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What to Know Before You Start Your Van Conversion

Ready to begin traveling and enjoying the world around you, but you have a budget to stick to? Converting a van for your traveling or even living experience may be just what you require. But before you begin, there’s a lot to consider so that you have only happy travel stories to share.

Before you even start shopping for a van, it’s best to have a layout and design in mind. This way you can discover the right van to convert for whatever requirements you’ll have and be able to develop a budget.

Every person that changes a van will have a different layout because of their own unique requirements, such as whether you’ll be cooking in it and need a kitchen, or just using it as a room to sleep. When you’re drawing out your layout, remember to include multiple functions for each part inside. For example, your bed can equally be your couch and storage, and your kitchen area may be your dining spot as well as your office. You may want to squeeze all you can out of the tiny space you have.


A converted van with a wood ceiling and a bed.

When designing the conversion van, consider what “look” you’re going for. some Including flair by making a tapestry ceiling or old burlap bags may be what you want, or maybe a cleaner look of real wood paneling that you create yourself is more to your taste. Consider early on what your design aesthetic will be so you can start collecting the materials you’ll require, as well as offer you an idea about your budget.


Once you’ve checked out your layout, design, and materials, you can develop a budget. Include in this an approximate cost for the van itself. A good range to keep in mind is an average of $3,500 for your van and another $1,000 or more for tires. Include in $3,000-$5,000 for materials (not including a generator or ac/ heating unit). This makes for a total budget of around $8,000-$10,000. According to those that do van conversions for a living, that number may be on the low side, but this is including the fact that you’ll be doing most of the work yourself and using some repurposed materials.

Once you think of everything you desire the van to have and get some approximate measurements in mind, you’ll know what size van you require. Can you get by with a Volkswagen or will you require a cargo van?

Tips for Purchasing the Right Van to Convert

Now that you have discovered what your van will be used for and how much space you will require inside it, you have a better knowledge of what style of van to shop for. For most van conversions there are two types used most often and those are the Volkswagen van and the cargo van.

Volkswagen / Camper Vans

Volkswagen vans are often thought of as the go-to camper van, and as such the most sought after for van conversion, particularly since they already have some conversions done to it. The cons are that they break down often, parts are sometimes hard to come by, and they’re not so stealthy. (You can pretty well tell when someone’s living in one.) As for price, older Volkswagen vans can be seen for as little as $1,000, but just bear in mind the cost of repairs and that if you’re living in it, the space is really quite reduced.

Cargo Vans

Cargo vans are the popular option for van conversion by those who have done it. The pros include a lot of space, ability to handle heavy terrain, and stealth—when parking among other cars you blend in and it don’t look like you’re living in it. Cons are not many, but the largest one, and a big one for any traveler, is the gas mileage. You’re not going to get any more than 12-13 mpg with a cargo van. Cargo vans cost more than other van, but can often be found for under $3,000-$5,000. Keep in mind that most cargo vans will have a lot of miles on them and should be inspected thoroughly by a mechanic.

When you’ve discovered a van you’re serious about converting, you should always hire a mechanic to inspect it over so you don’t end up broken down while out enjoying a mountain view. However, there are a few stuffs you can look over yourself. Ask the owner if the van has been around some much salt to know if if will have rust issues. Next, make sure that the wear on the van and the odometer reading appears to match up and that the engine and transmission sound and run smoothly, particularly when shifting into gears. If it lurches into gear or has a delay, there’s likely an expensive transmission issue.

Legal Considerations

Don’t forget the legal part of converting a van. Converting a van to a camper van may need you to get an inspection and reclassification by your transit authorities. Every county and state has different rules and laws governing what is permitted and not allowed for legal road travel, so be sure to check with them before you begin. Also, you’ll need to call your insurance company to find out how much the rates may be impacted. A final consideration is if you have the right type of license for driving your newly converted van. Inspect with your local department of motor car to see if your current license class is best for the type and size of car you’re driving.



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