144 4x4 for Family of 4 (and a dog)

So before purchasing my van, like many of you, I got my degree in van building from the University of Youtube. Despite the thousands of hours spent watching youtube videos, I noticed there were still holes in the information. There were still questions unanswered. “Damnit,” I thought, “I will be the guinea pig that fills the holes.” I have never built a van before. I am sure to make a lot of mistakes, but I will document said mistakes and help the van builders of the future. I have never been a social media guy….but that was going to change. I was going to re-activate my long lost facebook account, start an instagram account, and even create a youtube channel.

It was mid 2019. My name was on waiting lists all over southern California for a 2019 144 2500 4x4 Sprinter Cargo or Crew. I called daily until one dealership finally got so sick of me he did the unthinkable. He sold me a van. Someone got cold feet, there was a cargo available. Nice.

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Despite my excitement I even remembered to bring my camera. I filmed myself on the drive home. My impressions. My plans. I parked that big beautiful van in my driveway. The next morning I woke up. Measured 287 times and cut a big damn hole in the roof of my brand new shiny van. Pucker factor? You bet. But you all know that. You did the same thing. Just like the thousands of Youtube videos on the Maxxfan installation I filmed every bit. I narrated my way through it. Damn was I funny too. The witt. The sarcasm. The self-deprecating humor. You would have loved it. I got that fan installed. Sprayed it down with a hose. Water tight. Hmmm. I got this.

A week went by. I have to work and all that. Another big hole in my van for my driver’s side T vent window. Who knew all that money was spent on a van I could pretty much cut through with a warm butter knife? Window went in relatively smoothly. I even remembered to film most of this one too. Admittedly there were a few occasions where I forgot to push record so had to go back and narrate after the fact, but no big deal right? I had another window to install the next day. I would do a better job filming. And I would have too...if I had remembered to charge my camera.

I gave up on my grandiose youtube ideas about day four, and without actually editing anything. I was trying to build a van. Something I had never done before. I didn’t need to also think about tripods, and battery life...and pressing record. But I still had instagram right? Ya. I kind of suck at that too. Now, one year later, my van is not complete but it is very functional and it is getting there. I feel a sense of guilt for all the ideas and lessons I have stolen from youtube and facebook forums, and most of all, this very forum and having contributed very little. The truth is, I don’t feel like I am in any way, shape, or form qualified to dole out advice on van building. I am no expert. But I do have experience. And that is why I am going to start this thread.

I am going to go back and discuss my van build. I am going to try to discuss it in the order in which I built the van. Lots of this was in the wrong order. I am going to be candid about the mistakes I made, the frustrations, the joys. Much like my children, I regret not taking more photos. But as soon as I figure out how to post photos onto this forum, I will try to include as many photos as I can (to save me from having to type 1000 words).

Advice. Expertise. You don’t want me on that wall. You don’t need me on that wall, but dammit, if you can learn something from my mistakes, or even one of my rare moments of genius then why not. More than likely it will be the same therapy parents feel when they speak to other parents and they realize their kids aren’t the only imbeciles out there. A sense of relief. That works too….

Here goes…

THE VAN
2019 Mercedes Sprinter 2500 Cargo 144 4x4 (Diesel). Comfort Package. Factory swivel seats. Rear windows. OEM Wood floor with tie downs. Auxiliary Battery under the hood (95ah AGM).

THE FAM
Family of four. Me. Wife. Teen daughter. Tween son. Two year old golden named Rosie.

OUR JAM

Weekend camping trips. Three week road trip every summer. Soccer tournaments. Baseball tournaments. Swim meets. Hiking. Paddleboarding. Surfing. We still love to tent camp, but in some places it is harder and harder to find tent sites as everyone RVs now. Also nice to boondock and sleep in a rest area if need be. Plus...out of town family comes to visit….

THE PLAN

Initially we wanted to seat four and sleep four. I spent hours, with tape measure in hand, staring at all that open space. Oh. The plan I came up with. A staggeringly genius plan. You would have been proud. Then one day, my wife suggested we add a third row so kids can bring friends, or in-laws could come. Um. Great idea honey. More hours spent staring…

So our needs were: sleep four and seat four. Our wants were to seat a few more if I can. Simple electrical needs. Maxxfan. A few LED lights. Dometic chest fridge. Maybe an ESPAR in the future. I don’t need a full kitchen. We are tent campers. I can cook outside.

I love the look and the functionality of the Adventure Wagon system. Although it is clearly beautifully engineered and a high quality product, my wallet did not love the price. My build was inspired by Adwag and Outside Van, with a bit of OurKaravan and some Hodakaguy. Just not as cool (think Festool vs Black and Decker).

