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Chumley 03-22-2012 06:37 PM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I thought that I would try to memorialize my sportsmobile RV purchasing experieince. Take it from why I chose SMB to design to construction. The conclusion being handed the keys and manuals after the overview at the threshold of the roll up door leading out into a new world of adventure.

I realize the experience will be different for each one of us. I'm also sure that I can't be the only one who had questions about the process of designing and building your vision of the dream Sprinter based RV.

I can't find that it has been done before so I hope I am not duplicating someone else's experience. I apologize if I do.

So I will go back to the beginning...

My wife and I have been looking at motorhomes for a long time. Every time we got close a good reason would pop up not to purchase. Things like where do we store it, how much would it cost in fuel (could we just pick up and go a few hundred miles on a spur of the moment trip?), how much upkeep would it take, how much of a chore would it be to drive, etc... We realized that we didn't want a huge lumbering RV that had a long list of special "needs". That would not be convenient and would likely end up not being used as much as imagined (like many friends who paid big $$$ for a motorhome now being used 3-4 times a year). That's when we started seeing the Sprinter van based RVs, specifically the Roadtrek. My God, how could they fit all of that into such a small van and still seem so comfortable? And - the gas mileage was incredible! So we looked around and Sportsmobile kept popping up. We soon thought Sportsmobile was perfect for us. We could have exactly what we wanted and pay for only what we wanted! We have found out that it is not exaclty the case but it is very close. It's hard to imagine how much they can effectively pack into a van but your imagination can also try to fit too much too.

So after about a year and a half we decided it was time to get serious. I was convinced that if I waited any longer that I would continue to shrink and stoop and and not be able to see over the steering wheel. I also convinced the wife but she didn't take well to my vision of her stooping over and shrinking. After Christmas 2011 we decided that it was time to commit to a build. Hopefully we could still get in an epic 2012 vacation in our own Sportsmobile, maybe. I lurked here and many comments reinforced my notion that going to the SMB website would be the best place to start. I called SMB for initial information and they directed me to their website as well. So I studied that Sportsmobile website until I was sure I knew what we wanted. Intent turned into action and we went to SMB West in early January to see the facility. There is no other place to touch and see the real thing and learn more about the whole deal. During that visit I realized that I might know more about the information provided on their website than they did. Each shop is independently owned and the website is maintained by only one of the shops so you can't necessarily get everything you see on the website at all shops. More on that later.

We had officially started the process.

Chumley 03-23-2012 05:20 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Getting Started - Is Sportsmobile for Me?

This is my second installment. I would really welcome any one else's experience in response. My experience may not be typical so any feedback would educate me and hopefully others.

Before I get too much further I guess I should tell you a little about my approach to things. My professional background is in commercial construction where most of my life I have put together large complex projects typically in a very short time period. I regularly deal with vendors and consultants who have answers at the ready or get them quickly. I am also a sitting Planning Commissioner in my community so I am also used to staff providing information in a timely manner, even if research must be performed. Designing and specifying a Sportsmobile RV looked to be right up my alley. But I also wanted to try to be sensitive to the fact that not all industries operate the same. My experience in the outdoor recreation industry years ago taught me that I can't realisticly have the same expectations from everyone. I fully appreciate the efforts of those that can deliver since it is a lot of work at times. I thought that I took that into the process but sometimes I just forget and revert back to the "Little Captain" approach.

I believe that your background can have a dramatic effect on your level of patience and general expectations. I certainly think mine may have.

Our first visit to the Fresno SMB facility really sealed the deal in our minds. I saw several vans, both Fords and Sprinters, in various states of construction. Some of the interiors were really looking very impressive. There was an impressive audio and video system being installed, nicely made cabinetry, upholstered benches, etc... I was able to open cabinets, see how they were fastened, look inside (I love the smell of freshly sawn wood), inspect the upholstery, etc... Everything I saw made me feel comfortable about their business and I have been in many large cabinetry shops and steel fabrication shops over the years. The work they did looked very nice to me and I am a real picky son-of-a-gun. We'll see how that effects the build itself.

It felt good to see and feel the real deal after all of that time looking at pictures on their website. If you can a visit is well worth your time. Just be prepared to get hooked on the idea of a Sportsmobile in your driveway.

So, of course, my inevitable series of questions began. I was paired up with a very nice young(er) salesman and he was obviously very proud of his company's product. We liked working with him right away but over time we also started to develop the feeling that we were speaking two different languages. Our goal was to build a small self contained RV on the regular wheelbase (144") Sprinter with cooking ability, toilet & shower, comfortable sleeping area and an area where my wife and I could work or comfortably eat take-out meals together parked in front of a nice restaurant. So I would say that I want this and saw it on the website and I would get a response saying that it did not appear possible and it would be looked into. Then I would wait 3 to 4 days and I would get impatient and call or send an e-mail looking for the response. I would then get a response but it would either be incomplete or raise another question. Sometimes my impatience would lead me to call the SMB Texas shop and would always either get someone on the phone or they would call the next day. This further complicated matters since SMB West cannot or will not do everything that SMB Texas will do. Some examples were the generator was dismissed immediately by SMB West and Texas said they could, a brush guard was available in Texas but not West, but they both agreed that upgrading to a 3500 from the 2500 was one of personal preference and they had very little experieince with a regular wheelbase 3500. We learned that our salesman was new and needed to ask a lot of questions himself. Of course I tend to stretch the boundries so I asked questions outside of his routine but wanted to give him a chance as many chances as possible. In all fairness we had strayed from the standard plans and this is foreign territory that turned out to be tough for even the most experienced staff. We were still being frequently told to go to the website.

It had become apparent that the website was a great resource but a human is critically needed if you do anything more than choose one of their standard plans, even that would be tough. We were told that the SMB Texas shop maintained the website so there may be some fine details that need to be worked out between the shops.

We forged on and had actually sent our deposit check in for the van itself but then told them to hold onto it. I was about to reconsider the whole deal due to the lack of progress with our salesman. My professional experience reared it's ugly head and told me that if you are not being treated the way you like during the "courting" period (the sales pitch and estimates) then it rarely got better once you were on the hook. What could we expect if our representative at the factory was still learning how to take care of my interests? We were stretching from a standard build so who would make sure it was right?

So what do you do then? We revisited the Roadtrek and actually had the opportunity to drive one on local winding roads - I was so impressed with the driving experience of the Sprinter that I knew we had to stay with that platform but whose? The Roadtrek SS Agile was just too much, we wanted some stealth and that was not stealthy, and it didn't appear as well build as the SMB (note: the Roadtrek salesman also said he has redirected many customers to SMB when he realizes they would be a better fit). I contacted Outside Van as some here had recommended but they never returned my calls or e-mails!?! Did they exist? I called Van Specialties and discussed a build, I also asked them about Outside Van since they work together. Van Specialties appeared to have it together but were about 800 miles away, they were not on Mercedes' list of approved Upfitters and Body Builders (whatever that is worth?), wanted a lot of money down to start the build, and just didn't have the "presence" of SMB. Ouside Van finally e-mailed back (I assume since Van Specialties told them to) but they appeared a little flakey for me, cool dudes, just flakey.

Hmmm... SMB had great design flexibility, were recognized by Mercedes so the build will not effect the factory warranty, had a great build warranty, could handle my warranty issues only 120 miles away, and they really were a bunch of good guys. I realized that I wanted an SMB but it just had to work better for me personally.

