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Chumley 08-23-2012 11:08 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 6, revision 1 is about past, whew!

Wow, what a week this last week has been! I am really happy to know that this issue of mine is so rare because I would hate to have others need to deal with this. It would also put Sportsmobile out of business. It’s certainly a lot more to think about than I had ever anticipated at the beginning of this journey.

I now know a lot more about what will be done to correct the 3” dimensional error. Monday I found out about the problem. At that time it appeared that SMB would just replace the shower stall, parts of the 2 ottoman, and 2 sections of overhead cabinets. They would also move the galley unit over and that would be it. Scroll forward 2 days and it all changed! I found out yesterday that the entire thing would be redone! It had been virtually stripped of all finishes and furniture. They even removed everything mounted underneath so they could patch all of the holes properly, even the generator.



This is what a diesel generator looks like sitting on a cart.

Okay, this was initially very disturbing. I know a little about rework projects and they scare me. Whenever you try to reinstall stuff there is an increased opportunity for some materials to fatigue since some items aren’t meant to be installed more than one time and can develop slop at fasteners and connections. Plastics are a good example. Stuff moved and tugged on can get loose and not be immediately apparent. Problems then show up some time later when it is hard to determine when and what caused the problem. Electrical connections and friction fit items as examples. It is a process that I hate to deal with. With all of this in mind I met the shop foreman and the person who handles customer’s issues after the sale and delivery and looked at the van in all of its naked glory. I have to admit I thought I was prepared for the sight but it still sucks to see the van in this condition. I really had not been prepared to see how completely gutted it was yet have some systems plumbing and wiring still in place hanging like life support equipment. So the shop foreman takes responsibility and says it is his baby and he will watch it to the end of the rebuild. He told me how they came to the decision to just gut it and redo everything.

A complete rebuild is no small thing and it simply negates the possibility of making any profit on the project. The decision was based partially on the realization that it is just so hard to work in the confined area with the amount of rework initially planned and not damage everything left in place and the extra effort it requires to retrofit back into areas out of normal construction sequence. The issue of the floor that was cut short was also a factor since I had become rather demanding in that aspect of the build. I completely agree with this decision by the way. They will now be able to work in a way that is normal and in a familiar routine and sequence which I think is a good way to reduce potential issues. Virtually everything is new so it won’t have possible damage and they now fix the floor issue properly. The undercarriage is now completely accessible to patch the unused holes. These holes will be spot coated with a factory undercoating material (still waiting for that factory floor patch spec). I would think that another part of the decision was that they just wanted it right and it was the right thing to do.

So the foreman is really really sorry for the goof and promises to stay on top of it until the end. I guess you can’t get any more assurance than that, well besides the Sales/PM also focusing on this project. Also, the foreman is a good man, I think I can safely say that. It was the primary focus of the Sales/PM’s comments about him, not that he was a great tradesman or built 5,000 vans, just that he is a good man and cares. You can’t teach that quality so I’ll take it when I can get it, well that and his competence at what he does too. There is some good and bad to this but I am seeing more of the good than I did a couple of days ago.

I see the bad:
1. Everything I mentioned above.
2. Delays the completion schedule.
3. They ran out of the countertop material so now will have to pick another color. Of course this means we have to accept a color we originally didn’t want. Compromise? Hmmm… I may have to call to talk about another supplier’s offerings.
4. Possible damage to a part of the van that they can’t easily replace, like a scratch or dent on the body. The more the van is there in this work environment the greater the chance for “lot” damage as the auto dealers call it. Next big worry.

I see the good:
1. I get a roof mounted XM radio antenna since the headliner is out.
2. I get a chance to make all of the corrections that I want to the design. I will say that I would have gotten these corrections anyway since they were based upon mis-understandings of the work or SMB goofs.
a. Full backsplash on the countertop.
b. Location and design of the spice rack (originally installed short and of a design that virtually did not allow functional use).
c. Proper overhead cabinet over the sink with 2 lights that were not included before.
d. Floor fixed without multiple attempts at compromise correction.

I have asked for only one additional item that they are reviewing and I can tell you it is a no cost issue but that’s all I will say.

What a week. I have a van worth that of a house in some parts of the country or a condo in Truckee that is sitting in someone’s shop and I am not really freaking out anymore. Am I still concerned? Sure, but less so knowing those in charge of making it right. Will I let up or keep the microscope out for the rest of the build? Well, yes. I will be going every week now. I went back and read Angel’s post from a few months back and that is what he recommended and I agree here. If you can do it why not?

