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How to install the Owl Vans Sprinter Side Steps

Like many van parts companies we’ve come across, Owl Vans does most of their install instructions in video form. Videos are helpful, but we often wish someone had written instructions with photos. This is particularly true when we are scrubbing through a video to find a frame that answers our question in the middle of a project. This guide walks through what we recommend for tools and what we did and learned during our installation process. We recommend you check out the video and read this guide before starting. You can also print a copy of this guide for reference.

Note: we did not plan on writing this guide when we started the project, so we didn’t take pictures to document the process. We have included images taken after the installation that hopefully provide helpful context. This will also be true for the next couple of installs – after a few, we realized that other people might have the same frustrations we did, so we started writing this blog.

Tools

Owl had a good overview of the required tools in their install video. We made a couple of modifications/upgrades to the toolset:

  • We bought a pneumatic rivnut setter. Watching John install the rivnuts manually was painful, and we knew we would need the tool for our Adventure Wagon installation. The pneumatic version worked great, and we would recommend it. The list below includes the version we bought. It got good reviews and worked well for us, but its selection was not based on extensive research. The compressor and hose we purchased are also listed below, though we selected the compressor from what was in stock at our Home Depot.
  • We got drill bits with stepped tips. These were also a timesaver because we got good results without pre-drilling. The set below has worked very well for us and seems worth the money, given how often we have used them already.
  • We got ratcheting tools. There’s little space to work, and ratcheting tools make installation much easier. We linked the set we used below

Tool List

Tool/MaterialSize(s)Used ForNotes
Rivnut setting tool14setting rivnuts for A bracketsIf you use this pneumatic setter, you will also need an air compressor, hose, and tool oil. Quick connectors are also helpful for your pneumatic setup, though they are not required. Owl recommends this tool if you want to go the manual route, but we have not tested it. If you intend to do a test run, make sure you have extra rivnuts (there are some in the spare hardware bag) and a metal sheet.
Drill bits14
2364
14″: drilling pinch weld holes for A brackets

2364″: drilling holes for rivnuts for A brackets
This set includes both the bits you’ll need. If you are installing an adventure wagon kit at some point, get this larger set
Wrenches (or sockets)716
12
916
716″: tightening the ‘A’ nuts
12″: tightening the nuts on the front fork*
916″: tightening the ‘B’ nuts
We got this set. The challenge with the ratcheting drivers is that some bolts for attaching the steps are quite close to the bar. We had to be careful not to scratch the finish when using the drivers. You could use ratcheting wrenches and fixed Allen keys instead, but the wrenches don’t fit easily in some angles. I would still recommend this kit and add on a set of fixed Allen wrenches (or just a 732” Allen wrench)

*This size is not listed in the Owl video and wasn’t required for our original build. When we got a replacement hardware kit, the front bolts were a different size and required this wrench.
Allen wrenches18
532
316
732
18″: tightening the screws that hold the step backing plates
532″: tightening the ‘A’ bolts
316″: tightening the front fork bolts
732″: tightening ‘B’ bolts
See comment on wrenches

*This size was not listed in the Owl video, but it is needed for tightening the screws that hold on the step backing plate
Safety glassesprotecting your eyesYes, you really do need these!
Deburring toolremoving pieces of metal from holes
Paintcoating holes to prevent rust

Other helpful things:

  • Creeper
  • Shop vacuum
  • Trash bags/plastic sheeting/moving blankets/cardboard/etc. to cover the side of the van if you are using spray paint, and to put on the ground to capture metal shavings from drilling
  • Magnetic Sweeper; we recommend covering this in something before you use it to pick up small, sharp pieces of metal. If you wrap paper around it (and hold it with tape, rubber bands, etc.), it’s much easier to get the pieces off by removing the paper over a trash can.
  • Rolling tool caddy

Parts

We were missing several parts and could not know that since there was no parts list. Owl customer service was excellent, but it’s a pain to get most of the way through a big project and not be able to finish, so check your parts in advance! This is a retrospective1 list, so please let us know if you see anything missing.

