Whether you’re thinking of an ideal staycation option or of quitting your office job and hitting the open road, converting a second-hand van into the ultimate in camplife comfort is a dream of many. That sense of absolute freedom and adventure on your own terms really can’t be beaten!
From the legal requirements for conversion and finding the best campervan insurance to outfitting your van with the very latest developments in comfort and functionality, there’s plenty to think about. Particularly if you’re new to the van conversion club!
If you’re wondering where to get started then read our top tips on converting a van into a home, you won’t look back.
- Consider all the options when choosing a van
It’s all too easy to get your heart set on a van that might not be quite right for you. From old school VWs to lovable vintage vehicles sometimes our heart can overrule our head and put the perfect conversion in jeopardy. Often these older vehicles can actually be quite small compared to modern vans and lack many of the technical features that make conversions a success.
It also depends on how you plan to use the van. If you’re looking forward to some outdoor adventures in far off places then you’re going to need to carry a variety of different types of equipment. And some of that kit is going to have pretty specific requirements. For example, expensive mountain bikes or windsurfing gear is going to take up a lot of storage space and require added security. Campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect can cover such expensive items.
A good option in these situations is to look for a van that’s as square as possible, that way you’ll be able to fit the most storage in. From the ever-popular VW Transporter or Fiat Ducato, to the medium wheelbase Peugeot Boxer or high-top Renault Trafic there are many choices out there. Or if you’re really set on adventuring, then why not invest in a Mercedes Sprinter 4x4? With seriously chunky wheels and unrivalled driveability you’ll be prepared for any terrain.
- Be clear about your budget
People looking to convert their own campervan do so for a whole range or reasons and with a whole range of budgets. But whatever you’ve got to spend, making sure your vehicle is in good mechanical condition with low mileage and a good service history is vital. Indeed, a decent older van with fewer miles may well prove a wiser investment than a newer van that’s been driven too hard. Make sure the chassis is in good condition and watch out for rust spots – sorting out corrosion can be a long and expensive job.
You’ll probably be able to pick up a pretty decent medium-sized van for around £3,000, or something closer to £10,000 for a large van. And remember to factor in those conversion costs, from screws to solar panels it all adds up!
- Plan, plan, and plan some more
The unexpected will always materialise at some point in a campervan conversion but if you plan everything upfront you should be able to avoid costly disasters. After all, the last thing you’ll want to do is pull up a beautifully laid floor or rip out those expensive wall panels because you forgot an all-important step during the build. From fitting windows and ventilation to access to water tanks and gas taps it’s far better to follow a plan than to wing it. While mistakes can be remedied it will cost you more time and money in the long run.
Pen and paper can be fine, provided you are precise when it comes to measurements and scale. However, there are great 3D modelling software packages on the market such as SketchUp. They’re perfect for getting your layout just right. Either way a carefully considered layout will make it easier to try different ideas and configurations, before even touching your precious vehicle.
- Keep within legal requirements every step of the way
Once you’ve converted your van you’ll need to get it reclassified as a ‘motor caravan’. But the DVLA has some strict requirements that need to be met first. These include:
- Seats and a table that are permanently fixed to the vehicle, although the table top can be detachable.
- A bed with a minimum length of 180cm or 6ft, which must be secured as a permanent feature. The bed can be converted from seats used for other purposes during the day.
- Permanently secured cooking facilities. A minimum of a single ring cooking facility or microwave fixed within the vehicle.
- Permanent secured storage such as a cupboard or locker.
- Two or more windows on at least one side of the main body.
- A separate door that provides access to living accommodation.
Once you’ve built your campervan to meet all of these requirements, you’ll need to ask the DVLA to reclassify it as a motor caravan on the V5C log book.
- Choose the best quality you can afford
Using the best materials you can afford in your self-build conversion is something you'll never regret. There really are no shortcuts when it comes to achieving a high-quality build that will stand the test of time. That said, some materials can be bought on a budget that do not affect the quality.
For example, heavy duty plastic containers are incredibly versatile and perfect for storage throughout the van. They are comparatively cheap and easy to buy from a range of suppliers, so they’re straightforward to replace if necessary. As well as being very robust they are also easy to clean – perfect for those who might have dirty or sandy kit in their van. No one wants to be sanding down hand-made wooden drawers when you could just get out the pressure hose instead!
- Second hand and recycled materials can look great
Just because something is second hand or recycled doesn’t mean it isn’t top quality. For example, if you’ve got an old wooden wardrobe then reusing the wood can save you money and ensure a unique and beautiful build.