My Sales/PM guys is a good guy and he will be doing his best. He reiterated again that of the thousands of vans that he has designed and built that he can’t believe that this happened to me after all of my e-mails and discussions about how I want things done. If you think I have shown a particular abundance of overbearing concern on this site you should have seen my correspondence with him. Well, just think if I handn’t sent the e-mail asking him to confirm the dimensions of the shower stall last Thursday.

What have I learned this week? That SMB may make a big goof but they have every intent to make a big save. I would not bet against them right now.



windguy 08-29-2012 08:43 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

that's quite a story you've got going on.
can't believe they gutted that van. ouch!
SMB should have handed you a big bottle of Prozac on your last visit.
hope the rebuild goes better this time.
you know they are going to be all over this van like stink on a monkey.

best of luck!

Chumley 08-30-2012 10:40 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 8 Going on 5

So I’ll recap what I remember about last week.

I felt funny about some dimensions so did a knee jerk thing and drove 2 ½ hours to see for myself. I find out that I was right and it was also discovered by SMB after I asked about the shower stall. Fixing the shower stall started out looking like a lot of work but actually relatively easy in comparison to what was coming. A couple of days later they decided to just gut the whole thing and start from scratch. Okay, lots of gut wrenching concern and costs being thrown about now but we have a direction and off we went.

Windguy, from what I understand I think there should have been 3 bottles of something handed out, SMB Sales/Pm, Foreman and me. I agree and fully believe they will be on top of this to the end. I got a call about a dimensional issue where they said they would normally just make a judgement call on their own and go - good thing they called because it didn't go the way they thought.

Today I went to make my now routine weekly visit. I get there and am shown the van by the shop foreman and he seems a little more relaxed, we know what is going to be done. Parts of the van are protected but we’ll see how effective it is in the long run. I see that they started with the same type of protection before but it gets slowly moved out of the way - but they are trying.

The interior of the van now has the new floor and flooring installed and it has the correct overhang to support the cabinet now – that is a huge positive. There is more insulation stuffed into the walls as I had requested. Note: I asked about the use of a spray in foam and apparently Mercedes does not allow it since it will possibly block weep (drain) holes in the body. I noticed that there was a set of dimensions for cabinet layout on the inside of the van on the walls to make sure that everyone follows them, I think he said it will be future common practice. One of the things that came up this week was that there was apparently more than just a 3” goof and must have been more like 4 ½”. I had to decide whether to lose an additional 1 ½” from the shower stall (making it 34 ½”) or take it from the cabinet with the heater. We decided to keep the full 36" shower size but now that made the cabinet behind the seat only 17 ½” or 18” wide. BTW: the shower measurement is an inside clear measurement. That cabinet was also 1 of the 2 they had been hoping to reuse too. The shop foreman agreed to maximize the height of the large drawer by minimizing the space used for the heater as much as possible in that cabinet now. All I could ask for at this point. This made the microwave shelf (remember the pictures?) so narrow that it will have to vent into the forward cabinet but it does fit. I guess I won’t put clothes up there. Hmmm… maybe I should think about that one a bit more…

Outside I am offered a creeper and slid under the rig. I look for the myriad of holes but can’t find them until I look closer. The holes have been patched and covered with a material from Mercedes that appears to be the same as originally used as factory undercoating (yes, Mercedes includes some kind of undercoating (maybe for sound deadening?)). I probably wouldn’t have noticed but it was applied with a tool and not sprayed on. Looks good

Overall it appears to be back at about week 4 and I can see a lot more clearance in the wheel wells again.

Something really nice to report is that SMB found an aftermarket switch that fits into the blank switch locations on the dash for extra lights and such. At the last meeting I wasn’t sure if I liked the proposed fabricated flat plate blank, installed covering the factory switch location, with switches installed on it. I asked for something to go in the switch location like fitting a toggle in an actual switch plug blank. It appears that there are others who wanted this and SMB found someone who addressed the issue. They are still trying to figure out if it will work but I think it is perfect if it does. Maybe some good will come out of this for everyone.

The final stop was to sit down and review the floor plan and understand what I was getting by going around the floor plan and identifying each item. First though I had to confirm the countertop color. The former “Onyx” (black with white specs) we originally used was now no longer available so we had to switch colors and selected a darker brown and I like it. Okay, so we reviewed the drawings and now I understand exactly what I am getting and I thought I did before. Everything really is based upon the standard units or modified units so look at their standard furniture plans and understand what it is you are getting. Thinking back on the last week it would be really good to understand every dimension so that even SMB has to double check the dimensions. I saw no written dimensions anywhere except for one for the upper cabinet width. I think putting the dimensions on the walls of the van is a good idea and could be a good way to avoid problems like this in the future.

