Van conversion: picking your van

Research for a van conversion

If you’re like me, you tend to spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to do something before you really commit to the idea. My wife and I spent months finding the best looking recreational vehicles across the web. We started out looking at conversion vans and thought those might be too much work (maybe we were right?). Then we thought it’d be fun to remodel a Class C RV. The kind of homes that were built on a truck chassis and generally had a place to sleep above the cab. Then we found out those were most likely going to be above our budget, were relatively hard to find in our area, and that was not something we were willing to purchase without getting an inspection done.  We came back around to designing a van to our exact wants and needs.

Decide on a layout

This might seem like a weird order. But if you think about what you want up front, it really helps narrow down your choices later. Do you want a queen sized sleeping area, miniature kitchen, bathroom? You are going to have to get some ball-park measurements because vans come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen a camper van built from a Toyota Sienna. If indoor space is something you need, this isn’t going to be your best option. If you want something to do the basics while you go camping, it does everything you need!

Image source: Mini yet mighty

Pick a van

Once you have decided on a layout for your home on wheels, you can start researching the van types that will fit your needs. For us, that meant finding something we could stand up in, spacious enough to sleep 2 people, big enough for a shower, and give us enough of a kitchen to live out of.

Now, owning a home on wheels means you have to consider more than just the “home” part. The ‘wheels” are important, too. The vehicle you choose needs to be reliable, easily maintained, and (if you aren’t mechanically inclined) have a good number of qualified service centers. We decided to go with a commercial vehicle, which means if we run into a problem we lookup the nearest Ram dealership. Ultimately, remember to choose a van with both the “home” and the “wheels” in mind.

Here’s another section where you can define some ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. We made some sacrifices in this area to keep our van purchase around $25,000

  • Relatively high mileage (58,000 for a 2017 vehicle)
  • No cruise control
  • No power mirrors
  • No GPS system
  • No backup camera

The list probably goes on, but we try not to focus too much on what we aren’t getting.
Check out our van

Different types of vans

When talking about building a camper van, there are typically 3 that come to mind: The VW bus, the conversion van, and the cargo van. Each one has it’s own pros and cons.

The Vanual does a good job of explaining different types of vans and why you might consider each of them.

VolksWagen Bus – the hippie van, great for camping
Cargo vans – a completely blank slate
Conversion vans – ready for a road trip

Find the right camper van for you

Ok, you’ve figured out your general layout, wants, needs, AND decided the type of van you want! Great work 🙂 Now all that’s left is to look around at the local and greater area markets to find something that fits into your budget. This is where it starts to get tricky. There are a lot of places to buy vehicles, which can seem like a good or a bad thing. It’s good because there are a lot of choices. It’s bad because there are so many choices.

Here are a few resources I used to compare prices:

Ultimately, we were able to find the vehicle of our dreams using the awesome filters available at CarGurus. For example, we knew we wanted
A Ram Promaster van
+under 100,000 miles
+159″ wheel base
+Gasoline, v6 engine
+Under $25,000 USD

All of these were available to us for filtering on the website


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