Search
  • Becca and Cade

Sprinter Van Add-ons: Roof Rack, Ladder, Swivels, Cab Shelf


Throughout our conversion process, we built most of our components from scratch whenever possible. There are certain major aftermarket parts that we bought and installed. These are major purchases overall and can add significant expense to your conversion, but they can make your life much easier on the road. The nice thing is that most of them are can be added at a later date as your budget allows. Read on for our experiences with our major add-ons: a roof rack, our Sprinter side ladder, seat swivels, our overhead cab shelf, and the intermediate door stop. We’ll also maintain a wishlist of items that we hope to install at a later date when we have the cash.

Note: this post is about our first Sprinter Van, which we bought in May 2016, converted, lived/traveled in, and sold May 2018. If you are looking for info about our second Sprinter/current project, please check the dates of the post and make sure you're reading posts from 2018/2019. Cheers!

If you find this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our Thank You page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the Amazon affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!

Roof Rack

We knew we wanted a roof rack to provide convenient storage for paddleboards, skis, and bikes when we weren’t carrying a trailer. Our paddleboards do fit inside the van (as do skis and bikes), but when you get off the river and everything is soaking wet, it’s much easier to throw them on the roof and keep the bed dry. We also decided to mount our solar panel on (actually under) the roof rack. We had factory roof rails that were installed when we bought our van, so a roof rack should be (in theory) easy to install.

We first looked for Thule or Yakima racks similar to ones that we had used on previous vehicles and couldn’t find an option from either company made specifically for the Sprinter. There are some aftermarket ladder rack companies that make racks for Sprinters, but they are made for work vans and have a very bulky industrial look. We also looked into custom-made roof racks from Aluminess, and if we had the budget for it we might be sporting one of their platforms.

Then we found another option (sort of): Rhino Rack makes a set of low-profile roof bars that they claimed would work with the factory Sprinter roof rails. After multiple calls with the company and a small modification of their parts, we ended up making it work. However, unless they have changed the products, we could not find a simple bolt-on solution available from Rhino Rack for a Sprinter with factory roof rails. If you have roof rails and want to modify their parts like we did, we’ll do our best to explain the process. Otherwise you can skip forward to the ladder section.

If you go to the Rhino Rack website, they have an online “fit my vehicle” tool, where you can choose a Mercedes Sprinter, but you can’t specify whether the vehicle has factory roof rails installed or not. The site recommends the RTLF legs (specific Sprinter part number RTLFMS). Before we ordered, we called the company to make sure they would fit our vehicle and specifically the factory roof rails. They told us they would. When we received the product and read through the instructions we noticed the kit was meant to be mounted directly to a roof without roof rails. They instruct you to drill holes through the roof where our current roof rails sat. This obviously didn’t make sense for our situation! If you don’t have factory roof rails and are willing to drill into your roof to attach a rack, this should work for you. The kit came with metal adapter pieces that attach between the legs and the roof of the van. In the parts list, it is referred to as the “RTLFMS bracket” (part no. C524). This bracket is meant to be attached to the roof via one bolt in the center of the bracket (through a hole you drill in the roof). We figured the adapter pieces would work sitting on top of the roof rails if we could bolt each one down at 2 points (one front and one back), instead of the single point.

The bracket itself adds about an inch to the height of the legs which are already 3 inches tall. So our crossbars would have ended up sitting about 4 inches above the roof, which was higher than we wanted. We ended up swapping our RTLF legs for RLTP legs. The RLTP legs are an inch shorter, putting the bars as close as possible to the roof. Unfortunately you can't order the RLTP legs with the RLTFMS brackets, although the parts fit together. Rhino Rack would not allow us to return the taller legs without the brackets, so we ended up having to sell the RLTF (legs minus the brackets) on Ebay at a bit of a loss.

Rhino Rack makes M6 brass nuts (part no. N009) that slide into roof rails and can be used to screw the bolt into. These brass nuts were not included in our kit and we ended up having to order them from Rhino Rack separately. You could probably order something similar and cheaper from Eurocampers. So we used a drill press to drill two new holes in the brackets and used M6 bolts and washers from Ace hardware. We fed the M6 bolts through the new holes in each bracket and into the M6 brass nuts in the rails to secure them in place.

We are happy with our low-profile roof rack now, but it took quite a bit of hassle and some extra expense to get it working right. We let the company know about the issues and they don’t seem to have improved the system for Sprinters yet. Let us know if you want to go this route and have any other questions.

Ladder

After a few weeks of scrambling on the roof from the bed frame or using a step ladder, it was abundantly clear that we were going to need a ladder for daily solar panel cleaning and easy access to our roof rack when we wanted to throw paddleboards or other gear on top. There are two styles of Sprinter Van ladders: one that mounts to the rear door or a side ladder, usually mounted on the side opposite the sliding door. Although the side ladders are more expensive, we decided it was significantly easier to access the roof from the side, and much less bothersome to have the ladder out of the way on the side of the van. There were a few companies that offered rear ladders but Aluminess was the only one we could find with a side ladder. It was back-ordered when we made our decision, so had to wait a couple months for delivery, but it came with easy instructions and took less than an hour to install. The ladder attaches to the roof rails on the top and you have to drill some holes at the bottom of the chassis underneath the vehicle for the bottom attachment points. We use the ladder every day to wipe our solar panel for maximum efficiency, so we consider this one of the most useful add-on components for our build.

Seat swivels

We designed our layout around the idea that we would have seat swivels for both the driver and passenger seats to maximize the efficient use of space in the rest of the van. Without our swivels, we don’t really have any seating inside our van besides the floor or the bed.