Parts List

QuantityPartDescription/Note
9 (7 for a 144)‘A’ brackets
9 (7 for a 144)‘B’ bracketsTwo will look different from the rest (they have a notch out of the front) and mirror each other; these are the front B brackets. The rest will look like the image to the right, but four will face the same direction, and three will face the other direction.
9 (7 for a 144)Long washers
9 (7 for a 144)Bags of ‘A’ hardwareEach bag contains 2 rivnuts, 4 bolts, 2 washers, 2 locking nuts
9 (7 for a 144)Bags of ‘B’ hardware (labeled ‘B1’)Each bag contains 4 bolts, 4 washers, 4 locking nuts
1Bag of extra washersFor step attachment to ‘B’ brackets; contains 18-36 washers
1Bag of parts for backer plate attachment (labeled ‘front fork’)Contains 10 machine screws, 2 bolts, 4 washers, 2 locking nuts
2Backer platesFlat metal plates with one large hole and 5 small threaded holes. These will be used underneath the open holes of the front steps.
2StepsThe passenger side step is longer than the driver side.
1Bag of extra hardware
1Tread plateOptional but recommended purchase – this will also come with two additional bolts, at least two washers (ideally four), and two nuts

Instructions

Installation Steps

1. Prepare your tools and the area

First, make sure you have all your tools together and accessible. The rolling caddy above helps keep your tools with you while you are under the van. Double-check that you have everything on the parts list. We recommend preparing something to lay on the ground to catch metal shavings from drilling. Avoid rolling over thin plastic with a creeper if you have a rough driveway surface; it could put holes in the plastic.

2. Mark your bracket locations

Measure 15” from the front body seam (see image below) and make a mark. This will be the location for the center of your first A bracket.

sprinter van with arrow pointing at front seam

The arrow is pointing at the front seam.

From there, make a mark every 23” until you have five total marks on the passenger side (four for a 144”) and four on the driver side (three for a 144”). We measured out all our bracket locations first to ensure the spacing worked. It’s also easier to mark when you don’t have an installed A bracket in the way. Measuring and marking as you go will also work fine. If you’re going to measure in advance, check the position of the last ‘A’ bracket before installing. Grab a friend (or two) so that someone can hold up the step and someone else can hold up the last ‘A’ bracket to ensure they line up. The part of the A bracket that extends away from the van should fall at least a couple of inches in front of the area where the step tapers off. If it does not, move the position for that bracket forward.

This is about as far back as you can put the last bracket

This spacing does not need to be exact. As we were doing the installation, we found that sometimes the marks fell in an inconvenient location for mounting the bracket. For example, in one case, the site for the rivnut would have been in a factory hole. If this happens, shift the bracket location to make it work. We recommend moving the bracket toward wherever you expect the step to take the most weight. Since the brackets have three holes in the back, you may also be able to use the center hole and one outside hole to mount it. We did this for one of our brackets because we drilled the pinch weld holes without checking the positioning on the back and didn’t want to re-drill the pinch weld holes. It seems to work, but we have not verified with Owl that it is an endorsed technique.

A bracket installed with bolts in left two holes instead of outer holes

This is what it looks like if you have to use a center hole instead of the two outer holes. Check before drilling your pinch weld holes if you want to avoid this!

3. Mark, drill, and paint holes

We recommend you put something underneath the holes you are about to drill to capture the metal shavings. This will make cleanup much easier. We used a trash bag cut along the side and bottom to give it a larger surface area and moved this along as we made each hole. Please wear safety glasses, and don’t position yourself directly under the holes you are about to drill.

Holes for the A bracket – pinch weld

Line up the middle of the ‘A’ bracket with the line you drew in the previous step. Check the back of the bracket to ensure it is in a location where you can drill and install rivnuts. If it is not, adjust the position. Put upward pressure on the ‘A’ bracket to make sure that the bottom of the pinch weld is seated against the bottom of the ‘A’ bracket. Maintain the pressure while you mark the pinch weld through the holes in the ‘A’ bracket.

