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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
The Roach Motel II

Our 2021 3500 Extended was delivered late June last year and I had the beastie mostly done by the end of November. I’m just now getting around to officially documenting the build.

This is our second conversion. The first “Roach Motel” was a well used Ford E450 24’ shuttle bus that became an RV, served us well for 9 years and was a huge learning experience. “Roach” was my nickname back in high school so “The Roach Motel” was a no-brainer name for a scruffy old bus conversion.
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“Roach The First” was getting a bit long in the tooth so we decided to bite the bullet and do another conversion but this time starting with a pristine new vehicle instead of one that was heading south already. We ordered our Promaster 3500 Extended on March 27 2021 and it arrived just short of three months later on June 18th 2021, surprisingly, two days earlier than the tentative delivery date we were given soon after ordering. With these vans being in such high demand we fully expected a much longer wait. We splurged on the RV package, uConnect NAV and cruise control and went with white for a more stealth look and less heat gain in the summer. The Promaster is 3 feet shorter and almost a foot narrower than the old shuttle bus so we’re definitely feeling squeezed for space.

So allow me to introduce The Roach Motel II!

I’ve heard that Promasters in white are quite rare so here’s a look
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First impressions are pretty positive. The driving position is pretty vertical and bus-like but after a 20 mile ride became quite comfortable. The ride is firm but not overly objectionable. Way better than our previous shuttle bus and interior noise is less than I feared it would be. Body roll in turns is practically nonexistent and the turning radius is very good. There are a few disappointing bits: The RV package swivel seats have no under-seat storage and the overhead shelf is way smaller in person than it appeared in online pictures. I knew about the lack of a passenger door lock button but still can’t imagine why it was left off. For me the wide angle rearview mirrors are partially blocked by the window dividers. Swiveling the seats is easy but the seat recliner levers at the front of the seat require a ton of force to unlatch while simultaneously forcing back the seat. Very awkward to use. The ignition switch is very finicky and I usually have to fiddle with the steering wheel to be able to turn the key.

Update: After a few months the switch finally freed up and now the problem is gone.

Our first drive was down to the Cat Scale to get it weighed before I start the conversion. Empty weight is 3320 lbs on the front axle and 2120 lbs on the rear for a total of 5440 lbs total with a full tank of gas and two humans on board.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·

Day 1 - Noico, wheel well undercoat and MaxxFan


The Noico is mostly in except for the doors and the Maxx fan is in. Since the van is still clean I also sprayed the rear wheel wells with two coats of 3M Professional Rubberized undercoating. The undercoat pretty much stops the sound of stones hitting the wheel well and it should stop the water leaks into the “scuppers” along the sides of the van body. You can also see the over-wheel-well tank on the driver's side.

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Our fan is mounted at the front of the van on the factory stamping. Cutting big holes in a 2 day old van is not one of my favorite things but it went smoothly.

Some madman up on the roof
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I’ve had a chance to do some in-depth measuring and parts of my floor plan definitely need to be re-thought. We have a camping trip planned for the 4th of July so I’ve been doing as much around town driving as possible to get this beast broken in before the trip.

Update: After a months’ use I’m a bit disappointed with the Maxxfan. When mounted at the front of the van like ours is the fan lid rattles and there’s a fair amount of wind noise at highway speeds. Apparently, the problem is that at highway speeds there is quite a bit of negative pressure at the front of the van and with the lid closed this sucks the lid up and lets wind noise in. I checked with tech support and there’s no official way to remedy the problem. We made a muffler out of some left over Thinsulate covered with nylon fabric that blocks the noise. Some neodymium magnets hold it up against the fan trim ring. I had to glue magnets to the ceiling side of the trim ring as well as sew them into the muffler. Otherwise the fan works as expected and the remote is really nice for operating the thing without getting out of bed.

Our cobbled up Maxx fan muffler
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Wow @Roach711 , Beautiful Job on your DIY Roach Motel #1 Build 👍

I found the 1st PM 2018 we purchased a bit strange to get use to driving & had the same feel & good surprise after a few days getting use to the “bus like” seating position, but since we had that experience for a few years the 2021 EXT just felt like driving an old friend.

