The Ultimate Guide for Choosing a Camper Van

Have you ever fantasized about getting in your car and driving out of town at a moment's notice? 

For many people, it isn't easy to escape spontaneously. Booking a hotel last-minute can be stressful and costly. It may seem impossible just to leave. 

Well, you can. 

With a camper van, you can experience the freedom you've always craved. Your van is the hotel, and you can take it anywhere you'd like. 

If living on your terms appeals to you, keep reading. Here is the ultimate guide for choosing a camper van so that you can start #vanlife with confidence. 

The ultimate guide for choosing a camper van

 

Why #vanlife?

Camper vans are your ticket to freedom. They are much smaller and nimbler than an RV and offer more flexibility than staying at a hotel or an Airbnb.

You can drive your van almost anywhere and do not need special parking. Some people even use their camper van as their primary vehicle, which is not something you can do with an RV or trailer.

There are many ways you can experience #vanlife. People use their camper vans as their primary residence, weekend travel accommodation, and everything in between.

A few top benefits of choosing #vanlife are:

  • You can enjoy a minimalistic, off-the-grid lifestyle 
  • You can experience slow travel and take your time visiting places
  • Vans are relatively eco-friendly (campers average 15-24 miles per gallon)
  • Vans are compact and can easily fit in your driveway 
  • They are a tiny house on wheels

Making full-time #vanlife happen

While not everyone has the flexibility to live full-time on the road, becoming a digital nomad can make that possible.

Digital nomads can work anywhere as long as they have WiFi and a laptop, making full-time #vanlife feasible.

Are you wondering how much #vanlife costs? You’ll have to determine your budget.

Determining your budget for acquiring your van

Now that we've talked about why #vanlife is terrific, let's talk budget.

What does it cost to acquire and convert a camper van? Well, that depends on what you are looking for and how much you're willing to spend. A few factors that come into play are the camper van's cost, the cost of the build, and the maintenance costs throughout the vehicle's lifetime. You can either pay more upfront for an updated van or refurbish an old one.

Buying new vs. old

Some van conversion companies will refurbish old vehicles. Vanspeed is one company that will convert 2014+ Mercedes Sprinters.

The first step to converting an old camper van is to acquire one.

Here are some tips on buying a used camper van

Determine your goals

First, you need to ask yourself, why are you buying a camper van? Your camper van should align with your priorities. When buying an old camper van, it's easy to get too excited and buy the first one you see. Make sure you take time to list everything you are looking for in a vehicle and choose carefully. After all, you will be spending lots of time in your camper van, so you want to make sure it's the right fit.

Check its overall condition

If you are buying a used camper van, you want to check out its overall condition. Numerous factors such as age, mileage, and vehicle history become factors determining the vehicle's overall health.

A few things to consider

  • The vehicles age – newer vehicles tend to have more safety features than older ones
  • Rust – cleaning rust can be frustrating and makes maintenance more challenging
  • Vehicle-specific issues – some makes and models from specific years may have reoccurring issues
  • Mileage – generally, vehicles over 200k miles break down more, but a well-maintained van with more miles may be in better shape than a lower mileage vehicle in poor condition

Budgeting for an older vehicle

Generally, buying an old vehicle will cost you less than a brand new one. However, purchasing an older camper van will likely have breakdown and maintenance costs over time. Make sure you have a reserve fund to cover these costs.

Buying New
Another option is to purchase a new vehicle. There are several excellent options for different budgets.

Here is the rough cost of a new vehicle (not including camper conversion): 

Vans that cost less than 50K

RAM Promaster
One excellent option under 50K is a Ram Promaster. Features that this vehicle offers are the following:

  • Wheelbase length: 118", 126", 159" WB
  • GVWR (gross vehicle weight): 8550, 8900, 9350 lbs 
  • Roof height: low and high
  • Up-to-date safety technology

Ford Transit
Another fantastic choice under 50K is the Ford Transit. Highlights for this van are the following:

  • Height: Low, mid, and high roofs
  • Length: Regular, long, and extended
  • GVWR: 8,550-10,360
  • Smart vehicle technology

Vans that cost more than 50K

Mercedes Sprinter
If you're looking for a model over 50K, the Mercedes sprinter is a top choice. It has a high price tag but has top-of-the-line features, including:

Excellent customer service

  • Consumer-grade comfort on 2019+ models
  • High roofs & Low Roof (great with pop-top)
  • Wheelbase length: 144" and 170" WB
  • Premier safety technology

 

Mercedes Sprinter top-of-the-line features

 The bottom line for newer vehicles

Newer vans come with a higher price tag than older vehicles but have top-notch safety features and run more efficiently. The resell value also tends to be higher with these types of camper vans.

