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windguy 04-25-2012 02:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
thanks for the clarifications.
I'm 6-2 so height issues become a problem for me.
I checked out a few SMB's at the factory and at an RV show and found the bath compartment too small for me. sitting on the commode was one issue not having enough leg room. for showering, due to the curvature of the side wall of the van the height area was reduced for me. My wife at 5-5 had no problems on either issue, so I guess I'm over the threshold. the further you move towards the middle of the van, the more headroom is available. our design will have to make use of that feature.

As for bed length, sleeping across the van works great provided you fit. there are lots of floor plans that use this configuration. some even have some fixed pop outs on the side, like the old Vista Cruiser G24. for me I couldn't do it but I would if I could. It's the most efficient use of space with great storage underneath.

I say design the van for your needs and don't worry about the resale value. enjoy it as you want to use it. there will always be some buyer down the road that will embrace your creativity.

I like the concept of an instant hot water heater solution rather than using a tank. I guess a flat plate sort of fits that concept. not very knowledgeable about that but there are many threads on this forum that discuss the pros/cons.

I think you have a real solid build. Just always curious about some of the nuances and thought process behind them. The most important thing here is that you are making your dream a reality. Right on!

JayBea 04-27-2012 08:46 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Great write-up Chumley!
I've enjoyed your thought process, very similar to mine.
My van has just come in and is ready to build at SMB Texas. So far the communication has been good and Paul has been great! I will next sit down and go through all of the details. Your experiance has helped.
I am using a shower stall with a porta-potti as well. With my backpacking experiance in mind this configuration is luxury. Also you can set up your porta-potti under a tree nearby similar to a "groover" used by river runners.
I am building an "all 12v" van and will use a portable a/c when I travel into cities and use campgrounds; just another idea.
To echo, Windguy: Build it for you and enjoy, don't wory about resale.


windguy 04-27-2012 01:37 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by JayBea
Great write-up Chumley!
I am building an "all 12v" van and will use a portable a/c when I travel into cities and use campgrounds; just another idea.


as long as you can use a 12V blender to whip up some frosty margies, then you have my seal of approval :a3:
my preference is a cold beer but you never know what the ladies might want :b1:

please share your floor plan and build details when available. pics would be nice too!
best of luck with your build.

Chumley 04-27-2012 02:16 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Everyone, thank you for any participation.

I have broadcast my experiences and I think all would benefit from your experience if it may shed light on some aspect of the build, the build process with SMB staff, typical pitfalls, and anything you have experienced or experience with that others might benefit.

I was hoping that this thread would be the place that those future SMB shoppers might go to to get the information that I couldn't easily find when I started my process. I have learned an awful lot and if we can make it easier for others I think we will be performing a service to them. Not only are you building a motorhome, which I can surmise for most will be a first, but you are also buying the platform, in this case a van. Whether it is a Sprinter, Ford or Chevy van the process will all be similar.

I would really enjoy seeing more of your custom floor plans, or for that matter standard plans, posted here that have some of the detail filled in. As much as I believe that the standard floor plans are pretty good for visualization, feedback from the end users might be eye opening or confirming.

I told some people at a meeting last night about building a motorhome. Most did not get it at first but when explained I got a certain sense of curiosity from some and maybe even a little envy. Mind you, these folks have no problem going out and buying a motorhome but the thought that they could get exactly what they wanted appealed to this crowd, especially one that didn't require a storage space or taking up a corner of their property. I am sure they are waiting to find out what I got myself into but this whole idea of building what you want is very appealing. Still, I think we are a "different" lot to be doing this.

I have tried to be as open and honest as possible, given that pretty much anything that you process and present to the world is no longer completely objective. There are some knocks to SMB and some kudos. I think the kudos far outweight the knocks but each one of us has to make that value judgement.

My build is for my family and me and I don't see the floor plan changing but as I become more educated, by you all, I may make some equipment changes. But I will do it before I finalize that plan. I've got a few months still.

Okay you guys, keep this thread alive until my van shows up.



