Ardour HQ - 2010 NCV3 2500 170 mobile life conversion


After about 3 months reading the forums, my conversion process starts ... now.

Just drove back from Ashland, VA with a 2010 NCV3 2500 170", odometer 64250 miles. The goal is to convert this thing into a place where my wife and I can travel for about half the year, and in which I can work writing software while we do. Lots of challenges, but the forums here have me feeling very confident in both my current plans and my sense that I'll find help and/or ideas here if/when I run into an issue. My software is called Ardour ( and the van will carry a PA plate that says "ARDOUR" :)

Two opening shots from the dealer to get us started:


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Van Guru
Looks like there will be some nice shelving showing up on CL in your area.
I have a nephew who is a recording engineer and told him about your software.

I've had some folks asking about a battery tray located ahead of the rear tires.
Can you post a picture of this area? There is not as much room as on a 3500
but still might be able to get 1 battery on each side.


Removed shelves, bulkhead:


Sad to see the destruction caused by whoever installed the old Weatherguard bulkhead:



Removed factory floor:


Dismayed to find (a) some kind of solvent spill in a rear corner that caused a nasty tar-like deposit to come out of the floor under-felt.


Next up: cleaning floor, priming a few dozen holes left by self-tapping screws from previous panneling. fixing the usual problem with the side-trim mounting holes.

Oh, the fantastic fan arrived too, meaning there is nothing really stopping me from making the first cut. Shiver.
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What the cat dragged in:


The one thing I've got done so far:


It is too cold here for any conversion work at all. Metal primer paint won't cure, contact adhesive won't cure, sealants won't cure, moisture won't evaporate. And there's another 6-8 inches of snow+ice due tonight and tomorrow.
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Well, at least I get part of the required weather to begin working on the beast next week:


I guess it would be too much to ask for no rain?


That weather's the reason we are heading down from an hour north of Toronto to a friend's driveway in South Carolina to begin our conversion of our 2013 170. Sound dampening and EZ Cool being on our list to get accomplished in our ten days there.

Yesterday, we had the good people at Transform Outfitters in St. Catherines, Ontario put two CL Laurence windows into our as yet un-named vehicle.


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Time to get started on something, given a few days thaw. Temperatures hit 61F here today, with snow still everywhere but melting fast, but also rain all day. Tomorrow should be low 50's with no rain, Sunday is low 50's with maybe rain and Monday is 37F and clear as we head back to winter weather. Took a long trip to Lowes to pick up some necessary tools. Spent the morning rebuilding my Ryobi BT3000 tablesaw, which hasn't seen any action in a decade or so (and whose predecessor amputed the end of my thumb).

First things first: Having read MeanInGreen's thread on rust formation and Hein's observations on water entry, both occuring behind the side trim, I wanted to take care of this issue ASAP. It is evident in a picture above that the trim mounting pins are leaking and that the stickers put over the larger holes are also admitting water. Picked out my newly acquired "plastic-on-plastic" tool:


and gently levered the driver side trim from the body. I started with the little piece right under the fuel door, just to get a sense of the amount of force required. A bit more than I expected, but not huge. Then moved on to the long section that is not touched by the wheel well trim, and then finally the two pieces on either side of the wheel well. As expected, some number of the plastic pins that hold the trim to the wall came out with the trim, but most stayed in the body. I started taking off the wheel well trim, but found that to be a mistake - very easy to break the mounting tabs on the trim when doing this. I found that releasing it from the attachments most "down" on both sides of the well, I could get enough leverage on the side trim to remove it even with the well trim still mostly attached.

And what did I find?


Thankfully no obvious rust yet. But absolutely no sealant around any of the trim mounting pins, and the stupid tape to cover the larger holes. What are these holes for anyway? My plan is to follow MeanInGreen's actions: thoroughly clean the entire area with soap and water to remove actual dirt, then go over it with a light solvent to remove any grease. Then I'll use Sikaflex on all the mounting pins, and then spray the bulk of the area covered by trim with this stuff:

which is the closest thing I could find to the UK-produce compound that MeanInGreen used for this purpose. The exposed horizontal seam really is a terrible idea on MB's part, and needs better protection that the little strip of undercoat that they appear to have half-heartedly applied. And all those leaking holes!


Having gotten a view of the side trim task, it was time to move inside and get a small but vital charge completed: adding an Aux input to the factory sound. I had already done the magic menu machinations to enable the Aux input (as documented here: and had ordered one of these: which gave me a male stereo minijack pre-wired to the blue block that plugs into the back of the Sound 5.

