CamperVan Build – Step 0: Dream


Lets get started!

Building your own Camper Van is always more of an adventure than you originally think it is going to be. To help guide you through some of the stumbles along the way, I have created this guide to walk you through step by step how to create your own van. I’ll include my research, costs, how-to’s, and designs all supported with pictures and video from my own build. My build was in a 2006 Ford E-350 standard length with a 6.0 TurboDiesel equipped with an Aluminess Rack and Rear bumper and 4×4 Quigley conversion.

 Step 0: Dream 

It’s time to put that dream cap on and start imagining what it will be like in your van once it’s done. Go scour the internet, the InstaGram (#Van Life), Pinterest boards (camper van conversion), Google image search, grab your inspiration, and take note of what you like and what you don’t. You must make some critical decisions right off the bat and I always tell people: Choose the right tool for the job! Make sure what you’re building is going to realistically fit your needs in the long run. Where will you be taking this van (environment, paved or unpaved roads, special height restrictions)? Will you drive off road (clearance or 4×4?)? Will you be using this van for a specific sport (skiing, mountain biking, climbing, ect)? Will you be spending a lot of time in your van (comfortable, convertible)? Will you be driving frequently and for long distances (fuel economy)? Will you be cooking a lot (standing up in a nice kitchen)? Will you be in cold environments (insulation/heater)?

Then start SAVING your butt off! The van itself will cost anywhere from 5,000 (low end used) to 45,000 (used high end). If you do the camper build yourself (which I would imagine is why you are reading this) it will run anywhere from 1,000 (low end bare bones) to 10,000 high end with everything tricked out.

My van, the day I bought it. 2006 Ford E-350 6.0 TurboDiesel

CamperVan Build – Step 1: Buy Your Dream Van!


 Step 1: Buy your dream van!

At the end of the day you want to purchase something within your price range with enough $ to complete your camper conversion build. Make sure the van is SOLID before buying it. Take a friend or have it checked out by your mechanic to ensure you aren’t going to build your dream house on a rotting foundation. With that being said, you first have 3 major questions to ask yourself:

  • Question 1: Do you want to stand up in your van?!

    Standing up in your van can make a huge difference depending on how much time you spend in the van. For some people this isn’t a big deal, but for those full time van life folks, this could be a make it/break it deal. You have 3 options to grasp this dream:

    Image result for standing up inside van

    1. Purchase a stock van you can stand up in. Example: Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter
    2. Modify your van so you can stand up in it:
      • Hi-top van (Do it yourself or have the pros do it) Example
        • Pros: Standing up, more storage, not feeling so cramped.
        • Cons: It will cost you in fuel economy (drag from larger frontal surface area of your van) and will cost you $ in the long run!
        • Cost: $5,000 (1/2 that price if DYI)+ Fuel economy loss for life of vehicle
      • Pop-top Van (Do it yourself or have the pros do it) Example
        • Pros: Standing up, more storage, not feeling so cramped, will collapse and better fuel economy in comparison to the Hi-Top. The area can double as sleeping area.
        • Cons: It will cost you a lot of $ and the fabric may have to be repaired in the future. Has no insulation if used as a sleeping area.
          Cost: $10,000
    3. Suck it up and pretend to be Gollum from Lord of the Rings and love your new 4’ height.
      • Pros: It’s free (no conversion cost).
      • Cons: Losing your dignity as a human and always having to bend over to do anything in your van.
        Cost: No extra costs . . . except to your dignity . . .
  • Question 2: Do you want 4×4 with clearance?

    This is a huge consideration for people who are going to be going off-road constantly in their van. If you never plan on going 4wheeling, then just save the $ and put it into the build. Pavement regularly or 4×4 roads regularly, just be honest with yourself.

    • Pros: Peace of mind knowing you can take on gnarly terrain. Go most anywhere.
    • Cons: Costs lots of $ for the conversion and raises your vehicle height which will cost you $ in fuel economy. This can also raise the height of your van making it top heavy which may deter you from having a Hi-Top roof like a Sprinter Van. In my mind it’s either stand up in your van or go 4×4 (just from cost alone).
    • Cost: $13,000 + Small hit to fuel economy over life of van

Image result for 4x4 van

  • Question 3: Do you want a Diesel or Gasoline Engine?

