Hitting the open road to discover wide, open spaces, amble through small country villages and meet new characters along the way is made a whole lot easier with a campervan at your disposal.
The freedom to spend a night roadside and wake up to the sun rising over the ocean or drink in vistas of rolling green hills as you sip your morning cuppa might sound like a wanderlust-fuelled pipe dream. But for those who live the campervan life, this is their everyday. So, how do you turn that dream into your very own reality?
There are a few things to consider when embarking on the journey of giving your humble van the campervan makeover. From practicalities such as materials needed for conversion, legal requirements and campervan insurance to the more enjoyable aspects including unlocking your inner interior designer and how to prepare for your maiden voyage, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.
Is it legal to convert a van into a campervan?
Before undertaking the task of investing hours into transforming your soon-to-be beloved campervan, you want to know if it’s going to be legally passed as such. In short, yes, you absolutely can convert your van into a campervan. For the more detailed answer that digs a little deeper, we take a look at what requirements need to be met for your vehicle to fall within the ‘motor caravan’ category with the DVLA, the class which covers all campervan, motor caravans and motorhomes.
In order for your campervan to legally be classed as just that, as opposed to just a regular van, it should have a set of minimum features:
- An accessible door to living accommodation
- A bed with a minimum length of 180cm or 6ft, which can either be fixed permanently to the vehicle or converted from seats used for other purposes during the day
- A water storage tank either inside or on the vehicle
- A table and seating or dining area permanently affixed to the vehicle, a loose table does not meet the requirements
- Permanent storage (a wardrobe, cupboard and locker are all acceptable)
- Permanent cooking facilities, either gas or electric powered, fixed within the vehicle
- At least one side window
Once your campervan meets all of these requirements, it legally needs to be reclassified as a motor caravan on the V5C log book. You can find out more about reclassification and registering your campervan with the DVLA.
Which van brands are the best for a campervan conversion?
If you don’t already own the van you’re hoping to convert and are in the market for something second-hand or brand new, the following brands and models should point you in the right direction.
Available in a range of roof heights and wheelbase variations, there is a Sprinter model to suit most ambitious campervan-ers. Complete with Mercedes passenger car range controls in the cabin and high-tech safety equipment, the Sprinter is one of the safest vans on the market.
One of the most popular vans for conversion in Europe, the Ducato is well-sized for a transportable home on the road with enough height for most adults to stand. If purchasing brand-new, Fiat also offer the option for specialised tyres, a lower chassis, a motorhome-specific base and even space to install a water tank.
Volkswagen T5 or T6 (Panel or Kombi Van)
Volkswagens are synonymous with life on the road, living out of a bright yellow Kombi and driving off into a Californian sunset. Volkswagen’s T5 or T6 models are a modern take that can be easily converted to a campervan and prove popular among travellers looking to invest in the change. The Trendline which is a model up includes some additional mod-cons including Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and parking sensors if your budget allows.
How much does it cost to convert a van to a campervan?
Converting your van into a recreational vehicle can be a costly venture, but ultimately can save you money long term with reductions in accommodation and transport costs. Deciding how much to spend on transforming your camper will depend on a few factors including how often you plan to use it (weekend getaways or months-long jaunts around the continent), the terrain you intend on covering, whether you use a conversion company to help with the project or take a DIY approach, and ultimately, how much you can afford to spend. You also need to take into consideration the price of campervan insurance when calculating your total costs as this may influence which vehicle you purchase if you don’t already own a van.
Cost of using professional campervan conversion companies
If you opt to bring on board a team of professional conversion specialists to help bring your ideas to life prices can start from around the £3,500 for basic installation of the interior living and accommodation areas of your fit out. Size and materials used will also be factored into the cost of your conversion, with high-end finishes and extra-large vehicles driving prices closer to the £10,000-£15,000 mark.
Cost of converting a campervan on a DIY budget
If you’ve got limited funds to revamp your van into a home on wheels, or simply want to accomplish your own DIY camper conversion this is likely the option for you. DIY conversions can cost as little as £500-£1,000 if you’re savvy, but most will average between £2,000-£3,000. Experience with carpentry will be useful when installing your fit out to ensure all the pieces fit together like a puzzle, and if you aren’t an electrician, we recommend onboarding a professional to make sure you aren’t left in the dark. You’ll need to factor the professional help for these elements of your conversion and build them into your budget.
You can save on your DIY conversion though by choosing second-hand or cheaper materials without always compromising on quality. Electing to spend money on the sturdy essentials like a good table, bed and fridge but opting for materials such as pine for cupboards will ensure you’re spending in the right place for a comfortable experience.
