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Chumley 08-23-2015 03:44 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thanks Dave,

I did turn off the main power but I can't get to the batteries without taking the folding couch/bed apart since they are under it. I don't have the time nor patience right now and I'm battling a severe case of frustration too...

I may have to talk to SMB about replacing the batteries now.

What do you guys think? Too much to ask for?



daveb 08-23-2015 05:07 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
1 Attachment(s)
My guess is the shop that put in your Optima batteries do not know the difference between a spiral wound battery and a standard AGM. Unless you actually requested a typical wet cell, I've never seen SMB go to the hassle (or cost) of ordering a specific deep cycle wet cell type battery. The common battery used by them these days is a Universal brand 4-D AGM battery but I don't have a clue what you ordered. They buy so many of the UB4D's I'm sure they get a cut in the average cost and sell them at the listed price + installation.

On most builds the house battery positive wire runs to a standoff stud where the inverter positive terminal lands. Also it's possible the positive distribution lead from the 12v fuse box lands there as well. There will also be a lead from the separator going to that stud. I've seen some builds that use the separator itself as the standoff stud but that's not common. The wire from the house battery system is always "hot", so if you disconnect it, you must keep it insulated and covered as the lead must not touch ground while it's off. Obviously if you can get to the battery lug and disconnect there that would be best but usually the battery box is difficult to all depends on battery access. Now if for some reason there is a large amp fuse inline, pulling the fuse would be a simple task but again it depends on if even there is one and where the fuse holder is located.

As to why you're loosing battery reserves, it may be a number of problems.

Something is on pulling a load. This can be checked with a good clamp-on amp meter on the main buss wire coming from the house battery. All it takes is something left on while there is no charge coming in. I take it you have no solar?

There is a short somewhere (but I doubt that). Usually you'd know if there was a short but I have seen pinched or abraded insulation on a wire going to ground that cause an intermittent problem.

The separator set in an open position would not allow the alternator to charge the battery. If it's stuck open, been tripped or purposely set to the open position the battery would get no charge from the vehicle running. But in that case the shore charger should have brought the battery back up when plugged in.

You have a bad connection at the battery/batteries or somewhere along the system.

You have a bad battery. It happens. And since you've stated you are using Optima, I can't believe you only have one. If for any reason you have one bad battery in a bank (group of batteries connected to each other to form one large battery), one bad battery can easily take down its mates in a hurry.

I'm also guessing you have a multi stage charger/inverter. If a AGM is taken too low, standard car chargers might not bring it back to life. The deal is your alternator should, so unless you have more than one issue going on I doubt it's a shore charger issue alone.

I'd find the separator and test voltage on both sides with the engine off, with it running, and with the engine off but the shore charger on the charge mode. The engine and shore charger voltage will be between 13-14.6. Voltage from the starting battery with the engine off should be about +/-12.7 If you have a good inverter/charger it should have a gauge on it and I'm guessing that is what you're using to determine the battery voltages??? Or are you using the little plug in volt meter that came with the van?

Sorry you're having problems. If you do get the batteries disconnected at the battery terminal(s) get a charge on it/them ASAP.

Good luck on your troubleshooting.

Chumley 08-23-2015 05:40 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hello DaveB,

I can tell you that I don't know anything about a spiral wound vs standard AGM (you aren't saying lead/acid with plates vs. AGM (absorbed glass matt) are you?). Fact is that I am not the strongest at electrical systems. Either way SMB checked the batteries themselves and the settings on the charger so according to them all was okay.

The batteries (2) are now down to 7.8 volts according to the inverter/charger. When are they toast?

The generator message light is blinking so someone at SMB tried to start the generator and didn't reset the generator after it didn't start. Doubt it draws that much but I will reset that now.

I'm waxing the beast right now due to tight time constraints until we leave on our trip. I'm not prepared to start taking things apart.

All of this is a shame because I left SMB Friday giving everyone a big hug and smiling as I left because everything looked great on the surface. There are other issues I'll bring forward after a discussion with SMB in the morning. All I know is that I drove in Monday, gave them a list of requests and then picked it up Friday. I didn't know that I would have to do a full inspection of the entire system when I got home.

This just sucks. Good news is that I prepared far enough in advance that we should not have any trip ending issues if SMB jumps on the issues right away.

So, I know that I have paid a premium in the past for Optima batteries so if they are toast should I hold out for another set?



daveb 08-23-2015 06:14 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Probably not but I would want to find out what the cause was. It would be easy for the shop that installed the batteries to have even made the mistake.

I'd ask SMB if they dropped each battery and did a bench load test on each. Most testing is only done by testing voltage and if the batteries were up at the time they would have passed the test. A load test is a different thing.

Have them reinspect the connections and make sure the separator has not tripped or been set to manual open if you have that model.

I'm not understanding why your inverter/charger is not bringing them up but they may have to be charged in a particular procedure... you can read about here: ... rticles/#3

Don't toss the batteries, I've brought several back from the dead but in one situation nothing I did worked and that was due to the battery being bad from the get-go. It never lasted over 2 months and there was no reason why it just dropped in voltage. You can read about a deeply discharged battery in the link and what can be done about it.

Scalf77 08-24-2015 10:47 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

In both vases now your battery may be so low that
A) the inverter/charger won't charge the battery, or
B) the battery separator won't connect. If it is a the Blue Sea ACR , it definitely has a 9.6 volt lock out setting.

If you have the 7622 you should be able to manually combine them with the yellow knob. If you can tell me what Inverter/charger you have , I might be able to help out on that.


Chumley 08-24-2015 12:29 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Good morning,

I went out and checked the battery level and they are down to 4.6 volts. Something is really drawing them down and nothing is on and the main power is off. Only the smoke/carbon monoxide/propane(gas) alarms are on.

I did get the shore power to fire up the charger now. Not sure what the issue was yesterday but maybe the GFI tripped when I plugged Charlie in (I hit reset before double checking because it is deep in the back of a cabinet so it's hard to see if it has tripped).

