Another Newbie from Miami

Howdy y’all. I’m not exactly a newbie to automotive customization!, I’ve been doing audio installs and basic stuff since the late 80’s. However, this will be my first custom van designed around passenger comfort.

I inherited my father’s 2003 E150 Sherod hightop 7 seat conversion van. Some changes were done to load medical equipment and scooters. A lot of the plastic is torn up, the electronics don’t work and I want new front seats and move front ones to the middle.

I figure stripping the interior is where I will start. What I need advice on is interior paneling and insulation. I see great kits for the Transit, Sprinter and Savanah, but nothing for the older vans. Do they make nice composite DIY panels?

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Greetings & Welcome!

I always try to keep the original interior if possible, or replace it with original from a wrecking yard.

If that’s not possible, cheap paneling is available at Home Depot, Lowes, etc. Whenever possible, I try to get woodgrain plastic, vinyl, or fiberglass (FRP) panels because they are water proof. They will easily bend to the curves in your van. I leave hidden gaps all the way around to accommodate air flow to prevent hidden moisture buildup. Add extra support behind anywhere you’ll be attaching cabinets etc. Adding diamond tuck & roll can also give you padded walls/ceiling too.

Since I’m an extreme weather camper, in temps on both ends of the scale, I don’t want any added insulation. The times you’d actually want it in a house works exactly the opposite in a vehicle. Colder in the winter, and an oven in the summer. Proper heating, cooling, and ventilation is a much better choice. If you have opening windows, I would also avoid leaky roof vents. $20 usb/12v fans & opening windows provide far better ventilation than $200+ roof vents ever will.

Floor & wheel well insulation is important though. Nothing beats the thick felt like insulation that comes in factory passenger vans. It’s not only great insulation, it is moisture wicking, fire proof/retarding, and sound deadener. With carpet on top, no moisture will ever get trapped in the floor. I put easily washable/replaceable throw rugs on top of my carpet. Carpet also means warmer floors in the winter, and cooler floors in the summer.

In the past, I used to “build” things in. Today, I keep everything modular, and just move them in and secure them, a much better and more flexible approach. I can easily change my layout as needs dictate, something you can’t easily do with built ins.

Good Luck & keep us posted!


"Happiness only comes before money in the dictionary." ~ Smilin Sam

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Welcome to the forums, hope you find some great info and maybe even some new friends!

^ That’s some pretty good advice right there, I went with the “cedar tongue and groove” that’s really popular on “the internets”, and I can assure you, it ain’t waterproof. :laughing: I ended up missing a roof leak that luckily didn’t damage any of the cedar tongue and groove, but only because the ceiling panels took the hits before I could get it sealed up again. If I had just chosen a waterproof material, it wouldn’t have caused me to take two steps forward and one step back.

I did the “strip down” start too, but I’ll be honest when I say that I got lazy with it long before I should have. So if you are going to start tearing stuff out, just be aware that you might end up pulling a thread that is far longer than you originally thought.

I ended up having to do more tear down after I had already started building, and it just made a mess of things. Nothing that I couldn’t find solutions to, just made it into more work than it needed to be if I had just done it right the first round.

Just some friendly advice from my (somewhat recent) failures, haha. :smile:

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@Rydel also it’s not very install friendly. At least we only got 3 good pieces out of a pack of 6. I’d advise against anything made from plastic or fiberglass. IMO it feels cheap, looks cheap and is not comfortable. Wood is comfortable and warming. You want to be comfortable in your home. Colors and everything you put in there will affect you and your mood directly.

We sealed ours on both sides before we installed it but we don’t have many holes for water to enter into and everything there is sealed properly. We also made sure we still have access to anything entering through the roof. Don’t want a leak you can’t assess from both sides.


Yeah, that was another of my earlier mistakes, going with “cheap”. I mean, I’m always a fan of a deal but you go too cheap and it’s exactly like you said Bretly, it just feels cheap and makes it not as comfortable or homey for sure.

I originally thought I could get away with some thin underlay tossed on the walls over the old stuff I was being too lazy to properly take down. It looked bad, and it did make me feel bad about the project overall.

The tongue and groove I got lucky on, as far as “usable boards” went, but even though I do like the look I have right now if I could go back I would definitely pick something a little more resilient. I mean, those “boards” are PAAAAAPER thin, without support behind them any slight amount of weight and you’re snapping them or causing damage that makes the whole wall a problem now as replacing a single “board” is a pain.

Hey guys, thanks for the quick advice. I’ve been thinking a lot about the vinyl paneling. Although some nice tongue and groove for the ceiling sounds pretty cozy. I think the first thing will be the musical seats, then stereo installation. I can always use stainless steel brackets to mount everything first and cover later,
Thanks again.

I’ve seen it done both ways. We did the walls and floors first then put everything in. More material, but I didn’t want to have to cut around everything. I feel like we got away with very little trim using that method.

@Rydel - we do wish we added a couple more studs in a place or two.

@PapaBammer - rock auto might have some type of asb for it if you just want to fix the busted stuff.

Yeah… I did the opposite, I went the “less material” route and honestly it’s been nothing but a pain. I’d rather have just used more material at this point rather than spent all the extra hours I’ve had to put into weird cuts, wrong cuts, etc etc.

The material I’ve wasted trying to get weird cuts alone has probably cost me more than if I had just gone the “more material” route. I’m actually just about to start my floor, which is a “less material” route, and I’m sure I’ll have all sorts of stupid but small issues pop up. :roll_eyes:

Look into actual ply they use for flooring in houses now. It slots together tongue and groove and will prevent it from popping or sagging at the seams.

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Have you checked out Youtube on how to do contoured cuts? With just a dollar store ruler with a pencil rubber banded to it, really, really helped me.


"For every complicated problem there is usually
a cheap, easy, simple, & safe solution." ~ Road Warrior

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Oh neat, I’ll have to look that up actually.

Thanks for the tip! :smiley:

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