I can’t divide this up by days….so I will divide it by project….TO BE CONTINUED
 
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PROJECT 1:

Maxx Fan installation. Why was this project 1? If I mess it up, it is easier to hide the patch I have to weld on in the roof than it is in the walls. I don’t think I need to go into this in detail. I used Hein’s adaptor. I feel like 60 bones is a bit pricey for this but would I spend it again in the next build? Absolutely. The hardest part of this whole process was making the first cut in the brand new van. The whole process is well spelled out on forums and videos so I don’t need to do it here. The one thing I will say is I made a wood ring for inside the van to firm up the install a bit. Some people say it is not necessary…..I disagree. I am glad I did it. The other thing someone somewhere suggested was add some aluminum flatbar on top of the fan prior to screwing it down to stiffen it a bit. I did that too. Don’t know if I needed that, but I figure it can’t hurt. Healthy dose of 3M Window weld to stick it all down and on the screws before screwing it in. Healthy dose of Lap Sealant on top when it was all done. Some use two tubes. I used one and was satisfied. NOTE: It is mandatory to take a photo with your head through the hole in the van. I did. You should too. I choose not to share it here because no one needs to see my ugly mug.

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Above is Rosie...my assistant and my tools ready to get to work...Hein's plastic adaptor, aluminum strips, the metal shears, etc

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Hole in the roof...without my head in it


PROJECT 2:

CRL T vent window installation (driver side and sliding door). Again. Not as difficult as I expected. The line is already there for you to follow. I taped off the outside then drilled (probably too many) small holes from the inside to mark the outline. I first tried to use the metal power shears but that didn’t work due to the doubled up metal frame on the inside. I switched to the jig saw. Easy. Cut like butter. Dry fit the window. Adjust hole. Repeat. FIle it all down nice and smooth. Paint the edges. Ask neighbor to hold window from outside while I screw the ring on inside. Screw from inside out. Part way. Then screw them all the way in. Nice and tight. Water test. Lovely. Now text your wife a pic of what you just accomplished. You should be proud of yourself. And she will be too.

MISTAKE 1*: I was too cautious. I cut the hole too small...this meant a lot of filing and micro adjusting to fit the window. If I was smarter I would have used an angle grinder with a flap wheel. But I am not smarter, and I didn’t. So all that filing was my penance for being too careful. (*there were undoubtedly countless mistakes before this...this is the first one I’m writing about)


FEEDBACK ON WINDOWS. My only complaint...actually my kids only complaint is the T vent is just the right height to block their view from their seats while we travel. That might change as they grow taller….but since my wife is also short, when she sits there it blocks her view too. I haven’t tried it myself because I am always driving. Also the screen has a bit of a gap. Hasn’t been a problem but I could see some mosquitos finding their way in the van...and that’s why I bought one of those 12V mosquito zapper lights. I’m ready fo the little b@$%rds!

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Drilled lots of hoes to mark those corners...made the cut from the outside....

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Hey. This photo should have been with the fan ones. I can't figure out how to move it. But anyway...that was the test cut with the shears. I was happy with the test cut so I cut the whole hole with it. The blue squiggle is my attempt at drawing an arrow with my fat fingers on my phone.

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The big hole. I think this is pre-hours of filing. Do yourself a favor and don't be so scared. Be just enough scared.
 
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asimba2

ourkaravan.com
I gave up on my grandiose youtube ideas about day four, and without actually editing anything. I was trying to build a van. Something I had never done before. I didn’t need to also think about tripods, and battery life...and pressing record.
Oh and don't forget being flooded with YouTube comments and being told by completely inexperienced people that they "could have done better."

Looks like you're off to a great start. Enjoy it.
 
Oh and don't forget being flooded with YouTube comments and being told by completely inexperienced people that they "could have done better."

Looks like you're off to a great start. Enjoy it.
With the quality of work in your videos I find it comical anyone would say they could do better! I definitely took a lot of inspiration from your videos and learned a tonne! L-Track, electrical, and water system specifically! I can't thank you enough.
 
PROJECT 3:
Remove OEM Floor. Easy. Except for not realizing I needed a set of male torx bits to do so. Amazon Prime. Wait a day. Back in business. Take out floor. (Side note: I must have removed and re-installed the floor just under a million times throughout the process). I took photos of each step just so I would remember how to put it back. Not that complicated but I have a small brain.

PRO-TIP: Just go ahead and buy both a set of male and female torx bits. Big ones. You will use them.

(NOT SO) PRO-TIP: Get yourself a good impact driver to remove the floor bolts. Maybe even a hammer drill. Even in my new van some of them were stubborn. I had to persuade one or two with a rubber mallet and some WD40 as well.

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PROJECT 4:
Get seats installed. This is one of the few things I didn’t do myself. I wanted professionals to instal the chairs my children would be sitting in. Safety first and all that. In hindsight, I think I could have done it myself. The install itself wasn’t expensive, (the seats were). 21 inch reclining captains chairs that fit in OEM rails. Center console between the seats with USB chargers. Pretty stoked. I had them installed further back then normal to have a bit more room when we use it as a dining room/family room (Lagun table...later project). I also ended up putting in and taking the seats out a couple million times (editor’s note; exaggeration). If I wasn’t in a rush to get the seats in for the family it would have definitely been beneficial to wait.
I used a company in Stanton, CA called CVC and more. They mainly convert party busses, executive shuttles, etc. I am starting to see these same seats pop up from other sellers. The price range for the same seats I have seen is well over $2000. Shop around.

