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WeLikeWheels 02-05-2013 05:01 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
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Sounds like you are having some good times i your SMB, despite the issues.

Do I win a prize?

Chumley 02-05-2013 02:09 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Wow, I wasn't sure that anyone would find the Sprinter. The picture resolution seemed to get knocked down so it really blended pretty well into the background.

Spend some time as a sniper spotter?

Don't have anything for a prize except I can give you the camp site coordinates. It is about big enough for maybe 2-3 Sportsmobiles and is right at the end of an established road so there is no traffic.



WeLikeWheels 02-08-2013 04:11 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thanks Chum,

No need for a prize. No sniper experience here.

They key was to:
1. understand the depth of field in the picture and
2. look for the road and follow it until finding the van.

MAUMAU 02-08-2013 04:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley -

Thank you for taking the time and effort to post your very informative experience.

There were so many red flags for me in just viewing your pictures that I seriously doubt I would trust SMB to build a unit for me. Simple things like installing a ducted vacuum system near the wood cutting tables, and wrapping the forward console in plastic wrap during the build would help tremendously in keeping the millions of particles of dust out of every mechanical/electrical device.

I give you much credit in dealing with your unfortunate ongoing saga, and am surprised that you did not end up in Trembling Hills Sanatorium. (with SMB footing the bill!)

Wishing you the best going forward.......................Rob

Chumley 02-15-2013 03:01 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thank you for the comments. There were times that this forum became sort of cathartic for me. I spend some time preparing for potential disputes in my industry. I find that if there was an emotional edge to an issue that during the course of writing down the facts it usually moves it from my brain to the written form, seems to be a relief like it has been dealt with and I can move on.

Going back to the build and red flags and not entrusting Sportsmobile to a build. For me, and I think many others, you get invested in the process. I also keep thinking that I can manage others so I get us all out of trouble, doesn't always bear fruit. Ultimately I did get almost everything I wanted by being observant and persistent - and Sportsmobile always wanted it done right, they just had some struggles internally. There have been changes in practices (like covering dashes now) but I still think that an overall review of their best management practices (BMP) program should be conducted. In a post long ago I offered my opinion on how companies prioritize expense. Where do you want to spend your money, preparing to avoid problems or dealing with them as they arise? This is where the economics and staff capabilities come into play and every business makes their own decisions. From what other members are saying there aren't many problems so it makes sense to just fix the few problems that arise and save all of us some money by keeping costs lower.

I might be cautious about advising someone I know who is not real savvy about building something like a SMB comnversion but I think most getting involved in a build are probably doing a lot of research and have a good idea of what they are getting themselves into.

I am still having some problems but overall I would do it again, albeit hopefully differently. There still does not appear to be anyone that can build a product like Sportsmobile for the cost and quality. Although not completely custom you can combine and modify modular components to come up with something very unique and tailored just for your needs. I simply love my design, others may think it is impractical and I am crazy.

I have another report coming up from my latest repair day. It ws beautiful in Fresno.



Chumley 02-23-2013 09:03 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Another post on repairs but from a different angle.

About a week and half ago I went back to Fresno for another day of repairs. Four items needed looking at and hopefully repaired.

There was a very loud and persistent “creak/shriek” from the galley cabinet against the vinyl trim around the sliding door. SMB had installed 2 shims made of a piece of flat wood wrapped with a soft fabric and shoved between the vertical edge of the cabinet where the vinyl edge trim rubbed against the soft vinyl fabric door opening trim. This kind of worked for a short while but then I had to soak it in silicone before every drive and it would also fall out. By the time I got to Fresno this last visit it was just about unbearable (well, really really annoying anyway) and the customer service guy could hear it in the background of one phone message left from the van (and I have a noise cancelling headset). It was just flat out loud. I am not going to get too deeply into it but someone thought that it would be good to use 2 screws set from the inside of the cabinet through the edge of the cabinet into the door frame to hold the shim in place and hold the cabinet still. I mentioned that I didn’t think it would be good to do something like this since sheet metal (door opening) doesn’t seem strong enough to hold these moving parts tight together. I should have been more assertive but I really like the guys working on this repair stuff and were trying to leave them alone this time. Well, by the time I got home one of the screws broke and now there is a hole visible in the vinyl and the edge trim is visibly puckered at the other screw location. Oh, and the noise has returned but to a much lesser degree. This build is jinxed.

SMB relocated the base for the guide string for the blind behind the driver’s seat. It is now actually vertical. I look inside the area between the window trim and window just below the blind and see several plugs to remind me that this was the 3rd time this area was worked on.

