Van Rhytidectomy

October 11 2020

The camper van has remained unchanged since we determined the v1 build reached completion roughly three years ago. Said declaration was more a ramification of our home with a garage lease expiring rather than a functional stopping point. As such, many of our napkin drawn plans were left incomplete. In many ways, a forced pause was fortuitous as it gave us time to actually use the van and adjust our expectation of needs while mobile.

During our five week COVID summer stay in San Diego we decided to push forward on a few of our ideas from years past that we have concluded still have value, as well as, make a few adjustments from our learnings (if you’re a [x|g]oogler reading this, I sincerely hope you winced upon seeing that word). Fortunately, my Dad, who has previously assisted in the installation of such van features as, our ceiling, outside cargo panel, and overhead lights, offered to assist during this round of upgrades and was instrumental during the process. Without his input and assistance I don’t believe I would have gotten even half of these projects complete. Thanks Papasan!

Firstly, the vehicle needed a facelift. With the exception of cleaning the inside living space, we had not made any adjustments since we put the tools down in 2017. From an aesthetics standpoint, the tapestry that acts as moulding, had started separating from the wall in places. Soph took the camper to her parents house for a day and reattached the offending pieces. Also she sewed velcro onto our custom window covers (reflectix and thinsulate inside a black and white fabric sleeve) so that we no longer have to tape them to the windows when we desire privacy. Lastly, she cleaned and scrubbed everything from the dash to the floors.

The next thing, but not really because I did this before Soph addressed the internals, that required attention was the outside. We haven’t washed the van externals since we bought it in 2016. I’m slightly surprised we still have paint. Even with my Dad’s help, it took four hours to wash, wax and detail the vehicle. Much of that time was spent adjusting an E-Z Up to cool the sheet metal in sections so that we could apply wax. As a final touch, my Dad suggested spray painting the black utility bumper in a few spots that were showing wear. While framing the canvas with blue painters tape and newspaper, I regaled my father with the story of why parts of the bumper were white. Spoiler: Soph didn’t tape off her workspace while using a white spray can years prior.

With the van now clean, it was time to begin adding new features. The first addition was a set of racks and an awning. The racks attached fairly easily, especially with an extra set of hands. In fact, it was such a pain free installation that I almost forgot about how difficult and opaque dealing with Rhino Rack customer service was. My favorite anecdote was when they emailed me directly asking me to ship myself the requested parts. Moving on. After the racks were up I went about attaching the awning to them. As to be expected, at least by now, neither the awning brackets (which have to be purchased separately from the awning, thanks ARB) nor the racks came with hardware for attachment. Fortunately for the low prices of forty dollars, Rhino Rack, will mail you a hardware packet that consists of four M6 hex bolts and four M6 channel nuts. Even more fortuitously, Home Depot, sells the ‘Murican equivalent of the aforementioned stainless steel for ~70 cents a pop. With all those savings you can even spring from washers and lock nuts! Just when you thought Home Depot could not deliver more; the channel nuts from the hardware store come with a spring so that you don’t have to manually affix the nut to the channel when attempting to tighten the hardware. Moving on again. After all the parts were assembled the awning was affixed rapidly. Truth be told I’m actually quite satisfied with both the ARB awning and Rhino Rack system. They just make you work for it.

The next item on the war path was tightening and refastening all of my house battery electrical connections. For roughly the last year the charge controller has been displaying interesting readings. Namely, even when the batteries are topped off, it was constantly recording 20+ amp hours of input on sunny days. Since all my wire runs are fairly new and the van hasn’t spent much time around the ocean I was confident there was little to no corrosion in the lines. I was fairly certain my connections had loosened leading to resistance in the system and therefore regular drain, which ended up being the issue. If I ever convert another van I’m going to improve the accessibility of the electrical system. Many expletives were shed while contorting my body to reach the various connections.

While I had the crimp tool out I figured it was probably time to install the radio I’d purchased when we bought the van four years ago. The new head unit was lower-end when I bought it so understandably it’s no gem in 2020, but it allows Soph and I to connect our phones over bluetooth so that is something. I didn’t disconnect the car battery during the swap because I like living dangerously and subsequently completely drained it. My Dad was impressed when I used the Automatic Charge Relay to recharge the car battery from the home bank. He was less impressed when I attached the new radios microphone to my cup holder. Can’t win them all I suppose. Jokes aside having an extra set of hands when removing a dash unit is always greatly appreciated and my Pops made the swap painless.

The final addition of the trip was affixing a trailer hitch and taillight wire bundle. Etrailer.com remains one of the best vehicle accessory websites in the US. It still blows my mind that I can purchase a no-weld trailer hitch spec’d to my vehicle and have it shipped to my house in three days. I didn’t let my Dad help with the trailer hitch installation so he fired back by filling out a pass through for the four prong tail light connector. We tested the new installation by taking the boat out for a tow. Massive success.


Upon reading this entry my Mother reached out to remind me that she kept Sophia and myself fed the entire time we were in San Diego. I excluded her from this entry because her generosity and warmth are so pervading that to include her would require a tolmes worth of content. Thanks for the hospitality, Mamasan!