How’d I get this van? How’d I make it? Here’s a very short summary of converting a cargo van for full time living, travel, and adventuring. I bought 15 year old plain cargo van that was in great shape and did the conversion entirely by myself. I built this van to live in full time for at least 2 years while traveling around the Western half of the United States. I’ll spend a lot of time out in National Forests and BLM land and use the van as a home base for launching hikes, bike rides, and landscape photography treks. See my Vanlife Manifesto for the strategy I crafted before buying the van and starting the conversion.

TIMELINE

  • 9/26/14 – Vandwelling Test Trip #1 (King’s Canyon / Sequoia, California)
  • 4/12/15 – Vandwelling Test Trip #2 (Sedona, AZ)
  • 4/07/16 – Started looking for a van
  • 5/04/16 – Bought van
  • 5/24/16 – Vandwelling Test Trip #3 (Sedona AZ and Nearby)
  • 3/10/16 – Finished van conversion
  • 4/14/16 – Finished preparing house for sale
  • 6/1/16 – House sale closing date
  • 6/27/16 – Told Boss I’m quitting
  • 7/15/16 – Last day of work

 

VAN CRITERIA

  • Drivetrain with off-road capability comparable or better than 2wd LSD pickup truck
  • Moderately Reliable and Servicable**
  • Inexspensive**
  • Can blend in while in cities** (=most people won’t recognize it as camper van)
  • Enough room to carry a reasonable amount of hobby equipment and supplies for at least a week

** -These basically ruled out Westfalias ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

COSTS

Campervan conversion costs

 

HOURS SPENT ON CONVERSION

(These are estimates)

  • Total Hours: 510
  • Hours of Research: 200
  • Hours doing stuff: 310
  • Trips to Home Depot: 45

 

CONVERSION PICTURES

1 Day after I bought the van:

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

The interior was nearly unused

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

Stripping

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

Testing layouts. I drafted about 8 layout options and tested many of them in the van like this. This is the one I chose because it made good use of the windows but still had quite a lot of storage space

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

I’d used Excel as my drafting program for my layout designs :-D.  My brother drew this up for me in about 1 minute

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Insulation and side panels done on walls
  • Roof vent fan installed
  • Wires ran for lights
  • Plywood floor layer installed

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Laminate wood flooring installed
  • Boxes built over wheelwells
  • Bed platform built
  • Ceiling insulation and panels done
  • Lights installed and wired to small battery for testing and work illumination

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Bike storage box built behind driver’s seat (Room for road frame and wheels, bike clothes, shoes, helmet, pump, etc. Plus overflow storage space for bulky things like paper towels)

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Galley built on right side. (Storage cupboard, Fridge (Whynter FM-45), More storage space on other side)
  • Storage drawers installed on left side
  • Mattress added to bed. (Custom sized memory foam)

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Window curtains added that block all light
  • Desk/table surface installed

Camper Van Conversion - Interior

  • Lunchbox locker installation in rear differential. (These are awesome. highly recommended for 2wd vehicles. They are worlds better than an open differential and significantly better than a limited slip differential. They have a bit of driving clunkiness in certain specific situations, but it’s no problem)

Camper Van Conversion - Lunchbox Locker

  • Goodyear Duratrac tires installed. Slightly larger size than stock tires. Also removed the running boards

Camper Van Conversion - Goodyear Duratrac Tires

  • Solar panels mounted. I made a frame for them out of angle iron. It has worked very well.

Note – Roof racks can be really expensive. These are very inexpensive and are sturdy: Highland 2006200 Black Heavy Duty Bar Carrier

Camper Van Conversion - Electrical System - Solar panels

  • Electrical System installed.

I tell you what, the electrical system took as long as everything else combined. And the majority of the time for it was research. I had done practically no electrical work or tinkering in my life so far. I had to learn everything from scratch. I’m very glad I build the system myself instead of buying something like a Goal Zero system. I got WAAAY more for the money.

If you want to build your own electrical system, and your starting from little/no knowledge like I did, read this book:  Stand-alone Solar Electric Systems. It’s a textbook and it’s written in clear language for people who are not electrical experts yet. It’s currently $58 on Amazon and it was worth much more than that for me. I found my copy on Barnes and Noble for $35. It won’t teach you everything you need to know, but it will give you a basic understanding of designing and building an off grid solar system. Before reading this, I would try to learn on the internet and end up with 20 tabs open on my browser and being more confused than when I started. After, I understood the basics and I knew which specific subjects and equipment I needed to learn more about

Camper Van Conversion - Electrical System

System Basics:

  • Solar Array: 400w solar array
  • Battery: 200 amp hour Lifeline AGM battery
  • Charge Controller: Morningstar Tristar MPPT30
  • Samlex 600w pure sine inverter
  • Switches and USB/Cig. outlets from Powerwerx
    • 4 USB outlets
    • 2 Cig. lighter outlets
    • Switch and cheap PWM dimmer for lights
  • Trimetric TM-2030 battery monitor

Camper Van Conversion - Electrical System Camper Van Conversion - Electrical System

Wiring Diagram

wiring diagram for solar off grid van electrical system

 

See my Gallery of Van pictures for many more pictures of the van after the conversion was finished.

Want a LOT more details? See this conversion thread I made on the Cheap RV living forum