Sprinter Camper & Adventure Van Build – DAPHNE

Building up our 4×4 Sprinter Van, DAPHNE, was (and lets face it, still is) a very fun project and I’ve enjoyed sharing the process with lots of folks. We have also very much enjoyed using our Sprinter Van to take us on some great adventures – DAPHNE (Dynamic Adventure Pursuit House Near Everything) really is everything we ever wanted in a camper / adventure van!

We’ve had such fun building and re-building our van, we’ve added van related content to the Points Unknown YouTube channel. Check it out! And subscribe if you want to stay up to date on our latest van projects and adventures!

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The blog authors hard at play.

Unlike some folks that are able to quit their jobs to cruise around the country or are able to work short hours remotely, we’re just regular people with regular jobs, working hard to play hard. This is also why our van build focuses so much on utility and efficiency rather than aesthetics – we’d rather be out mountain biking or skiing than working on the van (though, I have to admit – I do enjoy adding useful features to the van – which is why the project will never end).

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Diving into the van project was a pretty daunting task. Like most we took to the internet quite a bit, even before we got our van (we had a long wait from order to receipt) and devoured all the information we could find. I definitely owe a huge dept of gratitude to all the contributors over at sprinter-source.com, without which we would not have had the confidence to drill those first holes or do anything else, for that matter. We cataloged all of our internet research on shared note platform (we used Microsoft OneNote, but Evernote, Google Keep, etc are all fantastic options). That kept all the research organized. And we had one big master list of all the evolving things we wanted to do and what we needed to do them – it includes most all of the work we have done to dateĀ and a few ideas we have for the future.

Camper Van Essentials

When we first bought our van, it was just before Halloween (Late October) and our goal was to have it ‘livable’ (meaning, capable of being slept in) by Thanksgiving (late November). The first thing we did (the day after we bought it) was move the back seat back to the 2nd seating position. Since winter was coming and our first planned trip was up in the central cascade mountains near Mt Bachelor, we had four priorities:

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  1. Insulate
  2. Ventilation
  3. Heating
  4. Bed Platform

To do this right and somewhat in sequence, we quickly realized we would have to add a few more things to the to-do list – starting with removing the factory headliner, our first big chore and still probably one of the most difficult things we had to do. While we had the headliner and wall panels out of the van it made sense to put in the necessary electrical work – including lights, 12V (cigarette light type), and USB outlets. And before we could permanently affix our bed platform to the sides of the van we figured we should put in some kind of wall panels (our crew van only came with a couple factory wall panels). This was also nice for covering over the insulation and electrical wiring.

With some pretty focused and diligent work (mostly ever evening and weekend between Halloween and Thanksgiving) we achieved our goal of being camp ready for the thanksgiving holiday. It was a good thing too, because temperature at Mt Bachelor were in the single digits (Fahrenheit) over the weekend and we were super thankful for our heater and insulation.

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One thing that became clear on that first camping trip was that we needed to have a way to passively charge our “house” power system and one battery was not enough. So we installed solar panels one snowy weekend in early December. This was one of my favorite projects on the van and I am so excited every time I can “charge my phone for free”.

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After that we just enjoyed the van for the winter. We tested various other configurations out and did more research, but mostly we just skied a lot and left any further van refinements to the following summer. Over the course of that break-in period we learned a lot about the things we wanted/needed and also garnered some lessons learned about our previous building techniques. Like our preference for Plusnuts over Rivnuts. So when the next summer rolled around we got to work on some new projects – like adding various accessories to our camper van build. We also added some flare – like laminate wood flooring (so much for being all utilitarian!).

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Upgrades – Round 1

While the initial goals of getting the van up and running for camping in a short time frame were functional, part of the fun of owning a DIY camper van is being able to find what works AND what doesn’t, and continually upgrade. We continue to make changes to our van.

We added a kitchen module (a replacement for the portable camp table we used initially). This kitchen bolted into the van floor, using the seat escutcheons and tie-down points, but was still removable when needed. This kitchen was more functional, but still…. pretty ugly.

The first round of upgrades dealt with the horrible factory stereo system. The Audio15 head unit and associated factory speakers are just awful. To fix their shortcomings we first tried to replace just the speakers. When that didn’t really have the desired effect, we added an aftermarket amp to power the factory head unit and aftermarket speakers as well as a separately powered subwoofer. That did the trick

The solar panels were great, but we had room for a third. So we added it. We also upgraded to an MPPT solar controller and added a cheap battery monitor / ammeter, so we could better understand our power draw.

