Choosing the Perfect Van for a Camper Van Conversion
January 29th, 2023
Choosing the Perfect Van for a Camper Van Conversion
by Sierra Eberly
Scroll down to read more about each type of camper van
You've decided to take the leap. You've been dreaming about van life for a while and have decided you're ready to try it out.
In some initial research, you've seen some camper van conversions that were over the top, and some as simple as throwing a sleeping pad in the back and calling it good. You've determined that you can't afford a fancy build from a high-end professional van conversion company, but you also want more than just a mattress to sleep on. You've probably watched the YouTube videos of people who build their entire van conversion from scratch, measuring every piece to perfection. Sure, that sounds great, but what if you don't want to buy all the required tools or you simply don't have the time to focus on all the details you want in your own van?
You're in luck! We're here to help you navigate a semi-DIY camper van conversion. Did you know that there are camper van conversion kits that can make parts of a DIY camper van conversion easier to complete? There are even conversion kits for cars and minivans!
So what are the best vans for camper van conversions, and most importantly, what's the right van for you? With so many van models available, you'll need to determine what camper van is best for van life based on your travel goals, hobbies, and budget.
What Camper Van is the Best for Van Life?
The Mercedes Benz Sprinter is probably the most popular choice for those who can afford one. They are also the most expensive camper van conversion on the market, with good reason.
Why we like Mercedes Sprinter vans
- 2WD and 4WD options
- Lots of aftermarket options
Con: Although reliable, it's difficult to find a mechanic capable of working on a Sprinter Van outside of a dealership if something goes wrong. This can be problematic if a check engine light comes on and you're hours away from the nearest dealership.
Why we like Ford Transit vans
- Various sizes available
- Comes in 2WD, AWD, and a new 4x4 option is available
- Quality gas engine, one of the more reliable vans
- Growing pool of aftermarket options
- Mechanic-friendly and parts readily available
Con: A con to the Ford Transit is that some builders have voiced that the roof curve is difficult to align walls and cabinets on if you're doing a DIY conversion. There are various DIY kits available that can make installation easier.
Dodge Ram Promaster
Why we like the Dodge Ram Promaster
- Most interior space for building
- The boxy style is easier for camper conversions
- Easy to include lots of storage space
- Decent gas mileage for the size of the vehicle
Con: Out of the three top vans listed, the Promaster van is known for its potential for a few mechanical issues, so be sure to get an extended warranty with you purchase the van. The good news is that there are many Dodge dealerships across the country, and most mechanics will be able to work on it thanks to its rather standard gas engine.
Perks of the Chevy Express
- Aftermarket AWD or 4x4 options can often be found
- Parts are widely available
- Great for the DIY mechanic - easy to work on
- Good for stealth parking and smaller spaces
Benefits of the Ford Econoline
- Usually has windows installed
- A great option for budget builds
- Parts are still available, and most mechanics can work on them
- With proper maintenance will last many, many miles
If you're not up to the task of doing the entire camper conversion from scratch, there are universal conversion kits available to help with the process.
Why Chevy Astrovans are rad
- AWD models can easily be upfitted to a great overlanding rig
- Great gas mileage
- Literally a minivan, so perfect for stealth parking
- Easy to work on with good accessibility to parts
Subaru Outback (not a van, but still a great option!)
Why a Subaru Outback might be perfect for you
- If you want something small, stealth, and easy to drive
- If you want very good gas mileage
- If you want a vehicle to stealth park easily in and still get off the beaten path with
- If you're considering towing a small camper trailer
Own a Subaru Forester or Subaru Crosstrek? We've got camper kits for those, too.
Any car, truck, or minivan!
As we already mentioned, don't let a vehicle style or type stop you from starting the vanlife lifestyle! The reality is that you can make any vehicle into a home on wheels, even if it's just temporary until you can find your dream van build.
There are universal car camper conversion kits available that can help get you started. You can find many YouTube videos from people who have converted everything from a truck with a camper shell to a Kia Sedona. Even box trucks and ambulances are great for a DIY camper conversion.
Car & truck camping
Other options for an affordable camper van conversion or car/truck camping
- The Chevy City Express is discontinued but still a great option for a camper van conversion if you can find one second hand.
- The Nissan NV is another smaller van. You can get this great van conversion kit that you can easily install.
- The iconic Volkswagen Vanagon, or VW Bus, is a favorite among many, and has a lot of aftermarket products available.
- A Toyota Rav4 is a great option for the off-roading wanderer.
- Nowadays, people camp in mostly any car! We've put together a catalog of products that'll help you get on the road with your college rig or your grandpa's truck.
What Camper Van Conversion Will You Start Van Life In?
Now that you have chosen the best van to convert into a camper van, where will your first destination be?
We'd love to follow along with your adventures, see your camper van conversion, and help you cultivate a simpler, sustainable way of living.
Let us know in the comments where your life on the road begins, or ask us a question if there's something we haven't answered.
See you on the road.
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