Key factors for planning out your conversion
You know the saying ‘fail to plan and you plan to fail’? A well thought-out plan is crucial before you pick up any power tools and splash some paint around. Make a list of the essential items you need to qualify your vehicle as a campervan with the DVLA, along with any other must-have items for when you’re on the road. This especially rings true if you plan on staying in remote destinations without the modern conveniences of late opening hours for stores.
Whether you’re handing over your van over to the professionals for a makeover or giving it the DIY treatment, you should settle on a layout before work takes place. Will you have a permanently fixed bed or seats that fold down to double as your sleeping space? Do you want your cooking space close to the doors for better ventilation or do you fancy sleeping down the back so you can spend the morning waking up to views with your doors open as you enjoy breakfast in the wild? Space is limited in campers, especially if you’ve chosen a smaller vehicle, so should be a top priority. Under seats or beds, near stoves or overhead, whichever options maximise your storage without impeding on your comfort is the best choice.
Materials and fit out
We’ve already run through the preference of a professional conversion or self fit-out, but either way, you are likely to need to decide on what materials you use and the finishes. Do you like a more lived-in, exposed timber vibe, or does a clean and minimalist approach hold more appeal? These choices will also be influenced by your budget and taste, but the opportunities are endless. This fit-out diary from Rob and Emily at The Road is our Home is a great DIY guide to taking your van from zero to hero and ready to hit the road for your next adventure.
Whether it’s a kettle so you can always sit back with a cuppa, pots and pans to make all those home-cooked meals you love or dinnerware to enjoy it all out of, these are going to be pretty essential unless you plan on eating out for every meal.
Making a home on the road shouldn’t mean you compromise on comfort, ensure you have a great pillow, duvet and some curtains to keep the sun out when you want a lie in.
Storage tubs and containers will be lifesavers for making the limited space in your camper go further. Invest in a few sturdy pieces to keep any small items stowed away so they aren’t misplaced and put larger items like extra throws or portable goods in vacuum bags or larger tubs to keep it compact.
Stuck with a flat tyre or need a screwdriver to tighten that loose screw? Keep a small kit with you not only with the necessities you would normally keep in a car but also a few extra to make repairs on the fly.
First aid kit
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but having a basic first aid kit can come in handy whether you’re suffering from blisters after hiking or need to curb a headache. Keep plasters, a few standard bandages, saline solution, antiseptic cream and some pain killers on hand for those ‘just in case’ moments.
All the fabulous extras
Now that you know what you really need, what about those things you want? Take note of how much space and budget you still have available, if you’ve got either, then there are a few additional things you might like to include for comfort or efficiency.
Although not the cheapest ‘extra’, solar panels can be extremely helpful if you will be wild camping or staying at campsites without electricity.
Portable dining table and chairs
When travelling in the summer months, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather is often best done outdoors. If you have the room to stow it away, a small portable table and chair set can be really useful. They also come in handy if you make friends on your travels and invite them over for dinner.
Depending on how long you plan to travel for, you may find it helpful to include a few creature comforts such as some artwork, books or candles. Just remember you don’t want too much clutter.
Licence requirements to drive a campervan
You’ve put all the effort into converting your van into your dream home-on-the-road that goes wherever your wanderlust decides, but what about actually driving it? To drive a campervan in the UK, you will need to be licensed to drive in one of two categories. The type of licence you need is based on your age and the maximum authorised mass (MAM) as outlined by the DVLA.
- If your vehicle has a MAM of 3.5 to 7.5 tonnes you will require a C1 category licence
- For vehicles with a MAM over 7.5 tonnes a category C licence is required
You can’t get your van on the road until you’ve purchased applicable campervan insurance. You’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money to make your dream of life on the road a reality, so you want to ensure you’re protecting your investment. Which insurance option you choose is based on how you intend to use your campervan, where you plan on exploring and how much coverage you need for personal belongings.
Choosing the right insurance means that whether you’re in the UK, Europe or further afield you’re covered by a comprehensive campervan insurance policy that protects you when things don’t quite go to plan.
Some insurance providers now offer year-round cover across the UK and countries that form part of the European Union (EU). Many of those policies also cover personal belongings and some will even cover a period for self-conversion. Motorhome Protect offer insurance policy options specifically for campervans and motorhomes to give you protection whether at home or out on the road.
Get a competitive quote for campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect today so you can look after your vehicle and its contents no matter where you are.