If you have an LP gas tank that is not easily accessible, adding a solenoid can be a great convince. Even if your tank is easy to get to, a solenoid can be a good safety precaution. Since my tank is mounted underneath DeVandra, every time I needed to use my propane gas, I needed to get out of the van, crouch down, and open the valve by rotating the knob several times. Especially when its cold outside this is not ideal because it means opening the door. I jazzed up my solenoid with a wireless toggle and a bright red LED to indicate when the gas is flowing, but as long as you can run wires to your propane tank all you need is a simple on-off switch and a power supply. Here is my system in action:
It's important to note that electrical wires should never be in contact with LP Gas lines. This is because if there is a problem, electrical wires can get hot enough to melt through the LP Gas line. This means even if you already have a pass through for the gas line, you need to drill another hole for the electrical wires to the solenoid.
This setup does consume power while it is on (while the gas is flowing). It comes to about 1 amp, which isn't nothing, but shouldn't be a big deal for most situations
âThe solenoid gets mounted before the regulator, as such:
To mount a winch on the Transit, there are only two options. One is Vancompass. The other is Aluminess. I went with Aluminess because of the added grill guard and the fact that once you add the separate tow hooks for the Vancompass, the price isn't too far off. I will add the Vancompass skid plate soon, and they tell me it is compatible with the Aluminess bumper.
I have been debating this for a while. Full-time vanlife and wanting to get deeper into the wilderness makes the decision easier. The last thing I want to do is get me and my home stuck in the middle of nowhere. While the bumper and winch are expensive, recovery costs could add up to quite a bit more. Along with the winch and bumper, of course, I have decided to do the conversion to four wheel drive from Quadvan. I am on the wait-list for a conversion in March and I could not be more excited!
Unless you have quite a bit of patience, time and a decent tool set, I would not attempt this project yourself! Also shipping from CA to CO was over $600 so I decided to make a trip to Aluminess in southern CA. Here are the basic steps.
Along with the bumper I installed these parts:
For the first step I'll direct you to Aluminess' instructions. Removing the plastic is pretty straight forward. From there, things get more difficult. Removing the metal bumper is easier said then done. It is a tight space, so access to the bolts is difficult and the tack welds add to the frustration. The radiator lines ran too close to the tack welds for my own comfort to use a Sawzall. I could have bought a long metal drill bit as per the Aluminess Instructions, but a drill bit like that would have been a good chunk of change anyway, so I decided to save myself the headache and go to a body shop for this part. I cannot recommend Cooper Auto Body in Fort Collins, CO enough. They where very friendly, willing to help, and they did the work at extremely fair price!
Make sure to paint over where the welds where with something to keep the blank metal from rusting. Once that is dry you can attach the Auminess Mounting brackets. There is a cutout on the base of each mounting bracket to give clearance for the radiator lines. To be sure you have the brackets on the correct sides, that cutout goes on the upper inside corner. If you purchased the washer fluid reservoir protector (and I suggest you do!) install it at this time.
Now it is time to get the rest of your accessories ready to mount onto the bumper.
Next you need to change the power cables to your winch. Even though there is technically access to the positive in the engine bay it is unusable for this application. The winch can use up to 450 amps and the positive post in the engine bay is fused. If you blow that fuse, you won't be able to start or run your engine! This means you need to run power cables directly to your batteries under the drivers seat. The cables that come with the Smittybilt are 6 feet long, but in order to reach the batteries you need closer to 12 feet of cable. Using a voltage calculator, I figured I needed 2/0 gauge wire for 12 feet. You don't want to undersized your cables! Doing so will put stress on your winch, alternator and batteries. In order to get the new cable attached to the positive terminal in the winch solenoid I had to cut a hole in the solenoid housing. The housing was not water tight anyway, so I figure this shouldn't make a difference and once the bumper is mounted up, its nothing visible. Instead of coming out of the back metal plate like the rest of the cables, the new positive cable comes out the bottom, plastic part of the housing. Attach the positive cable to the solenoid and the negative to the bottom of the winch.
Now you will need to prep the winch solenoid. None of the configurations that Smittybilt gives in their instruction manual will fit inside the Aluminess bumper. I used the 2 L brackets that came with the winch. This photo shows you roughly how I did it, but it was taken before I added the new beefier power cable. The red shaded area shows where I cut the hole in the solenoid housing for the new cable. The red arrow shows that rather than using both those mounting bolts, I moved the whole housing further out to get clearance for the cable. Obviously I had to drill some small holes in the back of my new bumper to make this all happen. Bolt the L brackets to the bumper, but don't bolt the solenoid up to the L brackets yet.