MISTAKE 2: I should have left the floor in the van. Turns out they would have cut the slots in the floor as part of the install. Instead I had to do that myself. Not difficutl. Just time consuming.


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SPOILER ALERT: I forgot to take pics of the seat at the time...so this pic is from quite a bit later in the build

PROJECT 5:
Sound Deadening. I had a buddy that had purchased a van to convert, then aborted mission and sold the van. He had several boxes of Second Skin Premium chilling in his garage. Nice. Bought it from him at a significant discount. This is legit premium stuff. Even without the discount I was being very cautious with this purchase. Off-gassing is a real thing. One of my favorite hikes growing up was called the Tarvat trail. Old tar vats where the fishermen used to tar their nets. I loved the smell. The history. But I still don’t want it in my van.

I covered the wheel wells and lots on the walls and ceilings (I went back later and got it under the front headliner and inside the rear doors. I still haven’t put it in the driver’s doors….that will come soon). I also put it on the floor...which leads me to…

MISTAKE 3: I thought I would be clever and cut thin strips to go on the lower grooves of the floor. Fill a bit of the gap and not raise the high part of the floor up any more (I am 6’2 so wanted to retain every bit of height I could). Why a mistake. It was very time consuming...but worse….wanting to get a few quick minutes of work in when I had some time I sat on the floor whilst wearing my favorite Dickies shorts. They now have black streaks on the butt. Unwearable. (*Unwearable unless you don’t mind wearing shorts with black streaks on your bum). Lesson learned…..ahhhh nope. Wearing my favorite workout shorts I did it again. Don’t do that. For real. Don’t do that.

MISTAKE 4: I also forgot to run wires under the floor for the second row second console chargers. So I removed the floor once again to add them. (Also had to remove the seats again to do this). Then a few weeks later I realized I should have run speaker wire too. So I removed it all again and did that….



PROJECT 6:
Cut closed cell foam for all the floor ribs. Add large sheet of closed cell foam (¼ inch) on top of the ribs and under the floor. Use floor to trace onto Black Lonseal CoinDot flooring (I also bought this from above buddy at super discounted rate). Re-install OEM Floor. I know many people say it is not worth it to cut the strips of foam for the divets...and there are endless debates about airflow and such….but I think it is worth it. The road noise was cut significantly. I also snuck in some speaker carpet over the wheel wells too at some point. I don’t remember where that fit chronologically but this is a good a place as any to tell you about it. Speaker Carpet and 3M90. It was a bit of a frustrating endeavor and involved lots of applying/removing/re-applying to get those multi-directional curves right. Does anyone else hate adhesives as much as I do. Maybe it is because I am left handed, but as far back as kindergarten, cutting and pasting were my nemesis. Adhesive everywhere. Stretching and re-stretching. SPOILER ALERT: There is far more use of adhesives in my future...but found some I liked using MUCH more than 3M90.

PROJECT 7:
Insulate the walls. Once again, AdWag youtube videos were helpful. Get a good pair of scissors. The Fiskar’s ones on the OurKaravan shopping list is what I got and they worked well. Lots of silver sharpies don’t go astray either. I used Thinsulate. Yep. I did. Go ahead rockwool lovers, berate me. Pink board aficionados. Call me names. Havelock groupies, throw your insults. I have nothing to compare it to...but I like it. Many call it expensive. I didn’t think it was overly expensive compared to everything else in the van conversion world. Super easy to work with and does it’s job well. I used a fish tape (for running wires) to help get the insulation in all the nooks and crannies. Worked swimmingly. Fish tape...swimmingly....see what I did there?

MISTAKE 5: Order of operations. I am calling this a mistake but it was intentional. I wanted to get some insulation in there before our roadtrip to cut down on the road noise. I knew I might regret it later when I either had to remove it or deal with scharf when drilling holes but I made the choice to do it. If you don’t have to...wait. Drill the holes first.


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Sound deadening (shorts ruiner) and starting to cut the closed cell foam strips



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Foam strips done, foam sheets being put in place...ready for the floor and the coin dot...
 

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ROADTRIP 1:
Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Thanksgiving (last year...2019) Pretty much an empty shell of a van. Rubbermaid containers of camping gear strapped down with ratchet straps...tent camping. Such an amazing trip. Loved the van. First time to really get to know it and all the quirks. Like the low fuel light that comes on when you still have over 100 miles to go….or that time I almost killed a cyclist because I moved halfway into the lane on the left to give him space and the Mercedes Gods disagreed with my choice and swerved me back towards him…..that’s when I learned how to shut off certain features.