There are a few options for aftermarket seat swivels on the Sprinter and none of them are perfect. Basically the swivel is just a large metal plate that fits between the seat base and the seat itself and rotates. Unfortunately this means that installing a swivel adds about 1½” height to the seats. As the seats are already quite tall, and the rear cargo area is lower than the front feet area, this means your feet might end up dangling unless you’re a giant. We are both relatively tall (Becca is 5’7” and Cade 6’1”), so driving is okay, but we end up using random stuff as a foot rest to make the passenger seat comfortable, especially when it’s turned around facing the kitchen.

We haven’t actually seen the factory Mercedes seat swivels, but we have heard they are better than the aftermarket options. One of the main advantages of the factory swivel is that they use a lower seat base to accommodate for the extra height of the swivel. You can order the lower seat bases after the fact from Mercedes, but they look like a pain to install and are about as expensive as the swivels themselves. If we were to order a custom Sprinter from the factory, we would try our best to get the OEM swivels.

We ended up going with the Sportsmaster swivels, which are made overseas and are available from Eurocamper and Sprinter Parts Depot. The main advantage of the Sportsmaster over the few other aftermarket swivels we found is that the center of rotation is offset so they make it easier to operate with the front doors closed. There are certain swivels that you have to open the door to swivel the seat. You do still have to tilt the seatback forward a bit and slide the seat forward in its track to be able to get them around without opening the door. Also, because of the design of how the swivel locks in place and the position of the handle to unlock it, you can’t slide the seat too far forward or it won’t unlock. If the position of the seat and handle is not in exactly the right place while swivelling, the metal pin slides along the bottom plate making a horrible screeching noise. This would be an easy fix and we found it disappointing that such an expensive product that has been around for years has these obvious shortfalls. Despite all this, once you know the sweet spot it’s relatively straightforward to turn the seat around.

We found one other frustrating thing during installation of the swivels: the bolt holes on the bottom plate didn’t quite match up with the seat base. After a search of the Sprinter forum we found that this is a common problem and most people have to bore out at least one hole to get them to line up. Once we filed it down, the parts fit together and we didn’t have an issue. Also keep in mind that the emergency brake will have to be altered to accommodate the driver’s side swivel. The installation instructions explain this, but know that you do need a different kit for the driver’s and passenger’s side swivels. Installation for both swivels can be more time consuming than expected, so set aside a few hours.

All that being said, the ability to swivel is awesome and opens up the living space in the van big time. We love our swivels and are happy with our purchase, we just think there is some room for improvement on the design. The owner of Sprinter Parts Depot told us he was in the process of trying to put together a better product, but had to comply with all the US regulations, so was looking into testing. We hope he is successful and is able to release a better option soon!

Overhead shelf

We knew we wanted some sort of overhead shelf above the cab area from the beginning of our conversion process. A friend's campervan we have spent a lot of time in traveling around New Zealand has an over-cab shelf built in, which is a great use of otherwise wasted space and really expands the storage area of the van.

We originally planned to build a shelf ourselves (probably out of wood), but after wasting hours scribing some of the simpler curves in the van on other projects, we realized what an undertaking it would be. We wanted something strong, functional, and clean looking, and there are a *lot* of curves in that space. We started to look for a pre-fab option. RB Components makes a number of aluminum products for vans and trailers. We had looked at their website for cabinet ideas and had seen their overhead shelf liked the low-profile look. However, we thought it looked a bit too low and would make the cab feel too cramped. Their standard overhead shelf sits at the level of the sun visors.

Then we found the perfect solution on two blogs: the Roaming Robos and Traipsing About. They both had a similar shelf installed, but it sat a bit higher. This one maintained the factory storage above the sun visors, and more head room, which is especially helpful when moving from the front seats to the rear area of the van. It turns out RB Components offers a “half height” overhead shelf. We ended up having to call RB Components to order it, but they delivered quickly. Installation was a breeze: with 4 mounting points it took less than 30 minutes. It would have taken us days to make a solid shelf out of wood to fit the space.

We store camera gear and everyday items organized into backpacks on our shelf. Three backpacks fill the space pretty well and keeps stuff from sliding around while driving. It also creates a handy space where we can hang towels to dry after showering and we hung some bungee cord and a carabiner on each side where the brackets mount to the wall for hat racks.

Intermediate doorstop

This is a super simple and inexpensive add-on that makes a world of difference. Especially because we installed a cabinet that occupies half of our sliding door space, this thing is indispensable. To get more shade inside the van on a sunny day or maintain privacy when you’re opening the sliding door in a parking lot or on a city street. And it took about 3 minutes to install. We’re just going to link to Traipsing About to tell you all about it, as we don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. If you want to buy the doorstop, go directly to the shop here.

Some day we’d like to add these other aftermarket components to our build:

-An awning to expand our outdoor shaded space when we’re parked for longer periods of time

-Heater/water heater We’d love to have a heater in our van. It would make winter camping much more pleasant and make it livable year-round. Hot water would be the ultimate luxury, and we’re not sure we need it, but we can dream of real hot showers until we make that decision.

If you find this blog post helpful, please feel free to visit our Thank You page to leave us a note or send us a Paypal contribution that will allow us to continue producing useful content. You can also use the Amazon affiliate links throughout our posts to help us earn commissions on your purchases. You pay the same price, we earn a small fee. Thanks for helping us help you!

DISCLAIMER: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


5,332 views
About Us

Hi! we're Becca and Cade. We can generally be found playing outside with our dog Tala: hiking, biking, paddleboarding or paragliding.... or making burritos in our Sprinter Van. We enjoy getting outside, having fun, making sustainable choices easy and accessible, and reducing our impact on the planet.

 

Read More

 

Get in touch!
sustainablevanlife@gmail.com
Disclosure