With a little trepidation, I started dissassembling the center dash/console, following the steps in gyzari's video (search youtube for: Dodge Mercedes Sprinter stock stereo Sound 5 replacement)

I had to return to it to check on how to remove the wierd empty box below the Sound 5 unit - turns out that it just levers out, but requires a surpising amount of force. His video is visible on the netbook below:


I had purchased a couple of stereo minijacks sockets, planning to mount at least one of them in the trim around the Sound5. But I realized this would be a bad idea because it would make removing the trim rather difficult in the future. In the end I had removed enough of the center console trim that an alternative path became clear that let me (a) avoid cutting the cable to wire it to the socket (b) soldering (c) drilling any holes. I fed the cable rightwards, up and over the right-center cold air vent, and through a small gap into the passenger side "top tray".


I zip-tied the new cable to an existing hole in the dash framing (and the flexi-bundle heading in roughly the same direction). You can see the cable just above the air vent, and then out in the open in the passenger tray.

Music is a central part of my day to day life, and definitely on the road, and although I imagine lots of other modifications and additions to the overall audio situation, just being able to plug our existing 120GB music collection into the Sound5 already seems like a big step. The Aux jack gives us more flexibility in terms of device hookup (one day my Sansa Clip+, another day someone's phone, another day a computer with the music collection on it, etc. etc). I'd love to just get a DIN unit with USB support except that I'm enough of a geek that 75% of our music is in Ogg/Vorbis format. It is VERY hard to get information on whether or not modern car audio devices will support Ogg/Vorbis at this point - I've tried. So Aux jack it is - simple, device and format agnostic.

Tomorrow, the cutting begins!
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Van Guru
Great write up and plan of attack on the under trim leaks. I wish I had removed all my trim and cleaned it up.
Are those more open holes beneath the seam? Did you order the rubber plugs? This topic and solutions deserves a sticky.
Thinsulate is on the way, BTW.


Van Guru
They were tight and I was installing from the inside but that shouldn't matter. Maybe some sealant to lubricate them a bit. I got one side started and rotated them in the rest of the way.


Well, the first real weekend of working on the van, and a mixed weekend it was. A brief break in the near-freezing weather made it feasible that primer and body sealant would cure, so it seemed time to make cuts to the body work that appear to logically precede any other activities.

It helps to have an artist for a wife. These scaffolding units cost $170-210 at any big box hardware store. Very handy for working on the windows and as a way to get up on the roof. And speaking of roof, leaning up against the scaffold, you'll see my variation on Hein's platform idea to allow easy working up there. As it turns out, the scaffolding would have been almost good enough (height wise), but for a few things, it was good actually being up there on the roof itself.


As it turned out, the platform was the just first of my recoverable errors. Hein used 2x6" on the edge of his platform - I opted for 2x4" because I had them (and the rest of the materials) just sitting around. But that meant that the 1x3" I used for cross supports touched the roof ribs in the middle, so I had to take the jigsaw to them and thin them to fit. The result was a much more flexible platform than I was thinking of, but it still focused the load on the rail gutters and gave me a place to sit and put stuff.


Almost everything I'm going to do the van is based on what I've seen here and in the Sprinter RV source book. For the fan, I adopted Graphite Dave's template model to mark the corner(s) of the opening. Things I learned along the way here:

  • finding the center of the circle is hard. But finding the line through middle of it front-to-back is easy given MB frame holes.
  • the fan opening can really be 14", it doesn't need to be 13 15/16th
  • rather than cut a template AND a supporting (edge) frame for the fan, I used a single piece of 3/4" birch ply. I used it as a solid square for the template and then cut out the middle with a jigsaw to act as the supporting edge.
  • spray paint goes everywhere. Mask. A Lot. More than you think you need.
  • you're going to have to remove some of the MB acoustic dampening material. Do this BEFORE you cut the opening. You can do it afterwards too, but you will need a chisel and a hammer to bust this stuff off the metal and you might prefer not doing this right next to a newly-created edge. This was actually the most arduous part of the whole weekend. Ugh.

Originally I wanted to put the fan at the back of van and have the solar up front. But there's really no good place for it in the back - ribs get in the way - and we worried about the noise of it being overhead at night. So I simply went with the MB stamping up front. I was amazed that it was still a fairly close fit - the edges of the fan flange still rest on the roof ribs in front and behind the circular area. Not so much that I was worried though.



Having cut out the hole, I double-primed the edge. and then painted. Masked the second time around ...


Had to wait a good while for the paint/primer layers to dry, and since I was going to use a putty gasket, I decided to leave the paint to dry overnight.