So one issue down.

Now where is this load coming from and how come he doesn't charge from the alternator?

What I had SMB West do at the visit:

1. Check the batteries and the charger setting since I didn't think that the batteries were holding as good a charge as before. This may actually have been a case of me paying more attention to the voltages since the batteries were new and I was working on the generator issue and the generator doesn't like lower voltages to start - does that make sense? SMB said the batteries were Optima and the settings were fine I was told.

2. Check the routing of the power for the generator starter. There is some conflicting info from the manufacturer who told me that the starter motor for the generator needs to be connected to the chassis battery. This makes sense since the generator doesn't like low voltages for the starter and you expect the coach batteries to be low when you start the generator if you are using it to charge the batteries which is our primary use. SMB confirmed that the connection was on the coach batteries.

3. I had a new subwoofer installed up front along with a switch that controls which subwoofer (front or rear) is on and also a volume for the new subwoofer. I don't know where the power is connected but the stereo was off and so was the coach power.

I just spoke to the shop that installed the Optima batteries and worked on the generator issue. They are recognized locally as the go-to shop for RVs even though they are an auto shop. We have several RV dealers in town and they take their problem jobs to him. A friend of mine who got one of the last Monaco motorhomes before they closed their doors (albeit only temporarily) got a motorhome that was cobbled together without a lot of care. It took some time but this shop went through the whole thing and fixed it all. My friend thinks they walk on water now.

So I am now waiting to hear from Sportsmobile on what they plan on doing next. I want to work with them because they have stood behind everything that has happened in the past but they said they do not want to talk until they do their research.

Charlie is on shore power and the charger is indicating that it is charging. Maybe the charger is capable of bringing them back but need to talk to SMB about that.

I guess Iíll need to be sure of a few things:
1. Will the shore power resuscitate the batteries?
2. What is creating the unusual draw?
3. Just how low can I let the batteries go on a trip before they canít be recharged by the alternator?
4. Was the low voltage on the batteries (9.4 volts) the reason the batteries didnít charge on the alternator?

Right now Iíll wait until SMB calls and tells me what we can do to get this all fixed before I travel to Alaska.

I donít want to knock SMB because they are trying to help me get Charlie ready but something along the line went wrong. I donít know what it was and I just want to get it fixed.

Looking forward to a fix.


Scalf77 08-24-2015 02:12 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Your best bet would be to take it back to Sportsmobile or the other RV shop. A competent technician should be able to come to a reasonable solution.

You may be able to charge your battery back up and it may survive the severe discharge. You have definitely taken some life out of it. If it does not work reasonably then you could try a equalizing charge, you would need to refer to you charger and battery specs and or manuals.

Not sure what your unusual draw is, you have only specified that it was low on voltage. I understand that something is pulling it down, but without know when and what it was charged to it is hard to make a prediction as to unusual draw. It does sound like it is possible that it went below the cutoff point for and that maybe the separator was in lockout mode. After that everything will keep discharging, and only get worse. So it is possible that once you the battery above that voltage the alternator may work. Again, a lot of that depends on what unit they put in for a separator. It is also hard to estimate how long your battery may last, without know the size of your battery bank, I see you have two, and what appliances you have specifically the refrigerator draw, as it would because if was left on unexpectedly, the draw down may be big, especially in hotter temperatures.

I highly recommend a good battery monitor, either a traditional amp counter like Xantrex Link Pro , Victron energy BMV, or a Balmar Smartgauge.


Viva 08-24-2015 02:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
First of all, I just wanted to say that I have appreciated your detailed build thread. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying Charlie and your trip to Alaska sounds great.

I don't understand exactly what is happening with your batteries right now. I mean, I see the results, but I don't know exactly why because there is not enough information (not your fault). A few different scenarios could fit, but there's not a way from here to tell which one.

I would not be happy with any batteries of mine (much less expensive new ones) ever seeing anything even remotely close to 4.6 volts. I'm pretty sure that's going to compromise them (even if you can resurrect them). So, first of all of course I would want to figure out the problem; second, I would want to correct it; and third, I would want to find out if it was anyone's fault (and if so whom) -- not because I'm into assigning blame, but because it would only seem fair that that person replace the batteries (or somehow take responsibility).

I would also absolutely follow Scalf77's recommendation for either a "counter" type battery monitor (Victron BMV, Link, etc.) or a Balmar Smart Gauge. I actually have both (Victron plus Smart Gauge), for a few reasons: One is they are complementary in their functions; two is that I like information; and three is that although they are not cheap, it's easy (for me) to justify even a few hundred dollars in expense when AGM batteries are so expensive (I have three, and they were each around $375). All I have to do is "save" one battery, one time, and I've paid for both monitors (more likely in the real world, I may be able to prolong the life of all three by X amount of time - here's hoping anyway).

Basically, the Victron/Link type will show you extremely accurately how much power (amps or watts) is going into or out of your batteries at any one time. If you have more than one thing running, you can trouble shoot by changing things and watching the gauge. They also show you state of charge (SOC) in percentage, but the accuracy is somewhat dependent on how you program it, how the batteries age, and other things that you can't always know.

The Smart Gauge uses some amazing algorithm, plus samples the voltage ninety-jillion times per something, and gives you SOC. Very accurate, nothing to re-set as batteries age, just SOC pure and simple. It also shows voltage (as does the other one), but this is only meaningful sometimes (batteries in resting stage, or to see what a charger is putting in, etc.).

The Victron type are not hard to install, but do involve putting in a shunt (so some slight wiring rearrangement) plus programming in some factors from your batteries, and adjusting as they age.

The Smart Gauge is two (small) wires, one to a positive terminal and one to a negative terminal and that's it.

I'd be hard-pressed to choose between them as they are both great for some things. I guess I'd go with the Smart Gauge.


PS: It would be nice to know what sort of separator you have (for example, Blue Sea 7622) and if it can be manually locked out (some can for when you work on things), and whether it IS locked out.

