Ram Promaster Forum banner

1 - 20 of 48 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi folks, new member here. I've been researching here for months, finally getting ready to pull the trigger on a van conversion.

Rather than post a dozen independent questions, I decided to post them all here. I realize this creates the dreaded 'wall of text' - but if you can browse the bolded Qs/topics, and think you have valuable input to help me I'd appreciate it. Yes, I have spent time here and elsewhere researching all of these topics, and either I haven't found a direct answer I need, or responses/recommendations were insufficient.

Quick story and basic requirements: Getting ready for retirement in about 6 years, and my mother (76) wants a van to roam around her last years -- so she would be first user then my wife and I would use it after her. I'm planning on building this over time, something small and compact is most attractive, I've examined and designed several layouts for different vans but the 136 I think is the right size:
https://gyazo.com/c6ffba0416238902d2cea6a5b6c9b7c4

Yes, that huge space-taking bathtub is a requirement! The wife is a big hiker and loves RVing - but she won't do it unless she can soak in a bath. Yes, that water reservoir to support her bath is going to be a monster, I might have something custom made for 60-100 gallons. Need at least 3-4 days and possibly more. I'm not concerned about weight, my math, I don't see this van approaching anywhere near the 3k payload capacity.

I've researched heavily a Sprinter or PM (don't want a Ford), and I'm leaning heavily toward a diesel PM, but may consider gasoline (thinking better fuel cost over time with diesel, this van will get 2 family's usage for at least 10 years).

Here is a very condensed summary of the main pros/cons of van choice, interested if others think there are other big pro/cons I should consider:

Promaster vs Sprinter
Sprinter pros:
MB - legendary engine, resale value higher, longevity known/trusted
Look, feel and driveability superior (Car & Driver comparison shredded PM: https://www.caranddriver.com/compar...s-benz-sprinter-ram-promaster-comparison-test

Sprinter Cons
Overall cost of ownership potentially much higher?

Promaster pros:
Cost -
Lighter, better overall design for conversion (6' owner can sleep sideways)
Front wheel drive - I've driven in mountain/heavy snow/ice conditions, and always front-wheel drives are superior without a true 4x4)

Promaster cons:
Poorer driveability, driver comfort over time
Unknown longevity?

Diesel generator underneath? Anyone converted one of the Proteks to promaster? (designed for sprinter): https://www.powertechgenerators.com/products/sprinter-van-rv-3kw
Gasoline model recommended? This looks like a terrific solution (I was thinking I'd have to knock out a door panel for a generator inside, going below looks optimal)

Cooling: This van will see desert use and high-mountain use, so I'll be insulating it well. I'm not too concerned about a heating unit because I think the van will be a 3 season max use (stored in winter months, or I'll be working/enhancing each year during winters). I'm a bit perplexed about cooling though, thinking only a roof-mounted fan, but for really hot days in the desert, can I configure the car's AC to run from the car engine (as implemented by manufacturer) or from a generator with the car turned off? Anyone attempted this? I'm thinking AC, microwave and other burst type needs purely from generator only, not sure what amp requirements are for the Promaster AC and if the 24amps from generator above is sufficient? I'm ok that entire van doesn't get chilly cold - even if it can reduce the temp a bit will be worth it. I'm hesitant about going a full AC unit up top, just not sure it is worth it. I'm very experienced with 12v systems and solar power - but I know heating/cooling and appliances like microwave just aren't going to happen with 12v alone.
Can I go just pure from generator (no shore power) for microwave and van AC without investing in an expensive inverter? Big 12v fan, don't really want 120v outlets all over van - not needed.

New vs used PM: Long-term reliability? High mileage on engine (above 150k) - good/bad decision?

Removable posts for portable tables that have bases that are flush at floor when removed? Portable tables can swivel/turn for movement? Is this a decent solution or other suggestions?:
http://www.garelick.com/Quick-Release-Table-Pedestal-System'

Aluminum frame welded for bed supports strong enough? Or - aluminum track system like posted here: http://potkay.com/camper/ (scroll down around picture 9-15 or so)
where can I find these materials/track system?

3rd passenger seat (or bench for 2), safe install but easily removeable even during trips (drive there, remove for space, replace for return trip). I've seen these, wondering about recommendations. I need something narrow, only 18" width and max 30" long:
http://www.freedmanseating.com/seats/go-seat/

Leveling jacks/powered recommendations for promaster? I really want a touch and go full automated system like Lippert makes - just not sure what is really needed for such a small van (I do want some form of leveling system though).

Rear vehicle rack system for spare tire, fuel, jack etc. preferably not just mounted on doors.