On the way home, I stopped at Campo Vans in Santa Barbara as they had a “flash sale” on a set of Aluminess Nerf Bars. Picked them up super cheap. This is not something I had planned on purchasing but after realizing how high the 4x4 was, I decided it was a necessity. Super nice guys at Campo. I ended up getting delayed by us watching seals on the beach and enjoying the scenery on the coast road. Rolled in to Santa Barbara later than expected. They came back to the shop to meet us after hours. Props to the fellas at Campo. Good people.A9E5C255-04F3-4545-893B-C4A383C0F876.jpeg
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PROJECT 8:
Install said Nerf Bars. I had to get creative with my bottle jack and my scissor jack from my other vehicle as I installed them solo. It is not a difficult install, but I messed up the first one when I didn’t read the instructions close enough. I either installed it too far forward or too far back (I forget which now) which made it a bit of a challenge to drill a hole or two and add a nut and bolt or two. I learned from my mistake and the driver’s side install was smooth as silk. Maybe not that smooth. But smoother. The whole installation process involves a pretty sweet core workout while crawling under and out of the van a million times. It also involves some Yoga as you pull the rail hard with a foot on the tire while also trying to screw stuff in on the backside. I ended up having to “break glass” and call in my father-in-law to assist as my flexibility isn’t where it needed to be. Luckily, my father in law is cool. And handy. So it was not bad at all. He may have silently judged the error I talked about above, but he kept it to himself, which I appreciated. Remember...drill holes, paint holes, use anti-seize on stainless steel hardware.

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PROJECT 9:
Install L-track (walls). I watched and re-watched AdWag videos as well as OurKaravan. I figured out how to make my own PlusNut installation tool (after watching countless Plus nut vs Rivnut videos). Easy and cheap. Coupling nut. A couple of washers. 3 inch ¼ 20 bolt (buy lots of them...they wear out), a set of vicegrips to hold the nut, and my impact driver to install. Worked perfectly. Some say it is tedious to use such a tool...maybe because they used a socket wrench. The impact driver is the way to go.

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PRO?TIP: Do a couple practice plus nut installations in one of the scrap pieces of sheet metal you just cut out of your van. Count how many seconds you are turning the bolt for optimal installation. Repeat.

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I spent a stupid amount of time trying to scientifically figure out the optimal height for the horizontal L-track. In hindsight I don’t think fractions of inches matter that much...but maybe they do. (They definitely do for the top horizontal pieces of you plan on buying Adventure Wagon Mule Bags…) I used standard drills to drill the holes (with a collar...if using a regular drill bit USE A COLLAR). Wish I had used a step bit. I put magnets behind to try catch as much of the scharf as possible. Lots still escapes. The insulation I stuffed in the closed cavities got twisted around my drill bit. Pain in the butt! The whole process was a labor of love. L-track, in my humble opinion, is the best thing ever and was worth the effort. Allows the van to be modular. It is just so damn useful. I highly recommend sneaking some into your van wherever you can. You can get the pre-drilled (every 4 inches) or not pre-drilled. I bought some of each mainly because I wasn’t sure which would be better. (Cargoequipmentcorp.com). In hindsight I would have probably bought all the pre-drilled. Downside is you don’t need all those holes so you have to see holes in L-track with no screws in them. Upside is you don’t have to drill a bunch of holes. I don’t have a drill press so this is the technique I used: I think it is a 9/16 socket that fits perfectly in the hole. I put that in the hole. Then I chose the drill bit that perfectly fits in the hole in the socket. I inserted the drill bit and twirled it around like I just didn’t care. That marked the center of the hole perfectly. I then used my handy dandy spring loaded punch to mark the hole and give me a sweet starting point to drill. I started with a small pilot hole then drilled the bigger hole...then countersunk said hole. Note: Aluminum shavings are light. When your work shop is your driveway, the slightest breeze blows the shavings EVERYWHERE. I had my shopvac on hand and pretty much turned it on for every hole. (Did I convince you to buy the pre-drilled?).

PRO-TIP: Be patient. Like Ken from Our Karavan. Drill one hole for your L-track. Clean the hole using your de-burring tool (BUY A DE-BURRING TOOL!!). Paint the hole. Install the Plus Nut. Put up the L-track. Mark second hole at other end. Remove L-Track. Repeat Process. Re-install L-track. NOW you can mark the rest of the holes. Unless you are some kind of wizard ninja master of voodoo, I would not recommend blindly marking all the holes. Be patient and individually mark the first two holes. Unless you love holes slightly off where you need them to be. In that case, have at it.

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MISTAKE 6: (is anyone else losing count of mistake numbers?). I bought my L-tack in eight foot lengths. I installed my horizontal L-track in eight foot lengths then cut a short piece (4 feet???) for the remainder. If I had it to do over again, I would divide the van in half and use the appropriate length so the joint is in the middle of the van. Aesthetically I think it would look better. Alternatively you can figure out where AdWag gets their full length pieces. (Note: This was based on AdWags version one of their system...version two doesn’t use the long ones I think).

MISTAKE 7: This is a big one. For some strange reason I was super intimidated installing the L-track across the top of the van wall. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. The wire chase was there. There were more large open spaces then solid metal to fasten it to. So I went all Ostrich on it. I avoided the problem. I just didn’t install them and went on with the rest of my build. I came to regret that later. When I finally was forced to address it, I now had to climb over the rest of my build and deal with shavings all over everything...just do it at the same time. It really is not that hard. At all. A couple of pieces of ⅛ inch steel flat bar plus nutted and riveted in, then install your L-track to that. Done. Not hard. Why did it scare me so much? Instead of being part of project 8 it ended up being project 30 something….ugh.
 