I am feeling pretty good about this and am looking forward to next week.



tonyvoudy 08-31-2012 01:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Glad things are back on track! Can you post any specs on where to get the aftermarket switch?

WeLikeWheels 09-02-2012 01:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I just read this whole thread. Thank you for all the details about the process, Chumley! I own a business that makes custom products, and I must say, just reading your posts made me feel anxious. God bless the guys at SMB West. Really watching your process has made me feel a sense of confidence in going with SMB. Just waiting to see your happy outcome in a few weeks.

Chumley 09-04-2012 05:10 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Tony, yeah, up and running again. I don't know about the switches yet, they might not even work for all I know. I will let you know if they tell me but if they put a lot of effort into finding a "secret" stash they may not be so open about providing the info but I'll ask.

WLW, I guess I started to really feel some concern after a while in my weekly reports and it must show. I tried to end each report with as much positive attitude as possible but it may not have come out that way. It's interesting to read for me because it is a diary that reflects my thoughts at the time. This project started out with me having issues and somewhat recovering and then to slip back into some doubt. I have to admit that since I did not fully understand the plans (until last week) I was always uncomfortable and therefore hovering and questioning everything. I like it when you can understand exactly what you are getting, developing the confidence in the team, and then just let it run with a few check-ins to see where it's all at. It never happened on this job so I just rode it, hard. Since I know what they do, after basically seeing it done once, I think it will go easier for me after it gets rolling again. I actually feel better now than I have for the last few weeks. I know they have a commitment to get it done right.

I still can't believe that this happened to me. I am sure SMB has found out about this thread so I am pretty sure they can't believe it either. Bottom line is they will fix it right and this will sharpen their guy's attention and may have prompted proceedures to make sure it won't happen again. Maybe a wake up call that makes everything better in the long run, it already appears that way.



llamadave 09-05-2012 10:01 AM

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

Thanks for your great thread! My build starts in November so your comments are timely. I will go for a full backsplash with reinforcement. For bed length I have specified 80 inches since that is a queen/king standard. However, I am 74 inches tall and I think 78 inches will be enough. How much longer is your bed than your height? As you very well know, a few inches here and there make a big difference.


WeLikeWheels 09-05-2012 12:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chumley - it seems like it's been a bit of a rollercoaster for you, but as long as the end result makes you smile every day, I 'spose it'll all be worth it - may even make you appreciate it more, knowing what went into it.

Llama Dave - I have been using your website for inspiration. I love how you made all the cut-out views and laid out all the systems. The detail is fantastic.

The two of you are very helpful in understanding the minituae for a prospective SMB purchaser. Chumley, for your anecdotal experience and LlamaDave for your drawings and build ideas. Thank you both for sharing - I am looking forward to seeing both of your SMB Sprinters.

Chumley 09-05-2012 03:02 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Tony, all I know now is that the dash switch vendor is Del City online. It appears that the switch will work and I am jazzed. Sometimes it's the little things that make me happy. :m5:

David, how is it going!?! Mr. WLWheel is right on about your advance planning. From my experience I would add that I would want to understand every cabinet, shelf, enclosure, whatever to make sure that it is all the same as you expect. I know that all of the shops are different so maybe this is wasted typing but I feel that my salesman knew what he was going to build but I never completely did and to get that confirmation is really important to me now. Little things like expecting to get a cabinet and getting a drawer, getting a spice shelf that was practically unusable until it was relocated, getting a microwave shelf that hung independent from the cabinet next to it, etc... Turns out some of this was just fine but I had no idea that it was what I was getting. I did not have the "this is how we always do it and we've never had a complaint" plan or game book. I would take the time to go over each and every component. You may get a lot of "this is figured out by the guys in the shop" but at least you will have expressed yourself. Ai-chi-wah-wah, I am doing it again, pontificating! :t1: Ahhh, just be careful. Whew, close one. And the bed length thing, good question. I am getting a bed 5" longer than I am (who knows, maybe by the time the build is done it will be 6" longer). I will ask my sales/PM for the normal calc but I just figured that laying on my face (likely passed out) my feet extend my toes out about 4" more than when standing. It was also about as far as I could push everything without losing more functionality (therefore the complete tear down when I lost +/- 4 1/2").

