Amateur hour 170 Ext 2500 4x4 Cargo Build Thread

We've always wanted to build a van for adventures. I got a little stir crazy during COVID and decided to do it live. This is more of a retrospective build thread, but hopefully you'll permit me this indulgence- we finally finished our "Gen 1" build today.

The vehicle
We got the last 2019 170 4x4 on the lot, pretty good deal with $0/0%, and it had most of the features we wanted. We were not originally planning to get the extended version, but needed to satisfice. We have two large dogs, so the extra space seemed like a fair tradeoff.

The Build Plan
Fiancé and I gave ourselves 2 months to do the build, with a hard deadline to drive it across the country for our wedding. We both work full time, and fiancé worked a number of weekends, so we ended up with roughly 28 worker-days (across 9 weekends) to get it done. I don't recommend rushing it like that. Enthusiasm is no substitute for good planning.

Weight
We kept a careful weight budget, weighing components before they were installed. I still need to weigh the final project, but with our full "trip" packing list, we are within 500 lbs of max weight, which will certainly hamper performance. We're not "off roaders", we just want to go places and get off the beaten trail a bit.

First Steps: Floor Installation
Used a closed cell foam to deaden the floor. Laid the foam directly over the existing factory wood floor.
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Foam, plywood subfloor, and LVT installed.
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First serious failure: left the cargo door open all afternoon, returned to find all of our LVT tile had buckled. Direct sun and LVT do not mix. Pulled the entire floor out and replaced any tiles that were damaged.

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Attachments

Next Steps:
Fan installation (not pictured), headliner trim, wheel boxes, furring strips, and insulation.

Trimming out the headliner was a bear, and it's something I will likely want to redo in a "Gen 2" build.
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Wheel boxes were extra light- intended only to deaden sound and frame off the dead space around the wheelwells.

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Furring strips were more or less evenly spaced along the ceiling (on the ribs) and the walls. I do wish we'd spent more time on the layout of the furring strips, it made it difficult to run wire conduit and water later.

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Insulated every crack and crevice with thinsulate.

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Step 3: Electrical wiring and the plumbing that was going to be behind the walls

We were short on time and creativity, so we followed the electrical guide on from faroutride.com pretty closely. 400W solar, 2 LiFePo 100Ah batteries, blue sea circuit breakers, victron battery monitor, etc.

Mistake 2: After sizing and ordering most of the components, I got lazy/overambitious and purchased a 3000W inverter charger without doing the math. Had to burn money and time to resize the wiring, circuit breakers, bus bars, etc. to handle the extra amperage.

I'm paranoid, so I ran all of the wiring behind the walls in flexible non-metallic conduit, which added a ton of extra work and time.
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Pulling the conduit was a pain. I definitely oversize the wiring because I wanted to avoid any semblance of voltage drop.

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Next step was the walls and ceiling. We decided to bight the bullet on the weight and put in 5/8in shiplap from Home Depot.

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The walls and ceiling only took a weekend, which was faster than we expected. Used a nail gun to attach the tongue and groove with screws every few boards or anywhere we knew wouldn't show in the final build.

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Mistake #3: We planned to "trim out the ends", but did not give a lot of consideration to how we would trim out the walls and ceiling by the back doors. Right now the shiplap sort of "dead ends" unevenly into the door frame. We are still looking for an aesthetically pleasing trim solution.
 
Getting the walls/floor/ceiling/wiring installed felt like a big win. This was the first time it started to feel like things were going to look the way we wanted.

Step 4: Layout design and cabinetry build
We settled on a "rear bench" design rather than the "garage" because we wanted as much space as possible and wanted a large open feel.
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Mistake #...: I made all of the cabinetry frames out of 0.75in x 1.5in cheap home depot wood, and had plenty of issues with the wood cracking and splitting. I might opt to just use 3/4in plywood if I did it again... but it seemed too heavy.

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Initial builds of the "bench boxes". I ended up having to go back and add a lot of supports to ensure they would hold the weight of several people sitting on them.