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PROJECT 10:
Install L-track (Ceiling). I actually contacted AdWag hoping to buy their ceiling mounting system. They don’t sell it individually. So...I made my own. Aluminum C-Channel (1 inch by 3 inch ⅛ inch thick). I bought 3 by 3 Aluminum angle which I cut into just under 1 inch wide L-brackets. I cut C channel to appropriate lengths to fit between the ribs at a 4 degree angle at each end to match the taper of the ribs. I pre-drilled the holes in the C-channel and L-brackets. The first one I intentionally left some play so it would work like the AdWag system. It turns out when you aren’t mass producing and you cut them to exactly the size of your van you don’t need this play. So I fastened the L-brackets to the ends of the C-channel with one bolt and one rivet. I then marked and drilled the holes in the ribs and riveted the supports to the ribs. Super strong. Was really happy with the way they turned out. For those of you who can weld, Hodakaguy (on this forum as well as all social media) did something similar but welded his (out of steel). I can’t weld so did them this way, and also decided to use aluminum to keep the weight down a bit more. Editor’s note: Hodakaguy and I seem to have a lot of similar ideas...just his execution of the ideas seems much smoother than mine. His build/attention to detail is impressive. Read about his build. Impressive stuff.

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Working by myself, I loosely fastened zipties through the ribs and put sticks through the loops. Said sticks supported my L-track while I worked.


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I marked the holes in my new aluminium brackets much the same way I did the walls. Slowly and carefully. One end. The other end. The rest. I took the support brackets down to drill them and install the plusnuts outside of the van. Two reasons. One. Weak shoulders. Can’t hold my arms over my head that long without wanting to cry. Two. The less aluminum dust floating around inside my van, the better. These things are rock solid. I was super happy the way they turned out. Again...if you are planning on getting the Adventure Wagon Mule bags you will want to measure the appropriate specs. At the time I was not planning on getting said mule bags so basically just aimed to put the L-track in a similar space to what I saw on the video. At the time of writing this post, I have ordered the bags (on back order). I decided the soft nature of the bag would be a much better choice since there is a 100 percent chance I will regularly hit my head on them. I will let you know how it works out for me after just putting up L-track all willy nilly.

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PRO-TIP: Go to your local metal shop. It is soooooooooooo much cheaper than your big box store. Being lazy one day and only needing a small piece of aluminum flat bar, I went to the big box store. I paid more for that small piece than I did for the rest I had purchased from my local metal supplier. Plus the selection is infinitely better at the metal shop and they stamp your man card as soon as you walk in. Street cred. You will walk a little taller when you leave that store, smelling of steel and oil. Your wife will love you for it. Until she realizes you also bought a welder...
 
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PROJECT 11: That third row!!!!

This one might be controversial. I will emotionally prepare myself for the hate that will spew my way for this next part. I’m sure many of you will think my design is crazy, or unsafe. You will wow us all with your knowledge of the law of physics and have a million and one reasons why this is a bad idea. I am okay with this. You just robbed yourself of the opportunity to ride in my really cool third row seat. I am confident this third row is perfectly safe.

Alright. The hours I spent trying to figure out how to make this work and what to use yet still be able to sleep four. First I thought captains chairs like the second row. The company I bought them from also offered a style that was easier to remove. Quickly dismissed that idea. While comfortable, just not practical. I wouldn’t be able to build beds, or a drawer system like I wanted. My second choice was one of those foldaway seats that folds against the wall. I forget who makes them and sells them. Pretty cool. Some say they are a bit loud and rattle a lot, but lots of people seem to use them in their builds. I was pretty set on that for a while but couldn’t figure out how the sleeping situation would work with that there. Having the seat fold up against the wall would remove other options from my van build.

The solution. I ended up going with third row seats from a Chevy Tahoe. Perfect solution. While in the van they can fold down if not being used. They are also easy to remove from the van if I don’t want them in there, and don’t take up a ridiculous amount of room. Bought them on Ebay for a couple hundred dollars. Had to buy the brackets separately for another hundy or so. I actually found the seats significantly cheaper on Craigslist, but couldn’t bring myself to buy them...pretty sure they were stolen and I didn’t want to support that behavior. At least the seller on Ebay appeared like it was a Pick-a-Part type place. That made me feel better in my heart.

Like most people, I had planned on putting my battery system along one of the wheel wells. That all changed. First I mocked up a box out of scrap wood.

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After a few incarnations of that I finalized my design. I had my buddy (who can weld) help me fab up a base for the Tahoe seats. We used 1.5 inch steel square tube. Lots of supports and gussets.
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Made a top out of steel plate (cut out holes where the seat mounts). I mocked up and cut the holes for the Tahoe seat brackets in plywood first. This took a few attempts to get them positioned just right. I then transferred the template onto the steel, drilled the corners and cut out the holes with an angle grinder. This would be my seat base and would also be my battery box. I can remove the seats and remove the top for access to the battery system. I also put some plywood on top of the steel top to raise it up a bit more, offer more clearance, and get the seat at the right height. I also have removable front panels so I can access from the front. Being right in the middle of the van, this obviously had to be incorporated into the overall layout. I made the box the same height that I wanted my future drawer system. It took a while to get the placement right so the legs of the box would fit in the grooves of the van and give enough leg room, but not too much leg room.

