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Chumley 10-18-2012 04:17 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Tires, the tires man. I got stupid lucky.

I am sitting at the shop now and we have had an interesting afternoon.

The owner took it out for a test drive and felt the balance issue but felt that the pull to the right was a bigger issue. Pull to the right? Okay, I hadn't really noticed it but then I haven't been driving hands free a lot either.

So I have them check the existing tires before before he installs the new ones. He said that these tires and wheels are are hard to balance and he had to get a special three jaw chuck since the Hunter Load (road?) Force balancing machine didn't come with them and it is needed to do the Sprinter wheels properly, at least the 3500 and the dually wheels.

He comes over and tells me they have found the problem with the first tires since it is out by 2.5 ounces which I guess is a lot. So we feel good, until the 2nd wheel is checked. It is almost double the max allowable load force at 78 lbs vs normal worst case of 45 lbs out. He said that it is likely the overlap in the splice on the plies that created the problem. I asked what he could do and he said to take it back to the dealer. I don't think that will work so tell him to dispose of it.

So we know what the problem with the balance is. He said that the front was taking a beating because with the amount of steering wheel shimmy I felt that was dampened by the power steering that it was pretty bad.

So I have the printouts that I will send to SMB West since the front tires were balanced and an alignment was done before delivery. If you have had some vibration issues but thought that it might be something else because the tires were just balanced by SMB let this be a lesson.

So I went with Michelins because I keep hearing that they are the most round, as well as well performing, and had said that I didn't think that Continentals were as good on the SUV and light truck tire side. I was corrected and told that it was a long time ago that I had problems with Continentals and they are everyone's second favorite, after Michelin. So I stand corrected but there was a bad one in the pair here so...

They are still working on the front end and have found that the adjustable concentric bolts used for camber adjustment are not already installed as they had assumed since it was supposedly aligned by a shop specifically dealing with the van conversion. We will do a preliminary check and then order the parts and try to get them installed next week.

A test drive indicates that the front wheels are round again.

Reporting from the front, Chumley.

Chumley 10-18-2012 11:23 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
I would like to finish up the tire and alignment story now that it is all done. I ended up sitting at the alignment shop for about 3 1/2 hours because they really took the time to get it right, they seem to have good resources and do their research. I stayed and waited since it is 40 miles from home and it was slow at the shop so they were more available to talk than usual.

So first thing is that the van drives night and day different. As the kids text it is "OMG" good. Actually I guess it's normal but it was bad enough for the first 1,800 miles that it is a huge contrast. Besides the
tire balance the front end feels much more planted now. They were able to take 0.8 degrees of positive camber out and it is now only .1 degree positive. Just so you know, I don't know how much difference just a single degree makes, or for that matter .8 degrees, but I knew that it had too much positive camber and now it is almost neutral. As the shop owner said the positive camber can make it feel like it is on it's tippy toes.

I was taught a bit about road force balancing. Apparently you can balance a tire that is not round to the point where it makes a basic balancing machine believe that it has done its job. The Hunter Road Force machine essentially also measures how round the tire is and at the same time the wheel too. So even if the previous alignment company got the balance right it would still bounce down the road. Maybe one of you can explain this better than I can.

The tire would be considered defective and if I could go back to the dealership I guess I would but it's just not worth it. I kept the good tire since it is not defective, just not as well balanced out of the mold as it could have been. I guess that this does confirm some of the comments about the stock Continental tires I have read.

I am assuming that the van is so rear heavy that it helped throw off the camber, it was out of factory spec that's for sure. Maybe they are all delivered like that since I do remember it looking kind of knocknee'd when I first met the van.

This is not meant to be another knock on Sportsmobile, they are victims in this too and I will be sending them the report I have. I think that they may want to talk to their front end shop since they should have caught the issues if they had decent equipment. I effectively paid for the balancing and alignment 2x and spent my afternoon getting it redone.

If any of you have what you think might be a tire balance issue but was told that the tires were just balanced I think you may want to have them double checked. It is not a lot of money compare to replacing worn suspension parts over time.

I have the reports scanned in for anyone who might want to send me an e-mail and knows how to read them better than I do.

Thanks.

Chumley

Chumley 10-22-2012 02:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
We have named our van. I guess it is something that many do and we usually give a nickname or abbreviate the name of our vehicles.

Our van was always going to be named "Charlie", as in Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley", but decided to change up the spelling. We added Phoenix since Charlie was put on life support for a few weeks while he was gutted and brought back to life by SMB West.

So we now drive around in Charlie Phoenix, commonly known here as just Charlie.

We have been driving around our community and since we about 15-20 miles from another community we have been able to get out on the freeway and enjoy the new ride. The new tires and alignment make a huge difference in driving comfort for the driver. My wife says she feels that it is a little smoother but it was the driver that really felt it the most with the steering wheel shimmying about and the vibration coming up through the pedals. The "tippy toes" feeling of the steering is gone now and it just feels less tiring to drive normally. Overall a huge improvement in driving quality.

We have been working on the van doing things like putting in the safe myself as well as well as cleaning it up and putting on a couple of favorite accessories.

I almost always install a "Wheelskins" leather steering wheel cover on our vehicles to make the steering wheel feel better to the hand and fatten it up a bit. They don't offer a Sprinter model so I had to take measurements and get a custom fit one made. Of course I grab a cloth tape measure (like for garments) and use it like my normal tape measure and the cover comes in way too small. I called and they instantly sadi "did you check to the tape measure to see where the measurement begins?". I guess some of us think that the measurement begins at the end whereas on a lot of cloth tapes they start up to an inch from the end, like mine. They were great and made another one and had it back to me in about a week. The leather cover takes a long time to install and it fits very snugly so it looks a lot like a factory installed one if you take the time. Usually I order a 2 tone but this time I just went with straight black and it is nice. BTW: I put one of these over my leather covered steering wheel on my Toyota Tacoma, which came with a leather covered wheel, becasue it made it thicker and feels good.

We installed a "Pelican Case" box instead of a metal safe since it was available in the right size and is in reality about as tough. The lower end of the safe market, which are the small ones that fit here, can easily be pried open or knocked open. These are really just to stop the amateur thief and make them make a lot of noise and wasted effort to slow them down. It works really well for us and holds a couple lap tops and other valuables easily. Truth be told, the metal safes were actually cheaper but this works for us.

We made a little flap to cover the Kenwood Stereo unti in the dash since it cannot be dimmed enough a night to not be a distraction. The installer offered to put in a switch to turn off the display since he agrees that this can be a problem for some.

I know that I will likely have to go back to SMB West again sometime after our vacation because of a couple of items. One is that the blind without the guide cord is all folded up on itself. I guess the guide cord is there so it folds up properly in a stacked manner. They will have to pull apart the shower stall a bit but I think it will be worth it in the long run. Everything else seems to be holding together with out limited use to date.

We went out to sushi and Vietnamese food in the van last weekend with the dogs in tow and it was very comfortable. We put up the table on the tripod in the back and watched a DVD. This is about as close to trying it out before our trip as we can get with our schedules. This is working just as we had envisioned so far and am loving it.

BTW: you get a lot of looks and stares.

Thanks.

Chumley

windguy 10-23-2012 12:03 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
1 Attachment(s)
Hey Chumley,

Thanks for the updates.
Sounds like you're starting to get to a happy place with your rig.
BTW - the van looks very nice. I've been going over the pics.
I've got a few build questions for you.

I checked some of the older pics and I'm confused with the galley.
The first build pics show a much larger counter top with lots of space to the right of the sink.
I don't see that now. Did you change the design?
EDIT - I attached the pic that is messing me up. I guess this is of someone else's van.

Regarding the windows, I seem to recall that you said you got windows all around in the van from the factory with the lighter tint. And it appears that the only windows that have ventilation are the ones on the driver's side. Are those awning type windows or sliders?

How is it using the microwave mounted up high. Is it hard to reach and see what's in there or to clean?
I like how it's up and out of the way not taking up valuable below counter space.

What model porta potty did you get?
I didn't see it in any of the pics but I'm assuming you'll store and use it in the shower stall

What size fridge did you put in under the counter?

I'm sure I'll have more questions later.
Thanks

tonyvoudy 10-23-2012 06:51 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
Regarding the windows, I seem to recall that you said you got windows all around in the van from the factory with the lighter tint. And it appears that the only windows that have ventilation are the ones on the driver's side. Are those awing type windows or sliders?

From the pictures they look like awning windows. Would that mean the "other van pic" you posted had slider windows because the the passenger sliding door? I never added a window on the passenger side so did not investigate that as an option.

tv

windguy 10-23-2012 09:38 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by tonyvoudy
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
Regarding the windows, I seem to recall that you said you got windows all around in the van from the factory with the lighter tint. And it appears that the only windows that have ventilation are the ones on the driver's side. Are those awing type windows or sliders?

From the pictures they look like awning windows. Would that mean the "other van pic" you posted had slider windows because the the passenger sliding door? I never added a window on the passenger side so did not investigate that as an option.

tv

that pic I grabbed from Chumley's album and write-up must be from another van because there's an extra window, I think, and they have ventilation. It must be an EB size van too. I was told by SMB that you can have an awning type window on the passenger side but they put a limiter so you can't open it to where the door will hit it. Or use a slider type opening and not worry about the door issues.

kmessinger 10-23-2012 02:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
I have two awning type windows on the right side. One replaced the original glass that was in the door and the other is in the next panel. As far as I know, it does not have a limiter. It would be a good idea.

Regards,

Keith

Chumley 10-23-2012 11:35 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Hey Guys,

My van came with factory installed windows for the sliding door and the 2 rear doors. I thought that three remaining windows I added would be operable awning type windows but the window that ends up behind the sliding door was actually fixed. Apparently the longer wheelbase models will support the operable windows with a limiter but the RB will not, even with a opening travel limiter. This is what I was told when I asked why the window didn't open after I was led to believe it would. I was told by the Sales/PM guys that he made a mistake in telling me that. I am okay with that but if someone else got an operable window then I would have liked it.

Windguy,
We have not used the microwave yet but you are right and I think I will be very careful with a full bowl up there. It is not as high as it might look but still a spill is at face level.

We have the Thetford "Curve" portta potti and it looks great and is comfortable to sit on but I have not used it (just tried it on so to speak...). SMB provides a nice upholstered cover so it all looks very nice and is bungied in place, or in our case we asked for a nylon webbing strap since I have a hard time with relying on a bungy cord to hold a vessel full of my processing results.

The refer we ended up with was the Indel Webasto (Isotemp) Cruise 100 which is a 3.5 c.f. refer that fits in the space of the 2.7 c.f. refer. Apparently they have to be special ordered now (or even discontinued) but they are tall and narrow. The key was narrow because the limiting factor was how far out the door swung before it hit the cabinet across the aisle. In our case the 24" deep shower stall was across the aisle so it made made us go with a narrow door so we could open it the whole way and not just partially (I don't even think SMB would install a refer that wouldn't open all of the way). An added feature was that this unit had a fan on top that actively exhausted the area behind the cabinet and blows out the warm air through a grill on the top of the unit. All in all very nice but it was Italian accessory expensive. I would do it again though, so far...

It's been almost 2 weeks without anything new really popping up so I am keeping the fingers crossed and hoping the worst is well behind us. SMB did complete a complex build and when it all works it is very nice.