Back to SMB.

After over a month and a half of working with SMB we decided that to continue we must change salesmen. I really felt bad doing it but after making incredible progress in just a couple of days I felt resentful that I had so much of our time wasted. In hindsight it wasn't all wasted but I'd say a month was lost from the actual order time. (Note: the first salesman was sensitive to this and had put us on the schedule so as soon as the van showed up it would start.)

We got back into confirming that our proposed design would work. Our new salesman made a great recommendation to move from a "Dinette L" to a couch in the back with ottomans that converted to a near king size bed size. We loved it. We got a larger refer in the design and the salesman recommended an Isotemp so we found we could get 4.6 c.f. into about a 3.6. c.f. space. We got a diesel generator in the plan but had to make concessions (we had to accept a reduced size propane tank and use a flat plate water heater but the generator did fit). Everything really came together in about 1 1/2 weeks. We released the check to order a 3500 (the diesel generator hanging off the back as well as a discussion with Upscale Auto the deciding factors).

We learned that you have to ask your questions and question the response if it is suspect. We have learned that there are things that companies like to do and don't like to do but will do if pressed. You are the customer and I believe that you deserve an honest effort on your behalf. You may have to pay extra for some things but I think we deserve the offer of the option.

If something at SMB is not working for you then just keep trying or make a change in who you are working with, it could change everything.

Gnarvan 03-23-2012 06:26 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Interesting read so far. Keep going. :a4:

scamperbee 03-24-2012 11:43 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
This is a very interesting read. Thank you. I should have done something like this with GTRV California b/c it was a long, drawn out and exasperating experience (apparently very different than the GTRV Canada experience). I think it is also difficult to go through these builds long distance. In my opinion, it would be much better to be able to drop in and see the build and discuss the choices in person. Probably better for all involved!

oldbernie 03-24-2012 01:20 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Like you we had looked at all the other "B" class vendors and then luckily stumbled across SMB. Now we could have exactly what we wanted or at least what would fit in the van of our choice. When we decided to go ahead we traveled from Dallas to Austin prepared to spent the next full day there at SMB. We of course had spent lots of time on the web site beforehand. Anyhow we spent about 6 hours roaming through all the new and used vans that they had on site, even to the point of driving different models. During this period the whole staff was available to answer questions and believe me we tested that idea to the max. After the roaming we then sat down with Paul and started designing what we wanted. After a few trials and errors and suggestions based on their experiences we settled on our design. As you said in your post, we got exactly what we wanted as we perceived our traveling lifestyle. Kudos to SMB Texas they were great to work with.

stevepar 03-24-2012 07:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
We built our penthouse Sprinter in 2008 at the Fresno location and had a great experience through the entire design build process. We went through the same pre decision process that all new RV ownwers go through. Bottom line is no matter what choice or design you choose there are always tradeoffs. There is NO perfect RV that will serve everything that you and the wife want in one vehicle. The empty van always looks huge and you think you can cram all the cabinets and areas that you want, but then realize you can't pass each other when the bed is down or there is food on the stove. Realize you must make tradeoffs and think hard about your travelling lifestyle and what is important. Personally I would not bother with an onboard generator. We put an extra battery in that area and carry a Honda 2000 generator. More than enough battery power and the Honda runs rarely if we stay put for more than 2-3 days. Have fun.

Chumley 03-25-2012 02:51 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Understanding My Needs, What's Possible, and My Build

The third installment of my experience.

I appreciate and understand the comments of others to my posts. This post should address my particular build needs. I don't think we are a typical anything much less SMB customer.

One of the things that I routinely work with is the architect and client relationship. It is key for the architect to understand the client so he can translate the client's vision into a two dimensional and finally a three dimensional product. It is also important for the client to check in with the architect and make sure that the vision is true. It takes commmunication. Communication is key.

During the process of sorting out our design I realized that I was stepping in with my long planned design and forcing it. I really hadn't told the salesman what we wanted and then let him provide his solution too. We knew we wanted something that might be adrift from the mainstream but we had "special needs" that we felt justified our approach. We have essentially adopted 2 rescue puppies. They are a part of the family now and are continually improving but their "backyard breeder" really messed them up so they can't be left alone for long. This was the incentive to push us into the van sooner than later. We would take them with us and have a safe place for them and still get out and do much of what we liked - travel and dine out. We wanted to be able to go out and stop somewhere and hang out. We realized that we would often be sitting in the van itself when most would be out exploring so that factored in. We wanted all of the convenience of home on the road. We also wanted it to be as simple as possible to operate and to be appropriate for use as we age. We are now in our mid-fifties and I am realizing I was not good to my body when I was younger. At one point we delivered our story in the form of a narrative in an e-mail to SMB to help them understand we were going to be different. What we soon came to realize was that we kept hearing about how they do this and do that on their trips but they are likely 20 -30 years younger than we are. We were told by one that he and his girlfriend went out to the desert for 5 days and used only 10 gallons (5?) of fresh water. We could never do that. I asked them to understand what we wanted and over time I actually appreciated the challenges that our new saleman made to my ideas. He talked us out of a marine toilet and into a porta-potti in the shower enclosure. Both of the holding tanks were the same size but emptying at a dump station really became un-appealing. But other questioning was met with solid reasons so we kept items. I appreciated the challenges and they helped make the build better.

There were two items that really needed serious consideration. One was the need for a generator and the other whether or not to upgrade to the 3500 chassis.

At first we were told we couldn't have a generator on the short wheelbase platform but eventually we found out we could. The generator is a lot of money and due to the short wheelbase we would have to go to diesel (the propane tank had shrunk to fit this design and would not support a generator). I did a lot of research and the diesel generator will last a long time so it seemed a fair deal. The real test was whether or not we really needed it. So what did we want it for and how serious about it were we? We wanted to be able to pull over and sit in the van, potentially leave the dogs in the van (not likely), use all of the aplliances when we want, use laptops that may need to be plugged in, when we are in a hot environment. We do some of that in the truck now. It can get hot in California at any time of the year and we also love to spend time in the Southwest. I spoke to a person with an older SMB Sprinter and he was all about solar, the staff at SMB said we needed a generator to sit with ac if not connected to shore power, other aftermarket builders also said to run a generator if the ac was on. The wife and I talked, we needed to have the ac and if we were boondocking we needed that power. We had originally thought that the portable generator would be the solution. Unfortunately we were told that there was no room inside under the couch and that there might be gas odors. I found a converted Yamaha propane generator to take care of the odor but it still had to be mounted in an outside box due to no room inside. We wanted the van to remain stealthy and were already disappointed that we needed the extra length that the swing away spare tire carrier added. No exterior boxes. We also want to park in regular size parking spaces in an urban environment. So we decided to accept the cost of the generator for the general convenience it would provide. Our intent all along was to be self contained since we don't like the usual RV campsites. We have that now. That also helped with our other issue, what about a 3500 chassis?