I drilled through the floor and used grade 8 hardware. Under the van I have ¼ inch thick steel plate the full length of the box and beyond the bolts go through to make sure it is ultra safe. Those seats are going no-where! This idea, while unorthodox, was a game changer. This allowed us that third row, while still letting me have all the space I need to sleep four.

LEARNING POINT: I dry fit everything with the seats in the folded position. I did not take into account the walls curve in as they go up. When you unfold the seat, there isn’t as much room as there is at the bottom when the seat is folded. If you decide to do something like this, make sure to take that into account. It ended up putting a small divot in the foam of my wall panel. Oh well.

I also made a top for the box for when the seats are out. I didn’t like the idea of having the holes (where the brackets go) open so stuff could fall into my electrical system. I used a piece of ¾ inch ply and routed out the spots where the brackets sit high. I also routed out channels in the top for L-track...and covered it in coin dot. The L-track secures the top to the box using the same holes as the aforementioned steel top. If there is a post that requires pictures to explain, I think this is probably the one…it also is one I don’t have pictures of. At some point I will take some pics and post them here so you can see how all this works.

This all works out great. When the seats are out, it allows me to secure loads onto the platform. It also gives me options for the future to make a modular box/drawer/storage something that would double as part of the bed platform and useful storage. When the seats are in, it allows me to seat seven, and still sleep four or 5 inside the van….

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PROJECT 12:
Vertical L-Track

Now I had to create a means to install L-track vertically in the back of the van. This was a bit of a process using angle finders, rulers, protractors, pythagorean theorem, abacus, one of those little doohickeys that allow you to take the shape molding, cardboard cutouts, scrap wood, multiple cuts at different angles, left over C channel from the roof adaptors. I don’t remember the exact angles, but I believe the final measurements were 40 degrees on top and 30 degrees on the bottom (of vice versa). I decided to make the brackets out of steel rather than aluminum, simply because these had to be welded and welding aluminum was out of the question at the moment.

I cut the 1 inch by 3 inch (⅛ inch thick I think) C-Channel to the appropriate length and the above angles. I cut ⅛ inch steel plate to size. I figured out where I wanted it to sit and drilled holes in the steel plate. I then transferred the holes into the van and inserted plus nuts into the van wall (top and bottom). I did this one hole at a time like I did with the L-track, painting all the holes. Once all the holes were drilled, I fastened the steel plate in place. I scattered welding blankets in place and tack welded the C-channel in place (with the help of a buddy). I then removed the whole contraption and completed the welds outside the van. Re-install. Fit the L-track just right and drill/insert plus nuts in the C-channel. Grind to look pretty, paint, Final re-install.


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A smarter man would have continued with the top horizontal L-track. No one has ever accused me of being a smarter man.

PROJECT 13:
Finish Insulating
There were still a few orifices not yet filled with insulation. I did this here as above. Electrical fish tape was essential for this.

PROJECT 14:
Run the wires
I ran primarily 12 gauge wire throughout the van for everything. I had done my calculations using the Blue Sea app and felt this was pretty much overkill for all of my needs and would allow for future growth. A lot of Ancor pre-tinned marine wire (150 feet I think). With my new plan, the battery system was going to live pretty much right in the middle of the van under the third row seat box.

I ran wire for the driver’s side directly there. Wire under the floor to the captain’s chairs for the outlets in the center consoles. Two possible locations to plug in the fridge. Two outlets for the third row seat, two outlets for the captain’s chairs (on the wall), Two outlets midway up the wall for access while in bed for charging devices or a future 12v fan if needed. I also took the opportunity to run 8ga wire in case I wanted to add solar on a later date. (Editor’s note: after using the van a lot, I don’t think I see the need to add solar). Lastly, I ran 6 gauge wire through the wall of the van (down the wheel well, out the bottom of the van through one of the grommeted factory holes, ziptied to factory wiring ready to go into the driver’s seat. I did all this without drilling any holes in the van...using existing openings in the van.

For the passenger side, I ran wire along the floor and into the wall right behind the sliding door. I ran wires for the waterpump and an outlet in the back corner and wiring for lights/switches in both rear doors. Getting through the rubber wire chase into the door and fishing the wire to the top of the door was a bit of a pain, but nothing too bad. I ran wires for two outlets and the battery monitor as well as light switches (one to control four led lights in back of van, and one for four led lights in front of van) to the mid level of the wall. I had to drill a couple of holes (and insert rubber grommets) to run wire for the lights and fan. I also ran wire to the B-pillar and down the B-pillar to add a three way (SPDT) switch so I can turn the front led lights on and off from either the front of the van or back of the van. I also ran a couple of future wires to each area of the passenger side of the van, just in case. Stupidly, I forgot to add future wires on the driver’s side. (MISTAKE #?)

I used split loom and/or abrasion resistant sleeve on most wires as well as cushioning the wires with foam or speaker carpet in “high rub” places to protect the wire. No need to have to re-do this at any point. Lots of zipties were also involved in the process.

