Questions & Answers

Q & A

Now and then readers come to me with questions, that I try to answer to the best of my knowledge. Following are some of the most interesting Q&A’s.

Subject: Always on rear looking night vision camera with monitor for Ford Transit

05/14/2015 Billy R.
Now have a 2015 Ford Transit with medium roof line on 130 inch wheel base that is replacing a 1997 Ford F-150 with 700,000 miles–two blocks, three rebuilds, three transmission and three radiators, but very happy with the service.
Would you be kind enough to recommend how best to wire always on camera attached on top of the rear door. The signal will be sent via hard wire to a 7inch monitor that I will suspend atop a “RAM” CUP HOLDER BRACKET.
How would you suggest I run the wire from the third light down to underside of vehicle and then to the cup holder.
Additional, as this will be AN ALWAYS ON CAMERA, please suggest a camera and how do I provide electrical once the engine is turned on.

I appreciate any info. Bill R.

  • 05/14/2015
    Dear Billy R:
    Simple question, but lots to say about it. First of all, I’m not a professional, just someone that spends a lot of time on these issues. So, take my advice with a grain of salt and ultimately do your own research and make your own decisions.
    Of greatest importance to you is probably that most states do NOT allow permanent/continuous video to be used by the driver. An always-on camera thus is probably illegal. I have been playing with the same idea, even more elaborate, in combination with two side cameras and perhaps a front camera. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do, however my use is probably different from yours. I see the use of those cameras, while driving, more as a nuisance that takes my attention away from driving; my primary use for them, is when parked, especially at night, to be able to check my surroundings without leaving the van.
    A recommendation, is difficult for me at this time, as I haven’t chosen a model yet and certainly cannot tell you about its use or quality. And there are probably hundreds of different camera’s available for this type of use. Prices have come down substantially, making them quite cheap and not a big risk for your pocket. First, you should read two articles, I wrote recently about these gadgets:
    Car Electronics Part I
    Car Electronics Part II
    Probably the best advice, if you can afford it, is to forget about the infra-red lights that come with some models, but choose the low-light models that can handle night-time situations.

    If you should decide to use it as a backup camera (only on while backing up), I included two official Ford memos that deal with accessing the battery and connecting with the rear backup lights. Not immediately relevant to your question, but very interesting if you want to do more conversion work on your van, is the following Ford Builders document. You can download it here:

    https://www.fleet.ford.com/truckbbas/topics/2015/2015_transit_bemm_v1-0.pdf

    I may not have given you a clear answer, but I hope that this information will help you and I would be interested to know what you’ll decide and how it worked out for you.
    I’ll be purchasing very likely the same vehicle with a longer wheelbase pretty soon and will start with a similar camera. If you want to know what I’ll be doing, you can subscribe to the website below.
    If you have any other questions, let me know and I’ll give you my opinion.
    Van Williams

    • 05/15/2015
      Thanks for EVERYTHING! Regarding your purchase of a TRANSIT. 1. Check for incentives on FORD site. I got $500 off for military retiree. Gotta have a letter or DD214 as the ID can not be Xoroxed. I paid extra $70 for LED interior lights. Extra $180 for step at Side door–a must. I did not go with ECHO BOOST engine as there are recalls on it awa law suits as IT SHUTS DOWN IN HIGH HUMIDITY. I am on GULF OF MEXICO. Positive traction rear end was extra. Tow package and PREMIUM UPGRADE $1800.
      Should have gotten step on drivers side, and, camera.
      Best of everything to you and thanks again. Billy

Subject: Interior window trim source

05/10/2015 Robert S.
I’m turning a 1987 Ford E-350 Econoline extended van with Quadravan conversion by Pathfinder into a camper. I purchased a long abandoned 1989 Ford E-150 Tiara conversion van for parts (stripped it of everything usable and recycled the remainder. Among the items I used from the parts van was a large window (T-slider, 41 1/4″ x 29 3/8″?). Unfortunately, the plastic interior trim on all three windows had grown brittle with age (and heat?) and were broken beyond repair. I’ve been searching the internet for a replacement source with no luck so far and hope you might be able to point me in the right direction.
Thanks, Robert

  • 05/10/2015
    Dear Robert S.:
    I had the same trouble with the window trim of my 1992 Dodge B-250, but I was able to save and reuse them with minimal damage. At that time I did the same research with unfortunately the same results.
    These frames seem to be custom made or at least modified to each van.
    Adding to my frustration, many van conversion firms, including MARK III of Florida that converted my Dodge, disappeared in the late 90’s, eliminating another possible resource.