I had driven a Roadtrek built on a 144" wheelbase 2500 chassis. I was amazed at how peppy it felt (4.18 rear end) and generally how it handled but I felt some handling dynamics that concerned me. It wallowed a bit and I noticed some mild porposing. The Roadtrek was at about 7,700 lbs (claimed, we know what that means, and that did not include the 250lb generator) and with a couple people and some load it looks like it would hit the GVWR pretty quick. I had read a few posts here where the Sprinters were surprisingly close or over GVWR. I made a lot of phone calls and read everything I could get my hands on. Most acknowledged that the van was near its limits but it was designed for that. But all of the time I asked? Apparently the consensus was that the van was designed to operate as a heavy commercial vehicle and it was up to what I wanted but it was at its limits. No one tried to talk me out of the 3500 except for one. I called Upscale Auto in Oregon and they were the ones tha really made me understand that I could go either way and with some modification be okay. You could order the 2500 and make sure it was beefed up from the factory and then change the shocks and struts or add air bags to get it where you like. You can start with the 3500 and go the other dirtection and change the shocks and struts to soften it a bit. One of the guys up there really made me think though. He said that the 3500 would really solve the handling issues I was worried about without modification. Adding the +/- 250 lbs of generator behind the rear axle would also be best served with the 3500. Supposedly the 3500 has larger rear brakes (uses the larger front brakes in the rear). We willl spend a lot of time in the mountains so this is nice but not everyone agreed that the brakes are different in 2500 vs 3500, strange. So we decided to go for the 3500 and if needed see the folks up north to adjust the suspension if needed.

So we now have the 3500 on order and we are going with a generator. As I said before, we are not building your typical SMB Sprinter. We have challenged the conventional thinking and feel we made the right decision for our use.

We learned that you have to try to get the SMB staff to try to understand where you are coming from and may need to remind them continually. On the other hand their challenges will help you look into yourself and make sure you really need something.

The SMB staff is trying to help you get your build right. Their experience with these things could lead you in a certain direction so be willing to stand your ground if you believe you need what you want in another direction. What is very heartening to see in any company is that there is no attempt at all to upsell you on anything. This initially appeared to be a reluctance to stretch beyond their comfort range but now they are offering everything we asked for. They actually seem to be trying to help you build the least that you need. Very unusual and praiseworthy.

I am still working on the communication aspect. I sent in my floor plan and sheet with extra options two weeks ago and am still waiting for pricing. I will try again this week to get some pricing since I really don't know if my added items will kick this out of our budget range since some items are considered custom. I hope this next week is a good week

flagstaff 03-26-2012 11:59 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with SMB. I think that you are right on with your assessment of the company in gerneral and the need for and sometimes lack of communication in the design process. I receintly canceled my order and had them return my deposit because, after initally assuring me it would not be a problem, they could not figure out how to put an awning on a Sprinter penthouse conversion. Like you, my wife and I (we are just entering our 60's) travel with our two dogs in warm weather. We currently have a 2001 Dodge SMB with the penthouse and find that raising the roof and opening the five windows on the penthouse provides plenty of air circulation so that having an AC is not necessary. An awning is a must for us for the expanded living space, shade and protection from the rain that it provides. We are still hopeful that SMB will be able to figure out the awning issue. If they can figure that one out, we are ready to start the process over again.
I look forward to your future posts and hope that the powers that be at SMB are also reading and acting on the valuable assessment that you are providing.

Angel 03-26-2012 12:54 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
You are right about visiting your build in progress. I went every 14 days and was glad I did. The last 2 or 3 weeks of the build, I should have visited every week. Also, going there a day before pick up day is a good idea.


Ford_6L_E350 03-26-2012 03:36 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
And I did just the opposite.

We worked out our floorplan from the SMB design kit. Then I communicated with SMB Indiana by phone and email. First time I saw the van was when I picked it up some months later. I was very happy with the Indiana team and with the van.


jage 03-26-2012 04:54 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by Chumley
What we soon came to realize was that we kept hearing about how they do this and do that on their trips but they are likely 20 -30 years younger than we are.

When I bought my Jeep new in 2000 the salesperson was adamant I did NOT need AC... "you can take the top off after all, you don't need AC". I was surprised the extent I had to argue to get AC included in my brand new Jeep package... it's not like there were any "on the lot" either.


I am still working on the communication aspect. I sent in my floor plan and sheet with extra options two weeks ago and am still waiting for pricing.
From my experience buying used, and from what I glean from other's experiences, there is a real problem coming up- what I frankly think might be SMB's biggest issue, and that's a sometimes total disconnect between the sales team, management and the floor.

If you lay out a 50 with or without a microwave, it's not a big deal- but get seriously off the map and this could bite you in the backside. It's ironic that their niche is custom layout, but the more unique your layout and/or equipment choices the more likely decisions and solutions will be implemented without regard to your vision.

Just something to be aware of, and on top of, as you move forward.

Incidentally the only major thing I'd change about my van from experience would be to add blackwater and a permanent toilet. Unfortunately that's more than I could get into with the floorplan, so I'm stuck with the portable.

windguy 03-28-2012 01:32 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Nice write-ups, well written. thanks for sharing your experiences.
looking forward to hearing how this works out for you.
would like to see your floor plan and of course pics when you're done.
Just curious, if you are Chumley, then is your better half Tennessee Tuxedo? :b1:

windguy 03-28-2012 01:38 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by jage
Incidentally the only major thing I'd change about my van from experience would be to add blackwater and a permanent toilet. Unfortunately that's more than I could get into with the floorplan, so I'm stuck with the portable.

Jage, sorry if I asked this before in another thread but why the permanent toilet over a portable?
Not looking to get too personal here with your throne preferences, just want to gain insight from an experienced van man. Thanks!

Chumley 03-28-2012 11:02 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Windguy you guessed right. I remember the old cartoons and went with Chumley since I didn't think Mutley would go over as well.

Those of my (our?) vintage might remember those days when we even had cartoons on during prime time viewing hours. We had the most incredibly simple and sometimes silly cartoons. What a simple time it was...

joey2cool 04-01-2012 06:09 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
What helped the communication process for me was lots of phone calls, emails, and photos. It's also helpful to do some homework yourself so that you can talk their language and relate to regulations and dimensions they must do the build around.

I drew up two dimensional and three dimension sketches for our custom layout. Initially the stuff we labored over was more aesthetic than functional, but later it became clear that we would have to make some tough decisions about functional trade-offs and stick to our priorities.

If we lived in the area we would have stopped in for regular visits to watch the progress. The final touches go in fast and we did miss one shop snafu. Looking back it turned out just fine. Again, the aethethic short-comings are easier to forget after living in the van for a while.

We love. We'd do it again - funding provided of course. SMB West was great to work with.

jage 04-02-2012 09:24 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by windguy
why the permanent toilet over a portable?

It might be a case of "grass is greener" as I've never had a blackwater system, however I don't like dumping the portable or cleaning the tank afterwards (when that's even possible). With the exception of a pit toilet (which technically I don't think you're supposed to put sani-blue in) it's always an issue to dump, and I don't feel any better about splashing blue/green sewage water around public restrooms than in my own house.

The best technique I've found is to have the receptacle toilet flushing as you pour, but even then splashback is inevitable, one flush never does it, and the whole process is nasty on at least 3 levels, one of which, again, is the blue dye. If you're on the road, you can just shove that bad boy back in the van (there is really no place to clean it on the road), but more often than not it's a whole trip's worth to clean out at home. And even if you've used it only for liquid waste, multiple people's urine sitting in a bucket for days with toilet paper and little else is not a joy in itself.

If you've used it for anything but peeing, no matter how many times you fill, slosh and dump in the house toilet again at some point you're either hosing some amount of sewage onto your property or leaving it in the porta-potti. Even if I wanted to clean it on the road I definitely use more water in a full rinse out than I even carry in the SMB.

