Do you have a van and don’t know where to start? Looking to DIY but want a little more info before you get started? Let us help you. Max, our shop manager, DIY-ed a Mercedes sprinter before coming to work at FVG, and is now working on a new one! We sat together to get the run down about his van, the build process, and his own DIY perspective.
Averie: What are your plans for this rig? What style are you going for and what capabilities will it need to fit into your ideal van life?
Max: So the main focus on this build is luxury and functionality. I want this van to be a true 4 seasons off grid camper with no limitations. I want it to be comfortable and cozy in sub zero weather and be fine camping in the summer in Florida. I plan on doing an indoor heated shower as well as an outdoor shower. I am going with an adventure wagon Moab bed as well for easy removal so I can keep a dirt bike or 2 inside.
A: What are some unique things you’re adding to your build? Anything outside the realm of the typical FVG style?
M: A few special things I’m doing on this build which FVG doesn’t really do is gonna be an indoor heated shower. Also redoing the audio system. Changing out the head unit and all speakers and adding a small subwoofer.
The most important thing when building a van is that it will fit your needs. Max is adding in some extra details that will benefit his life, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary for everyone. He is also in a unique situation (like some of our customers) in that he is incorporating items that are an FVG standard with some items that we do not offer. Max might be doing everything himself, but if you are in a similar situation, we can help you out with the tasks in our wheelhouse while you do the rest! We will work with you to help where we can and even lay the foundation for the rest of your build that we can’t help you with!
A: You built a van before you started at FVG, how is this one different?
M: This build will be completely different from my first. To start, this one is a 170″ compared to a 144″. I went back and forth for a while but at the end of the day, I think I can do a lot with the added space. My last build was more of a weekend camper/ daily driver. I want this to be fully livable for week-long trips or more for me, my girlfriend, and our dog.
This is a big thing you’ll want to consider when choosing your van. While a 144” wheelbase may be easier to drive, it also offers less space. This would be a great option though if you don’t need an abundance of room inside. The 170” option is a little bit more of a beast, the roomy interior offers more comfort for traveling with loved ones, furry friends, or gear needed for other adventures.
A: How has working at FVG changed your perspective on the build process?
M: Definitely much different now that I do this for a living. For my first van, most all my information came off the sprinter forms. And honestly, not everyone knows what they are talking about. Now that I have firsthand seen what works and what doesn’t, my approach to parts, materials, and overall practices have changed for the better.
A: Are there any tips and tricks that the DIY van builder should know?
M: A few tips I have learned from building a bunch of vans.. the first one is gonna be, using the right tool for the job. The next one is to not skimp on the floor, it’s the base for everything else going in. Next is making everything serviceable. The last thing you want is to have to rip the entire van apart to change a water pump or fuse
While we love a good forum and are a part of many facebook van groups, sometimes you just need professional help. Even if you aren’t looking for us to lay hands on your van, we are happy to give you our two cents. We’re very active in online groups and are always ready to offer advice when it comes to installs, products, and general van life questions. If you’re visiting us, we have a whole team worth of van experts who can point you in the right direction. At events, half the fun is chatting with van lifers and builders, exchanging stories and advice.
A: What is your build process looking like so far?
M: The process is slow to start. Lots of parts are on order including my adventure wagon kit. Right now the shop is so busy with so many different builds it’s hard finding the time. Also, I keep going back and forth with different designs and layouts. I generally know what I want and where everything is going, but some small things are still up in the air.
Take it from Max! Sometimes life will get in the way of your build and that’s ok! Go at your own pace and don’t stress yourself out too much. It’s ok to not know exactly what you want, there are so many great options out there. The best advice we can give is to really evaluate your needs and whether or not you see yourself using that product often enough to make the money and space it’ll take up worth it!
If you happen to be in a rush, it’s time to hand it over to the professionals! As Max said, we do stay busy, but we work hard to set timelines that allow us time to build your van with the care you deserve while still fitting into your schedule! You have a job and a van, but for us, your van is our job.
A: So where are you headed first?
M: Not exactly sure what my first trip will be because I’m not sure when the van will be done. I’m hoping early next year and my first trip will probably be a shake down on the van up the East coast. More likely just to visit friends and family in my hometown of Rochester, NY. I’m Really excited to see this van come together and how I can put my touch on it to make it stand apart from every other 4×4 sprinter. Gonna try my best to document the build process and have even made an instagram for it. If you are interested follow along at @yetithevan