Van Conversion Mistakes – 10 Things NOT To Do

Van conversion with window hole cut in side

If you are going to be converting a van to a camper, there are some things that you should avoid. I made plenty of mistakes during my van conversion and some of them could have been avoided if I had put a little more thought into it. I wish I had someone to point out a few things to me before I got started with my van conversion. It would’ve saved me lots of headaches, time, and money along the way.

No matter what, you are going to make a few mistakes along the way. Mistakes are part of the process and you’ll learn from them and move on. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when they go into a project like this that can be avoided. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid some of these types of mistakes?

The following list contains things that I experienced along the way that I wished someone with more experience would’ve told me beforehand. Some of these may seem a bit obvious but others may not. Hopefully, these will help you along the way on your journey of converting a van.

1) Taking On The Challenge All By Yourself

Unless you are super skilled at pretty much everything, taking on a van conversion challenge all by yourself is a daunting task. I had a little help along the way but I spent most of the time working on the conversion all by myself. It was a struggle as I had to become an expert in all parts of the entire process.

The planning and execution rested on my shoulders and all the mistakes were mine as well.

No matter how good you are at certain things, you can’t possibly be good at every single thing that is involved. I was good at some of the carpentry work but the plumbing, electrical, and overall strategizing was a little over my head at times.

If you are going to do this, it’s best if you have someone that will work with you from the beginning and will stick with you until the end. Two heads are better than one and if you try to do this alone, you will have many sleepless nights and frustrating hours.

This will all depend upon your skill level so if you know you can handle it all by yourself, go for it. However, if someone had told me how difficult it was going to be from the beginning and told me that it would be challenging for one person, I may have decided not to do it or I would have enlisted reliable help before I even started.

2) Being Too Rigid In Your Design

If you have already planned your van build and have it down on paper, be prepared to change it. There will be times along the journey that you will need to do something different than you originally thought. If this is your first van conversion, be prepared to change things up a bit as you go in order to accommodate unforeseen problems.

If you are a pro at this and have done it before, you probably already know what you’re doing so this won’t apply to you.

Someone who has never done this before will tend to be rigid in their design and know exactly what they want.

This was me.

I knew exactly what I wanted and I went to the end of the world to accomplish it. This was the result of lots of frustration while working on the conversion. I eventually had to give in and change a few things to make the entire process easier along the way.

I learned to be more flexible as time went on and it helped me to get through some of the challenging parts of the conversion.

Don’t be afraid to change things up a bit as you go because there is no right or wrong way to do it. The goal is to have a living space that works for you. If you can accomplish this more easily, then don’t spend so much time frustrating yourself with a rigid plan that you had from day one. Give yourself permission to change your plans when the current plan isn’t working the way you want.

3) Expecting a Quick Build

When I purchased my van, I expected it to be done within six months or less. To me, this was a very doable timeframe. I purchased my van in September and my goal was to have it fully completed by the end of March of the next year. At this point, it would have been almost Spring and the perfect time for taking my first trip.

What I didn’t realize was how difficult the van conversion was going to be. I thought since it was such a small space, I would be able to knock it out in no time. I was surprised once I got going and realized how fast time was slipping away from me and how little I had gotten done.

On top of that, it was wintertime and freezing cold outside. This weather made me want to stay in the house and not mess with the darn thing.

After all, was said and done, March 31st of the following year came and I was halfway done. It ended up taking me nearly another six months to finally complete my conversion. It was around September when I finally got to a point that I could say it was finished. I was finally ready to take it on its first journey as a van conversion a year after I purchased it.

4) Setting Budget Too Low

I initially budgeted $6000 for my conversion because I wanted to keep it simple. I didn’t think that a simple set up would cost so much in a small space. I had already thought this through ahead of time and made a spreadsheet of the costs that I thought would be associated with the van build.

Needless to say, I was way off. I ended up spending over $10,000 when it was done. This was much more than what I had initially planned for. There were many reasons for this and some of the reasons were because I changed things along the way. I opted for more expensive solutions that would be easier to work with.

One example is the insulation. Right off the bat, I started with a higher price in insulation than what I had planned for. I chose 3M Thinsulate for the entire van and it was one of the most expensive insulation options available. It was a good choice though because it was easy to install and saved me a lot of time. Read about that process here.

Just know going into your conversion that whatever your budget is, it’s probably too low. You will run into unexpected things along the way that will jack the price up further. Plan for unforeseen problems to arise so that when they do, you aren’t alarmed. Hopefully, you’ll be closer to your budget than I was to mine.

5) Not Chunking It Down Into Small Steps

An entire van conversion can be an overwhelming project to think about. If you are going to take on a huge challenge like this, you must chunk it down into small steps. Focus on one small thing at a time and don’t move on until that is finished. I made the mistake of trying to do too much at a time. My mind was always focused on the entire van and it was overwhelming.