So now there is blue poop water splashed all over the bathroom (God forbid you left any of the good towels out), tiny bits of raw sewage washed out in your yard and your porta-potti is relatively clean and fresh for next time. Relatively. And light and easy to move for the first time since last time.

Other people seem to love them. They say it's no problem to dump and never smells. I've gone with and without sani-blue, dumped on arrival at home and left things to stew. I've dumped in three of my own houses' toilets and several places while traveling. With the exception of pit toilets, it never goes well for me. Not using it is the only thing that works really, really well.

The idea of a dedicated dump area that is like a giant drive-in utility sink sounds like heaven. Not having to lug gallons of waste into a bathroom via the most awkward container... it seems nice. It just sounds so much better to have one end of the system for sewage- an end that is outside the van at all times- instead of the middle of a two part container that goes back inside. On top of that, a larger tank and no hesitation about using the system because it's so messy to empty later.

Again, it might be a grass looks greener on that side of the fence thing. It's not something you can reasonably change post build and it's way, way better than not having anything it but it's not something I think is super clean and easy, which seems to be the minority opinion for reasons I can't fathom.


twogone 04-02-2012 10:28 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
yup... and the smell will knock a bulldog off a plate of guts. Even just second-day disposal is rough.
I have dumped my porta directly into the blackwater dump at campgrounds, and it was just as stinky. Blu-stuff just alters the color (not helpful, thanks) and makes the smell somehow worse, but I still put in the blu-stuff, 'cause I'm scared to try it without it.


JayBea 04-02-2012 01:49 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Allow me to chime in. As a campground owner, I've seen the results of all efforts to handle this problem, both in the restrooms and at the dump station.

So here is my 2 cents:

First, the "blue stuff" only adds a perfume. What it does is to kill all bacterial action. When alot of this is dumped into a small system, like a pit toilet or even a single family septic system, it can stop all of the natural process of digestion. Then you will get a significant odor for quite some time before the natural processes are re-started.

So.. use an additive that increases the natural action of digestion like this:

If you use this in both the grey water and the porta-pottie every thing will smell better, and the waste will pour out better, almost eliminating the need to flush. And here's another idea: Use your (now treated) grey water in the porta-pottie getting double use of that weight of liquid.

If you happen to have a black water system and ever get a clog, RV Digest-It will completely digest the clog over night.


Chumley 04-02-2012 07:29 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I greatly appreciate all of the feedback on the porta-potti vs. marine toilet issue. It is one my wife and I have been struggling with.

After watching videos on emptying a black water tank I dread the thought of it. I saw the Vimeo video of a walkaround of a SMB Sprinter and if I have to crawl up under the rig to get to the black water hose it just looks like too much for my bad knees and back. Did I mention I was falling apart? Of course picking up the 30-40lbs worth of crap in a porta-potti tank might not be the best thing either. It appears that either way is just as disgusting so now I am going with physically less inconvenient and damaging.

But still, I would appreciate more feedback. I do not have a lot of experience with this.

I will be back with another installment on some odds and ends soon.

I did get my interior build cost estimate after a little over 2 weeks. It is more than I thought and I had fluffed it up a bit too. I am going to drive in and meet with my sales guy to find out what we can do and get a better handle on the build.

I thank those of you who have corresponded with me about your experiences. I believe a trend is developing that I will share with you when I feel more sure of it to be fair. I am also aware that most want to keep individual comments confidential so will respect that completely. I assume that SMB knows who I am so I don't mind delivering good news as well as bad as long as it is fair and balanced. Just the facts man, well, then there's my subjective personal evaluations too... :f2:

flagstaff 04-03-2012 07:36 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Go with the portta pottie. No big deal about dumping and keeping it all clean. Use clorex. When is the last time any of you had to change a baby's dirty dipers or taken care of an elderly partent that needs to be cleaned up after an accident? It won't kill you. Get real.

BroncoHauler 04-03-2012 07:51 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
If you're not going to use a potti that often, install a potti in your SMB, hang a Wag Bag in it, and just dispose of the bag. No need for a black water tank.


RickL 04-04-2012 10:18 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I second the wag bag approach. I met a gent who had a Pleasure Way and he used wag bags instead of the van's toilet/black water system. He liked it much better that way. SMB West let me know that black water systems are just something else to break and that porta potties were the way to go.

Rick L

Spenard 04-05-2012 01:11 AM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
1 Attachment(s)
This thread seems to have wandered off from SMB building experience to the loo. Another disposal system solution is the black water tank with macerator pump out, uses a smaller self retracting discharge hose (at least on the airstream sprinters). Not sure how that hose gets flushed out.

Back on the trail... We just picked up our new Sprinter PT last week in Fresno and drove it via Yosemite NP, then up to I-5 to Weed and then Hwy 97 to Sisters, Fossil OR, Stevens, WA and sadly left it in my Brother's driveway in Vancouver WA last Sunday till mid May when we fly down to PDX and drive the Van to Prince Rupert and put it on the Ak Marine Hwy to Skagway and via Whitehorse home to Anchorage.

My experience with SMB was very good. I am a 58 yo architect who has owned 3 VW Westy pop tops and wanted something with more room, real heat, quieter and a more "living" type layout for recreational use in often rainy cold weather. We (my partner and I) like the Westy for its size, road handling and relatively high seating for great views and the windows on all sides for sitting inside in bad weather (blocked in back driver side by a relatively useless and difficult to access closet). Never missed having a toilet (we use a wide mouth tinted water bottle for night needs and dump it in the outhouse or woods in the morning and rinse it out with a dab of peppermint soap)

We went to Fresno last summer from Oregon in our 1991 Westy, looked over the operation and put down the deposit for a December delivery on a 2012 2500 and then went camping for a week in the Westy -closely observing what worked well for us about the Westy design and what did not.

Got home last summer and we reviewed SMB Sprinter plans, Roadtrek, Airstream, etc companies that use the sprinter platform and studied Forum pics and read threads and PMd several owners about their layout. Using the SMB tools and then Sketchup Software we generated a unique mid cabin dinette layout and special sized rear side bins for modular duffel bag storage of gear so we could have windows on all sides to look out and easy organized access to our stuff. I went down to SMB in mid December and talked over the scheme with our assigned rep. He questioned some of the ideas and made some suggestions but it was basically executed to our unique plan. I came back down about 5 weeks later to see the work underway and I made some minor equipment location tweaks. Came back when it was done, took delivery in Reno NV (sorry CA but your sales taxes on $$$ purchases are outrageous) and we spent a night in it and drove down to Fresno for an equipment operation briefing and to make a couple of more tweaks to the layout which SMB did right away including some minor upholstery work to help us secure our Kanz Kitchen box (Kanz or similar box is the way to go IMHO to have an organized kitchen for indoor and outdoor camping use without rat holing cook stuff all over the van). The Van and kitchen box can be seen in our Gallery.

I found SMB to be very good at listening. Yes sometimes e-mails took a couple of days for answers but they did respond with the answers i needed. My experience was probably better because of extensive professional design and construction experience (i also just finished extensively remodeling my 60 year old home with a good contractor) and extensive camper vanning experience. Good Communication and sketches are critical if you want something different. Are the vans conversion expensive? Yes because they are labor and specialized HVAC/plumbing/solar/elec equipment intensive. The construction material and build quality is overall very good. I dickered or deleted only the things I thought were overpriced but recognized that a good reputable company has to make a reasonable profit to be in business. Could have been cheaper if I was motivated to do more work myself but that was not what I wanted to do.

