How to Convert a Van To a Campervan

5 min

Vanlife is what you make it, which is part of the draw for many. If you’re looking for a vintage van, decked out with wooden fixtures, you can build it. If you’re looking for a more modern campervan with minimal, and quite striking features, you can also go in that direction. Ultimately it’s about freedom, living off what you have, and doing life the way you want to. 

When it comes to converting a van into a campervan, it’s important to do your research. Through this initial step, you’ll be able to determine what you like, what you don’t, and go from there.

In this article, we are going to talk about how to convert a van to a camper van.

We will not exhaust this topic, as some of the topics require separate articles for themselves. Instead, we will cover the basics that’ll help you convert a van into a campervan.

How to Convert A Van To a Campervan

Converting a van into a camper van is certainly no easy task. However, it does not need to be unnecessarily hard either. This article will give you a blueprint on how to get started. By the end of the article, we hope you have a strong foundation on how to get started. So, let’s begin!

Here is our step-by-step guide on how to convert your van to a camper van:

1. Buy a van (of course)

2. Get cleaning

3. Take all measurements

4. Plan your setup

5. Set the budget for your plan

This “step-by-step guide” looks very simple, but we’re just beginning – it’s all in the details that go with it.

1) Buy a van (of course!)

This is the most important step in the van conversion process. Needless to say, you need to have a van to get started. But what kind of van should you buy?

Later, we will address which van is best to convert to a camper van, but for now, here is what you need to consider when buying a van.

Before deciding on a type of van, it's wise to decide if you want to buy new or used. While new might sound enticing, a used van is more practical to convert compared to new ones. Many campers mainly buy and convert used vans than new ones for obvious reasons. It’s cheaper compared to buying a new van, and many of them are in great condition. 

Before buying a van, it's crucial to thoroughly inspect the van before buying it. The first thing you want to check is its body and engine life. Make sure that the van’s body is in overall top shape. Is the van rusting to the point that it hurts its body? Are there any pests living in the van? Consider the engine as well: will it last long, at least as you expect? Remember, fixing or changing an engine can be costly!

Here are some other things to inspect before buying a van:

  • Tires – Check if the tires are in good condition or if they’re worn out. While this is a relatively easy fix, it is good to know ahead of time. If the tires are worn out, you should be able to negotiate the price down.
  • Brakes – Brakes are one of the most important factors of a car, so be sure that they work properly. Similar to tires, this can be an easy fix. If the brake pads are worn down, you should be able to negotiate the price down too.
  • AC and heater – Check if the air conditioning works properly. While you might be tempted to simply open the AC and see if it will cool down, take it a step further. In some cases, it may cool for a few minutes, only to stop cooling afterward. Check the system of the van’s AC itself. The same applies to the heater.
  • Cranking noises and leaks – Weird noises can be a sign of a problem within the car engine. Check for leaking, too, and see if it can be practically fixed or not.

It’s important to remember that you’re inspecting the van for both practical and safety purposes as well as financial purposes. When inspecting your potential van, see if the problems can be practically fixed. If they are practical, inexpensive fixes, it might be worth it. If the problems create more of a financial toll, speak with the owners to talk the price down. Otherwise, it is probably not worth the trouble. 

2) Get cleaning!

Once you’ve completed your research, browsed the market, and bought your van, the next thing you should do is clean. Needless to say, after switching owners, it typically needs a deep clean. You’ll need to clean the van from all possible grim, such as food crumbles, rust, and dirt. Make sure to wipe down all other possible fixtures that need to be cleaned as well.

If you do this process well, you can also make the van look more new than it actually is. If the van still has seats in it, this is the perfect time to remove those as well. This will begin the process to convert the van into a campervan while also making the cleaning process easier. 

Overall, take the time to clean the van and be sure that it’s 100% clean. This will help you when you begin converting your van, eliminating any problems with possible dirt or mess.

3) Take all measurements

The third step begins the real planning process. While it might sound hard to convert a van to a campervan, it's easy when you plan well.

In this step, you will begin by taking van measurements. When I say take all the measurements, I really mean all things. This includes things like wheel wells and even the windows. These measurements will matter as you begin converting your van into a campervan. For instance, you don’t want to end up with a kitchen top that’s too high for the van’s windows because you didn’t measure the window’s height properly.

