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Old 01-23-2019, 01:32 AM   #1
himesjd
 
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Default Family explorer van

IMG_20180121_161520839_HDR - Copy.jpg

The goal for my wife and I is to build out a van to share this beautiful country (USA) with our kids before they leave the nest. And then to enjoy time on the open road by ourselves.

After college I road tripped through the country hitting many of the iconic national parks while camping or even sleeping in the backseat of my none-to-big car. My wife spent a month after grad school backpacking through Europe. So travel is something we enjoy, but the years of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements have passed us by.

With friends and family members owning both class A & C motorhomes, we had some exposure to the traditional RV lifestyle, but the size and cost was off-putting to us. Additionally, the many quality horror stories are a bit scary, even if they are overblown. We are also bad at vacations, by which I mean we don't go to the beach and sit. We prefer to explore wherever we are and stay on the move.

A co-worker of mine completed a skoolie conversion a couple years ago, and while the commercial vehicle route was not of interest to me, it was inspiring to see what could be done with 4 (err, 6) wheels and a lot of sweat and determination.

Originally we discussed a van as a retirement project. Then one day my wife came back to me and said, why don't we do it now while the kids are still young so we can share the experience with them. I agreed and the wheels started turning.

With two pre-teen kids we decided early on that only a large van was going to cut it. The Transits and Promaster just didn't offer a large enough version for my liking. Add to that the benefits of diesel fuel economy and ability to use the main tank to run a heater and we pretty quickly settled on a Sprinter.

We were planning to wait until the fall of 2018 to start searching for a van, but while researching price trends last January we came across a near perfect van. Long story short we bought it. Our blank canvas is a 2015 170" 2500 cargo with the I4 drive train that came to us with just 4500 miles. We didn't believe the dealer at first, but sure enough 1500 miles/year was all it had seen for the first 3 years of it's life.

The van's back story is that it was owned by a Pepsi distributor who used it only for local runs that the bigger trucks couldn't make. With the company being based in Long Island, I can certainly understand the desire for a smaller vehicle.

Our goal for the first year was to get something minimally functional so we could start using it (spoiler alert: we succeeded). Then comes the long slog of slowly completing the build. If we're lucky maybe it'll be done by the time the kids graduate.
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Old 01-23-2019, 03:15 AM   #2
alexk243
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Default Re: Family explorer van

Congrats on getting a van! You mentioned that your goal for the first year "was" to get in functional, so is the beginning of your build done already? More to come? Would love to see it or your criteria for the build.
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Old 01-23-2019, 12:21 PM   #3
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Default Re: Family explorer van

My plan is to slowly catch the thread up with my progress. Enough was finished at Christmas time for a trip to Florida which we enjoyed very much. Taking a bit of a break now while the weather is cold.
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Old 02-01-2019, 06:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: Family explorer van

Perfect van for this conversion, love the I4, and the space will be great. I'm looking forward to your experience with 4 people in the van and how you lay it out. Most vans are set up great for 2, and even the $$$ conversions sleep 2 with an extra 2 uncomfortably. If you find a workable equation it might convince me to get off my butt and do a new conversion myself.
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Old 02-10-2019, 03:17 AM   #5
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Default Re: Family explorer van

As mentioned earlier, our van came at a fairly good price with super low miles. It also comes with very few options. In an ideal world it would have had a few extras like radio controls on the steering wheel and a body color other than white. To get the perfect van we would have had to custom order and we did not want to spend that kind of money. So we'll make do with what we've got.

There are two extras the previous owner added that are a nice addition to the van. The first are running boards on the three side doors. They make getting in and out of the van much easier than it would be without.

The slider one got a bit beat up by the Pepsi cart, at some point I will need to take it off and do some straightening. The second addition is a rear view camera. Although not the best quality camera, it is none-the-less priceless when backing up the van. This particular camera system came with a second camera for monitoring the cargo area when the divider was in place. At this point I don't have a use for the second channel, but I have half a mind to find a way to mount it to provide a better view behind the van while driving down the road.