Now its time to mount the hitch and the winch in the bumper. This requires longer bolts for mounting than come with the winch. This is because the Aluminess hitch uses the same holes as the winch. The bottom of the bumper gets sandwiched in-between the hitch mounting plate and the winch. The bolts that worked for me where M10 1.5 thread 45mm in length with a 10.9 grade rating, and be sure to remember lock washers and regular washers. Once its all tightened up, bolt the solenoid to the brackets and run the power cables behind the winch to the drivers side of the bumper and coil them up in the box for later access.
Now bolt up whatever lights you have selected. You can run wires for them after the bumper is bolted up.
I was able to get this far without a second person, but you will now need a second person to help you lift and position the 180 pound bumper and winch. Lift the bumper and slide it onto the brackets. Attach the three bolts on either side but don't tighten them.
Now is the hard part and you will need some ratchet extensions and a ratcheting wrench! Tighten the bolts that hold the brackets to the van. Getting the bottom inside passenger side bolt is like your first time having sex. Just be confident and patient. It will happen, and when it does, you will be stoked! Next get the bumper into the position and tighten the three bolts on either side.
Now you can run the power cables. First, I would cover the entire positive cable in conduit. Its probably a good idea to cover the negative cable in conduit too, but that doesn't matter nearly as much. I just covered that one in places where I knew it would come in contact. I ran them out of the driver's side corner of the bumper box. Near that end of the engine bay there is a metal bracket that holds what I think is the horn. I zip tied the cables to that bracket. Then I ran them under the coolant reservoir and zip tied them to the side of that near the fender. The firewall passthrough is near here. You will see the black rubber with a bunch of wires running into it. Run the cables through there.
Find them in the driver's footwell. I still need to figure out how to cover these cables up, but for now it works.
With minor modification to the seat base, I added an on-off switch to the positive cable. A dremel did this job nicely. The switch you use needs to handle high amps, a battery cutoff style switch works well.
Adding the lugs is fun and not too difficult with a torch
You will need to remove the seat and the front battery. There are 4 torx bolts that hold the seat, a few bolts on the back of the seat base to take of the battery holder, pull up the plastic cover and pull out the little tube on the side of the battery. From there you can get an idea of how I wired it, and a dremel will help you cut holes in the plastic for the cables:
I have had a few people ask about the bed so here's what I have at the moment. I may rebuild the frame, but it works for now, and if nothing else it will provide a good template for whatever I decide to do in the future. There are a number of reasons this is a complicated design. You have the usual factor of dealing with the van walls being not square nor flat. Along with that, you are not supposed to have anything spanning the entire width of the van and attached to both walls at the same time. This is because of torsion and flex in the van as you drive. In order to meet a few of my build goals I had to design for the bed to utilize the space from the flares as well as allow for use of the bench seat.
Below is the design I came up with. There are a few more East-West supports than pictured. Keep in mind that they are attached, but only on one side (alternating sides with each East-West support). They are on top of the North-South supports. The space the flares created is illustrated as the sections on the outside of the North-South supports.
In its current state, my bed frame is just 2x4s with particle board on top. It functions, seems sturdy enough, and doesn't make much noise when I am driving. The only problem is the support legs. They are potentially in the way of storage options I may want to implement in the near future. A solution to this maybe to have part or all of the frame fabricated in metal, which should get rid of the need of at least some of, if not all of the support legs.
The hinged section is there to give headroom when I have passengers sitting in the seat which is located underneath the northern most edge of the bed frame. I do not yet have a plan to hold up that hinged section. I have not finished the ceiling and cabinets yet and so I don't know where I would attach anything. But I am thinking that rather then attaching a support for it on one of the cabinets, walls or ceiling, I will probably figure out a 45 degree prop to hold it up that will rest where the hinged part rests when the hinged part is down. Here is all I have as far as media on the bed at the moment:
I decided those metal L brackets are worthless because they bend. To support this section of the bed I ended up having a 2x4 that each side of the hinged part can rest on, supported by the leg supports.
What about the mattress?
