More storage

It’s now fall of 2018. We’ve had the sprinter for 2 1/2 years. I’ve not done all that much in it since the original build out, but there have been a few projects completed and a few in progress. This encapsulates one aspect of doing your own upfitting: the rig isn’t really ever “done”. I’ll always probably be doing bits here and there. After we got the van to about 85% done, I rather lost a lot of motivation to work on it. We’ve been using the van with some stuff not quite done.

It seems everyone and their dog is either driving around in an upfitted van or is planning on hooking one up. This trend has made getting stuff more difficult. For example, we drive our rig a lot at dusk and night. This is a great way to have a close encounter with a deer. After a little research and thought, we decided to invest in an aftermarket bumper/brush guard that might just save our rig from a major repair bill should we hit an animal (or something else for that matter). I’m sort of ambivalent about the purchase: it’s expensive & it isn’t a guarantee to keep our van safe should we hit something. It also has that “look” which appears that we are trying really hard to, you know, be that cool outdoors kind of people. However, after a rash of suddenly appearing deer at the roadside my wife and I decided we would both feel sightly less anxious with something in front of our van. Here’s to hoping we never need it. All this to say, when I finally decided to buy the thing it turns out they are back ordered two months. #vanlife has definitely made an impact: the industry seems a bit behind the demand curve.

As another anecdotal case in point, we also decided to add a bike rack to the back after I saw a van out on the road with a Fiamma bike rack which I really liked. It allows you to mount the bikes up higher, keeping them safe from front bumpers while still allowing you to open the rear door. When I went to order the rack, it too was backordered a few weeks.

This unit was a little disappointing to install. While I ordered a rack specific to my model year, there is no way to install it without a slight modification. In the image below, you can see the problem. The horizontal top bar is installed by screwing the black “claw” on the right side onto the door panel. Given the curving incut circled on the right you have to mount the bar where the door becomes more narrow, yet the factory black door magnet (pointed to by the arrow) does not allow the bar to come down far enough. This results in the claw not able to engage the door. Moreover, you can’t mount the bar below the door magnet as that does not give you enough space for the lower horizontal bar. This means you have to remove the door magnet. The poor instructions from Fiamma does not cover this issue, probably because they never really tested their system on this model year of Sprinter.

 The top bar doesn’t fit my 2016 sprinter

The top bar doesn’t fit my 2016 sprinter

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This means that I have to pull the door panel off to remove the door magnet. Boo! We expected to have to remove the panel because the unit is designed to have two bolts drilled through the door panel to secure the unit, but this door magnet is actually behind the inside door handle, necessitating removing the inner handle to get to the magnet. After removing the magnet, I just covered the hole with a bit of gorilla tape. Then, when we were able to put the rack on the door at the correct location, I discovered the next unwelcome surprise: the top bar does not match the curve of the door exactly. This results in the rubber gasket of the top bar not sealing to the door panel. Water can get in to the space behind the top horizontal bar. The bottom horizontal bar fits correctly, matching the curvature of the door panel perfectly, but the top one has a small gap on the left half side of the bar. This, again, suggests to me that Fiamma never really checked to see if their rack actually works correctly on this model year of Sprinter. This unit is not cheap. I expected better, but I’m not totally surprised as most RV specific aftermarket parts are not that well built.

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In this image, you can see how the rack claws wrap around the door panel. You in essence squeeze the rack onto the door to mount it. The rubber gasket inside the horizontal bar adds a lot of friction. You can’t move the rack before it’s bolted when the rubber is touching the metal. This image also reveals why this unit could only be mounted exactly where the factory door magnet lives. There’s a weight line where the metal cuts back in: you can’t put the “claw” in that point. The image to the right show both how I scraped the paint installing the unit and the little fold of the door panel cutting back inwards. Above the pink circle is as low as you can mount the bottom bar. After removing the door magnet, the unit mounted just fine. The door fold pictured to the right has a nice benefit of now allowing the rack to shift downwards over time as it can’t slide down past where it is currently mounted, which feels very secure to the van. While there are two bolt holes designed to be drilled through the door panel to finish the installation, I have not done so. We are currently just using the “claws” to keep the rack to the van. I don’t think this much at all less secure as far as keeping the rack to the van is concerned, although it doesn’t provide as much theft protection. That’s OK, we aren’t leaving bikes back there wherever we feel theft is a concerned (we bring them inside the van). Not having to drill holes through the door panel is a big plus, but, of course, since I’m winging this based upon what I see here, there may be something I’m not considering about the mounting safety that I may come to regret. I could always drill the bolts through in the future, though.