The outside patio light had not been lighting up and it was just flashing green and blue light. SMB replaced the LED lamp since it had burned out. It’s only been three and a half months so I guess I should get used to checking and replacing this item.

So now we get to an unusual request. I would like some of you guys out there that I know are very good at building and fixing these things to help me with something. I had a water leak that I thought was coming out of the shower pan. SMB tried very hard to replicate a leak whose results I had personally observed and documented with pictures and a video I showed them on my digital camera but they couldn’t.

The most basic thing I was sure of was that the leak could be replicated so that was never even a consideration, it was finding it that I was concerned about. But they couldn’t replicate it but worked very very hard and diligently to look for signs and possible sources of the leak. So I went home knowing that there was a leak lurking and that the SMB crew tried their best to find the problem. So if you have a moment maybe you can read the following explanation and shed some light.
I first noticed this leak during a trip to the Alabama Hills the long weekend of January 18th. We had a fairly level site with a slight lean in the direction to the shower side, front to back was dead nuts. The two of us took showers on two nights so it was a total of four short showers (definitely under the 5 gallon grey water tank limit verified by SMB because they checked the tank and saw no water marks on it when dropped during repair attempt). Before each shower we would let the van idle for a few minutes since it was probably in the upper 30s by the time we showered in early evening. Just before the shower we would rev the engine for a couple minutes up to about 2,500 RPM max, mostly about 2,000 RPM. One of us would keep revving the engine during the shower to keep the flat plate hot. This is an area that might be a key to the solution. The last day, just before leaving, I walked around and saw a clear area like someone had urinated against the van but right next to the grey water drain. I checked the drain and it was not wet. Drained the grey water tanks and they were fine with no debris at all.

We drove home and accidentally left the water pump on. We never heard the pump cycle on during the drive and did not notice any wet spots when I inspected the van two days later.

I go out to perform a test so I look around the inside of the van and see no obvious signs of water anywhere. I get under the van and look around to see if there are signs of water leaking anywhere, I find no obvious signs of water leakage. However, I do locate a weep hole next to the drain as well as one more towards the front and one near the rear tires. They are discolored so wonder if they may have carried water (I later checked all weep holes and they did all look the same). I go back and start up the engine and run it for a while and then rev it, just like at the campsite. I run only the hot water and spray it around the stall like a real shower from the correct height. During a shower the drain basket swirls and closes itself so the shower pan fills a little during every shower, I made sure that happened too. So after a thorough replication of a couple showers I go outside and see… nothing. I wait about a minute and then it comes rushing out… but it is now coming out at the back weep hole and not the one next to the drain, strange. I think about it a bit and realize that I should level the van, even though the driveway is not that far out of level. So I get out the blocks and level it front to back but the side to side has the shower side a little low. I run it again and same thing, water out the back. I go back inside and pull off the cover to the ottoman to check if the water was running through there. This area has a lot of electrical equipment and wires bolted down to the floor but most importantly the automatic transfer switch (ATS) for the generator is in there. It detects an incoming line voltage (110v or so) and automatically transfers power from the coach batteries to the higher voltage for use in the van receptacles and charging the batteries. It is not weatherproof and is in line with the water flow from the shower to the weep hole. It is close to the van outer wall and at the end furthest from the shower right up against the wheel well. I look carefully and see some water drops right next to the ATS. It appears that there is some water under the wires on the floor too.

(I put a piece of blue paper towel on the water to make it easier to see)

I look further up the wall towards the shower in the ottoman and see what looks like sawdust that had been flushed out from under the wall by water. I recognized this from the first water leak where sawdust was washed out from under the cabinet and collected in the flooring’s texture. I don’t see any other signs of water but figured that this was enough. I had the pictures, the video and saw water inside.

Of course I try to figure out what is going on and come up with the following conclusions:
1. The water is coming out of the shower pan. I cannot find any gaps in the shower enclosure now. The water supply system did not appear to have any leaks based upon the pump being left on and the battery staying charged and never hearing the pump cycle.
2. The water must be coming out of the area around where the drain assembly and piping is attached to the shower pan itself since everything else is below the floor level and I saw that water under the ottoman.

SMB understands the issue and sounds as bummed as me. This will be the 3rd visit for me for repairs and also the 3rd for a water leak oriented repair. I finally get a break in my schedule and SMB finds an opening and I go back to Fresno.