Overall budget

If you would like a better idea of what your total budget might look like, get a custom van conversion quote here.

Van features to consider

Budget isn't the only thing to consider when choosing a van. While it helps to determine how much you want to spend, you should also think about how you will be using the vehicle. There are many features to consider that will determine the right camper van fit for you.

Time in use

How often will you be using your vehicle? Is the camper van going to be your home? Are you using it for part-time travel? Is it your primary form of transportation? These are some questions to consider when choosing a camper van. Determining how you will use it is an essential first step.

Parking (where to park overnight)

Another question to consider is, where will you be parking your vehicle?

While camper vans are generally small, they vary in size. Some can fit into a regular parking space while others take up more room.

Do you need your vehicle to fit into a regular spot, or is a larger space okay?

Roof size

Another consideration is the size of the roof. Camper vans typically have low, mid, or high roofs. However, some vans have pop-top ceilings.

Do you need to stand in your camper van, or is that not as important to you?

Extra seating

Something to think about is your seating needs in the van. You'll want to consider who will be using the seating and why they will be using it. Seating customization options for vans include single, double, and bench seats. This addition should be installed by a professional. It ensures the safety of you and your passenger.

Install extra seats in your camper van

Van width and height

Van width is another factor to contemplate. What width will you need to accommodate all of the features you want to put into your van? How much physical space do you and the people using your van need?

Height is also crucial in a camper van. Two excellent camper van choices for tall people are the RAM Promaster and the Mercedes Sprinter (with cut-outs and extensions). Flares are always a great addition to any build to optimize space.

Camper van build types

The basic camper van build has a kitchen, bed, storage, a floor, ceiling, and walls. However, you can adapt your camper van to suit your lifestyle. A few examples of camper van customizations include:

Insulation

Insulation is a must for all camper vans. Of course, it protects against heat, cold, and noise, but it can do so much more. No matter where you live, the elements can affect you and your vehicle.

Having high-quality insulation can protect against the following:

  • UV rays and light
  • Mold and mildew
  • Weather-related leaks
  • Condensation
  • Pests
  • Dust
  • Corrosion and rust


There are numerous options for insulation. The most common insulation types are organic, spray-on, and 3M Thinsulate.

Organic
If you're looking for non-toxic and sustainable insulation, organic is the way to go. Examples include sheep's wool and hemp. One downside to materials like sheep's wool is that it can smell at first, but once that disappears, you'll have a well-insulated van.

Spray-on
Spray-on insulation will not mold and is water-resistant. If you apply it yourself, make sure you know what you're doing. If you're not careful, it can be challenging to fix your mistakes. It can be pricey to have it professionally installed, but it is one of the best options.

3M Thinsulate
Thinsulate was initially a liner in cold weather clothing but now insulates camper vans. It's breathable, non-toxic, and allows moisture to escape while reducing heat flow. It can be pricey but does a great job protecting your van.

Insulation for your van conversion

Additional camper van build types

You can further build out your camper van by customizing it for your needs.

Families may appreciate a build type like the Vanspeed Evergreen Dream design.

If you like to go mountain biking frequently, you may consider something like the Vanspeed Loft.

Camper van owners with pets will find that any Vanspeed build works for them.

Camper van build options at Vanspeed Shop


Camper van build options

Now, it's time to get to the nitty-gritty with your camper van build. If you want to spend ample time in your van, you'll need specific features.

Shower

You can install a permanent indoor shower or opt for a temporary outdoor shower. The Vanspeed "Loft" design has both options.

Toilet

Toilets are something else to consider. Camper vans are already tiny, and adding a bathroom might not be the most appealing add-on.

Some people forgo the toilet and prefer to use public restrooms while out. If you need a bathroom in your van, you can bring a portable one or install a permanent cassette toilet connected to the water system that you can dump at a restroom or station.

