If you fancy driving off into the sunset in your own converted motorhome, you’re not alone. The vanlife trend has shown people how liberating and fun it can be to make your own home on wheels.
A motorhome conversion is definitely a great project to undertake, but it takes time, planning and hard work.
What do you need to know about making your own mobile living space? And how do you go about getting motorhome insurance for your renovated vehicle?
Think through why you want a converted motorhome
Vanlife is brilliant. Heading off in your motorhome gives you a sense of freedom and joy in the simple things in life.
Just hearing the rain patter on the roof, birds singing in the morning or stopping for a bite to eat beside a stream – there are so many ways a converted motorhome can enhance your life.
This creative lifestyle inevitably means compromising on mod cons. Depending on the size and design of your van, your facilities for washing, cooking and using the toilet are likely to be basic.
You also have to cope with very limited storage space, so you have to be selective about what you take.
It’s a good idea to consider how you plan to use your converted motorhome.
Will you head off for the odd weekend, or spend longer periods in it? Do you plan to go abroad, or do you just want it as a place to hide away on weekend afternoons? Maybe you want to use the van as a base for sporting activities such as surfing or hiking? Do you plan to use it as accommodation at festivals in the summer?
If you plan to stay at campsites in your motorhome, you can probably do without facilities such as a toilet, shower, and so on – freeing up valuable space.
Minimising the kitchen element might also work if you plan to eat out a lot when you’re away, or don’t mind roughing it with a camping stove.
A motorhome conversion is not something you can complete in a weekend.
It takes time, effort and money.
The cost on paper might be less than if you bought a motorhome, but factoring in your time and the possibility of making expensive mistakes, and it might work out cheaper just to buy one that’s already done!
That said, the allure of creating your own personalised space means conversion projects can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Choose your vehicle carefully
The first thing to find is a base vehicle. This is your blank canvas to build up into a tiny home.
Of course, it will have to be within your budget. Some vans are popular choices for conversion, such as the VW Transporter, Mercedes Sprinter and some Ford, Fiat and Renault vans.
If you’re not set on making everything from scratch yourself, you can often buy furniture kits ready-made for these vehicles.
You will need something suitably sized to fit your plans, but beware – larger vehicles are generally harder to manoeuvre.
A short wheel-base model can be a better choice if you’re less than confident when moving a vehicle around in tight spaces.
Engine size is another key factor. Are you planning to head for the hills? If so, you might want a powerful engine to avoid an average speed of 10mph.
If you want to travel long distances, for example by driving through Europe, you might also want a bigger engine. The pay-off is in cost; the bigger the engine, the more fuel you will use.
Don’t forget the basics that apply when buying any vehicle.
Do you find it comfortable and pleasant to drive? Try it out in a variety of settings, including a town centre and open country.
Think about whether it has enough space, and look for service history and defects. You could ask an independent mechanic to check for faults, leaks and defects before buying.
You will need insurance for your base vehicle – check whether you need insurance for the vehicle in its original condition (van, horse box, minibus etc) or motorhome insurance to suit the new use.
Plan, plan, plan again
Rushing the planning phase of your conversion project is a definite mistake.
It takes time and research to choose the best layout for your motorhome and make the right decisions about things like fittings and materials.
Squeezing a bed into the vehicle is obviously the major challenge. There are lots of ways to do this, from corner seats with an added part, fold-out beds, or roof compartments.
Most people go for a double bed, but you might choose a single or two singles, depending on your needs.
If you have the space, a permanent raised bed with storage underneath can be a good choice, saving you the hassle and effort of putting the bed away each day.
Be sure to research what others have done with their vehicles, especially if they were working with the same base vehicle as you.
You can learn a lot from other people’s successes and failures!
When planning, start with the underlying structures first – how much space will extra insulation and cladding take up? Where will the water tank go? How will you fit in an electrical system?
Once these are in place, you can think about fitting in a bed, seating and kitchen – only at the end should you start planning the smaller touches and thinking about decor and so on.
Play about with your plan until you hit on the right configuration.
Know your limitations
Motorhome conversion is meant to be fun. If you bite off more than you can chew, you could get stressed out and potentially produce a dangerous vehicle.
Some jobs are best left to a professional, such as gas and electrics. These must be certified, so you need to know what you’re doing.
Other tasks where you might need help from a pro include plumbing, insulation, fitting a water tank, upholstery, fitting windows and doors, fitting a kitchen and installing cupboards.
Sorting out the floor and wall panels of the van is also an area where it makes sense to call an expert, as it’s easy to cause expensive damage to the vehicle if you do make a mistake.