Another goal for my build was to have a queen size bed that was just as comfortable as my bed at home. In fact I used the mattress that I have been using at home for the past 2. It is an 8 inch memory foam. I like a firm mattress and its not as firm as it could be, but it is supportive to the extent that you don't just sink in to your own indent. It has a layer of firmer foam that I had used in our house as the bottom, but I think its actually meant to be the top layer. My only concern is that I feel like the mattress was starting to wear in a little, creating a dip in the center, but since I flipped it over to have the firmer layer on top this doesn't seem to be an issue yet; time will tell. If your bed frame has slat supports, you will want boards over the slats, otherwise this mattress will sink in the gaps. I have not cut out the hinged of the mattress just yet, but I will make an update when I do so. Here is my mattress. Compromising between comfort, weight/thickness/size and price ($230) I do recommend it:
You're listening to some sweet tunes pumped through your van's stereo system while having a few beers with friends by the fire. You've had a great night and it's 2am before you know it. You put out the fire and turn your ignition off (like the responsible adult you are) before you "PTFO." Everything was going swimmingly until you set out for the trail the next day and your trusty van won't start. Here is how I plan to avoid this situation:
Do electrical work at your own risk! I am not a professional. If you see anything wrong with what I am doing I would love to hear from you. This being said, I have not had a problem (otherwise I would not be sharing)-so hopefully it's all gravy baby!
Its simple really, you program the time, and weather you would like it to cut the connection or complete the connection during said time. I have it set for 2 hours and to complete the connection during those two hours (disconnecting afterwards). The timer needs a positive and negative power supply to operate itself. This can be a different source than the power you would like to supply to the source (in this case the stereo) but it doesn't need to be. I added a switch inline to the timer so that I can control when to turn it on and off. You can run the negative directly into the source, bypassing the timer. For the positive supply, you run it in, then out of the timer and to the source. I use my house batteries to power the source so I just spliced right into the positive and negative on the wiring harness on the stereo, leaving the ignition from the van also connected. As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with doing it this way. The van/alternator powers the stereo as I drive, and if I want to listen to music while parked I flip the switch on the timer.
I hope to make DeVANdra practical, unique, stylish and innovative. Maybe my build will inspire others. Here is a list of what I would like to accomplish:
I mounted a 5.9 gallon propane take to the underside of Devandra. Its this tank, meant for a Volkswagon Eurovan. This project took about 3 days from start to finish. Welding the brackets would have been much faster, but I made it work without having to hire someone to weld them. Instead I took part in the painstaking process of drilling thick-gauge hardened steel. I went through 2 bits, one of which was $17. I learned that to drill metal, you need the right bits (expensive!), to go very slowly and take breaks (about 15 seconds of drilling, then let the bit cool off until you can hold it in your hand) and use a cutting oil!
The Brackets need to be 3" tall. The tank is 8" in diameter but the mounting lips are mounted an inch higher then center. The brackets I got where 6" L brackets. In the photo I cut one end of one of the brackets a little shorter then 3" (to make up for the gauge of the bracket itself). Obviously I am going to need to cut more off both brackets in order for a a second set to fit on the right side.
Trying to keep things moving along for the website here in the middle of moving and general life stuff. Here is the oil change procedure on a Ford Transit with the 3.5 Ecoboost. I suspect other engines will be very similar but obviously the locations for the drain plug and filter may look a little different.
Ford seems to indicate 7,500 mile oil changed with this engine. That seems high. But then if you go by the gauge cluster prompt, some are getting as much as 10-12k between changes. No thanks. I did 6,500 miles for my first change and that was a little longer then I would have hoped.
First start with what you will need
Start by removing the drain plug as seen here. Its the one with the blue mark. Make sure your drain pan is positioned under it and keep in mind the stream of oil will shoot out.
Be sure to take off the fill cap on the engine cover so that air can flow in, letting all the old oil out. Put the plug back making sure it is nice and snug but don't over tighten it! Next remove the filter. It looks like a little black kitchen plate in this photo, upper center
It is a very tight space. From the factory I needed a wrench to get it off and the space is so tight it was extremely difficult to make my pliers style oil wrench work. Next time I will use a ratchet style oil wrench. Be sure to re-position the drain pan underneath the filter. Make sure the black rubber seal came off with the old filter, sometimes they can remain installed even though the filter is off. If you install the new filter with an extra rubber seal, all the oil will leak out in a hurry once it is under pressure with the engine running! Once all the oil is drained out, install the new filter. I like to pour a bit of new oil in the new filter before I install it so that there is oil ready to go when the engine starts up. Just hand-tighten the filter. Screw it on until the rubber seal is touching, then 1/2 to 3/4 around more. Tightening it more will make it very hard to remove next time.
Now fill up with new oil! Official capacity is 5.9 quarts so you should have about .1 quarts remaining.