Diesel Engine

  • Pros: Diesel rocks for towing a lot of weight and the engines last a very very long time (typically 400,000-500,000 miles. Good fuel efficiency. Great towing power, you can pull things with your van. Price of Diesel fuel varies less than price of gasoline.
  • Cons: The cost of general maintenance is higher with diesels. You can go 5-7,000 miles between oil changes, however the oil changes cost around 4x as much as gasoline. Price of Diesel gas is about the same as Hi-Grade (97 Octane) but sometimes equal to Mid Grade (93 octane) dependant on market. Diesel has a higher impact on the environment if you are dogging your engine all the time; however it has a higher efficiency than a gasoline engine which means you get more bang for your buck out of the fuel.

Gasoline Engine

  • Pros: Cheaper fuel, slightly less impact on environment, lower maintenance costs.
  • Cons: Engine doesn’t last as long, takes a heavier beating from wear and tear hauling your van around. Poor fuel efficiency. Gasoline engines only last 250,000 miles before having major issues.

Comparison Example: Remember this doesn’t take into account maintenance cost or environmental impact. Just keep that in mind.

Image result for gas vs diesel van
Example ONLY: Same model, 2 different options

Examples of vans that are typically converted into campers:

Mercedes Sprinter (30-45k), Ford Econoline (10-20k), Ford Transit (10-20k), Dodge Sprinter (10-20k), Dodge Promaster (25-35k), Chevy Express (25-30k).

If in your research you’ve decided to leave the work up to professionals:


CamperVan Build – Step 2: Design Your Build


Step 2: Start your Camper Van Build Design!

This will go hand in hand with the dreaming step. Take all those things you liked or disliked into account when you scoured the internet (step 0) and start throwing a few sketches of what you think it should look like. But where to start?

Choosing your Design:

What do you want in your van? Convertible bed? Stove? Sink? Toilet? These are all personal calls, so let’s start with the simplest question:

Image result for design plans

Bed Design:
  • Are you shorter than 6’ tall? If you are, you can build your bed driver side to passenger side in the van (as opposed to lengthways) saving yourself a ton of “living” room.
  • Will you be rocking solo or with a partner? If you have a partner you will want the bed wide enough to accommodate two people.

Now that you have the dimensions for your bed you can start sketching and go from there. Measure your van, figure out where you want your bed and the rest of your appliances will fall into place naturally from their required dimensions.

You want everything in your van to be as dual purpose as possible! My bed is both bed and couch when you lift the back up. I have seen beds that convert to a kitchen table and seats, all kinds of options out there. Try to make the steps in converting your bed as minimal as possible. Too many steps will deter you from ever converting it and you’ll end up wasting the effort of trying to design/pay it for the dual purpose aspect of the bed.

Image result for van bed

Your thought here should be, where do I plan on spending most of my time with this vehicle? If you are in cold climates constantly you will want some good insulation as well as a heater. Every van should have some level of insulation; it dampens sounds outside of the van, locks heat in, keeps cold out or keeps the heat out if you are rocking an AC. It helps regulate your indoor temps.

Image result for van insulation


This seems to be the area where I get most questions about because not many people have a good understanding of electricity. There are some great resources out there to help you along the way; I will attempt to make a quick explanation that makes sense.

If you plan on having power at night without running your engine the entire time then you’ll need a second set of batteries to provide that power for all your appliances. The batteries must have enough capacity to run your appliances when you are not charging them.

Image result for campervan building materials

My Electronics Analogy: I tell people to imagine the batteries like buckets of water. Charging the batteries is like filling the buckets with water. The “water” is the current that runs your appliances. You can use as much juice as you have in the buckets (which depends on their size), but once the buckets are empty you’ll have to recharge them. The size of your buckets (or charge capacity (AmpH) of your batteries) should be selected by how much energy (current) you plan to use. That will all depend on your appliance selection and how long you plan on using those appliances when you aren’t charging your batteries. I’ll get into the power calculations in the Electrical section.

