Overlanding

We converted and upfitted a Ford van

Original Vehicle Specs

Pre-build General Requirements

Original Vehicle Specs

A 2014 Ford E150 XL Van purchased new with a 5.4 liter gas engine, standard size cab.  Since the conversion would automatically convert the drivetrain, axels and springs to a 350 model, we paid less going with the 150 model.

We purchased at end of 2014, the last model year for the Econoline van models.  This was a good thing because it is easy to convert and upfit these models versus the newer transit models, and we wanted the big standard 8 cylinder engine that are no longer available on Ford vans.

The van is a standard size, not extended.  We wanted something that is a swiss army knife for all-around use, allowing for up to a few nights of overnight use but still small so that it is easy to drive, easy to park and serves us well for regular running around town.

Pre-build General Requirements

4wd capable, but not overboard with wheel size and clearance capabilities, so that it was easy to drive at highway speeds but offer robust 4wd and off road capabilities.

Replace gearing with 4.1 for better performance in mountain driving.

Maximize the internal floor space for basic everyday use, such as picking up lumber and supplies for use on our farm and hauling dogs and crates.  Filling the floor space with permament beds, a kitchen and other builds would negate use as a multi-function vehicle:

We sacrificed having a shower and bathroom (we use a small port-a-potty instead)

Bed space in the ceiling, which can be easily disassembled if the space is needed for other purposes

No kitchen, as we will just pre-cook what we need and use the freezer/fridge

High ceiling so we can stand in it.

Better ventilation with windows on the side of the pop top ceiling and an overhead fan that can remain on to keep the interior heat down and well-ventilated.

Reliable – nothing fancy or complex that would reduce reliability or make it hard for any standard auto repair shop to work on.

Use a specialty conversion shop that only works on vans with ample experience to do the work. Fortunately, we have one in Colorado already.

Conversion/Up Fitting

4wd Drivetrain

4wd conversion using Ford F350 parts and components, with some modified and custom components that our up-fitter has designed and built over their years doing van conversions:

Re-geared the axels from 3.7 to 4.10

Replaced wheels with 17 inch and tires with 285 70r17

Rebuilt transmission for 4WD

4wd shifter installed between the driver and passenger side seats

Manual locking hubs

Hard Top and Roof Additions

24-Inch Hard Top

The fiberglass top is 24-inches high with a roof fan and windows.

There are two strips each side of 1″ x 4″ wood slats on sidewalls of hard top to add strength and allow for internal attachments to the sidewall.

The Maxxfan brand roof fan is installed on top of hard top.

Roof Rack

The custom roof rack has an aluminum frame with steel mesh and a steel ladder.

We requested the rack to extend out 6 inches from all 4 sides of the roof, but somehow that was missed and only the sides extend out.  As a result, we added steel panel sheets on the front and rear so that the roof extends out as originally requested.

Exterior Roof Lights

We added 4 additional front lights to the roof front panel.

Pull-up Bar

The drivers side includes 1.25 inch standard steel square tubing attached to the roof rack and extending out to make a pull-up bar with different hand hold configurations.  Besides helping stay in shape on road trips, the bar is a great way to hang and stretch the back on long driving trips.

Exterior

Sliding Door Mods

There was a sliding door modification installed that kicks out the door more on opening to accommodate the larger tires.

Front Bumper

We replaced the front bumper with an Aluminus brand aluminum bumper with a cargo area and installed additional LED front headlights. The cargo area holds our lightning/static electricity ground rod and wire and a winch electrical connection point.

We installed a front bumper 2×2 trailer receiver that holds a spare tire and can also be used as the receiver for a winch

Rear Bumper

We replaced the rear bumper with an Aluminus brand aluminum bumper with a cargo area that holds spare liquids (oil, antifreeze, propane gas tanks) It contains swing out arms on both sides to attached boxes and other equipment.  The swing out arms have a weight capacity of 150 lbs.

On the passenger side is an Aluminus brand cargo box, and on top is a custom mount built out of wood and metal racks to hold a Yakima luggage box. The weight of the setup is 80 lbs, giving us an additional 70 lbs of capacity.

The driver’s side box is a metal mailbox we had lying around and makes for a perfect trash bin.

Rear Trailer Hitch

The rear hitch was already on the vehicle so no changes here.

Attached is a metal cargo carrier, from which a bike carrier is attached to it,  and below it, the trailer ball.  It took quite a bit of trial and error to get the size right with trailer hitch extenders so that everything fits – the rear bumper swing arms are able to open, ample access to the Decked drawers off the back when open, and ability to tow the trailer – without having to take anything off or switch things out.

The current setup adds a little movement between the attachments and a little sag, which can only be fully remedied by welding the entire setup together.  We may do this in the future.