I spoke with the Customer Service guy and he is happy that everything is going more smoothly. He said that there was a lot to fix and it could have been overwhelming but they took it a bit at a time and got it done. I do have to go back for at least one more thing but I am okay with that now.

I understand that I am supposed to get a call or report card to fill out about my SMB experieince but have not seen anything like that yet. I wonder if I might be an exception to the rule?

The spending is certainly not done yet. I seem to be able to find a specialized product for about everything I can think of and did not want to haul stuff back and forth to the house so the rig will always have its own pots, pans, utinsels, etc... I got a really nice travel bar...

Having fun.

Chumley and Charlie Phoenix

SteveW 10-24-2012 07:58 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chumley -

I finally have to chime in here.

"...relying on a bungy cord to hold a vessel full of my processing results..." made coffee come out of my nose and all over my keyboard.

Thanks man.

Steve W

windguy 10-24-2012 10:19 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kmessinger
I have two awning type windows on the right side. One replaced the original glass that was in the door and the other is in the next panel. As far as I know, it does not have a limiter. It would be a good idea.
Regards,
Keith

thanks for the input Keith.
maybe since your build was an early Sprinter conversion SMBW added the limiters later on after some windows got hit when customers didn't close them enough.
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

windguy 10-24-2012 10:39 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chumley,
Thanks for the info on your build.
Not sure why the RB and EB would have different requirements for the window behind the slider.
To me the slider would be identical on both models with the EB just being longer in the body with room for another window.

re the microwave, let us know more about using that in the future.

re the throne, time to take that thing for a test run and break it in :a3:

re the fridge - very interesting. will keep that model in mind when the time comes.
nice having that extra space and still keeping it under the counter.

there are so many aspects to a build that you have to learn it's mind boggling for me. a lot of planning and decisions required. be happy you are done with that phase.

when is your next trip and where?
I get the feeling you haven't truly camped in this thing yet because of the water problem you had. I guess the weather hasn't been ideal in your area lately. Cheers!

kmessinger 10-24-2012 11:11 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
Quote:

Originally Posted by kmessinger
I have two awning type windows on the right side. One replaced the original glass that was in the door and the other is in the next panel. As far as I know, it does not have a limiter. It would be a good idea.
Regards,
Keith

thanks for the input Keith.
maybe since your build was an early Sprinter conversion SMBW added the limiters later on after some windows got hit when customers didn't close them enough.
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

I think I would still go with the awning. It is better in the rain.
As soon as I forget one day and break it with the door I will probably change what's left of my mind.

Presley and I will be camping tonight in the Tehachapi area. Love my SMB!

windguy 10-24-2012 01:59 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kmessinger
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
Quote:

Originally Posted by kmessinger
I have two awning type windows on the right side. One replaced the original glass that was in the door and the other is in the next panel. As far as I know, it does not have a limiter. It would be a good idea.
Regards,
Keith

thanks for the input Keith.
maybe since your build was an early Sprinter conversion SMBW added the limiters later on after some windows got hit when customers didn't close them enough.
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

I think I would still go with the awning. It is better in the rain.
As soon as I forget one day and break it with the door I will probably change what's left of my mind.

Presley and I will be camping tonight in the Tehachapi area. Love my SMB!

thanks Keith. Have a great trip!

I'm sure there are advantages to both styles of vents for windows.
My question was targeted more about having a ventable window on the sliding door.
I gather most builds are done with a fixed window for the slider.

Chumley 10-24-2012 04:14 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Steve, I am always glad to be able to help another member. You apparently experienced an instantaneous coffee sinus irrigation, sounds like it can be painful. Dr. Oz recommends using a neti pot for routine sinus irrigation but if you've got coffee, some time and some spare room on your keyboard then... Glad I could help.

Keith and Windguy, the windows on the passenger side can be confusing. I thought that I was getting the window next to the sliding door with an operable vent (awning type window) with a limiter. I was then told that they didn't do it on the RB and it was a mistake. The longer wheelbase models have another window between the rear operable awning window and the sliding door and even they have limiters on them. If I were to do it again I would order the van without the factory window on the slider. I would ask SMB to install an operable awning window in the slider even though I don't remember seeing it anywhere. C.R. Laurence, who supplies the aftermarket windows to SMB, does make one and I would ask about it. I would then ask them to put in an awning window with a limiter on the rear most vent and leave the front vent fixed. This would provide the cross flow we were looking for. I did not get any recommendations from SMB about what could be done but maybe I did not express myself well or they were not thinking in this manner. Oh well.

We are heading out in a couple weeks and are really looking forward to it. We will end up heading to the Southwest via a more southerly route than usual since it is so late in the season and will try to avoid the higher mountain passes. Right now the plan is to head south and run near the Mexican border through Arizona and New Mexico to western Texas. I have never seen Texas or a saguaro cactus so look forward to this. I will be staying on the main highways since I have been warned to be careful near the border due to the Mexican drug cartel activity. I was at a meeting this morning and was told by one of the attendees that his company is issuing constant internal warnings for employees working in Texas near the border but then said that they are moving in on Atlanta due to the transportation hub status so... I met another city official that told me some pretty sad stuff about what is going on and apparently he knows quite a bit about it. Bottom line, me traveling with a pretty lady and two ankle biting dogs in what looks like a desert camo rolling command post is not going to take chances and we miss some stuff and stay on the main highways. Shame. We will head north into New Mexico and maybe see some places like Silver City and Ruidoso before heading to the Santa Fe area. I am already dreaming about the southwest red and green chile sauces. I may be spending some quality time with that porta potti after a couple days of the lava like sauce... Maybe have time to go to the Utah canyon country and hit Wheeler Peak in Nevada but who knows, we have no set plans yet.

Planning a trip with no set itinerary is why we got the Sportsmobile so we can't wait to live the dream. We have absoultely no chance to do a shakedown trip so we are going on faith that Charlie is well and ready. Also hope we know how to use everything too... I guess we'll be finding out.

Thanks.

Chumley

llamadave 10-24-2012 05:21 PM

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

I highly recommend that you camp out in your driveway a couple of nights while there is still time to fix any new problems before your trip and to make a list of other things to pack. You should test all the systems with some sleeping, cooking, washing, and the other consequences of eating (yes, bite the bullet and use the potty, and empty it). These are mostly things you need to do anyway and should not take too much extra time. Let us know how it goes.

David

windguy 10-26-2012 12:34 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chumley,
Thanks for the update on the windows.
Your trip sounds marvelous. nice area of the country to explore.
David's camp out suggestion sounds like a really good idea to me. Something to consider.
Cheers!

EMrider 10-26-2012 08:58 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
I greatly appreciate the effort to journal your SMB build process and details provided. At some point I may go with a Sprinter conversion.

But I'd also agree with the statement below:

Quote:

It's obvious Chumley is more detailed oriented than most. And, his posts can certainly lead one to think that maybe he has crossed the line at places. I think part of the issue is his near-real-time journaling of the process, without the time needed for the frustration to subside
The swings from euphoria to despair and back have been numerous. With any complex and iterative process, taking a few steps back and waiting for a process to play-out fully before rendering a verdict can be helpful.

R

kmessinger 10-26-2012 09:17 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

Oh. That "slider". Probably not. Insurance did pay for it but we don't use it that often.

Regards,

Keith

BrianW 10-26-2012 09:19 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Like most Ford SMBs, we have slider windows on the sides. I really wish they were awning windows, though, as whenever it rains we have to close the sliders, which made for some really hot nights camping this summer. My neighbor has a Roadtrek van with awning windows, and he leave them open all the time, even when his van is parked in his driveway, for airflow and to decrease musty-van scenario.

BroncoHauler 10-26-2012 09:34 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by BrianW
Like most Ford SMBs, we have slider windows on the sides. I really wish they were awning windows, though, as whenever it rains we have to close the sliders, which made for some really hot nights camping this summer. My neighbor has a Roadtrek van with awning windows, and he leave them open all the time, even when his van is parked in his driveway, for airflow and to decrease musty-van scenario.

FWIW, the awning windows that were on my SMB were nice, but they did not have screens on them, so I found that somewhat limitiing in certain cases. There were plenty of times I wanted a slider window with a screen on it.


Herb

Viva 10-26-2012 01:46 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by EMrider
The swings from euphoria to despair and back have been numerous. With any complex and iterative process, taking a few steps back and waiting for a process to play-out fully before rendering a verdict can be helpful.

I'm not sure if you're saying that Chumley should have waited to post about his build until things had "settled out" (I may be mis-reading you), but I'm glad he posted as he went along. Because that was his building experience. I've done big projects and ... yep... there are highs and lows. But that's a part of it for many people, and something to be prepared for, unless one is amongst the most laid back of prospective purchasers. A new SMB is a big purchase for most folks.

Also, I never felt that Chumley was "rendering a verdict" in the permanent way. I mean, yes, he did give his opinions and feelings, and they were not always rosy, but on the other hand I felt he was (and is) always open to (and even hopeful of) positive change. Several times he asked us what we thought, mentioned that he was waiting to see how something played out, etc. These instances, to me, indicate an open mind. Also, I felt that even as he called out mistakes and problems, he gave credit for good work and good service when he got them.

I've really enjoyed this thread and have got a lot out of it. I imagine it took a lot of time and effort on Chumley's part to keep it up, and I'm glad he took the time "as it happened."

windguy 10-26-2012 06:19 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kmessinger
Quote:

Originally Posted by windguy
If you had to do it again, would you add the awning to the slider window?

Oh. That "slider". Probably not. Insurance did pay for it but we don't use it that often.
Regards,
Keith

good to know. thanks Keith.

thanks BrianW and Broncohauler for the window input too.

Chumley 12-24-2012 01:15 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
I just realized it has been exactly 2 months since my last post here. I apologize for not keeping this thread up to date since it may have created a bit of a stir some months ago. Well it has been a while and I have some new stuff to talk about now. One of the reasons I have not been posting is because we are actually using Charlie and we love it!

So far our travels have included 2 weeks in the Southwest (actually spent 5 of those days lounging in the Alabama Hills of the Eastern Sierras here in California).



We went to the San Luis Obispo area, San Simeon State Park and Montana de Oro State Park to be exact, over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and it was just great. We had high’s in the 80’s and it was T-shirt warm into the early evening. Amazing how many families camp over the holiday weekend in this area and the campgrounds were almost all full. Quite a change from the trip to the Southwest where the late October/early November dates meant the campsites were fairly empty. We’ve done a lot of driving around and using Charlie in urban environments in general and really appreciate the short length and maneuverability but I’ll leave that for another post.