These secondary batteries will have to be charged somehow. There are 3 main ways of doing that:

  1. Solar Power: Solar utilizes panels which can be mounted to your roof in fixed position or can be mobile. You want to be in an area where you have a good amount of light during the day. If you are somewhere where it’s cloudy all the time, this may not be your best choice. (I will dive deeper into exact specs of the solar system in the Electrical section below).
    • Pro: Totally separate system from your vehicle, is relatively easy to maintain, well used enough that companies make a “plug and play” system that you can just “throw in” and use. You can expand this system and add more solar or batteries if you need them.
    • Con: High costs (depending on the system you select), knowledge of electrical circuits (if you build a custom system), solar panels lower the “stealthiness” of your van (making it look more lived-in).
      Image result for solar panels on van
  2. Van’s Alternator: Your van is already equipped with an alternator which charges the van’s starting batteries. You can tap into this with an isolator and utilize this power to charge your batteries.
    • Pro: No need to spend all that ca$h money on a solar system.
    • Con: You have to modify your existing stock van wiring system, you need to run your engine in order to charge your batteries (this can be no big deal if you are moving the van constantly).   
  3. Gas Generator: I have seen people run a Honda Gas generator to provide both electrical power and charge for their secondary batteries. Mounted on the back, you’ll need extra fuel to run it, and wire it into your secondary batteries.
    • Pro: No need to spend all that ca$h money on a solar system or modify your stock van electrical system.
    • Con: Requires secondary fuel supply, can be noisy, not stealthy and you will have to secure it to keep it from being taken off the back of your van.

Sooo many options there! This is total personal preference at work. Do you like cooking with propane? Are you scared of propane in your van? Do you need a fridge? Must you have a sink? Do you want a toilet? Shower? Must have that hair dryer?!

Kindred Essentials All-in-One Kit 15-inch x 15-inch x 6-inch Deep Drop-In Bar or Utility Sink in Satin Stainless Steel, FBFS602NKITCamplux 5L 1.32 GPM Outdoor Portable Propane Tankless Water HeaterImage result for hair dryer

Most appliances you will put in your van should be running on a 12V system. Some appliances (like plug-in appliances (blender, hair dryer, induction stove) that you don’t want to hardwire into your van can be used by utilizing an inverter.

Inverter: An inverter uses your 12V DC (direct current) battery power and converts it to 120 Volts AC (alternating current) just like your outlets at home. An inverter will typically have 1-2 wall plugs on it which you can use to plug in any household appliance (you can plug in extension cords into these and run them behind your walls so you can have an outlet anywhere in your van that you want). Remember that this power conversion is not perfectly efficient so when you can hardwire something in at 12 Volts, you should. Example: Water pump for sink, fridge, fan, ect.

Image result for tiger inverter

Typical appliances I’ve seen: induction stove, propane stove, fridge, fan, water pump (for sink or shower), water heater, toilet, microwave, oven, pretty much anything you have at home.

Image result for induction stoveImage result for engel fridge DC


You need to decide early on if you are going to keep your windows (if your van came stock with them) or if you are going to insulate and cover everything. Most of the heat loss (in cold temps) or heat gain (in hot temps) is through the glass windows. You need to decide early on if you are going to keep these or not. Keeping or covering the windows will really change your storage design. Some people build shelving and closets, if you are going to keep the windows this will obviously be a challenge.

Image result for campervan storage

Building Materials:

There are plenty of building materials to choose from. I’ve seen bed frames from metal, whole builds from hardwood, ply board, pressboard, laminate, ect. I would stay away from stone for countertops and flooring because it is very heavy and can crack. You want something that will flex a little with the movement of your vehicle. I did my build from pine plywood for most of the framing, pine hardwood for counter tops, and ton-n-groove pine for the ceiling. Wood can be difficult to work with, but is the easiest to be molded or cut to the shape that you desire.

Image result for pile of wood slatsImage result for pile of metal bolts

My Design:

Bed: I chose to have side-to-side bed (I am 5’7”) that was low enough to the floor that I could still sit up in it and use it as a couch.

