Updated 1/12/18

As your life evolves for travel with Newfs, so does your preference of vehicle.  (See earlier Cool Ride post)  Originally, a full size van worked well enough, then the Newf travel vehicle (while we had one or two Newfs) became the Expedition with fabulous rear air conditioning.  The next phase of our travel vehicle became a one-ton Chevy van.  The moment this vehicle pulled into the drive, Banker knew exactly what it was for.  It was like his wish had come true!  By then we were up to four Newfs.  This was a passenger van, for the benefit of rear air conditioning.  We added a deck in the back so Newfs could go on top, with our luggage at the back, and dog show items and travel essentials could be stored under the deck.  The 5′ x 6′ cut-to-size bath rugs sold by Penneys were a perfect fit for the floor in front of the deck, and the 3″ foam bed on top of the deck became the throne for the Newf fortunate to claim that space.  However, we all have expiration intervals, including vans.  This van reached 170,000 joyful miles, then was re-purposed for a dog rescue organization.  These vans are commonly seen at dog shows, and are known for longevity when well maintained, so it has a lot of useful life ahead, and was already customized for dog travel.

Meanwhile, we continued to wait for the arrival of the new NTV (Newf Transportation Vehicle).  This time, it is another one-ton van, a Ram Promaster.  These are cargo vans, only available through commercial dealers.  When one arrives, it is in “shell” form, leaving the new owner a lot of opportunity for customization and a lot of work to accomplish.  If you are a project-oriented person, you will recognize that this work is first a matter of organization and planning.  There are many Youtube videos on van customization which can provide a lot of ideas for interior organization and construction.

A friend who uses a mini-van ordered her vehicle with two sliding doors so in the event of damage or someone parking too closely, there was another option for getting the Newf(s) out.  We ordered ours with two sliding doors also.  There are a lot of reasons that we chose the Promaster, and many of those will be listed throughout the series of posts on the conversion.  But, and this is no small benefit:  you can park this van in “regular” vehicle parking areas, including parallel parking, and it’s easy!

The seats are surprisingly comfortable for many-hours long periods of travel.



There are many steps in the transition from becoming a cargo van to a NTV.  First on the list is heat reduction planning.  The windshield is a major source of heat in any vehicle.  The Expedition’s windshield was the type of glass that reduces heat that occurs inside a vehicle from light passing through glass.  For the Chevy, I had the windshield replaced with this type of glass, and I had an adjustment made to the air conditioner so it continued to cool well when the engine was idling, such as waiting at an intersection.  It is surprising how much heat will develop through vehicle glass in a matter of minutes, and the type of glass has a large impact on how much heat can build up and its impact on a vehicle air conditioning system.  Newfoundlands have little tolerance for heat due to their large body mass, thick coat and limited cooling capability (panting, sweating through pads).  So heat management in the vehicle is critical for travel with Newfs.

A 70% Rayco film for reducing light transmission was installed on the sliding doors and rear doors.  40% film was applied to the windshield, but that has not been adequate.  The windshield will need to be replaced, and fortunately a local installer has a “solar windshield” option.  This should be a manufacturer option, if not the default.

Insulation is needed throughout the cargo area.  We used a pre-cut low-e type of insulation, with polyethylene foam on each side of a foil barrier and adhesive on one side of the foam.  It was applied tightly to as much of the metal surface inside the doors, sidewall and roof as could be reached.

Our vehicle came in several months after order, and we had planned to take it on a 3-week vacation scheduled early in the year that aligned with an annual event.  It arrived approximately 5 weeks before we were scheduled to leave.  Good advance planning allowed us to complete most of the essential work before we left.  It was ordered with the composite floor, and with the short timeline to prepare the van before leaving, we proceeded with cabinet installation without removing the floor to insulate underneath.  That would have been ideal, and it may yet be done at a later point.  One advantage for the Promaster is that it is a front-wheel drive vehicle, so there is not heat coming through the floor from a transmission as was the case with the Chevy.

For the sidewalls and roof in the cargo area, a layer of Thermotec insulation was added.  The roof especially needs maximum insulation.  Many owners use spray-foam for their vehicle to maximize the insulation capacity.  We opted for the low-e and Thermotec to leave easy access through the removable side panels (manufacturer option) for future repair or revision.