Spend time taking all the measurements of your van, not just the width and height. The measurements will be crucial once you lay down your plan – and planning is our next step!

4) Plan your setup

Aside from buying your van, this is probably the most exciting part of the conversion process. Here, you will begin to plan the setup of your campervan such as where you’ll put your bed and kitchen. This is also your chance to show your creativity and personality. 

This is a great time to start a mood board of what colors, fabrics, and materials you would like to use in the design. When creating the actual set up plan, make sure you know what fixtures, spaces, and furniture pieces you want to include. 

To begin, determine what spaces or “rooms

” you would like to have. Here are some of the key spaces that are often included in campervans:

  • Bedroom
  • Kitchen
  • Workspace
  • Living room
  • Storage place for whatever things you want to bring with you (adventure gear, guitar, sports gear, etc.) And of course, storage places for essential items like clothing and food.

While those are popular options when it comes to campervan spaces, here are some other spaces you may want to add to your campervan:

  • Bathroom
  • Pet space if you have a pet
  • “Relaxation” space if you want to make your van cozier

But the setup is not only about the campervan’s design. Consider technical factors including electronic systems, kitchen systems, wifi, and others before starting. If you’re planning to work full-time from your campervan then making sure you have an excellent wifi system is crucial. If you’re planning on taking time off from working and don’t have a need for this, go without. 

One of the easiest mistakes is creating a beautiful pace and forgetting to plan around the technical needs of your campervan. Make sure to double-check this before moving past this step.

5) Set the budget for your plan

Lastly, before starting your campervan conversion, you must create a budget that includes all of the things you need to buy. The last thing you want is to embark on a conversion and realize halfway through you cannot finance it. 

If you don’t have the budget to finance the entire project, you could space it out and buy things one-by-one. This can also give you more time to create the dream space you desire.

One method that is popular is doing the van conversion in two parts. First, you start with the actual body, then the second step is decorating it. The time spent building out the body of the van might provide enough buffer room to save more money. By the time you are done, you might have enough finances to decorate the interior.

Either way, decide what works best for you and go from there. 

Which Van Should You Convert To A Campervan?

The first thing you need to consider when buying a van is the size. This strictly comes down to personal preference. If you are simply looking for a place to sleep, a tiny van might work best. On the other end of things, if you are planning to add a private bathroom, then you should browse larger vans.

It is also important to consider if you like driving large vans, as opposed to smaller, more manageable ones. Even if you love driving large vans, be sure to choose the brand and model that you know you’ll be comfortable with.

When it comes to brand and model, here are some vans that you may want to consider (in terms of size):

Large options

Smaller or compact options


Again, size is not the only factor you need to consider when choosing your van, but it is one of the main factors nevertheless. Be sure to research the gas mileage of each, the reliability, and reviews from other campervan owners. 

3 Helpful Tips to Convert Your Van To A Campervan

At this point, we already had a lot of tips on how to convert your van to a campervan. So, let’s just recap some of the key tips you need to remember when getting started.

1) Research the details

As you can already see, converting a van into a campervan can be a process. It’s important to pay attention to all details when going through the conversion process. From the interior design to the technical fixtures needed, to any possible problems, pay attention to the details.

Being absentminded when it comes to details can end up costing you in the long run. For instance, not considering your van’s space in contrast to your planned setup may ruin your plans altogether.

2) Make a renovation plan

As mentioned before, it’s best to determine a budget ahead of conversion. Whether you decide to buy everything at once or do it step-by-step, it’s crucial to determine this ahead of time. 

Oftentimes financial problems can sneak in and cause conversions to go haywire. Plan ahead for mechanical fixes, new tires, or even new brakes. That way, when you do need to replace something, it's not an unpleasant surprise. 

3) Choose your van wisely

Among other technical aspects, it is important to choose your van wisely. This might sound obvious, but oftentimes technical things can go overlooked simply because you wanted a small van. As fun as it is, van life can be easily romanticized. This can leave you forgetting how hard it can be to live in a tiny space. 

Make sure to be realistic when going through the research and buying process. Lastly, consider your driving comfort with the van – you should also be comfortable in driving the van that you plan to buy.

Converting a van into a campervan can be the greatest adventure of your life. Just make sure to utilize resources like this one and plan ahead. 

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