The next day I drilled out the flange mounting holes, primed the edges, left that to dry for a couple of hours, and then layed out the putty. I'm suprised to hear people using butyl for this - the information I found strongly suggested butyl for fiberglass (e.g RV) and putty for metal (e.g Sprinter). Either way, I am sure you can get a good seal. 16 10/24 x 1-1/2" stainless bolts, washers and locknuts later:


I (mostly) copied Graphite Dave's idea of adding "strip washers" to spread the clamping pressure and reduce the likelihood of cracks in the (plastic) fan flanges. I used only 1/6" aluminum (hey, every little bit of weight counts, right?) and utilized the existing aluminum on the hinge side of the fan. This actually required 2" bolts and slightly larger washers for the 3 holes there. I'm split between this being a good move - reinforcing the fan hinge attachment - and a bad one - this strip was not not meant to be used this way. Ready for sealing:


I used UV-resistant Sikaflex to seal the edges and the tops of the screws. One thing worries me about the aluminum strip idea: there seems to be the potential for a very minor but real water entry path underneath it. The outer edge is sealed but the inner one ... well, if there is an issue, it is just a matter of more Sikaflex.

A couple of the other things got started. First, QuietCoat on the wheel wells. This is a visco-elastic polymer that appears to be one of the best things for vibrational noise. It gets painted on in several very thin layers. This was the first one:


And since it was going to rain, I drilled out the holes to mark the corners of the window cutouts (look hard - they are a bit tricky to see). A 1/8" new pilot point drill make this easy work. More on the window story tomorrow, which didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked.



Minor tasks partially accomplished: I primed all the holes left in the inner walls by the weatherguard shelves that were previously installed (a couple need some rust converter first). And I tried inserting the rubber plugs recommended by Hein to seal the sidewalls. This is SO hard, and in at least 1/3 of the cases, almost impossible due to inner wall framing being in the way. I wondered if temperature would make much of a difference. Some oil help a little to get things sliding, but I'm not sure if I want to use this approach for the remaining 9 holes. The plugs are nice though.
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OK, so this post isn't really Sprinter related directly, but I finally managed to finish the build of the main computer system that will be installed in the van. I'm a software developer, and I spend a lot of time "compiling" my software which for those who don't know is a process that can basically utilize as much computing horsepower as you can throw at it. Doing a "full compile" of my software takes 5-6 minutes on my main office machine.

The goals for the van system were:

  1. no noticeable drop in computing power from office
  2. noticeably reduce electrical power consumption
  3. use 12VDC directly, avoiding inverter requirement
  4. be small

I finally settled on building up a mini-ITX system with the following basic specs:

  • Intel i3770s cpu (nominal 65W max power)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77N-wifi motherboard
  • Samsung 250GB SSD (disk drive)
  • M350 "universal" enclosure from

Here's the case just before I finalize everything by mounting the drive support (on the left).


For scale, here's a shot of the closed case with my hand. It is a bit larger than a Mac Mini - those are incredibly pieces of engineering - but (a) cheaper (b) more powerful (c) lower power (d) built of off-the-shelf parts (e) entirely under my control.


The lovely and powerful backplane, including twin RP-SMA wifi antenna mounts (more on this in another post). Lots of USB, dual HDMI, dual ethernet connectors:


To along with this box, I wanted a monitor that also avoided the need to run an inverter. I managed to find a used Hanns-G model on ebay, just about the last one in North America it seems. $80 from a guy about 80 miles away from me. It is a 24" 1900x1080 (16x9) - not the ideal aspect ratio for programming but (a) it can be easily rotated (or will be once it is mounted) (b) not too far off, and we'll use it for movies too, where 16x9 is better (c) beggars can't be choosers - there are almost no 12V monitors in production anymore. Even Samsung, who used to use external power bricks and deliver 12V to the monitor, have more or less given up on it. I'm guessing that somewhere around 2010, power bricks got way, way smaller - this was the same time that the mac mini power supply vanished inside the case - and so monitor makers just stuffed it into the case.

Here's the back of monitor showing (a) the lovely 12V power input (b) the lack of HDMI which was the final downside to this particular unit. DVI will do just fine, thank you very much.


The system runs AVLinux, a version of Linux customized for users wanting a simple out of the box experience with Linux audio+video software. Here's the final shot, of the running system running my software:


There is still lots left to do before this system is up and running in the van (ignoring the complete lack of any van electricals right now). Cables, connectors all need to decided upon, along with a mounting design for the monitor, which lacks VESA mounts.

Finally, it is almost 40F here, forecast for above or near 50F over the next 3 days, so I'm going to go cut out another hole for the second window!


2019 170 4x4 Hightop
A couple of the other things got started. First, QuietCoat on the wheel wells. This is a visco-elastic polymer that appears to be one of the best things for vibrational noise. It gets painted on in several very thin layers. This was the first one:


Paul, how do you feel that QuietCoat on the wheel wells did and would you do it again or use something else?


