Tag Archives: DIY

KyMotoVan – Report #12

Lately, work has been slow on the Sprinter. But as we’ve geared up for our annual westward pilgrimage, I’ve been prompted to make some additional improvements that are going to be handy while traveling.

Previously I figured that I couldn’t have two fender well boxes as the one on the driver’s side would interfere with the motorcycle tie downs. After eyeing this situation for a couple months I came up with a solution. A short length of chain was run between the two D-rings towards the front on the driver’s side of the van. Then, rather than put the tie down hook in the D-ring, I placed it 8 links forward on the chain. This was effective at offsetting the tie down so that it would easily clear the front edge of a fender well box. Easy enough and quick to do.

With the chain fix in place for the tie downs, I proceeded with building another fender well box. All I had to buy was two hinges, some aluminum channel, and a small can of Minwax black poly stain. There was plenty of plywood left over from my other projects and even some with the good veneer for the top.

Two Fender Well Boxes!
Two Fender Well Boxes!

Luckily, I kept the piece of plywood that was left over when I cut out for the other fender well curve. Perfect! That was all I needed for a template. It took me over a week to get that other fender well cover built, but this one went together in 3-days or so. The majority of my time was spent painting it with the Olympic deck coating that I’ve used on other surfaces.

When completed, it dropped right into place with no issues. There were several items that had been stowed underneath the passenger seats that now have a new home in the fender well box. The front half has been dedicated to motorcycle parts and the rear half has chain saw stuff, hand trimmers and stuff that came from underneath the passenger seats. A little bit of room still remains in each half.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Three days before we got our van, Jesse came over to the house with his Fiskars tree trimmer device. It has a long extendable handle that has a clevis type trimming mechanism that is great for trimming branches. There is also a small saw blade attachment that can be used to saw bigger branches than the trimmer can tackle. We used this trimmer for about 30 minutes getting all the branches off the trees that line my driveway. I knew that if they weren’t trimmed back they’d be dragging on the new van. Not good.

Well guess what I got from Jesse for Christmas? A brand new trimmer complete with the saw blade attachment. He knew I’d need one again to trim the driveway and of course it will be handy while cruising the forest service roads out west or back here in Ky while finding a good place to park for riding.

For weeks I’d wondered how to haul this tool in the cargo area of the van. I’d seen some nice roof mounted options but then I’d need a ladder and with my luck I’d probably fall off the damn thing and hurt myself. Best to keep it inside the van and at a reasonable height.

The option I settled on was a 6′ piece of 4″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe with two clean out adaptors. Both my trimmer and my nice 6′ extendable handle wash brush would fit in it. A piece of 10″ poplar hardwood was stained with the black poly stain and the PVC components and 4 metal straps were all painted with Krylon SuperMaxx spray paint.

Mounting Hardware
Mounting Hardware

The pipe was secured to the wood using the metal straps and 1/4-20 SS hex head bolts with self anchoring T-nuts on the rear of the wood panel in countersunk holes. This whole assembly rests on a 1/8″ ledge that is the top of the black wooden rail that runs just below the large cargo area panels. Some #10 SS screws were used to secure it to those panels.

PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood
PVC on Stained Poplar Hardwood

I’m now working on a way to strap the trimmer and the brush to the PVC or one of the straps. They need to be secure so they won’t slide out under acceleration. I’m going to look at some nice rubber straps to keep them from moving around. I have a piece of black foam rubber than I’m going to use to isolate them a bit so they won’t rattle.

Trimmer & Brush
Trimmer & Brush

Lastly, I acquired a little 12VDC fan that fits right behind one of the cargo area exhaust vents. There are four vents back there just inside the back doors that direct air out some one-way vents that are positioned behind the rear bumper corners. The little fan is currently wired up to an 8 pack of 1.5 volt AA batteries with one of those old 9V battery clips. It will run all night on a single charging of the batteries. Why do I need this? Well I’ve found that if I hook it up at night after loading my bike there is no gas smell in the van the next morning. How about that! Dad said all I needed was a slight negative pull on the space and it would work. He was right. Need to wire this up to the van but that can wait.