Roof rack

Three popular roof rack companies are Aluminess, Prime Design, and Vanspeed. All have great quality racks, so your choice will depend on your design preference.

Solar

Choosing the right solar panels to power your van depends on your energy needs.
A great size for a vehicle-mounted system is a 100-watt solar panel.

The two main types of solar panels are flexible and glass.

Flexible

Pros

  • 100-watt panels only weigh four lbs
  • Mount easily
  • Aerodynamic and gives you better gas mileage


Cons

  • Overheat easily
  • Tend to bend
  • Only last 5-10 years


Glass

Pros

  • Inexpensive (typically)
  • Resistant to snow, rain, and heat
  • Last over 25 years


Cons

  • Can drag down your car, reducing gas mileage efficiency
  • More difficult to mount and dangerous if not mounted properly
  • Can weigh around 16 lbs


The two main types of glass solar panels are monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Both types serve the same function, but monocrystalline is more efficient and sleeker.

The Van Mart sells high-quality Zamp Solar panels that come with a 25+ year warranty.

Fridge

When it comes to camper vans, there are many fridge options.

The two main types are camper fridges (12v DC) or dorm fridges (110v AC).

Both fridges work well. It's a matter of your personal preferences and needs.

Most commonly used is the Isotherm Fridge & Freezer combo. They come in different sizes, as well as fully separated units.

Camper van fridge and freezer options

Water tank

You'll need a water tank in your van that meets your needs. Some things to consider are how much fresh water you’ll need, water tanks span from 22 Gal to 40 Gal. This goes hand in hand with your grey water and black water tank. Typically these other two tanks are smaller.

Vent fan

Vent fans are essential to keep your van cool in the summer and prevent winter moisture.

One of the top vent fans on the market is MAXX AIR because of its high power, built-in rain shield, and maximum airflow.

You will need one to two vent fans depending on the size of your camper van.

Windows

Windows are another way to customize your camper van.

Some of the top window suppliers include CR Laurence sold at The Van Mart.

 

Top van windows for your camper conversion

Shore Power

Shore power means plugging your van's electrical system into a 110v plug to power the vehicle or recharge the battery.

While solar power is a popular primary power choice for vans, it's good to have shore power as a backup.

Make sure to check RV Parks and Campsites before your journey to make sure you have the correct necessary plug-ins.

Who will do the build?

Now that you have soaked up all of this information and are ready to go, the real question becomes, who will build your camper van?

There are two main routes that you can go. If you are very handy, you could DIY it. If you're not into DIY or don't have time, a camper van conversion company can help you out.

DIY

Why DIY?

The DIY route is excellent for individuals who aren't afraid to teach themselves how to do a van conversion. It helps to have some previous experience or knowledge about building and have access to some tools.

Pros to building it yourself are that it is budget-friendly, and you can get started immediately. It also works well for people who don't need a full build at this moment.

How long does it take?

The time it takes for you to DIY your camper van will depend on your skills, resources, and budget. It also varies based on how full your build is.

How much does it cost?

Cost also varies depending on how comprehensive of a job you are doing. You can opt for some low-cost options to meet your budget needs.

Hire a camper conversion company

Van camper conversion companies make it easier for you to go from purchase to use.

Build time

Build time can vary drastically depending on the camper conversion company.

A company like Vanspeed can build your van within four to six weeks.

However, most other companies can take more than two months, and there may be a waiting list.

Kits

If you want to partially DIY your van, you can buy a kit from a conversion company and install it yourself. Full kits range from $4,000 to-20,000, but you can also buy just one component. It is easier than a DIY project but cheaper than a custom build. Some kits even boast a 3-hour installation but can take up to a month to ship.

Custom

Custom van builds are pricier than a DIY or van conversion kit, but it comes with all of the bells and whistles. It can take four weeks to a few months to complete and costs between $20,000 and $100,000.

Camper van conversion options from DIY to custom builds

Bottom Line 

Now that you've learned all about camper vans and their features, we would love to hear from you! 

What van will you choose for your camper van, and what features will you select? What will you use your van for, and where will you be going? 

We'd love to hear if you intend on living in it full-time, part-time, or for short adventures. 

Let us know your plans in the comments below! 

Need someone to help you build your camper van? Click here.