Drill the holes in the pinch weld using the 1/4” bit. Deburr the holes.

To minimize switching of drill bits, continue down both sides of the van, marking and drilling the pinch weld holes. You can also complete the process for one bracket at a time.

Holes for the A bracket – rivnuts

Use the drilled holes to temporarily hold the ‘A’ bracket while you mark the rivnut holes. To install, put two bolts from the ‘A’ bracket hardware bag through the ‘A’ bracket, then through the holes. Mark spots for the outer two holes on the back of the A bracket (the inside/underside of the van). Remove the ‘A’ bracket.

Drill the holes for the rivnuts using your 23/64” bit. When drilling on the underside of the van, be careful not to put too much pressure on the drill. You don’t want to lose control of the bit and push through into something else. Deburr the new holes. This is particularly important on the rivnut holes. If you have metal shavings caught under the ridges of the rivnut that hold it in place, it will be more likely to lose its grip.

Paint

If you are using spray paint, ensure you have something to cover the outside of the van. In the video, John uses a sheet of cardboard above the hole he is painting to protect the body paint while painting the pinch weld. That looks like it works out fine, but I worried the wind would blow the fine paint spray back on the van. We used washi tape to tape plastic (an opened trash bag) to the side of the van. Paint all the holes with your paint of choice and let it dry. We applied two coats of the spray paint Owl Vans shows in their video, which is also linked above.

4. Install ‘A’ brackets

The first step in installing your ‘A’ brackets is to install the rivnuts. With the pneumatic setter, this is as easy as threading a rivnut onto the mandril, inserting it into the hole, and pulling the trigger. If you have never installed rivnuts before, we highly recommend practicing on a piece of scrap metal. If you have scraps you cut for a fan or window install, those will work great (watch for sharp edges). The steps were the first thing we installed on the van, so we bought a small metal sheet from Home Depot. Doing a test allows you to check that all your settings are correct before you start on the van. You should be able to put a bolt into the installed rivnut and tighten it without the rivnut beginning to spin.

man installing rivnuts under van

Installing the A brackets (installed bracket on the right side of the image)

After installing the two rivnuts, attach the bottom of the bracket to the pinch weld (same as for marking rivnut holes). Placing the long washer on the bolts as you push them through is much easier than putting the washer on afterward. Secure each bolt loosely with a nut. You will want some wiggle room to get everything aligned. Next, attach the top (back) of the ‘A’ bracket by screwing two 1/4” bolts with washers on them into the rivnuts. Tighten everything down using the 7/16” wrench and 5/32” Allen wrench.

wrench and ratchet driver being used to tighten a bolt

You can either use a fixed wrench or a socket driver on the nut and a fixed Allen wrench or a ratchet driver on the bolt head.

Repeat this process to attach all your ‘A’ brackets.

5. Attach ‘B’ brackets

There are special ‘B’ brackets for the front of the steps. These are the ones with notches out of the front rather than two complete holes. You can identify the correct bracket for each side of the van because the open edge of the top part of the bracket should face toward the back of the van.

Image of a B bracket indicating direction of install

This shows the direction that B brackets should be installed. Each B bracket will only work on one side of the van

Attach the front ‘B’ bracket to the front of the ‘A’ bracket using two bolts. The order from the front of the van to the back should be washer—’B’ bracket—’A’ bracket—washer—nut. Leave the nuts just loose enough to move the ‘B’ bracket around (up, down, forward, and back). Leaving them extra loose won’t hurt anything, but it will annoy you later.

an image showing how A and B brackets align when installed

‘A’ and ‘B’ brackets after they’re attached

Attach the other ‘B’ brackets (make sure you have the right ones for the side you’re working on!) in the same manner on both sides of the van.

image of the side of the van with A brackets installed and B brackets attached to them.

‘B’ brackets attached! You can see the special ‘B’ bracket for the front of the van on the right side of the image.

6. Attach steps

We’re almost done! For this part, having a second set of hands is helpful.

