By Dave Boyer.
Thanks for following the Special Vehicle section. This is an ongoing article about my purchase and design of a 2006 Sportsmobile 4×4 vehicle. The last post went over the electrical system. This entry will cover the Exterior section of the 2005 order form provided by Sportsmobile West.
This section starts with 110v outlets. The inside power outlets (12vDC/110vAC) were addressed in a previous post which also touched on outside mounting. Like I said before, I really don’t like things that a limb or branch can tear off so all my exterior outlets are mounted inside the propane door.
Being I have no propane system on board, there was plenty of space for a few extra power outlets. For my build, 12vDC outlets were very important as well, so twin marine grade power plugs were added.
I will sum it up by saying you need to decide how important an outside AC (or DC) outlet is for your needs. Always take into account what electrical outlets can be subjected to, such as water, mud and obstacles that can cause damage.
The outside lighting might be an exception when it comes to Mother Nature reaching out ripping something off the vehicle. I still worry about branches and what not, but the benefits outweigh the possibility of damage. It’s best to mount lights as far from the doors as possible so bugs fly somewhere other than inside the van.
The standard outside light that SMB installs is a small plastic fixture that holds an incandescent 12 volt light. This setup is typical to those you see on many RV’s. It also can come in black as shown above or white as shown below.
I mainly use it when climbing outside in the middle of the night to take care of the business at hand. The only thing I don’t understand is why SMB doesn’t put an indicator light on the switch. More than once I climbed into the van and went back to sleep with the light blaring into the wilderness. At times you’ll have the windows covered up, so it’s easy to forget to turn it off. That little outside light steals valuable battery reserves over the course of a night. I had SMB put an LED on the switch for this reason.
Installing lights on the driver side of the vehicle seems to be popular. I opted out on this due to the fact that these lights are not very bright. Currently I’m looking at the new high intensity LED flood lights that can be mounted on the roof where I feel it’s needed. A good lighting setup could save you some body damage by lighting up a rock or cement pylon at a camp site. I will go into LED lighting later.
The Fiamma awning:
The big item in this section that receives a lot of controversy is the awning. Awnings are seen on many RV’s and although my van has one I rarely use it. It’s a nice option to have for a few reasons, and a bad one for others. Again this is my opinion and varies from owner to owner.
(+) It’s very handy in keeping you out the of rain and more important to me, the sun. If you position the van where the awning supplies a shadow to the side of the vehicle during the hottest part of the day, it really does keep it cooler inside.
(+) It’s fairly easy to deploy and retract by one person. Operation with 2 people is simple.
(+) There is no storage necessary which is important when space is so critical.
(+) It’s always with the van so you’ll never forget and leave it at home.
(-) It’s a giant wind sail and if you leave camp without securing it properly, not only will the awning possibly be subjected to damage, but the mounts on the vehicle might tear up the vans body.
(-) It’s mounted poorly. Washboard and vibration can start cracks in the vans body. I am having this problem and SMB has addressed this issue. Other owners have had the same problem. SMB added load plates to curtail the damage.
Only time will tell what affect it will have on the vans body. I hope it will stay resolved.
(-) It’s just waiting to grab a limb in a heavy forested area, so you have to keep an eye on it while off roading in these types of areas.
(-) The mounts rust a bit which runs down the vans paint.
(-) It’s one more thing to put away if you plan to leave camp. A tarp or other shelter can be left erected if it’s not attached to the vehicle. I find it very inconvenient to tear something down while using a camp to base out of.
(-) I’ve never heard of the awning failing to retract, but anything can break.
Some people think it’s ugly. That’s up to you. The basic colors are black and white. I have seen colored versions but you would have to ask about matching or changing colors.
So far, I routinely set up a base camp with cheap tarps even though I have the awning. Provided I have some trees around, I put them up as a lean-to. I use a couple of aluminum extension poles to lift the front edge. I can also rig a shelter off my SMB trailer.
Because nothing is attached to the van, I come and go as I please. This allows me to quickly get out of camp and get a full day in exploring the area. I also enjoy pulling into a camp that is already setup so I can sit down, sip a beverage, kick back and get a fire going. It’s great to have a fire without fear of embers flying all over an expensive awning. Because I’m not worried about burning a hole in a cheap tarp it allows me to keep warm and sit in comfort around a fire during inclement weather.
I actually carry a few different sizes which help shelter from wind as well as rain. Usually there’s enough room for my kitchen equipment and a couple chairs close to the fire. Like I said, I’d rather burn a hole in a cheap 20 dollar tarp over an 800 dollar awning any day.