Thermotec was also used to create cargo area window covers for travel.  Banner loves her windows, so the covers are made to be lifted and hung from the top, allowing her to see through the lower part of the window.  The covers are used during periods of direct sun or during very hot weather to minimize heat increase inside the vehicle.

The Promaster has a lot of benefits for Newf travel, but heat management is definitely not one of those.  The dash air underperforms relative to all of our other vehicles, current and past.  At its maximum cooling settings, it doesn’t cool as well as the mid-range settings for the Versa hatchback or the Ram mega-cab truck, and it doesn’t reach its point of cooling as quickly.  It is probably OK for two drivers with a barrier behind the seats, and since this vehicle is designed for commercial applications, that was probably a design parameter.  A 12V fan, in addition to the one for the cooler, is needed between the seats to circulate cooler air to the dogs in the cargo area.  An add-on rear air conditioning unit that runs with the vehicle engine will be needed before this conversion process is complete.  Finding a good add-on system that can be installed by a qualified installer is proving to be a challenge.  Ram left a connection for the coolant system, as these vans are well-designed for future upgrades and customization, and the option for the electrical part of the system was included when the van was ordered.  Many after-market products have been developed and are still appearing for the Promaster, which was first released in 2014.


Floor Space and Cabinetry:

The Promaster will be used for weekend camping, for overnight stops during travel and for dog shows.  Cabinet design that accommodated Newf travel necessities, grooming equipment, safety supplies, bed space and FLOOR SPACE were very important.  When you begin planning, it may seem incomprehensible to fit all that you need into a vehicle and still have floor space for Newfs.  But it can be done!  And more easily with the Promaster.  Most motorized RVs are overloaded with “stuff” – cabinets, refrigerators, beds and other space-occupying items.  Clearly the designers think of imaginative solutions for utilizing space, but they don’t leave much space for people, let alone people and Newfs.  Applying some minimalism to design planning when you have a small space to work with allows better use of the interior space and more comfort during travel.

We looked at several options for RVs built on the Promaster 3500, and one of the Winnebago Travatto models was almost close.  We looked at some options where custom RVs are built.  Our 2017 vehicle would be one year old before any of those would be available.  Winnebago even accommodates some customization, but that also requires a long waiting period.  For our needs, the benefit of customization meant that a wide enough walkway would allow another crate in the van.  And, we would still have space for the kitchenette, cabinetry, queen size bed and even a waste disposal system (toilet) with a shower.  Conventional design would not accommodate this.  So, local resources were identified for the electrical work and the cabinetry.

The composite floor provides a solid easily cleanable surface, but it is black and somewhat slick.  We decided to add a floor covering, and a local company cut and installed the floor covering, with black edge bands.

We designed a set of cabinets on each sidewall that would allow 32″ between the cabinets, with fold-down doors to cross the aisle, and we designed a folded mattress to cross the tops of the cabinets, providing a Queen size bed.  We chose spalted Maple for the cabinet drawer fronts and a shelf on one side, as accents to the bare birch plywood cabinets.  We found an All-pro water-based polyurethane that didn’t yellow as much, or as fast, as the typical polyurethane coatings, so the coated bare birch looks similar to Maple.  We considered buying store-made cabinets and cutting around the wheel wells, and some of the garage cabinetry would look good with the metallic granite or red colors.  However, that didn’t allow enough room in the aisle for another crate, unless a narrow crate was used.  That wouldn’t be comfortable for a Newf on a long trip.  Another possibility was using wall cabinets on one side and floor cabinets on the other.  That wouldn’t have allowed as much storage space, but it was a viable option.  We designed a custom cover for the bed that allowed it to be folded, and a local upholsterer made the cover.

The floor covering that we selected has a thin vein of black, like the spalted Maple, and we chose Corian countertop in a deep brown, along with a dark brown comforter for the bed.  Window covers are light neutral with brown trim.