We had the opportunity to use every aspect of the van at some point during our trips. From the exploding toilet to the GoLight watching for deer and wild horses in Nevada when a problem forced us into camp late at night in Death Valley (DEF warning lights can be a killjoy – more on that in another post). We definitely found out what works for us and what more to look for (like maybe one of llamadave’s cockpit tables). We found out that the short wheelbase model works for us and wouldn’t change a thing (may be a slight overstatement). We drove over tight winding mountain roads and enjoyed ourselves doing it (ever drive over New Mexico Hwy 152 from Silver City to Hwy 25? Watch out for the big hole on the right just outside of Silver City…). Didn’t get the best mileage overall but then I if I would have spent more time on the freeways I guess the mileage would have stayed up there. Still, around 16 MPG ain’t bad for an 8,500 pound brick with duallies and a buttload of smiles. BTW: I ended up stripping off all of the identifying badges like Spenard did and it looks great and I think I got another 1 MPG with the reduced drag… If there was a road in decent condition we knew we were able to go exploring and know that at night we could retire to the womb like den in the back - on an almost king size bed, decadently watching a movie on the 22” HDTV (should’ve seen the galley some mornings, looked like a party…). Wow, so this is what it’s all about. Driving, dining, drinking and sleeping. I could get used to this. The trips were incredible and nothing but fun. Okay, so we had a couple minor annoyances but that is another post.

Lots of incredible experiences and wonderful use from the big smiling Charlie -ever notice how the front kind of looks like it has a big grin? Let me tell you about why things worked for us and why I had to push for my design at times when SMB’s experience indicated that things might work better another way.

I’ll start at the front of the van. No, actually, let me go back and thank SMB for actually building this van the way I wanted. I am sure that those of you that have read this entire thread know that I rode a roller coaster for a couple months getting to this point, and unfortunately the silly problems aren’t over yet (another post), but I have the greatest appreciation for the advice I received during the design process. I really appreciate the way that this van performs and looks and SMB made it that way. I made some changes to one of their base designs (RB110S) and it just really works for us and makes getting through the work week tough due to the anticipation of getting out on the open road somewhere. Okay back to the functional aspect of the van starting at the front.

I’ll start with the entertainment and navigation center. We absolutely love almost all aspects of the Kenwood 6990 head unit which acts as the entertainment center and GPS. I did have to make a felt mask to cover the screen (that doesn’t dim acceptably for my night driving) and solved the biggest problem. You may want to ask about the ability to switch off the display for night driving if this might be a concern for you too.


Having the stereo installed with the upgraded speakers up front was the right decision for us. All of the hours on the road were accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack. Having the option to easily use the iPod controls, that actually worked, and then switch to satellite radio offered endless hours of music and entertainment, and leading up to and including election night, all of the news we could ever ask for... We had to turn the sub-woofer down pretty low because it is mounted all the way in the back under our couch/bed – right under the dog’s normal roost. The sub-woofer is very powerful and it really booms back there so we were worried that the dogs were about to get tinnitus. We really didn’t practically need all of that low range anyway. I remember seeing Genesis play “Squonk” live in the 70’s and it is the only thing I remember rivaling the bass coming out of that sub-woofer. The sub-woofer stays turned down and the fader is set to move most of the sound way up front since the speakers in back area really powerful too. Not real thrilled with the Bluetooth phone setup. I just seems that most of the aftermarket (heck, even factory) systems have the all too common problem of tunnel voice and breakup using the generic and not so strategically placed microphone. The incoming sound is great so it must be the mic (you can see it in the pictures on the left side of the instruments center stack next to the steering wheel). Also, right now the AM/FM radio reception really sucks but it may yet get fixed (another post). Has anyone tried a taller aftermarket antenna that might help? I am also thinking that if I can find one about a foot or more longer then I can use it as a warning feeler for the height of the van too. The GPS (Garmin) is okay but feel that it is not as good as our other portable units for our type of use. Still, easily on par with most auto manufacturer’s systems and easy to use with the touchscreen. Scrolling though the options or playlists using the touchscreen can get finniky so don’t let your fingers dry out (try that in the desert). These kinds of systems don’t work well for me when my fingertips approach the moisture and texture of tusk. Slight glitch in the GPS is a complete system lock up when we switch to a certain screen view but we hope reprogramming will fix that. No problems getting satellites for the satellite radio or the GPS even in the canyons we spent time in. Watching a movie in the back with the sound piped through the sound system was awesome, decadent. Very happy overall with the audio visual package, just waiting for a couple of tweaks. Would do it all over again, except the Bluetooth cellphone aspect (I believe it’s standard so no big deal).

The Leather steering wheel cover makes a huge difference to me so really like having it installed. The company (Wheelskins) did not make one for the Sprinter but a cloth tape measure and two tries (I blew the first measurement) got the special order cover just right. You have to stitch it on and it usually takes me about an hour to install and my fingertips are sore for a couple days from pushing the needle through the eyelets and pulling the thread tight. This installation doesn’t look as good as usual this time since there is some puckering at the wheel spokes but it feels very good in the hands when driving. It makes the steering wheel noticeably thicker and has nice grip.

The seats have been recovered in leather and are very comfortable. So far the light tan color in the center of the seats is holding up quite well with just a little darkening over the last 6,600 miles.

I want to mention the GoLight up top. It is controlled by a small remote control and it is just awesome. Driving at night it helped see far enough off to the sides that I was not as worried about deer and wild horses as usual. The wife enjoyed looking for wildlife on the very remote 2 lane highways through Nevada. Using it in camp is very handy when you want to go outside and then just turn off the lights and look at the stars for a while knowing that if need be you can blind yourself with light with a push of a button. That light is really cool. Be forewarned, it annoys other people if you accidentally turn it on and it is pointed anywhere near someone for just a moment…

The next step back takes us to the cabinet right behind the driver which is one of those things that makes me smug happy.

It allows us to feel like the front is very open. I don’t get the sense that there is anything right behind me while driving and my wife can look out the little window too. It has kind of turned into that entry table that you toss the keys on so you always know where things will be. There is a little galley shelf hanging from the microwave shelf that works really well. There is a hockey puck light in the bottom of the microwave shelf that is focused on the countertop and lights up the galley shelf perfectly too. This area is one of those details that I borrowed from the example on the SMB website (RB110S modified) and it just makes me happy every time we use it since it is just so handy. I gave up a full height closet in the original plan but haven’t missed it yet (maybe a business trip will show the need but until then…). Besides, where would the microwave have gone? A low drawer for silverware on top is perfect for just that and the three remote controls that came with the build. Did I mention that the Kenwood comes with a remote control? There is a large drawer below the silverware drawer and it holds all of the major cooking stuff. We got very lucky and found a set of pots and pans that nest perfectly. A 3 quart sauce pan nests into the 8(6?) quart pot that sits in a 10” non-stick skillet. All heavy duty multi-ply stainless steel clad that really works well on the very hot stovetop. I have a knife roll that keeps my nice knives safe and there is still room for plates and bowls and the darn cutest stainless steel miniature kettle. I have to say that I got real lucky in how everything fits but then I guess I would have spent a lot of time, if necessary, to get it right since room is at such a premium. Below the big drawer is the propane heater. The heater makes quite a bit of noise so I am glad it is at the other end of the van, away from the bed. It took a while to burn off some oils or sawdust so it smelled for a while (one night it mysteriously set off the smoke alarm too…). I keep an extendable handle window washer and squeegee right behind the driver’s seat where Velcro on the handle keeps it tight to a strip of Velcro on the countertop edge, very handy.

The shower and toilet enclosure is right behind that low cabinet and countertop. I love it. It is 35” long and 24” wide on the inside. The bi-folding door is plenty big for access and has a couple of mirrors on the outside for those vanity checks. The enclosure has a big window that has the regular blind and a waterproof roll-up one that cover it. I pushed SMB to make the interior window trim out of the same FRP (fiber reinforced plastic) sheeting as installed on the walls and it works to keep the inevitable shower spray off the blinds and running down behind the wall panel, I am glad I did. The stall is just big enough for us to do our business comfortably and move around taking a (brief) shower.

The shower controls are down low but are not really a problem considering my back problems (I don’t take a shower first thing in the morning when I am really stiff). The one thing I will say is that the flat plate water heater is a bit of a chore to get working right. We do not have the high idle option (that may have been a mistake) since we got the generator. With the engine idling it does not seem to generate enough heat in the engine to really heat the water well enough for a comfortable shower. Our solution has been to have one of us rev the engine while we are showering and want hot water. Our shower routine has been to use some waterless shower soap and lather up real good. We then just rinse it all off and feel very nice and clean. God I love that feeling when on the road and camped out for a few days. The toilet is a porta-potty and I have come to really like it. I won’t try to open a debate between a marine toilet with black water tank and the porta-potti but I will say that I have got the system down for emptying and cleaning the system pretty well. On a recent trip I watched another Sprinter based RV come up and dump its black water tank and clean up. I was much quicker and when I put everything back in the van everything was very clean (I rinse the holding tank at least 3 or 4 times). Just my take on the deal. So here is one I give all of you for your enjoyment. We started the day in Tucson, Arizona, (approx. 4,000 feet) and ended the day in Silver City, New Mexico (approx. 5,900 feet elevation). We set up camp and I have my first beer, a mighty good and quick beer. So after a bit nature calls so I go in and use that beautiful Thetford Curve. In case you don’t know how it works the flush valve is on the side of the toilet about half way down. So I tinkle in the bowl and lean over to open the valve, with the top up so I can see if the bowl is flushed clean. I swing the lever and there is a pop and a flash, or something, and I scream like a little girl. So if you search the internet and type in Thetford Curve and altitude you will get an explanation. Hmmm… So I take a shower and rinse down the entire enclosure for good measure. This is where I notice that the shower pan is not entirely drained and holding good bit of water. We are dead nuts level so I guess I will discuss this in another post…

Across the shower enclosure is the galley.

We have the stove mounted over the Isotemp refer (CR100). The refer really works well. It is very quiet and it keeps a very steady temperature. We have had to adjust it back up a few times since it tends to get cold and have frozen a couple of the extra water bottles we use for thermal mass. Great size efficiency. Did I mention its quiet?

The stove is amazing and it boils 8 quarts of water in no time. I love pasta so this was something I was really concerned about but it is no problem. We can get a pound of pasta cooked without any lag time making it soggy. Cook sauce and have it simmering while boiling pasta, too much! The sink is great to have and it works fine. Under the sink is cabinet space that now houses my travel bar in a padded stand up box big enough for 6 bottles of wine and spirits. Overhead is a cabinet upper that extends over the sink and ends before the stovetop. There is a hockey puck light over the sink and a regular swivel fixture with LED lamp pointed down at the stovetop (or out the door to the ground). It is built into the rest of the cabinet upper set and is not tacked on like before the rebuild. Okay, now I have to comment on the countertop. Originally it was black and had no backsplash. During the rebuild I had to go to a brown with speckles and it is actually a very nice color and happy we made the change. A bone of contention and a real struggle with SMB was to get a full length backsplash around the countertop. I was told they don’t do them because people accidentally rip them off using them as a grab handle. I am here to say that SMB is right and several have tried to grab the backsplash but I cannot imagine the kitchen area without it. I am glad I insisted on it. It keeps stuff from falling off the back and I don’t know how some of you do it. It keeps my bottles up there when I’ve turned the van into a party room.

I love and need that backsplash and will make a sheetmetal cover for the backsplash with a sign stating “No Grab” on it to keep it intact. The other thing I really like is the flip up countertop extension. It makes the whole kitchen area workable since it is so tight. What it has also done is turned into a desktop. My wife turned the passenger seat around and slid it up close to the flip up top and she worked from there during our trip. I wonder if we can declare this as office space and write it off?

Power outlet right there for her computer and light overhead and she is working while I sit comfortably in back watching TV or reading. It’s truly and amazing use of such a small space. I still can’t get over how well this all works for us.