    On the positive side, if you are handy AND you are a woodworker, you could produce these frames yourself and even improve on the original design.

    cargo van window framecargo van window framecargo van window frame

    • However I should give you a fair warning. The woodworking techniques for these frames with rounded corners include bending and possibly steambending and require a good amount of experience and equipment to accomplish.
      If you’re not a woodworker, I can recommend you the possibly contact a local woodworker or woodworking club, where you may find somebody that is willing to help you.

      Good luck! Van Williams

      • 05/10/2015
        Dear Van,
        Thank you for your very prompt reply. My next dream project after the van is to build a wooden sailboat, so I will have to learn any woodworking skills I lack. I’m planning laminated frames for the boat. I might use the same techniques for the window frame and shape molding for the front to hide the laminations.  I’ve read books and watched videos detailing the steambending process, but I’m not certain I want to tackle that for a one-off window frame. Then, again, since everything else in the van, from the fiberglass shower base to the propane locker & storage battery compartment is going to be a custom fabrication, I might get brave and try to learn a new skill..
        Thanks again, Robert.

Subject: faucet connections for RV sink/3burner stove set

01/19/2015
Is there a kit for connecting the faucet to the sink included in the set? We apparently do not have it if it is included in the set. How can we acquire it?

Linda M

  • 01/19/2015
    Dear Linda M:
    Unfortunately, I cannot advise you on individual products unless I’ve used them myself. In your case, you may look for the product on-line and then search for a manual or installation guide. Or you may contact the seller or manufacturer.
    In any case, good luck with your project!
    Van Williams

Subject: Best places to visit >> Washington DC info

01/04/2015
Enjoyed your website. Noticed in your destinations list you’ve done Washington DC. I have a quite old ‘camper-conversion’ conversion van (hi-top E-150, 279k miles!, fitted as rough camper) and I live 20 miles west of Washington DC, so if you wish to visit in stealth camper/RV again, I could help with information.
The easiest way is likely paying for using the Cherry Hill RV campground. I’ve never used it (I live here…) but it has good ratings and a good location that allows usage of the public transportation network, thru a Metro bus stop right at the campground, and that takes you to a Metro train station (Cherry Hill, or Greenbelt on Sundays) that can get you to most of the attractions in DC without pulling up camp or needing to look for parking. One of the major attractions not so easy (might be easier to drive there) is Mount Vernon.
If you are cheap like me, then you might select to do urban stealth camping. I’ve ferreted out legal street parking (good for max of 10 days between moves) at a couple Metro train stations near my hometown.
For Dunn Loring Station on the Orange Line: park at Hilltop Road (you’ll see several trailers and trucks there), 7 minute bus ride (every 60 min) or 1.3 mile, 22 minute walk to Metro Station.
For Greensboro Station on the new Silver Line: park at Boone Ave near Bed Bath and Beyond (again, you’ll likely see some work trucks there). 7 minute walk to Greensboro
Station.
As usual for urban stealth camping, you’ll want to ‘only discretely sleep and park’ at your nighttime parking spot. If you plan to hang out at your vehicle, or cook a meal there, you’d be advised to drive a short distance to a park for such. For the Boone Ave – Greensboro location, a likely small park is Freedom Hill Park, a few minutes drive away. Likewise, for Dunn Loring Metro – Hilltop Road location, the Dunn Loring Park only a few minutes away has parking and first-come first-served picnic areas.

I’ve been surfing European style cargo van (Sprinter, NV, Promaster, Transit) stealth camper-RV sites for ideas, as I am within a couple years of 2nd retirement and might select to sell off my beater van and start anew with a high top Euro van self-conversion (sort of minimalist, with gravity water, compost toilet, 2nd battery, fold down beds to enable motorcycle transport sort of job), a bit more expensive and more comfortable version of what I use now (which cost me total <$2000). I've also been searching for the sort of information shown above for Washington DC, except for New York City. I have one likely site, on Staten Island and then taking the Staten Island (free) ferry to Manhattan, but it's a bit of a long tourist-commute, and I'd like to find something right on Long Island transit system to cut the commute time in half. Regards, Mike.