Cargo Area Vent Fan
Cargo Area Vent Fan

There are a couple more things I’d like to do within the cargo area but I’ll know more about how to handle that after our trip. Also, the passenger seat area will be totally reconfigured by this time next year. Looking forward to getting that all lined out with a comfy seat/bed and some cool storage options.

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #11

New Tires:  Originally, the van had 245/75 R16 Continental VancoFourSeason tires gracing the silver steel rims. It rode very well on the highway and there was minimal road noise. No complaints at all in that regard. However, I was told early on that the Continentals wouldn’t last very long . . . maybe 35-40K at the very best. So, my plan was to wear them out and do some research in the meantime regarding appropriate replacements.

Well this plan started to deteriorate very soon. My first bad experience was during our big snow this past winter. The van did very well on the icy and snowy roadways that had been plowed, but I got it off into some fresh snow about 10-12″ inches deep and climbing out was not easy. I had it in 4×4 mode but didn’t know to turn the ASR features off. Regardless, those Continentals just wouldn’t dig in. They’d sit on the top of the snow and just burn in a nice icy patch. I was concerned, but I also thought well I’ll just be careful where I take when it snows really deep.

Motovan in the Snow
Motovan in the Snow

A couple weeks later I went to park the van in a field where I’d parked my F-150 hundreds of times. It was a little wet, but certainly nothing bad at all. At least that is what I thought. As soon as I hit this one wet grassy area I could feel it spinning and the traction control warnings were lighting up the dashboard. In this instance, I was alone and there was no one there to pull me out if I got really stuck. So I eased on up to my parking spot trying not to spin excessively in the big rig. Immediately, I put it into 4×4 mode just hoping that I could get out later that afternoon with no issue.

Parking in the Field
Parking in the Field

When I climbed out to survey the damage to the field I noted that the tires were just packed full of mud. It was obvious that Continentals did not clean themselves well and my experience with the snow highlighted their lack of ability to dig in. This is not good. I have this nice big adventure vehicle with 4×4 and it is getting stuck in a damp, flat, grassy field.

The next weekend, I put the darn thing in 4×4 when I pulled off the main road. It was damp again and I was worried that I’d damage the field or worse, get stuck. It did well but I could feel it spin a couple times as I got into the grassy area. It didn’t slow down like last time or even feel like I’d get stuck, but it still spun a bit. Once again, the tires had packed up with dirt. That’s it! I’m getting some real tires for this ride!

From what I’d read online, it was obvious that the BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2s were the way to go. They are highly recommended, I’ve seen them on dozens of Sprinters online, and Jesse had gotten over 50K on his last two sets on a Chevy 2500. Lots of folks seemed to think that a larger tire size than stock was a good idea, but I just wasn’t comfortable with that. Narrower tires go the best in mud and snow and tires that are too big around could rub and would make the vehicle taller. Let me tell you . . . making that beast taller just doesn’t sound like a good idea at all!

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

It took some effort but I found a tire place in Lexington that would give me a good deal on just the tires. This way, I could have the MB Service Center do the mounting and balancing. In the end, this worked out very well as the MB Service Center had the best rate on mounting and balancing and they have the wheel weights made specifically for the “steely” wheels on the van.

Their turnaround was very quick and the Technician said I’d made a great choice on the BFGs. He indicated they’d be perfect for the type of traveling and off road excursions we’d be doing. One thing he said though was that, “They will talk to you a bit more going down the road.” At this point I was anxious to see how well it rode and how much road noise would be generated by the more aggressive and deeper tread.

My drive home was an eye opener. Pulling out of the parking lot I could tell that there was a bit more drag when turning at a slow speed. But, as soon as I hit the main road the steering and ride were just as effortless and smooth as with the Continentals. Hmmm . . . I surely didn’t expect that.

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

On the way home, there are about 12 miles of Parkway driving with a 70mph speed limit. As I sped up and headed down the on-ramp to the Parkway I was shocked. The road noise did not increase at all and it was silky smooth at 72mph. After a mile or so I eased it up to 80mph just see how it would feel. Wonderful! I simply did not anticipate that such an aggressive looking tire would ride that well and be that quiet.