Regarding factory seats; I heard ya on what @SteveSS calls “the launch system” for the seat back strength & we actually needed to read the manual to find the operating levers. We also find with use & muscle memory from repeat use the operation of the swivel becomes old hat. One thing that we found surprising is that the factory swivel seats are even more comfortable than non-swivel buckets (our 2018 was non-swivel buckets). I am very impressed with the factory swivels so far. I was a bit on the fence about them, so I phoned my buddy @SteveSS to chat about them & he helped convince me they were the way to go - & IMO now they certainly are a must have for us. There are a few cons (micro switches), but I think they are outweighed by the pros.

We fixed the Maxxair road noise the same as you per @MsNomer suggestion, but we simple taped strong thin magnets inside the trim ring & “the muffler” just has tabs & the 4 corners - works great 👍


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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Day 2 - Rear windows installation

Our Van Windows Direct vented rear windows are installed. Thankfully, installation was fairly low stress. I’d never glued on a van window before but it went swimmingly.

Promaster Van Windows Direct rear window installation

They say that 90 percent of courage is in “having done the thing before” but after cutting big holes in 5 vans over the years I still get the heebie geebies when contemplating making yet another huge hole in a shiny new vehicle.

The windows

We wanted some vented rear door windows and after looking at the windows available finally ordered ours from Van Windows Direct. Instead of clamping to the door skin these windows use windshield adhesive to adhere them directly to the outer skin of the doors. Factory windows are attached the same way. Window installation instructions are available on the manufacturers online window page but no instructions were included either with the windows or with the installation kit. Aside from the whole “cutting a huge hole” thing, Installation is fairly stress free; these windows overlay the hole in the door itself and the rubber trim covers the cut edge of the door so even a somewhat funky cut will be hidden forever.

Marking the cut line

Some install videos show the installer cutting out the door panel from inside the van but my saber saw was too wide to do that. Instead, from the inside of the van I drilled several 1/8” holes through the door skin at the inside corners of the window stamping so I could mark the interior door stamping profile on the outside of the door for cutting. The holes let me trace out the straight sections of the cut and also mark the curved corners.

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Taping off and cutting

Outside, I used blue painters tape and a sharpie to “connect the dots” and mark my cut line. I tripled up on the tape at the raised edges at the top and bottom of the window area to avoid damaging the paint. Next I drilled a 3/8” hole inside the cut line for the saber saw blade then carefully cut out the door skin working from bottom to top and leaving a small uncut section at the top section so I could grab the cutout panel before cutting the last bit.
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Filing and priming

I used a flat file to smooth the cut edge then primed the cut edge by spraying some primer into a bottle cap and dabbing it on with a q-tip. I’m not entirely convinced that primer stops rust but it doesn’t take much time and hey, it can’t hurt.

Installing the Trim lock edge trim

I bought some Trim-Lock edge trim from VWD when I ordered the windows and they recommended that I order 14 feet for trimming out the two windows. I ordered 15 feet and had about three feet left over when done. I started the trim at the bottom center of the opening and tapped it down over the opening edge with a small hammer. It goes on pretty easily except at the top of the opening where there’s a wider section in the stamping for the trim to span. Once I got all the way around the window I went back and tapped around the trim with the hammer to make sure it was all properly tight to the cut edge then cut the trim to length for a nice tight fit. The rubber trim cuts easily with a sharp knife.

Clean, clean, clean the door and glass then prime the door.

I used acetone and some clean paper towels to clean the outside of the door panel and the inside of the glass. The VWD install kit comes with a small bottle of primer and two round application brushes, one for each window. VWD recommends that the primer be painted only onto the door (not the glass) about ½” away from the rubber trim to avoid having the adhesive squish over the trim when the window is pressed into place. The online installation instructions on the VWD window page suggested ten minutes primer drying time but I left it longer while I stopped for lunch.

Apply the adhesive

Two tubes of Sikaflex P2G (Primerless 2 Glass) glass adhesive are included in the kit. VWD says a normal caulking gun is inadequate to dispense the adhesive but my caulk gun did fine (warming up the tubes before installing helps) . The adhesive is very thick and I needed to squeeze the heck out of the handle but otherwise no worries. A special nozzle is included and requires that the tip be cut such that the adhesive comes out in a tall triangular shape. The cutout is marked on the tip and can easily be trimmed out with a sharp knife. Apply the adhesive directly over the black primer.