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Step 5: Electrical Wiring, Solar Installation, Cabinetry, and Water System Installation

We went with the Renogy 400W system on an 80/20 1.5in frame with slight modifications to a roof rail mount kit from Amazon. Seems to be holding up so far.
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Mistake #...: We are already seeing a lot of surface corrosion on the fastener heads we used to connect the solar frame. This is despite the fasteners being sold with black paint. I suspect this is a bimetallic galvanic corrosion caused by using steel fasteners on an aluminum 80/20 frame. I replaced the first set of fasteners, and will continue to monitor- may look for a solution if it moves beyond superficial surface corrosion.

Electrical wiring took the better part of two weekends. I went ahead and put everything (bus bars, circuit breakers, and switches) inside a non-metallic electrical box. Probably overly cautious but I wanted a clean, seamless installation.

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We went with an 120V fridge, which seems to be an atypical choice. The 12V variants seemed overly expensive. We'll see if that causes problems down the road.

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The water system consists of a 25 gallon fresh water tank and a 120V 4 gallon hot water tank, installed in one of the rear benches, as well as a 12V pump and accumulator. We ran both hot and cold water three places: the kitchen sink, the (to be installed) shower, and the rear of the vehicle- for our outdoor shower/dog wash.

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We went with a redwood slab for our countertops and table top, and finished it with a spar urethane.

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Eric B

Active member
“within 500lbs of MAX weight”?
so you’re up there at 9000+lbs ?

Wow... guessing you’ve had to appropriately redo the suspension as a result ?
 
Step 6: Closet and bathroom framing, shower pan/toilet installation, more cabinetry installation

We framed the closet and bathroom out of 3/4in plywood and attached it to the walls, floor, and ceiling with pocket screws.

Mistake #...: When we did our original design, we carefully measured the floor dimensions, but failed to account for the taper in van width and we got higher. This created a lot of alignment issues we had to fix.

Mistake #...: We were also doing the build on our sloped driveway, which made it very difficult to validate that our cabinet and bathroom walls were vertical.

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We then went to install the stovetop in our kitchen.

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Mistake #:...The original stove we purchased was 19 inches wide, and our countertops were 21 inches wide. We failed to account for the fact that the frame of our cabinetry had an interior dimension of closer to 18 inches. We tried to find another, better fitting stove, and ordered a flame king. The product that arrived was noisy, cheap, and ugly. We ultimately decided to install the original stove and just cut the cabinetry frame to fit it. We also installed a heatshield because of how close the stove is to the wall.

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“within 500lbs of MAX weight”?
so you’re up there at 9000+lbs ?

Wow... guessing you’ve had to appropriately redo the suspension as a result ?
We will probably redo the suspension. That planned/expected weight includes us and everything else we will put in the van. We've been weighing each component as we add it. For example, the total weight of the shiplap was 125lbs for the ceiling and 225lbs for the walls. The redwood countertops/tables were about 20-25 lbs each.

Another way to look at it... right now the total weigh of everything we've put into the van is 1844.6lbs.
 
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Step 7: Cabinet doors, hinges, struts

We built the cabinet frames ourselves because we wanted to keep them as light as possible and thought we might have trouble getting custom cabinets made to the exact dimensions and shapes we needed. We purchased all of our doors off an online cabinet store, rather than trying to make them ourselves- which saved a ton of time.

Mistake #...: We measured everything on the cabinetry down to the 1/32 of an inch, but there was still a reasonable amount of error in the "as built" and getting everything exactly square, which made getting everything to line up a bit tricky.

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Then added door handles and struts.
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lickwid

Learner
Great job. Looks really good considering you guys did it relatively quickly. What's your and your fiancé's background, have you done home reno/DIY before.
 
Great job. Looks really good considering you guys did it relatively quickly. What's your and your fiancé's background, have you done home reno/DIY before.
Thanks! We're both engineers by education. I've done quite a few DIY home improvement projects in the past, some better than others- but I have decent familiarity and most of the tools :)
 
how is your 110 volt fridge and hot water heater working out?
still TBD. We haven’t left the driveway yet. 😂We’re about to take it out for 5 days so we’ll see what the power draw ends up being. The fridge is expected to use about 1kWh per day, and I’ve got 400W of solar. The Bosch 4 gallon water heater doesn’t seem to have an energy guide rating, so I guess we’ll have to see.I’ll update the thread.
 
Looks great. Definitely looking forward to hearing about the 110 water heater - I have been thinking about this scenario for a very long time. Thanks for sharing.
 

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