One thing the BFGs did for the van was really change its appearance. Those new tires coupled with the nice black Aluminess nerf bars make it look like more of an adventure vehicle and less like and expediter’s van. My dad commented that it looked more “manly” now and Philip strongly agreed. Oh well . . .

BFGs on the KyMotoVan
BFGs on the KyMotoVan

I’ve parked in the same field twice with the new tires and never even had to think about engaging the 4×4. It doesn’t spin at all nor do they pack up with dirt. If there is one drawback it is that they do pick up rocks a bit more, but I can live with that. I now feel much more comfortable taking the van on some Forest Service roads out west this summer. I’m certain it won’t go where my old F-150 could, but the KyMotoVan will get a lot closer with the BFGs in the mix!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my partition door and some ventilation work.

See you on the trail!

KyMotoVan – Report #10

Nerf Bars:  I spent weeks looking at running boards and nerf bar options for the NCV3 Sprinter. There were abundant options for “generic” running boards. Many looked like they “kinda” fit and one person told me their’s were sturdy even with 5 kinds getting in and out each day. In the end, I went with the black powder-coated Aluminess Sprinter Nerf Bars for my 170 WB Sprinter (with a roof-mount AC unit) . . . the AC part will be important later on.

Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo
Aluminess Nerf Bars Website Photo

First of all, I must say that the nerf bars are extremely well made. My Father is a decent welder and he too agreed and examined the craftsmanship in great detail. They know what they are doing and do it well. Additionally, the staff was easy to work with when ordering. Coordinating a freight shipment from the San Diego area to a local business was painless to coordinate.

Installation of the passenger side was tackled first. Here is where the AC unit comes into play. Oddly enough, the AC lines for the roof-mounted unit emerge from above just behind the front door steps. On both sides. Unfortunately, the brackets for the nerf bars are impacted by the location of the AC lines.

After lots of examination and measuring, some modifications were made to the front two brackets. The modifications allowed us to kinda tuck and turn the nerf bars up behind the AC line with plenty of clearance. Holding them into place also told us that it was topping out on the back bracket so about 3/4″ was taken off the top of each of those.

We then used a floor jack under the rear bracket to position and push it up into place. Two holes were drilled in the vertical portion of the underbody where the brackets rested. The floor jack was moved up to the next bracket and once again we got it in place and drilled the holes and installed the mounting hardware. A similar process was followed for the last three brackets as we worked our way towards the front.

On the last bracket, the stainless steel screws were used to pull it up flush with the bottom of the step. It worked very well and end up being consistent looking from front to back.

Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)
Aluminess Nerf Bars (Passenger Side)

From the look of things, doing the driver’s side was going to be more difficult. As with the other side, we took about 3/4” off the top of the back two brackets before starting. Both of the front two angle brackets were removed and the welds were ground down to a smooth surface. All but about 2 inches was cut away from the top of the second bracket from the front.

The heater hoses are not a problem at all although they look imposing. I removed the 10mm nuts on the AC hose bracket and removed the factory threaded tab. Removing the next 10mm nut up the line on the AC hose made it easier to reposition the hose during the install.

Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses
Front Bracket above AC Line & Heater Hoses

With these modifications made, the nerf bar has to be rotated into position so that those front two mounts tuck behind the AC hose. Very similar to how it was on the other side. Luckily it totally misses those heater hoses! A floor jack was used to position the rear mount and a barrel jack on the front three brackets as the holes were drilled.

In this instance, the rear bracket was set to straddle the back two body mounting points. On the passenger side the foremost rear tab was behind the foremost body mounting point. Also, it leaned a bit inward towards the center of the vehicle whereas the other side was more vertical. Typical body variations I’d say as it lined up well on the outside and along the bottom of the van.

Rear Bracket
Rear Bracket

Unlike the passenger side, the front bracket did need some spacers to do it right. We cut the piece of aluminum that was removed from the second bracket in half, drilled a hole in each half, and used those as the spacers. Worked very well. It looks really good, feels sturdy, and is “symmetrical” with the other side in terms of its positioning. I used most all of the supplied hardware.

Mounted!
Mounted!

Glad to get this all behind me. It is certainly easier to get in and out and as noted by a couple folks, it does provide some “side” protection as well. I really like the way they look and once again the craftsmanship is great.