Fender Flares

Pretty basic ones to keep the sidewalls cleaner, but I am not sure they help.

Fuel Tank

Replaced 33 gallon fuel tank with 46 gallon aluminum that has additional steel protective shell installed around it.

Muffler

Replaced muffler with flow-through type to increase engine power.

Awning

An ARB roll out awning shade was installed on the passenger side. We also got the sidewall attachment to make a complete tent out of it to  help protect from weather elements.

Two Spare Tires

We maintain two spare tires. One housed in the usual compartment underneath the rear and the other on the front bumper via an extension plugged into the trailer receiver.

Mounting the secondary spare in front helps protect the front grill from road objects that can puncture the radiator.

Interior

Decked Drawer System

The rear half floor of the vehicle has a Decked drawer system, which contains two drawers that can hold up to 200 lbs. each and open from the rear barn doors.

Rear Shelf and Fridge/Freezer Compartment

We built out of wood a shelf system in the rear of the vehicle that houses a Dometic Fridge/Freezer which can be pulled in and out like a drawer from the rear barn doors. Kitchen and cooking items are stored above in a shelf unit that sits on top. The entire assembly can easily be unscrewed and removed if we need the space for hauling other items.   The unit can sway from side to side in bumpy road conditions, so we secure it down with ratchet straps that connect to a steel lip we had welded on to the inside rear sides of the vehicle.

The top shelf is carpeted.

Internal Ladder

We built an internal ladder from 2×4’s and left over fence pipe that is required to get in and out of the too bed. It is carpeted and the steel round steps have padding added to them.

Bed

The bed is built out of 3/4 plywood and 2×4 cross braces and rests on top of the steel frame where it is joined to the fiberglass  hardtop.  It is in two pieces and held in place by 2 screws each with wingnuts so that either part of the bed or in its entirety can be easily removed.

The bed is carpeted.

Dog Crates

The dog crates stay on top of the Decked unit and are strapped down with a ratchet strap that connects to the interior lip we had installed for ratchet straps. They come out really easily by loosening the ratchet strap.

Front Console

The front center console has a lower shelf and upper shelf built in to make more efficient use of the space for gear placement.  The dash has various electrical cords for electronics, a backup screen camera system and device holders.

Groot and Rocket also live on the dash

Front Swivel Seat

The passenger seat swivels to the rear.  It does require pulling out the lower center console shelf but only takes an extra minute.

HVAC

Heat is supplied by a Webasto unit that connects to the fuel tank and secondary battery for operation.  There is a manual control and programmable thermostat attached to a small wood plywood piece connected to the heater with wire long enough to move throughout the van.  The heater was installed behind the driver’s seat and we attached flexible ducting to direct heat towards the center of the vehicle from the floor.

We kept in place the rear heater and air conditioning unit that can be used when the vehicle engine is on.  The air conditioner vent is routed via flexible HVAC tubing to supply cool air between both dog crates.

The Maxxfan brand ceiling fan can push air in our out, with variable speed, and an automatic vent that opens and closes when the fan is on or can be left open on its own.  It includes a remote device.  This fan works great to keep heat from building up on hot days.

Insulation

We use thinsulate 1 inch for interior insulation, which is glued on both sides to additional material.   Velcro pieces are then glued to one side of the insulation panels and then put in place in the vehicle attached to the velcro pieces already glued to the walls.  Rather than affixing the insulation via spray glue to the sidewalls of  the van, the velcro allows us to pull back the insulation if we ever want to add additional electrical or do other internal modifications. We started with left-over heavy upholstery material we had from a previous house project, which is a lighter color, then switched to black standard cotton/polyester material for the rest of the job.

Electrical

Engine and Battery Warmers

We had an engine block warmer installed and a battery warmer which is a silicone pad that is placed under the batter. Both are 120 volt plugin.

Winch Front and Rear

Added to the front and rear bumpers are electrical conduit to power a winch that is normally stored inside and used as needed via the trailer receiver hitch either on the front or the rear bumpers.

Secondary Battery

A secondary 12-volt standard auto battery runs all the electrical add-ons (heater, lighting, other electronics). It is mounted underneath the vehicle between the gas tank and transmission.

Internal Power Panel

There is a power panel behind the driver’s seat along the wall where all the internal power connections are centralized and mounted.

There are two main switches, one is the master power on/off for the internal and the other is a master power on/off between the engine battery and the secondary battery.

When powered on, the second switch allows for the secondary battery to charge via the alternator, but can be switched off so as not to drain the engine battery when internal electrical appliances are in use.

There is a trickle charger connected to the secondary battery, which would also charge the primary engine battery if the mains are switched on.  It connects via 120 volt from an outlet located in the gas inlet compartment.