JJSporty 04-27-2012 05:59 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hi Chumley,

What does it cost to build something like this?


Chumley 04-30-2012 03:38 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Some comments and responses.

To all who sent me a PM, please feel free to share with the entire forum. I am learning from this experience and this is for others to learn too.

I was told that there really are no problems with the diesel heaters (Espar?). I have to admit that I personally do not have any experience with them since I've never used one, but there are a couple of threads that I read in the "Appliances and Interiors" category that made me pause. Still from reading those it may be that careful maintenance is the key to keeping them running well. I am going for a diesel generator so it is possible that I will have to deal with some of the same sort of maintenance issues. The main issue for us was the cost. Our build is bumping our budget as it is.

So in response to Jeff's question I will say that the interior is running about where I had expected, north of $40K. I hesitate to quote the exact price since I believe that there may have been a price increase recently and we deleted the refer (but purchased it separately, IsoTherm CR100 (figure about $2,000 delivered and taxed by the Governor)). That does not include the audio/visual package but please keep in mind that we are getting pretty much everyhting we wanted - that diesel generator is a killer. You can easily add up a quick estimate using the SMB provided pricing sheets. You could be quite happy for around $27K (says the marketing info). Figure about the same price for the van itself, again ,we loaded it per personal preference so it could have been a bit less. Please remember, this is for my particular build and we are considered to have a DIY non-standard floor plan. You can do it for much less.

As mentioned by one member, the solar panels doe not provide direct electrical power, they just charge your batteries. I don't know about the load calculations but I was told that you cannot reliably count on the batteris alone to run the a/c for an hour as posted in the SMB website. I do not know how many solar panels or batteries are needed (or if possible) to keep up with the load of using the a/c during the day, maybe someone can respond to that. I have a friend that swears by the solar panels and he has a friend that wishes he had them instead of the generator. I guess it comes down to doing the math and knowing what you need from an electrical standpoint and understanding what you can get from the number of solar panels you can fit on your build. The good news is that the efficuency of the panels is increasing all of the time, so may be next year...

So much of this is just personal preference once you understand what you are getting yourself into. I try to read all of the threads about problems with a wary eye. I think that you can pretty quickly tell when something is real and when someone just has an axe to grind, but I have learned - don't call the manufacturer about a problem, you are the only person who has ever had it...

A point I am trying to remember is that when you fully equip an SMB it is a motorhome. It is more than a van in the driveway that you can park and just put fuel in and change the oil. It will require a certain amount of dilligence to keep it maintained. I have learned that heaters and generators may require a routine periodic startup, you need to clean those ugly black water tanks, you must have to empty and clean the freshwater tanks in some way, you need to go around and check to make sure that nothing is about to fall off. There is a lot going on in these things from what everyone here has told me so there is more to keep an eye on and understand. I've also been told that at the pick up orientation it will likely be overwhelming but you will understand what everything does soon enough and it will all become routine. My salesman and I spoke about the orientation and he made a good point. Don't try to remember everything by rote, try to understand what the system does and how it does it in advance. Then you will know why a valve is opened or closed in a certain order or why a switch is turned on and off. I know, pretty obvious, maybe to some but likely not to everybody.

I would love to see some floor plans and sage advice. If I made a mistake I can still fix it, I haven't signed my build form just yet.



philfrog 05-14-2012 05:30 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thank you so much for starting this thread! Its been great reading about your experiences with Sportsmobile and the build/design process.

My better half and I are looking to have a 170 built for full timing. We too have specific needs we want addressed. We are snow skiers and mountain bikers so our van has to be well insulated to handle the temps. Not too worried about the cold, but we have pets and heat can be a killer (although they are usually on the trail with us). My primary concern is that the insulation is done right to keep out as much heat as possible.

We will be building a full length, rear bed with storage underneath. Space up front for dog beds and solar panels on the roof. We will be eliminating both propane and black water tanks by using a composting toilet and going with all diesel appliances. I too am concerned that Sportsmobile might be thrown by all the changes. We have been talking with Creative Mobile Interiors but they are $15 - $20K higher, ouch. We also contacted Outside Van and could only get a marginal response. Oh well, their loss.