MLWheels, I think I am now officially immune to motion sickness now. I guess my sleep pattern is telling. I sleep good and when I do wake up I am not thinking about the van build anymore and can go right back to sleep. Yep, got to that point for a week or so, something about not knowing what might happen to a lot of my money. I think the shop foreman and I now both share this sleep pattern, thankfully. It seems like years ago now that I said that I was going to know this van really well since I am raising it from a puppy, I just had no idea it would have to survive a case of parvo. You are very very right, I will have an incredibly strong connection with this van. I have to say that if things keep going this way I will keep my plans of having a Ford 4x4 someday alive. From what I am reading I better do it quick or it might end up looking just like the Sprinter, kind of.

SMB is the only company that works for me to have this kind of build performed. Even after everything that has happened I would go back and do it again. I liked most of what I saw right before the redo and I dream of sitting in the back reading or taking a nap while being able to look at some of those incredible places I see in the trip reports section. Yeah the dreams do include getting out but I can do that without the van.

Going to see the van again this week. Can't wait.


Chumley 09-09-2012 11:13 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Week 9, Going on 6?

Well all, this build is really starting to wear me out. I have been up, down and all around and I feel that it is still going that way. I went for my now mandatory weekly visit last Friday to see where we are. My SMB Sales/PM guy was out so I met with the shop foreman, whom I really like. But this is where I think I start hearing the clank, clank, clank of the roller coaster being pulled to the top of the first hill somewhere in the background of my imagination. I guess I am flummoxed. I just want the build to be finished and finished well.

I wanted to talk to my Sales/PM guy before posting another report but also wanted this to be an honest diary of what is going on during my build. Since I will be mired down for a couple of intense days of review of a controversial land use and annexation application I will post this now and hope things work out and I have another update in a couple days. At least this is an honest report in real time.

As usual I get there and everyone is nice and Alan Feld is manning the front desk when I arrive. I have to say that everyone is really nice and that is a part of the appeal here. I go back with the foreman and things start out nice and we review the build in detail which is the new norm. One thing to note is that if you visit it is nicest in the morning during the summer. Fresno easily hits +100 and there is no air-conditioning in the work area, unless you are near a van with operating ac in which case it will be running full blast.

This is what I saw when I walked up:

At this point I’ll just try to tell what happened in an objective manner, I’ll save my subjective analytical narrative for later.

The foreman and I discuss the following:

Microwave installation – the shelf for the microwave has been reduced to a little over the 18 1/4” of the microwave itself. I ask about venting and am told it needs none so they don’t do it. I said that my Sales/PM guy told me that it was necessary and that is why the original microwave shelf ended short of the front storage cabinet and left that unusual gap. Foreman says no and I again tell him that it is just what I was told and what my research has told me. I am just repeating what I was told in response to a question why the microwave shelf was installed as it was the first time. I have a picture of my first installation and one installed without the venting like he says.

I happened to have looked up the unit to see if it might be cheap to get a spare and found something on the Q&A section (look for “Reviews” and you will see “Q&A”) and it clearly states that the unit requires 3" on either side for venting but SMB says that it is okay and does not need it. I buy that it might only need it on the exhaust side but...( ... ES0736SPSS ) I’ll let you decide. The reason the shelf is an issue is that the whole project layout has collapsed due to the mistake with the bed. I went from something like 21” to 18 ½”wide. Maybe some of you can comment on this. Am I just being too critical? Also, with the shelf now being so tight and custom build for the microwave should I spring the $100 and get a spare now just in case?

The shower stall looks nice but is very different from before. Last build the entire enclosure had FRP panels (white plastic like panels) on all walls. They were to have cut in the window opening later and I did not know what size it would be. This time it was built with the window opening already established by just installing a panel above and below the window opening so nothing has to get cut out later.
How it is now:

Before (see stall with FRP covering window in background):

Apparently they plan on installing a piece of FRP shaped like a window frame and will install it so that water won’t get back behind the wall. This will allow for installation of the standard day/night shade and then install a hanging plastic curtain to cover it all, it also allows full control of the window vent cranks. This appears to be what is shown on the SMB website on the RB examples (the RB110S modified) which was my inspiration. This appears acceptable but they are doing it completely differently than the first time. What do you think?