Insulation: This wasn’t a huge priority as I can always cuddle up in a sleeping bag and it doesn’t get killer cold in the Southwest.

Power: I opted for a solar powered setup (I live in the Southwest) more specs on system in Electronics section.


  • Fantastic Fan – Used for ventilation when cooking and cooling off in summer.
  • Fridge – I opted for a 12 Volt fridge to keep my beer cold!
  • Stove – I opted for propane, it’s cheap and I love cooking with gas. Some people are very cautious when it comes to propane gas so they decide to go with induction stoves. However induction stoves will use a lot of your battery power, they require about 1,800 Watts at full blast, which gives 1-2 hours of cooking time before your batteries may drain (depending on their capacity). There is no right answer here, just do what makes sense for you.
  • Sink – I opted for a small sink with water pump, gotta clean those dishes!
  • Lights – I went with two sets of LEDs, one bright to find things and get crap done, one for ambience and chillin.

Storage: Lastly I wanted to keep my entire build below the windows. This was very important to me as I wanted an open layout in my van and didn’t want to feel like I was stuck in a fart coffin . . . just sayin!

Building Materials: I decided to go all wood on my ceiling, walls, and floor as I wanted a nice aesthetic finish. I planned on painting the walls and main body of the bed/cabinets white while leaving the countertop, drawers, cabinet covers, ceiling, and floor its natural wooden finish.

Don’t stress if you don’t have every detail all worked out to a Tee! The design can develop as you begin building. You will have to adjust your design as you go when you realize the size and dimensions of your appliances which will fix and bound the dimensions of your build.


CamperVan Build – Step 3: Strip!


From this point forward I will be following the steps of the build with my specific design

My build was in a 2006 Ford E-350 standard length with a 6.0 Turbo Diesel equipped with an Aluminess Rack and Rear bumper and 4×4 Quigley conversion.

Step 3: Strip!

Now that you have your van, this is the point of no return, let’s strip that bad-boy down! This is the one step where it’s very easy to get friends involved.


If you offer Beer . . . They will come!

Tools/Materials Used:

Remove the entire stock interior from the front seats back to have a clean starting surface.

  • Rear Seats – Remove and sell on craigslist/ebay.
  • Rear headliner – Remove and sell on craigslist/ebay.
  • Leave the front cab headliner in, but pull it down so you can slide your wood ceiling in behind it.
  • Carpet – keep the carpet for floor templates
  • Plastic step to the sliding door – Remove (and keep)
  • Rear Plastic lip at the bottom of the rear doors – Remove (and keep)
  • Wall paneling – keep the paneling that goes just behind the front seats as you will reinstall this after installing all your wood ceilings/walls – makes it a cleaner look
  • Door Panels – Remove and discard/sell (Keep the handles!)
  • Seatbelts – Take them out and throw them on craigslist/ebay!
  • Rear Heater/AC Unit – My particular van model came with a separate rear heater/cooling unit which I removed in order to make more bed and storage space. To do this you will have to purchase a blank-off kit for the AC lines and make a ‘U’ from hose for recirculating the radiator feed and return lines. Make sure you have the AC lines properly evacuated before disconnecting them. Drain your radiator before disconnecting the rear heater core to minimize the amount of coolant you lose. Have everything you need ON HAND before doing this so you can get your vehicle running the same day. Pop off the heater core lines (have a bucket handy for remaining coolant in the heater core lines), U joint the heat core lines, use hose clamps to secure the ‘U’ in place. Separate the AC lines below the van body with a special AC line tool (you can buy this at any automotive shop), cap the AC lines with your blank-off kit. Remove the rear heater/cooling unit. Refill your AC refrigerant, refill your radiator, and go on with life.

Now you want to clean everything! If you encounter rust, you’ll want to sand it down to clean bare metal and then spray it with a rust prevention primer/paint. You don’t want your foundation rotting out beneath you!


If you discover your body is riddled with rust, this is the point where you should really debate on reinstalling everything and selling your van in hopes to find a better one. If you decide to keep it anyway, you’re in for a world of bodywork and sheet metal cutout/repair. Just know when to fold ‘em!