We go to the back and there are two ottoman (now properly covered in leather) and the couch/bed. It is a very comfortable place to sit during the day. We have spent several days in there looking out the windows at Mount Whitney and reading comfortably when it was in the 30s and 40s outside in the Alabama Hills.

This area converts to a nearly king size bed that is firm but ultimately very comfortable for us. I designed the bed to be 5” longer than me and it is perfect, thank you SMB design guy. We have been very surprised at how well the van retains heat at night. We do have the extra layer of window insulation in the way of the vinyl protective covers all around the rear so that probably helps. It is also very quiet (as TonyVoudy has commented with a thousand revelers partying just outside well into the night) and feels like a womb or den. No cold air leaks on our heads as I was originally worried since the barn doors are right there too. Again, the extra protective covers likely help. We sit or lay there watching the 22” HDTV and just can’t get over it. The TV does some weird stuff with my home recorded DVDs but otherwise watching a movie knowing Mount Whitney is standing sentinel over us is one of the reasons why we did this in the first place. At Montana de Oro State Beach campground we left the top vent open (always do, at least a little) and could hear the waves pounding on the beach. Sleeping is never a problem in Charlie, especially when the bartender gets to working his shift…

So we have the PowerTech diesel generator right below the couch/bed. We run it when the batteries are getting low and have used it to run the heating element in the ac unit too. I must say that it takes some getting used to and I would not want to be camped next to somebody and run it into the evening. It is loud and it vibrates quite a bit. The dogs were very unsettled for a while but now they are used to it. Another issue is the smell of paint burning off and it has strangely persisted to this day and is quite noticeable inside. We will have the generator looked into and I will post more about it later. Good to have but prefer to use it as little as possible. Still, knowing we have the power available was what we really wanted so we are willing to pay the price, literally. Oh, another thing. There are sturdy steel posts with a set of steel wheels mounted to the trailer hitch to protect the generator and they work! I would say that in the 6,600 miles we have hit them maybe a dozen times. The generator hangs down to about 7” above the road so I am careful on driveways since it is set way back. I am impressed that those steel standoffs are working so well with no signs of bending.

Outside we have a cargo basket plugged into the trailer hitch. It is about 20” x 50” and has worked really well. We like to keep the interior uncluttered while we travel so put things like chairs, table, B-B-Q, patio rug, and the dog pen (3 sections) back there and don’t worry about it. Everything fits into a big weatherproof vinyl carry case and are strapped on and it all works really well. I can open the rear doors when there isn’t anything in the basket and could probably stand in it since it is rated for 200 pounds but maybe I’ll just play it safe for now. Only thing I worry about is that it blocks the rear license plate but so far no issues…

The awning is wonderful and there isn’t much interesting to say about it other than it works and doesn’t seem to introduce any noticeable noise when driving and it is easy to set up and take down.

So the world with Charlie is not perfect (another post) but it is just so overall convenient to go out into the driveway and fill him up with goodies and the dogs and the wife and we’re gone. Our design works very well for us, unbelievable so. I am sure your design works for you and you have all of your reasons. That is what is so special about building a Sportsmobile. You built what you want, as weird as it may be, and you don’t have to accept what some production line dictates. It’s special because it can be uniquely yours.

It is all just what we wanted. The van and the experiences.

And you get all of those people coming up to you or pointing at you as you pass by. I wonder what they are dreaming of and where they would go. I am still dreaming of places to go, and we will go there if there is a road.

Thanks for hanging in there.

Happy Holidays All!

Chumley

Spenard 12-24-2012 03:30 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Hi Chumley. Your travel photos have me envious. Our van is covered and tucked in for the winter up here. We have the Kenwood Unit as well and love the sound system. I agree the blu tooth mike is not optimal sound wise and mic location. I wonder if it was mounted to the overhead console would work better? Regarding screen brightness I would see if theres a way to change screen display colors to find a color that might be less distracting for night driving.

I would go look at mine but that would take some snow shoveling and chattering teeth waiting for van warm up with our 10 F weather. (trickle charger on the Inverter seams to be working OK

Wishing you more Happy Trails for the new year!

jage 12-24-2012 09:52 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
One GoLight covers both sides of the road for wildlife? Or was that pointing towards one side?

All of us living vicariously through you at the moment appreciate the post!

Viva 12-25-2012 09:06 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Thanks for the detailed evaluation/photos and your travel tales too!

Viva

JayBea 12-25-2012 09:30 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Hi Chumley,
Great to hear of your adventures in your new SMB Sprinter. I'm like you in that the Sportsmobile DYO experiance allows all of us to make differing choices as to our vehicle and build details yet end up happy and with a design that works for us. Whatever our needs, we don't have to accept a "off the rack" design.
Not wanting to hijack your thread, I must say that I love the space in my 2500 EB and find no problems in getting around town on even the narrowest of streets. I love our propane heat and have no lack of hot water with the Suburban water heater. Opting for solar rather than a generator gives us the quiet freedom that we desired. Our Sprinter has given us 18 to 22 mpg and, yes, we experianced the DEF panic at about 4400 miles. Fortunately we were near an interstate truck stop! I like your Kenwood and pretty much hate our Sound 5 but am holding this issue for a future upgrade.
We have given many a tour at fuel stops and rest areas and love to feel that we too are contributing to the dreams of those we see looking and pointing as we travel through their towns.
Sorry that we missed you in Silver City and glad that you missed the big hole off of NM152. By the way, traveling NM152 over the Black Range is a great example of why we love our B's. They are ment for narrow roads like this that climb and dive and twist and turn. There are many more roads like this in our great country and we will be out there with you. Maybe we will meet up some day!
Thanks for maintaining your post...
JIM

Chumley 12-28-2012 06:17 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Spenard (Dan): Thanks for the comments. I am sure you are busy planning your next trip, although being in Alaska I don't think you have to go far to have an adevnture. I lived in Juneau as a kid and I spent a lot of time walking a half mile into total wilderness and some really cool stuff (well, and uncool, like devil's club). I will probably have the bluetooth microphone removed at my upcoming 2 day repair visit at SMB West in a couple weeks. I will ask Rob to play with it a bit to try to focus it to see if that helps since it has noise cancellation and I think it considers me noise since it is not pointed at me. Wouldn't be the first thing to treat me as noise. I could not get a good color to dim the Kenwood screen, I think purple was good but not enough for my aging and spectacle wearing eyes. Rob said that he thinks he could install a switch that would turn off the display but thought that might be a bit much for me, the felt cover works fine and it cost about $1.25. I want ot thank you for getting me started down the path of removing all of the badging. I removed everything (including the hood ornament) except the Sportsmobile on the sides and the rear (also removed the ".com" on the sides) and the rear Mercedes logo on the rear doors. That rear door logo may go black like the one in front too. I painted the license plate holder and the Mercedes logo up front with some black truck bed coating. Seems to be holding up really well so far.



Jage: The GoLight is towards the front right in the center of the van. It shines forward and about 90 dgrees off to the right (blocked by awning) and more than that on the left. It doesn't shine down on the ground near the sides but works really well looking off a hundred feet or so (my guesstimate). More than anyhting it can keep someone from getting too bored staring at nothing much at night. It can be annoyingly fun in camp.

Viva: Thanks for the comment. I hope you get your van just right. I have a feeling that it will be built to a very high standard, especially if you do some of it yourself. Good luck.

JayBea: I am sorry we missed you too. We ended up rolling in fairly late (like most nights since we dawdle in the morning) and stayed at a nice place in Silver City with few guests, I was thinking you probably had a few more in your place. Still, you might have heard me scream when my toilet exploded! If we lived in a nice place like Silver City we would probably have gotten a longer wheelbase model too. Just so much to do around where I live where I have to park in a standard space.

You too are blessed by living in a really cool area. You have the history of Billy the Kid being born there in town and with the Santa Rita mine nearby even the likes of Kit Carson lived and worked there. There is so much history and beauty near you, we just loved it all. BTW: I was just awestruck looking at that big hole in the ground. It's got ot be 2 or 3 miles across? That NM152 really caught me off guard because it was so tight but it was never a problem for the van and I really got to enjoy the drive.

I am going back to SMB West to take care of some more silly stuff and it will take 2 days to repair it all. It can be so disappointing to see simple things like completely missing sealing an important part of the shower or not getting the shower pan drainage slope right. I know that even SMB is frustrated and they will fix it but I just can't keep goiing back and look forward to it being completely done at some point soon. The customer service guy is really working with me but the rest of the SMB guys have gone dark on me, I guess they are pretty frustrated.

I will have another post with the next set of problems for you to see. It's not as bad as before but surprising still.

Thanks.

Chumley

durangatangs 01-01-2013 06:00 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Hello Chumley,
I can understand how after many months of posting frequently, sometimes multiple times per day, you dropped off the radar for two months after finally taking delivery of your van. We have just finished two years of ownership of our SMB Sprinter. While in the planning stages and for the first few months after we got it we were on this forum almost every day. But over time we and the van got to know each other and figured out how to work together, and the need to visit the forum for a regular "fix" diminished. Today being New Years Day I found myself checking in for the first time in quite a while and quickly became engrossed in your saga. You certainly have had your ups and downs with SMB, and I think it's great that you shared your story, that's what this forum is all about. (Thank you Jage!) I am glad for both you and SMB West that your story seems to be on its way to a happy ending.
We did not have the luxury of frequent factory visits, since we live in Colorado. We set foot in Fresno only two times.
First time was when we dropped off the van. We bought it directly from a dealer - one of the last of the Dodge-badged vehicles from the brief unhappy marriage of Daimler and Chrysler, but a MB under the skin. So we had the vehicle and a preliminary interior design, and drove it to SMBW in July 2010 to deliver it for its makeover, see the factory, and finalize the design. We didn't see it again until we picked it up just before Christmas that year. During those six months we felt exactly like expectant parents. We pestered the staff for photos, which were slow in coming. One of my prime suggestions to them (had they asked - we never did get the post-delivery survey that their website claims they send) would be to find a high-school kid who needs a little spending money and pay them to walk around the factory once a week taking photos and sending them to the owners to keep them up to date. We had to rely on our salesman to do it, and he was busy selling new units - not a lot of time to expend on those of us who were already on the hook. I envy you your ability to visit frequently in person!
Our second visit was the week before Christmas 2010, to take delivery. The van was beautiful, the orientation was overwhelming, we drove away dizzy with euphoria and immediately started having questions because there was just too much to take in all at once. We went to Yosemite for a few days and made a list of questions/issues. We called them, they said come on back. We went in and they swarmed us with workers, taking care of several small but important fixes, while we got supplemental training on a couple of things. We headed home, happy. Got as far as Tehachapi California, where we spent the night. In the morning we climbed up front and started to roll. Immediately water poured out of the maplight console in the ceiling between the front seats. [I sooo identify with how you felt when your heater vent spewed water!] Mr Durangatang opened up the sunglass cubby, more water poured out. Dropped the whole console, it was soaking wet up there. Called SMBW they said come on back, so we did. They conducted a thorough check for leaks and found none. The problem was determined to be condensation. We had Dynamat installed throughout for soundproofing, and I guess it also acts as a vapor barrier. While we were in Yosemite and during our first re-visit to Fresno, the area was having a 100-year Rain Event, so we had kept everything buttoned up tight, and the humidity was about 300%. Combined with the Dynamat vapor barrier, large amounts of moisture had collected in the roof space and found its way out through the maplight console. Lesson learned: leave a window or the fan cracked, even if it's cold and/or wet outside. Since we've been doing that, no further moisture problems.
I'm glad to hear that your van is starting to live up to your expectations. Ours certainly has. Of course Mr Durangatang (an engineer and talented all-around handyman) has made a number of changes and improvements, some small some not so small, and always seems to have a project in the planning stage or underway. But none of that can be laid at SMB's door. The only big thing they did that we've changed was they installed our Espar heater with the exhaust coming out the rear driver side, such that when our awning window was open (to prevent excessive condensation) the fumes came directly into the interior. We had that re-routed by an Espar specialty shop in Oregon and it's ok now. And hey, that was good for a road trip to Crater Lake National Park and the Oregon Coast, so what's to complain about?
I guess my point in posting is to encourage you (and your wife - this is gal to gal) to stick with it. Your problems were way beyond anything we had to deal with but I'm betting that things will smooth out in time and you will end up loving your van. In our two years with our SMB we've put on 43,000 miles (at 19.5 mpg) and had many unforgettable experiences. (I've just uploaded some new pix to our gallery - thanks for motivating me to do that and I hope you enjoy them.) Some people, when they retire, they buy a condo in Florida. We decided to buy a SMB instead, and our retirement home is wherever it's parked. Hope to meet you on the road some day. :a3:

