Upfit Flooring for Ford Econoline, Help with Conversion

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Feb 24, 2019
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After over a year of looking, and used van prices about doubling in the time it took me to save the money that used to be sufficient... I found a great deal and got an extended Ford e250 van with an under-vehicle lift. It very much seems to be extended size despite there being no record of extended e250s for 2004 that I can find. I had really hoped to be able to find an old paratransit van but the non-disabled have snapped them up and ripped the wheelchair lifts out. However, I'm grateful I found this van I did as I was about to lose hope and just invest in my minivan as much as I could.

The furnishings inside the van are typical of custom vans - carpet, wood, upholstery. It's dark and a nightmare for van condensation so I'm not a fan. Something I really loved about the paratransit vans was how the surfaces were smooth and easy to clean. I'm not sure I could afford the services of an upfitter. Those I can find via web search seem entirely focused on in-production vehicles and don't seem to carry legacy stock anyway.

Do folks have recommendations for good businesses in Northern California (or even along the West Coast) that offer affordable options for ripping out most of a van interior and replacing it with something else? Ones that have experience with vehicles that have modifications for wheelchair accessibility? (I wouldn't want the current equipment in there to be damaged.)

Do folks have links to upfitting materials used in paratransit vans in case I have no choice but to attempt this myself or with folks I can hire locally for muscle?

Are there folks in Northern California or along the West Coast you'd recommend for setting up van solar/electrical, esp the ability to switch between charging from the van while running and charging from external solar panels on the ground? I'm really having trouble finding folks who aren't catering to rich people. Most of the sites I find are for van toys for folks with one or more houses.

I love DIY, but my body just isn't up to much of it anymore.
The reason custom van outfitters limit their work to certain Van models has to do with efficiency and knowing cost to do the work in advance. . They create 3D CAD models of the interiors of the most popular empty vans that are new in the market and do all the design of the interiors in those CAD models. That also allows them to give clients virtual tours before they build anything. It is a whole lot more efficient to show them a virtual layout that can be modified than building something and having to change it afterwards. That way they can give accurate quotes for labor and materials. Of course they do not even start working with customers without an advance deposit to cover the custom design phase labor.

Having customers come in with hundreds of van types that require tearing out unwanted stuff and trying to figure out the old wiring and then having to take measurements, find the materials then build something only to have a customer say, “no I do like that, you have to change it” is labor intensive and materials cost expensive. Cost to do the build then skyrocket out of control as cost and labor hours can’t be predicted. That is no way to run a modern business so you will just have to find some individual somewhere who is willing to do the work in their backyard. You might get lucky, you might not. The best way to go for someone without the ability to do work themselves is to find a vehicle they can do a No-build setup inside of that requires no changes to the vehicle.
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I do understand why upfitters focus on fleet customers. I'm not looking for a big builder. I plan on having most stuff be a no-build build. I'm just trying to get someone who knows what they're doing when it comes to ripping out stuff and putting the vinyl in without messing up the wheelchair adaptations.

I managed to find a provider of the vinyl flooring after many searches all yesterday. I still have not found a provider of the walls/shell.
Thanks for letting me know what you think, though. I did so much research for a year looking to find a van, but my target kept changing because the market was going wild and what I could afford was changing. So I may have been under-researched on this since previously my plan was to either buy a used paratransit van or a bare extended cargo van and then save up for a high top.

I'm old enough to have lived through the '70s custom van era so I remember the little small businesses all over SoCal that did that kind of work. And given the popularity of van living and how often I've watched videos of people's builds, including people who freelance doing builds, I had just assumed it wouldn't be this hard to find someone.

I've got one possible lead in Portland. Still asking around in SoCal. I'd hate to have to sell this van on or trade it in at a dealership and take a loss on its worth. It's been checked by mechanics, is in really good shape for the price, already has a semi-high top on it, is extended, and has the wheelchair accessibility that could be insurance for me if my disability gets worse in our current extreme wealth gap conditions...
A person does not have to be an expert in vans to work on a van interior. A person who wears the hat “handyman” can certainly take on the job. A lot of us people who our own modify vans and a lot of old and new Motorhomes used 1/8” plywood panels for the wall sheathing. In general 1/8” or 3mm thick best takes curves but in only one direction. The standard bend is lengthwise in a 4x8 sheet. Once you get into specialty plywoods where there some types that bend into a much smaller radius the cost increases and the number of companies that sell it decreases.

Other people use FRP sheathing which is a fiberglass plastic panel that can be found at Home Depot. It gets used to line showers so is waterproof. It can take a very modest curve over distance but nothing extreme.

Some people like to use narrower strips of solid wood to accommodate the curves.

Of course thin sheet metal also works but that gets you into the situation of surface condensation running down the walls unless you apply some type of thin fabric or thin carpet over the interior facing surface to hold onto the moisture until it can slowly evaporate.

There are automotive interior paints that can be applied to fabric surfaces and also paint for vinyl and plastic surfaces so that might another choice to experiment with instead of replacing the existing wall coverings. Paint type coating products would certainly be a faster way to brighten up the interior versus ripping out everything. An automotive paint supply store or online shopping would work. Do keyword searches combining the work paint with facric or carpet or vinyl or plastic or auto interior. There are a lot of types of plastics so success in painting them varies.
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Congratulations on your van find! I gather you are in a humid area, but are you sure you will have a problem with condensation in the upholstered van? (Maybe you already see evidence.)

The reason I ask is that I have an older conversion van with upholstered walls, and have had no issue. (I don't use propane or shower inside, though.) I just hate to see you tear out the walls if you don't really need to.
Congratulations on your van find! I gather you are in a humid area, but are you sure you will have a problem with condensation in the upholstered van? (Maybe you already see evidence.)

I'm still not sure I'm not going to have to sell it on. It really depends on whether I can get affordable help getting the interior to what I want it to be.

I'm in Northern California. I currently live in a travel trailer and mildew is HORRIBLE. I bought it used so I suspect it was an undisclosed problem already in the trailer, but it grows silently each winter and when the days warm up in late winter and spring, it sporulates.

I have a terrible mildew allergy due to a slumlord house rental in my past so I have to drop everything every spring to try to find and bleach everything. I have several disabilities and this is even more sub-optimal for me than for someone who's not disabled.

So while non-coastal California is not particularly humid, I find that when you're not living in a well-constructed house, humidity seems to be a problem. Even more so when a surface like glass or metal (car) is involved.

The carpet & walls are as much about ease-of-cleaning and reflected light as insulation/humidity issues.

The new wrinkle for me today is that AAA put me through the wringer even trying to get an insurance quote. 3 calls, tons of questions and "I have to ask my manager" and the mgr demanded photos because they were just convinced I was trying to register a "commercial paratransit van" as well as "an RV". I sent the photos, which were exactly as I said - a typical custom van with the exception that it has a wheelchair lift and after-market mostly mechanical (only the parking brake has some electric hook-up) hand controls. Still didn't get a quote yet.
Quit worrying so much about fixing up the new van. Just get in it and get away from the coast where there is condensation that inevitably is going to happen everyday of every season.

I love the Pacific NW coastal area but I know I can’t live a nomadic lifestyle there because of the cold and damp climate. It just does not work for RV life.
Taking the captain's seats out is not just "fixing up" the van. It's making it so I can even use it for its intended purpose at all or not. If I can't use i that way, I'll stick with my minivan and sell this on. At least the minivan has stow'n'go seats and I can use the area behind the driver's seat for what I'll have left of my possessions.