  • 01/04/2015
    Dear Michael B:
    Thanks for visiting CargoVanConversion.com and giving your detailed information on Washington DC. I appreciate your info; the times that I visited the area, I often stayed at Bull Run Regional Park. Fairly close and with a reasonable connection to the city, but rural enough and with quiet campsites. Those times have always been in a regular travel trailer, so with a future van, I may go the stealth way.
    As you may have read, I started converting my current cargo van, but recently decided to buy a new van, which may happen any time now. I do want to go the same way as you plan to, especially with a little more comfort.
    You can follow that on the website or I can send you my newsletter. I would also like to include your info as a comment on the page in question as it may help my readers. Hope to hear from you soon!
    Van Williams

    • 01/05/2015
      Yes, I know Bull Run and it’s also very good, more rural and further out for DC urban touristing, but would work well with a trailer you could detach and then drive the tow vehicle into DC, or to the end of the Orange (Vienna) or Silver (Reston) Metro lines and take the metro train into DC.
      You are welcome to provide my info on your page, just make sure my name doesn’t appear (you can use “Mike” but not last name or email, please).
      My NYC researches are coming up with some possibilities for stealth or regular camping, but not nearly as good for New York City as for Washington DC!
      Mike

      • 01/05/2015
        Dear Michael B:
        I just posted your info on the website and you can have a look at it here:
        cargovanconversion.com/destinations.
        Unfortunately, I have little experience in the New York area, mostly due to the fact that I always try to avoid big cities (one notable exception is Washington DC); it is however a desirable location.
        Van Williams

        • 01/06/2015
          Van (if that that’s your name, or a moniker…),
          I thought I’d give you my take on your unresolved issues, since I’m in a similar state to you (have a beater self-converted van, planning for a future European style van conversion).
          Heater propane. For my current van….I have a Mr. Buddy propane heater that I would ship and use only during day, awake in very cold weather. I have a trucker’s DC electric heater pad that I use for sleeping in cold weather, off the leisure battery. For future van, I’d keep the heater pad (and have a 2nd), and I also haven’t resolved the interior heat….considered just a long-burning candle-lantern to take off the edge of cold, or a propane heater as you propose, or an alcohol heater (small boats use them).
          Toilet shower. For my current van….I have a choice of portipotti or a bucket toilet…..I keep the bucket toilet in the van as it’s lighter weight and dual use. I have ‘Double Doodie’ coagulant bags, and it’s meant just for emergencies. For shower, I have a sun-shower and shower pop up tent….only good for rural or beach areas, not for urban. For future van, I plan on wet toilet shower as you have pictured, in the size range of 2×3 to 2.5 x 4 feet…I tend towards the larger. Probably a Coleman Hot Water on Demand sort of system for hot water without a lot of plumbing. Probably with Nature’s Head composting toilet eventually, but with one of my current toilets interimly. I plan a very simple floor drain to ground, use of biodegradable soap, with option to screw on a small holding tank.
          For my own future design….my requirements differ a bit…..
          1. I currently camp mostly solo, but I’d like the future van to be ‘slightly more elegant’ so that I might occasionally lure my wife to travel-camp with me. My current van *can* sleep three…but the 2nd and 3rd have only passable comfort, whereas the 1st is *very* comfy.
          2. I have both pedal bikes and motorcycle, and would like the option to take either.
          3. I tow a horse trailer on occasion, and thus wish to keep the weight down to retain my towing capacity. My current van interior outfit is quite light weight.
          4. I have an extended family for whom it’d be convenient to have the ability to safely seatbelt about seven for longer trips. This is a hard need to fulfill with the other requirements. My current van only seats three comfortably with seatbelts (captains chairs)…the third can be removed to enable motorcycle transport. For future van, my best bet for this so far is use of a wider van (ProMaster…) for a rear transverse bunk that also serves as a rear bench seat, and removes for bigger cargo. I’m 6ft 4inches tall, so transverse bedding is tight for me.
          BTW, I very much value my current rotating front seats for giving more living space parked, and would also want that in the new van.
          Regards, Mike

