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Budget-friendly hacks/mods/upfitting

1894 Views 46 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  gregoryx
I thought it’d be a good idea to start a thread that lists some affordable mods for us people who spent all our money on the vehicle and didnt save bucks for all the upfitting. Please share your creative ideas here and we will all benefit!

Please redirect me if there is already a thread like this.

Examples that Ive pulled thusfar from the forum:

- Instead of an expensive ladder: get a telescoping ladder that packs esily from Ace Hardware so you can get to your roof racks (put plumbing insulation foam on it so you dont scratch the van)

- affordable awning alternative: use a tarp with poles. Kelty Noah tarp recc

- iOverlander app is a great resource for locating free camp/parking spots

- in Portland, OR you can buy Pendelton fabric from the factory on sale by the yard to use for blankets or upholstery

- sheeps wool works great as a non-toxic insulation. Havelock is great but at a premium, shearing a sheep is cheaper
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2020 High-Extended AWD EcoBoost Cargo with windows
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I want to see/hear more about this window solution! How thick is this corrugated plastic? 1"? Where do you use the gaffers tape? (surely not to affix to windows). Magnets to hold to window frame? Do tell!
So sorry that I don't have a good photo.

This is the coroplast stuff. 1/4" thick and super lightweight. I considered making our shower-walls of it but it's a little to light-weight for that. (Used corrugated Lexan instead - almost as light and amazingly strong.)

Reflectix taped to the coroplast with gaffer's tape around the edges. If not familiar with gaffer's tape, it's much cleaner and stronger fabric-based tape than duck tape. You can get gaffers tape in myriad colors. We went with black or dark gray or something like that; but you could do white to be more subtle.

Then tape magnets around the edges with additional gaffers tape. That can be done with "tabs" where they hang out a bit if necessary. The goal is that there ends up a 1"+ gap from the Reflectix to the window. That space seems to be what actually insulates.

The final product was completely light-proof from the outside and white on the inside - helping to make the space look more spacious. And the insulation function was surprisingly good. The coroplast temp was always moderate; whether the Reflectix was cold or hot.
 

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My roof rack on my 130 MR was pretty inexpensive and low profile. I just used steel galvanized unistrut, coated with bedliner.
For the pads I used these and just took a grinder to angle a little. The 2, 1 5/8 strut runs the length and gives about 1/2 clearance for the 7/8 to go sideways over the roof hump. Another 7/8 runs the length above the door.
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Unistrut L brackets and nuts. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XBQ83KL/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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I also used unistrut on the inside and used detachable bags for storage.
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Here is an van with surfboards stored inside. 2016 Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 - Built For A Trip to South America
The one I can't find that was posted on the forum had them stored on end. IIRC tha rack was mades from PVC pipe and some pipe insulation to protect the boards. Dunno anything about surfboards, but maybe also possible to stand them up?

Speaking of PVC ... and coroplast, this build has a lot of interesting low cost/low weight ideas (PVC shower, coroplast panels for electrical enclosure) incorporated in the temporary build. It was subsequently upgraded to a fancy van, but it retains some of the original design ethos in places. FWIW - there is some more info in the van since it is now on sale on RV Trader and there is a splashy tour video of the now fancy version on the Humble Road YT
 

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"Terrapin Station Wagon" aka "VanTerp" 2020 AWD LH
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No galley - Economical, flexible, tons of room for other stuff and to move around! Not for the full-timer, but for this weekend warrior it's way better. (Yes, I've spent many nights in vans with a full galley - makes me claustrophobic
!)
  • Water jug with hand pump. I did spend a bunch on this as I have the Lifesaver jug with built in water filter - can dunk in a pond if needed anywhere and don't need to carry a 'just-in-case' water filter. Needs no electricity.
  • Portable stove - I want to cook outside anyway.
  • Flip down shelf on the wall for when I need to cook (boil water) inside for quick meal or when weather is bad. From Amazon for outside of RVs, but could be made cheaper.
  • Folding table for cooking outside. Cheap Costco white plastic table 2'x4' that adjusts from cocktail height to bar/working height for cooking outside. @$50. (You likely carry this table anyway.)
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nothing yet, but planning on an EV van
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My roof rack on my 130 MR was pretty inexpensive and low profile. I just used steel galvanized unistrut, coated with bedliner.
For the pads I used these and just took a grinder to angle a little. The 2, 1 5/8 strut runs the length and gives about 1/2 clearance for the 7/8 to go sideways over the roof hump. Another 7/8 runs the length above the door. View attachment 184464
Unistrut L brackets and nuts. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XBQ83KL/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1
View attachment 184462 View attachment 184463
I also used unistrut on the inside and used detachable bags for storage. View attachment 184466
if you shop around you can find angle aluminum for good prices. you can try different spots but generally your best bet is to find a industrial supply company. these places will have about zero info on their webpage nor any kind of sales dept, you might also want to have a fake company name ready to give them. its not illegal to for individuals to buy but it will be less confusing to them to have a name ready. you might get some info over the phone but in person is likely required. they will have a minimum order but that should be easy to hit even with bare bones van build and the stock will be 8 feet or longer so either have a big transport or be ready to do a little cutting in the parking lot.
 