Re: Quiet Coat ... at this point, I have no idea. I've only been able to put two thin coats on so far because of the generally deep cold. I will get several more coats on during a brief thaw we are having in the next few days. But I haven't driven the van with it applied and it will be a while before I do. I'll be sure to report back on it.


Well, we have a brief thaw in the winter conditions, with temperatures hitting 59F yesterday and maybe 61F on Tuesday, so I figured it was a chance to get some more temperature-dependent work done: like installing the next window.


Holes and lines for the 2nd passenger side window (the one on the right went in a couple of weeks ago.


Close up of the holes/lines, to make it clear to anybody who reads this in the future how this works.


Three out of four sides cut, duct tape holding everything in place.


The final corner. For anyone reading this in the future, here's how this cutting thing works. The Sprinter has a double wall where the windows install. Your job is to cut the outer wall so that it has a hole that precisely matches the hole stamped out at the factory. The tiny holes mark the corners and edges of that inner wall. Once you get cutting (I used a jigsaw with a 24TPI blade), you will find that the combination of you sighting the line and the blade "resting" on the inner wall edge will guide things fairly well. The inner wall edge does still get "cut" a little (more like severely abraded), but for the most part you are just cutting the outer wall to match the existing opening.

I have another thread about the window install over here that gets into the space between the inner and outer wall question.

Finally, I note that CR Laurence failed to ship the install screws with this second window, which is a real pain. I have a few screws not installed from the first window which will have to do for now.
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While waiting for primer and more coats of Quiet Coat on the wheel wells to dry, I removed the panel on the inside of the slider door. Oh, thank you Mercedes Benz:


The usual leaking trim plugs that have trigged rust already in a flange that help mounts the slider bar to the door. Treated this with a rust converter, will prime and topcoat once it has "cured".

Meanwhile, back on the outside, I sealed all the plugs. The ones that stayed in the body got "topcoated":


The few that came out with the trim, I back-coated before reinstalling the trim. I'll do most of these from the inside as well, because I'm not confident that reinstalling the trim won't slightly rotate the in-body plugs and break the seal. There are a few that are harder to get to from the inside, though, hence the outer treatment.

I've given up on using the rubber plugs that Hein picked out to fill the large, badly-taped over holes (I'm guessing these might be used to lift and move the vehicle body during painting). Maybe it is just too cold, or I'm a wimp - they are just too hard to install here. Instead, I noticed the think rubber coverings in the row below where these occur. These do not appear to leak and are in good condition, unlike the stupid sticky tape that MB used on the upper large holes.

I have loads of old inner tubes around, and a nice tube of Sikaflex, so I cut out a couple of small "patches", put a bead of Sikaflex around the holes, pressed the patches on, then top coated the edges:


Next step there is to seal up the in-body plugs as above, and then use some corrosion proofer on the raised seam and lower edge where the trim rubs.

Me to van: You shall not rust!


Next up was to get started on the insulation. I'm following the Hein recipe for the most part: EZ Cool reflective bubble against the wall, Thinsulate on top of that and then Reflectix.

I started by followed the Dave Orton's instructions for removing the headliner: excellent stuff. I'm replacing the B-pillar trims (see upthread for the butchery done to the existing ones to install a cargo partition), so I had to go get a T45 Torx bit to remove the seatbelts from the seats as well. I was pleasantly suprised at how easily the headliner come out. If you don't have a DIN mount in the headliner (i..e just a light and glasses box), you don't need to more than remove the light and unplug it (this differs from the Orton DIY example).

I stuck a few pieces of Dynamat Extreme here and there - in general I am struck by how well MB has already done dampening control on the vehicle body.

Then, a nice full width, 38" piece of EZ cool for the ceiling. I slotted it all the way down into the slot/pocket formed by the above-windscreen beam:


Cut out some more shapes for the left over space, taped it all up with EZ Cool aluminum tape:


(worried about that antenna mount - like many other folks, our antenna got severely bent during the snow/ice this winter and it may need replacing)

I did not glue the EZ Cool to the ceiling. The combination of the front slot/pocket and some tape on the first roof beam seamed to hold it all solidly in place, and the headliner will provide heavy duty support if needed. I figured that given the reflective nature of the EZ Cool, if it does actually drop away from the roof a little bit, that just improves the performance.

Then some 3M 90 contact adhesive on the Thinsulate and EZ Cool ...


... oops, that wasn't enough glue and I let it sit too long. Oh well, do it again and cover the whole surface this time. There we go:


I managed to put a tube of Thinsulate in the upper half of the driver-side B-pillar too. Then reinstalled the headliner (also very easy) ... must remember to go back and use loctite later .. and done for the day.

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