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Onefin 09-03-2015 05:27 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Fabric repair behind window looks excellent, really adds to the value of your 100k van.
SMB West certainly does work they are proud of.

Chumley 09-04-2015 10:21 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
twogone, yeah it's really annoying when this happens and then the shop guy looks at me like I am crazy or incompetent (possibly true).

I am comforted by the fact that the guys at SMB West tried to start it and it didn't work for them either.

Onefin, yeah it's a shame but with the dark windows maybe Peter could not see it when it was inside the shop being worked on. I have a lot of respect for some of these guys and then I guess some guys are just trying to get by.

I have a critical eye and I warn everyone up front that I do and ask them to be prepared and if necessary let me know if there is an additional cost for a better quality product. I almost always get the response that they are too and that they produce a great product so this will not be a problem.

I actually usually do get a good product but apparently not always.


pjmjunior 09-04-2015 02:30 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley, saw you parked downtown Morgan Hill today. Had the kids in the car so I didn't have a chance to say hi. Hope you don't mind if I flag you down next time I see your van.


Chumley 10-24-2015 01:53 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I thought that I would tell you a bit about how Charlie did on our 6,000 mile trip to Alaska.

Bottom line – these Sprinters have got to be the best driving and most efficient little home on wheels that you can get. We tried to avoid major highways as much as possible and enjoyed 18 days of driving joy.

We left our home on the Central Coast of California and headed up into the Sierras so we could see some new territory and enjoy the drive instead of slog up a multilane freeway (Interstate Hwy 5). We would need to use the interstates at some point but wanted to avoid them as much as possible.

First thing I noticed was that the stereo upgrades we did was a God send (adding new subwoofer and volume control in the front). We used to have to moderate the music volume due to the dogs in back but now we could blast the tunes and not worry about deaf dogs. When driving 130 -140 hours on this trip it made a huge difference.

Another thing is that the seats and driving position are great. Day after day in the driver’s seat and never an issue. The leather wrapped steering wheel is nicely fattened the way I like (thank you Wheelskins) and the reupholstered seats (leather, which I think breathes nicely) are just really shaped well with nice side bolsters – this in a van.

I couldn’t have been happier with the performance of the new Koni rear shocks. I felt that they smoothed out the ride in the rear which had been so annoying and did not reduce the handling performance that I could notice. Don’t get me wrong, the ride in the rear is still what I would call harsh but it’s much better. I wonder if there is a real solution to that harsh ride in the back, if you know of one please tell me.

I must admit that driving on mostly 2 lane winding roads throughout British Columbia, Alaska, the Yukon, and Alberta was a blast. I might have been driving a little aggressively at times but this big van feels very very capable and only a couple times did I have any slight concerns and only because 9,000 pounds is a lot to slow down.

This van is a 3500 model so it is geared a little lower and runs dual rear tires. While I think those dualies helps with handling and resisting crosswinds I think we give up some mileage, a fair tradeoff if you ask me. Our best day ended with an average of about 17 mpg but most days were in the 15 mpg range. Considering that extra set of wheels and over 9,000 pounds of rolling home accelerating as quickly as it does I am pretty happy with the mileage, especially considering how mountainous the roads were.

We were concerned on the Cassiar Highway that we might have issues finding diesel when we needed but it was not a problem with the range on a full tank. Still, we stopped for fuel more often than you normally would not knowing exactly what fuel stations might be open so late in the season. Turns out that when the normal tourist season ends a lot of shops and fuel stops shut down or limit hours. Still not a problem.

With so many two lane roads there were times when we inevitably had to pass a slower moving vehicle and Charlie did a very good job of getting up and going but it required planning and got me used to spooling up the turbos and accelerating before getting the pass started. Note: the Alcan is full of energy industry related trucking from about Fort Nelson south and I will avoid it in the future – unless I’m in a high horsepower rig and can pass at will. Never had problems going uphill and I was very rarely passed on those hills or the flats – no I wasn’t holding up traffic.