My suggestion to anyone looking into buying one is to rent something similar in size and features for at least a week long road trip with several different types of camping situations and see what you really like and don't like. That tiny toilet and shower compartment and dumping the tank might prove to be not so essential.

PS: we are getting a license plate frame for the Sprinter that says: "my mom is a Westy" :a3:

Angel 04-05-2012 01:45 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Great picture! I want one of those for my dash. :-)

Re toilet water (in my day that was some thing like perfume):
I use RV-TRINE DRY, 5-enzyme formula, formaldehyde free, 100% biodegradable, from Camp World in my porta potty. I do not have an electric flush and never put water in the top manual flush part. It makes it weigh too much and makes it fill up faster. I squirt some water in the bowl with a pop top squirt bottle to rinse/flush it. When I had a black water, I used and did the same thing. No bad smell. If it starts to smell, :t4: add more powder.


Chumley 04-06-2012 04:43 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Why Choose the Sprinter Platform for my Build?

The fourth installment of my journey.

Since I now have a preliminary budget and am waiting to sit down and finalize (I hope) the build I thought I would address some odds and ends.

I appreciate the feedback about the potra potti versus a marine toilet but it sounds like it will be one of those ageless arguments that only you can decide based upon your specific circumstances. It was also nice to hear from Spenard who has such recent experience with SMB West and provided sound advice.

So here I go again…

Like many of you my research began months if not years before committing to a build. It all started for me when I saw the normal Class A motorhome as a legitimate home away from home. As big as a house they were too much for our spontaneous lifestyle (right now anyway). We started looking for smaller options and turned to the Volkswagen Camper Vans. We liked what we saw but noticed that, of course, everything inside was way smaller too. From the little stove to the little table and even the little refrigerator of the unavailable (in the US) California model we wondered how well these “little” things would work for us. One thing that was not little was the price, for an almost 10 year old example a clean one could be well over $40,000. Too small for too much for us. We were looking for comfort with as little compromise as we could get away with. So with one too big and one too small we wanted something ”just right” in size somewhere between. As subjective as “just right” may be you are reading this so I assume we have similar thoughts on these matters.

So the quest moves on in the direction of a Class B motorhome, a modified van would be the right size for us.

I had to make sure that the modest sized beast van platform we used would be the best for us. I had driven a lot of domestic vans in the past and was never impressed with their driving comfort, handling or fuel mileage (gas anyway). But, you know, the American vans tugged at the patriot in me, I struggle with that. I was reminded that Mercedes had a relatively new van and my friend said it did not drive like the American rigs and got incredible gas mileage - it came in a high roof model from the factory too. We wanted the simplicity, security and all weather performance of a solid high top roof. The Sprinter earned a place in the lineup. Well, except that I had spent most of my cognizant adult life avoiding Mercedes like the plague. I grew up with “sporty” cars like the BMW 2002 and 320i and so on and so forth. Mercedes had always been at the other end of the spectrum in those days and an early bias had set in. Add in the Mercedes quality meltdown in the 2000’s and American was looking to figure strongly back into the equation.

There was plenty of research to do. So I went to the internet and dug in. I found this very forum which was very informative and which directed me to the Sprinter Source forum ( I went to the Mercedes Benz site which listed Sportsmobile as a “Bodybuilder and Upfitter”, that was nice. I went to the “Sprinter Guy” dealer website which had a lot of information which would help later when configuring the van for special order (and confound and confuse everyone). One of the members here “gregowski” has a nice website for resources ( and e-publishes the “Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook, 2012 Sprinter RV Buyer's Guide”. I called the folks at “Upscale Auto” and they were helpful. I generally annoyed a lot of people but got some great feedback.

It was obvious that I was leaning towards the Sprinter which was strongly influenced by a couple we know that has a previous generation (with the 5 cylinder engine) Sportsmobile. They were always going somewhere and had virtually no problems. A mechanic by trade he did not have anything critical to say, and he would have if given any reason (they were BMW folks too). I have to give the Germans credit where credit is due, they know how to use technology to make something big handle and get better fuel mileage than seems possible. They sure appeared to have done it with the Sprinter van. But I was still worried about reliability and maintenance. I learned from reading the forums that an oil change in a Sprinter is going to be expensive no matter how you look at it. There were other issues that bordered between reliability and maintenance (if you maintain it properly it will be reliable, maybe) and nuisance but it does not appear that there are a lot of known “big” issues (you know, like gas pedals going to the floor on their own or spontaneously bursting into flames). The exhaust scrubbing system seems dodgy though. In general Mercedes appears to be increasing its reliability record (Consumer Reports seems to indicate that, if we can trust that guage). I had to reflect on my own personal experience which taught me that any car manufacturer can produce outside of their reputation range. I had a supposedly well built, easy to maintain Infiniti G35 Coupe that was in the shop about every 2 months for something, many were no minor items. Same thing for my new Toyota Tacoma V6 4x4 four door. On the other hand we have a BMW Z4 and had a Dodge Ram truck which were supposedly problem plagued vehicles but had no problems with either (except that a Dodge Hemi will only get about 13 miles a gallon with me behind the wheel). My Mini Cooper S was supposed to be of above average reliability per Consumer Reports but fell apart right in front of me. The list goes on and on…

A test drive in a Sprinter van by Roadtrek really confirmed everything that I had only read and heard. About as heavily loaded as I expect my build to be it was surprisingly peppy and handled very reasonably. It wasn’t perfect, as noted in a previous post, but I am particular and knew I could fix the concerns somehow later if need be.

I picked the Sprinter van. It gets the +20 mpg, handles like it has no business, rides well, plenty of headroom, I can park it in my driveway (and in a normal parking space in a major urban area), and if it turns out to be of average reliability I will be very happy. At another time and with different circumstances I might have chosen a domestic van, preferably in 4x4, just not now.

So I reviewed the Sportsmobile Sprinter Van special order form. You can do a lot of research if you are so inclined or you can choose from just the options shown on the SMB form. Unfortunately I am so inclined so I read everything I could get into. That included understanding all of the special order codes Mercedes uses by going to the “Sprinter Guy” site and the special order packages info found at “gregowski’s” site - all Mercedes provided information likely meant for the dealers to use. Of course given the complexity of the information they can also become tools for self-inflicting injury. A lot of options are pretty much just personal preference but some could make a difference in performance and durability. I had to know more about what was going into the van before I could make the final decisions so I refocused on the interior build.

I will cover the planned interior build in another post but I ended up with a diesel generator behind the rear axle as well as the fresh water tank and likely some heavy electrical items. I am not sure how much a company like SMB is focused on weight and handling dynamics, I think they are more focused on fitting everything we ask for into that space restricted platform. Thankfully I had remembered reading a few threads here and at the Sprinter Source about fully outfitted weight. I had come to sense that if you go for a build with all of the amenities you were likely pushing the 7,700 lbs that the Roadtrek I drove weighed. I also realize that most manufacturers like to understate things like claimed weight and overstate horsepower and fuel mileage - the Roadtrek claimed weight may have been conservative. I had read a few posts about being over the 8,550 GVWR of the 2500 when ready to travel. Supposedly being at GVWR was not a problem but having so much weight behind the rear axle really made me think. In racing cars, or any good handling car, the weight is kept between the axles. Any weight behind the axle is going to want to swing the end around in a turn or, my concern, make it go up and down on the suspension since it is basically out there on a lever pivoting on the front wheels (I believe it is called a high polar moment of inertia). If I hadn’t put that generator and all of that other stuff back there I would probably feel fine with a 2500 - I would probably be just fine with my extra load in a 2500 as it is but my gut told me to go conservative and get the 3500. Besides I wanted a sort of rugged look and I think this will play into that. The extra 1” of ground clearance also added more room for the generator hanging down back there too.