Chumley 08-24-2015 05:40 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Thank you everyone for the recommendations.

The thing is that before last week I never had any problems with the batteries so never paid much attention to them. I know that on a trip we can usually run 2-3 days on battery power (typically cool weather so the heater works a bit) and then I need to fire up the generator to recharge them. We have an Isotemp refer which is very efficient and then we use the lights, TV/radio, heater and maybe turn on the inverter to use the microwave from time to time. 2-3 days on that kind of load.

I did speak to Peter at SMB West and I think we have an understanding of what might have happened and what the next steps are.

Charlie arrived home after the long drive at about 12.4 volts instead of the usual 12.7 Ė 12.8 volts likely due to the refer & water pump being on and me blasting the stereo (long test of the new subwoofer). Okay, Iím good with that.

Seeing the volts drop to 9.6 by Sunday morning, because of the refer & water pump (likely no load since there was no demand for water) being on, makes sense. Being below the normal charging threshold for the alternator to charge makes sense.

Dropping to lower levels because the batteries are in decline makes sense so it being 4.6 volts this morning even with the master switch being turned off (all alarm/detectors are still on). Maybe there is no additional excessive draw and the batteries were past their performance curve on delivering power. Makes sense.

So we will wait to see how the batteries charge overnight and then I will monitor them on the drive to the dealership. If the voltage drops on the drive to the dealership instead of increase then there is a problem for sure.

Peter says that if the batteries do not come back then I should take them back for a warranty replacement because they should come back.

As you can well imagine the weeks before a long vacation tend to be a bit eventful and busy getting ready to clear out of town. I need to confirm the battery condition and any needed resolution as soon as possible since Charlie will go to the dealer for the major service, tire shop for 4 new tires, and then the whole generator repair issue. Doesn't leave me a lot of time for getting Charlie's battery issue taken care of if it is outstanding - but can't go on the trip without it resolved.

So enough about the stressful stuff.

How about a little of the good stuff that got taken care of recently.

One of the main blinds broke a cord and was flopping about. SMB West fortunately had a couple in stock and were very kind in pricing since I decided to replace both main ones in the rear so they would match. Thank you SMB.

The guys at SMB washed Charlie which was a big deal to me. Where I live we can't wash cars due to the drought so that was a big deal. With that I got to wax the big guy which he really needed and wanted to do before 3 weeks on the road. I also started putting 303 Protectant on all of the rubber and vinyl parts. I stand by this stuff and I feel much better knowing it will be done before a long trip.

Having the stereo fixed by adding a new subwoofer is just what we were looking for and will allow us to crank the music and not deafen our dogs.

A full alignment and installation of new rear shocks makes me feel good and with four new tires going on next week we don't need to worry about Charlieís shoes. The old set of tires may have survived the entire trip but it would be an iffy proposition. Of note is that the replacement tires we put on the fronts (Michelin LTX A/T 2 since one of the original Contis was defective) far outlasted the rest of the OEM Continental mud/snow tires. The Michelins have a more aggressive tread pattern so should do well in any weather we may experience. Amazing how much better they lasted compared to the stock Contis, they look new in comparison at just under 19,000 miles on all tires.

So I think I feel good about everything but it sure does seem that these things always happen around a visit to SMB so maybe Charlie has the same response that some do to a visit to the doctorís officeÖ

For now I am hopeful that all issues are in the past.



daveb 08-24-2015 07:07 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
A couple things come to mind, one is I would think the installer had enough common sense to wire the stereo amp to a switch if it doesn't shut off automatically and if not, you turned off the switch when the van sits if it's wired to the house batteries, second I'm guessing you didn't go from a 200ah battery to a set of 55ah optima's... what amp hours are the new batteries and how many did they put in? Also I hope you followed the link on how to recharge a deeply discharged optima. I'm sure SMB will find the problem and will test the separator but I also hope they understand how to recharge a deeply discharged AGM...I'd think so. The root cause might be as simple as the amp not wired correctly, but that is just a guess on my part. Like I posted it's very possible more than one thing is going on like the separator tripping open compounding the problem.
X-2 on gauges... they at least point you in the right direction. You need need to make sure you never draw the batteries down below 12.2 resting voltage on a regular basis.

Chumley 08-25-2015 07:33 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
So my current situation has led me to believe that I have a bit more to learn about the batteries and charging. There is a lot of information out there so I will need to do some filtering.

Here is what has happened in the last 4 days.

I picked up Charlie Friday afternoon and drove home 140 miles. I felt this should have left the batteries fully charged right at 12.7-12.8 volts but it was 12.4 volts. I was surprised but just pushed it to the back of my mind. I now accept the explanation that the refer and the water pump were on as well as me cranking the stereo with the new subwoofer so I understand (the refer was empty so it was constantly trying to cool, the water pump probably no load since there was no demand). The SMB West crew will be more diligent in the future about leaving items on after a test.

Sunday morning I saw the voltage had dropped to 9.6 volts and I was pretty freaked. I had always been warned that deeply discharging deep cycle batteries could kill them and was trying to stop the drain but to no avail. This is when I actually discovered that the refer and water pump had been on the whole time. I tried driving to let the alternator charge the batteries but nothing happened. This leads me to believe that there is a minimum voltage threshold at which the charging system will do its job, apparently right at the 9.6 volts mentioned by Scalf77. I tried shore power charging and nothing happened so I was really bummed. Voltage continued to drop and I ended Sunday afternoon at 7.7 volts.

Monday morning the voltage had dropped to 4.6 volts and I was sure the batteries were toast and I was getting just a wee bit angry... Peter from SMB took a while to get back to me but in the mean time I found out (or feel it was likely) that I had possibly tripped the GFI on the receptacle normally powering up Charlie so after a pushing the reset the charging system did work! The batteries started charging and when Peter finally called we had a long talk about what was going on. We agreed that I would leave Charlie charging overnight and then check it in the morning. At the end of day Monday the batteries were on float charge at 12.8 volts. Great news but wondered why it didnít read 13.1 volts.