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Tip: One tube of adhesive will nearly do two windows and there’s lots of space on the door panel to the left and right of the window trim for a couple more lines of adhesive so I added another line of primer and adhesive on each side of the first line of primer around the window.

Gotcha: When I added the extra primer on the hinge side of the opening I applied it and the adhesive too high and it showed in the hinge cutout when the window was pressed in place. Acetone removed the extra adhesive and primer but it took a while to get it all cleaned out. The primer can be removed with acetone when dry but once the adhesive cures solvents won’t budge it.

Setting the window

Before setting the window I put several strips of painter tape in place above the window opening to be used to hold the window pane in place once it was pressed on. The window itself is fairly light weight and setting it into the adhesive was easy. I set it into place over the adhesive then used the heels of my hands to press it in against the rubber trim. The adhesive seemed to grab the window pretty well and it didn’t move when I removed my hands. I checked to make sure the window was straight and square to the door edge and horizontal body lines then used the tape strips to hold the window in place while the adhesive cured. There is nothing on the adhesive tube mentioning drying time but a quick internet search showed Sikaflex recommending a 6 hour “drive away” time and to avoid professional car washes for a few days because the alcohol in the car wash may degrade the adhesive before it has fully cured.

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Two odd things about these windows: First, the screen is optional, installs on the outside of the window and attaches with some Velcro. Second, the actual transparent window size is much smaller than the cutout in the door. On the plus side, I really like the look of them and they’ll match the CRL T-vent window that will soon follow.

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Here's that weird guy again :(

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Day 3 - Thinsulate insulation

The Thinsulate insulation went in next with help from some 3M 90 adhesive. I used the 1 ½’ Thinsulate SM600L on the walls and 1” SM400L on the ceiling. 3M Instructions said to spray both the insulation and the van wall but my 3M 90 cans would only spray when upside down so I ended up spraying the insulation on the ground then pressing it onto the unsprayed wall and ceiling. After a few seconds the batting stuck to the roof just fine. I used 3 cans of adhesive to do the entire van and used 15 linear feet of 1” Thinsulate and about 30 linear feet of 1 ½” including the side and rear doors. Regular scissors cut the insulation nicely and the stuff is very nice to work with. No itchiness afterward.

Insulation installed and our third seat where it will ultimately live.

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With the Thinsulate installed there were still many thermal bridges where the ribs and pillars show through so before installing the ceiling and wall panels I will glue some pink sill insulation over the bare metal for at least a rudimentary thermal break.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Day 4 - Carr hoops

Today I bolted Carr Hoop steps below the front doors. Installation was quick, easy and according to the instructions provided. The pinch weld at the bottom of the frame rail below the doors tilts slightly down toward the front of the van so the Carr steps have a bit of a tilt also. This bugs me a bit but not enough to work on a solution just yet.

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I understand , but this time around you are starting with a new platform (which longterm is the most economical IMO).
Well, certainly more reliable and the fuel/maintenance costs will be way less than that big a$$ 7.3L diesel in Roachie #1. I put 15K into the bus counting purchase, conversion and repairs but have that into Roachie #2 already in conversion costs alone. It IS massively nice heading off on a trip and not worrying whether the beast will strand us somewhere. That's priceless.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
We fixed the Maxxair road noise the same as you per @MsNomer suggestion, but we simple taped strong thin magnets inside the trim ring & “the muffler” just has tabs & the 4 corners - works gre
I've seen your muffler and MrsNomer's and both are way nicer than mine. Apparently I'm better with wood and metal and may need a little help with the sewing. :oops:
 

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The windows

We wanted some vented rear door windows and after looking at the windows available finally ordered ours from Van Windows Direct. Instead of clamping to the door skin these windows use windshield adhesive to adhere them directly to the outer skin of the doors. Factory windows are attached the same way. Window installation instructions are available on the manufacturers online window page but no instructions were included either with the windows or with the installation kit. Aside from the whole “cutting a huge hole” thing, Installation is fairly stress free; these windows overlay the hole in the door itself and the rubber trim covers the cut edge of the door so even a somewhat funky cut will be hidden forever.
Thank you for sharing your experience with the windows! And thanks for the pointer to the AM Auto bonded windows! We've been considering adding a fixed pane driver's side across from the sliding door, but wanted a bonded window with no clamp or frame. And Van Windows Direct has that window on sale too. :)
 

