Choosing the Best Van for Your Camper Conversion
Choosing a base van for camper conversion is usually the first big decision you'll need to make. The choice usually boils down to why you want to convert a van and how you're going to use it.
Just remember that there is no single best van to convert into a camper, it all depends on your style, needs and budget.
This will help you focus in on the available size and space before looking at any specific van makes and models for your camper conversion.
Typical Van Sizes and Dimensions
Van dimensions are usually shown as an L for length and an H for hight, followed by a number (i.e. L2H3).
The length of a van is often talked about as the ‘wheelbase’. That’s simply the distance between the front and back wheels.
Van length is typically shown as:
- L1 (short/small)
- L2 (medium)
- L3 (long)
- L4 (extra-long)
Vans typically come in 3 height levels:
- H1 (low/standard)
- H2 (high-top)
- H3 (super high-top)
If you want to be able to stand up inside your van then you’ll need to get at least a H2 van. An H2 van will usually give you around 1.9m in internal height.
Just to confuse things further, dimensions are specific to each manufacturer!
So, an L2H3 Ford Transit won’t be the same as an L2H3 Mercedes Sprinter and so on.
What's the Best Van for Camper Conversion?
The availability of specific van makes and models may vary depending on your location.
Here are the most common and best vans for conversions that make ideal tiny homes on wheels:
Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer/Citroen Relay/Dodge Pro-master
All of these models are based on the same design and are one of the most popular vans to convert into a camper.
A lot of factory-made campervans are created from these models which makes parts like underslung water and LPG tanks easier to source.
Charlie's Example: I chose an L3H2 2014 Citroen Relay because they are just a little bit wider and squarer than the alternatives. This allowed me to fit a widthways bed and maximise the internal space.
'Trannies' are one of the cheapest sprinter-style vans you can buy in the UK due to their popularity. This makes them a great conversion van as it's easy to source replacement parts and repairs can be cheaper when compared to other models.
They do curve in a bit towards the top, giving you slightly less wiggle room for any top-level cupboards. That said, a transit is still a solid base for any van conversion, just take a good look underneath for any hidden rust issues.
If you want the ultimate blank canvas and head height, then a box van could be the way to go. They are literally a box attached to a chassis cab truck, giving you plenty of options on van conversion layouts etc.
The height and amount of modification on the back doors can be an issue however and might not make an easy first conversion project.
Volkswagen Crafter/Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
If you're looking to include a wet-room in your conversion or just want maximum space then this is the one for you.
The L4 option gives you nearly 5m of internal length to play with but you'll need to be comfortable driving a van that's over 7m long!
Random Vehicles for Camper Conversions
A quick search on YouTube and you can find folks that have converted ex fire engines, army vehicles, ambulances, school buses and many others into a place to live on the road.
The great thing is that you can still use many of the principles in this guide regardless of your base vehicle.
Just bear in mind that the more random the thing you're converting, the harder it might be to get parts and spares.
But, if you're up for a challenge then there’s a unique vehicle waiting for you!
Costs of Vans for Camper Conversions
The exact cost of buying a base vehicle to convert into a camper depends on your location.
Here in the UK, there’s a pretty healthy market for pre-owned vans of all shapes and sizes which makes it easier to find one in your budget range.
That said, due to the pandemic and a big surge in people converting builders vans into campers, prices have increased a fair bit.
Charlie’s Example: As soon as I started looking for a van I had to up my budget and realised the decent ones were over £7k. After 5 days of searching, I purchased my Citroen Relay for £7,400.
It was owned by a local company and came with a full servicing history and under 90,000 miles on the clock. I’m sure I could have found something cheaper if I’d look for longer but I was keen to crack on with my conversion.
I’d suggest that you want to spend at least £6,000 ($8,100) on a van to ensure that it’s not a total rust bucket.
Obviously, the more you can spend, the better the quality should be.
Even if you aren’t going to keep your van forever, it’s always worth thinking about the future sale value!