Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
Buying a van for a conversion, either to live in full-time or for the weekends away and holidays, is the first port of call for many wanting to life on the road, the freedom, the peace and tranquillity and the ability to get away from the complications of urban grid living.
Along your journey, you’ll meet new and interesting people of all ages. Van living isn’t just for the young folk among us! With so many vans available, it’s difficult to know which would be the best one to buy, but don’t worry, we’re here to help you get it right and avoid making a terrible mistake before you even get to sleep in your van!
FUTURE PROOF YOUR VAN BUILD CONVERSION – Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
Firstly, when Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van, you need to decide what the van will be used for.
Always ensure you future proof everything, that includes the choice of van. Building your van now, for your current situation, may not be suitable for your future situation.
Whilst selling your van and buying another, possibly another conversion, is an option, it’s better to build your van conversion to cover any future changes you are likely to encounter. This might be more directed at the younger generation, where considering if you need a single bed, or a double could be an important factor.
You also need to consider what the van is mostly going to be used for, it might be that you are an avid canoeist, climber, surfer, artist, or need your van to carry out work assignments and therefore may need a 230v power supply for most of the day to power and charge your laptop or a DSLR Camera.
These are critical things to consider, after all, once you have built your van, making changes is often a little difficult once you have boarded it all up and insulated it
There are, as we said, hundreds of different van styles out there and it can get confusing for someone who isn’t familiar with vans at all. So let’s start with the basics…
VAN SIZE – Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
The size of the van is probably the most important consideration. Whilst some are happy to bed down for the night in a small van suitable for delivering letterbox mail, others prefer, or need more room and comfort.
If you intend to be Buying A Van For A Conversion to live in, and you want to live off grid, it is fair to say that a larger van would suit your needs far better and would certainly be heading in the right direction to future proofing your needs. In a “medium” size van, you are able to stand up without crooking your neck all the time, unless you are exceptionally tall.
The other consideration is how confident or experienced you are driving a larger vehicle, especially down narrow country lanes or on steep hills. Whilst we understand it can be daunting at first, it really isn’t much different to driving a car, you’re higher up and you do have a lot more bodywork behind you but other than that, it’s pretty much the same. In fact, most vans aren’t that much wider than a car, vans simply have less in the them.
It is surprisingly easy to drive a larger van conversion that you may realise and with a little practice, you should find you take to it like a duck to water.
VAN CONDITION – Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
Sadly, due to their constant daily use, vans can get pretty beaten up and some can look a little ugly, with dents and rust all over the panels. Vans are designed for one purpose, to transport goods, tools, furniture and so on, so it’s no wonder they have a hard time.
You can however, from time to time, find one that’s either been well looked after, or been used for light work.
Vans are commonly known to have high mileage, many are whizzing up and down the country and used as courier vans, so you will need to expect a higher than average mileage if you want a bargain.
As long as it has good clear service history, the engines can go on to do as many as 300,000 miles. Don’t be put off by high mileage vans, if looked after well and has a full service history, the engine may still have many miles and years of life left in them.
Be weary of low mileage vans being sold cheap, always check for signs of high mileage, such as; heavily worn out seat(s), flooring, steering wheel, gear stick and peddles, often show signs of heavy use or wear that is not indicative of the mileage.
Rust is a big issue for van converters, one of the worst feelings is having bought your van, only to lift the old and tattered flooring to find huge rust areas, sometimes, with sections of floor rotten right through and even parts of the chassis, this is unfortunately not good and the cost of repair can run into thousands.
Sadly, these situations can be very costly. You’ll need a welder if your van is discovered to have serious rust issues, to cut out the bad and weld replacement sections in. Each new section has to be a continuous weld. it can’t be spot or tack welded or it will fail the MoT.
The most common areas for rust are; wheel arches, under the plywood flooring, in the recesses, under the cab floor, bottom of doors, roof, and front of vehicle where stone chips hack away at the paint and of course the main chassis.
For larger dents and areas where the skin of the van has been crumpled, it will need more work or the hand of an experienced panel beater or body shop. Body work can be expensive but it can also be a good way to get a bargain if you don’t mind getting the work done to make it look cosmetically appealing again.
The great thing about working on a van conversion is that you gain access to the panels from the inside before you start converting the van and adding insulation, allowing you to use your panel beating skills to knock the worst of the dents out and possibly patch, fill, smooth and repaint.
YouTube is a great source of information with plenty of “How to” videos to help you out.
Some mechanical issues aren’t always noticeable until you’ve bought the van and got it home. It always pays to get a qualified mechanic to inspect the van before parting with all your money, for the sake of £100-£200 it could save you ££££’s.
Common issues and reasons for selling may include,
- clutch failure (slipping in high gear or heavy on the foot, juddering when pulling away etc)
- head gasket failure (white gunk on the underside of the oil cap)
- gearbox failure (whining noises or difficulty selecting gears)
- failed MOT
- Brakes and hoses/pipes (visible obvious corrosion on brake lines)
- Diesel injectors (causing smoke to bellow out when putting load on the engine, or rough engine sound) all of which can be costly to replace.
It pays to check the suspension too, especially the leaf springs at the rear to see if the van has been overloaded and caused fractures in the leaf springs. Tyres, and how much wear is left and is the wear even (look for bald patches on the inside rim which could indicate tracking issues).
