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: