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How to convert a van into a campervan

Campervans cost a lot of money, but it's possible to save a fortune by converting a work van into a camper. Here we answer six crucial questions to help you build your own campervan.....

Renault Trafic Paradise front cornering

New campervans are expensive – whether you buy from the manufacturer or a specialist conversion company – and campers hold their value very well, so there are very few used bargains to be had.

Regular working vans, on the other hand, are not so expensive – so why not get, say, a VW Transporter and create your very own version of the VW California (which starts at more than £60,000)?

Well, you can – and this guide to converting a van into a campervan will help you do it.

It won’t be easy, and unless you have extensive background knowledge it will require significant effort and learning. But if you're capable with a hammer, a drill and a tape measure, and are willing to invest a good chunk of time into the project, it could be a great way to create your own unique campervan.

Here, we answer six crucial questions to help you decide whether to go ahead with your own conversion of a van into a campervan...

1. How much does it cost to turn a van into a campervan?

Campervans are so expensive because they’ve been painstakingly converted by the manufacturer or a specialist company to be comfortable for people to live in for a week or two.

If you're willing to put the work in, you can save a fortune converting your own van, all the while still making it a lovely space to spend time in – but you'll have to spend a bit of cash to get started.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing you need to buy is a van to convert. There are always plenty to choose from, and you can spend as little as £1,000 for a used small van, or much more for a new electric van.

The Ford Transit and the Ford Transit Custom are our favourite large van and medium van respectively, and you should be able to pick up a 2017 Custom with 60,000 miles on the clock for less than £10,000.

Naturally, the price you’ll end up paying depends on the make and model, mileage and condition of the van. And many of the same rules apply to buying a used car when buying a used van.

We’ll go through which van to buy to suit your needs in a moment, but be aware the larger the van, the more it will cost to convert. Once you've thought about what you want to do with your campervan – and therefore which size to buy – you can decide what features you want your van to have.

And remember, the more you can do yourself the cheaper the conversion will be – for example, a pop-up roof will cost around £2500, and you can budget an extra £1000 to fit. Also, remember to factor in the cost of any specialist tools you need to buy or hire.

Even excluding the cost of a van, and assuming you do without a pop-up roof, toilet and shower, a conversion which includes a bed, storage, sink with running water, and gas for cooking will come in at a few thousand pounds minimum, even if you do all the work yourself.

For comparison, if you decide not to go down the DIY route, you can easily spend at least £10,000 on a basic conversion from a professional company, or £30,000 or more for an extensive conversion. 

Campervan rental company Quirky Campers has an extensive list of specialist converters which may be a useful starting point if you don’t fancy doing the work yourself. (The camper pictured on this page is a Renault Trafic Paradise converted by Sussex Campers.)

Renault Trafic Paradise interior bed

2. Is it legal to convert a van into a campervan?

In short, yes. It is legal to convert a van into a campervan, as long as the modifications you make don’t inhibit the van's drivability or safety so that it can still pass an MOT. 

If you'd like to, you can re-register your van so that the DVLA recognises it as a campervan, and there can be added benefits regarding insurance and speed limits, but you might decide it is not worth the hassle. If you choose to re-register, your converted van must meet the requirements given by the DVLA, of having:

– Seats and a table (secured, not loose)
– Sleeping accommodation (secured, seats that fold into a bed count)
– Cooking facilities (a microwave will suffice)
– Storage facilities (secured)

You don’t have to reclassify your van, but you must accurately describe your vehicle to your insurance company. Surprisingly, campers can often be cheaper to insure than vans.

Some insurers will cover your van as a campervan regardless of how it’s classified by the DVLA. You can find its classification on the van's V5C document.

Speed limits for campervans are not necessarily the same as for the van they are based on. It depends of the vehicles weight, so it's a good idea to have your campervan weighed after conversion to make sure you are still legal to drive it, because there are two situations when you might not be.

Firstly, all vans have a payload capacity, and if that's exceeded with the added weight of a conversion, you could be fined or given penalty points.

Secondly, the year you gained your driving licence will determine the weight of the campervan you can drive. See out guide to motorhome laws in the UK for more information.

Even if you can legally drive your van, be aware that the more it weighs, the more its performance and efficiency will be blunted, and the worse the vehicle’s braking will be. Whatever van you’re building, the less it weighs the better.

Safety kit is essential, so if you install a cooker you need to make sure there are appropriate fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms fitted. And of course, if you’ve put extra seats in the back, they’ll all need to have seatbelts fitted, or no one will be able to use them when you’re on the move.

