Searching for a van can be a daunting task. It’s often difficult to find a good used van that is in excellent condition with low mileage. On the other hand, buying a new van is expensive and isn’t usually a good idea since vehicles depreciate so much.
Which Van is Best For Conversion to a Camper?
This question will depend entirely upon what you are looking for in a van. Whether you are looking for a small van or a large van, there are many options for you to choose from.
The one that is best for you might not be the best option for someone else.
During my search, I mainly focused on three models of vans and each of them had something unique to offer that the other one didn’t.
However, I had some specific criteria that I was looking for in my van. In order to choose the best van for myself, it had to meet these criteria as close as possible.
The criteria that I set for my search were as follows:
- It needed to be wide enough to sleep sideways in the van. The layout I had designed had the bed facing in this manner.
- It needed to be a high roof so that it would be comfortable to move around in.
- It would need to be a medium length van. The 159″ wheelbase Ram Promaster offered the ideal size.
- If used, mileage needed to be less than 30,000 miles.
- I wanted something that was no more than a couple of years old. At the time of my build, it was 2018 so I was set on buying something 2016 or newer.
- The price needed to be $25k or less.
Obviously, you will probably have different criteria if you decide to convert a van to a camper. Some will require more space and some will require less.
Whatever the case may be, you should set out to make a list of criteria for yourself and then choose the van that best suits your needs.
Best Van Options For DIY Camper Conversion
Since finding the perfect van for you is a personal option, there are many vans that will work and will probably be included in your search.
There are a few common models that are typically used when one wants to convert a van into a camper. The following list contains the most popular and most reliable vans on the market.
The most expensive of all is the Mercedes Sprinter. The Sprinter is a popular option mainly because of the Mercedes name. It offers small options as well as larger options and also is available in diesel or gasoline.
Many people prefer a diesel engine for the extra power that it provides. However, a diesel engine was not a criterion of mine and I actually did not want a diesel engine because diesel engine fuel is more expensive where I live and also isn’t available in all locations like gasoline is.
The Sprinter vans are available in 144-inch wheelbase all the way up to 170-inch wheelbase and come in a low roof or high roof option.
The downside of the Sprinter van, in my opinion, is the narrow width. Since I wanted my bed positioned sideways within my van, the Sprinter did not offer enough space for this so this van was off of the table for me.
Other downsides include the high price tag as well as the high price required to maintain the van.
The Promaster is a popular option for van builders and it has many positive things going for it. Unlike the sprinter van, it is only available in a gasoline engine and also only in two-wheel-drive.
The Mercedes Sprinter as mentioned above is available in two-wheel-drive and the all-new 2019 version is available in four-wheel-drive.
The Ram Promaster has been around for many years in Europe and is marketed as the Fiat Ducato. It has a proven track record and is a dependable van and works perfectly for a van build.
In fact, many commercial class B motorhomes are built on this chassis.
The good thing about the Promaster is that it has a wider body and allows a full-size bed to be positioned sideways within the cabin. This is important to me because of my layout and it was one of my major criteria.
The Promaster is easy to find, easy to service, and the V6 gasoline engine provides plenty of power as well as outstanding fuel efficiency. It is also easy to drive and has a comfortable but minimal cabin.
Another popular option is the Ford transit and this van is available in many different configurations. They come in short-wheelbase is as well as longer wheelbases and the roof options include low roof, medium roof, and high roof.
The Transit is sure to meet the requirements of most conversion van builders.
However, like the Sprinter, the Ford Transit has a narrow footprint and does not allow a full-size bed to be positioned sideways. This ruled the Transit out in my search.
The Transit is a dependable van that can easily be serviced throughout the United States no matter where you are. It’s very easy to drive and very comfortable and has all the modern conveniences that you are used to in a vehicle.
The Transit is also now available in four-wheel-drive which is great for those who have the need to go off-road from time to time.
I’m a big fan of Nissan as I have owned a Nissan Frontier for nine years now without any problems. My wife owns a Nissan and we have owned other Nissans in the past. We have never had problems with any of them.
I initially looked at the Nissan NV as an option for a conversion van. However, for my taste, the Nissan NV was just a bit small and it was also hard to find in my area. Not to mention, it looks a little strange with the body shape that it has.