General service and repair history, has it been well maintained, serviced on time and had any major work carried out, such as cam-belt change, clutch, alternator etc
SCAMS – Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
Be very cautious when buying a van from a private trader, there are some genuine people out there but there is a growing and alarming number of scammers about.
They often ask for a bank transfer deposit to secure the van before even going to look at the van.
When you arrive to view the van you are often met with a confused homeowner who has nothing to do with the sale, clearly you’ve been had! Sometimes you may find the homeowner has already had 3 or 4 people turn up that day, a sign that the scammer has just made a great deal of money and left innocent buyers a few hundred pounds out of pocket.
DO NOT PUT A DEPOSIT ON A VAN UNTIL YOU HAVE SEEN IT, OR ITS A REGISTERED TRADER
Buying A Van For A Conversion from a trader can provide assurances but nothings full proof. You may get extra warranty with a trader though, often 3 months, however, this may not apply if you start converting your van.
Bear in mind, most traders will charge 20% VAT and needs to be added on to the price, which can sting a little.
Pay special attention to buying a van without the V5 in the owners name or business name, unless it’s from a trader or an auction. It is advisable never to buy a vehicle without the V5! “I’m selling for my brother, uncle, mothers daughters fathers son, the dog” is all too common a saying.
It may be that it’s stolen, or the person selling is a private cash trader buying crap from auctions to sell at a profit, you may as well do that yourself and take a gamble.
Make sure you do a HPI check on the vehicle using a reputable company. Many vans are bought on HP (Hire Purchase), leased or on loans. A HPI check from a reputable company will show if the vehicle has been written off, stolen or on finance.
We don’t use anyone other than www.hpicheck.com as they are the industry leaders in vehicle checks and the information can be relied upon. You can get apps that do the same or similar thing for a few quid cheaper but many people have been let down by these as the information can be inaccurate or not updated
AUCTION SITES AND SOCIAL MEDIA MARKET PLACES – Buying A Van To Convert Into A Camper Van
Be cautious when Buying A Van For A Conversion on auction sites and social media platforms, which is often a breeding ground for scammers and con artists. DO NOT depart with ANY money until you have been to see the van and it all checks out OK. You have been warned!
MOST POPULAR VANS FOR VAN CONVERSION
in no particular order…
- Mercedes Sprinter LWB (Long Wheel Base) Medium Roof
Mercedes are known for reliable German engineering. The sprinter is very roomy for a live in van conversion but the older ones do suffer from rust issues and repairs can be a little pricey
- VW Transporter
Popular with young families and image conscientious folk, these little vans are reliable and trustworthy. The downside is that because the VW Transporter Vans have created an image, the vans and any extras tend to be pricey.
They are also very small and better suited as a day or overnight van than an off-grid camper
- Peugeot Boxer LWB Medium Roof
A good solid and dependable van with plenty of space. Low mileage examples can be hard to find at the price
- Fiat Ducato LWB Medium Roof
Utilises the same/similar components as the Peugeot but often found to be cheaper due to the branding
- Citroen Relay LWB Medium Roof
Again, similar design, and components to the Peugeot and Fiat but becoming more of a popular choice for van builders
- Vauxhall Vivaro
Similar to the Ford transit in terms of build quality and reliability. Cheap on parts, cheaply built and can be unreliable
- Ford Transit LWB Medium Roof
One of the most popular commercial vehicles off all time. Parts are readily available but expect costly repair bills on older models due unreliability issues, rust and engine issues. Older models suffer badly from rust so ensure you check under the floorboard.
- Renault Traffic
Similar to Peugeot build in may ways. Can be cheaper to buy but cheap plastic and old styling components used.
LDV vans are known to be dependable workhorses but also suffer with rust issues, they look a little dated now compared to other vans of similar age
If you want plenty of space, you will need to be thinking about getting a LWB (Long Wheel Base) van. This will provide suitable room for your bed, a seating area, a kitchenette and possibly a shower and toilet as well as a garage space for your electrics, water/gas storage, or even a mountain bike
For headroom, you will need to be searching for a medium or high top van, this will allow you to stand up straight, unless you are taller than the average person. Usually, once the headlining and insulation has been installed, there’s enough room for a 5’9″ tall person to move about inside comfortably without having to crank their neck.
If you want a home from home on wheels then you will need to consider getting hold of a small minibus or coach, the build principles are the same, just on a larger scale and budget.
Always get the vehicle checked over before you buy, by a competent qualified mechanic or inspector. It could save you a lot of money and tears!
All the vans are easy to work on as they all have the same or similar storage areas, some are more square, whilst others can be angled, it just means you may have to be a little more creative with your design.
Many vans come with a bulkhead (the large sheet of steel behind the cabin where the driver and passenger sits), this is to prevent any cargo from slamming into the driver under heavy breaking.
You can remove these easily as they are just bolted in. Most van converters prefer an open plan, which, gives the appearance of a wider more spacious area. You can also add swivel mounts to the drivers or passenger seats so they become your seating for your living area.
This is the first stage of converting your van into a home, a living space, try not to too stressed or anxious. Be vigilant, take your time and don’t rush, you will find the right van eventually and it will provide many years of happiness and joy