Chumley 01-06-2013 06:52 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
This post is about the Mercedes Sprinter van itself. I felt that the platform deserved a post of its own, it was one of the major decisions I had to make when deciding what I wanted in a Sportsmobile. For “Class B motorhomes” (if motorhomes is what we can agree to call our rigs) we appear to be moving towards a shrinking number of platform choices and within that limited selection the Sprinter is available only with 2 wheel drive while most of the others offer the option of 4 wheel drive, albeit at a premium. I guess I may not have embraced the Nissan yet, forgive me. We all have our reasons for selecting our platform and they are uniquely right for us so only you can tell if you made the right or wrong choice. Only we will ever know if we made the wrong choice. So why do some of us choose the Sprinter platform?

Here is my completely unbiased and objective review of the Mercedes Sprinter van platform (uh-huh). It is surprisingly all pretty good! As a person who admittedly never even considered a Mercedes before, due to a long history with supposedly more “performance oriented” autos, I am impressed with the overall driving experience – of an 8,500 pound van! From handling to acceleration to fuel mileage it all belies its size.

I guess I should start at the beginning, when I ordered the van. I made specific choices when ordering the van and it was purchased through Sportsmobile. At the time it was a gesture to allow Sportsmobile to make an extra buck and save me some extra legwork. This choice can leave you without the aid of a dealership salesman, who may or may not have been helpful. The Sprinter seems to be an interesting addition to the normal Mercedes Benz dealership routine and I have had to weave my way through staff to find the right folks to talk to. I have learned a lot but it was funny to see some of the staff struggle so much with seemingly basic information on what is likely their most basic vehicle. I now speak with the Sprinter service foreman and he is a wealth of knowledge.

The color of the van I have is Pebble Grey. I have no idea where the grey comes into play but I just don’t see it anywhere. What we have is similar to the Ford van beige or tan color. It’s a very subtle color but definitely more towards the tan with some yellow but no grey in evidence to me. We love it and I think it looks really nice with the black trim and wheels. Basically the van is two tone except for some minor chrome in the way of the rear Mercedes logo and the headlight reflectors. Simple and uncluttered. It is fun overhearing people saying that the thing is a Sportsmobile made by Mercedes… oh, and I added AMG license plates frame to further confuse matters.

Ordering options, man there are a lot of options. I deviated from the Sportsmobile listed items and added some of my own and they did order them for me but I took responsibility for them. A mistake on my part was ordering the “daytime running lights” and then compounding it by adding the light sensor for automatic headlight operation. I complicated my van order by breaking up standard SMB options packages to get what I wanted - they are still offered in a way that you can order them together so beware and ask questions. The daytime running lights are just simply the headlights on all of the time, unless you learn the secret handshake and learn to turn the lights off at the switch. Arriving at a campsite when dark and then leaving the engine running to park and level can leave you with less than thrilled neighbors. It was actually pretty funny at Death Valley but… it wasn’t nice. Don’t need the light sensor if the lights are always on, oh well. You can turn off the headlights if you switch the controls to “parking lights” but this will still leave the parking lights, tail lights and license plate lights on.

If you are ordering the van with the factory windows in the sliding door and the rear doors and having SMB add any new windows take the factory tinted window option, that’s my suggestion. This is now offered by SMB on their order form for only $117 (thanks to your’s truly) instead of a window film tint job for $85/window or $255 total. The factory window tint would be a deal at twice the price.

Ordering the 3500 vs the 2500 was perfect for us. The ride is very nice and the thing handles like a big car. I am always pleasantly surprised how well it does when entering a series of medium or high speed corners and how it doesn’t understeer like I expected. The brakes deserve mention, they work flawlessly and I have never felt any fade. They have very good feel and just flat out haul the big beast down to a stop when you want it to. I am not saying you can drive carelessly and expect to stop safely every time, just that they do their job and provide a margin of safety not normally expected for such a big vehicle. We have been in crosswinds which were reportedly spiking at 75 miles per hour driving next to Owens Lake in the Eastern Sierras coming in from Death Valley (Nov. 8th I believe). While I don’t think we were hit by the highest speeds we were shaken by some very very high wind gusts and it did nothing more than shake us and create total white out conditions at times when the dust blew in off of the dry lakebed. We did not wander around our lane and took little more than some mild steering correction during the worst gusts (or was I just bracing myself on the steering wheel?). I think that the dual rear wheels and the “high gravity center suspension package” option (package “PS1” when we ordered it) really did the job. The combination of ride, handling, and stability are just amazing for a van this big and tall. This is a testament to the German engineering that can work magic to make big feel small and practical.

The above noted praise for the handling and ride was not always the case. It always handled surprisingly well but there were distracting issues too. I had to have another wheel alignment performed since the rig either came from the factory out of spec or the alignment that Sportsmobile said they had performed did not help enough or maybe put it out of spec (?), I have no way of knowing. This could be an example of possible issues for me regarding buying the van from Sportsmobile instead of a local dealer since I could not go back for a proper alignment. But then SMB did effect the balance dramatically so it may not have been covered by the factory. I had the front camber adjusted and that really made the steering feel weighty and stable and it greatly improved straight line stability, it had felt like it was on its “tippy toes” and wanted to wander. Moving from positive camber to neutral or slightly negative camber up front really made a huge difference. During that front end work I also fixed one of the most incredible situations of the tires being out of balance and one of the worst the shop had ever seen. This was not a complete surprise since it is very well commented on in the “Sprinter Source” forum. One tire was disposed of since it was likely defective (that’s another issue with buying from Sportsmobile – the dealer is several hundred miles away) and the other is now in storage as a spare (really only as a last resort). As I mentioned previously in this thread, if the steering feels less than really stable or wanders or there is unusual vibration my recommendation is to get to a reputable alignment shop that can handle rigs of our size. For over a thousand miles I was convinced that driving in the far right lane in California (where heavy trucks are mandated to drive) caused the incessant vibration due to road wear but it turned out to be the tires. All in all night and day difference.

The towing package came in handy since it was ultimately used to help protect the generator and now also carries our cargo basket. It is cheaper to have it installed by the factory from my experience.

The engine is just wonderful. It runs so smooth that it can be deceiving. It is a diesel but it is easy to forget. I love the sound of the turbos spooling up and the acceleration is very respectable for a van this size and with its weight. I wonder how quick they are when empty? There have been only a few occasions where I wished we had more power and it was only when going up long steep grades at highway speeds but those occasions were few and far between. I don’t get the higher mileage some you do but I am still happy with my 16 mpg. I do have the lower gearing (higher axle ratio), dual rear tires, and a heavy build so I am not surprised. Doesn’t help that this thing is very comfortable at higher speeds so tend to drive well over 65 when it is allowed and safe…

One of the interesting things this engine uses is Mercede’s BlueTEC diesel technology. This includes the wonderful fluid that I now carry an extra half gallon of whenever we travel. It’s amazing since I cannot smell diesel exhaust even when near the van but it can also be a bit of a pain. I was initially told that I would have enough “Adblue” diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to get me to 9,500 miles (1st service). My assumption is that he must have thought that I had the under vehicle full size +5 gallon tank and not the 3.2 gallon under hood tank I had (most of you have). Just to be safe I bought a small bottle of Adblue which is ½ gallon for about $15. So we are literally in the middle of nowhere (between Page, AZ and Kanab, AZ) and the warning message pops up telling me to check the DEF level. This scared the crap out of me since I had read about the warning and the countdown starts. But we only had about 4,300 miles on the odometer, didn’t we have another 5,000 miles to go? There is no cell phone coverage so no service tech help so I pull over and add the Adblue. Pretty cool installation with the screw on bottle and all. But the warning doesn’t go away, even with a reset, so we continue driving. I get to Kanab and finally get someone at the dealership and they tell me more about the warnings and then the countdown. I am informed that the actual countdown begins with 40 starts left but that they are not a linear countdown. Depending on how you drive it could go from 25 to 21 starts depending on how the computer thinks you’re doing. Crap, we were several hundred miles from the nearest Mercedes dealer and we hadn’t even seen another Mercedes for days. I am told that the major auto parts stores now have the fluid, where is a major store around Kanab? Long story short the warning goes out the next morning but comes back on again about 800-900 miles later. There are a few contradictions, mysteries and inconveniences surrounding the whole Adblue thing. I am told you can’t check the fluid level yourself, only the dealer can check it. There is a label in the engine compartment that states to add a minimum of 2 gallons of Adblue whenever adding it. Not sure how that works when your tank only holds 3.2 gallons and it is sold in .5 and 1.5 (?) gallon quantities by Mercedes. I am told that there are three sensors, one for the warning, one for the countdown warnings and then when it just shuts down the engine operation. I would like to know more about what level each one is set. I get about 850 miles from a .5 gallon bottle and it is easy to store so it goes everywhere now. What I have learned is that when the check DEF level warning comes on just put a half gallon in and go to the dealer for a fill up. The fill up was only about $35 bucks or so so it’s not worth stressing over. I guess you can buy the DEF made by others and sold at parts stores but Mercedes worries me so I will stick with their stuff unless absolutely necessary.

Another engine note is that I should have thought more about getting the adjustable high idle option. Our flat plate water heater does not get very warm when the engine is just idling. Considering that either my wife or I could rev the engine I am not completely sure I would add the complexity to the van but I have not heard of any problems with it either. The generator takes care of our battery charging needs so it would be the only reason to have it. Something to think about if we did it again.

There are little things like the automatic windshield wipers that I ordered separately from a standard SMB package. The system works better than any other automatic windshield wiper system I have had. Rarely does it get too wet before the wipers kick in however I have had the wipers kick on when there was no moisture, maybe a bug on the sensor. The swiveling seats up front were well worth the cost for us. Basically ordering everything heavy duty is normal for me so we have everything heavy duty and it doesn’t feel that way. I guess the heavy build smoothes out everything.