We put four new Michelin LTX/AT2s on, we already had them on the fronts with about 19K miles on them. We put 2 new ones on the fronts and moved the older tires to the rear. These are M + S rated and really intended for light off road use but the fronts had been wearing incredibly well and remained surprisingly quiet so we slipped them on all the way around. One day in a light snowfall they really made me feel much better considering that the road we were on followed the shoreline of a lake with no guardrail and several mountain passes, again with no guardrails (it seems that not every government requires that their roads be dummy proof, you are responsible for your own safety and I like it that way). We put over 6,000 miles on these tires and I swear they showed no real signs of wear. I will admit that we drove a lot in rain or on damp roads so that no doubt helped but I am looking forward to at least 30K – 40K more miles out of these great performing tires.

Overall, simply put these vans are just a real joy to drive.

We stayed overnight in Charlie about 1/3 of the time. Waking up in a ghost town in Alaska or below a glacier in Alberta was just a dream of a lifetime fulfilled. That’s why we built Charlie, along with being a dog shuttle, and we are getting our money’s worth out of it.

Everything just worked flawlessly on this trip. I am so glad I spent the time getting everything checked out before the trip. I know damn well that if I had ignored something that it would have been cursed and broken during the trip.

I think the only issue we had was with the Thetford Curve portable toilet and I think we just overfilled it. We were on a very rough dirt road between Skagway and a place called Dyea and we noticed that there was fluid in the shower/toilet stall, pretty gross. We went and dumped the very full toilet and I cleaned everything and checked the seals on the toilet and everything seemed fine. We never had that problem again but we never let it get that full and did not hit roads that rough either. Just something we will be aware of next time.

Trips like this really emphasize why we have these builds in the first place.

I don’t know if a stock standard Mercedes Sprinter would be this capable on the road but I doubt it. All of the little things that have been modified really add up to a very comfortable and capable rig.

We had a great trip but that should end up in trip reports. This is just to report back that our Sportsmobile was a fantastic place to spend 3 weeks away from home.



yelnam 10-24-2015 08:09 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Great news that the trip went well!

The batteries ended up being ok then?


Chumley 11-08-2015 05:13 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

The batteries were never really tested since we moved every day so they were constantly being charged but I will say that they definitely don't hold a charge like the previous set did when new(er). I don't know if that's due to the smaller capacity or the excessive drain issue.

Regardless, I think that we will be replacing the batteries with a higher amp/hour rating set. I am also strongly considering going to a 6 volt golf cart set of batteries. I heard that they hold about 3 times the charge so this may be the way we go. I just hope they fit since the battery boxes are pretty small.

Overall I miss sitting in Charlie for hours on end seeing the most incredible scenery from a most advantageous perch.

The driving experience in the Sprinter is just so satisfying. After 6,000 miles there were no new rattles or issues with the build itself and we were on some pretty crappy roads too.

Looking forward to the next long trip.


Viva 11-08-2015 06:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by Chumley
Regardless, I think that we will be replacing the batteries with a higher amp/hour rating set. I am also strongly considering going to a 6 volt golf cart set of batteries. I heard that they hold about 3 times the charge so this may be the way we go. I just hope they fit since the battery boxes are pretty small.

Hi Chumley,

6-volt golf cart batteries are rather tall (as compared to others), so they often times don't fit a given compartment. They are good deep cycle batteries to be sure. OTOH, I don't think there is anything super magical about them, as compared to other comparably good deep cycle batteries (heavy plates, etc.).

I don't know if this has occurred, but oftentimes I have heard people say how they got "so many more" amp hours with 6-volt batteries, but as it turns out they didn't divide by two (which you have to do when you are using them in series as 12-volt batteries). I think you are too thorough to do that, but someone may have said something like that to you without you seeing how they arrived at the numbers.