We are still 6 months+ from ordering a conversion (gotta save those pennies) meanwhile, I'm looking forward to following your process and hearing about your experiences. Thanks again!

Chumley 05-25-2012 02:17 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Good to hear that you are planning well in advance for your build. From what I have seen most here do plan for a long time before taking the plunge.

I don't know if it has been mentioned in this thread but you will find that most say it is a "standard" 9 month gestation period. From order of van that is, if you have a van ready to go it should be shorter. (Edit: I have gone back and tried to find the source for my belief that 9 months was the proper gestation period. Maybe adding in a full 4x4 conversion (not a Sprinter option) might push it out that far but even with a 5 month (worst case) van order/delivery and a 10 week build you are looking at only 7 1/2 months. My van showed up in 3 months but there was a waiting list that added back in a month. YMMV)

I would love to hear more about your composting toilet. I am not completely familiar with these units but at the boat show I got a brief overview and understand that you have to have a fan running at all times but otherwise it is very very efficient at handling solid waste, similar to others in liquid waste disposal. Could you please tell us all a little more about why you chose this toilet? I am very interested.

I envy you since you will be hitting the road most of the time and can now only dream of this.

I have been away from the site for a while since I was on a motorcycle touring the American Southwest. Southern Utah could keep me occupied for months exploring canyons and mountains. I now look at places to stay with a different eye, I am always looking for where the best places to RV camp are. I tend to see a lot crammed RV camping sites so realize that I am going to have to do some research to find those "nicer" places we all seek.

I envy anyone hitting the road this summer in their Sportsmobile.



gerrym51 05-31-2012 03:00 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
you did not say but 3500 get dual rear wheels

Chumley 06-24-2012 05:12 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
The Van’s Here, I’m Getting Ready to Start the Build, and the Part About Paying for It

Installment 5.

It’s here! The van arrived at the beginning of the month – and it caught me off guard! I had been told 4 to 5 months for delivery of a special order van but heard rumors that it might be only three. Well three it is this time.

Accompanying the e-mail notifying me that the van has arrived was an invoice! It was for the full amount! Yikes! Due now? Yikes? Scramble time? It turns out no, not for how I planned to pay for the build. I guess the invoice always goes out with the notification and I had not been prepared to see it so I called the Sportsmobile front office again to confirm my understanding of the payment schedule. Note: There is some variance between the published Sportsmobile policy on payment and what is currently in practice (I assume that there is some discretion on SMB's part so this could change at any time). Early on I asked as many questions about the process of paying for the whole thing, van order and conversion. The website says that you need to provide a $1,000 deposit for a Sprinter van to get it ordered and then you must pay for it in full upon arrival. It also says that it will take 3 to 6 weeks for the conversion, more on that later… I found out from the front office that I actually only needed to provide 20% down (of the entire van and build cost) at the beginning of the build if you have an approval letter from your lender, if you are using one. There may be other variations to this so you need to ask. It has been a consistent message over the last few months.

Okay, now that I know I don’t have to pay for the van in a few days I am settling in and enjoying the fact that the van is actually here. The build has gone from a very abstract concept to only a little abstract. Another revelation has just dawned on me, I will actually own a Mercedes! I think that’s good, right? Not something I would have foreseen just a short time ago but now it’s actually happeneing and starting to sound very appealing. Please Mercedes, don’t let me down. Still, I wonder what a BMW van would have been like…

Okay, a lot has to happen now - it’s “show time”.

I have to finalize all of the little “odds and ends” that were left open right now. Issues like the audio visual package, those last few items I was thinking about adding, and the final design confirmation.