Other than the tinted windows, daytime running lights, and maybe adding the adjustable high idle I wouldn’t change a thing. This big van turns on a dime, stops on a dime plus change, handles more like a minivan, and goes like it was half the size.

The Sprinter van is a wonderful platform and if it meets your needs I am just preaching to the choir.

Thanks.

Chumley

Chumley 01-06-2013 07:20 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
durangatangs,

Being really busy and using the van can surely keep you from posting on this forum. I lurked a bit but just did not have the time to participate. I feel a bit guilty that I have not chimed in on the threads that so many of the great members have started but I hope to have more time soon. I still have a couple more posts I want to get done on this thread and just seem to be a bit too busy.

Our build is within a week of being complete, I hope. I go back in for 2 days of finishing/correction and repairs. I know that everyone must have some sort of little problem with their build, I was just blessed with a few more... :a1: All the better to get to know the SMB staff, all really good people.

We absolutely love Charlie and we will do what it takes to make sure he is all well and operating normally. I believe that SMB feels the same way and has never shied away from doing the right thing. I just wish they would do it from my driveway... I can dream can't I?

I agree that having someone routinely walking around and sending progress pictures would be huge for some of us. I was lucky and could go myself, not everyone can though. I have gotten to know most of the management at SMB West and know that each one is good at what they do. I believe my build was really an anamoly but it shows that any company can swing and miss once in a while. They just have to shake things up and get back to the plate and not let it happen again. I will share some more in another post.

It sounds like you are like most SMB owners and have had very few problems and would not trade them for a condo. Just being able to go somewhere and sit for a day and read or look around is great and that is just a basic use without getting anything dirty. When we use these things to their fullest they really can get you away, at least well away from those chores at home.

Thanks for the post.

Chumley

Spenard 01-07-2013 08:26 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
:a3: Hi Chumley, I agree with your assessment of the Mercedes Sprinter. They handle really really well and it has a short turning radius. And cheers to SMB and MB-we do not have a single rattle when traveling on washboard roads except when the refer is empty.

I also agree with your description of the color of your van (we have the same color) but, I think its called "Stone Grey" @ MB, not Pebble Grey -either way it is definitely not grey but is very subtle and blends in nicely when camping regardless of weather or locale (ours has been from Yosemite to Homer, Ak so far) it even looks good coated with Denali Highway mud- LOL. We vanity plated our van Alces2 (latin for Moose) because of the color and the tall van profile.

We have 7K miles on our 2012 2500 PH and have not had any DET message. Our 2500 appears to have the DET tank inside the frame at the sliding door so maybe it has more capacity. The auto sensor on the windshield occasionally surprises us with a single swipe when we turn into the sun when the sun is down low.

Our only noticeable quality complaint about the MB design is the plastic shield on the parking brake lever. Bump it with your foot or grab it too low and it immediately comes apart and is fussy to put together again.

Hope you get everything fixed next week

Happy Trails for 2013 :u1:

Chumley 01-08-2013 02:06 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Spenard,

The sprinter really is an impressive van. The only thing missing is the 4x4 option but then that could open up a debate about how practical it would be. I could see it in the low top with penthouse but the high top would be something else to see, and drive.

One of the things that I am having addressed is the rattles in the van. I don't think that the Mercedes is rattling, just some of my build. It is a complex build and am happy that rattles as little as it does on smooth roads but it can really start to act up on rough roads and being in back is not much fun. I envy the rattle free ride you have but then I might only be an appointment away from just that. This will be a big week.

The color is actually "pebble grey" and it is one of the basic colors offered (no additional charge) but for some reason it is in the "metallic" section of the paint listing (all other paints in that category are an upcharge?). I have looked very closely and can see no hint of metallic flakes but then it does seem to shift colors a bit so maybe there is some metallic finish to it but not at all apparent. It looks like cream in color really. The color in my photos are fairly true and it does look a little yellowish, no grey. Some backstory here: when my rig was in for the build some new customers saw it and liked the way it looked so ordered it. This was new to SMB West since it was never or rarely ordered before mine. SMB said that was likely because not many had seen the color and many people buy a color they have seen at their shop or somewhere else in person. SMB had a lot of stone grey and grey white vans waiting outside and on their floor and that is what I saw but went for the pebble grey after some research. Thoise two other greys were very nice and we very nearly ordered one of them since they were so nice but stopped to get another take on the available colors. I believe that this is where Mercedes does themselves a dis-service. The color (pebble grey or the differences between stone and white grey) is not well represented on the website and it is virtually impossible to get a printed brochure nowadays. I harassed Mercedes customer service enough that they sent me a 2 year old catalog so I could see the printed paint chips. I tried to explain to them that I had a calibrated color monitor and it looked different on that one compared to the wonderful Apple monitor, which was different from my iPad, so how could anyone expect to see the subtle difference between the colors they were selling unless they had a brochure or went to the dealer and saw one? It paid off for me and I am very happy with our color. I think that TonyVoudy and you might have the same color (he called it wet cement) which we came close to choosing but then I do like the subtle colors myself.

Living in Alaska I bet it is sure nice to have that larger DEF tank. I think the small 3.2 gallon tank would have you carrying more Adblue around than you would want to.

At this point I would like to comment that the other thing I have noticed is that the van is really well put together. I have driven it on some dirt roads, not much admittedly but then it doesn't take much washboard to liberate fasteners. I live in an area where county roads predominate and they are not as well maintained as some other roads. You get used to it but these roads will eventually find a rattle or squeak not normally noticable in town. The Mercedes is well put together. The other thing is that as much as I am leering of the Mercedes quality the engine has been nothing but rock solid in the 7,000 miles we have put on it in the last 3 months. I would say about 2/3 of it was on long trips but even a lot of those miles included hard working mountain and urban miles. The rest of the miles have been regular around town driving. Stop and go traffic, surface streets, parking, etc... Nothing to mention about the engine and powertrain except that when it is cold I notice that I can't back up our hill very well. Dealer suspects that this might be related to a cold engine and the turbos not working until a little warmer so the normally aspirated engine doesn't want to back up the steep hill in front of my house.

I won’t say that the Sprinter is perfect. I have found some cosmetic issues and there is evidence that Mercedes and its practice of dis-assembling the van and re-assembling it when shipped to the US leaves it with some blemishes. But I think MB looks at this as a working man’s truck and forgets about us who turn these things into pretty luxurious homes away from home or luxury transport vehicles.

I will admit though, I have plans on getting a SMB Ford 4x4 some day. I guess it needs to be sooner than later since Ford is about to eliminate the vans as we know them from their lineup. Oh well.

Thanks.

Chumley

Chumley 01-13-2013 08:09 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
This should be one of my last posts in this thread that deals with the actual build of my Sprinter based SMB. I hope we can keep this thread alive with the experiences of others - yours. Post on things that may not have gone as well as wanted or how things were done better than expected and why it went so well or not so well. How will others learn without doing it the hard way if we don’t share our experiences?

My build has surely been a roller coaster ride. This thread went from a predicted 10-12 posts to me reporting almost ten months later. With so many of us planning for years maybe it’s just tough to let go of the build process…

Our van has already been in for one long day of repairs a couple months back (check about 2/3 down on page 9 of this thread for a full report). My disposition is different this visit, you may notice some distinct "tone of disappointment" in my previous repairs visit post. Reason? First, we have had a lot of enjoyable times since then and have already built some great memories traveling and staying in Charlie. Second, my wife and the dogs have come to fully appreciate what Charlie delivers when we’re on the open road or even near home. Third, the repairs are for things that were never more than an inconvenience and I can live with that. I empty the van of all of that stuff we usually carry and get Charlie ready to visit some old friends.

This is (I hope) the last trip for completion of items or corrections from the original build. The issues were numerous enough that SMB requested that I leave the van overnight. SMB was very accommodating on this trip and I greatly appreciated it. The last visit for repairs I felt like I was being treated as I had by some of the car dealerships I had dealt with in the past. That feeling was like they were going to fix the problem, because they had to, but there was no concern for the extreme inconvenience it had caused. This time was different and it went well.

Let me back up and tell you a little bit about the normal repair routine at SMB West. You call in and report a problem, they route you to the “Customer Service Department” and you get a nice guy who knows these builds inside out. He goes over you concerns and you set up a mutually convenient date for an appointment and he tells you about what you can do while you wait (you rent a car and go for a drive or their driver will drop you off somewhere for the day). A few days later you will receive a “Work Order/Estimate” from one of the front office staff. Your work may be covered under warranty or you have an estimate for costs. You review the paperwork and you agree to that and you have a date. Simple. Of course I always seem to find something more and call or write in and add more stuff and get a revised work order.

This work order had 14 line items. This sounds like a lot but it really isn’t, they break down each item into individual components so items like my question about the generator turned into three separate line items and even protecting the van’s interior has its own line item. By the time I got to the appointment (it took almost 1 1/2 months to finally get in, my fault) a few items had worked themselves out but then I added more too.

When I get to SMB West I am met by “Curt” who works in quality control. The normal Customer Service guy is sick and is self-quarantined, thanks. The customer service guys will be working on the repairs this visit. The last time I was in they had production guys working on the repairs as well as the customer service crew but there is no upholstery work this time and only one item might need their help. From what I gather the customer service guys are more renaissance men and not production types so have a variety of skills to get it done right. This makes sense since a correction is usually the second time something is being worked on and might as well get it done right and out of your hair.

So the first item is the one that had caused me the greatest concern. The shower stall had not been completely sealed during the original build. The area at the front of the stall, right where the improperly sloped filler panel sat, had not been sealed at all. Looking down on it you could see that the edge nearest the door had no caulking and then when I leaned down to take a closer look I saw that the entire front edge had also been missed.



The shower had been used maybe a dozen times and we had not noticed the water leak until the end of our long trip. We had typically had some towels on the floor since we worried that the dogs might get car sick (never happened) and they liked to dig and circle to make a bed (it’s a dog thing) so towels give them something that they can work with. These towels also hid the previous leaks would be my guess. So now we see water on the rug and a stain to go with it. The poor rug also got soaked during the water line leak in the same place. The agreement was that the area would be opened up and a fungicide would be sprayed in, if necessary, and it would be closed up and sealed properly. It was opened up and we found a piece of plywood nailed in place so we could not have seen what was under it without extensive removal and then repair work. I had started the day saying that the mantra of the day would be “to do no harm”. That meant that we would evaluate every repair and if the repair seemed likely that it would create additional damage we would possibly skip it. So we looked at the plywood and I said to leave it in place and we would hope that the area under there was clean enough that it would not support fungus and mold. My understanding is that mold would need something organic to live on and I am hoping that there is none, except some soap and skin flakes… so the first item will be repaired by installing a new filler panel up front and it will be properly sloped to drain.

This is actually two separate items being repaired at the same time. Placing a new filler piece in the front of the shower sloped so that water would not collect was left over from the last repair session. They also provided a new rug since the old one was stained. At the last moment I thought about trying to just clean the rug kit but it was too late and had already been made, oh well. First item(s) went well.

I had a problem that goes back to the last day of the van pickup and orientation. The blind that goes behind the shower stall and the little cabinet area below the microwave did not have a guide string, it broke or was removed. That guide string is there to keep the blind folding up properly and not springing out like it was.