The other possible down side to 6-volt batteries is that you have to have an even number. This may not matter if you can only fit an even number of batteries anyway, but, for example, I was able to fit three Group 31 batteries in (for 50% more amp hours), but I could not have realized this advantage with 6-volt batteries, as I could not have added another pair.

Then there is proper charging (with settable voltage parameters, temperature compensation, etc.). I can't remember how you are charging though.

And THEN there are LiFePo batteries..... though I'm waiting for my next set (which I hope will be some time down the line as I just bought new batteries in early 2014) to delve into those waters.

I've enjoyed reading this entire thread - both your build and your great tales of using the van.

Chumley 11-16-2015 01:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

I have been told by a couple of local RV repair folks that the golf batteries are the way to go but am just now considering the option. I do have 2 batteries and could run them in series to get the 12 volts needed. I should search the "Electrical / Electronics" forum to see what might be relevant in there, if not maybe start up something.

Since the batteries are such an important aspect of these builds I need to know more about what options exist out there.

I must admit that by not having the best grasp of this important element I have probably unknowingly tossed away several hundred dollars worth of battery life. I plan on changing that but I need to keep it as simple as possible too, I don't want to become one of those folks that live to squeeze the last bit of performance out of something and make my wife crazy. I can do that in other ways easily enough...

Everything else seems to be working fine and I have to consider myself, and hopefully all of you too, lucky to be able to have such a great little home on wheels that is so enjoyable to drive on a daily basis. :l1:

Every time I see something that bothers me I remind myself that overall this complex piece of equipment is doing what I expected. There are some pretty silly things that have happened to my build but on the open road these days those memories just fade away and I'm sitting there smiling away in the driver's seat.



Chumley 01-01-2017 07:02 PM

Well it’s been about another year since my last post and lots of things have happened to Sprinter Charlie, mostly all good stuff.

It’s now been over 4 years since we rolled out the doors of SMB West so I think my Sportsmobile warranty is up but if I remember correctly my factory extended warranty on the van itself has about another 3 years to go. Good news is there are no real problems with the Sportsmobile build and the only thing I’m having a problem with on the Sprinter is the windshield washer fluid pump seems a little clogged, maybe some algae buildup.

Not bad, huh?

We’ve just returned from another nice trip to the Southwest in October and was again reminded that these vans are not just great home bases but great fun to drive day after day, mile after mile. Avoiding major freeways and driving most of our miles on two lane backroads is always fun – the kind of handling Charlie delivers should not be expected from almost 9,000 pounds of rolling stock. Also unexpected is the comfort while logging miles in what was originally designed to be a commercial delivery van. We spent several 500 mile days on this trip with the longest day at 810 miles (it really helps that some states have 75-80 mph speed limits) and there was never anything but comfortable bliss.

Traveling all of those miles is best spent in a rattle free environment and I have to say that the build of this van is just about as solid as a rock. I still have to spray my silicon lubricant into some areas to knock down the squeaks but that is a well practiced routine. No rattles to speak of that aren’t due to my poor packing.

The van itself is still pretty much rattle free but there are a couple very minor rattles emerging from the dash that is manageable with the stereo volume control knob.

Funny story and a lesson for those that might need to replace their windshields… We finally decided to replace the windshield after a Canadian rock assaulted us last year. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well we ordered a factory windshield (my insurance covers everything over $500 and they said that even an aftermarket windshield was costly enough that they would cover the difference and to go ahead with the factory glass). We were just a few days from leaving on our trip and the windshield still hadn’t shown up so the great guys at the windshield shop said that they’d order an aftermarket one they could have the next day (supposedly the windshield would be from the same company that provides the factory glass). Turned out that it was not an exact replacement because for some reason it showed up as a self-defrosting style of windshield. It had thousands of tiny fine heating elements running up and down the entire thing which you could actually see in certain light. It was really annoying since in some light it looked like tiny raindrops running down the windshield (the glass was ordered right off our VIN so it should have been right). So the shop owner said he was sorry and that he would order a clear one from another vendor for a temporary install and then put the factory glass in once it arrived (it had been lost!). So he replaced the windshield with the clear glass the day before the trip. Problem is the next morning we start on our 500 mile day to Crater Lake and we get wind noise! The sides did not seal because of a goof in the rubber trim install. Thank God he was there at the shop on Saturday and he had it fixed by noon and we were on our way. It was really fortunate because we drove right into rain and snow at Crater Lake. Except for the installation goof the guys at the windshield shop were great.