          • 01/06/2015
            Dear Michael B:
            Heater propane. For my current van….I have a Mr. Buddy propane heater that I would ship and use only during day, awake in very cold weather. I have a trucker’s DC electric heater pad that I use for sleeping in cold weather, off the leisure battery. For future van, I’d keep the heater pad (and have a 2nd), and I also haven’t resolved the interior heat….considered just a long-burning candle-lantern to take off the edge of cold, or a propane heater as you propose, or an alcohol heater (small boats use them).
            I have been researching propane heaters quite a bit lately, and decided against radiant and catalytic heaters. Main reasons are excessive moisture in a small area like a van and the dangers of oxygen depletion. Best solution for me so far has been the Propex propane heater, the underfloor model that doesn’t take valuable space in the van. It however requires an external propane tank and total cost will approach a $1,000.00. However, I was looking for a Non-Propane solution; in a Diesel van one could get a Webasto diesel heater with approx. the same cost, I’m still in the market for the gas version of the cargo van. In that case, I could also install an auxiliary Diesel tank, but that doesn’t make much sense to me either. Therefore unresolved.
            Toilet shower. For my current van….I have a choice of portipotti or a bucket toilet…..I keep the bucket toilet in the van as it’s lighter weight and dual use. I have ‘Double Doodie’ coagulant bags, and it’s meant just for emergencies. For shower, I have a sun-shower and shower pop up tent….only good for rural or beach areas, not for urban. For future van, I plan on wet toilet shower as you have pictured, in the size range of 2×3 to 2.5 x 4 feet…I tend towards the larger. Probably a Coleman Hot Water on Demand sort of system for hot water without a lot of plumbing. Probably with Nature’s Head composting toilet eventually, but with one of my current toilets interimely. I plan a very simple floor drain to ground, use of biodegradable soap, with option to screw on a small holding tank.
            I may keep my Porta Potti, but might change that into a fixed toilet as that may be a requirement to register the converted van as a RV. I do prefer a Thetford Cassette Toilet, but those are fairly expensive too and difficult to obtain in the US. For stealth purposes and on longer trips, I prefer a ‘regular’ shower but with a small black watertank, again for stealthy purposes. Great idea, the composting toilet, yet still bulky and pricey.

            BTW, I very much value my current rotating front seats for giving more living space parked, and would also want that in the new van.
            A rotating front (passenger) seat is a must; some new vans have it as an option and that will be part of the decision process when buying a new van.

            For my own future design….my requirements differ a bit…..
            1. I currently camp mostly solo, but I’d like the future van to be ‘slightly more elegant’ so that I might occasionally lure my wife to travel-camp with me. My current van *can* sleep three…but the 2nd and 3rd have only passable comfort, whereas the 1st is *very* comfy.
            I drive solo only, but in my current layout design, the single bed can be easily transformed into a double bunkbed. Placed sideways and suitable for larger persons. You can find my latest concept layout under ‘The Plans’.

            2. I have both pedal bikes and motorcycle, and would like the option to take either.
            I do have an option for one or two bikes, but you may consider to raise a rear bed, so you can store multiple bikes underneath with access thru the rear doors.

            3. I tow a horse trailer on occasion, and thus wish to keep the weight down to retain my towing capacity. My current van interior outfit is quite light weight.
            Weight is a constant factor during the build and will determine what can be included in the van. I hope , that with my own woodworking, I can use solid wood in my designs and delete the chunky parts, where it is out-of-sight. I have not much need for towing capacity, except for a small work trailer.

            4. I have an extended family for whom it’d be convenient to have the ability to safely seatbelt about seven for longer trips. This is a hard need to fulfill with the other requirements. My current van only seats three comfortably with seatbelts (captains chairs)…the third can be removed to enable motorcycle transport. For future van, my best bet for this so far is use of a wider van (ProMaster…) for a rear transverse bunk that also serves as a rear bench seat, and removes for bigger cargo. I’m 6ft 4inches tall, so transverse bedding is tight for me.
            With seatbelts, you get into the Federal Safety regulations and that will make your conversion a lot more difficult.

            All in all, I think we have very similar goals and overlapping interests and it would be nice if you would update your progress. Again, I would like to add your story to the comment section.

            Van Williams

Subject: Ideas for new transit van conversion

11/02/2014 Daniel W.
Maybe I don’t grasp how to open your plans here on line. My wife and I are looking at getting a Transit cargo van(LWB, med roof [so it can fit in the garage], 3.5 eco boost, tow package). More interested in building a camper van not so much a class B Definitely interested in your proposed plans and any expertise you might share. Considering going the inverter route with APU AC system like the semis are going to.
Any thoughts are appreciated.

  • 11/02/2014
    Dear Daniel W:
    Thanks for your interest. FYI right now I’m at the same point as you with regard to actively looking and researching a Cargo Van; specifically the new Ford Transit, the Ram Promaster and the MB Sprinter. Previously I have been working on my Dodge B-250, however last year it started having too many age related problems, so I decided to start all over with a new van. Some of my work on that van can be found at the website:
    CargoVanConversion.com