Thank you for reading this far! Any input very welcome.

Chuck
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
627 Posts
but the 136 I think is the right size:

Yes, that huge space-taking bathtub is a requirement . . . her bath is going to be a monster, I might have something custom made for 60-100 gallons.
Welcome Chuck,

We expected one of our members to jump-in with an "are you kidding"?

In any event, you'll be the first Class B owner we know with a full sized bathtub . . .

Winston
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
10,204 Posts
Ok, I’ll bite since I’ve been accused of being the forum curmudgeon - "Are you kidding?" ;)
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
421 Posts
Welcome Chuck. Running a Coleman Mach 8 from some batteries can be done. Those extrusions are from 8020.net but that person with the low roof might have gotten a little bit carried away with it. We can help you with acoustic/thermal insulation. Thinsulate(TM) is definitely very popular with professional and DIY builders and will serve your needs nicely.

All the best,
Hein
DIYvan.com
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
808 Posts
I’ve been accused of being the forum curmudgeon
You forgot cranky ;) And names were never mentioned...

Per the OP, I looked at your floorplan. I encountered many realities after I bought my Promaster that required adjustments. None of these vans are truly a box although the PM's sides aren't quite as sloped as some. You will encounter obstacles you didn't know were there, and find that things that may look fine on paper don't work.

For example, there's simply not enough room for a driver and a passenger on swivel seats to sit at a table knee to knee. The best you can hope for is maybe a 45° angle. There's an active thread discussing these sorts of tables. I had the same sort of plan and quickly found it wasn't feasible.

I could go on, but you ask so many questions and many of your approaches are unconventional, so it's hard to know where to begin. For example most 136 layouts do not feature a shower much less a full bath.

Maybe you can interest your mother in an inflatable or folding bathtub:

[ame]https://www.amazon.com/Back-20s-Adult-Inflatable-Large/dp/B00NV5DJXQ[/ame]
 

·
Registered
MMXVI - L2H2 in IN
Joined
·
4,278 Posts
I'm just going to see how many people waste their time and effort responding to this.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,836 Posts
I agree with Ziggy, we are constantly fine-tuning plans now that we actually have our hands on the van. We already had some Class-B/B+ rental experience, so we knew what we wanted and didn't want. We started with some fairly unconventional criteria, including a large, fixed bed and a relatively-large unobstructed shower. It's going to work, but it required compromises and expense (159ext). You don't have to give up your dreams if you allow them to evolve.

BTW, I totally disagree with the PM's inferior driveability. The PM is a dream to drive, and the tight turn-radius is nothing short of freakish. It's one seriously maneuverable machine. I only test drove a Sprinter, but I was less impressed with the overall feel. Empty, the PM might be a little stiffer, but that improves when loaded.
 

·
Registered
2014 136” HR
Joined
·
5,544 Posts
Charlie, once you get your van, mock it up with cardboard. Reality will then settle on you like a wet blanket. Yes, these vans are spacious, but choices have to be made.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
Thank you all -

Ok, I can see the bathtub is a bottleneck for most of you to some of my even more important questions (underneath generator equiv to ProTek? Any recommendations/experiences to share?)

I'm not a complete noob here. I've spent a lot of time researching this effort, and I have a ton of experience with plumbing, 12v/electrical systems, solar, carpentry, just about everything required here (but I am not an auto-motive insipired guy, I'll hire folks to take care of the engine and general vehicle repairs). Everything else I'm totally comfortable with.

Yes, the bath is very real and I believe will work. But the bottom line, that is the requirement above all I have to make work, so I'll have to comprise around it. I've spent a lot of time with a very successful and respectable business here in Oregon (Van Specialties) and they do custom van conversions on a big, big scale. I was just over with them this past week, they had 15-20 Sprinters in various states of build, and they have a year-long wait list for conversions. They had several promasters in the shop as well. The owner was terrific and spent several hours with me and walked me through each stage of the build process and I took lots of photos, and yes, even a full 24x36 shower+toilet is possible in a 144 Sprinter with some minor comprimises. The Promaster nicely has a few more inches to work with. The 'bathtub' really is just a small space my wife can sit and soak her nethers. With a human in a sitting position, knees up, she can comfortably soak for 10 minutes in 'hottish' soapy water, and that's all she needs. She's from Canada, a VERY hardened outdoors-woman, and loves hiking and camping. She just has this need to soak a bit before bed, shower just doesn't quite cover it. When you sit in one of those tubs, only a few gallons surrounds you entirely so it really doesn't take the water volume you might think. Here is the line (and others like it) I'm thinking about - these aren't really 'bath tubs' but more small sitting tubs - that's perfect: https://www.carid.com/showers-tubs/

