2. Van selection

Meet Arvin the van.   We call it Arvin because it’s “Our-Van”.    There are three vans that are commonly used for conversions into tiny homes.  Those are Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster, and the Ford Transit.   The information that follows can be used to build out any van.  But we selected a RAM Promaster for a few specific reasons.

  1. The RAM Promaster is the widest van. This allows us to put our bed left to right, not front to back.
  2. It is front wheel drive, which allows it to be lower to the ground, no big step up.
  3. It’s a gasoline engine. That makes it easy to find a mechanic if needed.

The RAM Promaster has straighter walls which makes good use of space and make the build simpler.  Also the frame has channels that make running electrical easy.

The Mercedes Sprinter is an excellent vehicle, very reliable.  We did not select to Sprinter because it has a diesel engine, and is narrow.    We did not select the Ford Transit because its rear wheel drive and has a quick sloping roof design which eliminates the deep shelf above the driver and passenger.  The large deep storage area above the driver and passenger areas on any high roof Promaster is very useful.   The frame design of the transit would also make the build more challenging.  The RAM Promaster is a Chrysler product, and not known for reliability.   But, with proper maintenance including oil and transmission changes it should provide excellent service.   It’s been excellent so far and I have step by step video’s for the oil changes and transmission service.  It’s easy!   Links to Transmission and  Oil Change Video’s.

 Van Options: After you decide on which brand of van you want, the work has just started.  Next you need to decide on the options you want.  There are some definite things you will want look for in a used van or order when purchasing a new van.

One item that, at the time I did not think was a big deal – turned out to be a really big deal.  That was the shelf above the driver and passenger.  Now, I would say that this shelf is a must have!    We use it every-time we are in the van.  It also made it easy to hide some wiring for our dash camera, and our digital rear view mirror.   Digital rear view mirror video link

Other items to consider include:  Higher Amperage Alternator, Seat Armrests.  Some seats don’t have arm rests! A higher amperage alternator is a good idea but not required.   We added a swivel to the passenger seat.

Finally, after all those decisions are made – you purchase or order your van.   Check out the Promaster Options video below.

While you wait for delivery, you should finalize your design.   I did this in our Garage.

Garage Prototype – Before I started looking for a van I taped out the inside dimensions on my garage floor using blue painters tape.  Then using 2 x 4’s and cardboard I created the floor plan.  It was not pretty – didn’t look professional but did the job.  It allowed us to walk through and make adjustments to the design.  This was a real game changer, and vital to the success of the build. Painters tape Link

One of the major changes we made was the size of the shower, and creation of the footrest.   We reduced the size of the shower, which increased the hallway space.  See our “Mock Up Walkthrough” video below.

There were two other problems I needed to solve before I looking for our van.  The Toilet, and the Shower.  I knew that for us we needed an indoor shower.   I also had a good understanding of the weight of water (8.3 pounds per gallon).  To solve for the limited amount of water we could carry, I designed a recirculating shower system.  Note: We have 48 gallons of fresh water, and separate tanks for the shower.  The shower has a dedicated  9 gallons (4 gallons are part of the water heater).  The fresh water tanks can be used to fill the shower tanks.  I also created my own “composting toilet”.  Details on those is found in the Bathroom section of the guide.   I prototype and tested these in my garage before purchasing the van!

Van Dimensions – In designing the layout for the van it was difficult to find many of the dimensions.  I visited the dealer several times.  As you may know visiting a car dealer is always a hassle.    So, upon receiving the van I made a video with all the dimensions to help others plans their van builds.  That video is shown below.

Plans for some of the build are on our Etsy Store – Click for link

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