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These are the Best Vans For Camper Conversion [2024]

The first step in any campervan build is choosing which van to buy! Finding the right van is an exciting and fun process, though it can be a little daunting - this guide is here to help you out! Converting a van costs time and money, so you want to make sure that you make the right choice from the outset. Indeed, there are lots of different options to choose from. Like people, vans come in all shapes and sizes: Tall, small, wide, thin, flamboyant, stealthy, utilitarian, rickety, tough, cheap, or expensive. In this article you will discover the best van for camper conversion.


I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for years; I'm the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan,writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy. And full-time vanlifer for 4 years!


Now let's jump in and have a look at the best vans for camper conversion!

11 Best Vans For Camper Conversion

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not. By using these links, you are helping me to continue writing free educational content!


​Index

 

Note: Did you know that you can get a free electrical wiring diagram by signing up to The Van Conversion Newsletter

 

Roaming Home


Legal & Insurance Requirements

Before launching into your van research, there are a few admin things to think about first. Notably, it's important that you check the legal and insurance requirements in your country.


For instance, some countries require a standing height of 6ft inside the van, some campervan insurance companies will not insure a converted school bus, and some regions won't tax your van if it weighs over 3.5 tonnes. So check your country's requirements before buying a van!

  • Irish requirements are in this guide.

  • UK requirements here

  • Australian requirements here

  • Canadian requirements here

  • US requirements differ from state to state


Imagine the heartbreak if you bought a van only to find that you weren't able to convert it...


So before doing anything, do these two things:


  1. Look up the legal regulations / conversion standards for your country (a quick Google search should sort you out!)

  2. Research the requirements of the campervan insurers in your area, ring them up if there is any doubt as to their requirements.


Speaking of campervan insurers...


Best RV / Campervan Insurance

In North America, insurance for your van will be $1,000 to $2,000 per year. Or $80 to $165 per month. It tends to be about half that price in Europe.


Triple check that you are allowed to live full time in your van (if you plan on doing so).


I have put together a table below comparing some of the best RV and campervan insurers in North America. To cut right to the chase, I highly recommend Roamly.


Roamly is fantastic because it is owned by Outdoorsy, which therefore allows you to rent out your van and make an income! Roamly also allows you to live full time and is cheaper than normal insurance.


Roamly campervan insurance

Insurance Company

Price Range

Full-Time Living Coverage?

Coverage Options

Best For

Variable

Yes

Comprehensive, Liability, Emergency Expense

Full-time living. Digital Nomads & people who want to rent out their campervan

Progressive - (Recommended for vanlifers)

Affordable to Moderate

Yes

Comprehensive, Liability, Full Replacement

Variety of RV Types.

State Farm

Moderate

No

Comprehensive, Liability, Emergency Expense

Personalized Service

Geico

Moderate

No

Comprehensive, Liability, Emergency Expense

Bundled Insurance. Easy to get a quote online.

Allstate

Moderate to Expensive

No

Comprehensive, Liability, Full Replacement

Wide Coverage Options

Good Sam

Affordable to Moderate

Yes

Comprehensive, Liability, Full Replacement

Very high review rating

Nationwide

Moderate to Expensive

No

Full Replacement, Emergency Expense, Liability

Customization Options. Best for discounts

RVInsurance.com

Variable

Yes

Comprehensive, Liability, Personal Belongings

Comprehensive - covers all vehicle types. Online quote

National General

Variable

Yes

Comprehensive, Liability, Full Replacement

Tailored Coverage


A little horror story…

In Ireland, the campervan insurers require 'bodily access' between the cab and back of the van. Well, naively, I had finished my van conversion without consulting a single insurer! During the build, I had installed the kitchen unit across the front of the van, blocking access to the cab. So, I was declined insurance by EVERY insurer... I ended up having to approach an insurance ombudsman to help me get insurance. I ended up paying nearly three times the price for my insurance! Learn from my mistakes, and do your research first.