Tuesday morning the batteries were on float charge and sitting at 13.1 volts so I felt much better.

I drove to the dealer to get the major service done and I checked the voltage before I left the dealership and it was at 12.6 volts after sitting for about an hour. I was a little unsure about why it wasn't a little higher but had the service writer agree to check it for me sometime later. I called back about 5 hours later and he said that it read 12.7 volts. Not sure why it went up but I feel much better, whew!

Peter called and we spoke a little more in depth about the battery situation.

He said that the batteries that they normally install provide 90 amp/hours each so we had a combined 180 am/hrs. The Optimas that were installed (2) were 66 amp/hrs each (model SC27DM, new on 11/11/14) so we have 132 amp/hrs now which would explain why I felt that the batteries were not holding their charge as long. I was told that they should charge more quickly but I would like to have that additional time before charging. So there is the trade off that was made and I think the next batteries will be the ones originally installed because I want more time between charges vs. the perceived quality of the Optimas vs stock.

At this point there has been no talk about a special charging regimen to bring the batteries back up to their full potential. I am being told that the batteries are new enough that there should not be an issue.

So I have been told that at 12.4 volts the battery has been discharged 25% and that is the lowest regularly achieved level that is acceptable before long term damage will occur. I have to say that for me the batteries normally drop to that level in about a day from a full charge. I am used to putting Charlie on shore power for charging 1x a week and the voltage has usually dropped to somewhere in the low 11 volt range before being hooked back up for charging. I just saw a chart that states that at 10.5 volts the battery should be 100% discharged which would explain why anything under that point would allow the battery voltage to drop even more quickly under a load since there really isn't any juice to keep the voltage up. Make sense? This means that I need to change something or expect to lose the effectiveness and longevity of my batteries.

My local shop said it could be the detector/alarms that are creating the biggest issue with parasitic drain. I tend to agree and would sure like to know which fuses I should pull when Charlie is resting in the driveway to eliminate this.

So I will be keeping an eye on my batteries and appreciate the lesson I just learned but wish I didnít have to learn it the hard way.


Here is a handy guide from Optima that might be informative:


daveb 08-25-2015 08:46 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
The vehicle alarm should be on the starting battery system not the house system. Lots of conflicting info here. I'd let SMB sort it out.

Scalf77 08-26-2015 07:40 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
i expect that your fuse box has a three amp fuse for CO & Propane detectors, those are the normal always on loads for the house side. That doesn't mean that some sort of custom equipment could bypass that. You will need to be more diligent now about charging back up, especially with your smaller battery bank. I would also assume that your previous regime was not working so well, based on the life span that you got out of your original batteries.

My personal opinion is that I either disconnect the load on the battery bank or I keep it plugged in at on a float charge. Your battery life span will be determined by the number of discharge - charge cycles that you put it through. The depth of discharge will lesson the number of cycles you will get. If you consistently draw your batteries down 80% you will get less number of cycles than if you draw it down 50%. Other factors include time between discharge and charging, and bringing the battery to full charge. You now have about 66 amp/hrs as your 50% target.

The major problem with using voltage as a health indicator or gauge of your battery is that the charts are mostly based of a no load condition, and usually under the understanding that it has been that way for a couple of hours. You then bring in where the voltage is being measured (larger current carrying wires don't lend them selves to accurate measurements), so depending on where and by what takes the measurements, there could be some inaccuracy in that method. Add to that phenomenons such as surface charge, and it could get confusing.

That is where a good solid battery monitor comes in, they determine State of charge by other means then just voltage. The amp counters basically count amps in and out of the battery. The major draw back will be that as your battery bank diminishes overtime, you need to adjust the capacity of your battery to stay in sync. The smartgauge user proprietary methods to come up with a SOC reading, it is much simpler to install, and more of a set it and forget device. I do not have one myself, but do consider it. The feature I like about the amp counters is that you can use it to monitor your actual current usage. You will know how CO & Propane detectors. See excel chart of data I captured using my XBM.

You don't have to dump the data, you can just turn on a device and check the before and after current draw. I think this really gives you a better understanding of where your power draw comes from.

Another thing that you may run into is temperature compensation, your charger may vary well be monitoring your battery temp (at least on in your case). The temperature of the battery will determine what the proper charge voltages are, most of the documented data is at 25 įC. There is lots of good data out there. I have found the 12 volt side of life a great place to start.


Chumley 08-27-2015 05:57 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I thought Iíd report back one last time on Charlieís batteries and then tell you about the other issue I have been holding back on.

Daveb, the guys at SMB West think that everything is fine and there is no reason to go back to see them. They do not recommend any special regimen to deal with the extreme discharge down to 4.6 volts. If anything they say that I have a legitimate claim to go to the battery manufacturer for a cure.

I have no idea what would have happened if I had not gone out to work on Charlie and the batteries were left to discharge for a couple more days. I do think that I would have eventually noticed the chirp from the detectors since I like to sit on our deck, which is right over our driveway, at the end of the day right before retiring to bed.

Scalf77, that is one peck of a lot of info you have there. I do think I may end up adding a better battery monitoring system but wonder if that is really necessary if the generator works well, in theory anyway.

Yesterday early afternoon after I got back from the dealerís service ($961 for the B service here!) I checked the van and it was at 12.7 -12.6 volts after an hour or so. About 24 hours later it was bouncing between 12.5 and 12.4 volts. I guess a drop between .2 and .3 volts over a 24 hour period is not bad but it leaves them at the point where I have to charge them virtually every other day. Not feasible for me.

Of course where is the juice going? I spoke to Peter about the detectors (which I also called alarms) and have found out that it is now legal to have them connected to the fuse panel which can be disconnected for storage, previously they could not be disconnectable. This is something that I will definitely try to do as I donít think that there is anything else that might be draining the batteries other than that they have wires connected to them that lead to something (in other words I always feel that there will be some drain unless the battery is disconnected at the terminals).