SMB is very keen to get this fixed and holds nothing back when trying to find the leak. One of the things we discuss is how this might actually be a leak that has always existed. They said that the last repair, which included the shower stall sealing, did not show signs of water in the area of the repairs so maybe this has been the source of the leak all along, maybe. Of note is the confirmation that our floor substrate is a sheet of exterior grade plywood (11/16”?) so it cannot take continuous soakings. It should be easy to find the leak after we recreate it in the shop. First, they crawl under the van and look for obvious signs of water. They show me how the top of the tank has a snorkel looking overflow made of what looks like PVC. No sign of water ever leaking around the grey water tank itself. We fire up the water and let it flow. Nothing. Try it again and let it run longer. Nothing. We have to refill the tanks and drain the grey water tank now (remember it only holds 5 gallons). We level the van and run some more. Nothing. I convince them to drop the grey water tanks so we can see the drain assembly connection. They do and I am under the van looking at the drain line from below and it is not leaking more than a drop or two right down the drain pipe itself. I ask them if they can flood the shower pan and let it sit and wait for leaks. I am then told that that was what I just saw and sure enough the shower pan was holding about 2” of water! No leaks. Crap, what is going on? One thing I did get them to fix was to seal around the floor penetration where the drain line went into the grey water tank. They are cut oversized and then left open so that theoretically water can splash back up there while driving in rain or crossing a stream. I would check this on your van if you care about these things.

I went back and watched the video and realized that the engine had been running when I did the test and also that I revved the engine.

I go back to the shop and tell them that they should let the engine run a bit and to rev it before they spray it down again. I go in and sit and after a while check with them but there is no leak and they are buttoning things up. So on this trip there was no leak found. Amazing! I asked if they let the van idle and then rev it before spraying down the shower again and they say they did. I did not see them rev the engine and I have some doubts that they did but I will be replicating the whole process at home again while videotaping the entire thing. Note: apparently they did let it idle since I checked the engine run time and they let it idle for an hour or so, I’ll ask them not to do that again.

I am now wondering if there is some way that there is a leak in the hot water supply when the engine is revved to heat things up. I don’t know that much about the flat plate water heater and how it is valved and separated from the cold water. Maybe something is going on there because that is the only variable I can see that might be left.

Some of you guys know a lot more than I do about these things. Any thoughts?

Unless I can verify the leak somehow I am just supposed to use the thing and SMB will have some consideration of the issue if there is a problem with the floor substrate down the road. Problem is the entire interior will have to be removed and replaced if the floor goes bad, again. I wonder if that is something anyone would be prepared to do in say 5 years if the floor rots out. I would almost be on board with this except now they have to figure out how to fix the hole in my vinyl trim and straighten out the puckered edge trim so I have to go back again anyway. Man this is getting old.

This build may be jinxed.



chromisdesigns 02-23-2013 11:49 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley --

Your mysterious leak reminds me of a similar problem we had on our boat. Water kept appearing in the general area of the hot water heater, which was under the floor of a big side storage locker next to the cockpit. It wasn't coming from the bilge, as some would get trapped behind a partial bulkhead above the bilge well. But, it also wasn't coming from a leaking seal or hatch anywhere, we could flood the whole cockpit area, even plugging the drains, and that spot stayed dry. Yet we'd find water a few days later, again! No fresh water plumbing leaks either.

Finally tracked it down to (** you probably you guessed by now**) the engine-coolant hot water circuit in the water tank. When the engine was running, and it got run long enough to develop a good temperature and pressure in the fresh-water coolant loop, one of the heater hose fittings on the water tank heat exchanger was weeping.

Maybe you have something similar going on with your flat-plate circuit, which is essentially identical to the engine coolant heater loop we had. Get everything fired up good and hot, run it that way for a while, and see if you can find any leaks.

If necessary, you can get a fluorescent dye to put in the coolant, and look for leaks in a darkened garage with a handheld UV lamp. Even if you can't spot the leak itself, it would at least prove where it was coming from.

kmessinger 02-24-2013 03:07 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Maybe you have to be in the shower. The weight of a person pulls something apart?



daveb 02-24-2013 03:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I had a similar leak, at times nothing and other times a heavy leak. This was an outside thing though and turned out to be a simple cracked fitting. Not sure if the it was due to vibration of freezing temps but it was an easy fix.

On your problem, have you ruled out condensation? Hot water, steam and cold air temps outside plus just being in the van for a length of time might matter.

Also I have seen the split wire conduit SMB uses make a path for water flow. Just something to look into. I had water from a roof leak make its way down to the PH bed level even when the top was up. It was another easy fix but tricky to find.


MAUMAU 02-26-2013 07:51 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I find it absolutely amazing that the problems with your SMB build are never ending.

[edited for content by jage]

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