By Dave B.
Hello 4X4 enthusiasts. In my last post I went over what I was looking for in a camping rig that would get me into the back country where most RV’s can’t go. I ended up choosing a Van conversion manufactured by a US based company known as Sportsmobile. The company has been in business since 1961 and claims to be the oldest RV van manufacture in North America. In all fairness I have to reiterate one item I commented on in the last post. I have had problems with my vehicle. By no means is this a stab at Sportsmobile. It’s a fact that some owners have had more problems and some have had little or maybe none. If you archive the SMBYahoo user groups you will find several posts dealing with issues that some have had. Some deal with workmanship during the install. I knew that I would have problems and took this into account before I made my purchase. We all look for the most high tech stuff we can pack into a package and SMB tries to keep up with this. Most standard RV companies pump out clone after clone on a normal assembly line, and their products are usually put through the ringers before it’s released to the public. In my opinion this would be difficult for a company like SMB where each vehicle is more or less unique. Many of their time tested options have been rock solid and work great. But everything can be improved, and many times new products are coming at them so fast that a buyer might end up as some sort of a beta tester. Of the 17 plus problems I have had (to date), more than half were product failures from the company that manufactures it. Three have been design problems from Sportsmobile, two that happen to be ongoing for my vehicle. Workmanship has accounted for a grand tally of four, in which one was catastrophic that resulted in a long distance tow. As I write this, I seem to be having a charging problem that may or may not be Sportsmobile’s problem. Even I caused one problem that required me to return to Fresno and I was not charged for the repair. During construction there was a problem with where I wanted my 2-way radio mounted, but their crew bent over backwards for me. SMB continues to improve day by day and they are more than willing to work out the problems with the customer, it just might take some time.
During a recent off road adventure, I had a minor malfunction. The picture above shows the removable sway bar disconnect. The red arrow points to the stud that sheared off while driving over very uneven ground. We just disconnected the sway bar and continued on. The sway bar disconnect lets the wheel travel further when removed and adds highway stability when connected. It did give us a smoother ride on the rough road when we released it.
I could have waited to have the stud replaced, but returned to Fresno the next day and had the sway bar repaired. I also had them change out a failed control panel that operates the inverter and shore charging systems.
As I said in my last post, I would purchase again even knowing of the potential problems that might occur. Stuff fails from time to time.
With that said I must admit that when I first started out, I planned on a vehicle priced between 85,000 and 95,000. As I added options to my dream vehicle, it soon became a monetary monster. If I knew that this vehicle was going to end up at over 115K I might have made a different choice. I’m glad I didn’t go with larger rig from some other company, even though I was drawn toward the Earth Roamer. It sure was one nice looking vehicle and being the SMB was looking around 85K, jumping to 115-120K may have been a factor on where I wanted to go. Later after I had used the SMB in the field, I found a big advantage to a smaller vehicle. Folks with Jeeps might think the same thing about my SMB. Many off roaders think it looks like a tank, but I found that luxury out weighed many other elements while camping or when boondocking off four wheel drive roads. So what I am saying here is this; at first I was more worried about the inside being large enough to be comfortable for me with plenty of space to haul all my equipment. This steered me toward larger vehicles. It was only after I made my purchase that I realized how versatile my Sportsmobile was and where it could go. Sometimes bigger is not better. I had done my fair share of off roading, but with this vehicle, moving from spot to spot became easier, especially on long trips. In the future this is something I plan to do more of and being able to tear down and set up fast sure makes it nice. Many of the trails I have traveled over have been tight for me, and if you are worried about scratching up your vehicle, a larger rig might be right up your alley. So if you have no wish to travel on narrow trails with low clearances you might want to buy something that is roomier. With a big rig you have to stay on the larger trails or plan to make a lot of stops with some kind of a saw. Even I carry pruning shears, but I still rely on a spotter to guide me.
In tight situations like this I usually hear stuff like “Go, OK, Whoa, or the standard loud yell STOP!” I hate cutting my way into an area. Now here is the next thing I have to say; don’t plan on going everywhere a Jeep can go! It’s just not going to happen. You can get close, but physics is going to come into play here sooner or later, just like the fact that a Jeep can’t go where a quad can. And don’t think a 10,000 pound four wheel drive van is going to fly over one foot ruts like a Baja rig. This will not happen either. If you hit a hard bump going 30 it will usually scatter all kinds of stuff inside the van. A Sportsmobile is actually more suited to rock crawling. Are you going to rock crawl like a Jeep? Nope. But you would be surprised what this vehicle can do. I have seen quite a few grins from off roaders when they see a vehicle as large as mine crashing through the brush or chugging up a trail. Needless to say, my van has its share of scratches because where it’s been. I still hate the screeching sounds of brush scraping the sides and avoid it when possible, but sometimes you’re stuck with no way to turn back. It’s up to the buyer to determine whether or not this vehicle suits your need. What it did for me was to open a new world, giving me the opportunity to explore the US in a different and unique way. It sure put a few other hobbies on the back burner, but I’m not complaining at all. So if getting away from the mass population and being adventurous is up your alley a Sportsmobile might be for you.