Would I order it again? I would tend to say no unless SMB comes up with a better support design. Because I’ve only deployed the Fiamma awning a few times it seems that I wasted my money. But I have a feeling my views might change in the future. While hopping from spot to spot, simplicity is very important and setting up a large tarp lean to takes time and effort. Being able to quickly deploy and retract an awning could be a good option to have.
For the most part, running boards are more suited for a two wheel drive vehicle. Because there are a few styles to choose from, this option is best discussed with SMB. Two wheel and four wheel drive versions are available.
I will go over my choice of Nerf Boards in the 4WD section.
This is also an option that has versions for both two and four wheel drive vehicles. From what I’ve seen when visiting SMBW, the continental tire carrier is a typical housing seen on many van conversions that keeps sun off the spare. This allows you to put your stock spare tire on the rear of the vehicle when the XL storage is selected. I’m sure they have other methods to deal with the spare tire such as a tire bracket with a soft cover for the spare.
Because I ordered the Aluminess Trojan bumpers, I have no use for this option and will discuss the Aluminess bumper and spare tire carrier in the 4×4 section as well.
Not even an option for me, but others might have a use for one. In all honesty I have yet to see one installed on a vehicle. I’m not sure, but the 08 price sheet shows it at a hefty price of 500 bucks.
Here is an option that I was sorry I ordered. Sportsmobile needs to come up with a better way to keep the Velcro tape from falling off. Twice SMB has attempted to re-install the Velcro tape and it still came off. Some SMB owners haven’t had problems and I really don’t have a clue to their success. It’s a great idea to have a nice flowing air breeze without insects bothering you, but if they fall off what good are they? There might be an adhesive out there to solve the problem. Just the fact that I’ve never needed them makes me feel I wasted my money; 320 bucks worth.
I still don’t know if I got a high end trailer setup. I asked for the best SMB had, but if you plan to pull large loads verify this. I did add air bags and a brake control, but air bags are a controversial subject on 4X4 vehicles. Spring packs, shocks, and high tech suspension options are also highly debated. The loaded weight of your vehicle is very important as well as tongue weight. This ties into tire and rear axle selection as well as how the vehicle handles while pulling a trailer. SMB has no idea what you will load in your vehicle, and I actually did not have a clue myself. The suspension system should be adjusted to the weight of your van fully loaded or slightly less. I was way off. My rig ended up a lot heavier than I thought. Rear sag is really important during your order. The newer vans have different suspensions and several owners make other changes which I will touch on in another section that deals with springs. The hitch SMB installed works well for my bass boat and I would assume it could handle the majority of small travel trailers.
A picture is worth a thousands words.
Some may have a use for hitch mounted storage but the Stowaway didn’t fit my needs. I opted for roof top storage solutions as well as an off road capable trailer.
At the time of my purchase, SMB offered Yakima products but have switched to Tule instead. I honestly don’t know why they switched but I am using the Yakima tracks, towers, bars and roof rack. I really haven’t had any trouble with this company.
The tracks can hold a variety of items including the “Load Warrior” roof basket which I find useful for hauling extra equipment.
Occasionally I’ll use a storage pod on top which works nice as long as there are no overhead obstructions. I feel there is no reason to promote Yakima and have no knowledge concerning Tule products; both seem like well made products. I do like the way some owners have mounted solar panels to the tracks as I discussed in the solar section. Needless to say, a roof system is a valuable asset. Go to their web site for more information.
OK, if you have stuff on top you’ll need a way to get up there. This section of the order form deals with all the ladders except the Trojan side ladder. I have seen some light weight aluminum versions on a few vans that would not support much weight. Maybe these are a special order. The ladders listed on the order form are more heavy duty and come in black or chrome colors. All of these ladders are generally mounted on the back of the vehicle as apposed to the Trojan side ladder.
The Trojan ladder seen here is SMB’s heavy duty version and is listed in the 4×4 section.
This 12 foot propane hose extension allows people with an on board propane system to use a BBQ or similar device in close proximity to the vehicle. The most common complaints are the hose is too short and the connection point is located on the driver side of the vehicle making it awkward to use.
Exterior Shower Curtain:
An exterior shower curtain is something I have not actually seen in action. If I recall correctly, it’s made to wrap around the rear doors and is to be used in combination with the rear exterior shower wand. I know there are few people out there that like to shower in the buff, but this might not be an option for some. Personally I built my own shower curtain from parts obtained at REI, Wal-Mart, Orchard Supply and some old tent poles that were sitting around. I knew I’d find a use for them someday! I have used my homemade curtain discreetly in a few parks for a quick shower but I don’t think the rangers would agree with its use. Unlike the Porta Shower option, the outside shower curtain has no way to recover gray water and may be considered ecologically unfit by certain individuals and/or park personnel.
Note: The outdoor shower wand and Porta Shower accessories were reviewed in a previous section.
The next post will cover camper top designs.
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