Sunset in a pop-top; @packthebus
Sunset in a pop-top; @packthebus

What will you be using the van for?

Stealth

Are you a city slicker or country bumpkin? If you spend a lot of time in cities - perhaps you even work in an office (I hear lots of the Google crowd live in vans), a stealth build may be high on your priority list. I have a friend who was living in his campervan full-time in Glasgow, Scotland and was broken into TWICE while sleeping - luckily he had 'bodily access' to the cab and managed to make a quick getaway! A stealthy van may be less likely to have a break-in and have an easier time parking overnight (less hassle from the locals / police).

Full-time

Are you planning on living in your van full-time? You will certainly want to think about roof height! Being able to stand up tall in your van will give you better posture, and make your experience on the road more comfortable. Try to go for a high-roof van if you can.

Got a partner?

Two peas in a pod; @OnTheFreeSide
Two peas in a pod; @OnTheFreeSide

Are you a solo traveller or have you got a partner? An important thing to consider is bed width and length! The last thing you want is to be stuck sleeping in a foetal position having gotten lucky on a night out in town. A long, wide van will give you a much more comfortable night's sleep.

Weather

If you're going to be travelling to cold or wet places you will likely be spending a bunch of time inside your van. Your van will need to be pretty comfortable if this is the case. You will want room to move around and stand up inside. Indeed, if you are travelling to very cold locations (like me) you will need to insulate your van very well on the floor and roof which will detract from the standing height. Make sure to consider this - you may want to purchase a van with an extra-high roof.


Requirements checklist

I suggest writing a list of all the requirements you have for your conversion. What do you want, what can you live without? How much space will it all take up? Having a clear idea in your head about what you want in your van will give you an indication of the type of van you need to build. You can use “The Van Conversion Map” below as the basis for your checklist. You might also want to check out the van conversion supplies list for the complete list!

Van conversion map

Alternatively, here is a short checklist to give you some ideas and get the juices flowing!

☐ Awning

☐ Spare wheel carrier

☐ Exterior ladder

☐ Roof rack

☐ Window(s)

☐ Roof vent

☐ Bike rack

☐ Awning

☐ Solar panels

☐ Fridge

☐ Leisure batteries

☐ Inverter

☐ Split charger

☐ Shore power

☐ LED lights

☐ Switch panel

☐ Speakers

☐ Movie projector

☐ Air conditioning

☐ Swivel cab seats

☐ Insulation

☐ Sound deadening material

☐ Toilet

☐ Water heater

☐ Indoor / outdoor shower

☐ Stove

☐ Oven

☐ Sink

☐ Fresh water tank

☐ Waste water tank

☐ LPG tank

☐ Heater (LPG / Diesel)

☐ Kitchen unit

☐ Cladding

☐ Storage (eg. wardrobe, overhead, bulkhead)

☐ Bed

☐ Table

☐ Art on the wall

☐ Space to walk around


And there's probably a lot more that could be added.


Rent a campervan first!

Before committing to purchasing a van and embarking on the conversion process, it's wise to dip your toes into the van life experience first. Renting a campervan offers an invaluable opportunity to test the waters and immerse yourself in the adventure. By renting, you gain insights into what features and amenities resonate with your lifestyle preferences. It's a chance to figure out what you love and what you can live without, potentially saving you a substantial amount of money in the long run. If the nomadic lifestyle isn't quite what you envisioned, you're spared the expense and effort of purchasing and converting a van. So, before you take the plunge into van conversion, consider renting a campervan to ensure that your journey aligns with your dreams.


In particular, I recommend using Outdoorsy for your campervan rental. It's basically AirBnb for campervans! They make it incredibly easy to get your hands on a beautiful van and kick off your next adventure.


Outdoorsy is a community of 200,000+ travelers and owners across 11 countries worldwide. 93% of all bookings gave a 5-star review.


Outdoorsy rental

In Europe, campervan rental is usually €100-150 per day, in North America it can vary between $80-$300 per day.