Special thanks for my Son and my Father. My Son assisted with the passenger side and my Father on the Driver’s side. Both felt we’d done a good job of really securing to the body in spite of the dreaded AC lines from the roof mounted unit.

Getting new tires put on the van next week and still working on partition door mounting options. Stay tuned!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine (KyMotoVan) – Report #8

Fender Well Box: I found several references to fender well boxes or covers on the Sprinter-Source forum. After noting how my motorcycle tie downs were routed it appeared that I could have one, but maybe not two.

Luckily, I had plenty of 3/4″ plywood leftover from making my partition and rear wall panels. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to put it together and secure it to the floor and walls. Making a template for the curvature of the wheel well was easy and with a few key measurements in-hand I went to work.

Initially the plan was to cover all of the box with the same Olympic deck coating that I’d used on the lower partition panel and door. However, I ended up having enough of the very nice maple hardwood plywood for the box top so I stained it with some black stain – polyurethane made by Minwax. Three sides are wrapped with 3/4″ aluminum channel to make for a nice look.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

RattleTrap was employed for insulation and sound damping (not dampening) on the surface of the wheel well. Wrapping something that is square and flat over a rounded surface is never fun. Cartographers faced this issue centuries and decades ago when trying to “map” our “round” globe with flat, paper maps! As a result, there were some compromises made in this process.

I cut 1.75″ lengths of 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle and used those along with some allen-head stainless steel bolts and nylon-based stainless lock nuts in each corner. This approach ensured that the box would be very square and solid. Both of the leading corners (front and back) were encased with 1″ x 1″ aluminum angle as I knew they’d endure some abuse while loading and unloading bike and such. Those were attached with some #6 stainless screws and a bit of caulk.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

The hinges I used were Austrian-made and ended up being the perfect solution. They are fully-adjustable in all directions, have a zero-clearance factor on the back side, and are soft-closing. Some foam-based weatherstripping pieces were temporarily added on the two front corners until I can come up with a permanent solution that is both functional and appealing.

Fender Well Box
Fender Well Box

Attaching it to the van was easy just above the wheel well and two 1″ x 1″ aluminum angles attached it to the floor. Once again I used stainless hardware to secure everything. It is very solid. Actually nice to sit on.

I now have my tow chain, a cable, spare tie downs, garbage bags, rags, along with stuff that was previously under the passenger seats. This is good. I’ve cleared up space up front and have shifted a bit of weight towards the rear which will further improve the ride.

Fluids Box:  I’ve really been worried about carrying “fluids” in the back of the van. That wasn’t a big deal in the truck but having them “internal” to the van is a different story. About three weeks were spent trying to identify good options for holding things like antifreeze, motor oil, premix, filter oil, chain saw pre-mix, chain saw chain oil, and so forth. In the end, an aluminum tool box made by Better-Built was acquired and deployed (see photo below).

Fluids Box
Fluids Box

It fit perfectly on the floor where I’d planned but when the top was raised it rubbed my nice black panel rails. After some contemplation, I figured out how to space it out from side just enough so it would clear and not scratch anything at all. Very good. So far, I’ve been able to put all my “fluids” in here and with the top being sealed and only two small holes (caulked) on the bottom it should be good to go!

My next project is to mount a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tire pump, and come up with a great option for securing the partition door. I’m also going to place some small D-Rings on either side of where a rear tire is situated. Once that is done, I’m taking a break from all this and getting back to more riding and bike maintenance. Spring is just around the corner and I need to get some trail work done before it gets all hot and nasty!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #7

Partition: The C-pillar partition is nearly complete. Olympic deck coating was used to cover both the main panel and the door. There are a total of 3 coats on each side but none on the edges. I taped them off using painters tape and it worked quite well. All three panels fit perfectly. The photo below shows the panels prior to any finishing.

Initial Panel Placement
Initial Panel Placement

I placed a piece of 1×1 angle aluminum across the front of the partition where it meets the floor. I’ll be using 3-4 screws to secure it to the floor and some larger 2×2 angle aluminum braces on the backside of the main panel. Those, along with the existing brackets at the bottom of the header panel, will do a fine job of holding everything in place.