Like most all of Nissan vehicles, the NV is very fuel-efficient and allows for a lot of space in a small van. You don’t see as many Nissan NV‘s as camper vans but they do make a great option if you are looking to build out your own van.
The NV comes with a V-6 or a V-8 engine and has plenty of power to carry your camper van wherever you need to go.
If you are looking for a low roof van or one that you can add a pop-top to, the Chevy Express is a great option. This van is commonly seen as a work van for companies in different industries.
From plumbers to electricians, you see these vans all over the place. They are a dependable option.
These are easy to find used since most companies use vans like this as work vans.
However, be careful buying used work vans especially if they have high mileage. These types of vans get used and abused by many different people over the years and can be a nightmare if you end up with one that has been misused or not well maintained over the years.
Similar to the Chevrolet Express, the Ford Econoline is also a great option if you are seeking a lower roof van. These are also easy to find and can be purchased used for a great price if you are looking to build a van for less.
The production of these ceased in 2015 so if you were interested in this van, you’ll have to settle for a used one.
If you want a vintage option or one with some character, a VW van may be the way to go. Many people appreciate the old school feel of a van like this. Some of the options include the Westfalia, Volkswagen Type II, and the Vanagon.
This type of van will probably require a lot of work because you may have to do mechanical work in order to make it functional. If you like old vehicles and are up to the challenge, Volkswagen vans can be a very cool option.
What is the Most Reliable Van?
If I’m going to spend money on purchasing a van for a camper conversion, I want to know that it will be reliable and last for many years to come. Most modern vans are reliable as long as they are taken care of and maintained properly.
There is no way to say what type of van is the most reliable. Many people have different experiences with different brands and models of vans.
The three most common brands which include the Ford Transit, the Mercedes Sprinter, and the Ram Promaster which are all written about above are at the top of the list if you are looking for a reliable van.
You can’t go wrong with any of these three as long as you do your homework and make sure you are buying a van that has been well-maintained if it is a used one.
Of course, there will always be those lemons or duds that you will find from time to time. However, this is uncommon and is unlikely.
What is the Most Economical Van?
Fuel economy is very important to me and I want to know that the van that I choose is going to get good fuel efficiency. Of course, there are also other things to consider with fuel economy.
It isn’t just about the van or the engine or transmission. You must also consider the weight of the vehicle and the aerodynamics can also come into play.
If you are going to have a roof rack with solar panels and other things up on your roof that can cause wind resistance, the fuel efficiency may suffer.
On the other hand, if you make your van build as light as possible and do all that you can to make it as aerodynamic as possible, you will reap the benefits of a fuel-efficient van.
I prefer either the Ram Promaster or the Ford Transit in the case of fuel efficiency. I also prefer a gasoline engine and in my mind, I am seeking to get between 16 and 22 miles per gallon with my camper van conversion.
My Choice and Process For Purchasing a Van
After all, was said and done on my search for the perfect van, the only two models that I was interested in were the Mercedes Sprinter or the Ram Promaster.
The Ram Promaster seems very well suited for a camper van and many of the Class B motorhomes are built on the Promaster chassis.
Right from the start of my search, I realized that the Sprinter was quite a bit more expensive than the Promaster. This was to be expected. However, it is also slightly more narrow which would make it difficult to fit my bed sideways as my layout required.
I decided to narrow my search down to a Promaster.
The difficult part was finding one that wasn’t hundreds of miles away. I wanted a used one but I didn’t want to drive all over the country to look at a van that I wasn’t even sure would work for me. I had never even stepped inside a Promaster at the time that I began my search.
I finally found one at a dealer that was less than 50 miles from where I live and it was exactly what I was looking for. I immediately called about it and went to look at it.
Once I stepped inside the van, I realized that it was perfect for what I was looking for. I knew that I would be able to build an awesome home on wheels with this vehicle.
The van checked off all the boxes on my list so I snatched it up the same day and drove it home.
The van was a 2017 Ram Promaster 2500 high roof. It had 27,300 miles on it and I purchased it for $23300.
It was well under book price so I am happy with that decision. The drive back from the dealer was a pleasure and the van seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.
Of course, it’s just an empty metal shell at this point so it seems a bit overwhelming to look into the cargo area and think about the work that has to be done to get it camper van ready.
The van buying part is over, now comes the fun part of actually putting our plan to work.