What's your budget?

The depreciation rule

I'm not going to beat around the bush, converting a van into a campervan can cost quite a bit of money. As a rough rule of thumb, you should follow either the 70/30 rule (70% of funds on the van, 30% on the build) or the 60/40 rule.

  • Example with 70/30 rule (20k budget): 14k on the van, 6k on the build

  • Example with the 60/40 rule (20k budget): 12k on the van, 8k on the build

This is due to the depreciation of the value of the van as you clock up the miles.

Determining your build cost

To determine the estimated build cost make a list of all the things you require in the campervan and price them. Then, whatever the total amount comes to, add on 30% wiggle room. That is the spend on your van conversion. At the end of this section, you will find a complete list of supplies for a van conversion.

Non-build costs

Building your van is one thing, but getting it on the road is another. Don't forget about the cost of road-tax, insurance, or vehicle inspection. This can easily add another couple thousand to the total cost.

How much does a van conversion cost?

How much does a van cost?

The average (median) cost of the base vehicle for a van conversion was €9000 per the Roaming Home 2023 Study

How much does a van cost?
The cost of the van

Used vans in North America are typically a bit higher than those in Europe

  • Sprinter Van: $20,000- $27,000

  • Ram Promaster: $9,000- $20,000

  • Ford Transit: $10,000-$20,000

In the USA, the average MSRP (Manufacturer’s suggested retail price) of the top 5 most popular vans is $41,601.


How much does the van conversion cost?

According to the same study, the average (mean) cost to convert the van was €8500. Most conversions cost between €4000 and €10,000.

How much does a van conversion cost?
The cost of the conversion

That bring the average total cost of a van conversion to €17,500. However many convert campervans for far less. In my case, I purchase the base vehicle for €7000 and spent another €7000 on the conversion itself.


In the USA, most people will spend between $5000 and $15000 converting a van.

A third of people spend less than $5,000 converting their van.


We've put together an extensive list of every van conversion supply you will need. You can get that free list here. In that supplies list there are three builds, a basic build, intermediate build, and advanced build. If we were to follow that supplies list (and buy everything brand new), the total costs would come to the following:


  • Basic van conversion cost: $6,236

  • Intermediate van conversion cost: $12,146

  • Advanced van conversion cost: $31,126 If these costs seem a little high, don't be put off - you can easily reduce this price by shopping around, buying used, and simplifying your build.


We found that typically 40% of a van conversion's cost is on electrics - it is the most expensive part of the build.



Choosing a van for camper conversion

Now that you've thought through your requirements and budget, let's discover which van is best for your camper conversion!

My top pick is the Mercedes Sprinter (despite owning a Ford Transit). It is notably reliable, well-built, and comfortable. Though it comes with a higher price tag.

Best van for conversion

With that being said, in the Roaming Home 2023 study we found the Ford Transit to be the most popular van by a long shot. Interestingly, the smaller VW Transporter took the third spot.

best van for conversion uk
Most popular vans for conversion

Lifespan of a panel van

Data from a European Commission report indicates that the expected lifetime mileage for a commercial van is 224,000 km. The average age of retirement for a commercial van is 13 years.

Lifetime mileage distribution for commercial vehicles
Lifetime mileage distribution for commercial vehicles

This is not to say that a van will not outlive those statistics. Indeed, in our study, we found that many individuals had purchased vans with mileage way above those aforementioned.

what is high mileage for a van
Mileage on purchase; Roaming Home Study

We also found that as of 2023, the most common year of vehicle was a 2015 reg. This means that on average people are using a van that is 8 years old.

Most common year of van (as of 2023)
Most common year of van (as of 2023)

Best van for camper conversion


My top pick for best van for camper conversion is the Mercedes Sprinter (despite owning a Ford Transit), which consistently ranks first in the FN50 van reliability survey.

The spec sheet below showcases the stats and dimensions of some of the most popular vans for camper conversion (with a European bias). This is based on the 2014 L3H3 model of each van. This should help demystify the selection process!