I finally smartened up and chunked it down into small steps that I could take. I focused on one area such as the shower. I only focused on the shower and only on what I could do for the next step in the process. I didn’t think about anything else until that step was finished.

Working in this way will help you to stay on track and accomplish small things. Once you have accomplished all of the small things, you will be amazed at the large project that you have completed. Whatever you are working on, put all your brainpower into that one thing. Don’t daydream or stress about what you are going to do next or in another part of the conversion.

6) Underestimating OR Overestimating Your Skill Level

Chances are, you can do some pretty amazing things but may not even know it. There were times during my van conversion that I thought I couldn’t accomplish a specific task. I assumed that I would have to hire someone to do it for me. The electrical and plumbing systems are two of these tasks.

I didn’t want to end up with a dangerous electrical situation or a leaking plumbing system. However, I pushed forward and discovered that it really wasn’t that hard. I had the skills and knowledge to get the projects done. Not only that, but I also had the internet to do my research. We live in a time where you can learn how to do anything in the world by looking online.

The same was true for cutting in my window. I was a little nervous about it and considered taking it to a body shop to get it done. This ended up being very easy as well and now I’m glad I did it.

Don’t let doubt make you abandon parts of your conversion.

On the other hand, overestimating what you can do can be just as bad. If you are certain that a task is over your head, don’t attempt it because you may end up cutting corners and creating a dangerous situation. If in doubt, ask for help from someone who may know a little more about whatever it is.

7) Planning Too Far Ahead

When you start with a van conversion, it’s easy to look way ahead to the finished product. The dream of having the van fully converted sometimes seems so far out of reach that it can be depressing. When you are starting with an empty van or one that needs a lot of updating, it can be easy to plan so far ahead that you lose sight of the small things that need to be done right now.

It’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to run into problems along the way. When you plan too far ahead, these problems can take you off course and threaten your whole project. It’s great to start with a plan but don’t put your focus too far out. Put your focus on the here and now and what you are working on.

8) Not Adding Windows Or Other Ventilation

Many people avoid adding windows or other ventilation to their van because they want to remain stealthy. This is an oversight that I believe most people will regret in the end. I can say for certain that I would not enjoy my van nearly as much if I had not added one window and a Maxxair roof fan.

Whether you add a fan or windows or a combination of both, The airflow that you get from these will make life much more enjoyable. It can be very hot in the summertime, especially without any kind of ventilation. Ventilation is a lifesaver in these hot situations and can make it feel very pleasant inside the van.

People may think that additional windows will allow the sun to heat the van up. This is true if you don’t use window covers but window covers are easy to make and can block out most of the heat. The airflow that you will get from the windows will be well worth the trouble of installing them.

9) Not Considering Resell Value

During your van conversion, you will want to consider that there might be a time that you will put it up for sale. If you just go ahead with a unique layout that only suits your very specific needs, you may miss out on being able to sell it in the future.

I have seen a lot of van conversions that are so customized that I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to purchase it. The more you customize a conversion to only suit your needs, the more you may eliminate other potential buyers in the future.

Interests come and go so you may find yourself wanting to sell your van not long after converting it. If you create a van that is accessible and user friendly for the majority of people, you will be better off. I made sure I thought this through during my conversion and I questioned everything I did, making sure that it would be something others would probably like.

I’m not saying that you should convert your van only to sell, it’s just that including a layout that the majority of people can use is just a smart idea.

10) Taking Shortcuts

In speaking of resale, taking shortcuts is another way to ensure that reselling your conversion is more difficult. If you are going to do something, you might as well do it right. If there is something that you don’t know how to do, rather than take a shortcut to get it done, consult with or hire someone to do it for you.

Things like this will come back to haunt you in the future and bad work will have to be fixed. If you do things right the first time, even though it may be more difficult, it will look better and last longer. When it’s time for you to get rid of your camper van and sell it to someone else, some of these shortcuts may scare off potential buyers.

Not only that, but shortcuts taken along the way could make for a dangerous situation. Take the time to do things right the first time around and you will rest easy knowing that it was done with quality.


Converting a van to camper is a big challenge to take on. It can be a long process and if you don’t take some of these suggestions, you could find yourself becoming discouraged along the way. I know because I’ve been there and I had to stop and re-think my plans quite often.

Mistakes along the way are inevitable but some of these mistakes may be blessings in disguise. You’ll have to redo something and realize that the way you re-did it works out better. Just trust in the process and know that nearly everyone that converts a van has to struggle through certain parts of it.

Just keep pushing ahead and it will all be worth it in the end.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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