There is a second 120 volt extension cord in the gas inlet compartment that is installed inside the vehicle to power any 120 volt appliances when the vehicle is parked and plugged in.

A DC to AC converter is also installed to provide power for AC devices.

Internal Lighting

Internal lighting and any other electrical conduit is held in place via velcro that is glued to the sidewalls.  Should we ever want to relocate electrical, the velcro makes it easy to do so.

WIFI

WIFI is integrated into the satellite modem.

Exterior Electrical: CB Antenna, Lightning Rod, Satellite Dish

Exterior electrical includes a rear camera, 102 inch CB antenna, and a 30 inch lightning rod.

The CB antenna and lightning rod are stored horizontal for travel and can swivel up for use.

Since the top metal roof rack is attached to the metal frame of the vehicle via the ladder, the entire structure acts like a faraday cage to protect the vehicle from lightning strikes.  The ground rod is attached to the front bumper via conduit and stored inside the front bumper storage area and can be taken out and placed on the ground when needed to help reduce static electricity buildup, which could cause a ground-to-cloud connection and initiate a lightning strike.

The Starlink satellite dish provides internet connectivity and is stored on top in a custom box attached underneath the roof rack. The connects inside to the modem/router and excess coax is stored in the waterproof bag that sits underneath the roof rack.  The satellite dish mount is kept permanently on the roof rack.

Housing covers the hole through the ceiling where the electrical runs from inside to outside.  We use standard exterior silicon to seal it in place.  Using the silicon makes it easy to break it back apart if needed and reseal it with more silicon.

Auto Alarm

We have a vehicle auto alarm with mobile connectivity and GPS tracking that notifies us if it sets off.

Other Items and Notes

Glues

We tested several glues and resins over the years and found that the only one that reliably works is JB Weld Original Formula.  It does not soften or degrade from interior heat buildup or exterior sun exposure. It is great for gluing to metal and fiberglass surfaces.  For glue together insulation materials, we use 3M 90 Spray Adhesive.

Equipment and Parts

The vehicle is pretty general purpose for us so we keep a lot of extra tools in it.  We also keep spare van parts for items that could fail without warning, rendering the van undriveable, and include an alternator, starter, belts and hoses, water pump,  radiator thermostat, and other items small items.  The difficulty is not getting items replaced or repaired, but getting parts in a timely manner.  If something fails on a trip, as long as we have the parts, we might be able to do it ourselves or get the vehicle to a mechanic who can do it same day.

Gas Mileage and Engine Power Changes

Pre-upfitting mileage averaged 15 per gallon.  Now it is 11.5.  With the extra weight, bigger tires and more friction from the additional moving parts in the drivetrain, we have noticed a small reduction in power driving on highways with longer and steeper grades.  Not a lot, but some, but which was partially offset by changing the muffler that gave us back some power.

Gear

To minimize having to pack and unpack for day or overnight trips, I keep a lot of my gear in the vehicle, including bike equipment, rock climbing gear, ski equipment in winter, ski wax and bike tools, etc.  This makes it a lot easier to just go or if I am out for the day and have time, I can take a detour and do some activity, and if needed, perform basic maintenance or repair.  I hate having to come home from a long day like skiing and have to wax my skis, but if I have the equipment, I can do it really fast from the road.

Our dog crates are kept in the vehicle along with other dog gear.

Kitchen

We have a full kitchen setup that stays in the vehicle.  We don’t use it much as we prefer to precook and throw in the fridge/freezer.

Bath

We use a porta pottie and in place of showering, we use presoaked hand towels in a solution of soap and essential oils.

First Aid Kit

We have a large first aid kit for human and dog use, which also contains other items that we have found over the years to be helfpul. The kit stays in the vehicle at all times.  It is kept in a 100 liter pack so we can grab it and carry on our back if needed.  But it is much too big and overkill for general activities, so we have divided it up into smaller pieces: when skiing or biking there is a small kit; for hiking with the dogs, we take the small kit + a second bag with other items. Other items that stay in the main kit include extra liquids, meds and salves, and full gas masks with cartridges that are important to have if we ever get caught in a wildifre situation or even just happen to be in an area where heavy smoke has drifted in from a wildfire.

Hazards

We keep a basic carbon minoxide alarm in the vehicle to protect against any buildup.  It ordinarily would not from operation of the Webasto heater but if the exhaust from the heater happens to blow back into the vehicle via an open window while sleeping, that could be a problem.

We always track weather conditions, road conditions and other potential hazards along our routes and plan accordingly. And it is not just localized risk; being in the western states where we live and predominantly travel, wildfire smoke can drift across states to create poor air quality.