Note: The Fiat Ducato, Citroen Relay, Peugeot Boxer, and Ram ProMaster all have the same body sizes.

Best van for camper conversion

Panel van size

In the USA, there are three classes of campervan:

  • Class A (Large: RV / buses)

  • Class B (Small: panel vans)

  • Class C (Mid-sized: Motorhomes)


Classes of van

The size of a panel van is denoted by the letters 'L' (length) and 'H' (height). Its wheelbase can be either short (L1 / SWB), medium (L2 / MWB), long (L3 / LWB), or jumbo (L4 / XLWB). Similarly, its height can be low roof (H1), medium roof (H2), or high roof (H3). My van is a long wheelbase, high roof Ford Transit (L3H3). If you plan on spending any length of time in your van, I would suggest you seek out a high roof with at least a medium wheelbase.

Citroen Relay dimensions
Citroen Relay dimensions

Whilst panel vans are the most popular vehicles for conversions, there are some other vehicles that can be used - so let’s explore those!

Outdoorsy

Classic van

A very classic roadtrip; @thebusadventure64
A very classic roadtrip; @thebusadventure64

A throwback to the 50's and 60's, the Volkswagen T1, T2, and T3 are probably the best known of the classic-style campervans. This style of van is iconic and intrinsically linked to vagabond-hippy-van-travelling. Known for their vivid colours, this van is sure to draw some admiring looks.

Classic vans frequently come with pop tops which give a lot of extra room for sleeping; indeed they often come pre-converted. There's a huge community around them for support and even social gatherings.

However, for all their good looks, there are more than a few downsides…

Classic vans are hard to come by (and expensive to buy when you find one). Upkeep can be very expensive as parts are rare and they break down often. Due to their age, they are very unsafe vehicles to drive (in case of a crash). Finally, these vans are pretty much anti-stealth; everyone will know you're a camper.

Small van

Though a little cramped for full-time living, small vans can be a great choice for weekend warriors. They can still fit a bed and stove!

A VWTransporter with all the  extra kit;  @lange.reisen
A VWTransporter with all the extra kit; @lange.reisen

I owned a small van years ago when I lived in North America; that little powerhouse took me halfway through Canada and across the Western States of the USA.

The most popular small vans for conversion are:

  • VW Transporter

  • Renault Traffic

  • Peugeot Expert

  • Ford Transit Custom

Some people even convert extra-small vans like the VW Caddy and Citroen Berlingo!

Motorhome / RV

Motorhome

The origins of the motorhome date back to 1910 when Pierce-Arrow introduced the first campervan at the Madison Square Garden auto show. Before the vanlife movement kicked off, motorhomes were typically pre-built by professional companies. For many people, buying a pre-built motorhome is still the best bet due to the simplicity.

Second-hand motorhomes frequently have low mileage on the clock, they come pre-built, and can often be bought at quite a good price. You also don't have to deal with the process of re-registering the van as a campervan.

However older models are frequently upholstered to look like your granny's house; sun-aged decor, awful lino and raw ply. You may fancy pulling some of the interior out and doing your own job on it. Similarly, if the motorhome has been around a while it is not uncommon to find mould or wood rot. Maintenance on these vehicles can also be tricky and expensive because they are custom built.

Skoolie

Into the Wild; @theskoolie
Into the Wild; @theskoolie

Like Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild, you too could live in Alaska in a school bus. They make just about the coolest van builds going. They are super spacious, come in all sorts of different lengths, and give you unlimited options for your conversion. However, parts and repair can be expensive and they don't make the best stealth builds. They are also tricky to source if you live in Europe. You should also beware that due to the vehicle classification you may need a different type of licence to be able to drive one.

Minivan

A minivan is quite a broad term, but essentially, it is a hatchback high-roofed car.. You can buy conversion kits for this type of vehicle to get you on the road straight away. You likely won't be able to register it legally as a campervan though.