After all of that research I went back to look at the Mercedes options for the 3500. They were slightly different. I asked the SMB folks about some of the different options offered and they said they didn’t know anything about any of the options except for the ones on their list. I saw stuff I thought I wanted but it was not on the SMB list so I did the legwork. One question that went through my mind was “do they automatically include options on their van orders based upon their experience?” or do they let you figure it out? On the order form is a list on the left of all of the stuff they automatically include. I found one exception but otherwise they don’t appear to add anything not on the list and I think for a reason. I wanted pockets on the rear doors but they don’t do that since they are going to build storage areas in there themselves. The exception I found out on my own was that they typically order their vans with the small DEF tank in the engine compartment (Option KP2: Small SCR tank in the engine compartment) but the sales staff was not aware of this when I asked. Check if you are unsure about what might be included in a base van since some of that fine detail is missing I am sure that they will find out for you.

So there are a lot of options on the SMB Sprinter Van special order form. I would ask a lot about how the heavier suspension options might apply to your build. Is it heavy enough to deserve this attention or is it pretty basic? What is not included on their order form is a package I requested and that was the “High Gravity Center Suspension Package” (Option PS1 list at $470) that is specific to the 3500 lineup. I also ordered a couple of other options not on their list and appreciate SMB’s flexibility in doing this for me. I got the sense that one of the keys to charging only “dealers invoice” on extras is to not spend a lot of time special ordering odd requests like mine.

Yes, I ordered my van through SMB. I went to a local Sprinter dealer who had a few in stock but they were just not outfitted the way I wanted. I looked online and unless you want a white one with some random smattering of desirable options the cargo van was ordered by dealers for the working man. Mine was further complicated by the 3500 option. I don’t like paying any more for a new vehicle that I have to but all in all SMB was very cost competitive for me. Yes, I could’ve saved a few hundred bucks (doubt it would have been thousands) by ordering from someone else but there is not a lot of savings in a special order vs. what’s sitting on the lot. Besides, if I was going to pay the same price to another dealer for the same thing why not let SMB make money on this one?

I feel I ordered the van probably 3-4 weeks later than I could have if I had gotten a good start in communication right from the beginning. However I do feel that due to having the salesman I ended up with I was able to order the right base vehicle for me.

I had to go through the process of selecting the right platform for my build. I used a lot of resources provided right here on this website. I also reached out to the people that work on these things and asked them questions since they deal with the dirty side of the vehicle (under the hood or underneath). I used the feedback from my SMB salesman since I felt that knowing what went inside might influence the version and options on the base van. Ultimately in the end I used all of that research to feel confident about what I felt in my gut. Not everyone needs to go through this amount of research because the Sprinter van is so well suited for this conversion to camper. But like anything, some of us want it to be the best we can have for our specific needs. With the stripped down van at + $45K it is a lot of money and represents half of our build.

I feel very good about the van I ordered and I look forward to the phone call telling me the build is about to begin. In the meantime I finalize the build. I will keep you posted. My next post will be about what I have learned about the interior build process to date.

I really appreciate the feedback and please PM me with your personal story if you have the time. I hope that this thread will be of help to the future SMB owners of the world. If not, well I hope I did not waste your time.

twogone 04-06-2012 06:36 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

windguy 04-07-2012 02:53 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Jage, thanks for your input and others that chimed in as well with good suggestions.
sorry my question took the thread in another direction but it's all build related.
everyone's use and needs are very different so there will never be a consensus.
if we had our s-h-i-t together, we'd have a system that takes the waste from a blackwater tank, converts it into fuel and then pumps it into the fuel tank.

Chumley 04-23-2012 03:31 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
2 Attachment(s)
Of Sportsmobile, My Interior Plan and How About an Extended Warranty?

Here is my Fifth installment, sorry it took so long. It’s a long ambling read, my wife says I have no effective writing skills but this isn’t a corporate report or sales brochure so read it if you have some spare time or skip it.

I wanted to go over the process of getting the interior figured out and share some tidbits about what may be routine and what to expect as well as some odds and ends. Please keep in mind that I am using my particular (peculiar?) build for this series of posts and am not promoting it for everyone, it works for us and your's will work for you, that's what matters.

First thing I want to do is to back up and add some information about the Mercedes Sprinter Van purchase. I have previously forgotten to mention something. I spoke with the dealer that Sportsmobile uses and was informed that there is a Mercedes Benz factory extended warranty. I thought I would share this with you since I will definitely be taking advantage of this offer. The cost at this time is approximately $2,300.00 for up to three (3) additional years or to 125,000 miles, whichever comes first. I have reviewed several extended warranties over the years and even purchased a couple but for the most part am not a big fan of them, however as I mentioned in an earlier post I am a little leery of MBZ’s quality and this is a high technology vehicle (especially for a cargo van). I like this one because it is a factory issued warranty, not a third party, which can be used at any dealership without some sort of concern about approvals or worry about getting paid back as a reimbursable item. I believe it will be added closer to vehicle pickup and will keep you posted as to just how this works. I just wanted to share that with you since the sales staff at SMB did not appear to know anything about this and did not mention it as an offering.

Also, while asking about the extended warranty I was informed that the van itself was complete in Germany and is going through the process of shipping to the US. Believe it or not, it is dis-assembled and shipped to the US where it is reassembled. Apparently this is for some kind of costs savings due to the commercial vehicle nature of the van. If you ordered a passenger van it would ship fully assembled. I don’t think this is an urban legend but someone may want to double check me on that. So it sounds like they build the van itself within a month and then it takes 3 to 4 months to get to SMB.

I have observed that Sportsmobile builds a little of everything and will build pretty much anything a customer wants, within reason (you may find a debate, or two, about how “custom” SMB can get right here in this forum). They are well known for converting vans to 4x4 and providing well-constructed interiors for that use. This is one of the reasons I chose Sportsmobile since my own 4 wheeling experience has taught me that between washboard roads and the jarring you can get from even the best planned rock strewn route there is a lot of vibration, twisting, and general torture taking place on every part of the vehicle. I have a friend with a 5 year old Sprinter SMB conversion and it does not rattle. I drove a new Roadtrek and it rattled everywhere and just sounded “cheap”. When I mentioned all of the rattling the dealer looked at me and said it was a motorhome and they all rattle. Sometimes exposure to the competition is your best advertisement. Since I made the commitment to Sportsmobile I have seen many of the 4x4s (in places like Pinnacles on the 15th) and regular vans (like the grey one on 101 heading south towards Gilroy about 9:00 AM this last Saturday) on the road. Many, many more than the other manufacturers combined here in the “Central Coast” region of California. Of course you always see more once you are joining the club.