Lastly, the first round of upgrades required replacing our heater controller. The EasyStart timer control module never worked right, would randomly turn off, and continued to be problematic despite many many many hours of troubleshooting. Troubleshooting led to installing a high-altitude kit – which turned out not to be the issue, but is handy. Ultimately, the fix was easy (and only moderately pricey) – replace the EasyStart Timer with a different control unit – just the regular ‘EasyStart’. Problems solved.

Upgrades – Round 2

In the next round of upgrades, we re-did the kitchen again, moved it to the other side of the van, and added a hands free paddle switch for the water pump. We replaced the factory ceiling with something much nicer and upgraded the walls to tongue and groove boards. As well as adding some additional lighting over the bed platform.

We also created a new ‘bluetooth house stereo’ system – to utilize our sweet amplifier, but avoid having to turn on the stock head unit (which as far as I could figure out can only be turned on by the key (via the CAN bus)

What’s Next??

And that’s basically where we are at today. That’s the narrated version of our van build, so far. If you are still looking for an index to our van build related posts and this format just doesn’t work for you – check out the Sprinter Category Listing.

Of course, the adventure in van building doesn’t stop there. Already we’ve got plans for a new kitchen, lowering the bed platform (to make it easier to get into and out of bed, as well as increase the dining/seating area, and creating a new battery tray underneath the van.

9 thoughts on “Sprinter Camper & Adventure Van Build – DAPHNE

  • January 27, 2018 at 9:12 pm
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    any idea what kind of steel the plus nuts you used are? Or more importantly, what their yield/tensile strengths are? I’m planing to use them to anchor cabinetry in my van.

    Thanks for the write up!

    Reply
    • January 28, 2018 at 10:26 am
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      I am not sure what grade of steel the plus nuts are constructed from. That is likely a question you could ask the vendor. Given that they are thicker than the sheet metal on the van my (completely uneducated) guess is that the van will yield before the plus nuts do. But that is something you could calculate out, if you were so inclined.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2017 at 5:10 pm
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    I too have abandoned rivnuts for plusnuts. One thing I have found helpful in situations where fastener rotation would be problematic is to add a 3/8″ internal tooth lock washer to the underside of the plusnut head. I have also found that running a 1/4-20 forming tap into the newly installed plusnut improves and aligns the thread which helps fight galling of SS fasteners.

    Reply
    • March 28, 2017 at 12:00 pm
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      This is really helpful info. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  • February 20, 2017 at 2:00 pm
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    I just spent this morning reading all the sprinter posts, fantastically thorough! Two part question: 1.Do you have a rough idea of what the buildout cost? 2. I would be starting from basically scratch from a tools standpoint, other than wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers, what do you think the tools you needed would run, minus welding equipment? I’ll happily pay for welding. Thanks!

    Reply
    • February 23, 2017 at 10:34 am
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      Hi Derek – Answering your question is difficult. I didn’t keep the greatest notes on what costs were once I got into the van build (I started out very organized – then got less so as things went on). Additionally, build costs are highly variable depending on the quality of build you want to achieve. As I have said in many of my posts, our build is highly utilitarian. I have accepted the fact that our van interior isn’t the prettiest. But it is highly functional. You can go with nicer wood grades for interior paneling, spend more time and money on detailing and finishes and get a much more elegant build.

      While we were waiting for our van to be delivered, I started roughly pricing our base build it and came to a budget of $4,000. That included insulation, walls, heat, power/solar, general electrical, etc. but the basics. And not very fancy. So perhaps that’s a number to start with.

      As for tools, I think most of my posts outline the tools I used. Like the build materials, tools are also highly variable in cost. You can get a lots of great deals on tools at Harbor Freight, but the tools might only last for one project. Versus contractor grade equipment that will hopefully last for a good long time – but you might pay double or triple the cost up front. I could easily see spending at least a couple grand on tools, a partial list off the top of my head is below:

    • Miter Saw
    • Drill and all kinds of bits
    • Table Saw
    • Rivnut Tool
    • Drill Press
    • Angle Grinder
    • Wire stripper, crimpers, multi-meter, other electrical stuff
    • I am sure I am missing something important, but that’s a start. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  • January 6, 2017 at 11:37 am
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    Hello,

    I came across your website because my family is considering purchasing a sprinter for family trips. Let me start by saying your website is AMAZING and extremely informative. I’m interested in developing such a website to promote travel for African Americans families. I am interested in how you gained your sponsors and how much profit is made from sponsors. Any guidance and information is appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • January 27, 2017 at 9:35 am
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      Thanks of reading. Developing this site is really just a labor of love and the monetary kickback pretty much just pays to keep the servers running. To be honest, most of the write-ups I do are really to remind myself how I did things, if I ever need to go back and make repairs. Ads on this site are provided through Amazon’s affiliate program, which you can read about here.

      Hope this helps. Best of luck!

      Reply

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