Van Conversion

I knew I had to visit many places over a long term (with a cat) and the best mode of transport had to be a camper. This would allow me to travel, work, cook, sleep and occasionally poop in relative comfort. There is a growing community of people opting for this lifestyle and I didn’t have any trouble finding inspiration in some of most incredible self-build camper vans from the most extravagant to the more obscure.

My van was bought for £1600 with 165,000 miles on the clock. It was dirty but the frame was clear of rust, the engine seemed good, exhaust system in tact and clutch felt like it still had a lot left in them. Later, after purchase, I noticed smoke coming out of the exhaust which sent the chills down my spine but the problem was quickly solved when I looked inside the air filter and replaced a dilapidated filter with Greggs bag inside it. I also forgot to check the threads on tires, brake disks and pads – all of which had to be replaced for close to £800. So not the bargain I had thought, but it was mine and it was going to save me a lot of money on rent.

Having never used even a jigsaw before, I decided with some ill-founded confidence that there’s enough information online that, with a bit of patience and perseverance, I could probably build a camper myself.

All the tools you need to convert a van

As you can probably imagine, I made countless mistakes in the process. The most significant being the estimate for the time of completion. I vastly under-estimated the amount of time I would sit in front of a blank sheet of paper, churning out measurements and ideas, modifying them in my head, testing it out on paper/model. Or on the laptop, ploughing through thousands of images and websites about details on how to do each and every task as I have never done anything like this before. Or the difficulty of working full time night shifts and having to drag out all the tools to do an hour or two of work, then tidy  it all away – repeat daily for 6 months.

If I was to do this again, I would most likely spend 2/3 months planning as I work, then quit work to spend a month intensively building. The bitty nature of fitting it in between work makes it highly inefficient, having to spend a quarter (some times half) of your time bringing the tools out/ tidying or sitting and pondering on what I’ve done previously. 

But I do think the time spent in preparation and design pays itself in the long run. I am super happy with the layout and there isn’t a lot I would change having lived in it for nearly two years. Also the skills I have accumulated would allow me to build my next camper or a tiny house in half the time. 

So here are some key steps. I will be linking pages to each step as I go.

1. Cleaning and insulating

2. Cladding

3. Electrics/solar

4. Frames and structures

5. Gas and water system

6. Other

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