I don’t know if I could be called the “average” anything, much less SMB customer but maybe someone here may benefit from my overzealous and “intense” research. I have asked a lot of questions of the SMB staff and I learned a lot during my most recent visit to SMB to sit down and finalize my plan. Each time I visit I know a little bit more about what to look for while there. This trip I learned about little things like their “Armacore”(sp?) plywood used for the cabinets, they do take into account weight distribution for handling effects, they are introducing some new materials and design details, etc… All of these things help me understand what I am getting and figure into the bigger picture of refining their product and, I think, keeping an eye on a changing marketplace. Like most companies the last 3-4 years have been very tough for SMB. This kind of product is pretty popular in the boom times when money had been so cheap and easy to get, you have to admit that these are not insignificant purchases. The workload dropped dramatically in 2008 but apparently they still had some of the clientele that always have money no matter how bad the rest of us feel the pinch, and they downsized. I believe they also benefitted from the custom builder business model. They don’t build vehicles with their own money that may sit on a lot for months or years. They only build what the client demand is currently paying for and like a lot of well managed and established companies it looks like their overhead is under control. They may have been investing in developing new products but this does not have the same cash commitment as dozens or hundreds of units sitting in lots around the country and it does keep them in front of their customers. To me it appears that this would be the type of company that I could invest in for the long haul. I don't see them making a killing all at once, they just consistently plug away in their well-defined niche and try not to screw it up (no, I am not saying that I think they are perfect). So there are some little tweaks coming that will make their vans more appealing and I am looking forward to it. They are adding another wood color for cabinetry which is a maple with a light/medium stain to go with the current cherry wood and dove. They appear to be adding upper cabinet doors which will flip up (a feature of Roadtreks that I liked and now can get with the SMB – now if they would just put glass panels in those doors too…). It appears that there is an evolutionary process in place that keeps them contemporary but I don’t see them going trendy and soon outdated. I have seen pictures of some older SMBs compared to the newer ones and the conservative approach makes them appear to have aged well (no “harvest gold” or “avocado”). Anyway, just some observations and opinions based upon my most recent visit.

As I have mentioned before my wife and I had a pretty good of idea of what we wanted to do in the van, we just had to figure out how to configure it to make it fulfill that need. We studied the standard floor plans SMB offered and looked at what the other manufacturers were doing. Most appeared to have the galley and restroom mid-ship and the “living/sleeping” area in the rear to get that rear wrap around view (I had always liked this layout in the van conversion motorhomes we rented in the past too). We liked the standard RB110S plan since it provided that layout. Since you can’t easily see a completed SMB van we went to the local RV shop and sat in the competition’s versions. I will go back to the Roadtrek, they had 2 models we spent time sitting in, the SS Ideal and SS Agile (they had become a strong candidate during the period of time we considered bailing from SMB). We did not get to do as Spenard had so wisely recommended, and rent one, but we spent a fair amount of time revisiting this nearby dealer when we wanted to understand how something might work. One Roadtrek had the restroom across from the sliding door and the other across the sliding door opening. We noticed that they felt much more roomy than ever imagined and one key aspect was that the front seats were not right up against a wall (like a bathroom wall) like the RB110S indicated. This opened up the view with the cab seats swiveled around (although the driver’s seat will not rotate completely, just enough to hopefully watch the TV when swung out into the aisle). On the SMB website was a modified RB110S plan shown as an example. We copied that and felt it would be perfect. We felt committed and decided to pull the trigger.

I spoke with our salesman and he sounded busy so I drew our plan on the SMB design-it-yourself computer generated plan that I printed out.

I sent that with our list of options along with the standard floor plan designation and directions to release our deposit check that had put on hold. I had not been able to get SMB to provide an estimate but they said I could develop a rough one based upon the standard plan we selected and add on the options we wanted. They would apparently take us seriously when we sent that deposit for the van order. It was strange for me to send a non-refundable $1,000.00 check to someone when I wasn’t sure if what I wanted was within our budget but that is apparently how it works. I also felt confident that if the budget went bust I could find a legal way to get our deposit back and they seemed to be pretty legit guys so felt they would work with me (if I didn’t bail after the van was in production). So we released the check and other info and waited, and waited. I guess I must be the antsy type but when everything suddenly goes dark on you and phone calls are not returned I don’t know what to think. We had gone from a very slow progress to making great progress in just a week and a half and then as soon as the check gets cashed in there is no response. So I waited. About two and a half weeks later the estimate shows up. It’s nothing fancy and appears to be a preformatted form where you just plug in the options with pre-set pricing and out pops a price. I did learn that there was some massaging later but that was not initially apparent. Still, it looked like no more than half an hour’s work (I know, I have to remember that aforementioned downsizing). The estimate is now here and it is over budget, great. Instead of starting with the RB110S plan and adding options it was taken from scratch and everything was added on. I do feel it was legit since we made quite a few changes but it was a departure from what we had initially thought, just watch out. I decided that I better meet with our salesman in person to understand where it all came from. So we made an appointment.

I don’t know if this is a typical example of how a visit to finalize the budget goes but here is mine. To prepare for the appointment I dissected and studied the estimate and wrote all of my questions down. I put together a file and made a copy for our salesman (I believe that it is self-serving to provide too much information). As much as I was convinced that the end product would ultimately be a very good one I had seen and experienced the type of shortcomings that make me want to take control of the situation until I was sure someone else would or the process was safely under way. Our meeting allayed all of my fears. The salesman was very professional (I guess I was not sure how it would be) and had all of the information I needed when asked. He also showed me the new product(s) and told me about upcoming changes. The new plywood pattern and door style were introduced as well as showing me the new porta-potti, a Thetford Curve which is a very nice appearing toilet. I was also shown a couple of vans being built I had not seen before and all in all they looked great (I finally saw an installed Kenwood stereo that Rob of Integrated Audio Solutions installed and it was very nice, both the installation and the unit itself). So we spent almost three hours reviewing everything. It was nice to get everything confirmed. He provided his version of my plan and it all looked like he had been paying attention.

He said that we get three sets of electrical receptacles (110v) so we placed those, he showed me where the lighting went and we went over materials. We also discussed the refrigerator which I was going to purchase myself that weekend at a boat show. We had wanted more capacity than offered by the Norcold options (that would fit with the bath across the aisle) and he told us about Isotherm (by Indel Abasto). The Isotherm has trick insulation and whatever so it gives you more interior volume per exterior volume. Of course this magical additional volume comes with an additional price. SMB provided a very fair refer credit so we checked the refer chart and he pointed out that the 130 cubic liter model I wanted (4.6 c.f.) wouldn’t fit so we went with the 100 c.l. (3.5 c.f.) instead. That pushed the countertop up to 34”-35” with the stove but I had wanted a higher top anyway to feel more like home (36”), the Roadtrek had 38” high countertops and I remembered that those were perfectly acceptable (32” is the normal SMB height). Note: the “Galley SB” design says it will hold a 3 c.f. refer but SMB pointed out that the door has to open fully and the bath across the hall crunched that distance. We matched the countertop height on the small cabinet next to the bath and that was set. We located the propane heater in that cabinet next to the bath since I did not want it under my head (I don’t know if it is an issue but didn’t want that thing firing up under my head at night). We increased the water tank to 20 gallons (or so). We put a shelf on the wall of the bath over the cabinet for spices and such so we could leave the space over the stove open. We have a drawer for utensils in the cabinet next to the bath and shelves for pot/pans and dishes above the propane heater, overhead we have a shelf for a microwave. We lost the narrow full height closet next to the bath in the RB110S plan with the relocation of the bath (it was substituted with the cabinet now on the other side of the bath) so we will have a clothes hanger rod installed over an ottoman for the occasional (rare) long hanging item. We will add a cloth curtain that will close off the cab from the back. During this process we went back and forth to the examples being built or a couple of displays. It was nice to be there and remove the doubt as we planned. I had the opportunity to see the materials we wanted, see example of their installations and confirm dimensions. My salesman was very professional and extremely helpful with, what I have now come to expect, honest evaluations of needs. We had figured out how to get our basic needs of cooking and eating covered, a reasonable bathroom and what is a larger than ever imagined bed (6’x 6’). We feel that it appears more open when seated in the cab looking back because we put a 34” height cabinet behind the driver instead of the bath wall and put a full window so you can see out. Like the SMB RB110S website example the shower will have a curtain to contain errant shower water and the awning window crank is above the cabinet top. My God, how did it all fit? The budget was fully explained and the costs are fair for what we asked for, we just have to figure out if we proceed with the budget or cut something out.

