So you want to know how to convert a van into a camper van?
Well that’s that’s not a simple question to answer. There are many variables to consider. However, I have tried to simplify the question and outline what I see are some of the most important factors.
1. Find a suitable vehicle:
- Unless you’ve got the skills to work on engines and weld bodywork, choose a vehicle that is in good mechanical and structural condition. If you are not going to be using the vehicle on the road as you’re converting it, then a long MOT (annual inspection) is less important than a long service history. Here in the UK you will be able to look at any advisories on the current MOT certificate. These will highlight any work that will need doing in the future when the camper van is finished and ready for the road.
- Choosing a vehicle which already has windows fitted (such as a minibus) will save time and money. It’s easier to blank out any unwanted windows than it is to fit new ones.
- Consider choosing a vehicle with a sliding side door for access. Rear doors are also handy – you can position the water, gas and toilet at the back of the vehicle and access them from the outside, which is what I did in my camper van conversion.
- Think about the height of the vehicle. Do you need to be able to stand up inside? If so, you will need a vehicle with the height to allow for that – but be aware that many supermarket car parks have height restriction barriers, so you may not be able to just drive in and do your shopping!
2. Remove all the interior:
Start with a clean slate by removing the vehicle’s interior, unless –
- The vehicle has a decent roof lining. If it has then consider keeping it as this will save a lot of work. This is what I decided to do in my campervan conversion.
- The vehicle has a ply lining. Again consider leaving it in place as this could be useful and provide a good foundation to build off.
3. Check the floorpan and chassis for corrosion:
You need to make sure that you are building on solid foundations.
- It wasn’t until I removed the rubber flooring in my vehicle that I discovered the floorpan was corroded in two places and needed welding. If I had just built straight onto the rubber flooring without first checking the condition of the floorpan then I would missed this. I’m so glad I found out before I started on the conversion rather than at the time of taking the camper van for its MOT test.
4. Plan your conversion carefully:
The success of your camper van conversion will lay in the planning. Before you reach for the cordless drill, be clear on how you intend to use the camper van and what facilities you’ll need.
- Think about how much seating you are going to need?
- What about storage?
- Do you need a cooker? if so, where is the best place to position it?
- Will you need a fridge? Again where is the best place to position it? – If it is near a heat source or if the ambient temperature is too high then the fridge will not work efficiently (or maybe not at all). If possible, position the fridge in the coolest part of the vehicle. The fridge will also need to be vented (which means cutting holes in the vehicle). This will need to be considered when deciding where to position it.
- Do you need a toilet? You may not have the room for a dedicated bathroom but perhaps you could fit a portable toilet under one of the seats just in case of emergencies!
- If the campervan is going to be used in cold weather then insulation will be required. With insulation comes ventilation, you will need good airflow to help stop condensation.
Some other things to think about:
- What about electrics? Are you going to run everything off of a 12v battery? Or do you intend to install mains hookup? If you’re just going to use a 12 volt system then it would be a really good idea to install a 2nd battery (leisure battery) so you don’t run down the vehicle’s main battery. If you do install another battery, then you’ll need to fit a split charger. A split charger will charge both batteries and isolate the main battery from the leisure battery, making sure that you always have enough power to start the vehicle. The leisure batteries sole purpose will be to run the 12v lighting, water pump, etc.
- You will need containers for drinking water and wastewater. If these are going to be built into the camper then you will need to think about how you will fill and empty the containers when you’re on a camping site. Removable, rather than fixed water containers are in my opinion a better choice. I had two removable containers that were fitted at the back of the camper van for easy access. They were both sealed (spill proof). I was able to fill up with water before leaving a site knowing that we always had fresh water with us for a cup of tea!
5. Create a mockup of the layout:
- Source/buy most of the stuff you intend to fit in your camper van: cooker, fridge, toilet, seating/cushions, lighting, etc. Ebay is an excellent place to find most of the parts you’ll need for your build, as are caravan breakers.
- Mock up the layout using the seating/cushions and appliances. Then use masking tape to zone off areas for the kitchen, bathroom, etc. Walk around the space and imagine living in it, to see if the layout works. Make changes where necessary.
- A great way to fit a lot into a small space is to design multi-purpose furniture. For example, seating or a dining table that makes up all or part of the bed.
- Finally, accurately measure the internal space, and all appliances, seating, etc. Then either use a 3D modeling software like Sketchup. Or a piece of graph paper to draw a scale model of your layout, so you can try different configurations before committing to the build.
6. Fit the flooring:
Decide on suitable flooring for your camper van.
- Carpet is good for soundproofing and warmth/insulation but it’s not so easy to keep clean.
- Laminate flooring is a good choice. As is lino/vinyl flooring, especially if an underlay is also used. Laminate flooring can be relatively inexpensive but is going to be quite heavy and can be trickier to fit around wheel arches, etc. Whereas vinyl flooring is easy to fit (use paper or cardboard templates to accurately map the floorpan before transferring the pattern to the vinyl flooring). Both types of flooring are easy to keep clean.
7. Start building:
- Using your plan, break the build up into smaller ‘mini builds’. Take each area and concentrate on designing and building the particular piece of furniture, drawer or cupboard for that area.
- Use hardboard templates to make patterns of any complex profiles like wheel arches or where the side of the vehicle joins the roof.
- Where possible use lightweight materials, this will help with fuel economy.
- Make sure that everything is securely attached to the vehicle so there is no way it could move if you need to brake suddenly.
- Make sure that you can easily run all electric cables to sockets and light fittings. And that the cables are free from obstructions and sharp edges/objects. This also applies to water and gas pipes. Include access panels to any cable, water and gas connectors, just in case you need to get to them in the future.
- To avoid damage to any of the finished surfaces, complete the fitout and live with the layout for a while. Then make changes if necessary. It is good to do this before removing the interior to paint and varnish the surfaces to create the final finish.
8. Reclassify your vehicle (UK):
There are certain benefits to reclassifying your vehicle as a campervan (one being cheaper insurance). You will need to inform DVLA of the changes that you’ve made so they can change the vehicle’s classification on the V5C log book. For your conversion to qualify as a camper van it has to have the following:
(Information below is taken from the DVLA website.)
- A door that provides access to the living accommodation.
- A bed which has a minimum length of 1800mm or 6 feet. This can be converted from seats used for other purposes during the day but must be permanently fixed within the body of the vehicle.
- A water storage tank or container on, or in, the vehicle.
- A seating and dining area, permanently attached to the vehicle. The table may be detachable but must have some permanent means of attachment to the vehicle. It is not good enough to have a loose table.
- A permanently fixed means of storage, a cupboard, locker or wardrobe.
- A permanently fixed cooking facility within the vehicle, powered by gas or electricity.
- A least one window on the side of the accommodation.
Finally, give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the fruits of your labour:
Now that you’ve completed the van to camper van conversion, it’s time to hit the road. There are many wonderful places to explore and loads of great campsite to stay on. So what are you waiting for!