These DIY videos are meant ONLY for the Dodge Sprinter 2003-2006 T1N model. I have done all of these repairs myself and most were fairly easy (no more than 30 minutes). The struts took me a few hours since the van needs to jacked up and the wheels removed.
Front Struts / Shocks
Oil Change (I highly recommend using this part when you change oil)
Rear Differential Service
I have used a mechanic for the ball joints, transmission fluid change, and coolant change.
The real power of living in a van is lowering your monthly expenses. Being able to live on so little money, gives you freedom! I can live on as little as $850 per month (cooking all of my own meals and not doing any fun activities).
By converting my vehicle (a Sprinter van) into my 'home', I was able to put an expensive 'asset' that was unused for the majority of each day and was able to cut out my mortgage/rent payment completely. That simple act cut my monthly expenses down considerably - then I took a hard look at my fixed, recurring expenses. After two years of living on the road, this is what my monthly expenses look like:
Monthly, RECURRING Expenses (services that I either have auto-billed or I am in a contract with):
Audible Membership (I love me some audiobooks!): $17
Health Insurance: $268
Total Monthly, Recurring Expenses: $595
One-time Expenses (these change from month-to-month)
Yoga (I pay the drop-in fees): $40
Eating out (Chipotle, Pho, etc - I try to keep it under $10 per meal including tip): $261
Food and supplements (Costco, Trader Joe's, Amazon): $387
Fuel for my van (depending on how much I travel): $98
Fun activities/Going out with friends: $180
Van maintenance: $29
Total One-time Expenses: $995
My total monthly expenses (one-time plus recurring monthly) for January 2017 is only $1590.
Notice that I have do NOT have the following expenses:
a car payment
a mortgage or rent payment
a Netflix/Hulu or Spotify membership
debt payments (credit cards, student loans, etc)
A few notes: I value my health hence the majority of my spending on chiropractic and gym memberships.
If I want to watch movies or listen to music, I watch or listen to what is included for FREE with my Amazon Prime membership (Prime movies or music).
I do buy clothes, but no very many each year. I typically buy merino wool clothes (shirts, underwear, socks, etc) that last for a long time (1-2 years of daily use) and are anti-microbial (so they don't smell bad!).
If you take away only one thing from this post, it is that the real freedom comes from cutting and ultimately minimizing your monthly, recurring expenses.
Moved to Austin, TexasAfter being on the road for most of 2014 and 2015, I needed to find a warm place to spend the winter. I had never been to Texas before but heard wonderful things about Austin so I went there in January 2016. All of the hype was spot-on - I loved my time there!
Here are some quick highlights from my time in Austin:
In August 2016, I purchased a used 2006 158" Dodge Sprinter van (Super high) from a dealer in Texas for $16k. It has 98k miles and the bottom of the van has a rust-protecting undercoating. I converted the van into my new RV in 10 working days spread out over 4 weeks. I purchased a one-month membership at Techshop so I had access to a chop saw, table saw, tools so all of my cuts were straight and accurate. The TechShop also was next to a Lowes so it was extremely convenient while building the van.
I modeled my van by using Cyrus Sutton's folding bed/hammock design. I chose it because I would have easy access to the storage cabinets on each side of the van and it allowed for a much larger bed (almost king size) while not sacrificing access to storage.
UPDATE: THE VAN HAS BEEN SOLD! I’m selling my first DIY camper van that I converted myself. I am not a wood worker and it’s a little rough but everything is completely functional.
Priced to sell at $12,900. The van is located in Austin, TX.
2005 DODGE SPRINTER VAN 2500 ¾ ton 144" WHEEL BASE.
SUPER HIGH TOP ONLY 180,000 MILES PERFECT CAR FAX
The vehicle number is WD2PD644455726505. The title is clear and is in hand.
On the inside, the seats are both in good condition, with no sign of wear. The fabric is good on both seats, with no rips. All gauges and indicators work fine. Mechanically, the 2.7 liter Mercedes diesel starts quickly, runs quietly, and has good power. The transmission shifts smoothly. The front end is tight. There is no sway or wobble. The tires are at least 75% all the way around. All service has been performed.