Note: Something that I want to share is that Alan Feld told me that it is best to get the most complete and concise plan in place and approved/signed off before the work begins. He said that adding and making changes during the build is where things can get missed and compromises made. As a builder I can attest that it takes a lot more attention to track changes.

I asked about allowing me to perform inspections at construction milestones and they said that they would rather take pictures and send them to me than hold up the project every time I wanted to see something. I understand what they are saying and will concede to that. The build process makes sense to me and is straightforward. There is a meeting before each build with all of the department foremen to hash out the details, a must for any construction oriented project. This is when the signed off scope of work gets etched in everyone’s mind. The sequence is normal for me to see: floor goes in, wall/roof insulation, electrical and plumbing lines, wall panels, ceiling, cabinets and seating/sleeping, misc. tanks and electronics, appliances, a/v stuff, trims. Again, I looked over some finished units and they looked very nice. I asked about quality control and was told that the project manager goes out and routinely performs quality inspections. I told him that I tell any electrician on my jobs that I will provide levels for their use (inside joke since most electricians don’t carry them and light switches and plugs are never plumb/level). I paid special attention to the different controls, monitors and devices to see if they looked well installed. Remember that you can’t just put a level on items since the vans do not sit level during construction. This takes a little more skill (and templates). One nice, but unfortunate, outcome of an economic slowdown is that companies can cull their staff bit and keep the best craftsmen. This may satisfy the concern of some who contacted me who were worried about issues with past quality brought up in this forum. Anyway, after the van is complete they take it out for a 40 mile test drive to isolate squeaks and rattles and then it waits for you to pick it up. They want you to take it out and find out if you have issues or find something they may have missed and then bring it back so they can make adjustments.

We summarized our meeting and I asked about how to maintain good communication. He explained that they are a casual type of industry compared to what I am used to and they try to answer calls within a day but it can’t always happen. I agreed that I will alert him to issues that need immediate addressing and what can wait. He will now go back and revise the estimate per our tweaks. We feel 95% sure of what we want but are making a couple of final decisions. Per Alan’s comment I want to be as complete at sign off as possible. I know that those changes can cause the biggest problems once a project is underway.

I feel that I am about to sign off until the build itself begins. The build is scheduled to start mid-August with a ten week build schedule. We will have to push our late summer vacation to fall and steer us a little more south than we had expected but I think we will get a trip in or maybe spend Thanksgiving in Death Valley.

I believe that spending a lot of time doing my research has paid off but it really came together when I had the full attention of my salesman. If you are not fortunate enough to have an RV dealer nearby go to an RV show and don’t be shy about spending time in a comparable Class B motorhome to get a reasonable feel for what to expect. I also benefitted immensely form the last visit to finalize details where I could go out and confirm materials and dimensions. My salesman is a professional and he helped me without selling me anything extra (that in itself still amazes me). There are new design elements that I will appreciate (the wife likes upper doors going up out of the way) and I like the revised interior layout that the salesman helped me establish. I ventured away from a standard plan but have been assured that it will be completed per my plan (I will provide reports on this as we go). My salesman helped me find other equipment or appliances that made my build feasible where standard equipment was a problem. I will finalize my plans before the build starts as best I can (and then be diligent about communication on any changes during construction). The electronics package by Integrated Audio is not cheap but I feel I can trust that the installation will be a quality one. Let the fun begin.

I am officially excited about my upcoming build.

Good luck to you on yours.

BTW: I apologize if the attachments are a pain in the butt but they are .pdfs.

windguy 04-25-2012 01:41 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chapter 5 was good reading. thanks
sounds like things are progressing nicely for you. great news!

curious, your floor plan shows a combo toilet/shower compartment, but you are talking about using a portable Thetford. Do you plan to omit the marine toilet and use a portable instead so you can remove it to shower?

any details on other systems in your build like:
- solar?
- type of propane heater?
- type of water heater?
- grey water tank size?

keep up the good work and keep us posted.

Chumley 04-25-2012 01:58 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thanks for reading.

You asked some legitimate questions that I should have addressed.

We changed to a porta-potti from the marine toilet. I had not thought about how convenient it may be to shower without the toilet in place, good idea. I am only 5'8" now (and maybe 5'7" when the build is complete) and the wife is about 5'4" so the shower should work fine either way. Note: I originally liked the shower size in the Roadtrek with their "pop-out" into the hallway doors, at first. I measured the Roadtrek and the bath is only about 18" wide before you open up the doors to get you to 24", the SMB is 24" to begin with so there is more room, you do give up some in the hall.

We quickly moved away from the solar panels since the number we could fit on our roof (1) would not run an a/c unit. I don't know how many panels it would take to run the a/c. A friend highly recommended going with solar since his works well for his circumstances but we decided we needed relaible full power when we wanted it, hence the generator.

I only know of one type of propane heater offered so we are using that one. If there are more options I am definitely open to learning more about them. We did not go with the diesel heater due to cost and having read about some issues with reliability here on this forum.

We decided upon the flat plate heater. We had space considerations and our propane tank had shrunk to about 4.5 gallons due to the generator addition. We ran out of room for the water heater and tank so the compromise was the flat plate. I don't know how much I want to run the engine in the morning in a campsite for a shower but I have noticed that the engine is remarkably quiet and exhaust pretty much odor free so I don't think I'll feel too bad. A compromise I think I can live with.

We will end up with a 5 gallon grey water tank on each side. Under the shower and under the sink. I think that the one under the shower may grow a bit since the marine toilet was deleted. I'll have to check on that. I was hoping to enlarge the propane tank but was told that it did not work that way, if I remember correctly.

I think I have made the right choices for my build and circumstances but this is the first time I've done this. Some of you may be sitting back and chuckling because of some glaring mistakes I am making so please chime in. I welcome a challenge to see if my ideas can withstand the test.

I should say here, and go back and edit my last post, that I am using my example for everyone to see how the process works, not to promote my floor plan to everybody. I have been told (by the Roadtrek salesman) that SMBs are harder to resell since there is no fixed floor plan. Mine may be hard to resell since it was tailored to work for us. I don't know how many people would be comfortable on a 6'1" long bed but we are. I am sure each one of you that has built their SMB feels that your plan is the best, and it is, for you. This is really the key feature to designing and building your own SMB, it is truly your motorhome. :u1:

Good luck.


windguy 04-25-2012 03:02 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 09:46 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 02:37 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 03:16 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 06:59 PM

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

What does it cost to build something like this?


Chumley 04-30-2012 04:38 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 06:30 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 03:17 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 04:00 PM

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

Chumley 06-24-2012 06:12 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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