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Design and layout

Design and layout

As simple as my layout looks, this process to finalize this took over a year – with a good amount of the details being changed in the final weeks as the van was being converted (for example – during the last week it became obvious that solar panels should not be fixed to the roof but portable panels should be used instead – and relocating the fridge from first cabinet to second cabinet – so the person sleeping on that side would not have their head near the fridge as it powers up and down throughout the night). There are not many of these vans readily available (at least not so on the east coast) so like anything else I would envision a layout then need to keep modifying after learning something new or realizing how it could be at odds with something else. I took a few long trips to see custom camper vans on a Sprinter chassis – like when a conversion would be completed at a custom shop – or one in an owner’s possession.

 

My layout requirements included:

  • Reasonable space for three to sleep with comfort (see separate post)
  • As open a floor plan as possible to max a feeling of space and to minimize blind spots while driving or parked
  • Max storage (see separate post)
  • Max reasonable counter space
  • The right balance of screened windows that could be opened while driving (see separate post)
  • Durable window covering
  • Durable floor
  • Minimal SPOF (single points of failure)
  • Simple clean design
  • Minimal parts requiring repair from specialists
  • All parts easily accessible
  • LOW MAINTENANCE

 

My power and appliance reqs included:

  • No propane and no generator (see separate post)
  • No plumbing ( see separate post)
  • Max battery power – within reason (see separate post)
  • Solar (see separate post)
  • Max electrical outlets
  • Appropriate lighting
  • Fridge (see separate post)
  • Portable microwave, not installed (see separate post about appliances)
  • Portable cooktop, not installed
  • Two (2x) vented ceiling fans with reversible air flow
  • Heat and A/C (see separate post)
  • Minimal SPOF
  • Minimal parts requiring repair from specialists
  • All parts easily accessible
  • PROVEN TECHNOLOGY WITH LOW MAINTENANCE

 

Below are my sketches (done in super sophisticated Powerpoint) that represent essentially the final version of the van. I sent versions of theses sketches to the conversion shop while they worked to complete it.

 

Lower internal layout:

 

Upper internal layout:

 

Power and systems etc:


Open cargo = clean slate

Open cargo = clean slate

The Sprinter comes with a few interiors but I wanted the benefit of a clean slate by going with a raw cargo van. This helped me to avoid spending money on interior components I found difficult to factor into my designs. Plus it allowed me to play with different interior layouts without any obstructions.

I also knew what kind of windows I wanted – custom slider windows with screens. There were a few sizes so I made cut outs and taped them outside of the van while trying to determine how many windows I preferred and which sizes.


Choosing a custom shop

Choosing a custom shop

Lots to share – coming soon


The van

The van

I eventually bought a cargo van – a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter. This was not the obvious choice although early on it seemed right. However a lot of work went into getting the specs right given some unique requirements with a conversion. For example – this particular make and model van would benefit from features like high idle and an added alternator bracket – when there is an interest in relying on power from a battery array instead of a generator.

Given my preference to maximize space and engine power I went with a 170 inch wheelbase and 6 cylinders. I also wanted the high roof option which is standard with the 170″ WB. I chose silver exterior paint over the more common white and black exteriors. I wanted to no side windows because I did not want their large fixed plates of glass. I considered the 4×4 option but did not see much use for the way I would use the vehicle plus there was a 1 year lead time when ordering 4×4.

 


Lemon Laws and Mag Moss

Lemon Laws and Mag Moss

Don’t learn the hard way that lemon laws can vary from state to state and not all states treat RV “lemons” the same as cars. In fact many create a very high bar for your lemon to actually qualify as one. Furthermore, lemon laws generally refer to the chassis of the motorhome and not to what some label the “the living quarters”. For the most part – it is the living quarters that house many of the issues in the motorhome. The DMV has a map with lemon laws for each state here.

For example I purchased a brand new Class B in the state of NJ but live in NY. After realizing I bought a lemon I had to determine which state to file a lemon law claim in.

Here is NY:

New York is one of the few states with lemon laws that cover both new and used vehicles.

New Cars and the Lemon Law

In order for a new car to be considered to be a lemon:

  • The defect must substantially impair the value of the vehicle.
    AND
  • You must report it within 2 years of delivery or before it passes 18,000 miles.

You may be entitled to either a replacement vehicle or a refund of your purchase price IF:

  • The dealer is unable to fix the defect after 4 attempts.
    OR
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repair or other problems for a total of 30 days.

* See additional requirements for motorhomes.

Here is NJ:

In New Jersey, the lemon law applies to only new vehicles you’ve bought or leased. You may receive protection under the law if any of the following apply to your vehicle:

  • The defect persists after 3 attempts to repair it.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for 20 days (cumulative) during the first 2 years or 24,000 miles.

If your vehicle matches the above criteria, the manufacturer may be responsible for repairing the defects under the original warranty. To ensure you’re protected, be sure to report the issues promptly.

The Lemon Law does not cover defects caused by an accident, vandalism, abuse, or neglect. Furthermore, repairs must be done by the manufacturer, its agent, or an authorized dealer.

Keep Records

It is essential to keep on file detailed receipts of all repair attempts and a complete record of your contact with both the manufacturer and the dealer. Generally, a manufacturer’s warranty covers repairs for at least the first year following the original delivery date or the first cited miles, whichever comes first – though your particular warranty may differ, so please check. If you lease a vehicle, check your leasing contract to see who is responsible for repair bills.

* See additional requirements for motorhomes.

 

There is also a lesser known law called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or “Mag Moss” for short.  The law was created to fix problems as a result of manufacturers using disclaimers on warranties in an unfair or misleading manner.

 

Satisfying the lemon law and Mag Moss requirements can become quite cumbersome and hard to achieve. For more info about please feel free to reach out. After lots of research plus conversations with numerous attorneys and distraught owners I learned a good amount – which also shaped my preference to not buy a Class B from a large motorhome manufacturer.


RV Industry Death Spiral – 8 part series

RV Industry Death Spiral – 8 part series

There is a wealth of information on the blog The RV D@ily Report with its lead writer Greg Gerber. In the Summer of 2016 he compiled an impressive 8 part series called The RV Industry Death Spiral – and the entire series in PDF can be found here. The blog post version of the 8 part series with comments – starting with the 1st post – can be found here.

Greg was interviewed about his 8 part series after a good amount of press – that interview on RVBusiness can be found here.

Greg’s 63 page editorial is a compelling read and has been reviewed by many in and around the industry. It prompted a response from many including a post from manufactured housing veteran George Allen comparing the RV industry to the MH (manufactured housing) industry and showing its many similarities. George’s response post is somewhere in the August 2016 section of his blog (for the record I am not interested in the MH industry however from a learning perspective George’s blog makes for an interesting read especially since it highlights similarities to the RV industry and because both industries are presently at a cross section involving the next generation of custom camper van and RV owners).

 


Time for a custom camper van

Time for a custom camper van

About a decade ago I took a few cross country trips in a sedan. From these trips I learned I wanted to take road trips on a regular basis and bought a used Toyota Sienna, removed all seats in the back, and installed a bed, storage and a cooler. After a few years of that I bought a brand new Class B motorhome from a large manufacturer. That motorhome was closer to the exact vehicle type I wanted to travel in but not close enough.

After many lessons with the mass manufactured motorhome it occurred to me that I could start fresh with a custom van converted the way I would find it most useful. In 2016 I embarked upon a journey to determine the best way to obtain a custom Class B camper van.


Moab>Big Sur>Bay Area

Moab>Big Sur>Bay Area

Coming soon!