Attach backing plates to steps

Before installing the steps, attach the backing plates to each front step using five small machine screws on each step (from the ‘front fork’ bag) and the 1/8” Allen wrench.

image showing front step and backing plate screw locations

Screws to attach the backing plate to the step – don’t use the bolt until the next step

Attach steps to B brackets

If possible, have someone support the step while you attach it to the front and back ‘B’ brackets. The step should stay in place at that point, but extra support is always good. Attach the front of the step to its unique ‘B’ bracket using a bolt, washer(s)2, and nut from the front fork hardware bag. The installation order from top to bottom should be washer—step—‘B’ bracket—(washer)—nut. Do not fully tighten. The back of the step attaches to its ‘B’ bracket using two bolts and two nuts from a B1 hardware bag and two or four washers3 from the hardware bag containing only washers. The order (top to bottom) will be washer—step—‘B’ bracket—(washer)—nut. Attach the rest of the ‘B’ brackets to the step, leaving the bolts just loose enough to slide them around. Repeat for the other step.

Underside of step attachment

View of the underside of the step attachment. Without the washers on the bottom, the nut on the left of this image tilts into the slot in the ‘B’ bracket. If the nut is all the way to the side of the slot, like the one on the right, it’s pretty stable even without a washer.

If you purchased the tread plate, make sure that you position that and add it to the ‘sandwich’ for two of the bolts (so it will be washer—tread plate—step—’B’ bracket—(washer)—nut). If you don’t mind undoing some work, you can wait until the next step to add the tread plate. To use this approach, tighten down the rest of the bolts, then remove the ones to hold the tread plate in place and reattach them.

Here is our tread plate shown with the step inside the sliding door. We attached it to a ‘B’ bracket on the left-hand side, but you could also slide it down to the bracket you see on the right.

Adjust

This was the most annoying part of the build and one that Owl didn’t show in their video. It is a simple concept, but we loosened and tightened all the bolts several times, trying to align things. After frustration and trial and error, we settled on the approach outlined below. This is the step where a second person would be very helpful. If you’re doing a solo build, you may want some boxes/foam/etc. that you can use to support the step while you tighten all the bolts. If you’re better at guessing or care less about alignment than I did, you can also probably tighten more of the bolts in previous steps and see where the steps end up (good luck if you try this approach!).

Lift the step and position it as you would like, both in the distance from the van and the angle. We recommend you make the steps parallel to the ground, but do whatever makes you happy. To save other perfectionists some trouble, we could not make the steps a consistent distance from the van body for the entire length. Once you’ve got the step in the desired position, have one person hold it while the other tightens the bolts using the 9/16” wrench and 7/32” Allen wrench. Once you get two sets of A-B bracket and ‘B’ bracket-step connections tightened, the step should stay in place while you tighten the rest. Note: to tighten the front step bolt, you will need a 3/16” Allen wrench and a 1/2” wrench.

a sidestep installed on the side of the van

The gap between the step and the van body isn’t quite even down the length of the van.

Repeat this process for the other side of the van. Add two more bolts to secure the second side of the tread plate (washer—tread plate—step—(washer)—nut) if you have one.

You’re done! Enjoy your improved van entry and exit experience.

  1. We put together the hardware list based on a complete set of replacement hardware that Owl sent us. The set was not exactly the same as the original one, and we tried to note variations in the list. ↩︎
  2. As we wrote in our review, in our initial hardware set we did not get quite enough washers to put them on the top and bottom of the step. We checked with Owl, and they said they were only intended to be installed on the top of the step, but they were happy to send us some extras with some parts we were missing. We found that, without the extra washers, the nuts pulled through a little bit on the longer holes in the B bracket. We had to get a new hardware set (see review for the full story), and in the new set Owl included enough washers for top and bottom of the step. Bottom line: it’s unclear whether you’ll get enough washers for top and bottom, so you might want to count in advance. If you only have enough for one per bolt, they go on the top of the step. ↩︎
  3. see above ↩︎

Installation Steps