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After the installation is complete, I’ve found the rack a real joy to use. We mount our bikes head to tail. One of the nicest aspects of this rack is that it has a securing point for the top of the bike, as well as the wheels. This makes the bikes much more secure than with the hitch mount units I’ve seen. The bike does not sway much at all. However, with my mountain bike loaded in the inside position, the handle bar is basically touching the door. This will def hit the back of the door which would cause a marring of the paint over time. I’ll need to do something about that by putting some sort of shim on the end of my bar. Not sure how I’ll fix that quite yet. That’s not a problem with the rack, but more a reflection of how wide mountain bike bars have become.

Another nice aspect of the rack is that it requires no adjustments whatsoever to mount my mountain, road, or gravel bike. Just hoist them up and clip them in. That’s great! For completness here’s a picture with the rack try in the up position. There’s a little grey clip that holds it up, but I don’t think it’s quite up to the job for the rough roads we typically travel, so I bungee’d it up to ensure it doesn’t flop down.

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 The front bike overhangs the side of the van about the same distance as the front mirror.

The front bike overhangs the side of the van about the same distance as the front mirror.

 The door opens normally with the bikes on, a big plus.

The door opens normally with the bikes on, a big plus.

I also finally installed our back cabinets for clothes:

The rear clothing units with the cargo nets are pretty nice. You can really jam a lot of clothing up in there and still sort of see what’s what. I also added a reading light to the right side.

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 This side is about 8” deep at the bottom. The reading light is nice.

This side is about 8” deep at the bottom. The reading light is nice.

 This side is about 15” deep at the bottom

This side is about 15” deep at the bottom

New Bumper, Brushguard

 The bumper was drop-shipped in a big ‘ol box. They did a nice job packing it.

The bumper was drop-shipped in a big ‘ol box. They did a nice job packing it.

It’s fall 2018. We’ve had the sprinter for about two and a half years now. I just received the bumper/brushguard from Aluminess. After receiving it, I installed the unit myself, to mixed results.The most significant downside to the install is the result that the fit of the bumper to the body of the van is not good at all. I’d say the fit is actually defective. More on that in a moment. Let’s first turn to the install process.

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The installation instructions did not inspire confidence. Keep in mind that I just went through the bike rack install, finding that product not exactly a hand-in-glove match to my van. Reading through the bumper instructions did not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling that they would match my van. This turned out to be true. Note to aftermarket producers: you have to actually test your product on each model year. I strongly suspect (I don’t know) that Aluminess has not actually tried mounting their bumper to a 2016 sprinter van, or, if they did, they have not kept tabs of what small changes Mercedes has been making. Much like the Fiamma bike rack, the bumper fits approximately correct, yet it is not to my eye a true “fit” to my particular van.

The bumper is big, adding about a hundred or so pounds to the front of the vehicle. It was packed and shipped like you would expect: lots of extra packing material to keep parts “looking nice” that will never be seen. I don’t fault them for over-packing the small parts so much. Everyone does it. It’s just a waste to bubble wrap unseen metal brackets and such.

After unpacking, I started the process of removing the old bumper. On the stock van, the bumper is totally hidden behind an exterior plastic housing that ties the front of the vehicle around to the wheel wells. This plastic is not structural at all, and is basically just clipped to the vehicle. However, during this initial step is when my stomach started sinking a bit as the directions did not match my van exactly. This suggests that there have been changes on the van since they made the directions. No big deal for removing this plastic, but, oh man, what if there is something structurally different?

 removing the grill and the plastic bumper cover is basically just pulling out a bunch of plastic clips.

removing the grill and the plastic bumper cover is basically just pulling out a bunch of plastic clips.

 You remove this plastic housing piece, cut it in half vertically, then re-mount it.

You remove this plastic housing piece, cut it in half vertically, then re-mount it.

My concerns continued after the removal of the grill and bumper cover. The next step was to remove two plastic “chunks” that serve as mounting points for the grill, cut them in half, and then re-mount them so you can put the grill back on. No problem there. However, the directions did not mention the fact that the passenger side had the horn mounted to it. This wasn’t a problem for me to accomplish the step of cutting and re-mounting, but provided initial evidence that the directions for the bumper did not consider my model year (oh, and, yes I did order the correct bumper: it is for “2014+” models. Mine is a 2016).

 With the grill, bumper, and bumper cover removed. The new bumper bolts on to the mount points.

With the grill, bumper, and bumper cover removed. The new bumper bolts on to the mount points.