Luton box van

At home on the road; @jelly_living
At home on the road; @jelly_living

These vans are ginormous and perfectly box-shaped! They make great vans for camper conversions. Though you should beware of their height for low bridges / entrances and the vehicle length for ease of parking. You should also beware that due the vehicle classification you may need a different type of licence to be able to drive one.

Bus / Coach

These guys own a pair of goats in their bus! @doubledeckerhome
These guys own a pair of goats in their bus! @doubledeckerhome

RVs are very common in the United States, but you almost never see them in Europe. Buying a pre-built RV is one thing, but building one yourself is another! Some of the best and most luxurious conversions you will ever see are converted coaches. The room inside is unbelievable and they let in lots of light. When I travelled Norway with my van I came across a group of 30 old rockers who were in a convoy of converted coaches. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen!

Needless to say, parking of any kind is a head-wrecker, and you will definitely want to check the legalities in your country for converting this type of vehicle. Similarly, you may also require a different kind of driving licence.

Action Mobils

Ultimate overlanding; @action_mobil_theoriginal
Ultimate overlanding; @action_mobil_theoriginal

Finally, there are Action Mobils. The campervan of your dreams. I’ll take two please.

My van ‘Beans’

I have a long wheelbase, 2012 high roof Ford transit (L3H3). I bought it with 190,000 km on the clock. It is my pride and joy - we’ve had so many beautiful adventures together - and hopefully there are many more to come!

It has 400W of solar power, a split-charger, shore power, running water, huge batteries, an LPG heater, a large fridge and kitchen area, a comfy bed and large wardrobe. It has a terrarium full of plants and even has a home cinema with a projector and pull-down projector screen! It has turned out beautifully and has been a great travel companion.

how much does a van conversion cost?
I spent a lovely few days with my van in Grindelwald, Switzerland - ogling up the infamous North Face climb on the Eiger (in the background)

Buying your van

There are three options of where you can purchase a van from:

  1. Online

  2. Used car dealerships

  3. Van dealerships

If you have the cash lying around, it can be nice knowing that you have a brand new van which will last you a long time. No inheriting other people's problems.

Roaming Home

Though according to the Roaming Home 2023 study, only 6% of people buy new vans for conversions.

New vs. Used vans
New vs. Used vans; Roaming Home study

If instead you chose to buy your van online or from a used car dealership, make sure to do your due diligence!

Buying a campervan

How much should you spend on a van for camper conversion?

The 2023 Roaming Home Study gave us some excellent insights into how much people are spending on the base vehicle for their conversions. Unsurprisingly, we found a tight correlation between the age of a vehicle and its cost. A work van reduces in cost by about €2000 per year. Though it should be noted that the cost of a van that is two years old or less is quite a bit higher. The best value may be found around the three year mark.

van cost vs. age

We also found a correlation between the odometer reading and the cost of the vehicle. 30,000km appears to be the best value for money - the sweet spot at which the cost drops dramatically.

mileage vs cost of van

Finally, we looked at the relationship between the vehicle’s age and its odometer reading. And whilst the correlation here is quite spread out, it is one of the most useful datasets we have.

We found that the average work van clocks up 13,940km per year. Accordingly, you should seek out a vehicle with a lower mileage per year than this - a sign that your van has not been overworked.

milage vs. age of van

I'm going to let you in on a secret…

It is better to spend a bit more money up front buying a van that is in good condition rather than one of questionable quality. I spent €7000 on a 2012 Ford Transit with a fair bit of wear and tear and a lot of mileage on the clock. In the four years since, I have spent nearly €10,000 in maintenance. In contrast I have three separate friends who bought 2014 vans around the same time I did; they each spent about €11,000 on the base vehicle, but have spent practically nothing on repairs since.

On the flip-side, my Glaswegian friend (aforementioned, who was broken into twice) spent a meagre £3,000 on his van. Within a year it was in such disrepair that he gave up on his vanlife dreams and ditched the van. The poor lad had a tough time of it…

So don't cheap out at the beginning. Spend a bit more money on your base van and enjoy it for years to come!

