DIY camper van conversions are popular for good reason; they save on costs and allow you to build a camper van to your exact specifications.
Rather than purchasing a manufactured motorhome that may have amenities that you don’t like or need, a custom-built conversion van allows you to make use of the space within the van to create a living area the exact way you want it.
In general, when converting a camper van, you will take a work van or passenger van and convert it to a camper. This is accomplished by installing a living area inside of it so that it can become livable. A van like this can be used for traveling or camping.
Many people even use vans such as these as their main residence. It’s a good option if you like to travel and you want to live life instead of just going through the motions in life and waiting until you’re retired to be able to enjoy life.
A van like this can make for an awesome living area that makes a great miniature RV that can easily be driven around and taken from place to place. It makes it super easy for traveling.
While it is a fun adventure to convert a van like this, one would have to wonder how difficult it is?
It can be a challenge to convert a van to a camper but it is easy to accomplish as long as you have a plan. There are more challenging layouts and features but for a basic camper van that provides a safe place to live, the process can be surprisingly simple.
The biggest challenge is figuring out what you want and how to accomplish it.
This is what I experienced when I built my camper van. I didn’t know what I was doing, although I was very handy with woodworking and general construction projects.
I still had to rack my brain quite a bit to come up with each system that I had in my van build layout to make sure that it was in good working order and looked high quality.
My build consisted of a lot of four-letter words and creating things only to tear them back out and re-create them the right way.
I was the only one working on my van so it was a challenge because I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of and help me to stay on track with what I was doing. I really had to dig deep and stay immersed in learning and research what I was doing.
There were various parts of the van that I would say was much more difficult than other parts. Of course, this will depend on what you’re good at and what you’re not and what you have experience in and what you don’t.
For example, in my case the plumbing, as well as the shower install, was the most difficult part of my van build.
This required the most thought as far as building the frame for my shower and making sure that it was not going to leak. Being able to plumb the right way was a challenge because I knew nothing about plumbing.
I didn’t want to just put things together in any old way because I wanted to maintain good resale value and so doing it the right way was critical to me.
I wanted to make sure that when I’m done using it, someone can buy it from me and feel confident that everything in it was done up to professional standards.
I’m very picky with the way I do things so you can bet my van was meticulously done and so the experience I had with building mine may have led me to be more challenged than others.
With a custom van conversion, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all manual for doing the job. Each van and layout is different so it’s often difficult to initially frame the van so that things are square.
Deciding on a floorplan can also be a challenge but it is crucial to understand what you want before you begin building it.
Even after deciding on a floorplan that you love, you can bet that there will be something you wish you had done differently in the end.
Best Van For Camper Conversion
There isn’t such a thing as the best van. For everybody, this is going to be different. For me, the best van was a RAM Promaster cargo van because this was the size that I needed and it was also fairly straight-walled inside so that allowed me to frame the van easier.
I also liked the width of the Promaster because it is wider than most other vans on the market. The width allows for a bed to be positioned sideways which is exactly what I wanted.
Many vans are too narrow to do this. If you choose a Sprinter or a Ford Transit, these will not allow you to do this unless you are super short.
I’m 5 foot 10 inches so I am definitely not tall but I am not super short either. The Promaster allows me to sleep completely stretched out in the bed and still have room on either side of my head or my feet.
I would not be able to do this in the Mercedes Sprinter or the Ford Transit.
Of course, you don’t even have to use a cargo van or a work van of any kind. You can choose to use a passenger van and often these work good for van conversions.
If you do not care about a van that allows you to stand up and want something that will allow you to travel and sleep in it, a passenger van could be the answer for you.
Passenger vans are reliable and are easy to maintain so they make the process of owning one as simple as owning a family car. Not to mention, it will likely be cheaper if you decide to go with a passenger van.
Other cheap options that you can choose might include the older Ford Econoline or the Chevrolet express. These two are both work vans but they are low roof and don’t allow you to stand up and move around very easily.
So, the best option will be different for each person but if you are looking for something that you can convert and have the end result similar to a manufactured class B motorhome, you’ll probably want to lean towards one of the high roof cargo vans.
How To Convert a Van Into a Camper Van
Converting a van can be rather detailed and too long to write about in a blog post. That’s what this site is about and details my journey into doing this very thing.
I converted my Ram Promaster cargo van into a camper van and I’ve written much about each section and I’m still writing as I complete each section or make changes to my van build.
Converting a camper van consists of a few major areas with a lot of minor details in between. These major areas can be summed up as follows:
- Choosing a van
- Installing a roof fan, windows, vents, etc.
- Installing a bed
- Installing a dining area, seating area
- Storage areas
- Electrical, lights
After these main areas have been chosen and created, most people choose to go even further and make it more of a home by installing other features.
Things such as:
- Shower / Toilet area
- Air conditioning
- Roof racks
A van conversion can be made easier by going one section at a time. For example, my main concern when I first started on my van conversion was doing one thing at a time. My first order of business was to install the sub-flooring.
Once the sub-floor was finished, I moved on to another section which for me was the insulation. I worked on one part at a time and never thought about the other parts until I was done with the one I was working on.
When you chunk it down like this, it makes the entire process seem much easier.
Read more about my entire van build here.
How Much Does a Camper Van Conversion Cost?
The final price of a camper van conversion comes down to the type of van you purchase combined with the complexity of the layout and the finishing touches that you use.
Not counting the price of the van, you may find yourself spending upwards of $30,000 for a van build.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people spend as little as $1000 or even less for a simple and basic camper van conversion.
My van build cost around $10,000 to outfit the empty cargo van that I purchased. In total, I spent around $33,000 to purchase an empty cargo van and convert it to a fully finished camper van.
I could have certainly done it for less and in the beginning, I planned to spend only $6000 to outfit my cargo van. However, this was naïve thinking and my inexperience talking. It’s difficult to know what you are going to spend in the beginning when you have never done this.
A conversion can be fairly pricey and you should know going into one that you will likely spend more than you planned and it will take longer than you thought it will.
Like any project, converting a van to a camper takes planning, research, patience and a lot of hard work. A little bit of skill and experience also helps but is not required.
I did it without a lot of experience although I do have experience with woodworking and I have a creative mind that helped me along the way.
The good thing is, you can learn anything on the Internet nowadays and people are willing to share with you just how to accomplish nearly anything.
Saying that it is not difficult would be lying because it is difficult and it is a lot of hard work.
However, the end result is so worth it. Once you have planned your van and put in the time and money into making it a reality, the result will allow you to enjoy traveling and seeing the world on your own terms, and in style.