The shower stall is now 35” wide. Last week I thought that I made it abundantly clear that I wanted a 36” shower stall. Also - I want to add that I confirmed that the shower dimension is an inside “clear” dimension and posted it in last week’s report (that means that the inside should have been 36" from surface of wal to surface of wall. As I reported the first dimensional issue was a loss of 3” but then another 2 ½” was discovered so maybe they had to take it and did not tell me? So now the shower stall is 35” and my wife, the nice one who has made no demands except this one, was the one who wanted 36”. Should I be upset? It’s only an inch.

We talk about the cabinet between the shower stall and the driver's seat. This had been +/- 19"-20" wide and is now about 17 1/2" - 18". This cabinet also had the heater in the base. The holes were already in the body from the old location that was centered in the cabinet so I ask the foreman about how this will be handled. He had not thought about this so I told him to just set it off to one side and put the electrical outlet where it looks lke it was all planned that way.

We go to the back of the van and look at the layout in tape on the rear doors. I wanted to add some pockets or a shelf somewhere back there so I could place my glasses and iPod/iPad (yeah, I play solitaire to get drowsy) somewhere nearby so I don’t have to get up. The pockets on the doors are just too small with the speakers and storage doors in place. The foreman said that maybe he could put a couple of pockets on the bottom of the overhead. Perfect, I’ll just send dimensions for magazines and the electronics and we’re set.

The foreman also offered to make one wall basically all vinyl by expanding the window trim to continue to the next corner. On this he would add some pockets for storage. I initially said yes but I will now be telling the Sales/PM no because I want to keep it more simple.

I looked over the window film installation (tinting) closely for the first time and just did not like the quality. I am asking for it to be redone since it was not trimmed near the edge of the body opening and the cut edge wanders a bit. I will call my usual tint guy on Monday to get some quality standards info but in the meantime here are a couple of pictures. If it looks good to you please tell me so. I may just be overreacting at this point and may be losing my perspective.

I go up a ladder to see the roof. I see how the XM radio antenna is installed and it does worry me. I will cover it with a piece of “U” channel made of aluminum and set it in adhesive I guess. Easy fix for my concerns. Anyway this is what it looks like now.

This is what the roof fan looks like installed. I guess I should check it often since I have no confidence in clear sealants like this that are exposed to the sun all day, every day. I would like some pigmented UV block or paint on it myself. Maybe I will do that when I get it home.

I have a picture of the new dash switches and they look good. I'll laugh if they are momentary switches because that would be about my luck right now.

I am not sure where I am in the confidence department. Maybe some of you can tell me what you are thinking. Am I just pushing too hard or what?

I am told the van will likely be done at the end of the month. A few weeks ago I was believing that I would have picked it up last Friday or this Friday worst case. As usual this has multiple impacts and this qualifies as whining so it could be skipped if you don't want to hear a grown man whine a bit. We are selling our minivan and it looks like we may have a deal but now we’re stuck without it for the rest of the month. The minivan is our "beater rig" so we take it on shopping trips, drive the elders around, and use it for transporting the slobbering and door scratching dogs. Also, the SMB deal has to happen now since the minivan will be gone and we have to buy another minivan or what - if this craps out? My wife was going to get a new car after we pick up the SMB van but will now likely get pushed out until mid-November after the van deal closes since she goes on work trips and we go on vacation (sure, maybe not a big deal but when you were looking forward to a new car is waiting 2 more months fun?). We're selling her car first and it's a convertable so selling it in nice weather is our preference. We want the best rate on our SMB van RV loan and we don’t want a ding for a new car loan showing up before the deal closes. Basically nothing happens until we pick up the SMB van so our credit history is as good as possible. This all also happens right when the wife goes on a couple of business trips so that may effect when we can pick up the van now, we had planned a 2 day pickup approach. We will go late in the afternnon of the first day to sign the paperwork and do a pre-delivery inspection, stay in a hotel, and come back the next morning to pick up the van and go through training while they wait in the hotel and then follow me home. All for the dogs so they don't get left alone too long (remember they were the main reson this build happened sooner than later). The wife will push out her (our) vacation for the second time just to be on the safe side because we don’t want to leave for 2 weeks without knowing the rig. All of this is seemingly petty stuff but it just means that everything is just a little more inconvenient and I am not sure how this is all going to turn out yet. Yeah, I guess this is what you call whining. I am not starving and we have our health so I guess I have to remember that this is a good problem in life to have. I am just getting a little tired of the ride and just want calm waters to sail on for the rest of the build.

Thanks for tuning in and please provide feedback.


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