How corrosive is DEF fluid, anyway?

Black corrosion on copper cable from DEF exposure

When we last filled up with DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid), we poured a little into a plastic tub and threw in various pieces of metal. DEF is corrosive, but we wanted to find out just how bad it really is.

No surprise that zinc really reacts with DEF fluid, but the copper wire turned black with surface corrosion faster than we expected.

The biggest reassurance from this experiment was that tinned copper cable showed absolutely no reaction to the DEF fluid.

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Keeping the shore power plug clean and dry

ViewTainer used to hold 15A shore power plug

We’ve been using freebie plastic protectors on the prongs of our 15 Amp shore power plug, but we keep on losing them and the plug is beginning to corrode from the gunk that gets sprayed on to it underneath the van.

We found a squeezable storage container called a ViewTainer. When you squeeze the sides, a slit in the top opens up. When you release, it closes again.

The container is meant for storing small items like screws, but it works really well for our plug.

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Choosing an awning for your Sprinter

Sprinter van with Fiamma F45 awning extended

Although there are lots of awning manufacturers out there, the choice for Sprinters is limited by their height and the ways you can attach the awning to the van.

There are four main types of awning;

  • Retractable ones that roll up into an aluminum or plastic case bolted to the vehicle.
  • “Patio” style ones that are like a big roller blind with the legs bolted on to the side of the vehicle (like on larger, older RVs).
  • Fold-out ones that often zip up into a fabric case attached to the roof rack.
  • Stand-alone tent style awnings that clip on to the side or back of the vehicle when they are assembled.

The most common type to find on a Sprinter are the case style, sold either by Fiamma or Dometic. There’s a reason for that, which we’ll explain below.

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Why did Mercedes put the trailer wiring box so close to the Sprinter’s receiver hitch mount?

Bully hitch mounted step just clears the factory hitch wiring box

Good luck trying to find a locking trailer hitch pin that will fit in the tiny space that Mercedes leaves at the side of the 2″ receiver mount.

Receiver hitches aren’t common in Europe, so maybe the German engineers got a little confused about how they are typically used. When we added a hitch mounted step to our van, it was hard to find a locking pin that would work.

We ended up making a 90 degree pin lock but ever since then we’ve contemplated just moving the electrical connector for the hitch. Problem is, it’s not easy to know where to put it.

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Adding an awning to a Sprinter with a roof rack

Fiamma awning extended

The typical awning you see on NCV3 Sprinters is the Fiamma F65. It curves around the top of the van wall to the roof. It mounts either onto the bare metal of the roof or on to the factory roof rails.

The thing is, we have a pretty large VanTech roof rack supporting our solar panels. It’s already bolted to the factory roof rail. That stops us from using the F65. Instead, we bought an F45. It mounts on vertical walls or, in our case, on to L-brackets suspended from the roof rack bars. Here’s how we did it.

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Choosing between a high roof and a pop-top van

1970 Volkswagen Westfalia conversion

If you’ve come from a Westie background, you’ll be used to the benefits of a pop-top camper conversion. But back when Westfalia first converted Volkswagen vans there were no other options you could stand up in.

The high roof Sprinter has 6’3″ of headroom. If stand-up height is your only concern, a pop-top may not be a good fit for you.

Update: for 2018, only Cargo vans can be ordered with a low roof. If you order a Crew or Passenger van, it’ll be high roof. The only big issues here are how many passengers the Cargo vehicle is rated to carry (2 rather than 5+), and the lack of captive nuts in the floor for mounting a passenger bench seat.

Here are the pros and cons of the high roof van versus the low roof with a pop-top conversion.

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How tall are we? How long are we?

McDonalds have a 9' maximum height at their drive-through

Sadly it seems we’re not going to be able to use the McDonalds drive-through. We’re just too tall. I’ll never get to experience the delights of a Big Mac. Because, I mean, who’d actually walk into a restaurant?

More seriously, if you catch the ferry in Washington state, they need to know how long your van is so they charge you the correct fare. If you want to know (rather than guessing) whether you’ll fit into a parking garage or under a low bridge, you’ll need to remember how tall your van is.

The answer is super-simple, inconspicuous, and cheap.

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