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Reflectix taped to the coroplast with gaffer's tape around the edges. If not familiar with gaffer's tape, it's much cleaner and stronger fabric-based tape than duck tape. You can get gaffers tape in myriad colors. We went with black or dark gray or something like that; but you could do white to be more subtle.
This makes TOTAL sense. Only downside I can see is that they don't roll away for storage. But that tradeoff may be worth it. I hear so much about Reflectix only working with air gap. And this does it! As to gaffer's tape, I worked as a photographer for 20+ years and did commercial video. So I have gaffer's in a ton of colors and widths! Best stuff ever. I once fixed a mirror on my VW van with gaffer's and it lasted almost 10 years!

This is my favorite window cover solution to date. Cheap. Easy. Super effective. There's a lot to like here. Thanks!
 

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...Only downside I can see is that they don't roll away for storage.
...
Spot on. We just stacked them all together and stored them on one side of the bed OR under the bed in the garage depending on what configuration we were running.
 

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Only downside I can see is that they don't roll away for storage.
You can score the coroplast to make it foldable (dull pizza cutter + straight edge or 12" drywall taping knife etc.) Easier to score an fold along the flutes than across, but across will retain more rigidity when unfolded.
You can also cut through one of the faces to make it more easily foldable. I would think scores might be better than cuts, since folds will hold more shape than cuts when unfolded, would then just need some sort of straps (velcro) to keep them folded for storage Get some free lawn signs to play around with.

There is such a thing as single faced corrugated polypropylene, that can be rolled up but probably difficult to find in small retail quantity.
 

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Has anybody come across a reasonably priced bed system that isnt plywood? Everything Im seeing is way expensive and I just want to know my options before I go the route if making my own.
Yes! One option: Span east-west with Ikea Skorva bed support that can be easily removed (you need the little end pieces that it locks into available here). Then cover it with a "bunkie board" roll. I went with this solution. I got the "heavy duty" bunkie board, but it's overkill since I'm using three of the Skorva beams. Makes the whole bed removable in under 5 min, no tools.

I've also seen someone make the bed platform out of ATV ramps. One set of ramps will hold most folks. Again, cover with a bunkie board roll and you're good to go. Available at Harbor Freight in aluminum too.

Granted, these may not cost less $ to $ than plywood, but they are lighter, and removable and probably not much more $$.
 

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Has anybody come across a reasonably priced bed system that isnt plywood? Everything Im seeing is way expensive and I just want to know my options before I go the route if making my own.
When you say, "reasonably priced bed system," versus, "making my own," I'd say you've got your answer.

As @NoCoErik lists, there are many low-priced DIY solutions. Not so many packaged systems. We compared the MOAB system for ~$4000 and it helped make building our own raise/lower/couch bed for $1500 seem like a killer bargain. 😏
 

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I have two of the ikea peg boards, a big one in my kitchen and a little in my work space. Their hooks are good, but just get a cheap bin of bungies from a hardware store. The new "gaming" strap are good too.
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if you shop around you can find angle aluminum for good prices. you can try different spots but generally your best bet is to find a industrial supply company. these places will have about zero info on their webpage nor any kind of sales dept, you might also want to have a fake company name ready to give them. its not illegal to for individuals to buy but it will be less confusing to them to have a name ready. you might get some info over the phone but in person is likely required. they will have a minimum order but that should be easy to hit even with bare bones van build and the stock will be 8 feet or longer so either have a big transport or be ready to do a little cutting in the parking lot.
Yes, you can go with Aluminum and an Industrial supply co thoughts do also work. But, as an ex-electrician, I have to say it is hard to beat unistrut. It is marginally heavier, but also very strong and there is an entire catalog of pre-engineered parts. I especially like the uni-nuts and L brackets/eyebolts that can be moved anywhere in minutes. Why reinvent the wheel?
 