Here are the minor issues with the van:
The air conditioning needs to be recharged
There is rust on the frame in a few spots however I have painted all visible rust with Rust Stopper
The side sliding door lock is sticky at times
The radio does not work (I have no idea what is wrong with it - I just never took the time to diagnose it)
One glow plug seized in the head - was still able to start in 0 degrees in Colorado winter. Two error codes: P0380 and P0672 - the codes are for the bad glow plug circuit. It has no effect on the performance of the vehicle.
The brake light is on but the brakes are in excellent condition.
The front 2 tires only have 12k miles on them while the rear tires have only 2k on them. Oil, fuel and air filters have been changed religiously. Sprinter mechanics are always impressed with how smooth the engine runs. It is ready for another 100k miles!
Conversion additions (which will be sold with the van):
Large 12 volt AGM house battery (Duracell 20 amp hours) ($235) with voltage monitor ($11) http://amzn.to/2bo3p9v
$1854 in additions have made this Sprinter a great, comfortable van to sleep in. I having been living in it full-time for 2 years. I recently bought a new van to convert so this one needs to be sold. It is ready immediately for a road trip!
My traveling, downsizing, and living in a van is in response to many things that I experienced over the past few years. Here are a few:
My experiences owning a junk removal company
I spent 7 years of people paying my franchise to remove and haul away items from their house. Especially when the items were in perfectly good shape and could continue to be used. Let that sink in. We donated or recycled over 75% of the items but I was always shocked at how many things people owned but didn't need.
I was also surprised at the number of items that were still 'new in the box' or never opened that we hauled away. It shows you that items are sold at such a low price that people don't think twice about getting rid of an item that they never even used!
Living in a condo
I purchased a 2 bed/2 bath condo in late 2008. It was a steal but I quickly realized that I didn't spend much time in my condo. I never got a television or cable and it was 30 minutes from downtown Denver so friends never came to visit.
My daily schedule dictated that I leave my condo between 6-8am and return between 8-9pm each day. I used my condo just as a place to sleep for 8-10 hours a day. That's when I started to think about not commuting each day to my office and being truly mobile.
My high school years
I wholeheartedly believe that the job of a parent is to raise their kids to become independent, self-reliant adults. I feel that my parents did a wonderful job of this because at 15 years old, I felt like I could take on the world. I bristled at authority and being told 'No, you can't do that' - I would often disobey my parents and do what I wanted to do.
My high school years felt like I was biding my time to get to college and then the 'real world'. It was a time that I felt that I didn't have much control over my life and was constantly yearning for freedom. Many young people see the the 'real world' as a scary place, but for me, it's the most freedom I've ever felt in my life. I could do what I wanted - no expectations and your choices could forge your own path.
These experiences had been bouncing around inside of me for years and finally manifested itself after my talk with my coach in my #vanlife. I still may not know exactly what I'm going to do with my life, but at least I feel like I have the freedom and autonomy to choose how and where I live.
The reasons that I chose a Sprinter van over other types of RVs or campervans were:
1) Sprinters come with a 2.7L turbo diesel engine which produces a super efficient 21-25mpg with a very active community on the Internet
2) The interior height allowed a tall guy (I'm 6'2") like me to stand upright
3) I wanted a van that wasn't huge, imposing, and obvious if I parked it in a residential neighborhood. I wanted 'stealth' so I could camp anywhere. Sprinter vans do not look like an RV.
Minor reasons to go with a Sprinter van:
4) A fixed top/roof. I really preferred the fixed ‘high’ roof over popups (like a Westfalia van) because they are warmer in the winter, quicker to setup (or instant), easier to walk around in and easy to boondock (aka camping where you are not supposed to camp).
5) Shorter vehicle for better manuverability and easier to park than a big RV and high clearance so you can take it off-roading.
6) Most Sprinters are cargo vans so they typically empty and a blank slate for your vanlife building imagination!
7) Has tiptronic shifting which is nice on hilly roads and as a brake assist.
Here are a few annoying issues that I have had since I purchased the van: - The door locks are a royal pain in the ass. I hate the Eurovan ‘central locking’. Give me a simple lock/unlock button any day. Quite often the remote doesn’t even work. Very frustrating for what should be such a simple thing. - The lack of an anti-sway bar. The van handles front to back bumps just fine, but if you hit any bump that rocks the van sideways, be prepared to wait for 20 seconds for it to stop rocking. - Failure of the turbo resonator and the associated pipe. Both of which are easy fixes but can leave you in Limp Home Mode (where you can't accelerate over 35 MPH).
