We recently wrote a post about How to Choose a Van for Van Life. In it we discussed a number of the questions that came up for us as we began the search for the perfect vehicle. In our quest to help people figure out which van to pick, we also realized we might be able to shed some light on the choices you face regarding the inside of your vehicle. If you are going to enter into van life, the interior of the van is arguably just as important as a reliable engine and rust-free body. In this post we discuss your options when it comes to conversion kits, DIY van builds and custom builds.
DIY Van Conversion
If you’ve been on any form of social media in the last few years, chances are you’ve seen some really brilliant DIY van conversions. Some of our favorites include @van_yacht, and @funlifecrisis. It’s really impressive that someone was able to take a van and an idea and turn it into something not only practical but beautiful. We entertained the DIY van conversion but only very briefly. The limiting factors for us was a lack of time and relevant skills. When we first got into the Promaster last winter (the start of 2018) we had to be in Arizona for a job in just a few weeks. Though Caroline has a good bit of experience in building things and using her hands, we both felt like converting a van would take more than the skills we had.
There are a few things to take into consideration if you are thinking about a DIY Van Conversion on your Ram Promaster or Sprinter van.
Do you have the tools?
Do you have the time?
Will you have a have a place to work on the van?
What about the skills and expertise? YouTube is a great source of information but the second you drill a hole in your van, well, you’ve drilled a hole in your van.
If you have the time to slowly work on your van, collect materials and learn as you go, a DIY Van conversion might just be the cheapest way to go. (Especially if you find repurposed materials).
Another option for those of you wanting to get on the road and experience van life is to purchase a conversion kit. A conversion kit will help reduce the amount of time it take to build out your van. And because a kit already comes in “chunks” or “building blocks” it’ll reduce the amount of actual building you’re doing and focus more on installation.
There are a couple conversion kits on the market these days. We’ve had a positive experience with our Wayfarer Plug-N-Play Conversion Kit which is made specifically for the Ram Promaster City van. With Wayfarer, as with most of the other companies offering them, you can either have them install it or do it yourself. In some ways, a conversion kit can be a mixture of both custom and DIY.
In most cases a conversion kit is a bit more affordable than straight up custom. Most conversion kits are going to cost more than a DIY conversion. That said, they’re almost always more affordable than the next option: a custom van build. We have a lot more information about this kit on our Van Life page.
Some questions to ask when considering a conversion kit:
Will the conversion kit meet my needs?
Where do I have to take my van to get it converted?
How much will shipping cost if I end up doing the installation myself?
How long will it take to install?
Is there a wait list?
Custom Van Builds
Most people really love the idea of a custom built van. Why? Because you can tailor the vehicle exactly to your wants and needs. Solar panels on the top to keep your laptops charged? No problem. Bamboo ceilings for that perfect Instagram look? It can be done. Built-in storage and a toilet? Sure thing. There are several people who have started businesses around custom van build-outs. A little bit of research will put you onto some really amazing rigs. This is the most expensive option of the three but, like a well-fitting suit that’s tailored just for you, a custom van is going to meet most (if not all) of your van life needs. You pay more for personalization.
Two of our top picks for Custom Van Builds
During the process of educating ourselves in custom van builds we narrowed our interest down to a couple of companies: Vanlife Customs based in Denver, Colorado seem great. They’ve done some really beautiful work on Promasters, Sprinters and even Transits. We wrote back and forth a bit during the information gathering process before we realized we just couldn’t justify the money. (Maybe one day?!) They were easy to chat with and super helpful in explaining the process. We’d definitely be interested in continuing the conversation if the day ever arrives where we want a custom van.
We also really like SD Campervans. The women who own and run SD Campervans offer a starter package for those of you who just want to get on the road and spend a minimal amount of money. The prices for the starter package begin at $11,000. They also offer a standard conversion as well as a custom conversion. In addition, they offer two different standard layout options. They detail what you get on their website and also have options for upgrades. UPDATE: SD Campervans is no longer in business.
If money isn’t a factor and you have your pick of custom builds, we recommend taking a look at Outside Van in Oregon. We really like some of the rigs they’ve designed and built. At the time this post goes live there are three for sale on their site. The only catch? The lowest price for one of them was $147,000. I know, many homes cost this much and more. But for many van lifers, that price tag is a barrier to entry. But give them a look and don’t rule them out if a limited budget is not a factor for you! Their rigs are sick! They’ll build out Promasters, Transits and Sprinters from 2007 or newer. In addition, Bearfoot Theory wrote a great piece on why she’s choosing them for her second van. You can check that out here.
Some questions to ask if you are considering a custom build:
How much is it going to cost?
How long will it take to build?
Is there a wait list?
Van Life: Custom Builds, DIY Van Conversion and Conversion Kits Recap
The good thing about outfitting your van is that you have options. As with most things in life, fast ain’t cheap and neither is quality. The first step to getting into van life is most certainly finding a vehicle that checks all the boxes: reliable, safe, affordable, etc. (More on that HERE). After that, it’s a matter of figuring out how to turn that vehicle into a home on wheels!
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!
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