ParameterValue
027K No code designation available
181 FUEL FILTER WITH WATER SEPARATOR
213K No code designation available
427 No code designation available
494 No code designation available
581 AUTOMATIC CLIMATE CONTROL
617K No code designation available
740L MB USA
801 No code designation available
805 No code designation available
9147 PAINT COLOR ARCTIC WHITE MB 9147
943K No code designation available
A11 No code designation available
AR2 AXLE RATIO I = 3.923
B09 No code designation available
BB9 ELECTRONIC STABILITY PROGRAM (ESP9I)
C38 REAR SPRING FOR WEIGHT VARIANT 3,880 KG
C40 FRONT AXLE STABILIZER
C47 H.D. SHOCK ABSORBERS
C906 No code designation available
CL1 STEERING WHEEL ADJUSTABLE IN INCLINATION & HEIGHT
CL9 ECO POWER STEERING PUMP
D03 HIGH ROOF
D50 PARTITION PANEL FULL-WIDTH
E07 HILL-START ASSIST
E28 ADDITIONAL BATTERY FOR RETROFITTED CONSUMER
E30 BATTERY MASTER SWITCH, ONE-PIN
E33 BATTERY MANAGEMENT
E36 CUT-OFF RELAY FOR ADDITIONAL BATTERY
ED4 ABSORBENT GLASS MAT BATTERY 12 V 92 AH
ED8 ELECTRICAL SYST. PREINST., PARAM. SPECIAL MODULE
EK1 TERMINAL STRIP FOR ELECTRICAL CONNECTION
EL8 TWO-WAY LOUDSPEAKER FRONT
EN7 AUDIO 15
ES0 JUMP START CONTACT
F61 INSIDE REARVIEW MIRROR
F68 HEATED AND ELECTRICALLY ADJUSTABLE OUTSIDE MIRROR
F906 No code designation available
FF5 STOWAGE BOX/TRAY ABOVE WINDSHIELD
FI1 REMOTE CONTROL KEY SYSTEM FREQUENCY 315 MHZ
FKA PANEL VAN
FZ9 TWO ADDITIONAL MASTERS
G42 7G-TRONIC PLUS
H20 HEAT-ABSORBING GLASS ALL ROUND
HH2 ELECTRICALLY POWERED HOT-AIR AUXILIARY HEATER HH9 SEMI-AUTOMATICALLY CONTROLLED TEMPMATIC A/C
IG3 SPRINTER STANDARD
IR7 WHEELBASE 4325 MM, OVERHANG 2015 MM
IT4 3.5 METRIC TONS
J11 SPEEDOMETER MPH AND KM/H
J58 SEAT BELT WARNING SYSTEM FOR DRIVER SEAT
J65 OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE INDICATOR
JA8 CROSSWIND ASSIST
K60 TAIL PIPE LEADING STRAIGHT TO THE REAR
KB0MAIN TANK 100 LITER
KL1 FUEL-LEVEL SENSOR FOR AUXILIARY HEATER
KL5 FUEL FILTER WITH WATER SEPARATOR
KP1 FUEL PUMP, ELECTRIC, CONTROLLED
L LEFT-HAND STEERING
L65 COURT. LIGHTS F. TRUNK/PASS. COMP. W. DOOR CONT.
L94 ELIMINATION OF PARKING LIGHT
LB5 CENTER HIGH-MOUNTED BRAKE LAMP
LG6 DAYTIME RUNNING LIGHTS FOR USA/CANADA
LX7 NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA
M014 No code designation available
M40 ALTERNATOR 14 V / 200 A
M47 ALTERNATOR FOR FUEL ECONOMY
MG3 ENGINE OM651 DE22LA 120KW (163HP) 3800RPM
MH5 LOW-EMISSION ENGINE EPA 14/CARB
MS1 TEMPOMAT (CRUISE CONTROL)
MZ0 BLUEEFFICIENCY
N81 REFRIGERANT COMPRESSOR (KMV) WITH MAGNETIC CLUTCH
P47 MUDFLAP FRONT
P48 REAR MUD FLAPS
Q67 REAR TOWING LUG
R65 SPARE WHEEL CARRIER UNDER FRAME END
R87 SPARE WHEEL
RH0 TIRE MAKE KUMHO
RH8 TYRES LT 245/75 R16
RM0 ALL-SEASON TIRE
RM9 TIRE MAKE SPECIAL REQUEST
RS3 6.5 J X 16 STEEL WHEELS
RX1 WHEELS WITHOUT BRAND SPECIFICATION
RY2 TIRE PRESSURE MONITORING AT FA + RA, WIRELESS
S04 ADJUSTABLE FRONT PASSENGER SEAT
S22 DRIVER'S SEAT ARMREST
S25 CO-DRIVER'S SEAT ARMREST
SA5 AIRBAG DRIVER SIDE
SA6 CO-DRIVER'S AIR BAG
T09 LOAD COMPARTMENT SLIDING DOOR SPEC. VER.
T16 SLIDING DOOR RIGHT
T77 LOAD COMP.SLID.DOOR ENTRANCE GRAB HANDLE AT PRT.WL
T85 ENTRANCE GRAB AT CORNER PILLAR AT LEFT REAR
T86 ENTRANCE GRAB AT CORNER PILLAR AT RIGHT REAR
V43 WOOD FLOOR
V85 SMOKER PACKAGE
VA3 LOAD COMPARTMENT INNER TRIM UP TO ROOF WASHABLE
VY2 BLACK TUNJA FABRIC
W54 REAR-END DOORS, DOUBLE-WING, OPENING TO SIDE WALL
W73 REAR-END DOOR STEP
WM4 STEUERCODE WERK
WM9 STEUERCODE WERK
WN9 STEUERCODE WERK
WR9 STEUERCODE WERK
WV0 STEUERCODE WERK
X42 PLATES / PRINTED MATERIALS ENGLISH
XC8 VIN VISIBLE FROM OUTSIDE
XL8 WEIGHT VARIANT 3880 KG
XM0 MODEL IMPROVEMENT
XQ1 VIN CODED VEHICLE DATA WITH CHECK DIGIT
XY5 MODEL YEAR 5
XZ1 MODEL GENERATION 1
Y43 HYDRAULIC JACK
Z44 REGISTRATION OF VEHICLE NOT POSSIBLE IN EU
Z90 UNDERBODY CONSERVATION DELETED
ZB6 PRODUCTION PARTS KIT
ZM0 PANEL VAN
ZU8 USA COUNTRY VERSION
ZZ4 MERCEDES-BENZ SCOPE OF BRANDS, NORTH AMERICA
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Old 02-14-2019, 02:09 AM   #6
himesjd
 
