My Review of Van Specialties (Outfitter in Tualatin, OR)

Blue_Wind

New member
Choosing Van Specialties was the BIGGEST mistake I could have ever made with my new MB 4x4 Sprinter.

I worked with Van Specialties (VS) for over a year on an $85,000 conversion so I'm speaking from vast nightmarish experience here. Just so you know: I could literally write an entire book detailing all the things that this company screwed up on with my build...but obviously you wouldn't read it. Therefore, I'm going to attempt to distill it down to the highlights (listed in 3 categories): minor, intermediate, and major. Initially I was planning to leave a 2-star review...but given recent developments there is no possible way I could rationalize such generosity (there's your cliffhanger motivation to read on till the end).

First the minor. So delivery of my van took about 12 grueling hours. Why? Here are just a few reasons: the outdoor shower didn't work, the 8 pound removable table top wasn't secured in any fashion in order to keep it from flying across the van during my 1st right or left hand turn when leaving their parking lot, the RB components "black out" curtains they installed were attached a full TWO INCHES from the windows...allowing someone from outside to easily peer into the van (they also somehow managed to attach the two different sized curtain fasteners in the wrong positions...which was a truly remarkable feat of incompetence), due to the pathetic initial curtain instal the interior of my van now has a couple dozen unnecessary rivet holes punched into it (they repositioned the curtains at a later date), fragile audio equipment for the $2,000+ stereo instal had literally been sticky taped (not screwed) to the van body and had already come unglued due to the heat, and best of all...I also noticed that they hadn't installed the license plate light (that I paid for) on the Aluminess rear bumper which was installed. For real. Every single issue that I mentioned was discovered by me...not them. Again, this is just the short list. Some other "minor" issues: During the days/weeks after delivery I spent countless hours on the phone with VS attempting to to get the specific product info/owner's manuals for much of the equipment installed (solar charger, solar panels, water pump, etc). In many cases none of this info was even on the invoice (it simply read: "water pump", "solar charger", etc) and in other cases it didn't even match with what was on the van. And again: no owner's manuals for literally thousands of dollars worth of gear.

Now the intermediate. I spent $1600 on a water system which specifically included a custom 27 gallon stainless steel water tank. Only problem is: the tank is only 21 gallons. I found this out weeks later after filling it up. I spent $2500 on a custom couch positioned at the foot of a 3-panel bed which was supposed to double as clothes storage (in the bench seat). The end product? 4 pieces of plywood (with fabric stapled to each piece) held together with two piano hinges and wedged into an aluminum bench seat frame. The plywood backrest literally rests against the end of the bed. Originally, it had no stabilization whatsoever. Meaning: when applying the brakes the "backrests" would fly forward/open. Their solution? Webbing straps and snaps. These two wooden couch sections are not actually fixed to the aluminum bench seat frame in any way. It is the flimsiest piece of garbage I've ever seen and literally looks like something a middle school kid would put together (on the fly) in shop class. The bench seat clothes storage compartment isn't contained and therefore allows dirt and other debris from the garage area to enter. Originally this clothes storage compartment was even exposed to the inverter, the battery charger, and an array of electrical wires (I'm not joking) but they remedied that by slapping a little wooden divider in there to separate the two sections. Remarkable craftmanship! VS attached a 50" ($1500) lightbar to my custom Aluminess roof rack and sent me on my way. When I went to adjust the angle later (it was shining down onto the hood of the van) I discovered that due to how it was mounted there was no possible way to adjust the angle. They knew this when they sent me on my way and that says a whole helluva lot about VS's integrity. Ultimately I had to waste a 1/2 day of my time by bringing my van into Aluminess (San Diego County, CA) so that they could correct VS's bungled instal job (much to Aluminess' credit). VS installed a $1600 Viair air compressor under my van but neglected to include the actual components that were a part of the kit I was charged for (for instance: the inflator gun and hoses!). Eventually they mailed me a couple of the components (but not all of them). And instead of the Viair brand 30' (200psi) hose the kit came with they sent me two shorter (125psi) hoses that need to be connected together in order to reach the front tires. Again, this speaks to the absolute shadiness and dishonesty of VS and how they are willing to cut corners any way they can.