I have been holding off on reporting one of the issues that I believe I found after the roof vent repair and roof paint touch up. This issue is a series of dents on the roof right next to the vent that was recently removed and reinstalled 2x (once back about October 2014 and again just last week).

I noticed the dents right after I got home from SMB West last Friday since I wanted to see how the paint job looked. I immediately noticed that something was strange about the reflection on the roof. Upon closer observation I could see a whole bunch of little dents between the driverís side edge of the van and the vent itself!

Other side of vent, no dents.

Of course I just immediately thought that SMBís painter did it because I have seen the elaborate ramps with platforms that SMB uses to work on the roof area of vans. I notified SMB but Peter had left early and was out of town. I would have to wait until Monday to talk to someone about this. In the meantime I put a stop payment on the payment made to SMB for both the stereo work and the other work they performed themselves. Sorry but that is what I do when I see an exposure on the horizon.

Apparently Peter had already gotten the news by the time I tried to reach him on Monday. He got back to me and we discussed the issue and I heard what I believe every consumer has heard and dreads hearing Ė ďthey didnít create the dents and that they were already thereĒ!

OMG what do you do without creating a fatality in the relationship?

I see the van from my deck virtually every day and these dents got my attention right away when I saw them!

No one at SMB had seen the dents but supposedly the painterís guys said he saw them after he painted or something like that. So I am thinking that the person who most likely created the damage was the one telling them it was there before he started?

I can tell you that even though I have had the van for almost 3 years no one has ever gone on that roof. The only people ever on that roof was the original build team and repair guys for SMB West and then the painter. I know this to be true but SMB West says that they have no proof that I never went up there.

This was just very disappointing after I have been as honest as I have been with them over the years. I even caught a mistake on their billing where they missed an $85 item and told them to charge me.

I guess I resent essentially being told that I am lying or didnít know that someone secretly climbed on the roof of the van and then missed seeing it all of that time.

If you were to talk to anyone at SMB about the condition of my van when I took it in they would say it was immaculate. We take incredibly good care of our stuff. This is just really annoying because I will likely take it to a painter after our vacation and have them use body filler and then repaint it. I know it is on the roof but we can see it every day from our deck. We just take really good care of our stuff and I am also worried that SMBís painter might not have done the best job (like proper prep before painting in areas where the silicon sealant was that might create problems with paint adhesion). The painter has left thick paint edges where he pulled the masking tape since he did not go back to feather them and there was some overspray (the overspray comes off with paint swirl remover, already did some).

I am very disappointed in what has just happened but if I look back over what has happened in the past then maybe I should not be surprised. SMB West has stood behind their product but it was me who had to continually point out the issues that were seemingly so apparent.

I also have to say that I guess I understand where SMB West is coming from since they are convinced they know they didnít do it and have been told by what is likely a regular vendor that they didnít do it. I am just surprised that with everything that I have been through and how reasonable I think I have been that they would take this course. Peter has been great to work with and he has bent over backwards to help but he is just one person in the organization.

I never should have let them repair the rust issue, it was under the waterproof seal so it should not have seen any more moisture in our lifetime if the seal was properly taken care of. Sometimes you have evaluate the benefit versus potential loss in these things.

Bottom line is we still love Charlie but a little bit of the luster has tarnished again in my eyes.


Sprinter4WD 08-28-2015 09:28 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Hi Chumley

First I want to express my sympathy with your battery/power issues. As a long time RV-er I have encountered and dealt with such issues regularly.

Secondly I think that Scalf77's post is spot on - you probably have parasitic loads (like the propane detector) that kill your coach batteries when the van is sitting for days at a time without being started.

One thing I have learned is that as an RV-er you end up learning to be a power-grid manager - and your power repository is - you guessed it - your coach batteries. If you are like me you will find that over time you grow your battery bank larger and larger - it's just so nice to have a big buffer.

I'm assuming you have checked your coach battery voltage with the van engine running - it should be at least 13 volts - do this with the refrigerator and other loads active. If you don't have 13v or above then I would say you have a problem with the van charging system.

You should ALWAYS use deep cycle RV batteries in your coach. This is because they can withstand many many more discharge/recharge cycles compared to a typical starting battery. I personally recommend and use the Lifeline 6V deep cycle batteries (sealed AGM), but I've also used the Trojan T105's which are wet cell, but much less expensive.

Once the "typical" starting battery is dropped to zero charge (like your 7.7 volts) you have just destroyed a substantial percentage of the battery capacity, meaning it will never hold nearly the same amp-hours it would have when brand new. While the deep cycle RV batteries are more tolerant of this, they should never be run down to zero charge either.

To be honest, in your case I would replace the batteries with some new deep cycles, and put a 100W+ solar panel on top. Why? Not because of the extra power from the solar panel, which is actually quite small, but because it will keep your coach batteries topped off every day assuming you aren't running a power drainer like the refrigerator or 120V power inverter. Then you don't need to put your van on a battery tender when storing it. Once you replace the batteries I would measure your current draw as Scalf77 suggests looking for parasitic current draw. But you could postpone searching for parasitic draw until you come back from Alaska as long as your van alternator is properly charging the coach batteries every day.

REF 08-28-2015 02:29 PM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
X2^^, we had similar issues with unknown battery drain years ago that would draw down the the house, then because of an unknown at the time non-functioning isolator, would also draw our starters down, leaving us dead in the water after 2-3 days of being parked. Replaced all batteries with Deka AGM's (east penn), and added a Kyocera panel with now a blue sky SC30 charge controller, we haven't had issues with battery drain since going with solar and our batteries are always topped off, which is better for them in terms of lasting much longer, plus we can extend our time off grid pretty much indefinitely, in fact, we never find the need, nor do we want to stay anywhere anyways to plug in. Good luck but I really think going with a simple solar system will cure the problems you're having, these rigs have so many different electronic systems and miles of wiring, there's always going to be a draw, I would stop trying to track them down, never going to find them all, that's my experience anyway. I wouldn't think you would need to go back to SMB for solar install either, find a good local shop that deals with RV's or solar.