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Thank you for sharing your experience with the windows! And thanks for the pointer to the AM Auto bonded windows! We've been considering adding a fixed pane driver's side across from the sliding door, but wanted a bonded window with no clamp or frame. And Van Windows Direct has that window on sale too. :)
As much as I love Van Windows Direct, they have the “sale” price advertised for 4 yrs straight ever since I became aware of them.
BTW, I have the AMA half slider and I love it. I think it looks better and cleaner than their VWD brand half slider, since the AMA is truly framless and the bug screen is on the inside.
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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Day 5 - Carr Super Hoop for slider door and seat back storage

My Carr Super Hoop side step arrived and that install was a bit more involved. I mounted ours to the vertical inside of the main frame rail with 5/16” plus nuts. If you decide to mount yours this way be aware that the big frame rail has a rail within a rail and the plus nut hole has to be drilled quite low on the outer rail skin to avoid the inner rail. I attached mine such that the bend at the bottom of the Carr mounting bracket was even with the bottom of the rail. Drilling the ½” holes was a bit of an adventure. My big electric drill tore out the first hole as the bit blasted through the frame rail sheet metal so I used my battery powered Makita drill to do the remaining ½” holes. The Makita would bind and stall rather than tear out the rail.

The Carr mounting bracket at the bottom of the frame rail
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To drill the 1/8” holes for the upper sheet metal bracket screws I had to purchase a 90 degree drill attachment for my drill and even then had to break the drill bit in half to get the attachment in there to do the job.

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The frame rail curves inward near the front of the slider door opening so the step needs to mount toward the center of the door opening. This works fine for getting in and out. When exiting the van we can’t see the step so I added some yellow tape to the floor edge to mark the step position.

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Seat back storage

Our previous bus conversion had a ton of storage space but we’ll be losing about half of that with this one. After looking around the Internet I picked up this seat back storage thingy from Overland Gear Guy and amazingly it holds most of that random stuff that was previously strewn around the bus and is extremely easy to access both from inside and outside the van. It’s one of the pricier ones out there but is very well thought out for our needs and really well made.

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I don't know if you have enough Trim-Lok edging left, but there is a sharp edge under the black package tray that goes the full width of the van. After cracking my head on it a few times I got a piece of trim lock and put it all the way across there. I still crack my head but at least it doesn't leave a cut. If you only have three feet, you could center it it above the walk through - - that might protect somebody's noggin.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I don't know if you have enough Trim-Lok edging left, but there is a sharp edge under the black package tray that goes the full width of the van. After cracking my head on it a few times I got a piece of trim lock and put it all the way across there. I still crack my head but at least it doesn't leave a cut. If you only have three feet, you could center it it above the walk through - - that might protect somebody's noggin.
Haven't run afoul of that shelf yet but I did whack my noggin on the tray above the windshield a bunch of times before learning to just swivel the damned seat to get up front. lol
 

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As much as I love Van Windows Direct, they have the “sale” price advertised for 4 yrs straight ever since I became aware of them.
BTW, I have the AMA half slider and I love it. I think it looks better and cleaner than their VWD brand half slider, since the AMA is truly framless and the bug screen is on the inside.
I really didn't want the framed CRL product, and it's good to hear the AMA are good quality and truly frameless. And thanks for pointing out the "sale" price. I just found the AMA at SprinterStore, and I can pick up locally and save shipping. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Day 6 - Slider window installation

Time to install the CRL T-vent side window. I bought it from Van Windows Direct and received no cutting template or instructions with the package. VWD’s online instructions say to cut to the inner door stamping but the template I made showed that doing that would over cut the upper corners a bit. Ultimately I made my own template and traced it to the inside of the door panel, drilled through the door skin with a 1/8” bit to mark the corner outlines then cut from the outside just like I did with the rear windows. Be aware that the corner curves on the top and bottom of the window are different.

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I filed and primed the cut edge then mounted the window. Very straight forward and the window hasn’t moved at all after many aggressive sliding door slams.

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Gotcha: When I pre-drilled the clamp ring holes on the work bench it appeared that the clamp ring was too long where the two ends meet at the bottom of the window so I trimmed the ring about 3/8”. When I installed the window my clamp ring was short by, you guessed it, 3/8”.

