Our step-by-step guide from start to end of how we planned our van build.

Planning

The best part of converting your own van is you have total control over the outcome. The satisfaction at the end of the project is unparalleled and the first night spent away somewhere cool is spectacular.

Probably the greatest aspect of the design and planning process is that everyone will have unique specifications and design influences, making it a different journey for every project.

In the initial stages before you’ve bought a van, there are some important factors to consider. Are you planning to live in your van permanently or use it for weekend getaways? Do you need space for work or leisure equipment such as tools, kayak or a surfboard? Will you be using beach car parks with low height barriers or width restrictions? How many people will be using the space? Do you have pets? Do you want a smaller van that’s cheaper to run or would you rather spend a little more on diesel to allow for extra space? How tall are you? Will you have a fixed bed or a fold out? Would you prefer windows for natural light or no windows for extra security?

Asking yourself these questions should help you decide what size van you are looking at and from there you can start searching.

When searching for a van, try and choose wisely so you can save a few quid on repairs down the line. We got roped in to a cheap deal thinking we had caught a bargain. Unfortunately, with any secondhand vehicle this is rarely the case. Check the engine over, check the service history and check the MOT history on the .GOV website. Mainly keep an eye out for advisories regarding rust around the chassis and anything underneath the van. Also check what the common problems are with the particular make or model you are after. It’s important to familiarise yourself with these sooner rather than later, so you don’t get caught out in the middle of nowhere, trust me!

 

Click to enlarge

Do you need experience?

Nope, we had none! I mean, yeah it probably helps to know which way round to hold a drill, but even the most novice of novices can pick it up (we did) and make a pretty good go of it. Get to know your tools before you start cutting away at your best bit of wood, using small scraps. Write all the measurements down, draw up plans, measure again and then once more before making the final cut. It’s always beneficial to pull in a few favours where you can too. Promise your mate who’s a carpenter a few beers and your dad who’s a welder a curry and before you know it you’ll be picking things up off skilled craftsmen on the job. If you have no useful friends, not to worry! YouTube can teach you pretty much anything these days.

Failing all of this, a few wonky lines on the cupboard aren’t the end of the world, as we found out.

 

Click to enlarge

Timespan

Our first build took 10 months from when we bought the van until when we left the country in it, in between both working full time jobs to pay for everything. It wasn’t quite how we wanted it at the time but we were so keen on just getting out there and enjoying it.  When we returned from our first trip we spent another few months upgrading, tweaking and repairing, again whilst working full time. The second time round was definitely easier owing to the longer, warmer, brighter days – something to consider when planning your timeframe.

 

Click to enlarge

Budget

There’s a simple and trusted equation for working out your budget. Whatever you have in mind, double it and that should give you a good estimate. There will always be unforeseeable expenses, mechanical breakdowns or something else to give you a surprise from time to time. Sometimes the cheapest option is not always the best option. If you can get warranties on electrical and mechanical items for a few extra quid it’s definitely worth doing.

It’s possible to go ultra-low budget and haggle everyone and everything for money off, although this may not suit you if you have a small timescale - waiting around for bargains can be tedious but very worthwhile. We’ve known people to spend a few hundred on a van; do a bit of welding, bung a bed and a leisure battery in the back and go. We’ve also known people to spend the best part of £10000 so it really does depend on your own needs, thrifty abilities, budget and timescale.

Most items can be bought second hand but may lack warranties. Gumtree was really helpful to us, as were local pages on Facebook. You can find free wood for your projects everywhere, local reclamation yards and builder’s yards were where we had most luck. In particular, most people are more than happy to give you old pallets.

 

Click to enlarge

Design

The design phase is definitely the bit we enjoyed the most. A good design at this point of your plan will make the whole build run smoothly and allows you to see where any errors of judgment are or where improvements can be made before you get too absorbed in the build.

We used SketchUp, a design platform available on Windows and Mac, available here. It’s fairly simple to use and you can really let your imagination run wild with ideas. We made everything to scale using exact measurements, which made the entire build much easier. It allowed us to refer back to our drawing board if any problems arose and meant we could change things around much easier.

It’s at this stage also, you will begin to find little spaces with no use that can then be utilised for storage or other uses. After all, every inch matters in a van.

 

Click to enlarge

Where would you like to go next?