Upper Brackets
Upper Brackets

Each panel is attached to the frame using 1/4-20 stainless steel hardware. The partition frame was drilled and tapped at each anchor point and a thin nylon washer was placed between the panels and the aluminum frame. I know the van will flex and things will rub and squeak and so forth.

Front View
Front View

In the end, I’m very pleased with how it is coming together. I’m still exploring options for securing the door panel. I’ve looked at a few plastic knob options but have some other things in mind as well. Getting all the curves to look good as they wrap around the AC unit, headliner, and sidewalls was a challenge.

Header Panel along Headliner
Header Panel along Headliner

The upcoming installment will include a final update on the partition,  some info on my “fluids box” and a custom wheel well cover that does at least triple duty!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #6

Custom Window Covers:  The rear windows are tinted like the two large ones on the side but you can easily “see” what is inside. So, we thought it would be a good idea to cover them from prying eyes when it is parked at hotels. There are several options for window covers out there, but none were exactly what we wanted or what we were willing to pay for.

The first step was to create a good template. Luckily cardboard easily slid between the glass and the metal. I grabbed a couple Moosehead Beer case boxes and carefully broke them apart and folded them out flat. I slid them between the glass and metal and traced the outline of the window. I pieced it all together with that blue painting tape, cut it out, and had a perfect template.

Well . . . my wife is an awesome quilter and made some window covers like she would a quilt but she added an extra layer of batting to make sure it was totally opaque. She used a very high-quality solid black fabric and a variegated yellow quilting-specific thread for the quilting. The freehand quilting is done in a “topographic” style and is of no particular area. I think they both look absolutely awesome!

The covers are secured with seven 3/4″ x 1/8″ rare earth magnets and are not going anywhere! They are easy to attach, reposition and remove. We were worried that the magnets would be too strong so she placed them between the two internal layers of batting. Our plan is to just roll them up for storage. I’m on the lookout for a short but wide map tube that will hold them when rolled up.

Custom Rear Window Covers
Custom Rear Window Covers

Below is another view but it is harder to see the topo lines due to the lighting. This gives you a better idea of the size of the doors and the window covers.

Door View
Door View

The final view shows how opaque the window cover is with two layers of batting and the good fabric. No light is getting through those covers! We were hoping that the topo lines would be visible when looking in from outside but it is totally blacked-out and you can’t see a thing.

Opaque Covers
Opaque Covers

We’re both very pleased with the outcome. Having a master-quilter as a wife sure has its advantages!

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #5

Partition:  I finally have a frame for my partition. Lewis Metal Works fabricated it for me using 1×1 and 1×2 (3/16″ wall) square aluminum tubing and provided two 2×2 aluminum angles for securing the frame just below the header panel. They did a great job and got it done in a very timely manner.

Aluminum Partition Frame
Aluminum Partition Frame

I was thrilled to see that it dropped right into place along the floor and was the perfect width at the junction of the wooden panels and the factory headliner. They utilized a drawing I provided and it was built exactly as I had envisioned. I must have measured everything a dozen times just to make sure it was on the mark.

Aluminum Partition Frame
Aluminum Partition Frame

The surface of the frame was not uniform as they had ground it here and there so it was scuffed up a bit. I experimented with buffing, sanding, steel wool, as well as both orbital and dual-action sanders. In the end, I liked the matte-type texture of the orbital sander with 80-120 grit the best. If you polish the aluminum it will show every fingerprint and maintenance will be ongoing.

Header Panel Installed
Header Panel Installed

My custom header panel is made out of the cabinet-grade 3/4″ maple plywood and will be finish sanded and coated with some clear semi-gloss Minwax polyurethane. The header panel is secured to the frame with 1″ Stainless Steel allen-head 1/4-20 screws and large fender washers. It was no easy task to create the template for that panel as it had to follow the curvy profile of the headliner and the roof-mounted AC unit.

The main panel is just some standard 3/4″ sanded pine plywood. It will cover about 2/3 of the partition frame and will be secured using the same Stainless Steel allen-head 1/4-20 screws and fender washers. Getting that one side to perfectly match the interior curve of the Sprinter was fairly easy with the cardboard templates I made 4-5 weeks ago.

