Vanlife is all the rage these days. But is it everything it’s cracked up to be? It depends on who you ask, but many RVers are downsizing to Class B camper vans. Some van devotees have opted for conversion kits to save money and get exactly what they want.
Some choose to install these kits themselves or hire a company to do it. They have found it worthwhile to use every inch of space for their specific needs without bringing along extra weight and equipment with a generic manufactured van.
But what can you get with a kit? Let’s find out what to expect in this van conversion kit overview.
What Are Van Conversion Kits?
A kit for a van conversion should include all of the major amenities needed to turn a cargo van into a comfortable camper van. Most kits have various options, and buyers can select which they’d like to include and those they feel they won’t need. The flexibility makes a van conversion kit a great way to design a van unique to the owner.
A kitchen setup should include a sink, fresh water, and gray water tanks, a cook stove, and a refrigerator at the very least. A bed platform of some type should also be a major part of the conversion kit, and many have options for restroom facilities like a portable camping toilet or outdoor shower.
A van conversion foundation begins with a power setup. This should include battery selection, solar additions with a controller, an inverter, charger, and panels. Or you can get shore power wiring which involves options for a ventilation fan, heater, and possibly an air conditioner. A good conversion kit will also have some cabinetry and storage.
What Are the Benefits of Van Conversion Kits?
Using a kit to create your van layout will give you exactly the living space you want without the potential for unused equipment or features from a pre-built camper van. Additionally, conversion kits make it easier to DIY without needing to custom-craft everything yourself.
With such a small area, you need to use every nook and cranny to the best of your ability. Manufactured Class B vans come with set floorplans and utilities, storage space, and equipment, some of which you may find useless. Van conversion kits manufacturers have honed their designs to install easily and meet the needs of a variety of campers.
Tailoring your van to your specific measurements can be highly beneficial, as well. A manufactured van bed may not be comfortable if you are moderately tall. With a van conversion kit, you can design a longer bed or window bump-outs to extend your sleep space.
Using your van full-time or working can also make a manufactured Class B less functional for your situation. Most don’t include designated work areas or enough power to work off-grid for a longer time.
With a van conversion kit, you can draw up plans for dual-purpose areas. You can make a power plan that includes plenty of battery storage and solar power to keep you working from morning until night.
And if you want to stealth camp, especially in the city, a van conversion kit can help your rig remain unobtrusive. You can avoid obvious labeled hookups, awnings, or appliance vents that might otherwise stand out on a manufactured van. Some have even found ways to make solar panels on the roof less noticeable to passersby.
Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Turn Your Vehicle Into a Stealth Camper when converting your camper van.
What Are the Disadvantages of Van Conversion Kits?
Many van conversions have minimal bathroom designs, making it difficult to do your business in your mobile home. Outdoor showers have come a long way, but you can’t use them in stealth situations, and porta-potties can get messy.
Van conversion kits don’t often have separate RV air conditioner units for the coach. This makes it difficult to use your van in harsher climates or where pets need to remain inside.
You also don’t get a generator that can power a 110V air conditioner. The 12V A/C units require quite a bit of battery power to run, so most van conversion companies don’t offer air conditioner installations. If they do, expect a higher price tag.
One drawback of using a conversion kit versus purchasing a manufactured van is the time it takes to build it. Whether you do it yourself or enlist a van conversion specialist, getting a finished van can take several months. Conversion companies do vans one at a time, whereas manufacturers can mass-produce RVs on assembly lines.
Additionally, the cost of a van conversion kit and installation can run into the tens of thousands, depending upon the build. Add to that the cost of a chassis for the project, and you have the price of some newly manufactured ones.
The Best Van Conversion Kits
You have nearly limitless ways to configure a van. Conversion kits give each owner a way to individualize their rig without things they don’t need. We’ve listed four options that we think will provide you with some great guidance on planning your camper van conversion.