Remember though, you need to put in the time if you want it to look good. Ask any craftsman and they’ll tell you that properly finishing a job makes all the difference. Repeated sanding and multiple layers of paint and varnish will leave a much more professional finish than a quick once over with a brush!
- Search high and low for parts to create that unique build
As well as sourcing used parts from eBay or other owners, remember to scour your own home and the local DIY store for inspiration. Repurposing items from your cupboards, loft and garage is a fun way to add that personal touch to your van build.
The possibilities are simply endless – from vintage biscuit tins and old spice racks to plastic guttering and metal buckets, take a look at Pinterest and you’ll see hundreds of ideas for you to use in your conversion. Getting that Insta-look doesn’t need to break the bank.
If you’ve had any recent plumbing work done or are in your local hardware store then a really cool idea is reuse some copper piping. It’s a really versatile and available material that’s relatively cheap – but also really beautiful. From stunning bespoke taps and cupboard handles to curtain poles and picture frames you can hardly look at a campervan conversion these days without spotting a bit of copper hiding somewhere in the build!
- Know when to call in the professionals
There’s a lot that needs doing in any campervan conversion. DIY experts may feel pretty confident, but what about everyone else? And are there some jobs that really need professional input? From fitting tricky windows and doors, plumbing sinks and toilets to installing gas and electric and fitting furniture there’s a lot that can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. You could damage your precious vehicle or even put your health and safety at risk if you don’t know when to draw the line.
Depending on your skill level and the amount of time you have, many of these can be done by a keen DIYer. However, gas and electric installations must be certified so leave these to the professionals.
- Get creative
While you’ll no doubt spend many happy hours looking at other people’s vans for inspiration there’s nothing better than putting your own personal mark on a conversion project. From reclaimed wood shelving, cushions made from vintage fabrics and interesting upcycled materials, the possibilities are limitless when it comes to creating a personalised look. As long as the foundations are solid, there’s no reason why you can’t give full vent to your creative impulses.
A great idea to bring everything together is to decide on a theme for a van and use that during the conversion. So, if you’re a surf fanatic why not use old fins as quirky coat hooks or wetsuit material for cushions or hanging storage – perfect for stashing everything from your phone charger to your surfboard wax. You could even use an old surfboard as a shelf – or even as a cool table. Just because you can't ride it, doesn't mean you should throw it away....
- Treat yourself to a spot of luxury
When the weather takes a turn for the worse or the road trip isn’t going according to plan, you’ll be glad you made your campervan as comfortable and homely as possible. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to at the end of the day when things get bumpy. We like the idea of adding Smart TV with Netflix to a van, so you can cosy up with a film if it’s too wet to explore outside.
Lighting is another key part of getting that feeling right. You could go with the ever-versatile LED lights to a mixture of a number of light sources. Xmas lights, household lamps, and candles all have their place in giving your van-life that unique sense of home. If you use real candles be sure to never leave them unattended.
- Don’t scrimp on the mattress
Getting a good night’s sleep is the route to a successful van trip, so getting the bed right in your conversion is one of the most important things to do. From the latest ‘Rock n Roll’ bed to a platform bed with a luxury foam mattress, you’ll feel the benefit of every pound you spend. Don’t cut costs when it comes to bedtime.
- Secure everything
Security is an important part of van conversion from your tools and equipment during conversion to the van itself and its contents. You’ll want to make sure that everything is always safe and secure.
And when you do finally set off on your first trip in your new van, everything must be firmly attached or packed away. Fragile items like mirrors and ornaments which stay in one place in your bricks-and-mortar home will move around a whole lot more in your home on wheels!
Get the best campervan insurance
Not only can campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect cover your campervan while you are converting it but there are a whole range of other benefits available, too.
Once you’ve spent so much time, effort and money making your van-life dreams a reality, you’ll want to ensure you’re protecting your investment.
There’s a whole range of insurance options on offer depending on how you intend to use your campervan, the places you plan on exploring and how much cover you need for personal belongings.
Whether you’re in the UK, Europe or further afield the right insurance policy will mean you’re protected when things don’t quite go to plan.
Many of our policies also cover personal belongings up to £3,500 and campervans with a value up to £150,000.
Discounts are available if you’re a member of a motorhome or campervan club while quotes are also available for customers with claims and convictions.
Get a quote for campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect today so your vehicle and its contents are covered no matter where touring life takes you.