Replace your oil cap. Now reset your oil light. With the ignition on, but the engine not started, press and hold both the gas and the break and wait for the prompts on the gauge cluster screen. Always good to check your work, start the engine and have a look to make sure there are no leaks. (Life Pro Tip; use the now empty bottles of oil to store the old oil from the drainpan.) Now have a beer!
Here is a report I got back from Blackstone Labs. For those unfamiliar, they do oil analysis. You simply take a sample when you change your oil in their handy container, send it to them and they report back to you. The process is easy and affordable. Well worth the ease of mind. As you can see below, they include technical details and well as a nice little translation for those of use who speak English better then the languages of chemistry/mechanical engineering. Being used to higher performance cars (my car before this was a tuned Ford Focus ST!) longer oil change intervals scare me, but with the knowledge of this report, I may just wait longer until my next oil change!
And taking up as little usable space as possible while doing it!
I ordered DeVANdra without a radio, but wired with speakers. I will be spending a lot of time with DeVANdra and the music and navigation experience are very important to me. The factory options didn't impress me so after much research, I settled on a Pioneer AVH 4200NEX. Android Auto sounded appealing but turned out to be a complete failure due to its counter-intuitive limitations. The head unit is fine, but Android Auto sucks! Anyway, here is my radio installation with some helpful hints. You will need:
For the Most part, the instructions that come with the Metra kit are fine, but there seems to be some odd translation issues in a few spots, so hopefully I can make this process easier for you. First you will need to hook up the kit harness (meant for Ford, should be cross-compatible with a Ford Fiesta) to the harness that came with your radio. The wires on the radio harness should be labeled and/or the instructions that came with your head unit should list what the colors mean. Click here As for the Ford harness wire colors. Most are pretty self explanatory.
Why a micro-bypass is important: Pioneer and Android have certain arbitrary restrictions while you are driving. In my humble opinion, these restrictions do more to distract the driver then if they where not there in the first place. A micro-bypass makes the radio think you are parked when you are not. If you decide to use a microbypass, follow the instructions that come with it carefully, and let the micro-bypass instructions override any other wire connections made.
Along with the microbypass, I suggest a handy little Android app called AppRadio Unchained. The standard AppRadio app meant for the Pioneer radio is very restrictive. ARUnchained allows for full Android mirroring. It functions just like your phone, because it is.
There are a few different ways to connect the wires, but having done this a few times in previous vehicles, I prefer to solider my connections. The crimp connections can be unsure and forget about the old twist and tape method. Soldering assures a long lasting, solid connection! For more info on soldering, click here. It really isn't hard, just remember to put the heat shrink on the wire (don't shrink it yet!) before you solder the wires together!
After much research and debate, I placed an order for my van! Here are some details about what I ordered:
The Limited Slip Differential is the best option for snow and dirt roads. The Limited Slip helps you avoid that situation you are stick in the snow and one wheel keeps spinning but the other just stays still. I am trying to avoid the cost of a 4x4 conversion and hopefully the Limited Slip will get me by. As for the 3.31 ratio, it is a good compromise between cruising engine rpms (which can effect gas mileage) and acceleration/towing up hills.
Why did I get a Transit?
The short story is cost of ownership, serviceability, purchase cost as well as the aforementioned gasoline option. Coming from a sporty little hatchback, how it is to actually drive also played an important factor.
I spent some time working for a non-profit traveling around in a Sprinter van. It had its problems and was impossible to find a place to service, especially one that actually knew what it was doing. Either they where a little European car shop and didn't have room in their bays for the Sprinter, or they didn't have the knowledge (or patience) to deal with Mercedes' over-engineering. For that matter when they could service the Sprinter the prices where high because it was such a specialty. From Glow-Plugs not working to the driveshaft blowing through the block, a Sprinter was a no-go for me!
Here are some more factors for some of the other vans out there:
+ FWD (for Colorado Snow)
-reliability and reputation (its a Fiat)
-what its like to drive
-antiquated concept/inefficient drive-train
-big for the interior space you get
-not the best '4x4' system!
-cost of ownership
-hard to find service (traveled in one for work, broke down in Utah, had to get towed to Reno and there was a huge wait at the one place that would service it!)
In the end the Transit was the best compromise. If I do convert it to 4x4 it will end up being a more capable system then the Sprinter's factory 4x4. The Promaster would have been a good choice, if for nothing else the front wheel drive (and I honestly like the way it looks best) but I have heard many bad things about reliability and build-quality.