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Mercedes Sprinter Upfitting: Before any Upfitting, Maiden Voyage
Related: acclimatizing to altitude, gear, Inyo National Forest, lighting, Mercedes Sprinter, panorama, storage, White Mountains
Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....
My upfitter of choice is ADF Sprinters of San Fernando, California.
This page shows the van and its arrangement right out of the dealership before any upfitting; I took all my gear with me and drove the 280 miles to Reno, NV and got onto the road and set to work (photography).
As I designed it, the out-of-the-dealer setup:
- Two Yeti Tundra 210 coolers are the bed platform, one used as a cooler (works great easy access), the other as storage.
- Temporary table with easily-stowed folding chair. Turned out I really liked the folding chair—surprisingly comfortable for work and easy to stow.
- Temporary power via 400 watt pre sine wave power inverter clipped to auxiliary battery terminals under left front hood with extension cable to interior (hood popped open slightly). The 100 amp (nominal 1200 watt hour) auxiliary battery is good for about 6 hours @ 120 watt draw (720 watt hours) before the inverter starts complaining (chirping) about low voltage, showing how poorly lead acid batteries perform before breaking down on voltage—that’s only 60% draw-down before issues. Hence the Lithionics 400 amp battery, which loses only 0.1 volts at 90% draw-down.
- Stock wheels and tires but offroad wheels/tires and skid plates to come.
- Magnetic hooks to hang clothes and such, rugged boxes for additional storage.
This setup was not ideal, but already highly functional. Details follow.
Eight-bay Thunderbolt 3 high-performance storage for photo and video.
Hard drives or SSDs.
Non-RAID or RAID-0/1/4/5/10.
Capacities up to 128 Terabytes!
High altitude comfort
Feels quite cozy, even without any of the insulation or extras.
Interior van lighting by Cineo Lighting for perfect color match to moonlight (temporary setup to start).
The turbo makes short work of altitude—regular cars and SUVs gasp for air and lose huge amounts of power—for example, the Sprinter runs leaves the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro far behind gasping for air with its underpowered non-turbo engine when ascending the 6500' from Big Pine.
Temporary computer workstation setup
Below, temporary desk, temporary power via 400 watt pre sine wave power inverter clipped to auxiliary battery terminals under left front hood with the yellow extension cable to interior gear (hood popped open slightly does not injure the power cord).
Heavy duty moving blanket laid across front seats to darken interior while working.
Before upfitting and on the initial trip, the only usable power source usable for hours of use is the 100 amp (nominal 1200 watt-hour) auxiliary battery, located at far left driver's side corner (the Sprinter manual is misleading/incorrect). I clipped a 400 watt pure sine waver inverter onto the battery and ran an extension cord inside to the computer setup. In practice it was about 6 hours before the inverter started to complain (low voltage), which equates to about 700 watt hours which equates to a discharge of 60% (40% remaining), showing why lead acid batteries generally suck—after 50% or so discharge, the voltage starts to plummet. Lithium batteries can go to 80% discharge while dropping only 0.1 volts and the Lithionics battery I chose can even go to 90% without worrying about it.
The area behind the driver seat is a good place for mounting something, but the Lithionics battery is 24" wide, and the bulkhead would force it into the middle area by 2 inches or so. It could go just rear of the bulkhead and not project into the center. Or it can go along the wall near the table leg, in line with the van and the Xantrex 3012 behind the seat.
With doors closed and a heavy duty packing blanket across the front seats, the interior can be darkened for suitable working conditions. The front windows can be cracked from almost shut to fully open for ventilation, depending on temperature. With upfitting, T-vent windows and rear slider windows will allow cross ventilation, and a 10-speed roof fan will allow pulling air in or out.
The Exped Megamat 10 LXW with doubled-over SnugFleece Elite Wool Mattress Pad and cotton sheets is no less comfortable than at home. A down comforter will be more comfortable than the Western Mountaineering Sequoia GWS, excellent though it is. The bedding sits atop the two Yeti Tundra 210 coolers, one of which acts as a cooler (drains out van rear, park uphill to drain), the other used for padded lockable storage of sensitive gear. Access to food and drink in the cooler is fast and easy, just as anticipated (the bedding weighs very little).
Not shown: a bit later, I tied down the coolers to the tie-down hooks using 1200 straps wrapped around the coolers.
Jackets on wall at left are hung using Master Magnetics magnetic hooks, 65 lb or 100 lb with swivel hook recommended but the 40 lb hooks are fine for items up to a few pounds, the issue being the the painted metal is slick and heavy things just make the magnetic slide down, even if it does not detach.Upon delivery, a cargo van is quite bare. Some do not even have the overhead LED lighting shown here (I’ll be replacing with high grade lighting from Cineo).
The two Yeti Tundra 210 coolers form the bed platform for the Exped Megamat 10 LXW. A better tie-down system is planned with upfitting; these tie-downs go to the robust tie-downs that came with the Sprinter factor floor.
Lacking the upfitting Phase 2 planned storage cabinets on driver's side (only), extra gear went into the blue plastic boxes on this first trip—rugged and durable, but very slippery on the stock flooring—padding to prevent skidding needed while driving tight curves or rough roads.
Unsolved dilemma: where camera packs go? These are too large for a cabinet and must be ready for quick access. I ended up moving them around from table to bed to under table for driving to on bed with bungie cords to hold down. It worked fine, but they are hard to deal with, what with needing immediate access and needing to keep them stable while driving.
Leveling for work or sleep
Rocks work to level the vehicle reasonably well. Note the spray-on protectant over the metal of the wheel well—it is some kind of rubbery coating.
Incredible panoramic view
I was delighted by the fantastic 180° panoramic view from high seating position. The picture does not do it justice. It was an unexpected pleasure, a great feature I had not anticipated. It is fantastic for driving around slowly looking for stuff to shoot, especially in inclement weather.
Rain and mud
First day out I had heavy rain from Reno to Lundy Canyon near Lee Vining, CA. Which means mud offroad. Taking shoes off mandatory to avoid a dirty interior. To-do list: some kind of rug for sliding door side.
The stock Continental Vanco 245/75R16 tires did just fine on the rocky roads, but for this type of terrain I want the security of the BF Goodrich K02, with its 3-ply sidewalls.
I aired the tires down to 43 PSI front and rear, which was a huge improvement over 50 front, 75 rear*. At 43 PSI they bulge slightly if one tire has a little more weight—I was unsure how low was safe, but probably 30 PSI would have been even better.
When I returned to paved roads a few days later, I aired them up with the ARB air compressor.
* The 2017 Mercedes Sprinter user manual warns that handheld gauges will be incorrect at altitude and indeed this was true: my trusty gauge was off by 7 PSI versus the TPMS system.