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Has anybody come across a reasonably priced bed system that isnt plywood? Everything Im seeing is way expensive and I just want to know my options before I go the route if making my own.
Good comments earlier, but I went with unistrut ( steel, cheap, adjustable height, doesn't rattle ) for my vertical supports and an inexpensive steel bed that was made to fold in half from Amazon- but an old bed frame would work also. I liked the idea of a bed that was "murphy" style and simply folded up and out of the way when not in use and was adjustable height. As GregoryX said it really depends on your needs and how much work you want to put in.
One photo was from when I was building it, but shows the basic idea. I no longer use the fold-down legs that came with the bed, preferring just straps to an eyebolt to the inner edges, so I can adjust height and I would add tilt- so the van does not have to be "level" for us to sleep level. It works for us anyway.
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Second is is as we use it now. It's not folded flat because we just leave the sleeping bags stuffed and went with a very comfortable 6" thick bed. If I want, I can simply fold the drivers side down and take a surf nap alone anywhere in about 1 minute ;), but if the wife comes/longer trips we fold down the whole full sized bed.
 

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Good comments earlier, but I went with unistrut ( steel, cheap, adjustable height, doesn't rattle ) for my vertical supports and an inexpensive steel bed that was made to fold in half from Amazon- but an old bed frame would work also. I liked the idea of a bed that was "murphy" style and simply folded up and out of the way when not in use and was adjustable height. As GregoryX said it really depends on your needs and how much work you want to put in.
One photo was from when I was building it, but shows the basic idea. I no longer use the fold-down legs that came with the bed, preferring just straps to an eyebolt to the inner edges, so I can adjust height and I would add tilt- so the van does not have to be "level" for us to sleep level. It works for us anyway.
View attachment 184621 View attachment 184622
Second is is as we use it now. It's not folded flat because we just leave the sleeping bags stuffed and went with a very comfortable 6" thick bed. If I want, I can simply fold the drivers side down and take a surf nap alone anywhere in about 1 minute ;), but if the wife comes/longer trips we fold down the whole full sized bed.
Can you take a pic of the connection points of the vertical unistrut to the van floor and ceiling?
 

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@surfgeezer do you happen to have a link to the folding Amazon bed frame (or did I miss an earlier link)? That looks like a huge time-saver for my build - though it sure would be nice to have Queen width folded down.

Oh - and is it "rattle-y" driving down rough roads?
 

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@surfgeezer do you happen to have a link to the folding Amazon bed frame (or did I miss an earlier link)? That looks like a huge time-saver for my build - though it sure would be nice to have Queen width folded down.

Oh - and is it "rattle-y" driving down rough roads?
I used a queen also, but I also cut and welded the length on the shorter passenger side. If I did it over I would only go with a 5" thick mattress instead of a 6, to leave sleeping bags on all the time. Also the mattress was a "short" queen. I ended up just cutting the mattress ( three level foam ) to match the halves and cut a bevel/radius on the top outside corners that rubbed the van wall when pivoting.

No, it doesn't rattle at all- one of things I like best :)
 

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Can you take a pic of the connection points of the vertical unistrut to the van floor and ceiling?
Here's a pic of the floor. They attach to unistrut on the floor and their attachments, that will be part of my pullout kitchen/bike ramp, later. The floor pieces attachments are bolted to the stock "load bolts nuts" built into the cargo frame and some L brackets that have bolts that go through the floor.
At the top I drilled the "ribs" on the inside of the body all the way through and used an angled spacer between the strut with a 3/8 bolt going through. On a 130' the ribs worked out well for the queen size bed.

Since this a cheap hacks thread, you may notice the wheelwell is covered with a "roofing" membrane, about an1/8 thick. Feels like rubber, waterproof, sticky on 1 side and I used it also on the floor before the final bolting of the unistrut. Comes in wide rolls and way cheaper than dynomat.
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thanks everyone, I just learned that wheeled fittings and trollies exist for Unistrut! Might be a good way to make a slide-out rack for the back, instead of those $500 4' full extension guides.
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