The audio visual (a/v) package was something we thought about a lot. Rob with Integrated Audio (AI) will be performing all of the work. They provide the TV, stereo radio, security systems, etc… for Sportsmobile. IA says that a 22” LCD is the largest available for a typical build if it will fit otherwise it will be a 19”, the 22" has a noticably higher resolution. A TV with built in DVD player can also play through the stereo if desired and there is a Bluetooth option where anything that broadcasts using Bluetooth can be picked up and played through the stereo. The Kenwood stereo they offer is the heart of the a/v system and will control everything so I can only hope that it will be trouble free for a long long time as it will get used a lot if selected by me. I re-reviewed my a/v quote from IA and needed to spend some time with it since a lot of options and information is provided, Rob is usually available if you have a question about they myriad of options. I also had to go back and review past correspondence since some things have drifted away from the original quote. Project creep is pretty typical so I felt I needed to keep an eye on our original path since we are trying to stick to a budget (hah, see below). Extensive project experience also indicates that often (or more often than often…) desirable options that have been eliminated through budget negotiations end up back in later. They may cost more if not added back into the project before it creates retroactive work to get it in so I always tell my clients to try to be honest with themselves during negotiations (me too now). Anyway we did add a lot since this will be our home away from home. We are still considering an upgraded stereo and GPS (we have lots of portable Garmins) but have decided firmly on getting rear and forward facing cameras. Why forward facing? I assume that parking in urban areas will prove to be tight at times and we will be adding a push bar, a few hundred now seems cheap compared to the cost of being offered the opportunity to apologize and repair someone’s prized possession after a bump. Just my reality. I am impressed with the small camera that is used, it looks nice but is small enough that it might never be noticed. An aftermarket security system is offered that was recommended over the factory one. There is an option to go with a laptop safe that they offer if we can fit it in somewhere. We ordered the van with the steering wheel controls. This now adds another layer of complexity because it requires an adapter to interface with the aftermarket stereo. This concerns me a little since this is an area which could be prone to failure, the more layers of control you add the more the chance something forgets its programming or gets confused and stops talking to all the other electronic stuff or turns on the microwave and windshield wipers. I’ll keep you all posted on this item. iPod adapters, Bluetooth streaming audio, etc… There are so many options regarding piping the sound through the Kenwood stereo that it boggles the mind. Anyway, hmmm… do we really want GPS? It does have the live traffic updates… Do we really need to replace the stock stereo speakers? There was a credit for deletion of the factory radio but the speakers remained. Decisions, decisions…

We also have some final small details to work out on the build. I really am very happy with the plan we have now but want to add another electrical outlet, some mounting points for a cargo net divider, and some minor color revisions. I really can’t think of anything to add except I was looking for a set of rugged hoop steps like you can get on one of their 4x4s. They said that they hang too low for a Sprinter but if anyone has experience with a set that works please let me know. I will also be adding a simple push bar so if there is one out there that one of you has installed please let me know.

I needed to get as close as possible to the final build cost now so that I could get a written quote for the next step. I was glad I remembered to add in the cost of the factory extended warranty, it’s not cheap but appears worthwhile (you can see it for yourself at the MBZ website).