Rather than building your own storage units for the vehicle, you might use a conversion specialist or opt for pre-manufactured flatpack kits.
Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of work for you to do in other areas!
Stock up on tools and equipment
Depending on how much of the conversion you plan to do yourself, you will need lots of tools and kit for working on the motorhome.
Essentials include a quality jigsaw for trimming wood to fit fiddly curves on the vehicle, a drill for putting together cupboards, fibreglass kit and cladding.
It is hard to overstate the importance of insulation and cladding in a campervan – it helps you keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
If you don’t use enough, your motorhome conversion may be uninhabitable for much of the year.
You will also need a variety of electrical equipment to make your motorhome conversion comfortable and convenient.
Consider a 12V battery to power appliances, a rooftop solar panel, a split charge relay to charge up batteries on gloomy days, a fuse box and a 12V fridge.
Don’t forget to check whether your motorhome insurance covers loss of tools stored in the vehicle – you may need to take these away with you after each session working on the motorhome.
Take time on the finishing touches
To make a motorhome conversion really homely, a little effort in the details is required. Curtains, pictures, fairy lights, new bedding can all make a difference.
A brush of paint or the use of colourful patterns can increase your enjoyment of using the motorhome.
The goal should be to avoid feeling cluttered, while still fitting in all the kit you need.
You will also need to think through your daily routine and work out how the motorhome will provide for this.
You might need certain kitchen implements, somewhere to store groceries, a mini washing line, cleaning products, a space for beauty products and a mirror – hunting for the most compact, user-friendly options for these things is all part of the fun.
You will become an expert at efficient storage. There should be a place for everything, and everything in its place – boxes and hooks help to stop items from moving around when you’re on the move.
Plastic storage boxes can help to keep your belongings dry and organised, but these will also need to fit into the van easily.
A foldaway table and chairs that can be used outside the motorhome is really useful, effectively increasing the space you use when camping.
This is all the more important if you are hitting the road with children who go to bed earlier than you. There’s nothing better than chilling outside at the end of a long day with the kids.
Understand the legal constraints
It is vital that you know what the law says about motorhomes, otherwise you could end up with a vehicle that is not permitted on the road.
Weight is an important area. The data plate of the vehicle will say the maximum legal weight permitted.
You should take the base vehicle to a weighbridge to confirm the weight (with a full fuel tank) before a water tank, fittings and appliances are added.
Then when planning, be sure to check the weight of fixtures before purchasing them, to make sure they do not take you over the weight limit.
Don’t forget to factor in the weight of passengers in your calculations.
There might also be some limitations around what your driving licence permits you to drive.
A category C1 licence permits you to drive a motorhome with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes.
A category C licence is required to drive a vehicle with a MAM of over 7.5 tonnes. If you do not hold a category C licence, you will need to take a test to upgrade.
There are limitations on the size of motorhomes under UK law.
You will not be able to register a motorhome if it is over 12 metres long or 2.55 metres wide, not including mirrors, rear bumpers, lamps or reflectors.
The motorhome can be any height you wish, but a notice showing the height must be placed where the driver can see it if the vehicle is over 3 metres tall – this is so you can check before driving under low bridges, barriers and so on.
If you are new to motorhomes, you should also be careful to look up the law on overnight camping, unless you plan to stick to campsites.
Simply parking up in a beauty spot might land you in trouble, depending on where you are.
In Scotland, ‘wild camping’ is permitted in most places, but in England and Wales you generally need permission from the landowner.
In some areas such as the Lake District and parts of Dartmoor, wild camping is permitted.
If you choose to park up on a normal street, you could find the police come knocking on the door.
The law around sleeping in motorhomes on streets is a bit of a grey area, but police sometimes move people on from roads and laybys, especially if they receive complaints.
Public car parks also often ban overnight sleeping, camping and cooking, as well as placing limitations on the classes of vehicles permitted to park.
Get reliable insurance for your motorhome conversion
A converted vehicle needs to be reclassified with the DVLA, so it is legally registered as a motor caravan in the VC5 log book.
This will also indicate that the vehicle now has a different gross weight.
It’s hard to say at which point you should insure the vehicle as a motorhome rather than it’s previous vehicle type.
A good rule of thumb is to work out how much you have invested in the vehicle – for example, when cupboards or appliances have been installed.
Remember, if these are lost, stolen or damaged your existing insurance is unlikely to cover the loss, so take out motorhome insurance as soon as possible.
Some motorhome insurance policies recognise the conversion process takes time.
Companies offer cover for the process of conversion, provided that the project is completed within a specified period and according to given criteria.
Do you need quality motorhome insurance to protect your conversion project? Contact Motorhome Protect today for a quote.