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Default Re: Family explorer van

As a mechanical engineer, the challenge of designing a van is possibly as much fun as using the final product. Even so, as anyone who has taken up this challenge can attest to, the scope of such a project is a bit intimidating.

Like any good design project, you need to understand the customer requirements before starting the design.

Our van requirements are as follows:

Must haves
Seating for 4
Sleeping for 4 inside the van
Running hot and cold water
Ability to cook multiple meals per day
Refrigerator/Freezer big enough for 4 people for at least half a week
Toilet of some sort
Indoor shower (this is borderline nice to have for us)
Sufficient storage for 4
Heat
Enough electrical capacity to run all the above for 2 days minimum before recharging

Nice to haves
Outdoor shower
Solar power
Awning
Air Conditioning

Seating for 4 is a must unless we are to decide which kid we like best. And in order to stay light and nimble, the ability to sleep inside the van is also a must. We could certainly kick the kids out to a tent at times, but to travel the country, we can't be married to a tent.

Although we don't want a behemoth RV, we do still want most of the creature comforts of home. So running hot and cold water is a must. I know some decide not to have hot water, but the desire for a future shower makes it a necessity. I have no desire for plumbed in propane, so the kitchen plan includes appliances powered by electricity and 1 lb propane tanks. The actual appliances that will be installed are yet to be determined.

Since we're a family of 4, a bathroom is pretty much a necessity. I have no desire to deal with a black water tank, so I'm leaning toward a composting toilet. A cassette toilet is another option, but most reviews from people who have tried both seem to prefer the composting toilet. In order to have a shower, the bathroom will have to be a wet bath as is standard for vans. This is likely to be a longer term project, in the meantime we may have to utilize an outdoor shower for awhile.