There was some difficulty and “Curt” actually acted quite disappointed at one point thinking that the repair failed but they did get it fixed properly. They had a sting break but the hard working guys in customer service fixed it. It works better than before and slides up and down more easily. Second item is done.



They cut in a vent for the refrigerator. Someone missed the item in the instructions that stated that a low vent was necessary as well as a high vent for Isotemp refrigerators. They cut in a second vent and that was done. Also of note: Curt said that the Isotemp line is getting more attention which he said is good. Apparently they are quieter than the standard Norcold.

I had noticed that the diesel generator was running rough on one trip. It was between 20 to 30 degrees out for a couple days and when we put a load on the generator it ran very roughly. We have run it a couple times since and the problem seems to have gone away and it runs much more smoothly and the paint odor has gone away. I realized that SMB West turned the generator 90 degrees to the normal installation orientation. I believe they did this to fit it in the regular wheelbase model whereas you can see it is set running the width of the van in “llamadave’s” installation in his thread. Bottom line is they got it to fit but I have a little tougher time getting to the access panel for checking it and service items. No problems.

One of the problems I noticed when the Thetford Curve threw up on me in Silver City was that the shower did not drain properly.

Reference note: my van sits almost level at rest. The original rake has disappeared and we have some sag and the leaf springs are completely flat now (I looked the rear springs are flat and the leafs are in full contact along their enitre length). When we poured water in the shower pan at the SMB shop it slowly drained with the ban sitting without being leveled. In my opinion the pan does not have enough slope, the van is still just slightly rear high (but the bubble was within the lines on the level) and likely helped. The shower pans are not adjustable and the only thing that might have been done would have been to shim it. This would mean inspecting the shower pan in a level location before installation. Something I would hope would happen in the future. Another item that might be contributing is the weight of the porta-potti and how it might have put some sag in the pan at the end furthest from the drain. So the shower pan is just too much to take out so I had agreed that we would leave it and that they would provide a squeegee for me to scrape the water out. Really not my preferred solution but under the circumstances I don’t know what else we could have done without extensive repair work. They gave me a little squeegee and this was done.

We went for a drive and Curt found several rattles. It is funny because over time you accumulate more rattles but get used to them. The build settles and things flex and next thing you know there is a lot of noise coming out of the back. Curt says that he has found a lot of them. I ask that anything that requires silicon spray to stop the rattle or squeak needs to be pointed out to me because it is only a temporary fix and then I have to spray the item myself. The drive home is the acid test and the van is much better than before. There are still a few minor rattles and squeaks but most of them require a decent bump to show up. The whole feel of quality of the van improves when the noise subsides.

The final issue was a minor leak in the coolant hose routing to the flat plate water heater. Tightening of a hose clamp fixed that. This is just a reminder to all owners since the rubber hoses have gone through some heat cycling and may need that tightening once in a while.

I left the next day at a little after 2:00 and the drive home was quite pleasurable. I feel that the van has finally been completed. I also feel that I have likely found most of the initial issues and the only thing left is to start wearing out the van – normally over the next 20 years.

Before the visit I felt that most of the upper management of SMB was tired of this build and just wanted it handled properly and fade away. I may have projected my feelings here since seeing the folks at SMB was nice and as much as they admit I am tough no one told me that I was being unreasonable and I was the first to ask them to consider not doing something under the “do no harm” philosophy. Alan Feld came out and we had a nice chat as I was leaving. We all have this sense of adventure and Alan has a big dose of it. Like so many on this board the Southwest holds a special allure for Alan, and me, and I hope to be able to pick his brain for some trip ideas in the future.

Charlie is in the driveway right now and we are thinking about our next trip, even if it is just 3 or 4 days. So where is a good place to go with good roads but remote and private site in the deserts of Southern California…?

Thanks.

Chumley

ilovegt100 01-20-2013 07:59 AM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chum,

I just 2000 miles on my break in drive and averaging 15.7 mpg at 80mph in my low top 3500. What are your average speeds like? I am just trying to gauge my economy.

Lastly, why did your curve throw up on you? I have one but only living in van for past week so no probs- u have a knack of identifying and fixing problems so the rest of us don't have to start from scratch.

From the endless road,

Ilovegt100

Chumley 01-26-2013 05:28 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Ilovegt100,

Sorry it has taken so long to respond. I got a cold or something, then got well enough to go to the Alabama Hills for 4 days (2 days travel time), then finished being sick while going to a bunch of meetings this week but it was worth it to get back out into the Eastern Sierras.

On the trip we averaged high 15 mpg on the way there (I live at 400 feet and we ended up at 4,000 feet so it was the uphill leg). We averaged low 17 mpg coming back (downhill...). On this trip we averaged as close to 70 mph as possible since most all of the hiways on the flatter stretches have 70 mph speed limits. Most of the rest of the hiways are 65 mph and include a lot of climbing and twists and turns. Note: I was trying to get good mileage so intentionally kept the speeds down. Keeping right at 70 is almost impossible on Interstate Hwy 5 since it is like a racetrack from LA to Portland and you have to frequently pass packs of cars like colsterol artery cloggers and keep ahead of the charging buffalos while passing.

For reference: I am running the tires at 65 psi right now. I have not weighed the rig but I read in the paperwork that it was about 8,400 pounds, I still need to take it to a scale somewhere to confirm. Fully loaded I might add another 500 pounds at most (includes my wife, dogs, supplies and water - let's make that 700 lbs with me included). We do travel fairly light, although I might not be. The 3500 has the lower gearing and the dual rear tires (which I believe you have too) which compounds the mileage challenge. Add in a high top and that weight and...

I have now resigned myself to the fuel mileage number around 16 mpg. Since I only get 18 mpg in my Toyota Tacoma 4wd it is close enough that I sometimes just jump in the van and drive it when I am driving to the next town. Overall it's okay with me but the cost of diesel is the real factor. Why is it so high now vs gasoline?

The Thetford Curve threw up on me because it seals so well that when going to altitude it holds air pressure. As we climbed a couple thousand feet one trip it built up pressure and I didn't think about it (well, I didn't know about it yet) and opened the valve when I was leaned over it. When the air escaped it took some liquid waste fluids for a ride with it. Basically a pot of piss blew up in my face. I hope it will be the last time that ever happens but sometimes I forget. This last trip I sure didn't. Also, the porta-potti never smells - it might be a combination of the Curve itself or it plus the "blue stuff" but it works. That's what matters.

I had a great time this last trip but it also exposed another problem with my Sportsmobile build. We both took showers nice hot showers on two of the evenings. As previously mentoned we use a waterless bath soap and instead of just drying off with a towel we rinse off in the shower and it feels great and clean. This way we don't use much water. This was a real plus this last trip.

This trip I found a wet spot under the van right next to the grey water tank under the shower. The drain wasn't wet so I was baffled. I went home and ran a test in the shower and this is what I observed.



Here we go again. The guys at SMB are mortified and I am flummoxed. I hope that we get this fixed easily but my confidence in my build is about shot now. It's getting harder to recover the confidence each time this happens. When does it end?

Sometime back some members expressed their thoughts that I had been too emotive and too close to the process, both in delaying the story until things would play out and "sitting on" the project and not letting SMB work things out before I found them. I understand your comments and respect them but we are all different and approach things differently. I can also see where it may seem that I got a bit too nitpicky but there was a reason for that at the time - the relationship was new and red flags had been up for a while (please see the review of problems on page 11). The whole process happens in real time and my guess is that if there had been only a couple of issues it would not have been a big deal but with the sheer number of issues I guess there are a lot of opportunities to nitpick my approach. I tried to deliver the message as it took place because that is how we live our lives. As things happen to you, if they do, then you get to feel the same emotions rise and ebb. In the end it may have been my complete honesty and this thread that helped SMB see the need to fix some things the way they did - which I appreciate but then expected too. If you are being told that you cannot get out of a build once you lay down your 20% then it should be done right. Edit: I should have previously made it abundantly clear that an offer to return my 20% deposit was made towards the end of the build becasue they didn't want an unhappy customer. This was not originally offered when I asked about opting out but I believe that they did ultimately understand that I felt trapped and had been showing obvious indications of my displeasure with the numerous ongoing issues.

So I am back being just flat out bummed about the issue at hand. I paid a lot of money for something that is not performing as promised and expected. Don't get me wrong, we have adopted this van and it is a part of the family but right now we have to look at it a little sideways because we just don't know what will happen next, will it bite us?

As accomodating as SMB is about making these repairs I am on the losing end every time I go in for a repair. There is the possibility for more damage or something changing that I didn't expect during repairs. I lose at least a day of my life. It costs at least $70 in fuel that I don't get back. I deal with aggravation that I thought I paid good money to avoid. At best I come out the way I should have from the beginning (like the way most of you have experienced) but with those other lost aspects of my life never compensated for.

I will make another post with the whole story but the short version is that the shower leaks (a lot) onto the floor somehow and it runs to the back and down out of the body weep hole right in front of the rear tires. Along the way it passes by some of the electrical equipment in the adjacent ottoman and the automatic transfer switch got a little wet (I ran the generator for about an hour this trip!).

So I go back to SMB again for repairs. I already have another minor item to repair in addition to the leak for them to work on so here we go again. :t4: I know that the customer service guys are really keen to get a chance to prove that they can fix all of this but man this is tough on my confidence, what if the ATS got wet while running? If the customer service guys are involved then I will feel better. This build got away from someone and it wasn't even the complex aspects that were involved. It's not the generator or the small propane tank, it was the basic plumbing stuff and that's what worries me most. I know they have great guys to fix it but where were the heads of the guys at when they built it in the first place? I don't think that their heads were in this build.

Thanks, more is coming. It's not as bad as before but there could be long term ramifications if my worst concerns come true.

Chumley

ilovegt100 01-28-2013 08:24 AM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chum,

Thanks again for the update. Don't let the haters get you down. You have made my life and build easier. Wifey would flip if curve threw up on her when we go to Colorado next month. Now I will crack the seal a little before elevation.

I figured out part of why my mileage was bad. I was not taking into account nightly camping with espar on. Also I let it run set to 60f all the time so I don't have to completely winterize it. Without heater, at least 18mpg and after reading about mileage and scangauge will home to eke out a few more by not lugging engine and keeping revs from 2-3k at all times. Ordered a renntech tune too with goal of 20mpg. I may have to slow down from 80mph though... Will keep y'all in the loop.

Thankfully, my build, knock on wood, has been problem free so far. No leaks or fires but sometimes the penthouse top gets caught out. By the way, my meter is showing about 24amps a day nominal consumption just sitting around with 5cf fridge. My solar should take in about 28amps day. How many amps do you use daily on average?

Ilovegt100

Chumley 01-28-2013 10:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Ilove100gt,

I can’t comment on the amps used since I only monitor my battery usage by voltage. Maybe there is a setting I can change to monitor how many amps are drawn at a given time. I only have the optional battery monitor. Are you checking amp hours? I have to admit this, I told the folks at SMB that I know a lot about construction but electrical systems are my weakness so they may never get a comment from me on that area. They didn’t. I do know that my salesperson/project manager guy told me that the Sprinter will likely not max out the charge of the batteries (top off I believe is what he said). So even if driven regularly and a max charge has been obtained through the alternator while driving there is not enough capacity to push the batteries to their full charge. It takes connection to shore power or the generator to do that. Maybe someone can comment on that.