My only gripe about this window is that there is a small gap between the snap-in screen and the window frame. I’ve covered it with some electrical tape for the time being.

Break it in and our first camping trip

We had a camping trip planned for 10 days after delivery so day 8 & 9 was spent finishing the break-in miles before hitting the super highways and to do some in-depth measurements. Fuel mileage around town with an occasional full throttle burst was a pleasing 17.5 mpg on the dash computer.

The van was massively Spartan on our Independence Day trip with just a mattress, cooler and porta-pottie as creature comforts. I did bring along one of our Battleborn lithium batteries to power the Maxx Fan so between that and the vented windows we at least had some ventilation at night. Fuel mileage on the 450+ mile trip was 19.2 MPG and considering that we had headwinds on the outbound leg and I’m basically driving a big lawn shed down the highway I’m very happy with that.

Our family camp is 40 acres surrounded by a huge national forest and it has totally ruined us for traditional campgrounds. Here, the kids are free to ride their 4-wheelers and plink tin cans until the cows come home. Well, until the bears come home anyway. We were sitting around the campfire one night when we heard some rustling out in the woods. I retrieved one of our trillion candlepower spotlights and danged if it wasn't a big black bear looking a bit miffed that I was shining a light in his face. I heard a "snick" behind me as my niece racked her 9MM but the bear was totally unimpressed and slowly wandered off into the forest shaking his head in disgust.

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
The Subfloor goes in

The floor is ¾” XPS 250 Foamular insulation board covered with ½” sanded plywood from Home Depot. I used some left over red rosin paper to make a template for cutting around the wheel wells then cut the foam board to fit. Once I was happy with fit I used the cut foam panels as a pattern to mark and cut the plywood flooring.

The cut edges of the Foamular squeak like banshees when pressed together so I put two layers of plastic packing tape on the edges to stop the noise. Once the panels were in I used some aluminum HVAC tape to seal the seams and keep any errant water from penetrating past the insulation board down to the van floor.

Both sides of the ½” plywood panels got two coats of oil based polyurethane for water resistance and I used biscuits on the butt edges to lock the panels in the same plane. The Foamular 250 has the highest compressive resistance and I didn’t notice any footprints in the insulation after installation.

Floor mostly done with the Propex heater where it will ultimately live.
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The floor floats with no attachment to the steel van floor and I cut in some ¾” plywood at the side door and in the area where we plan to add a swivel seat to avoid having the insulation compress under repeated foot pressure at the side door and to resist the clamping pressure where the seat bolts will go through the floor.

my plywood "pressure points" installed to stop the foam board from crushing and the Pink Panther welcoming us in.
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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Side walls and ceiling

The side wall and ceiling panels are ¼” birch plywood attached directly to the wall and ceiling rails with #10 countersunk flat head screws. I re-used the red rosin floor templates and made new templates for the side wall panels. Once cut out they got some Kilz primer on the backs to retard mildew and the fronts got two coats of water based polyurethane.

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Ceiling panels with lights in place
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Update: If I was to do another van I would seal both sides of the plywood panels with the water based polyurethane.

Bed rails and platform

My side rail bed supports are two lengths of ¾” plywood glued and screwed together. I cut slots for the cross rails and added some foam pipe insulation to the bottom of the slots to keep the rattles away. They are bolted to the van side rails with five 5/16” plus nuts on each side. I didn’t try to line up with the existing van holes and callously drilled my own.

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The bed cross rails are five pieces of 1 ¼” square steel tubing that I picked up at the neighborhood Home Depot. The steel rails are a bit wimpy by themselves and need a little more support so the wheel well storage walls will extend up to the bottom of the rails adding enough support to make them nicely stiff. The ¾” plywood bulkhead at the front of the bed will get a door for access to the garage area and the front-most bed rail attaches to the bulkhead for ultimate stiffness. The bulkhead attaches to the wall panels and the plywood floor with some 1” aluminum angle.

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I had some nice redwood slats laying around that became the slats that will support the 4” Foam Factory mattress when it arrives. Some 1” nylon strapping stapled to the slats keeps them in line.

The bulkhead (door soon to come) and the batteries where they will live
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