Main Panel
Main Panel

Realizing that the main panels will take some abuse, I’ve decided to not apply stain or poly. We got some Olympic deck coating paint in a Phoenix Gray color that will dry with a slightly abrasive texture. I used the same stuff on the 4×8 sheet I have on the floor in the cargo area where I attached my wheel chocks. It has held up really well and cleans up nicely.

Now working on cutting the door panel and getting it to match up to all the curves along that side. Not yet sure if I’m going to secure it the same way or utilize some sort of long hinge and have it swing forward into the passenger area. Initially, I’ll probably just have it sitting in place with 3-4 screws fastening it to the frame. It will be coated with the Olympic deck coating as well.

It is going to take some time to get this little project finished up as the weather is turning colder here in Kentucky and the conditions aren’t ideal for applying poly or paint. According to the instructions, the Olympic coating needs to be applied at temperatures above 50°. My garage is insulated and has a single heater vent but I suspect that it dips below that temperature on the coldest evenings. Stay tuned for another update in the next couple weeks.

See you on the trail!

The New Travel Machine – Report #4

Partition: Not having a partition behind the passenger seats has been a dilemma since day one. We almost let the dealer install one from Adrian Steel but it just wasn’t what we wanted or even envisioned. Web-based searches revealed some better options, but none of them were perfect. We have this nice headliner and awesome side panels and didn’t want to ruin that with something looked “industrial”.

View of Interior from Rear
View of Interior from Rear

My primary desire for a partition is to help isolate the “smells” associated with dirt bikes, gear, and so forth. It is not lost on me that some smells will still get through but having it reasonably sealed should help.

Secondly, is protection from shifting items in the cargo area. There is typically a lot of stuff back there and we don’t want it coming forward on us in the event of a quick stop or worse, a crash. Safety.

One thing I’m a little hung up on is having a window in the partition so that I can see out the rear windows when driving. Folks have pointed out that I have plenty of mirrors and that most Cargo-based configurations don’t even have rear windows at all. That is all true, but it is something I just can’t move past.

About 3 weeks ago I was able to obtain what appears to be a Mercedes-Benz supplied partition that is just plain heavy-duty. Interestingly enough, it has a sliding door so you don’t have to worry about which way it will swing. But . . . it is designed to go on the pillar (B-Pillar) behind the driver seat not the rear passenger seat thus major modifications would be necessary. Also, there just isn’t a place for a window because of how it was designed. I know . . . I should get over that. The more I stare at it the less I want to use it. It would be perfect for an expediter!

MB Europe Partition
MB Europe Partition

So realizing that some sort of template will be needed, I set out to make my own. This was not going to be an easy effort and patience would be crucial. I gathered up lots of cardboard, painter’s tape, some sharp pencils, tape measure, sturdy scissors, and an X-acto knife with a fresh blade. Onward!

Cardboard Template/Header Panel
Cardboard Template/Header Panel

The image above shows the cardboard template on top and the resulting piece of 3/4″ maple plywood that I cut with my scrolling jigsaw. I aim to finish it out this partition header panel just like the rear panel covers and secure it to a welded steel frame.

The partition will sit just behind the driver’s side rear passenger window, or the C-Pillar. About 2/3 of the partition will be stationary (but removable) and the remaining 1/3 will swing into the passenger area and/or will be easily removable. The opening will be just under 5′ tall so you will have to duck you head to get through. The intake on the roof-mounted AC unit will be in front of the partition thus helping to reduce the smell of “spooge” and gasoline.

I have another template that essentially runs from the bottom of the template shown above down to the floor. It doesn’t have as many curves and so forth but it does have a couple notches that are important for alignment. The Mercedes-Benz partition mentioned above was great for capturing the slight curve of the side panels that were needed.

Armed with the templates and the header panel I can now work on getting my Dad or Jesse to make the frame. I’ve got it drawn out but they’ll need to be in the van and get some exact measurements in order to move forward. In the mean time, I’m going to finish sand the header panel and get several coats of poly on it.

If all goes well, my next installment will show the results of this effort.

See you on the trail!