I have had the wipers kick on when there was no moisture, maybe a bug on the sensor. The swiveling seats up front were well worth the cost for us. Basically ordering everything heavy duty is normal for me so we have everything heavy duty and it doesn’t feel that way. I guess the heavy build smoothes out everything.

Other than the tinted windows, daytime running lights, and maybe adding the adjustable high idle I wouldn’t change a thing. This big van turns on a dime, stops on a dime plus change, handles more like a minivan, and goes like it was half the size.

The Sprinter van is a wonderful platform and if it meets your needs I am just preaching to the choir.



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