Heat is a given, with the diesel tank providing a conveniently large fuel source for an Espar D2. Heat alone is not enough, of course, the van needs to be insulated! Thinsulate for the walls, Styrofoam for the floor.

We're not certain about a few things still. Air conditioning would be nice, but the weight and cost seem high compared to the amount of use it would see. I have half a mind to develop a portable AC that could be used when necessary and left home when not needed. We'll see.

Eventually we will want solar panels to enable extended off grid camping. But for most of our travels I anticipate alternator charging to be sufficient. An awning would also be nice, but before making that investment I think we'll try a tarp and see how often we use it.
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Old 05-30-2019, 03:05 AM   #7
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Default Re: Family explorer van

Sometimes you have to go backward to move forward. In this case I didn't have time in the fall to put in a proper finished floor before our trip to FL. So the last few weeks have been filled with emptying the van out, prepping it, and finally installing the floor covering.


In the fall we built up the floor starting with 1/2" anti-fatigue mats from Harbor Freight cut to fit in the corrugations, followed by 1" thick Super TUFF-R and finally topped by the OEM plywood floor. This worked well for the trip, however the plywood is still cold on the feet even with the insulation underneath.


PROTIP - Do not use the snap together anti-fatigue mats for filling the corrugations. Get the single piece roll style mat. The interlocking teeth are wasteful and too much of a pain to work with.


Marmoleum has received good reviews on the forums. I was drawn by the minimal expansion and contraction properties as well as the through thickness color. The amount of sand dragged into the van during our FL trip was amazing. Scratch resistance is going to be imperative with kids, even with a no shoe policy.


Since we don't need 100 years longevity, we chose samples of several patterns from the thinnest line of Forbo Marmoleum "MCS" (2mm thick). Based on those samples we chose Serene Grey for our van. GreenHomeFloors had a reasonable price and the material got to us in under 2 weeks time. Total price was a shade over $400 for 12 square yards delivered.


My splurge for comfort was to put electric heat underneath. Quiet Warmth makes thin film underfloor electric heaters for use in the home. I chose 18" wide by 5' and 10' long sections to cover the main aisle through the van. My plan, since the wiring is not yet complete, is to use a simple on/off switch to control the heaters. The panels self regulate (via resistance) to a maximum temperature of around 85 degrees F. They will not heat the van, but will make the floor more comfortable to be on.


WARNING: The Quiet Warmth line is not approved for use under a soft flooring like Marmoleum. The UL rating is for use under hard flooring like laminate only. If you choose to install this product in a manner similar to me, realize you are accepting the risk of installing off label.


To mitigate the soft floor impact, a cut out in the plywood floor was made to accommodate the electrical connectors which are 3-4x the thickness of the heater sheet. The two heaters are oriented so that the wired ends are at the front and rear ends of the plywood floor. This made it easy to notch out the plywood and run the wires along the edge of the floor so that they are never walked on.

For the Marmoleum install we cut to width first since the 79" roll width is thankfully greater than the van's ~71". A paper pattern was then created from the rear of the van forward to locate and rough size the wheel wells. The rest of the cut outs were left for in-van trimming. Care must be taken when moving the Marmoleum, it will tear if enough shearing load is applied. Sharp corners are especially susceptible to this. I had a couple tiny tears occur, thankfully all in areas which will be hidden in the final van build. It was enough to give a good scare, however.


I was pleased to find that Marmoleum cuts very easily with a sharp utility knife. Despite the fears around tearing, the material is fairly pliable and we were able to maneuver it around the sliding brackets from a Toyota Sienna middle row seat with only a 1/2" slot cut out. I was sweating that part of the install until seeing how easily it was handled.


I still have a lot of trim work to go on the front of the van. I have a good plan for trimming out the sliding door. The transition to the cabin rubbery floor mat is still a plan in progress, however. It may have to be a temporary solution so I can move forward with getting the full power electrical system in place.
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