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PROJECT 15:
Make Wall Panels

I made rough measurements for all of my plans in hopes of making just one run to my local lumber yard. I purchased several sheets of baltic birch plywood. ¼, ½, and ¾. I purchased all 4x8 sheets. At the time I didn’t even realize 5x5 sheets were available. Learning that later was a game changer. That five foot width is very useful.

I purchased a Lagun table mount. My first thought was mounting it on the driver’s side wall near the B pillar. I used sikaflex (or something similar) to attach a piece of ¾ inch baltic birch into the first opening south of the B pillar.

I had kept pretty much every box from everything I had purchased ready to use as templates for the wall panels. I carefully measured out each panel. I thought the best/easiest one to start with would be the front/lower driver’s side panel. Basically just a rectangle. I made the cardboard template for that using the boxes from my CRL window. Easy. The rear panel (with the wheel well) was not as easy. I ended up just making one and using the back side for the passenger side. They were good, but not perfect. I used them to roughly draw the shape on my ¼ inch baltic birch. I cut each panel out with a jigsaw (ripped them down to rough size with circular saw or table saw first). I then made about 400 trips from the van to fit the piece, and back to my bench to make slight adjustments. Probably not the easiest way to do it, but in the end I was very happy with the fit.

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I didn’t even bother making cardboard templates for the rest of the panels. I just took measurements and cut them out. I found this to be much easier. I made the two middle panels for both the driver and passenger side as well as the two middle panels for the ceiling. I didn’t bother making a panel for the driver’s side CRL window section. I am still debating whether I finish this or not. It is not a priority right now. I also didn’t make the top panels for either side or the side ceiling panels. Why? Because I still hadn’t installed the top horizontal L-track. Ugh….once again...regret.

After I fit all the panels in and installed behind the L-track, I drew out the layout for all electrical outlets and lights. Using various sized hole saws, I cut out all the holes and re-installed to make sure I was happy with the layout. I was. Took it all down, sanded all the edges and prepped to learn how to upholster.
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PROJECT 16:
Upholster Wall Panels


Materials: Heather Gray Marathon Tweed from Perfectfit.com, ⅛ inch polyethylene foam from foambymail.com/foamfactory, and DAP Weldwood Landau Contact Adhesive (Ebay), A Low Volume paint sprayer from harbor freight, scissors, utility knife, and a roller.

I learned there are not a lot of videos online for this process. Once again, Ken from OurKaravan provided a great video. He also linked another video that helped with the corners. There are a few other videos online that I watched that helped with the spraying of the DAP which were particularly helpful because I had never used a paint sprayer before.

I layed out cardboard and moving blankets on my driveway, set up my easy up to protect from the sun (avoid adhesive drying too quickly), and made sure I had a nice large work area.

PRO-TIP. Have acetone and rags handy
PRO-TIP 2: Practice spraying on some scrap cardboard. When you think you have the gun settings just right and the technique dialed in….grab another piece of cardboard and spray again. Make sure the gun is spraying the same way.
PRO-TIP 3: After every couple of panels, clean the outside of the gun with acetone, wiping off all the excess.

After my practice session, I once again decided to start with that easy rectangle (bottom driver’s side). I put the foam down, traced the panel onto the foam, cut the foam to size (with overlap to wrap around the edges). I sprayed the foam...nice even coat. I sprayed the wood panel, nice even coat. I put the glue side of the wood onto the glue side of the foam. I carefully trimmed each corner as I learned in the video OurKaravan had recommended. I sprayed the edge of the foam and wood and carefully wrapped it around the panel. Man, that wasn’t so difficult. I celebrated in my head. I might have even danced a little dance. I flipped over the panel to admire my work.

BUBBLES EVERYWHERE! What the F#*K…!?!?!? I panicked. Oh no. I want to get this foam off before the adhesive dries. I started frantically ripping the foam off. Too late. The foam was stuck. I spent literally two hours picking off every piece of foam from the panel. Would have probably been faster to just make a new panel...but I didn’t want to waste my material.
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MISTAKE: I later learned, had I not panicked, and instead, simply rolled it out, I would have been fine. I would have saved myself hours of time and irritation. For all subsequent panels I simply inserted one step. After placing the panel onto the foam, I flipped it over and rolled it out with the same rubber roller I used to apply the Second Skin sound deadener. I rolled it up and down covering every inch. Then I rolled it side to side covering every inch. Then I flipped the panel back over and did the edges as above.

After completing the foam, I repeated the exact same process with the Marathon Tweed. On my first panel, I went a bit heavy in one small space and it bled through the fabric. That is, surprisingly, the only time I made that mistake. The rest of the panels turned out beautifully. I learned as I went with some of the odd shapes, how to cut the fabric. Any particularly precarious spots I also stapled the back side, but that was very few places.E008FD8F-208B-4DA3-8840-C812D54D6326.jpeg
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PROJECT 17:
Electrical

This is the part of the build I stalled over more than any other. I don’t know why this intimidated me so much. I went back and forth for months between building my own system or buying a goal zero or jackery all in one system. There was A LOT more information on the interwebs on how to build your own system than there was on how to hook up permanent van stuff to a moveable all in one system….that was part of what convinced me to build my own. The other part is the idea of being able to add to the system in the future. The final reason I ended up building my own was I felt like it would just last longer. This was going against a lot of people’s advice who are lot smarter than I am. I only needed a small system....100AH. Most say for a small system like that the goal zero is the way to go. But...being the renegade I am...

