Building your own camper van is an exciting challenge. If you have the time, it's well worth the effort to produce a design that fits your needs exactly, and can be a great source of pride. And hopefully you'll save a great deal of money in the process!
I've written a 378-page book about converting vans into camper vans, the Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook. In this 15-post Campervan HQ series, we'll outline some of the same design and equipment considerations that I discuss in the book, and I hope it's of use to you!
The posts will cover:
- Camper Vans Part 1: What's Your Camping Lifestyle?
- Camper Vans Part 2: Renting a Camper Van/Motorhome
- Camper Vans Part 3: Planning the Interior Layout
- Camper Vans Part 4: Choosing (and Finding) a Base Van
- Camper Vans Part 5: Starting the Build
- Camper Vans Part 6: Adding Windows
- Camper Vans Part 7: Adding Soundproofing and Insulation
- Camper Vans Part 8: Adding Wiring
- Camper Vans Part 9: Adding Heat
- Camper Vans Part 10: Adding Plumbing
- Camper Vans Part 11: Adding Interior Paneling
- Camper Vans Part 12: Adding Cabinetry
- Camper Vans Part 13: Adding Beds
- Camper Vans Part 14: Adding Upholstery
- Camper Vans Part 15: Exterior Modifications
Camper Vans: What's Your Camping Lifestyle?
The very first decision - what do you want to do with your camper van? Do you see yourself traveling around North America, or perhaps traveling all the way down the Pan-American highway right to Tierra del Fuego? Different types of recreational vehicles (RVs) are suited for different types of uses.
When talking about camper vans and motorhomes, you should be aware of some terminology used in North America for motorized RVs:
- A-Class Motorhome - Generally the largest kind, with a giant box-like body and often on a diesel-engined chassis. These motorhomes are the most expensive and have the most space, so they're good for "full-timers", people who are living in their motor home 100% of the time. Since they're large and heavy, they use the most fuel, cost the most, and are only suitable for using on paved roads.
- B-Class Motorhome - These are recreational vehicles built on a van chassis, currently in North America on vans like the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram Promaster. They're often the smallest kind of motorized RV, and range in length from 19 to almost 25 feet long. Vans are available in multiple roof heights, so you can stand up in some high-roof vans, or build a pop-top sleeping area into a low-roofed van. Some of these are available with 4x4 for off-road use, but short-wheelbase 2WD versions can be fine to use on dirt roads like you'll find in national forests and wilderness areas.
- C-Class Motorhomes - These are RVs built on a cutaway or cab chassis, where the chassis just has the driver's seating and engine at the front, and then a large separate box for the RV living space is added onto the chassis. These are often quite large and heavy too, but usually smaller than a class A motorhome, while having much more living and sleeping space than a class B motorhome. These are often great for families, as there's enough dedicated sleeping space for 4-6 people, and the beds can stay fixed in place for both day and night use.
Of course, many people buy a trailer for occasional camping trips. While this is a great idea too which is very inexpensive, trailers have some pros and cons:
- they're inexpensive
- can just unhitch a trailer and take your vehicle into town
- can leave a trailer in your driveway when you don't need it, don't have to have a separate vehicle that might be unused a lot of the time
- require a tow vehicle with adequate power, trailer hitch and trailer brake controller
- can be tricky to tow in mountainous areas, high winds, rainy or snowy/icy weather
- small trailers not so great when it's windy or cold, bigger trailers more comfortable and have more space but require bigger tow vehicles
I hope this post has helped you identify some of the factors you'll want to consider when choosing a camper van.
In the next post, we'll talk about renting a camper van/motorhome to really hone in on what works for you (and doesn't work for you) with certain equipment and layouts.
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