Questions to ask before buying a used van

Stop! Before you hand over that cash to buy the used van you've been looking at, there are a few questions that you absolutely must ask first. Let’s find out what they are…

“Do you have the logbook?”

This question is vital. If the vehicle does not have a logbook, this should raise alarm bells.

Ensure the logbook credentials match the van (registration number, owner's name, vehicle classification)

“Do you have the service history?”

A prudent vehicle owner should always keep a service history for the vehicle. A vehicle with a service history is more likely to have been cared for.

If you can obtain the service history you can see when the last service was (if it was a long time ago, you may well be in for a nasty surprise).

“What did the previous owner use the van for?”

Most used vans will be retired work-horses. ie. construction, carpentry, electrician, etc.

Understanding what the previous owner did can help you know how much love was given to the vehicle - was it a sole trader or larger company?

Ideally you want a van that drove longer distances (across counties / countries), rather than shorter stop-start distances in cities. The more a van stop-starts, the more wear and tear is put on the vehicle.

“What is the mileage and age of the used van?”

These two things are intrinsically linked. A new van with a heap of mileage will have been put under far more strain than an older van with the same mileage.

As a general rule of thumb, try to source a van with <100,000 km on the clock.

“Why are you selling the van?”

Are you buying someone else’s problems?

“Has the van ever been in an accident?”

A bad crash can have a lasting impact on a vehicle.

“Has the van got it's MOT or equivalent (Mandatory vehicle inspection in Europe)”

This is very important. If the van does not have its MOT, you will have to put your hand in your pocket to pay for it yourself. It will also be very likely that repairs will be needed in order to pass the MOT (which you will also have to pay for)

A van with an MOT certificate is a very good thing.

“Has the van got an up to date tax disc?”

If the van doesn't have a tax disc you will need to put your hand in your pocket to pay for this year's tax (and potentially back tax!)

“Is the used van registered in a foreign country?”

If the van is registered in a foreign country you could be in for a hefty tax bill for importing it when you buy it (Vehicle Registration Tax). Better to buy local.

“Can you reduce the price?”

“Hmm, the van looks really nice - I'd love to buy it, but the price is too high for me unfortunately… The max I could afford is X”.


Outdoorsy rental

Background checks before buying a used van

Ready for adventure; @advanturing
Ready for van-venture; @advanturing

There are a few mandatory background checks you should do before buying a van for conversion. Most if not all of these checks can be done on a website like AutoCheck.com. To do a thorough background check on Autocheck you will need the vehicle registration number and the VIN (vehicle identification number). You will need to ask the vehicle owner for the VIN.

If everything checks out (and you're using AutoCheck), you should see a message like this appear:

autocheck positive report

Has the van got any finance on it?

Take care here! There could be an unpaid loan on the van which you are about to purchase. That loan will become yours to pay if you buy it.

Is the van stolen?

Don't buy a stolen van. Obviously... You will lose the van and all the money you spent when the police come knocking.

How many previous owners has the van had?

Figuring out what a vehicle has been used for by the previous owners will help you get a feel of the current state of the vehicle.

Get an auto-mechanic to check the van

Get an auto-mechanic to check the vehicle before you buy it! I received a very detailed report from a mechanic who went to check out my van for me. The inspection cost about €120 - it was well worth it. I brought up some of the issues with the dealership, and they got their mechanic to fix the problems before I bought the van.

Ideally before you get the mechanic to inspect the van, you will have headed over and looked at the vehicle yourself - but that is not totally necessary.


Conclusion

Are there you have it! The Best Vans For Camper Conversion. After buying your van, the next step will be to plan and design your campervan layout. Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (I'll send you a free wiring diagram when you join).


If you're looking for some guidance with your van conversion, you might be interested in Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan. In the 380-page book (or ebook), you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!

Roaming Home

Until next time,

Shane ✌️



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