The cabinet boxes were built by a local carpenter from our design, and for our first trip, we had to leave with no cabinet doors.  We built the cabinet doors after we returned and we installed the marine type of button latch for the drawers and doors, which keeps those from opening during travel.  The cabinet door style uses a full overlay type of hinge, so there is a flush surface from drawers through doors.  This makes cleaning easier, which makes travel easier when your travel companions are big, black and hairy, with slobber.  We plan to replace the door hinges with some available through Rockwell that open more fully.

There is still approximately 4′ x 6′ of floor space for Newfs behind the vehicle seats, where there is a pad with a removable and washable canvas cover.  A custom enclosure for this area is being built by a local fab shop using aluminum square tubing panels which can be moved outside during camping.

Planning based on your needs is important to having functional use of your space.  Sometimes it is little things that make your space more useful.  We left openings in the cabinet walls next to the rear doors for loading items into the cabinets.  There is space between the cabinet wall and the rear door on one side for the dogs’ ramp (reduces joint impact for exiting the vehicle) and a broom holder on the upper cabinet wall secures a broom.

The design and planning, insulation, plumbing and the cabinet doors and latches were done by us.

Electrical Design and Appliances:

Electrical design and planning is one of the most important steps in customization.  If you don’t understand DC circuitry, you will need to find a skilled resource.  Both in planning and in implementation, the skill level must be reliable.  If you have a basic understanding of DC circuitry, there is a *lot* of good information to be found online for planning purposes.  Products are changing continually, however, so when you develop plans, then inquire about products, there may be something newer that will perform more efficiently or take the place of multiple components.  The final review should be done by the licensed electrician with skills in DC circuits before the components are assembled.  For any skill level, it is a good exercise to research this information, to fully understand the operation of your system, whether it is an RV or a custom system.  In particular, understanding battery operation is important to the lifespan and reliability of your DC batteries, as is understanding and protecting your travel unit from poorly wired electrical services.  A battery isolator will allow your batteries to stay charged through your vehicle’s alternator while you are driving.  Your electrician can teach you the basics about these issues.  One good resource on basic battery care is found here:

Progressive Dynamics is an excellent resource for electrical components and system planning.  There are several good resources for calculating battery usage needs online, some by green energy organizations.  Adding solar charging capability is one of our future interests.  We opted for the 6V Trojan golf cart batteries, available locally, and we set up a panel with AC and DC circuits, some that run through the battery, including the vent fan and the refrigerator.  The air conditioner can be plugged into the AC circuit on the battery panel for an emergency purpose of up to 45 minutes.

We selected most of the available options when we ordered the van, including some of the electrical services.  This includes, in the rear of the van, a 12V DC outlet where a campout “air conditioner” is powered.  This is a styrofoam cooler that holds up to 4 frozen gallon bottles of water, with an opening in one end to pull air through with a fan (inside), and a vent on the other end to disperse the cool air across the floor from side to side.  This has helped us use the van during hot weather with the Newfs, and it is a good emergency resource.  The only problem is that it takes up room.  We will be looking for a large collapsing cooler with the fan as a permanent backup resource.  A fan will run from the battery resources for more than a day.

This van has all electrical services, with a 50A service.  The 110V air conditioner will run on the 110V service (30A or 10A), if there is no 50A service.  The kitchenette includes a two-burner glass cooktop, a microwave and a small refrigerator.  We have a lot of experience camping with a 20A service, so we know that this is adequate.  The refrigerator requires little electricity, but this requires turning off the air conditioner to run the microwave or the dog dryer.  We like to camp in spring or fall when weather is 40-60 at night, and cooking can be done early or late, while the Newfs lie outside enjoying their surroundings.

We chose the Penguin II 110V 12000 btu roof air conditioner and the MaxxFan vent with a rain sensor.  These were installed by an RV service company.  The air conditioner seal has required two additional trips back to the installer so far.  Another local RV service company has also had difficulty with the seal for air conditioners in a similar type of van, due to the corrugation of the roof.  They have begun installing two layers of the seal.  Following the last visit, we have had several months with no leak.  This air conditioner easily keeps the interior very cool while the van is stationary.


