How to Convert a Van for Adventures in the UK
Do you want to take a break from modern life and seek the freedom of the open road? Like many travellers today, you might be interested in living in a van. Not only that, but you may wish to follow the cheaper route of trying to convert a van yourself. This is the most authentic experience for today’s overlanders. It represents independence and living life on your own terms better than any other form of travel.
This all sounds great, but how do you do it? Where do you start? Attempting to convert a van isn’t as easy as it sounds. At least, converting it well. You can survive in a barebones campervan, but you will get much more joy and satisfaction from putting in a little extra time and effort. To help you with the process, here are some tips on how to convert a van for UK adventures.
Choosing the Right Vehicle
Picking the right vehicle to convert a van is an important step. Clearly, your decision will hinge on your budget. However, there are a few things you should be aware of when buying a second-hand vehicle.
The first is the mileage – a vehicle with lower mileage generally has fewer problems. Next, ask for an MOT history or get information on any recent repairs. A well-maintained van with higher mileage will be better than a poorly looked after one with low mileage. A diesel van is better at high mileage than petrol and it will work out cheaper over longer driving distances too.
Think about your height and what you want to do with the floor space. If you are determined to stand up in your van, this will instantly rule out cargo vans with a lower height. If you purchase a common vehicle model, it’s easier to fix if the van breaks down as you won’t have to get parts shipped in. Windows are good for letting in light but bad for security and privacy. The age of the vehicle shouldn’t matter too much, within reason. Old vans actually have fewer electrical components and are often easier to fix yourself!
Once you have bought your van, start by stripping out the backseats and any features that are yet to be removed. Now you are left with the shell of the vehicle, you can work on insulation. This is an important step when trying to convert a van as many vehicles have poor insulation and you will be very cold if this is neglected.
Go to Homebase or any hardware store and buy sheets of insulation. Cut them to size and mount them on the walls, ceiling, and floor. Try to cover the space as best you can before using foam filler or loose-fill insulation to patch up the last gaps.
Any electrical work should also be done at an early stage. If you are adding lights, wiring in plug sockets, or building any circuits linking the alternator to a relay battery, it needs to be done now. This can be a bit of a complex process and you should research in advance before you start.
Alternatively, get a friend to help you who is handy with electrics. If you’re really stuck, you can pay an electrician, but they charge premium rates which could put you out of pocket. As is often the case with trying to convert a van, do your best and if that doesn’t work out get professional help.
After you have installed your electrics, you can move on to the bed. Depending on your height, and whether one or two people are living in the van, you may want the bed across the width of the van or along the length of it.
Try building a simple wooden frame which can be screwed into the floor of your vehicle. It’s useful to have hinges so the bed can be folded up to store items beneath. If you are creative with this step, you can even have the bed turn into a sofa or seating area. You can use a camping mat or mattress to complete the bed and duvets, blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags to finish the set up.
Next, you should build shelves and a cooking area. Bear in mind that when you convert a van, you must allow for movement. Plates, cutlery, and spice racks should all be stored in a way that prevents them from moving. Hooks, bungee cords, and lips all prevent this from happening. Storage boxes and cupboards with latches are good places to store food and loose kitchen utensils.
Make sure you have plenty of space to prepare and cook your food on a work surface using either a portable or built-in stove. You can also allow for a gas tank to be installed, along with a water tank and a sink to round off your cooking area.
Much like the cooking area, you need to design the rest of your storage space with a moving vehicle in mind. Boxes and crates are good for clothes. Pegs and hooks can be used to hang up coats, jackets, and shoes. Make use of all available surfaces and think about using space beneath the bed and pouches or cupboards along the walls. You can also have a roof rack or tailgate box in case you need any extra storage space.
After these steps are finished, you can begin to decorate your vehicle. This involves aesthetic choices of blankets, pillows, and throws. When you convert a van, you can paint the inside, draw on the walls, adjust fittings to suit your tastes, and personalise the vehicle however you want. Clearly, there is a huge scope for what you can do when trying to convert a van. This creative freedom is one of the great things about converting a van and ultimately, it’s up to you to build the van of your dreams!