Now for the big stuff. VS scratched and dented the rear doors of my BRAND NEW van when installing the Aluminess spare tire holder and storage box. They never informed me about the damage, I discovered it on my own a few days after delivery. I paid $1400 for a custom pull out tray for the garage area of my van. VS was clearly informed of what would be stored on the tray as well as an OVERestimation of the weight it would need to bear. Despite that (and due to one of the worst instal jobs I've ever seen) the tray failed in about two weeks time. They used cheap/flimsy slide tracks and couldn't even manage to instal them straight. This combo led to the failure. I live/work in my van and had to carefully baby the tray for over 3 months (in order to keep it from falling off the tracks) before I could bring the van back to VS for a repair. Obviously, I was apprehensive about turning my van back over to VS again but in order get at least some of what I paid for I decided to take a chance. This ended up being another huge mistake on my part. VS informed me that it would be an easy fix and that they'd "expedite" the repair on my next stop through the Portland,OR area. In reality though they ended up wasting another 3 days of my time (meaning: they had my van for 3 ENTIRE days) and STILL didn't completely fix it. It can now bear the originally specified weight but the bolts they used to attach the supports dig into the bottom of the wooden tray and are actively pulling the wooden tray apart each time it is used. I discovered this obvious flaw even before I left their shop but at that point the only sane thing to do was walk away. VS installed my $2000 Isotherm fridge in the galley cabinet with inadequate ventilation. This became clear after the unit struggled to keep food cold even in moderate 80F temps. After they reinstalled the unit with ventilation closer to specifications the door hinge failed (due to how the unit was remounted). I received a new fridge from Isotherm on warrantee, reinstalled it myself, and had to custom design/instal support brackets for both the door hinge and guide to keep them from failing again. After just 10 months my water pump failed. I investigated (with generous assistance from the folks at Pentair/Shurflo) and discovered that the issue was caused by a shoddy wiring job (one of the wires was loose). It took me over an hour just to ACCESS the pump. VS decided it was a good idea to completely bury the pump...requiring full removal of the 3 panel bed, storage tray contents, and the 5' long water box in order to perform even the most basic pump maintenance. In other words: there is no access door to reach the pump. After the water pump ordeal I took a closer look at my battery box. The situation is similar but far worse. My batteries, solar charger, and much of the wiring is completely ENTOMBED in a box with no access door or cover. Meaning: in order to access the battery system (even for the most basic maintenance) I'm literally going to have to remove the bed, remove the bench seat/couch, uninstall my inverter and other equipment, remove various garage wall mounts, and then remove the entire 5' battery box (which is siliconed to the wall in an apparently lazy effort to keep water from leaking onto the batteries). After just 13 months I discovered a major problem with my $6500 Espar system: antifreeze had been slowly leaking from the unit for weeks/months while soaking into the wood of my galley cabinet. After hours of research I discovered the source of the problem: VS (against Rixens Enterprises Inc. specifications) had elected to use cheap crimp clamps on the hoses rather than adjustable worm clamps. The leak was coming from a crimp clamp connection and immediately stopped once I replaced it with the recommended worm clamp (much easier said than done). Saving the best for last though: After just 1.5 years one of my 10 X 36 slider windows began leaking...more like GUSHING water into my van. The windows were bought from RB Components but shipped to VS for instal. Not wanting to have anything to do with the folks at VS (ever again) I franticly called the folks at RB Components to see if they could help me diagnose and (at least temporarily) fix this urgent problem. They graciously did so while spending over an hour on the phone with me. Turned out to be more of the same. VS cut corners once again...failing to use any silicone sealant (and who knows what else) and therefore contributed to the early demise of the window instal integrity.

Have I articulated my point clearly enough? Just a reminder: although it might be difficult to believe I'm leaving A LOT out of this review. Do yourself a gigantic favor and take a hard pass on this utterly reprehensible business.
 

GeorgeRa

2013 Sprinter DIY 144WB
Sorry about your problems, a lot of them. I evaluated Van Specialties in 2013 but after short evaluation decided to do my own conversion. Had good discussion with the original founder but not so good with younger folks.

I used Oetiker stepless crimp hose clamps for my Hydronic D5 installation with success, no leaks. To be successful proper sizes, proper tools used correctly must be used.

Hopefully, after some fixes, you will still enjoy your van.
 

marc1

Member
Wow! sorry to hear all that. In 2016 I had VC do some work on my van in stages. I had problems with "Rob" their designer. That being said, I ended up working with "Litch" the shop foreman and he took care of me in a professional manner. All work was completed on time and with no issues.
 

MsNomer

Member
I visited them and toured the place in 2014. I watched a guy haphazardly glueing patches of fabric on a minimal build they were charging $38,000 for. That cemented my drive to DIY.
 

81duck

Member
So sorry to hear/read that! Hope you have a good lawyer in the family.

I started small with Oregon MotorCoach in Eugene with bunk windows and a few other small projects. Their work is top shelf! Headed back in the next couple weeks for completion of some bigger projects. Give them a call and see if they might be able to help you sort out some of your problems and bill VS.

Their place is always filled with big $$$ Class A motorhomes and last time I was there I'd say there was around 15 Sprinters in their production area.
 

Neil2

Neil
Choosing Van Specialties was the BIGGEST mistake I could have ever made with my new MB 4x4 Sprinter.

I termed them rednecks years ago for things like this. Two thought come to mind while reading this: #1 They've obviously gotten away with this many times or wouldn't be in business still. I attribute that to the clientele who frequent conversion shops who are generally 'loaded' and unwary. #2 It is customary for factory builders to exclude product manuals for installed equipment. I attribute that to a liability issue, which, sad to say, is a real concern in our nation. This means a once decent shop, VS, has gone the way of the typical conversion company. There are skads of shops open now so hopefully you can sue their pants off and invest the returns in a decent shop's work.
 

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