But please, just move on from that. The collective wisdom and experience is much respected by me -

AC/heat - if I go with the smaller 136, how realistic is it to run the van's AC and heat from a generator a few hours a day in the desert or high mountain - rather than investing in separate heating and overhead air conditioning? We are a hearty group, and have visited some of the extreme conditions of the NA West. But even a small bit of comfort is enough. I'm not targeting getting a comfy 72 degrees in the van while at 12,000 feet in the winter, nor while down in Death Valley in August. However, even moving the climate 10 degrees can make it comfortable enough to be worth while. Has anyone attempted this - is it even possibly without major challenges with the wiring/harness or support system for the heater/AV in the van? We do envision this more of a 3 season van, so for the gals, AC will be a factor as we do a lot of desert trips. The winter thing will be me and my friends, I'm an avid astronomer and I go to remote places to do astronomy imaging in very cold conditions. I've been doing this a long time in tents or the back of my SUV with a -20 sleeping bag, so a van even without heat is a big improvement, but a little comfort heat of course might be nice.

Water management, waste management (macerator, pump, vacuum systems), these aren't concerning me as much. There seems to be a plethora of good information out there how to do this so I feel pretty confident. getting underneath the PM and securing the grey and black water tanks seems pretty straightforward, and as I've placed them in the middle of the van I should have good access to positioning the reservoirs (I've been under the PM and the Sprinters examining how/where I can place those and I've watched a number of videos).

I'm not worried about tight space in the van. Once we arrive at destination, we live outside. I will have an awning and take portable chairs and a small table. Oh I should mention, a 'galley' is definitely lowest on priority. A small sink is probably enough. We live off of Jetboil and love Mountainhouse food. We have guilty pleasures around espresso, but we've found the 'Maxim Mocha' packaged coffee from Korea on Amazon is utterly fantastic with cream and sugar included. I do plan a large refridgerator to take fruit and some basics, but meal preparation for us is not about a big galley with big counterspace, pots and pans - that can go if I have to comprimise. I probably will put a 120v inverter in and then use a portable induction stove top in case we do want to cook up something, and I'm thinking about a small microwave. But meh, those are optional -- but the bathtub - nope. It has to be in the plan for the 'financier' to approve :)

Thanks again for some shared experiences with these other topics, and/or links to previous posts addressing them. I have been searching pretty extensively and haven't quite found exactly what I was hoping so far -

And yes, comprimise is fine. I am considering the 159 instead of the 136, although the tight, small package of the 136 just looks fun frankly, and I do envision us getting around in bigger towns in addition to very remote settings so the compact size I think will be more fun. Also storage at our home and my mother's will be better with the 136.

Yes for drive ability, I've gone to a dealership and taken a 159 out (the v6 gas, I haven't driven the eco diesel and I understand the current testing issues RAM is under, but a 4 cylinder is pretty attractive for long-term cost of ownership and ok it is silly but environmental footprint...). I didn't mind the driveability. The v6 power with a completely empty van was attractive, but I was thinking 'ok, so what would this be like fully loaded?' But that report from Car and Driver was a little unsettling. Will I be content after hundreds of hours in the driver seat and many trips under the belt? I also have been over to the MB dealership several times, and I've driven just about everything they have in the Sprinter class. The MBs feel super heavy. The responsiveness of everything while driving is slow and heavy. But, you do have this incredible sense of comfort, ease and feeling that everything is just ok. We've been BMW owners for 2 decades, so immediately I sort of felt at home in the German MB - I get it. The PM definitely was powerful and the steering pretty **** amazing I thought, and it sounds like most folks are really ok with the PM handling. So I think I can put that to bed in my mind but always interested in experience/input on this decision.