JJSporty 08-28-2015 06:49 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Iíve wanted to share our experience with the electrical and heating systems in our 2014 silver Sprinter SMB for a while and Chumleyís latest posts motivated me to chime in on this thread. Before sharing our experience, I want to thank Chumley for all he has shared throughout the trials and tribulations of his build. I think weíve probably all learned a lot from his contributions to our community. I know his experience contributed heavily to our design and second SMB purchase. If you want to see our new silver Sprinter SMB, go to the following link.

Note: we are NOT the couple pictured on that page nor is the white van they are standing in front of with cherry cabinets and light gray counter tops the van shown in the rest of the photos. We purchased this Silver Sprinter in the photos with maple cabinets and black counter tops which was built for the 2014 Pomona RV show right out of the SMB West showroom in January 2015. It is a modified RB 151S and shares a lot of its floorplan with Chumleyís. We love the openness and functionality of the design.

Our electrical system consist of the following components, all installed by SMB West or ordered by SMB West as options on the original Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.

(2) 100 watt Zamp Solar panels & Zamp controller. The van was pre-wired for solar and the panels were installed for us by SMB West as original equipment following our purchase of the van. They did an excellent job mounting them to the factory roof rails using custom fabricated brackets. They sit about three quarters of an inch above the roof allowing ventilation between them and the roof. Iím pretty picky about this kind of stuff and Iím extremely pleased with how they mounted the solar panels.

(2) 90 amp hour group 27 UB12900 sealed lead acid AGM batteries also installed by SMB West as part of the original build. I was initially concerned about the UB brand because my research indicated Lifeline or Concord AGMís were the top rated batteries for this use. This is why we put new Lifeline AGMís in our 2006 E250 SMB in 2013. However, so far Iíve been quite pleased with the performance of the UB batteries SMB installed.

Our 2014 silver Sprinter came with a 12 volt master shutoff switch which completely shuts off any 12 volt draw on the house batteries. In our 2006 SMB, we needed to remove the fuse for the CO detector when not using the van for several days. Since this van is all diesel, with no propane, it doesnít have a hard wired propane detector. It does have a CO & smoke detector powered by a replaceable battery rather than hooked up to the 12 volt system. If there is any 12 volt phantom draw, the 12 volt master shutoff switch would protect the house batteries. I find the 12 volt master shutoff switch to come in handy when letting the refrigerator dry out between trips. Because there is a light in the refrigerator and the door needs to be open to let it dry out, the light would stay on if it wasnít for the 12 volt master shutoff switch.
For delivering AC power, our SMB has a 2,000 watt Magnum true sine inverter which was installed by SMB West as a component of the original build. Weíve found it works great. It seems better than the 2,000 Triplite modified sine inverter we had in our 2006 E250 SMB. It seems more efficient and the microwave oven sounds happier than in our previous SMB.

The final component in our electrical system is the MB factory installed high idle control which enables the vehicleís diesel engine to act as a built-in generator. Equipped with a 220 amp alternator, by starting the engine for a few minutes to warm up, then setting the high idle to around 1,200 rpm, then turning on the invertor and microwave, we are able to take the massive load off the batteries for the few minutes the microwave is running. A few minutes after weíve finished cooking in the microwave, we turn the engine off and the batteries are unscathed.

Before commenting on our heating system, I want to say, the (2) 100 Zamp solar panels, the Zamp controller, the (2) UB 90 amp hour group 27 AGM batteries, along with the 2,000 watt Magnum invertor and high idle have made our setup well balanced and more than sufficient to meet our electrical needs. I was skeptical at first but Iíve been extremely impressed by how well this setup works. I donít know what Zamp does but it seems like thereís some proprietary magic going on in their solar panels and controller. Iíd highly recommend this setup to others. This being said, my wife and I come from a camping background where electricity is a resource to carefully monitor and meter out. We tend to be on the miserly side and conserve wherever we can. We also usually only stay in one place for 2 to 3 days before driving several hours. But with good sun and this setup, we could probably stay much longer in one place. We also donít need to plug in to shore power to keep our batteries charged like we used to have to. Our batteries stay at 12.5 to 13.5 at night and when the sun comes up, jump up to 14+. Good sun will pump as much as 11 amps into the batteries from the solar panels and as much as 80 amp hours in a day. When you combine this with the high idle for heavy loads, this setup provides a balanced electrical system for us.

Since this post has gotten so long, Iíll save our Espar diesel D5 hydronic heating system for another post. Itís all good and we are happy campers.

Chumley 08-31-2015 05:36 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Okay, there is a lot to work on to get the battery management situation to where I would like it now.

Charlie is at the local shop getting the generator worked on. I should start a thread about the PowerTech diesel generator but maybe I'll do that later...

One thing that I just had done was taking the power for the gas and carbon monoxide detectors back to the main coach switch. Now there will be no draw from anything active when parked for storage. Storage for us means just a week or so at a time but it should make a difference.

I also ordered a 12 volt solar battery charger that will plug in to a cigarette lighter type plug and perform a trickle charge. At least that is what I am hoping. It is a 6 watt, 400 mA. Please tell me if you think that it's a waste, of course it's too late as Amazon Prime is whisking the product to me so I can see what'll happen in just a couple days.

So planning for a nice long trip always brings out the maintenance guy in me. I'm normally very good about day to day stuff but I will admit that I have not taken care of some of those little things I usually do because of all of the community work I am involved in lately. So now I wax, treat the plastic and vinyl, clean and treat the leather and generally get into the nooks and cranny's to do a good cleaning. Driving around in a clean house for 3 weeks will be nice.

Weekend before last I was watching in horror as my batteries declined to an alarmingly low level but kept myself occupied by detailing the exterior. Very effective distraction.

