When making plans to start your own camper van conversion, one of the first questions to pop up is of course which van you will be using as base vehicle. This is probably one of the most crucial choices you will make. It will massively impact all of your future choices and possibilities.
In our previous blog post we presented our newly bought van, a high top Ford Transit with a slightly extended wheelbase. Here we would like to share with you our thought process behind the choice for this particular van.
Before we took the plunge and bought our van, we did extensive research for a long time. We hope the information we share here will be of help during your search towards the perfect van and future home on wheels!
Our quest to find the perfect van started by determining our needs and demands of our future finished van conversion. Not only does planning the preferred interior help in finding the right size of van, because let’s be honest, it’s a very small space to live in on a long term basis and it has to be perfect. It also prevents any frustrations during the building process, because you won’t be surprised by the small surface area struggling to fit in something you didn’t think of prior to getting the van.
For us, and probably for most people, the size of the van poses an important factor. You can basically make it as crazy as you want. We have seen people using a normal passenger car as their camper, and on the other end of the spectrum, people that use school buses and even bigger buses as their base vehicle. For us it started with the following question: do we want to convert a van, or do we want a pre-built standard camper?
During our travels, we plan (hope) to spend as few nights as possible in your run-of-the-mill camping spots. We’d rather go offroad and discover more secluded spaces. The size of the camper also matters when you take your vehicle on a boat, or on the train to for example Great Britain. We also prefer to make the driving experience as pleasant as possible, as we plan to drive around a lot. Therefore, we chose to stick on the small side, as much as possible, in the wide range of camper sizes. Because most standard campers are quite clumsy, we decided to go for a van.
When determining your preferred van size, you have to take in mind a wide range of factors. The first and most obvious is of course, size determines the work space you have, and what and how much you can fit into your mobile home. But you also have to think of the more day to day convenient aspects of your camper. For example, you can convert a bed to a place where you can sit and dine (as done in many factory campers and caravans) but you have to sacrifice the comfort of a good thick unitary mattress, and have to convert it from a bed to a dining area every single day. My parents for example are getting a bit older, and do not want to do this every day, so chose for a fixed bed in their camper.
For ourselves, it was important that we can stand straight up in our van and we therefore chose to look at high top vans. We could’ve opted for the popular VW Transporter and put a pop-up roof on it. However, we do not want to go through the hassle of putting it up each time we want to stand, and we did not want to sacrifice all that possible space for cabinets. We have also often heard of problems such as leakage with pop-up roofs, but also that it creates difficulties with insulation.
By just determining that we wanted a high top van, we could already narrow down our possible choice of vans quite drastically.
Another important factor is to determine what are you going to use your camper for. Well for camping obviously! But are you going to use your camper for short trips? Or for long holidays? And how often are you using it? Just once a year, or every month?
For us, the camper van will be our home, and this obviously had a huge impact on our decision of which van to buy. As previously mentioned, we preferred a high top rather than a pop-up top as this allows us to immensely increase our storage space. As the van will be our only home, all the stuff we own needs to be stored in the van. Available storage space is much more important to us, than for people that are using their camper for just short weeks or weekends away.
When determining your goal it is also important to think of where you plan to travel, and which period of the year you will be traveling. We plan to travel just about anywhere possible. Insulation is hence quite an important factor for our camper. Yet another reason for us to choose for a high top than a pop-up top.
We like to have a lot of light in our van. One of the reasons we bought our current van, is the fact that it has two large side windows, as well as two windows in the back, making the bus nice and bright on the inside. Of course we can build in these ourselves, but we do not really like the standard plastic camper windows, and big glass windows are quite expensive. So we were quite happy when we came across this van online.
However, when looking around on the internet, some people also seem to prefer the idea of a more stealthy camper. I actually do not know if it even is possible, but it is probably quite difficult to remove windows and seal it back up nicely.
You also have to think of factors such as, do I want a bench as passenger seat or a single seat? Buying new seats can be quite expensive, and it is much easier to choose a van which already has the seating of your preference. A single passenger seat might be easier to find a swivel for, if you are looking to use it as a seat in your home, rather than just whilst driving. You also have to wonder about how strong your engine has to be, and whether you will need a four wheel drive. Will you ride through mountainous areas a lot and how much weight will you carry?
Whether we like it or not, for most people the price tag forms a very crucial point when buying their camper. Initially, we opted for quite a new van, of just 2 to max 5 years old. But at that time, we did not yet fully realize the additional costs.
In the Netherlands, and probably also in other countries, when buying a new car, you have to pay something called “bpm”. Which is a private motor vehicle tax. For normal private cars, this is payed when a brand new car is bought for the first time from a car company. However, vans are usually bought by companies, which get indemnity from this tax. But when this van subsequently gets bought for private use, the buyer has to pay these taxes to the government. But that’s not all. When you convert your van to a camper, you can qualify your van as a camper in the Netherlands to get 75% off your monthly road tax. However, you then have to pay these taxes, ”bpm”, for the second time.
For vans that are older than 5 years, you do not have to pay the initial taxes with the purchase of the van, but solely when qualifying it as a camper. And luckily, the amount of taxes you have to pay when qualifying it as a camper, depreciates each year.
So by opting for an older van, our total costs are heavily reduced as the taxes are extremely high priced. Before you buy your van, it is important to be aware of such rules your country. I’ve often read about people here in the Netherlands that got a notice from the government after buying their van, that they had to pay a couple of thousand euros of taxes which they did not prepare for or did not have the budget for.
We also read up on the different van brands and models available nowadays. When choosing for which brand and type to go for, price will again be an important factor.
When reading all the reviews and experiences people had with different brands, we found that the Mercedes Sprinter and the Volkswagen Crafter came out on top when considering the longevity of the vans. Which is according to us an important factor when buying older vans. They seem to have almost no problems with rust, and their engine, when maintained properly, can easily reach 500.000 kilometers. However, they are also priced quite high.
During our research we also found that the Ford Transit scored quite high by people on many aspects. One of them being its driving experience, which is quite important for us, in which it often came out on top compared to other brands. But its fuel efficiency is also quite good, and it is priced much friendlier.
One of the downsides of the Transit, was that it is quite small. The width of the loading space is just 175 cm. This means we have to put our bed in lengthwise in order to fit the Dutch requirements for camper vans to eventually decrease our taxes. Transits are also known for getting rust, which we can confirm with our van and which we are treating at this very moment.
For us, the higher costs of the Mercedes and VW were not worth the advantages, and we found the Ford Transit to offer great value for money.
When we eventually went from researching to searching for van, we made up a list of features the van had to have in order for us to consider buying it. This list included the following:
- Windows in the cargo area
- A slightly extended wheelbase
- A fixed hightop roof
- At least older than 5 years
- Ford Transit
- Low mileage: less than 120.000 kilometers
This list eventually led to the van we have today, and with which we are quite happy! In our next blog post we explain how we have treated the rust we found in our van and what you need to do to treat most of it yourself. Don’t forget to check it out in due time!
Did you like this blog post and want to read more? Click here to go to our main camper van conversion page! Here, you can find a neatly organized list of all blog posts related to our van conversion project.