Choosing the best van to convert to a DIY Camper!

You've decided to follow your dream of being able to hit the road whenever you please, enjoying the freedom of being able to sleep anywhere and exploring new lands until your heart's content? Congratulations! 

 

If you haven't owned a van before, no doubt you're a little overwhelmed as there is a lot to get your head around before you go jumping in and buying the first van you see for sale on the side of the road. You want to make sure that you get the best van for your camper conversion.

Don't worry, we're experts when it comes to choosing the right van to fit the adventure and have created this article to help you get started.

Spend time researching and choosing the right model of van is the first and most important step. These are things you need to consider before you choose the perfect van for a camping conversion:

  • Number of people who will travel in the van i.e. number of seat belts required
  • Number of people the van needs to be able to sleep
  • Space needed for storage i.e. luggage, sporting equipment, musical equipment, tools etc

Once you have decided on the van capacity and size needed it's time to do your homework. If you skip the research phase of this procedure you could be stuck with a van that costs a fortune to fix, is prone to breakdown or costs an arm and a leg in fuel costs. Don't rush out and buy a van that wont suit your needs or a van that requires too much work to get on the road.

The internet is a wonderful thing and all the information you need can be found in reviews and forums, so make sure you spend time finding a van with a good reputation of reliability and fuel economy. The lower your running and maintenance costs, the longer you can travel!

Key things to look for when inspecting a van you're interested in:

 

  • Low kilometers
    This can be slightly higher in diesel models as the engines last longer, but consider that all the other parts will be worn and need replacing sooner.
  • Rust
    If you can see rust in photos then avoid unless your budget is very low. 
    When inspecting this is a big one and can be hidden from view if you don't look closely. Check window seals, under wheel arches and on top of the roof. Rust will kill a car before the engine dies so if you plan on keeping the van long-term avoid rusty vans at all costs.
  • Seating
    Make sure that the amount of seats on the van matches the registration papers or you will have trouble registering the van.
  • Service history
  • Tyre condition
    Ask when the tyres were replaced. If they need replacing, this will cost you so can be used as leverage when negotiating the price.
  • Year model
  • Don't be too keen
    Any minor problems that you can find you can use as leverage to negotiate the price lower. Don't show too much excitement as the seller will see this and know that he/she doesn't need to lower the price. Don't be embarrassed to offer low prices, this is a part of the negotiation process. Just remember to have integrity in your deals, be truthful and honest.
  • Don't rush the process
    The more time you spend researching, the more informed you will be and therefore more likely to get a good deal which will save you time and money in the long run. Happy hunting!

 Budget and early considerations when Choosing the best van to convert to a Camper

It is important to know how much money you want to spend before you begin the design and planning stage of a DIY campervan project. You don't end up heartbroken with an empty wallet and half finished or poorly made camper.

Once you have come up with a budget you can start pricing materials, services and equipment.
These you need to consider in a van fit out to add value and comfort are:

  • Gas for cooking
  • Water tanks
  • Sink
  • Secondary battery to power lights, water pumps, inverter fridge
  • Window and ventilation hatch installation
  • Awning installation

It is important to decide on these things before work commences because the layout of the van must be designed with space for the requirements of gas, battery and the fridge.

To legally carry gas in a van you must have an airtight box fitted that opens to the outside of the van. This is a specialized job that is best done by a professional as gas is very dangerous in confined spaces.

The fitting of a secondary battery adds some great improvements to a DIY camper. This gives you the opportunity to:

  • Run lights without draining your cars main battery
  • Run a water pump from water tanks to have flowing water
  • Run a 12 volt fridge 
  • Run a 12 volt to 240 Volt Inverter to use 240 Volt devices like phone and computer chargers

Ventilation

Installing a ventilation hatch is important in a van that doesn't have any opening windows accessible from the back of the van, as vans heat up with the morning sun and ventilation is required.

Windows

Windows can be installed to add ventilation, light and a view. The difficulty of the installation varies from van to van as some have panels that can simply be replaced with windows.

Gas, Electrics and Water

The gas, electrics and water must all be considered, researched and planned before the rest of the van is designed so that any required certifications can be priced and acquired. This will ensure that the van is fully safe, legal and will pass any registration requirements each year.

Be sure to remember that any gas bottles must be installed by a professional. This is the case for several reasons.  

  1. Gas is highly dangerous in an enclosed area and the bottles must be ventilated correctly in case of a leak.
  2. The insurance of the vehicle will be voided if uncertified work has been undertaken.
  3. All certified works must be engineered and registration adjusted to a motorhome if gas, water and electrics are installed.

Just remember that most processes will take longer and cost more than you expect so the more quotes and definite prices you can get the better. 

Designing the layout 

This is the fun and creative part! You get to come up with positioning and solutions for: 

  • Clever storage ideas
  • Sleeping areas
  • Cooking areas
  • Gas storage
  • Water tanks
  • Batteries and electrical board

You have the freedom to make the fit out your own personal design that will fit your individual needs. You can essentially make the inside of the van feel like your home.

The more research and planning that goes into this the more functional and aesthetically pleasing the fit out will turn out. 

Once you have all your ideas and inspiration, get a pen and paper and start drawing the layout.

  • Try not to get stuck on your first idea.
  • Draw as many different ideas as you can, get creative using hinges draw slides and other space saving ideas.
  • Try to only include things in the design that you know you will use.
  • Don't over complicate the design

A few things to keep in mind in during the early stages of design are:

  • If you intend to have a secondary battery installed make sure that you locate it and the power board in a position that is easily accessible.
    This is so that if you want to change or add things to the circuit you don't have to pull the van apart or squeeze into an uncomfortable position.
  • Remember to position the gas storage box that opens to the outside as close to the stove as possible.
  • Position the water tanks close to the sink.
  • Storage position for easy access and functionality
  • Measure the inside of the van and try to do some scaled drawings to figure what will actually fit.
  • Make sure that you have the correct sizes of the important components. For example, the bed, sink, stove and necessary storage.

Storage

As with any small living spaces smart storage is essential. You want your DIY campervan to be a comfortable and organized home.
The first step is to list all the things that you will need to store. For example: 

  • Tools
  • Musical equipment
  • Sporting equipment
  • Clothing, shoes, hats
  • Cooking and cleaning gear, pots pans
  • Cutlery, plates bowls
  • Food

Once you know exactly what needs to fit you can go about deciding on a place for each thing. Type of storage solutions to use:

  • Draws
  • Cupboards
  • Straps

If you want to install big draws which slide out the entire length of the draw you will need to install draw slides, these are quite expensive but utilize the space in a very efficient way. Draws with draw slides can be weight loaded meaning you can use the draws not only to store heavy objects but also to incorporate parts of the design of the camper to slide out of the van. 

Hopefully this information has been helpful and you feel more confident in beginning your DIY campervan project. Adventure awaits!

Enjoying freedom and exploring nature while living in your DIY campervan.