For our first road trip this spring, we left without completing the plumbing.  A 20-gallon fresh water tank is installed in the lower part of one set of cabinets.  The sink has a tall gooseneck faucet with a removable sprayer.  The grey tank will be installed under the van on the passenger side.  The toilet will be self-contained.  We looked at cassette toilets, but we want to install a vent.  This cabinet is being built.  The water heater is an insulated 4-gallon 110V unit, which is ample for kitchen purposes or quick showers, not long, indulgent ones.  A section of TPO membrane will be added under the water tank and wrapped at the corners to provide some leak protection, and a leak control container will be mounted under the pump.  Plumbing progress is now on hold until better weather emerges.


Side steps

We looked for a fold-out motorized step for the van sides, but because of the low entry for the Promaster, the existing suppliers in 2017 did not have one that would work.  So we added permanent running boards.  This is always an exercise in difficulty, as it was for the Chevy van.  Finding full-length running boards for both sides is not easy, and finding some that don’t look like commercial vehicle attachments increases that difficulty.  After finding some that appeared solid in structure, presented online as a pair, both long, we ordered.  When those arrived, one was short and one was long.  To get a pair that were long, the supplier said that we would have to buy another set!  These were manufactured to order, and originated from China.   The installation was supposed to be flexible for the driver or passenger side.  The supplier sold us a second pair at cost, and after going through this before with the Chevy van, we resigned and agreed.  When these were installed, we learned that the supporting brackets were not configured in right- or left-hand arrangements, and one side would need to have a custom bracket made in order for the driver’s side to fully reach the front.  The supplier allowed $50 for this, and fortunately, we have a good local fab shop.  Any future running boards will be sourced from a local shop, if not built by our local fab shop!  Maybe by then the motorized folding version will be available.


A motorized awning is available from Carefree, but this still requires the use of “legs” when extended, due to the location at the top of the van where the awning must be installed.  After a lot of conversations and phone calls, this is the best option we have found.  It is on the list of changes to be completed, for the passenger side.


Our preference for entertainment when traveling or camping is to be outside, so we don’t need a satellite television, or even satellite radio.  The newer vehicles, including our van, connect to our iPod or iPhone, so our music preference and whatever is on the radio is sufficient for travel, when we are not talking or taking turns reading a book to each other.

If we want to watch a DVD while we’re traveling, a laptop is good enough.  There are reading lights by each side of the bed, and a USB charging port will be added to each side soon.  We may go as far as to add a ceiling mount, fold-up support for a laptop or a tablet, if we can find a good one.  For some of our favorite camping locations, signal strength is weak and intermittent.  Except for a rainy day, outside is our preference, and nature is the best artist.

The First 20,000 Miles

We have enjoyed a number of trips in the Promaster, and it has served well so far.  The  issues that we have experienced have been heat control and more minor things, such as the lenses for the license plate light coming off.  The large side mirrors will vibrate when there is strong wind.  The transmission was shifting roughly during the first trip, but reprogramming has mostly resolved that.  It is not a quiet vehicle, as would be expected from a large cargo-type van, but it is relatively quiet for this type of vehicle.  More effort on our part is needed, such as insulation between the metal van floor and the composite floor.  With a little more lead time before our first trip, undercoating would have been better.  Now that it has been exposed to road salt and grease, that is not a good option.

In the colder part of winter, the seat heaters for the front seats work well enough that dash heat can be set on low, which suits the other passengers well.  The seat heaters work so well that they are good for back therapy, too.

We like the way it handles and rides, and it is very convenient for our purposes.  The fuel economy is better than our last one-ton van.  Adding the interior customization dropped the average fuel economy by about 3 mpg.  As long as the gas quality is good, it will still reach 16-17 mpg on the highway.  Under optimal conditions, it has been as high as 18.

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This post will be updated as there is additional progress or change and there is time to write.  Photos will be uploaded in the future.  We are enjoying the Promaster and looking forward to a lot of road trip adventure!  If you also like road trip adventure and have an interest in the kinds of interior organization that can be accomplished in a van, please take a look at these Youtube videos:

Barefoot Theory  (Sprinter)

Promaster conversion

Another Promaster conversion

Chevy conversion

Another Chevy conversion

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