When the new windshield shows up he will replace the temporary one and also put in a new window on the sliding door which has the operable awning windows. Finally an upgrade that we didn’t do when new!

Well we did add another upgrade (maybe two…).

We added a couple solar panels so we now have 200 watts of solar power and we couldn’t be happier. I had originally eschewed solar power since I thought that the generator would handle the power needs on trips but it didn’t address the routine daily and weekly maintenance of the expensive batteries, we’re on our second replacement set now (more on that).

Our local shop found 2 perfect sized solar panels and routed the wiring inside and it all fit. We then switched over to 6 volt batteries so we now have 4 batteries which has increased our total amp hours by well over 30% in roughly the same footprint. Finally power to spare.

We have not seen the voltage drop below 12 volts since we made the change and we spent one whole day (w/2 nights) parked camping in the snow and a couple in Canyonlands while having a pretty good time (music, lights, TV (watching local documentaries), etc…). I feel we now finally have the electrical power side of Charlie sorted out.

If any of you are in doubt about solar I would say at least get it pre-wired for solar by SMB and you could save some of the money we spent.

Sealing our confidence that we have the electrical dialed is the fact that we finally fixed the diesel generator! I had always felt that it was fuel delivery but couldn’t nail down until the last visit when the mechanic got it to fail and it was a faulty internal fuel pump. After all of that time it was a fuel pump! It seemed so obvious but until it’s replicated no one could nail it down.

So now we are 4 years later loving the big brute more than ever. If an inanimate mechanical vehicle could have a personality and become the subject of emotion then Charlie would be a perfect example.

Sometimes you have to have some drama and pain in a relationship to fully bond and appreciate it. Charlie was sure born in drama and there was pain and inconvenience but rarely does any of it come to mind except as a reference point for how far we have come since the early days. We still have to rely on the historic commitment and honor of Sportsmobile West if the shower leak rears its ugly head again. (We seem to have found one work around with the dryshower sponges we found.

These guys work pretty well, just add a few ounces of water and wipe yourself down real good and then we can either jump in the shower for a thorough rinse or just a wet towel)

So we keep our showers to a minimum and really stay on top of maintenance.

Our trips in Charlie are now a routine part of life and can’t imagine not being able to hit the road whenever we get a chance. It’s a defining part of our lifestyle and the dogs would never be the same without their special place they’ve staked out in back.

Hope you are enjoying your build as much as we have and I hope you've avoided some of the pitfalls that we have too.:d5:

kreese 07-28-2018 07:28 PM

Great build thread Chumley. My build with SMB West starts in about a month, and your level of detail really helps orient a newcomer like me.

It is a big chunk of change we pay for these builds, which makes me a little nervous about some final decisions I still have to make in the coming weeks with my systems and layout, and I hope your past few years of experience with yours might help me.

First, I'm wondering if you like your interior shower and if you would install one again? I keep going back and forth on this. I'm definitely getting the outdoor shower system installed, but some days I wake up thinking "I also gotta have that interior shower too" and other days I think I'd rather trade that space for something else.

My application is full-time travel, roughly 50% remote boondocking and 50% urban stealth camping (meaning I'll have access to company/gym showers).

Also, I'm thinking abut making regular trips to SMBW during my build like you did (I also live in the bay area). How often did you go? It looks like every 1-2 weeks based on reading this thread. Would you do this again? Was it too often? Did you wear out your welcome?

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