Money, money, money, Sportsmobile is going to want a boatload of it one day. We had decided from the outset that we would take out a loan for this Sportsmobile purchase. So the question was who would be reputable and best for our needs then hold on to see if the financial world would be agreeable when we needed it. We heard that Bank of America might have good RV loans but also heard that they don’t write loans for Sportsmobiles. My wife has a long relationship with them so we decided to confirm the issue but we got mired down just trying to reach a live person who did not have their head in a bodily refuse chute seal. We then checked our credit unions but they only offered shorter terms and the rates were a good point higher that what we found at Good Sam Financial. They offered around 4.87% to 4.99% and had terms over 20 years. good Sam claims to be the biggest RV lender and Bank of the West underwrites their loans. We also looked at Sportsmobile since I had read in some blogs that getting a Sportsmobile loan can potentially be tough through another lender. I called Sportsmobile and they said that the rate was 5% for our loan term and their bank is also Bank of the West. So to keep life simple we decided to try them out. We got approved in a couple hours but our rate went up to 5.25%. I was about to bail but the wife checked and it represented only $10 a month more. The benefit is that we won’t have to send a lot of paperwork back and forth and then rely on Sportsmobile to send the right information in a timely manner at a critical moment. I will, however, get upset if it turns out that Sportsmobile got a “kickback” and took the .25% like some in the auto industry do, doubtful but still… Oh, another thing was that we were only “pre-approved”. That’s fine since we should be able to lock a rate in about 6 to 7 weeks but Sportsmobile doesn’t tell you that up front. Another credit report will be run again at that time but we’re okay with that since it won’t count as a ding to our credit rating like the first report does (my wife called it a “soft” check or something). I am not sure how it works with other lenders but I have to assume it must be similar if you don’t have a firm final cost and don’t want to start making payments before the build is started. I also found out that you are approved for a percentage over your asking amount which I also see as normal. So go out and blow your budget, you’re covered… (about that stereo...). If any of you have had good or bad loan experiences I would appreciate you sharing those with us if you could. Note about purchasing the complete package from Sportsmobile: Sportsmobile is an authorized Mercedes Benz “upfitter and bodybuilder” so that means that the van is not considered to be put into service until it is delivered. The build does not affect the warranty, your warranty will not start until you pick it up, and it will never have been registered to anyone else but you. You are basically buying a Sprinter van with factory authorized accessories installed (hopefully I got all that correct). So this is what I have been told and I used it to base my van purchase. Maybe not for everyone but that's what I did.

So we know about paying for the beast, we just have to get it built. I was happy to hear that the van had arrived early but then quickly realized it didn’t matter since the build wasn’t scheduled to start until mid-August – based upon that 5 month van production/delivery schedule. That was still over 2 months away. Well I guess you just gotta ask sometimes. I spoke to my salesman and he said he would do what he could to move it up. I got a message back saying that the build start is now scheduled for July 9th. Great news! I now feel much better about the whole issue of getting started at the beginning of the process with another salesman. My original salesman had established a July build date since things were taking so long to get sorted out. I wonder if that reservation was still sitting on the calendar, I guess I may never know. I’ll just take it.

I now have a build date and with a 10 week proposed schedule we may actually get that planned vacation back to Utah and New Mexico in the fall (as mentioned, I just returned from a motorcycle trip to Utah with a buddy and can’t wait to camp in some of those incredible canyons). Now back to the 3 to 6 weeks conversion time quoted on the Sportsmobile website. Where did that come from? What have you all experienced? I would be concerned that it might go faster only because I have to sell our current van in time to make room for the Sportsmobile. But I will still need it to haul dogs and the elderly until then. It will be a challenge in timing any way you look at it so I need to pay attention to the build and communicate timing needs.

I am going to Sportsmobile this Friday to finalize the deal, deliver the down payment on the build, and see our new Mercedes for the first time. I have recently noticed a couple of other RB 3500s and I like the way those rear dual wheels add to the look, if that’s what you want. I’ll take pictures. I will ask about insurance while I’m there and maybe some of you can tell me about your experiences.

I can honestly say that the wife and I are getting very excited. I guess this is what most of you felt when you built yours and it is great! It’s not like saying to each other that we’ll drive to See Grins next weekend and buy a Roadtrek off of the lot, we are building our custom getaway home on wheels.

I think it was Gustav Stickley that said something like ”if you purchase things that have a special meaning to you you will have more than mere objects” (forgive me for butchering that one). So it is with this Sportsmobile. It will always mean more than a standard production model RV could since I will have known it since birth and raised it from a puppy.

Earlier in the month I was surprised with a message that my van had arrived – and I had to pay for it now. It turned out that that was not necessarily the case. I needed to find out where to get the necessary loan and it became a simple process but now I know where to go in the future if this one doesn’t turn out well since I now know about many choices (if those people at B of A ever get their body parts where they belong there’s another one). I had to finally make those little detail decisions because they are now attached to a real cost. I have a reasonable idea of when I will have the dream in my possession and it is all looking very good.

So the next big day is this Friday when I go to the SMB West’s offices. If anyone has a request for me to take pictures please PM me and I’ll try to do it for you.

Looks like I’ll be able to start regular updates on the build itself in just a few weeks.

Thanks for tuning in.


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