    Maybe I don’t grasp how to open your plans here on line.
    There is already a lot of information on the website, but unfortunately, not much to download. You can get automatic updates about all the new posts I will be adding, by clicking on the RSS-Feed button on the top-right side of the screen, if you are able to receive newsfeeds. If not, you can go to The Guide to Semi Flexible Solar Panels that I published just a few days ago, and download this guide. Your email address will then be added to the newsletter list, from which you will get periodic updates of my installation. You can also reply on this email for a request to being added to the list and I will do that personally.
    I will detail all the steps I’m taking to convert the van, as well as supply a lot of related information. As every step is prepared or finished I will publish and make available for free as much info as possible, which you can use for your benefit.
    Right now you can download this guide on solar panels from my home page and look at the 2014 Cargo Van Comparisons articles. I’m finishing the NEW 2015 Cargo Van Comparisons within the next few weeks. If you subscribe to the Newsletter, you’ll get that information automatically.
    What I can advise you is to bookmark the website and return frequently to read the old posts and watch for updates. I wish you much success with your endeavor and please, leave your comments at any of the articles you read or send me a direct email with any questions that you may have.
    Happy Travels!
    Van Williams

    • 11/03/2014
      Van;
      I have considered the same 3 choices.
      Looked at Sprinters for a long time. My wife is a freight broker and we considered getting a Sprinter and doing some expedite LTL small stuff. Have several acquaintances in the freight world and a lot of the feedback from them was not good on the Sprinter. High dollar oil changes and croaking at 100k miles.
      I was excited when the Ram came out. I know the Ducato has been in Europe a long time; in fact up near a little town in northern New Mexico, I encountered a Frenchman that was going on a global trek in a Ducato with wife and 2 kids. His van was a cutaway class B; but that still pretty gutsy! I like and dislike the FWD.
      Like the low flat cargo floor; and dislike the low ground clearance. That brings up the Transit, beefed up American made. And I hope that doesn’t ruin it. New assembly line—hope the robotics do well. Ford certainly is having enough issues with marketing and getting the product and the product info out to the dealerships.
      I have driven all 3 brands. I like the Transit best. We drove both the cargo and the wagon. Drove the wagon to get a feel for a finished vehicle—nice. I probably would go for the lwb extended body except that extended body is not available with the medium roof.
      I try to lay things out physically and have this super helpful guide—it’s a covered dog kennel 6ft wide! I can establish my ceiling height & lay things out to see their footprint etc. I’m leaning towards front sleeper behind driver; cooking just aft of the sliding door and shower/toilet right rear.
      Daniel

      • 11/03/2014
        Dear Daniel W:

        Looked at Sprinters
        In my opinion the MB Sprinters have two major disadvantages: they only come in diesels, which are more expensive to service, and they are built by Mercedes Benz which parts are more expensive.

        the Ducato has been in Europe a long time
        The Ducato has been sold in Europe for many years under the Fiat name and I have friends in the Netherlands, who are not very exited about its endurance and longevity. That is just one opinion, but it makes me think.

        That brings up the Transit, beefed up American made. And I hope that doesn’t ruin it. New assembly line

        First year production always remains a problem. As you may know, the Ram ProMaster already has two recalls. Problems should be expected in the first year(s) of production.

        I probably would go for the lwb extended body
        My choice, right now, would be the LWB-Ext. with a high roof, however parking problems and deed restrictions will probably force me to go with a LWB medium roof. Likely a better choice too for the wild camping (sort of ‘boondocking’) that I would like to do.

        cooking just aft of the sliding door
        If you have looked at the first three concept layouts on the website, my preference right now goes to the rear kitchen/bathroom option, though the option with the rear elevated bed gives so much storage room. I’ll likely do a few more concept layouts, based on the needs of my planned use of the van, before I will make a decision. Still have lots of time to decide.
        I wish you much success with your plans and hope to hear from your progress on-line as well. Just leave a comment, as many other would-be-owners will be interested in your questions and expectations.
        Van Williams

        • 11/03/2014
          Thought you might like to see this—got it from a ontact at their HQ. He drove the prototype.
          Daniel

          • 11/03/2014
            Dear Daniel W:
            As always, this ProMaster PleasureWay, looks picture perfect. The following is just my personal opinion and not a verdict of their product.
            Reality is a very high purchase price relative to the base price of a cargo van. In addition, with self-built one can adjust the layout and finish anyway you want and not limited to what is offered. And quality is always in question. I recently dismantled an old travel trailer I used for many years and discovered that the materials used such as insulation, were from an exceptionally bad quality. Things you cannot see are often not discussed when you’re looking at the vehicle in the showroom. In a self-built, one can choose the materials you like and add appliances appropriate for your travel plans. Whether the end-product will be as professional, depends on your own capabilities and requirements, but at least you know how it was built.
            One more reason for me to go with a cargo van, is that I’d like to stay fairly stealthy and un-RV like. By the way, great to have some insider information.
            Van Williams

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