So which van have we decided on in the end? Well, this was all becoming a bit of a Grand Design and to get to that decision (which to date is still not set in stone) we have had to follow a long research road that has had lots of twists and turns. Everybody you speak to seems to throw another consideration in to the mix which sometimes seems to confuse the question more. It really is like buying a new house and secretly I am loving every minute…
The Main considerations we had to think about before we could go on our van search properly were:
At the moment we think we will have to put a top limit on our van price of £5,000 which includes carpeting, lining and electrics. Our intention for now (“Make the gods laugh, tell them your plans!”) is to have a couple of trips out in it before it is converted with just a mattress and portable cookers in the back so that we can get the feel of it before we choose our final design. This is why we will want it carpeted and lined before it arrives.
This will also help us know how many windows we will want to have put in to it (see more in my later blogs on the interior design). This way we can phase-in the interior work and spread the cost as well.
Empty Van or Part-Conversion?
Looking around (and online) I have come across quite a few vans that are already partly-converted either because their owner changed their mind or because they only wanted a Day van with basic layout. We were also considering a van that had been fully converted but could be re-worked inside as we have very specific ideas about how we want the interior to be and it isn’t the standard ‘side-kitchen/rock and roll bed’ layout. However, it would seem criminal to re-do an already sleek conversion (not that we could afford one) but we are open to re-jigging an unfinished conversion. This can make a lot of sense financially as well as some of the interior work like lining/electrics/captain chairs/curtains have already been done. However, I suppose my heart really lies with getting an empty van and doing it all from scratch and if we had a budget of £20k that would be easy. Given that we don’t have this kind of dosh it’s time to get creative!
Size of Van.
One of the considerations we had to take in to account was that our camper also needs to be our second vehicle which I gather is becoming more common now (trend noticed by the Editor of Campervan magazine). We live in a village so 2 cars are really necessary and, although Glyn cycles to work most of the time, he still needs to take the van some days.
This means that the van won’t get used a lot for general life but it needs to be reasonably small and economical. I always think it’s good for vans to get some regular road time in the winter anyway when they are not being used for camping adventures so much.
To decide on van size you also need to know what sort of camper-style you are (see previous blog ‘Quest for a Campervan (Part 1): What Sort of Camper are You?’ at https://thecampercookie.com/2017/02/26/quest-for-a-new-campervan-what-sort-of-camper-are-you/#more-2708)
We have worked out that, at this point in our lives, we are Week Campers which means that we will probably not be away in the van for more than a couple of weeks at a time so we don’t need as many facilities as someone who goes away for months at a time. Although we want something bigger than a micro-camper like Trev-the-Prev (our converted Toyota Previa) we don’t need it to be too big so a SWB vehicle seems to make sense.
Style of Van
Again this comes down to what sort of camper you are, how tall you are, how you cook and how fussy you are about bathroom stuff. As neither Glyn or I are tall people and we are not going to be living in the van for more than a couple of weeks at a time, we don’t really need a High-top (these really blitz your mpg as well). If you have the budget, you can always put in a pop-top (around £2,000+) but we have decided that we wouldn’t really use it that much. From what I hear, people tend to take them down when they are sleeping anyway (for warmth and in case the wind/rain comes up overnight).
As I don’t cook inside the van, other than a cup of tea and maybe a toasted sandwich, we are really only sleeping/sitting in the van. I realise that this is not the same for everyone and maybe if we had unlimited budget we would have a pop top but at the moment we don’t really feel that we need one.
As for bathroom stuff, yes to a Porta Potti of some kind but we won’t have the space or really the need for a shower unit as we usually mix our wild camping with campsite camping (showers) so we can manage that way. It’s surprising how much you can achieve with a couple of wet wipes when you’re desperate (possibly too much information!).
Performance of Van
By this I am not talking so much about engine size, although that is a consideration too, but how reliable/durable your van will be. This sounds like a straightforward question that you can research from manufacturers data but, oh no, there are more subtleties to it we have found.
From what I have been told ‘Vans’ are a whole different world to ‘Cars’ especially when it comes to mileage. It’s not uncommon to see panel vans for sale with 350,000 miles on the clock. I did hear that Wicked, the Australian campervan hire company that hires out those funky, graffiti-painted Toyotas, has even had a vehicle with half a million miles on it and still going! However, we have recently been told that it’s not just the mileage that gives you an idea of the life left in the vehicle but also the way it has been driven, especially as many panel vans are workhorses (more on this in the next blog). You also need to look at the servicing. Rust is another factor to consider for older vans and we have been told that vans that begin and end with a ‘T’ are particularly known for that!
When we first started researching vehicles back in November 2016, we were also considering converting a minibus. We don’t mind having lots of windows and minibuses do have a comfort spec in that they are designed for humans (air con/rear heating/comfy interior) rather than to transport materials and toolboxes. However, you will need to take out a mortgage to insure it. Insurance companies take in to account that, in a minibus, you could be carrying 6+ passengers and they have to cover that liability as well. We were looking at Ford Tourneos (which I still quite like).
I was getting insurance quotes for £500-£600 a year (and I’m considered ‘old-and-slow’ in insurance terms now, little do they know!). I need to check this out but I’ve also been told that it is difficult to convert minibuses to campervan status for insurance purposes but I will need to do more research on that and I’ll report back.
I’ve also heard that minibuses, because of all the windows, can be cold in the winter and like greenhouses in the summer and condensation can be a problem too. Don’t know if this is true for everybody and would be interested to hear peoples’ experiences of this.
So…. after much research we have come to the conclusion that, ideally, we would like one of the Vauxhall Vivaro/ Renault Trafic/Nissan Primastar SWB vans, something like this…
I lump these all together because they are just the same model with different badges.
We also like their LWB versions, which has a slightly longer load length (2.8m compared to 2.4m in the SWB), and, although this is only 40cm, this could make a significant difference to interior design but we feel that we just don’t need this at this point in time.
We decided on this van after talking to a variety of van experts, from the Editor of a campervan magazine (coming soon) through to van dealers and other campers.