thx all for thoughts.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
8,810 Posts
I am going to sound like I am saying what I did but, when you read it I mean you should too. It’s how I work.
1. Our bed is collapsible to a couch which lets us carry three people back there. I have not installed seatbelts but with them it would do much better than your small one. Our bed has a frame that is wood, lighter than anything anyone else has suggested, works perfectly, is easily removed and cost next to nothing to build. It must be terrible as no one has copied it as far as I know.
2. Our bed is 54” wide open, reaches to the galley and to the tub enclosures you are planning. In our 136” there is little enough room as it is. We sleep on a 60” bed at home but find the 54” fine. Many here have 48” for two.
3. You have been told the table won't work, it won't. We built in a dinette which we feel is our van’s best feature. It allows us to read, compute, write, prepare food, store our batteries and inverter underneath with drawer storage for the galley etc. Look at our thread which has many of the features you desire and could be modified to include the bath easily by collapsing the bed when bathing but keeping the toilet always available.
4. I wonder how much you have thought through the galley cooking? We too have the jetboil/dehydrated food thing, move on from that and cook, life is to short to eat from a sack of dried ****. (See http://www.promasterforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=61482&highlight=cooking+road)I would strongly suggest a mid sized refrigerator like the TruckFridge TF130ACDC (https://www.truckfridge.com/tf130acdc/) as a good comprimise between size and efficiency for the road. We use a Butane cooktop we really like for cooking, no microwave or any other 110V so we have an inverter but don’t really need one. They are handy for the occasional power tool that is not DC such as a shop vac or skill saw.
5. Except for the collapsing bed (which we can leave open) and swivel seats we do not have any setup or take down parts which we need to deploy to camp. Such things sap your energy, fun, suck when it rains, and generally create chores where none are needed. That back seat and table are examples.
6. We put in overhead cabinets that are 14 inches tall and 10 inches wide. Lots of storage and very little intrusion into the living space. Using up valuable floor space for a jacket storage cabinet is an example to avoid.
7. Along this same line. The van is small, about 60 sq ft and you want to have some room to stretch out. That 18” wide isle is a disaster for the sense of space. In the short run it would work but if someone is using the van for days on end of foul weather it becomes painful. Pay attention to other’s value of open space in a small van.
8. Plan the bath for <5 gallons of water and get used to using it every 3 or 4 days. Most of the world does not bathe or shower every day, and they still smell ok and stay healthy. Reduce the water being carried as much as possible. 100 gallons of water weights somewhat over 800 lbs. and in a 20G deceleration it produces 16,000+ lbs of force. That tank will kill you.
9. We have heat off our diesel tank. No extra fuel to carry, Espar D2. I would not consider AC until you have used the van. We had one week in our nearly 3 years of van camping we would have liked it. That means we could have spent $1000 more for a nice car top AC unit that realistically would have needed plugging in. Use the money to camp more.
10. As for a generator, fuel, and other crap on the back. Are you kidding? BAD idea in so many ways it doesn’t deserve elaborating on, Don’t do it.
Have fun the planning is fun. Often we find planners suggest a plan and spend all ther time defending it instead of listening to the issues raised. If you have decided on what you are doing please don’t post up asking what you should do. We can give affirmation if that is all you really want, but be clear. You have taken a hard line on some stuff that is going to be a problem later. I have tried to accommodate the tub as you seem to want affirmation on that.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
808 Posts
Generators don't get much love around here due to expense and noise. It's tough to have AC without one, however.

As far as running the van's AC and heater off of a generator, it's my turn to say, "Are you serious?" You'd be better off just running the engine instead-- assuming the systems had enough capacity to heat/cool the whole van. The van's AC compressor is mechanical, not electrical. The heater uses engine heat-- not electricity. So a generator isn't going to help in either situation.

Is it April yet? ;)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Excellent. Thank you both.
We envision 3-4 day outings for the next 5 years, then once we retire, who knows.
RDinhandAZ, excellent advice on the water. I'll have to think the tank down to 30-50gal capacity, we'll drink from bottled water we bring and store under the beds. Is there a link/article I can read about the calculations for safety in relation to the water weight? I'm just going from the payload from the manf, and even a very large tank of water seems supported- but I didn't know/think about what you mention so I want to read up on that. At 7 gal/lb, even a 700lb tank easily falls into my plan around 2-2.5k lbs. But I'll definitely heed your advice on this and research more.

My wife has real sleeping issues - so I'm super nervous about a folding bed/seat strategy, but I won't say it is out of the realm of possible. I think the big advantage of the PM is the wide birth to go a full 72" for the main bed (I'm exactly 72" tall), going narrower I think will work, I'll lay something out for both of us to try. The PM or sale I linked I like the adjustable shelving/beds, but could keep the main bed in tact but adjust as per what we are doing on the trip (possibly even remove a layer of shelving etc). Having a super comfortable bed I think will be key to her getting out with me. Yes, my guess is she'll sacrifice the width of bed to have the small soaking bath, and yes, it would be every night. She's Asian (Asian family from Canada) - not sure how relevant that is, but seems to be culturally something important to her and I like dusting off from a day of hiking with a quick shower also. At 5-10 gal per use, a 30gal tank means only a couple of nights. Perhaps that simply will be our limit with this van for the next 5-6 years, then later we grow to something else. Gotta make the queen delighted on this project...
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
Generators don't get much love around here due to expense and noise.
Ahhh ok gotcha. I want to go without propane, so I'm envisioning solar + generator. Expense and noise would be the compromise. Both my wife and I have RVd with our families since childhood, and both of us are familiar with generator noise. I'm just not super comfortable about carrying around propane in addition to everything else as I don't really see us cooking that much, and a portable induction stove top + small microwave I think would solve any urge. I plan to run the fridge full time on 12v from solar and at least 400-600ah lithium.