Wayfarer Vans Walt Camper Kit
Wayfarer Vans out of Colorado Springs, Colo., builds on three different Ram ProMaster chassis and high and medium roof Ford Transit vans. It creates two bed sizes that work as the lynchpin for the entire floorplan.
Choose the bed size, and the kit will then include a kitchen cabinet unit with a sink and storage. It also comes with 5-gallon fresh and gray water tanks, insulated flooring, ceiling and wall panels, and a bed platform.
You’ll also receive upper cabinetry and privacy paneling for the rear and side doors. Purchasers select the color of cushion material and several add-ons like a 12V refrigerator, MaxxAir fan, a heater, an inverter, wheel well boxes, and a hidden table.
The inverter does not include solar panels but can charge from the chassis battery as you drive. The price for kits varies by vehicle, bed platform floorplan, and upgrades. It ranges from $5,580 to $12,280.
Pro Tip: We took a closer look at Wayfarer’s conversion kits to determine what they include and if they are worth the investment.
Trail Kitchens Kits
Trail Kitchens manufactures high-performance camp cooking, cleaning, and storage solutions for cars, trucks, sports utility vehicles, and RVs. Located in Truckee, Calif., the company manufactures its cooking units in-house, from portable water heaters to stand-alone kitchen units.
The company also makes outdoor ovens, cabinetry, slides, and a wide variety of cookware. You can simply get this kitchen kit if you already have the other pieces. Prices for cooking and cleanup structures run from $849 to $2,999.
ZENVANZ Modular Systems
Bryan and Jen Danger started ZENVANZ as a way to build out their camper van, and the company offers van conversion kits to the do-it-yourselfer. Their designs use aluminum and bent bamboo, creating beautiful layouts from ceiling to floor. Additionally, the systems get installed using your van’s factory holes.
An average kit includes a kitchen galley unit with cabinetry and drawers that you can upgrade with a sink, stovetop, refrigerator, and mounted tabletop. It also has seven upper cabinets, a three-panel bed system with upgradeable mattress options, and a fold-out gear drying rack.
ZENVANZ offers custom-designed components and an entire custom van design and installation, as well. A standard kit for short wheelbase vans costs $18,000, while the longer wheelbase van kits cost $22,000.
Happier Camper Adaptiv for Vans
Adaptiv has an unusual design that allows van owners to create an interior with interchangeable parts. It starts with a floor where you attach fiberglass cubes with various functions.
Design a galley kitchen with stackable cubes and a sink on top, then connect it to the flooring. A bed design pulls several cubes together to form a platform also attached to the floor. You can even get a toilet cube with a seat.
And because every design uses a series of blocks, you can create unique sizes to fit a variety of vans. Just think of Happier Camper Adaptiv as a giant Lego set for van conversions.
How Much Should I Budget for a Van Conversion?
To budget for a conversion, first, include the price for an empty cargo van. Then decide how intricate you want your build. Will you have an entire power setup or just the minimum layout with a bed and kitchen unit?
Will you add insulation with a floor and ceiling and fill out the walls? And finally, will you be building it yourself or paying a company to install your van conversion?
Most DIY conversions can run anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, based on your answers to the questions above. But having a van conversion company do the wiring, design, and installation can cost from $20,000 to $50,000. And of course, none of these prices include the cost of the van.
Is It Cheaper to Buy or Convert a Van?
Depending upon your needs, a van conversion can cost much less than purchasing a new van. However, some used manufactured rigs may come closer to the cost of a nice conversion. It really depends on how specialized you want it. If you don’t need specific amenities or equipment, then a van conversion can be the way to go.
Are Van Conversion Kits Worth It?
Most van conversion kits can save you money, but they all have to start with a van. Select yours carefully, then get down to specifics when deciding what type of kit and upgrades you might need. If you find that your needs match those of a generic manufactured van, it might be just as prudent to purchase a ready-made Class B van, saving you time over money.
Have you ever used a camper van conversion kit? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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