After searching for weeks on Craigslist, eBay, cars.com, and used car dealer websites, I purchased a 2005 Dodge T1N Sprinter from a HVAC company on the border of Wyoming and Montana that was the 2nd owner. It was originally from Pennsylvania where the wet winters caused a significant amount of rust on the frame. I got it for $10,000 with 160,000 miles.
I used CarGurus website to give a quick and dirty estimate on whether a van was a good value.
Overall, I have had a great experience with my Sprinter van, learned a lot about repairing a diesel engine and would definitely purchase a Sprinter van again!
A constant question that I answer from people interested in the #vanlife is where do you shower?
The answer is simple - a gym that has showers like Planet Fitness.
I have also signed up for one month memberships in different cities at local health clubs. I purchased a one-month $35 membership in Salt Lake City at the Sports Complex where the facilities included 2 Olympic swimming pools, 2 ice rinks, free yoga classes, and a gym, showers, sauna, etc.
I have since signed up with Planet Fitness's black membership which is $20 per month and allows you to go to any club in the US. Their facilities include a gym, showers, and black card benefits like massages, tanning, etc. Every club is open 24 hours and has showers, free wifi, and TVs. You have to bring your own quick-drying towel and bath soap.
I have also looked at a 24-Hour Fitness membership that is purchased through Costco for $250 a year. However, a number of their clubs don't have showers, aren't open 24 hours and the membership is paid up-front.
Since I don't have a bathroom in my van, I use a large water bottle to pee into in the middle of the night. I also have a briefcase toilet (that many river-rafting guides know about!) that I use boondocking in the backcountry. It is a toilet that folds down into the size of a briefcase and catches your waste in a sealable bag.
PRO TIP: Always have wet-wipes with you - in your backpack and in your van to cleanup quickly.
Regarding laundry and washing clothes, I wear mostly merino wool or modal clothing. When I shower, I bring my underwear, socks and my shirt into the shower with me and hand wash them. It's quick and easy and also increases the longevity of the wool. I bring all of my wet items (towel, socks, underwear, and shirt) back to my van to hang dry. I do laundry at a coin-operated laundromat about once every 1-2 weeks including bed sheets, beach towel, kitchen towels, hats, etc.
I am writing this after being on the road for two years. This is not a post about being scared for my safety while living in a van. It is about a deeper fear within me.
Three years ago I decided to set out on my wanderlust journey. Only to realize I was terrified of leaving everything, selling my business and my belongings. I felt society and even my friends, business associates, and family would judge me. Would they think I was 'quiting life' or giving it all up?
Something was holding me back. I couldn't even take the first steps in living the van life. I was doing some personal coaching with David Hamilton and during one of our last sessions, he gave me permission to sell my businesses and start down the road towards vanlife. It was a simple statement that allowed me to take the first steps towards the vanlife.
'I give you permission to leave Denver and go on a roadtrip.'
It could have simply been the act of someone I respected, saying 'yes, you can do this'. It removed society's expectation that one must live life a certain way. Regardless, the permission that Dave gave me sent me quickly towards my goal of living a simple life in a van.
In the next few months I took the first steps to design MY ideal lifestyle. I hit the road in my Dodge pickup truck. I left Denver headed to San Diego and up coastal route 1 to Vancouver, Canada. While on the road, I loved to tell people about my road trip driving route 1. However, I felt embarrassed to say I was sleeping in the back of my pickup truck.
Personally, I always enjoyed my new adventurous life. The mornings when I woke up to beautiful vistas and sunrises were incredible. But I was still hesitant to describe the rougher aspects of living on the road, like peeing in a bottle or washing up in a mountain stream or wearing the same clothes for days on end.
After two years of vanlife, I have gotten rid of my head trash and I have no shame when I don't conform to society's norms. I am part of the movement to live simply - be it the vanlife movement, the tiny home movement, or the energy efficiency movement. They all tie back to the same underlying principle - living simply.
I now confidently tell people that I am a digital nomad traveling the US in my converted Sprinter van.
Now when I tell people I am living in my Sprinter van, I see faces light up. I inspire them. There is no more shame or embarrassment, only good feelings and freedom.
I have met others who are living this dream and I will share my stories, trials, and triumphs.
My mission is to connect current vanlifers, share my love of research and knowledge and bring more people into the community.