Oh and yes, I do see the tub as storage until destination - so not entirely wasted space. I envision unloading everything at destination and we live primarily outside of the van. I see the van as driving and destination and sleeping. We have a nice portable 'tailgater' propane stove thing we might use outside to bbq or whatever.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
3. You have been told the table won't work, it won't.
Everything posted was great RDinNHandAZ except this one - I'm struggling because I've seen them. At the van specialists locally, they've integrated a lot of interesting solutions. I'm also seeing a lot of marine-type folding/armature type of tables similar to what you see in airplanes (when the table pops from an arm rest). But, I respect your experience, so clearly I'll need to do more research and prototyping on this. Here is one example, just some quick searches I see a lot of things like this (I'm thinking of something small that hides like an airline fold out dinette from the arm of the chair):
 

·
Premium Member
2018 159 High Roof gas, BC, Canada
Joined
·
1,404 Posts
Welcome, Chuck!

I for one look forward to hearing the response and then Chuck's replies. I'm somewhat new to van traveling and totally new to van converting and thus appreciate any knowledge that I can get, especially as it pertains to PMs. I've already had some of my original thinking swayed by valuable feedback by forum members as well as reading about their experiences.

I'll just chime in and say ignore the stupid Car and Driver review. I read that early on in my van search and because I used to be an avid reader/subscriber, put a little too much weight on their findings and nearly missed out on the PM completely by putting it lower down in the rankings of the vans I wanted to research. In the end, I gave the PM a "courtesy" evaluation and test drive and "Wow!", I'm glad I did. Mine is on order as I type this.

More about the C/D review: C/D is meant for young to middle-aged males who are focused on performance/handling/whizbang-technology. I feel that as long as the performance is "adequate", I've got other things that are important about my future travel van.

For example, how big and, critically, how useful the interior room is. I don't recall which van "won" their evaluation, but in the case of the Sprinter, it's not as boxy and build-friendly (in my opinion) as the mostly square-sided PM. And only the tiniest bit of research will reveal how reliable (unreliable) the Sprinter is. My daily driver is a 5.1 gen Dodge Caravan and thus it has the same Pentastar and 62TE fully hydraulic torque converter automatic transmission transverse drivetrain. I am COMPLETELY satisfied with it. It's powerful and smooth and quite fuel efficient.

I also 2nd MsNomer's suggestion to mock things up in the van. I'll probably used cheap 1/4 or 3/8 plywood (it's cheap enough to not need to use cardboard) and see how I make out. I've made some serious design changes already just based on reading this forum. But the proof will be in the pudding.
 
  • Like
Reactions: keeponvaning

·
Registered
Joined
·
34 Posts
Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
Welcome, Chuck!

I for one look forward to hearing the response and then Chuck's replies.
Thank you!

Yes, as mentioned, I was impressed also about the PM with a test drive. But, I'm wondering about over time.. and long term. We have been spoiled with beemers and frankly, my wife has grown a tad used to luxury. Its odd - she loves the outdoors and 'roughing' it to some extent, but the 'girly' factor is appearing in her later years with the tub requirement (she's been less and less interested in backpacking and only day hikes to get home and clean... yet then she complains that she wants to go out further and explore more - so I'm struggling with this project as a potential solution), and I'm worried a tad about her opinion driving. She loves German engineering... but I'm worried about what I'm consistently reading about the high sprinter maintenance costs (and delays to even get in for repair!) that many sprinter owners complain about. Here in Oregon, Sprinter vans are HUGE. You see them everywhere, and we have a very limited amount of quality service centers, and even with a few conversations I'm getting the same picture that we have an over-supply issue of too many sprinters on the road and not enough service center expertise. So the PM is very attractive to me on those fronts. But I am interested to hear from longer-term owners (realizing the PM is only 5 years old that seems a bit unrealistic...) about longer term driveability and comfort. I'm pleased though because posters so far seem to be consistent that the PM is fun/comfortable to drive long term and this won't be an issue.
 

·
Registered
MMXVI - L2H2 in IN
Joined
·
4,278 Posts
I'm glad the OP is responding, I feared it was going to be "the one long post and disappear."
 
1 - 20 of 48 Posts
Top