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Planing a Camper Van Conversion

Planning any camper van conversion is essential.  If you don't you could find yourself undoing work you have already done, wasting time and materials.  You'll also save yourself more than a few headaches.  By planning you can be sure you know what tasks you have to do, what order to do them in, what materials & tools you'll need and the legal processes of registering a camper van.

Over the next series of pages well look at each stage of buying, and converting your own campervan.  But before we get started, lets go over some important factors.

Budget

One of the most important factors of your conversion will be cost.  You might be building your own campervan, rather than buying one, to save money.  Unless you have endless cash the budget will drive most of the decisions you make with your conversion.

One of the most important things to do now, before you start anything is to work out your budget.  Work out how much money you will need for each part of the process.

Many people ask me "How much does it cost to convert a campervan?"  The simple answer is "Whatever you want."  You set the budget, and you build your vehicle to that budget.  There is no minimum or maximum cost.  You can have a functioning campervan for nothing, just check the Campervan conversion on a shoestring page.

However, I suspect you're willing to spend something on your conversion, so lets break things down.

  • Vehicle - You need a base vehicle on which to do the conversion.  If you already have one, great you are already started.  If you don't then you need to set a budget.  The more you spend, the better the vehicle, so the less you will spend in maintenance.  However expensive vehicles depreciate, whereas cheaper vans do not.  As a guide £500 buys a basic van, £3,000 buys a great used van, £10,000 buys a very new van.
  • Fittings - How are you going to fit-out your vehicle?  If you want all of life's luxuries then you'll need to spend a lot of money buying and fitting them.  If you just want a basic seat, bed and cupboard you don't need to spend very much.  You can spend nothing on fittings if you have what you need already, otherwise you could spend £5,000 on fitting everything, including the kitchen sink.
  • Tools - If you are a DIY nut you probably wont need to buy many tools.  if you have no tools you will have to borrow some, or buy some.  Tools get cheaper every year, so now is a great time to buy some.  The tools page has some great special offers.
  • Legal stuff - If you change your vehicle from a van to a campervan the road authorities might want to inspect it before re-categorising it, which might cost you.  You will also need to insure to vehicle.

Here are some rough costs of different campervan conversion budgets.  But remember, you set the budget.  Spend what you want to spend.

Item / Budget Shoestring Small Medium Big
Vehicle £200 £1,000 £3,000 £10,000
Vehicle parts/changes £0 £100 £300 £500
Fittings £0 £1,000 £2,000 £5,000
Total £200 £2,100 £5,300 £15,500
Example Example Example    
Comments A budget no-frills vehicle A nice camper for weekends and long trips Perfect for long term camping, comfortable for bigger groups The daddy of conversions.  Live like a king, wherever you like

Skills

Have you got the skills needed to convert a campervan?  DIY fans will have no problem.  But if you're not too handy with a hammer don't worry, you can still have a great camper.  Just remember jobs like fitting windows are tricky, especially on your own.  Be prepared to ask for help from others, especially friends or family members who have some experience or skills in campervans, caravans, DIY or engineering.  Don't forget about the forum either, there are lots of helpful people in there!

Workshops, driveways, tools and work spaces

You are going to need somewhere to work on your campervan.  A high-roofed garage is perfect, but very few of us have those.  If you have a high-top vehicle it's unlikely to fit inside your garage.  So most of us end up working on our vehicles outside,  and normally in the winter, as we prepare a vehicle for summer.  If you are converting your van with it parked on a public road you'll need to be more prepared than those lucky enough to be able to park their van in their own driveway. 

If you have a friend or family member with a big driveway, and preferable a well tooled workshop at the end of it, then your conversion will happen much quicker parked on their driveway. 

If you are serious about doing a professional style conversion then consider renting a lockup somewhere.  Professional conversions cost a lot, and the price of a lockup won't add much to the total price.

Re-classify Your Vehicle

Once you panel van is converted into a camper van, you need to change the classification with your road authority, such as the DVLA.  This is generally straight forward, and brings benefits such as cheaper road tax, insurance, and the ability to travel faster.

Read more about the legalities of changing your vehicle classification.

License

One last thing to consider before you start buying and converting vehicles is, do you have a suitable driving license to drive the vehicle you intend to make?

Laws differ in each country, but generally bigger vehicles require different categories of driving license.  Check you have the suitable category before buying any vehicle.

In the UK you can drive a Class 4 van (Sprinter, Transit, etc), a mini-bus, or smaller vehicle on a car license.  Class 7 vehicles (i.e. really big vans) can also be driven on a car license, as long as it is 'not for reward', i.e making money, and your driving license was issues before 1997.  If after 1997 different rules apply for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.

Interestingly in the UK, many Class 7 vehicles (really big vans) become Class 4 if they are changed into leisure vehicles.  This means less-stringent MOT tests, cheaper Tax and some other benefits.

Do your OWN research.  Check the vehicle and your license before spending any more.  Don't blame me for anything, I am just trying to help.  :)

Enjoy your conversion....

Comments (27)

  • Overland Si's picture
    Overland Si (not verified)

    Heya.

    I am just about to convert an LDV Convoy and found the information here very useful.

    I would just like to point out though that anybody who passed their test after 1997 is limited to a maximum weight of 3.5t, no exceptions.

    To driver anything higher than this, or even to drive with a trailer, where the total weight of the trailer and vehicle exceed 3.5t, you will need to get a new licence.

    I have done a lot of research into this, as I wanted to drive my parent's 5.5t campervan, rang the DVLA no less than three times and it was a definitive, no way round it, no more than 3.5t!

    So check your licence before the boys in blue or VOSA checkpoints pick you up, and before you spend thousands on a new van and can't drive it!

    Good luck to all!

    Mar 25, 2009
  • Darren's picture

    Thanks for the information Overland. Hope you have a great trip :)

    Mar 26, 2009
  • andy's picture

    I have a caravan with full fittings, want to find a buyer, it would be fine as the inside for a campervan conversion any idea? thanks Andy

    Jun 05, 2009
  • Alan Clarke's picture

    Hello I am looking for some parts can you please contact me on 07918876584 or ac_electrical@hotmail.com

    Jun 20, 2009
  • Big Bad Burt's picture

    Please can you tell me what sort of costs are involved in converting a panel van into a camper van when changing classifiction of use or consruction & use.
    I Do understand it depends on size of van but is there a rough idear what vosa will charge.
    Many Thanks
    B.B.B

    Jun 23, 2009
  • Phill's picture

    You can upgrade your licence of course, you'll need a suitable vehicle for the test and then the theory and practical for a class C licence, should cost about £250 in exam fees assuming you pass first time. DVLA website has information on what they consider a suitable vehicle and information on what the tests include, then you can drive anything up to a 7.5T.

    Jul 14, 2009
  • tony's picture

    i think phil is talking a load of twaddle yes you can upgrade your licence up too 7.5 tons is a c1 licence a c licence enables you to drive any ridgid vehicle on the road
    the fees he quoted were from the days of horse drawn vehicles check it out
    regards tony

    Jan 03, 2010
  • Di's picture

    could you tell me is it a legal requirement to have backseat safety belts/lapbelts for children and adults in a campervan.thanks Di.

    Oct 08, 2009

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