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The Van Conversion Series: Choosing Your Vehicle

Thursday 5th December 2019
By Ely Power
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By Ely Power

Find The Right Foundation For Your #VanLife Creation


Cover image by Simon Rae on Unsplash

The first step towards your dream camper is finding a vehicle to support your vision. The bones of every build, this is probably the most difficult decision you’ll face on your journey to van life. And the variety of van types doesn’t help - from Sprinters to schoolies, you’ve got a whole lot of options to weigh up!

While some vans deliver on extra space and features, others are more city-friendly or cost-effective. Essentially, the perfect fit rests in your needs and wants. You’ll have to buy a van that respects your budget, complements your camping style, and suits your vehicle maintenance abilities.

Choose wisely and you’ll never look back, cracking on with your conversion from the get-go. Make a mistake and you can expect costly corrections and roundabout routes to completion. Worse still, you might even end up settling for a so-so setup after all that hard work.
 
Overwhelmed already? Fear not.

If you’re reading this blog, we’re guessing that you’ve decided to take on the awesome DIY task of creating an abode for the road. But that doesn’t mean you have to brave this challenge alone - a little expert advice goes a long way. 

So, to help you find the best van for your camper conversion, we’ve put together some tips and pointers for a flying start. Nail the first step and you’ve already won half the battle!

As a van owner, you can earn over $10,000 each year by hiring it out on Camplify. As a holidaymaker, Camplify helps you to find the perfect rental so that you can experience the joys of van life without having to own one yourself. 

Interested? Learn more about Camplify here.

What To Consider When Choosing A Van


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

On top of the technical factors involved in selecting a standard car, you’ll have to consider heaps of additional aspects when picking a van for your conversion.

What’s Your Budget?

First and foremost, you need to stick to your budget - and the best way to do this is to buy a used vehicle. If you’ve made the smart decision to go second-hand, classifieds sites are your new best friend (check out our favourite platforms for finding a van). For more advice on going down the preloved route, head over to our ultimate guide to buying second-hand vans!

Not only do you have to consider your purchasing power, but also the maintenance costs involved in up-keeping whichever van you buy. It’s best to stay away from vintage models and rare makes if you can’t afford to fix them in the future.

Last but not least, always consider the resale value of any vehicle you purchase (particularly if you’ve gone into this with the aim of making a profit from your newly converted campervan). You don’t want to invest more money than it will be worth, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

The quality of your build, the extra features you install and the number of berths you include will all add to your van’s value. That said, arguably the most important factor when reselling a campervan is the dependability of the vehicle itself - its make and model will influence its value more than the style of its living space.

For example, a 2005 Toyota Hiace (a model renowned for its reliability) could get you up to $12,000. Compare that to a 2005 Kia Pregio, where you’re looking at about $5,000. Get more used van valuations here

Can You Manage Maintenance And Repairs Yourself?

On a related note: do your research on which makes and models are the most dependable, especially if you plan to maintain the van yourself! Vans like the Toyota Hiace, Mercedes Sprinter and Mitsubishi Express are old favourites for their reliability and functionality. 

No matter what, make sure to get the van examined by a mechanic before you buy it. There’s nothing worse than discovering an expensive issue down the road and having to spend your money on its resolution instead of your conversion...

How Much Space Do You Need?

Although you can tailor your layout to create a unique interior, you can only work with the finite space in your vehicle. To bring your vision to life, design your dream layout before you buy a van. That way, you’ll have an idea of whether the vehicle can fit your desired facilities, number of berths and level of storage. 

Do you have to sleep a whole family or just you and your partner? Do you want to bring your surfboard or mountain bike along? Are you happy with a solitary sink or do you like the idea of a kitted-out kitchenette? Do you dream of camping in the wilderness with a self-contained van? If so you’ll need a bathroom… All of these features influence the amount of room you’ll need.

And while you might not be able to accommodate your designs down to the last mug hook, you can get as close to it as possible if you choose the right van size! 

Where Will You Roam?

Certain van types will be better suited to your adventures, depending on the destination, climate and travel conditions.

  • Will you go off-roading on the regular or will you stick to sealed roads? If it’s the former, you’ll want to buy a 4×4, as well as avoid any low or heavy vehicles.
  • Will it be hot or cold? This will influence how much time you’ll spend in your van, and in turn how much living space and air flow you’ll want.
  • Will it be humid? Better stay away from any makes and models known for rust.
  • Will you be doing lots of miles, or favouring slow travel? If you’re planning to cover lots of ground, go for a newer, lighter model.
  • Will you have to park your van in large cities or parking garages? Best to go for a smaller vehicle.
  • Will you become a full-time van lifer or only use your van on the occasional weekend? You’ll need more space, storage and facilities for long-term roams. 

The Best Van Types For Conversions


Equipped with your criteria, it’s time to pick the base vehicle for your camper conversion. To help you search for the right van amongst endless listings, we’ve included a run down of the most popular options on the market.