I waxed the exterior with NuFinish car wax. Itís become my favorite and has served me so well that I havenít tried anything else in years so if you have a personal favorite please let me know what it is and why you like it so much.

I love the slippery feeling of the wax and I swear that when combined with the recent big service Charlie seems to move a little more smartly down the road. I swear Iím seeing increased power and fuel mileage. Might have something to do with the service but I think the only thing that might effect performance at all was a fuel filter change.

This last weekend it was all about cleaning the exterior plastic and vinyl.

The vinyl bumpers and side cladding were looking a little oxidized so I did some extensive research and think I have a winner. Of course these days extensive research takes about .39 seconds for over 2 million results.

I pushed the order button and 2 days later I had a bottle of Meguiars 39 Professional Heavy Duty Vinyl Cleaner. It was brilliant and cleaned the vinyl quickly and effortlessly. Of course thereís enough vinyl to keep a person pretty busy for a while.

This weekend I will use the ReNu Pro Plastic Restorer to protect it and give it some of its richness back.

I applied 303 Protectant to the interior plastic and vinyl parts and it made a subtle difference but the interior really looked pretty good to begin with. I use 303 because it leaves no residue, slippery or anything and no dust, and Iíve had luck with it for over 20 years.

What made me feel really good was cleaning and treating the leather.

Our entire interior is upholstered in leather so we always keep an eye on how itís doing. We have noticed that the nice light tan inserts in the driverís and passengerís seat was starting to show some dirt. I always wondered if that would be a problem but with just a little leather cleaner the dirt came right off! I used some Lexol leather conditioner and everything is nice and supple.

I took a moment and just looked inside at our build and smiled.

I think we all love our builds and I do really appreciate ours. It just works so well and it still looks great to this day. I really like the colors of the materials and the fit and finish is pretty darn good (well, I did have to have some of it redone to get to this point though). Everything still feels solid and we have a few rattles but I guess you canít avoid them.

I was outside and the sun hit the side window and showed me what a recent repair to the upholstery looks like from the outside.

Not very pretty to me but then I guess SMB does not consider this to be a concern. Iíll let you decide what you think about this repair which was completed to re-secure some upholstery that was pulling off the backing panel. Doesn't look like they removed the panel to secure the edge of the upholstery... Looks like someone got a little overzealous with the stapler and a spray can of adhesive tooÖ don't run your hand back there because there is a least one staple that broke off... don't ask me how I know...

So weíre getting Charlie ready for about 7,000 miles of open road. We will be avoiding most of the main freeways where possible and enjoying some nice back highways. The van handles so well and has enough power that mountain roads are a joy.

This may not be the best time to head north to Alaska but sometimes we canít control everything like we would like. Heck, last year our September vacation got pushed back to end of November so weíre doing pretty good this year.

Iíll keep you all posted about how the generator repairs come out but I canít help but think back to what my sales guy said about generators being more work than they are worth. It sure is nice when it works thoughÖ


Chumley 09-03-2015 04:47 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Just got Charlie back and the local shop could find no problems and they said the generator started right up multiple times. I picked up the van and it started right up for me too!

Pretty frustrating.

For now I will just use the generator until it stops running and hope that it stops altogether and gives me a real opportunity to diagnose the problem or maybe it will just run normally. Of course just running normally would be a lot to expect.

The good thing is that while speaking to the shop owner the other day he recommended that I consider using a small portable solar charging system that I can plug into a cigarette lighter outlet. That sounded good so I went out and ordered one. Of course the one I ordered was too small... it is a 12 watt solar panel with 6 watts and 400mA.

So now I'm ordering another one which I hope will take care of our battery maintaining issue, 12 volts and 15 watts and 830 mA. I just want the charger to keep the batteries at a fully charged level when I start out close to a full charge and park it. This solar charger does not appear to be able to charge anything quickly but the goal is to keep the batteries topped up while sitting in the driveway. It is not something we will count on for use when on the road, although I hope they help reduce the need to start that generator as often.

The other thing is that the gas and CO2 detectors are now powered from the 12 volt main panel and can be switched off with the main switch. That should help with the drain when switched off. The only little issue is that the switch has to be on to charge the batteries with the solar charger since it works through the 12 v cigarette lighter. I think that's one of the reasons that the little 6 watt solar charger wasn't the right answer, it can't maintain the batteries and overcome that drain. Oh well...

Hopefully I'm getting a handle on the battery situation. I had lived in ignorant bliss this whole time just doing what I was told. After about $550 for a new set of batteries and seeing them go flat you realize that you have to pay attention, at least it did for me.



twogone 09-03-2015 05:05 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Originally Posted by Chumley
Pretty frustrating.

I have been amazed many times in my life... happens to this day... a problem with a mechanical thing self-corrects when the mechanic is there. I often tell my mechanics "it'll run perfect while you are here"... same with plumbers... electricians... A/C dudes... amazing

Onefin 09-03-2015 05:27 PM

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

Chumley 09-04-2015 10:21 AM

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

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

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

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

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


pjmjunior 09-04-2015 02:30 PM

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


Chumley 10-24-2015 01:53 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With so many two lane roads there were times when we inevitably had to pass a slower moving vehicle and Charlie did a very good job of getting up and going but it required planning and got me used to spooling up the turbos and accelerating before getting the pass started. Note: the Alcan is full of energy industry related trucking from about Fort Nelson south and I will avoid it in the future Ė unless Iím in a high horsepower rig and can pass at will. Never had problems going uphill and I was very rarely passed on those hills or the flats Ė no I wasnít holding up traffic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I donít know if a stock standard Mercedes Sprinter would be this capable on the road but I doubt it. All of the little things that have been modified really add up to a very comfortable and capable rig.

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



yelnam 10-24-2015 08:09 PM

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

The batteries ended up being ok then?


Chumley 11-08-2015 05:13 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to the next long trip.


