I have approximately 10 years’ worth of van conversion under my belt. From short to standard busses, all the way to Sprinter vans, regular vans, and converting SUV into living spaces. I wouldn’t say that I have done it all, but I would definitely say there hasn’t been one that I haven’t been able to convert.
Typical Van For Conversion
The typical van conversions consist of three (or 4) typical vans. The Ford E-Series (or Econoline), The Chevy G-20, and the GMC Vandura. I have rebuilt all of these and I have found that they are typically the same. From stripping out the insides to rebuilding it into someone’s dream home, there have been relatively little differences between these vans. They all look like a hollow shell once everything is ripped out. If you are looking for space, I would suggest the G-20 or the GMC Vandura.
VW Type-2 (Bus)
We’re going to focus on this option separately. Many first-time van//bus converters like to choose this option. Namely due to the nature of its history. This IS the figurehead when it comes to living in a van. For many, its the history behind it. For someone like me, all I can see are issues. The VW Type-2 and its predecessor the “Vanagon” are amazing vehicles, but a fully functioning and rebuilt model can cost you way more than you need to spend. Another aspect is that even if you purchased a rebuilt model, then you will most definitely run into mechanical issues at some point and they can be costly.
Still, many decide to take this route knowing that they will spend a lot more than what they need to. Let’s be real though, your home-built conversion van won’t be your be-all-end-all home so I can understand why some couples will go all-in on their adventure.
Stripping The Van
If you are using a standard utility van, then you can strip almost everything out. This will leave you with a standard blank canvas to convert it any way you please. If you purchase a conversion van, then you might either want to keep things the way they are or remodel it. I have done both. The latter is significantly easier and even if you want to rearrange things, you can simply take them out and put them back in where you want them.
With a blank canvas, you need to purchase materials and put the time and labor into building everything yourself. I enjoy building a “theme” for vans. From the conceptualization of my customer to the development and execution of the job, I like seeing how the whole process evolves. Many other van-livers feel the same. If it is going to be your house, then you want to have your house a specific way.
Either way, you’re going to need to throw in some elbow grease, throw on some heavy metal and rip everything out of the van.
Van Conversion: Making it Your Dream Home
The building process is substantially more time consuming, but in this stage, I think its the most fun. This is where most people feel excited about the process. The goal is to design the right features to adequately accommodate for effective space measurement. There is an infinite number of ways someone can develop their dream home. The best way to figure this out is to simply do a quick Google search. Take a look at each layout and find the one that speaks to you the loudest. From there, its a matter of putting up some wood flooring and installing them the way you like. It’s not exactly hard, but it requires some work.
Installing Solar Panels
This is typically one of the most expensive additions to your van. With so many options to choose from including the battery (and how many that you may need), this process can be difficult. In some cases, all I have had to do was simply install the panels on the roof and run the wiring down the inside into a series of batteries. Other times, I’ve have to design a way to run a direct line from the solar panels to the battery of the actual vehicle. Either way, its what you want. I always suggest installing solar panels, they provide you with the basic accommodations to make your van/bus feel like home
The End Result Will Have You Happy
Not every camper van is fully designed and built before the owner wants to take it out on the road. This is okay. As long as you have the basic necessities in order to live, then you are all set. I would say that a good percentage of the vehicles that I have worked on in my life are approximately 80% complete before the owner says something like “Alright! The house is built, now it’s just a work in progress!” This is true and you should not feel bad about having your van, not 100% complete upon starting your journey. Much like purchasing a starter home, there are things you might want to keep as well as parts that you would like to replace. It’s all up to what your standards are.
You Adventure Begins With Your Conversion Van
WAIT! Hold on! Before you go, you should know that problems can and will arise. From mechanical issues to car accidents, you can’t be certain of anything while on the road. Make sure that before you head out that all basic upkeep is kept on the vehicle as well as being prepared to spend some money on the van while you’re journeying the countryside. You can’t avoid every issue, but you can prepare effectively. A true journeyman (or couple) will have the know-how to make it through! Good luck!