Vintage Volkswagens


Is there anything cooler than a Volkswagen camper? From the old Kombi bus and Vanagon to the newer Eurovan, these classics are truly iconic. Just in case you didn’t want one already, you can even find VW vans that have been converted into pop-top campers by the Westfalia Company (and therefore known affectionately as Westies). With heaps of headroom when parked, some of these Insta-worthy vans can sleep up to four people!

Unfortunately, the price of VW vans has surged alongside the growing van life movement. Even if you manage to unearth a cheap Westy tucked away in an old warehouse somewhere, you’ll face frequent breakdowns and eye-watering mechanical issues if you don’t spend the dollars to completely rebuild it.

That said, many people are drawn to the romance of a retro Vanagon. There’s a charm in mastering a pre-computer engine, fixing it on your travels, and adding modern touches to a vintage vehicle. If you’re good with your hands, love a little tinkering and have dollars to spare, a VW van will be a dream come true.

Pros
  • The classic campervan - these will always be cool
  • Close-knit community of VW van lifers
  • Many are pre-converted for life on the road, so making it your own is relatively easy

Cons
  • Tend to be more expensive than panel and cargo vans 
  • Notorious for frequent breakdowns
  • Speciality parts can be difficult to find
  • With a Westy, you won’t have as much freedom to customise the layout

Mid-Sized Vans


Whether they’re ex-tradie, delivery or commuter vans, medium-sized vehicles are the most popular choice for camper conversions. And, wow, have you got plenty to pick from. 

Most of these vans have been used by tradesmen for years, with a high mileage but great service history. Luckily, they are built to last if well-maintained throughout their lifetime. That means you can rest easy knowing you are converting a dependable van that won’t let you down.

For the ultimate freedom to customise your conversion, look no further than these flexible vans. Known for their height (most come in high-top versions) and boxy shape, they are the ideal blank canvas for creating your very own home away from home. You can also choose between short, medium or long wheelbase vans. While a shorter wheelbase means easier parking and maneuverability, a longer wheelbase offers more storage and living space - even accommodating a bathroom if necessary!

Word of warning: as these vans are quite complex from a mechanical point of view, it’s best to step away from your toolbox - they aren’t as friendly to tinkering as older, simpler classics like the VW Vanagon.

Pros
  • Flexibility like no other when it comes to converting the interior
  • Renowned for their reliability
  • Affordable parts are easy to source and most mechanics can work on them

Cons
  • Older vans can have pretty poor fuel efficiency
  • Don’t lend well to non-professional tinkering
  • Many of the more affordable used vans have racked up lots of kilometres

4WD Vans


If you’re after an off-roading adventure in the rugged wilderness, 4x4 is the only way to go. With a 4WD camper, you’ll be able to explore the great outdoors to your heart’s content - especially if it’s something like a Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol. 

Compact, quick and affordable to drive, these vans are awesome for weekends away with a friend or two, as well as summer camping trips in the wild. Their relatively small size and easy maneuverability will let you reach the most remote camping spots and fit in any park.

With little indoor space, you’ll need to plan your layout very carefully when converting one of these vans. Some people opt for rooftop tents, while other prefer to compromise on storage or living space. Whatever you decide, this van is better suited to those who enjoy spending the majority of their camping trips outside.

Pros
  • Can double as your day-to-day car
  • Access the most incredible and secluded camping spots
  • Easy to manoeuvre
  • Relatively cheap to run

Cons
  • Limited living space and storage
  • Not ideal for long-term van life
  • Not great in bad weather, as there’s less room indoors

Buses


To many, buses are the cream of the crop when it comes to living on the road. With heaps of room for sofas, beds, a kitchen, dining area, and even a proper bathroom, you can easily sleep your whole family! 

Manufactured with reliable commercial parts and serviced well throughout their lives, these sturdy giants won’t let you down. Not to mention that used schoolies are relatively cheap to buy because supply is high and demand is low. 

While a spacious interior is a major plus, their larger size can make driving difficult -  you’ll have a hard time with small bridges, winding roads and rough terrain. Additionally, some campsites simply don’t have space to maneuver a bus. That said, you won’t need campground facilities if your bus is self-contained.

Pros
  • A lot of space for your buck - It’s far cheaper to convert a bus than to buy a large motorhome
  • Large enough for big families
  • Very reliable
  • Used buses are surprisingly affordable

Cons
  • Difficult to access a lot of places, from city car parks to remote beaches
  • Poor gas mileage makes fuel a significant cost
  • Mechanical repairs can be much more expensive

Take A Test Run In A Van Rental


Have your eye on a few different van types but can’t decide which one to go for? Hire a camper to get a feel for your frontrunners, as well as some quality van conversion ideas for the build!

Camplify is a peer-to-peer rental marketplace filled with local owners renting out all sorts of vans across Australia. To see what’s on offer, check out these epic campervans or simply visit our homepage to search for the perfect rig. 

Why Hire A Van On Camplify?

  • All vans have unique layouts and features to fuel your conversion inspiration!
  • Every booking is covered by comprehensive insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance, so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

To learn more about hiring on Camplify, click here

To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV, register today here.

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