Viva 11-08-2015 06:48 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

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

Hi Chumley,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chumley 11-16-2015 01:25 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

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

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

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

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

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



Chumley 01-01-2017 07:02 PM

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

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

Not bad, huh?

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

Traveling all of those miles is best spent in a rattle free environment and I have to say that the build of this van is just about as solid as a rock. I still have to spray my silicon lubricant into some areas to knock down the squeaks but that is a well practiced routine. No rattles to speak of that arenít due to my poor packing.

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

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

When the new windshield shows up he will replace the temporary one and also put in a new window on the sliding door which has the operable awning windows. Finally an upgrade that we didnít do when new!

Well we did add another upgrade (maybe twoÖ).

We added a couple solar panels so we now have 200 watts of solar power and we couldnít be happier. I had originally eschewed solar power since I thought that the generator would handle the power needs on trips but it didnít address the routine daily and weekly maintenance of the expensive batteries, weíre on our second replacement set now (more on that).

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

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

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

Sealing our confidence that we have the electrical dialed is the fact that we finally fixed the diesel generator! I had always felt that it was fuel delivery but couldnít nail down until the last visit when the mechanic got it to fail and it was a faulty internal fuel pump. After all of that time it was a fuel pump! It seemed so obvious but until itís replicated no one could nail it down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

kreese 07-28-2018 07:28 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Chumley 07-30-2018 10:57 AM


Thanks for actually paying attention to this old build thread. I mean to update it but was looking for a special occasion to do it, maybe the 6th year anniversary...

I love the shower but you have to understand the size. Ours is 36" wide and it works for us since we're both relatively small, size matters here.

There is absolutely nothing like feeling truly clean on the road. We have learned to use the soap sponges (see the post immediately before yours) to lather up and then rinse off completely in the shower. Having hot water for the shower makes all the difference. If you use the "hot plate" option make sure you get the high engine idle option.

The shower space is also the bathroom where the Thetford Curve toilet resides so it does do double duty, we also store items in there while driving.

I think your need to visit depends on you. I can't speak to the way the shop is run now but when I did my build things got kind of wonky pretty quickly so felt I needed to visit more often than most have shown. Sportsmobile themselves said that my build was only the second one to have issues like mine did in anyone's memory and I tend to believe them. :)

I love Charlie and he's as solid today as when we drove him out of the building into the world of adventure.

The van has been solid and still drives like a car. I would definitely look for aftermarket shocks if Sportsmobile or Mercedes hasn't addressed use by people like us who don't need the commercial delivery capacity and don't care about ride. But even that is highly dependent on your build and its weight.

Good luck!


denishil33 06-08-2020 08:05 AM

Chumley or anayone,

I have also installed the powertech in my sprinter. Whgat I am struggling with is where they uisually mount the coolant resoivoire tank?

Does anyone have any idea?

SCTN 06-10-2020 10:09 PM

Kreese. I just picked mine up a few months ago. I’m really happy with the final product. I worked with my sales guy and got pictures weekly. A simple ask and I’m sure they would be willing to do it. With the SIP I would imagine driving over there every few weeks would be a stress on their protocols and a risk for yourself. The trim and finish gets blasted through in about a two week window. All the other stuff is what it is. So I guess I’d ask myself what do you plan to achieve with so many visits? You trusted these people with your money, you worked hard with your sales person on a solid layout and signed it off. I’d let them work but that’s just my opinion.

From my experience though, take everyone’s advice on staying the night to try everything out. Don’t pick it up on a Friday, AND touch and use absolutely everything and feel confident in how it works and if it works before driving home.

danbr 11-08-2020 05:51 PM

@denishil33 - just picking up on this old thread - ours is under the dinette just inside the rear passenger-side door

GvB40 03-10-2021 03:48 PM

My GTRV build went pretty well. I think it was a first time for them with a lot of the extras like Aluminess bumpers and box. And they built a special north to south bed and installed a 50 gal water tank that I had built in Florida. They also fabricated a shower pan for the shower and cassette toilet compartment. Lots of storage was built in. Very professional work and only an hour away from me. And any little problems I have had have been taken care of no hassle. And I just swapped out my front opening fridge for a drawer fridge and they did an exceptional job doing that.

GvB40 03-10-2021 03:53 PM

My GTRV build went pretty well. I think it was a first time for them with a lot of the extras like Aluminess bumpers and box. And they built a special north to south bed and installed a 50 gal water tank that I had built in Florida. They also fabricated a shower pan for the shower and cassette toilet compartment. Lots of storage was built in. Very professional work and only an hour away from me. And any little problems I have had have been taken care of no hassle. And I just swapped out my front opening fridge for a drawer fridge and they did an exceptional job doing that. My smb build was a 2006 T1n and they did a wonderful job on it. But thatís history.

Chumley 06-28-2021 07:08 PM

Well it's been a while but wanted to drop in and see how things are going with you all.

Van Charlie is now almost nine years old! It just doesn't feel like it's been nine years and 45,000 miles. Sorry for the low mileage, I guess I'm kind of embarrassed but I'll delve more into why the low miles in future posts...

For now I will say that for a nine year old rig he's in incredible shape. The build quality cannot be faulted. These vans are stiff and to take that pounding all these years and nothing has broken is amazing if you ask me. Mind you we take very good care of our stuff but that doesn't help if it falls apart in front of you.

I would not hesitate to take off on a 10,000 mile trip if need be, however there are a few things I'd like to get taken care of before that took place. The Sprinter platform is solid, the Sportsmobile work is solid but there have been great improvements in these kinds of platforms and a little modernizing is in order. I'll write more about that soon.

For now I'm scheduling an appointment with Peter at Sportsmobile for a general once over and tightening of all the cabinetry as a few squeaks and creaks have announced themselves. Still, I'm just so happy with the build quality - I drove a new Roadtrek once at a dealership and it had so many more rattles and squeaks compared to my now nine year old Charlie that it really is amazing.

Great to be back.

Thank you.


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