After a good hour of swearing and tool throwing we were able to get the bumper mounted onto the van. As you can see in the image, the bumper mounts perfectly flush to the plate. We were able to get the bumper securely mounted to the frame with two people holding the bumper and one futzing with the bolts.

 The install directions want you to push bolts from the van side through the mounting holes, but there are bolts welded on there. We bolted through from the bumper back into the van

The install directions want you to push bolts from the van side through the mounting holes, but there are bolts welded on there. We bolted through from the bumper back into the van

 The bumper mounted to the frame. Notice the flush mount. There is no way to adjust the fitting up/down or fore/aft.

The bumper mounted to the frame. Notice the flush mount. There is no way to adjust the fitting up/down or fore/aft.

Note that the bumper could only be mounted in exactly one location. There aren’t multiple holes for the bolts to go through. Also note that the bumper is totally flush with the mounting points. The bumper is mounted the only way possible to the frame, and there is no way to adjust it in a meaningful fashion. That makes the following images particularly disturbing, as the resulting match to the frame of the vehicle is very un-tight.

 The bumper looks pretty good from this perspective

The bumper looks pretty good from this perspective

 …. but look at this massive chasm of a panel gap between the bumper and the van. There is no way to move the bumper inwards. This is not fixable.

…. but look at this massive chasm of a panel gap between the bumper and the van. There is no way to move the bumper inwards. This is not fixable.

The mounted bumper sits about 3/4” too far forward, resulting in a massive gap betwen the bumper and the van. You can see in the image above the offset. I could live with the gap at the wheel wells, but the canyon between the light assembly is just totally unacceptable. You can see the old bumper cover mounting points under the light assembly as clear as day. The bumper looks fine from afar, but if you look at all closely, you can see wires and engine radiator components clearly through the bumper. Yuck.

 looking down into the canyon of a gap between the van and the bumper. This is pretty bad, but I could live with it if it was just off fore to aft.

looking down into the canyon of a gap between the van and the bumper. This is pretty bad, but I could live with it if it was just off fore to aft.

 Yet the top to bottom also has a 5/8” gap under the headlight assembly revealing all of the mounting gore. Wow. Really? This looks horrible.

Yet the top to bottom also has a 5/8” gap under the headlight assembly revealing all of the mounting gore. Wow. Really? This looks horrible.

 The plastic wheel well will not fit into the bumper, leaving a gap on the corner of the body. I’d have to cut the ;plastic to get it under the new bumper.

The plastic wheel well will not fit into the bumper, leaving a gap on the corner of the body. I’d have to cut the ;plastic to get it under the new bumper.

To my mind, this bumper does not fit my van. I do not see how this could possibly be a problem with installation—if it is, I’ll leave all of this up and document the fix with a full mia culpa. However, there just isn’t any way to move the bumper from the mounting points I installed it on. There is no way to move the bumper towards the van—all of that is fixed. I can’t conceive of it being user error. I could live with the 5/8” gap on the sides of the bumper, but the massive gap under the light assembly is just awful. Moreover, the front part of the wheel well does not fit into the bumper (the bumper is too low), so I’ll have to modify it so that water doesn’t spray into the engine bay. That would be acceptable, though a pain. It’s really the poor fit under the lights that angers me.

Another issue that I discovered after mounting the bumper is that it’s slightly bent on the bottom. I did not catch it during the unboxing. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me at all. If it wasn’t for all of the other issues, I wouldn’t even bring it up. I really doubt is was an issue with shipping as this bottom part of the bumper was secured to the pallet during shipping—something would have had to damage the pallet to have bent the bumper like this. I strongly suspect this left the factory bent. Again: this isn’t really an issue for me so much, but given the other problems, I’m mentioning it.

 The bottom drivers side of the bumper is bent slightly. I didn’t notice it until I mounted the bumper.

The bottom drivers side of the bumper is bent slightly. I didn’t notice it until I mounted the bumper.

So as it stands, the bumper grades out like this:

  1. bumper itself: fine. With it mounted, it looks like it might actually keep the frontend from getting bashed in if we hit something at decent speed.

  2. Install directions: almost worthless. Did not match my model year much at all.

  3. Fit: laughably, unprofessionally bad. It looks like Aluminess has not actually attempted to mount this to a 2016 sprinter. I can’t imagine they would let something with gaps like this out the door if they had.

  4. Finish: fine. It’s a bumper. I don’t really care. The bent part shown above does not bother me. Sure, it’s bent. It’s a bumper and this bent part is under by van. I’ll forget that it’s even bent in a few months.