Components:
Battleborn 100AH Lithium Battery (x1). Why? All the cool kids use battleborn and I easily buckle to peer pressure. Also, outstanding customer service. They are awesome.

Sterling 60A DC to DC Charger: Why? I decided I am probably not going to get solar. I tend to be more of a forest/mountain camper so usually park in the shade. I also rarely park and sit. I generally drive the van at least an hour a day driving to trailheads or what not, so I wanted my battery to be able to charge quickly. I spoke to Battleborn and although they don’t recommend a battery charger that charges more than 50 percent of the battery size (100A battery, 60 a charger is more than twice the amount), they did not feel it would damage the battery, and thought it would be good if I eventually decided to upgrade my system). Sterling also has amazing customer service. You call a number. A real live human answers. That same human answers all your questions. Patiently. He doesn’t even sound remotely annoyed despite the number of and level of stupidity of my questions.

Victron Battery Monitor. Why? Great reviews. Phone App.

Blue Sea 12 gang fuseblock, bus bars, breakers, etc. Lots of Ancor marine wire, welding wire for larger gauge wire. Why Blue Sea...I guess I wanted to err on the side of quality. In reality, the ones on amazon that look identical to the blue sea ones might actually be made in the same factory….I guess i just paid for peace of mind.

I mounted my battery under the third row seat. I carefully measured everything out. Put the battery in place and strapped it down tight. I must have changed the layout 20 times before I got it right, limiting crossing wires, leaving room for a solar charge controller in the future if I chose to add one, etc. After getting all the wire laid out, wires crimped, and connected...I made a plexi glass cover for it all to keep it safe.

I ran a 6 gauge from DC to DC in front of rear drivers wheel well, under van and came up under the driver’s seat where I connected it using a combination of the the FarOutRide and the Adventure Wagon youtube video advice. The length of the run probably warranted 4 ga wire but I spoke to Sterling, Balttleborn, and got advice from this forum and I was assured the voltage drop would not be in any way dangerous….so I went with it. (Editor’s note: possibly as a result of the voltage drop I consistently charge at about 48 amps….which is probably better for my battery than the full 60 anyway).

Rather than describing my system in detail, since it is probably pretty similar to yours, and very similar to FarOutRide, I will simply put a photo HERE.
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I have used the van for several road trips...one 21 days long. I love the system. I am very happy with my decision to not add solar (although I did prewire for it just in case). I don’t think I will need it. Our electrical needs are not great and the amount we end up driving charges the battery sufficiently. As it stands now, I can probably sit for 2.5 days or so without charging the battery and be just fine.

In reality, I could have and should have done this much sooner. All my fear prevented me from getting it done. Crimping cables is really not that hard. Quite easy in fact. I don’t regret taking my time to plan it properly, but the bottom line is, with the amount of information out there, it isn’t as hard to do as you think it is.

PROJECT 18:
Hang the panels

...now that the electrical system is complete, I finally got my walls and ceiling up. Minus, the top wall panels and side ceiling panels….which I was too afraid to make...
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asimba2

ourkaravan.com
Putting up upholstered wall panels is the first point where the van actually starts feeling cozy. Up to that time you are living in a steel carcass with insulation, wires and mechanicals visible everywhere. Nice work!
 
Putting up upholstered wall panels is the first point where the van actually starts feeling cozy. Up to that time you are living in a steel carcass with insulation, wires and mechanicals visible everywhere. Nice work!
So true. Made such a difference.
 

Scubalong

New member
@Tracelroqs Nice build and write up mate.!

Holy Batman I just check out perfect fit and the shipping and tax are mad :cry: Does anyone know other alternative?Perfect fit cost.jpg
 
@Tracelroqs Nice build and write up mate.!

Holy Batman I just check out perfect fit and the shipping and tax are mad :cry: Does anyone know other alternative?View attachment 166495
Thanks for reading. I have to get back on the write up. Been lazy. My shipping did not cost that much...I just checked and my shipping was $32. Still a bit steep but nothing like yours...I don't know of anywhere else to get that material, but I am sure there is something comparable out there. Good luck!
 
This is one of my favorite build threads...just came across it. Pretty funny and nice van!
Thanks Defylnertia. I had a similar theory in school...teachers read the same crap from all the students...maybe, just maybe if I mix in some humor they will overlook my deficiencies and give me a good grade. :)
 

Scubalong

New member
Thanks for reading. I have to get back on the write up. Been lazy. My shipping did not cost that much...I just checked and my shipping was $32. Still a bit steep but nothing like yours...I don't know of anywhere else to get that material, but I am sure there is something comparable out there. Good luck!
Thanks Travelrogs, I went ahead and pull the trigger on the fabrics. How did you cut the aluminum C channel for the ceiling support rails?
Can this be done using Miter Saw?


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