3. How long does it take to convert a van into a campervan?

Realistically, it could take a year or more for an inexperienced DIYer, doing as much as they can themselves and using only their weekends to do it. Even a professional conversion company could take up to six weeks to complete a van.

We recommend avoiding giving yourself a tight timeframe, and don’t be afraid of getting help (there are plenty of videos and forums online you can use to learn from other converters – and their mistakes).

The first thing to do before you begin is to clean the van thoroughly, inside and out. That could take a day or more if it’s a particularly mucky van.

After all, you don't want to lovingly insulate and clad the rear of the van only to suddenly become aware of an unattractive odour as something decays behind your new panelling. Cleaning up your van also gives you the chance to inspect it carefully, and treat any issues it may have, such as corrosion, rust or other damage.

After that, the time it takes is dependent on what features you want and the quality of finish you demand from yourself. We’d recommend insulation, storage and a bed as a minimum, and a couple could expect to get that done in a dozen weekends – double that for a kitchen with cooking and washing facilities.

Renault Trafic Paradise interior

4. What features do I need in a converted campervan?

Some will be content with just having a place to sleep. If that’s the case, there are many part-conversions already for sale you could consider – and they'll be cheaper than buying or converting a proper home-from-home style camper.

You might think it's simply a case of simply sticking a bed frame in the back of a van, but there's more to it than that. To make it a comfortable place to sleep, storage, insulation and ventilation are important.

You will probably want a leisure battery for electricity and heating. There are plenty of online tutorials to help you out, but a bit of basic carpentry (for a bed and storage), insulation installation (to keep it cool in the summer and cosy in the winter) and ventilation (from extra windows or vents) is the minimum we would advise. 

When it comes to fitting a leisure battery, we recommend hiring an electrician to make sure the wiring and fittings conform to the latest safety standards.

If you’re looking to do a little more with your van, you might wish to install a pop-up roof and a kitchen. If you’ve gone for a large van you might even be able to squeeze a shower and toilet in so you’ll need appropriate drainage.

Gas, electrics and plumbing are where things get trickier. Unless you're an expert on those, it's best to prepare the van as best you can, then hire a gas engineer, electrician or plumber. Likewise with other specialist jobs, such as fitting kitchen units.

5. How do you make an off-grid campervan?

An "off-grid campervan" is one that doesn't need to be hooked up to an electricity supply, or have access to gas and water, for extended periods.

For electricity supply, it's worth considering solar power. In addition, you will want to invest in an even bigger power bank (as opposed to a standard leisure battery) that's juicy enough to run anything you want to use in the van for a few days. 

For gas and water, it’s a bit simpler: just make sure you have extra capacity to store it. Jerry cans on the roof can be used to store extra water, fuel and anything else. A gutter and on-board filtration device could be a great way to collect rainwater.

If you’ve got these things covered, you should be ready to go into the wilderness. As with any kind of campervan, you need to ensure everything is securely bolted or strapped down.

If you're planning a trip into the sticks, extra storage for food is key, so you might need to consider a fridge. And for extended periods away, a larger van is often preferable.

Four-wheel drive might help you get out of any sticky situations, but it's also just as important to make sure you have a reliable, regularly serviced van before you begin any big trips.

Renault Trafic Paradise rear cornering

6. Which van should I convert into a campervan?

Buying a van to suit your needs is key – it's best to decide exactly what you want to use your camper for before you set out to buy.

If you have limited parking for your camper, it's probably best to go no larger than a medium van. To help you decide on the best model for you, see our best medium vans page.

If you have a big enough driveway to keep the van, and plan to do long trips with two or more people, you'll want at least a medium-sized van, and probably something bigger. See our best large vans page.

At the other end of the scale is a day van, based on a small van. Day vans often do without pop-up roofs and fully equipped kitchens. A day van might be a good option if you only intend on making day trips to the beach as a family, or short trips overnight alone or with one other person. If that appeals, you should be able to work out the best vehicle to start with on our best small vans page.

If you're dead set on running an electric camper, see our best electric vans page and if you'll be pulling a trailer or caravan too, see our best vans for towing.

We’ve even considered suitable options for an off-grid campervan: the Ford Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter offer 4x4 capabilities, as do the VW Transporter and the Vauxhall Combo.


There is an undoubted attraction to converting a van into a campervan yourself. After all, if you have the right skills, you’ll end up with a vehicle that is absolutely bespoke to your needs and desires. But such a vehicle will still come at a cost, in a literal sense, but also time.

Still, if you’ve got the time and patience, you’ll be able to say "I did that" every time someone asks about your campervan. And that’s got to enhance every holiday. If you decide buying rather than converting is for you, see our best campervans page.

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