We are pretty heavy power users when we are set up in camp. Knowing that we have the generator has made us lazy about being as careful as many here are which is probably a bad habit. Still, life is good in camp. During late season and winter camping the lights come on early and we stay warm and entertained well into the evening. Running the generator about an hour every 2-3 days is enough even during these more power intense conditions.

I appreciate what you are saying about “the haters” but I really think they are just the opposite. As humans we can become very loyal and territorial. We are all drawn here because at the top of this page it says “Sportsmobile” so sometimes a guy can be seen as a heretic even when just reporting the news (well, maybe with a commentary…). Many, including myself, become loyal to an identity that has provided so much joy and maybe even a defining aspect of their lives. I now feel that way myself. In this place I feel it is kind of like at home where you can argue with family but no one outside of the family (outside of this forum) can do what you just did. Outside of this place I am a strong proponent of Sportsmobile. I may say that I have had some issues (can you imagine trying to tell my whole story to some wide eyed couple who just wanted to ask how you like the rig?), and tell friends my story, but otherwise I extol the virtues of my Sportsmobile. I continue to believe that my story is not typical. Some aspects on a much reduced scale may happen to others but my build meltdown appears to be a rare occurrence, lucky me. Many build strong relationships with the SMB staff and think of them as friends, even I kind of do myself. Some feel that a bad comment towards SMB is a personal slam against them and their choices. Some feel that they have never had a problem and that I must be making all of this up because they can’t imagine it ever happening – I have seen a few convert from this attitude with an occurrence of an issue. Maybe I should have been more reserved and respectful. I get and understand all of the reasons so I don’t hold anything against anyone, I just hope that they can understand that this is really happening to someone who is very real and is being effected by all of this. That’s all. But thank you very much for the support.

Thanks.

Chumley

JayBea 01-29-2013 08:22 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
Chumley,

Your story needs to be told. Even if it's only the exception. Your loyalty in light of your experiance cannot be questioned. Hopefully your latest issue is just a simple mis-fit of the drain plumbing, yet I am also concerned about long term structural effects. Do your (usual) dilligance and insure that SMB meets your needs. As you said, you've paid alot to have the quality that they say they are providing.
Our experiance has been very close to perfect. There have been issues but I have addressed them myself. In our 5500+ miles we have averaged 19 mph over a variety of driving conditions. Your 16 mpg in light of what you have aint bad; many Class B drivers would love to get even close to that number. I do recommend that you get to a scale when you can; you may find a large difference between actual and estimated weight. Our 2500, tall, EB with a light build came in at 8100 lbs.

Ilove100gt:
I have a LinkLite battery monitor. Our winter camping (2.7 cf refer and LP furnace) consumes about 25 to 30 A-hr per day. Our 180 watts of solar just recharges our batteries here in the SW in winter where we have few clouds. And Chum, you'r correct, the alternator only "bulk charges" the batteries, it takes solar or the inverter's higher voltages to "top off".

Chumley, keep us posted and "keep the faith".

JIM

Chumley 02-04-2013 09:17 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
 
The last (hopefully) repairs of Charlie.

I wrote about an issue with the shower stall a week or so back and wanted to follow up with a more detailed report on what is going on with Charlie.

We went to the Alabama Hills in the Californian Eastern Sierras again over what, for some of us, was the long weekend around Martin Luther King Day in January. We took off on Friday morning and arrived in Lone Pine, gateway to the Alabama Hills, almost exactly 8 hours and 402 miles later. The weekend promised beautiful weather (fulfilled) with warm daytime temps in the 60’s and lows possibly into the high 20’s.

We seem to go back to this area because it is easy for us to set up a camp and let the dogs run off leash without concern for a lot of people and with the sparse brush we can keep an eye on them. This will change in the late spring with the warmer weather and the need to worry about rattlesnakes but until then we’re good. It’s also nice because it is relatively easy to find a decent campsite where it is fairly level and still secluded (lots of big rocks). It also has nice hard packed decomposed granite for most of the open areas so it was easy to see the leak that showed up under the van… Oh, also this area is incredibly beautiful with lots of hiking opportunities. Looking at Mount Whitney outside the sliding door is something I just never tire of.


Can you find the Sprinter?

So we had a problem. We did not know what was going on until we were getting ready to leave. I was walking around the van double checking things and I noticed a spot right under the grey water tank drain that looked all smooth and washed away which was strange. I scraped some of the surface dirt away and it looked damp underneath but it wasn’t recently wet. The drain was dry as well as the tank itself. I made a mental note to check it later and went down to a location where I drained the grey water tanks. They drained nicely and quickly with no debris (we’re careful). I have 2 – 5 gallon tanks, one pretty much right across from the other.

As noted before we took a total of four showers over the weekend. They were brief and we took them about 6:00 P.M. before we settled in for the evening. The warm day and the hiking in the hills worked up some sweat we looked forward to being able to shower. We used hot water and they were wonderfully refreshing. We lather up using waterless body and hair wash and rinse it off (my wife actually really likes the way it leaves her hair). We run the water for maybe 30 seconds (gotta be a minute max) while one of us revs the engine for the flat plate water heater (we’ve learned to warm up the engine and then rev the engine for a bit before you start the shower). During the shower I noticed that the shower pan would always collect some water but it wasn’t much – the drain basket seems to reset in and block the drainage. If any of you have a shower then you know that they are the epitome of low flow but with the hand held shower head you can be very effective at rinsing off quickly. You also know that this is not the place you linger like at home in the shower. In and out quickly does it. It appeared that the previous repairs of the shower stall itself (sealing all panels well) held and no water was visible outside of the stall itself. Good!

Also, I want to mention that during the last night it got down into the high 20’s overnight, or so the weather station said when I checked (Wunderground). The temps got down to +/- 28 degrees for a brief time bouncing up and down for several hours the last night, nothing sustained for more than a couple hours and water in the ponds down in a gully had no ice. We were surrounded by the rocks that I think kept the area a little warmer with their thermal mass and heat collected from the daytime sun. We also had the van heated in the low 60s all night. So I don’t think anything froze but as I found out the problem was above the floor, not below anyway.

I finally get a chance to check the mysterious water leaks on the following Wednesday. I go back under the van and look for weep holes in the body. I found one right next to the drain on the shower side as well as one near the rear tires. Looking at them I noticed that they looked like water had come out of them or something had come out because of the different colored dust collected around the holes.


Maybe someone else can check and tell me if they all have this discoloration. No signs of water leaking and running across anything near the tank or the drain valve or outlet.

When I started the test I did not perfectly level the van at first since it is fairly close in the driveway to begin with. I ran the engine and tried to get warm water running before the test just in case. I ran the shower and directed the shower sprayed along the walls to best replicate the real deal. The pan flooded a bit as usual and I pulled the drain basket out and it drained immediately. I ran the water maybe 20 to 30 seconds.

I climb out and look around and am relieved to see no water coming out anywhere. Whew, it must have been a freak thing or an animal peed next to the van that night. A minute later here it comes… a stream of water out of the body weep hole by the rear tire. Crap!


But the water ran out the rear hole and not near the drain? I leveled the van and did it again. Again it drained out the rear weep hole.

In camp the van was almost dead on level but it was a little off side to side with the shower side low. Maybe this was the difference. Maybe the first test created a wet path that the next test’s water just followed, I don’t know.

The next thing was to see if I could detect the water inside. I pulled the cover off of the ottoman next to the shower. The one with all of the electrical equipment except the inverter (it’s in back under the couch/bed with the water storage tank). Once inside I saw an area where it looked like water had pushed some sawdust out from under the outer wall but it was now dry. Strange. I follow the wall back and there is a wet spot right at the end of the automatic transfer switch (ATS).


The ATS automatically switches the electrical system from the coach batteries to the generator when it detects the generator creating power so it is a full 120 volt system.

So we have some basic information from observation. The water leaks out and across the floor to the rear (now) where it apparently runs down to the van body and out a weep hole. It passes line voltage electrical equipment along the way, at least in this test, and there are signs it may have in the past. There is no sign of water anywhere else inside the van at this time. There is no leakage from the tanks or the drains. The fresh water supply is not leaking that I can tell. It holds pressure and the pump never cycled even when left on all night.

From the above information I theorize the following. There is a leak above the floor within the van underneath the floor of the shower pan or at the drain assembly plumbing but above the floor. Depending on very subtle changes in the level of the van it could go right out the side weep hole or go back to the rear wheel. It has done this before, maybe. There may have been more to the first shower pan leaking repair than the lack of sealing along a couple of major seams. The drain assembly itself may not have been sealed to the shower pan properly. There are at least 2 occasions where water has gotten away from the drain system and my guess is that some of it has ventured under the plywood floor substrate, which is not a marine grade of plywood but may be an exterior grade.

So I go back for another water related repair visit, the third in the series. But I have decided to get a couple more things fixed while I am at it.

The blind that was replaced next to the shower and above the cabinet with the heater in it has a guide cord that was installed crooked.



My concern is that it might pull loose some day since it is pulled to the side every time I close the blinds all of the way. And there is the aesthetics of a cord leaned over in the small window.

The guys will also replace the grab handle that was chewed up. SMB says that all of the vans are like this so I assume that it might have been a result of the Mercedes policy of disassembling and reassembling the vans to get them into the country.

Finally, there is a hellatious squeak that comes out of the cabinet’s vinyl trim rubbing against the vinyl trim around the sliding door opening. It has been fixed twice now but the first “shim” fell out and the second one is coming out and unless I soak it in silicone every couple days it really squeaks. So hopefully there is a long term fix because it is really really loud and annoying. I can fix it with enough silicone spray but it would be nice to have a permanent fix.


We’re getting close to de-bugging this thing but it will take another visit. I am getting to know Fresno pretty well and at least this time of the year it isn’t roasting. Did you know that it really doesn’t cool down overnight at times? I was there once where it was still almost 90 degrees at 9:00 at night. I thought that only happened in Death valley.

I trust that the guys will fix it but I am really worn out and don’t know if this van can hold its liquids. I just don’t know if I got my money’s worth out of this deal. It makes us think. We really need assurances that this won’t all come back to haunt me as soon as the warranty ends. I have been in construction for a long time and I can tell you that some water damages I have seen took years to evolve and were only found out by chance. If I hear crackling plywood under foot after the warranty is over I just don’t know what I’ll do, except that I know it will be deliberate.

I am going to surprise some with this comment. One of the guys at SMB was saying that he wasn’t looking forward to doing another build as extensive as mine. Apparently they don’t do this kind of build on a short RB chassis that often. I think that they should do it more now. They have the experience and they know where the problems may lie. I really think that with just a little more attention by some key staff members they would do well with more work like this. In my business you are always trying to do the next bigger project incrementally as your skills and experience grows. I don’t know why SMB can’t do a good job on these builds. I have noticed that all SMB locations take liberties with their builds and change a dimension here of there and maybe mix up material colors but they fix them or the owner accepts it. These are all hand built custom builds so mistakes will happen. SMB just has to be able to correct their goofs is all.

I’ll let you all know how the repairs go.

Thanks.

Chumley


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