Converting a van into a fully-equipped campervan is the ultimate way to enable adventure on the open road. The best van for camper conversion provides the ideal canvas to build out a unique home on wheels tailored to your needs. But with so many van options today, from compact city vans to expansive full-size cargo models, how do you determine the optimum van for your planned camper conversion?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key factors to consider when selecting a van to transform into a custom campervan. We’ll review top van models in the UK from brands like Volkswagen, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, outlining the pros and cons of each.
You’ll get insights into van dimensions, power and payload ratings, pricing, and more. We’ll also cover the differences between purchasing new versus used vans for conversions. With this essential information, you’ll be equipped to confidently pick the best van for your camper conversion and start crafting your very own vanlife adventure.
Van Height and Length Options:
When selecting a van to convert into a camper, an important first decision is choosing the right size van for your needs. There are a few key dimensions to consider – the roof height and the wheelbase length. Choosing a van with ample interior space for standing and moving around, while still being manageable to drive and park, is essential to a successful campervan build and road trip experience.
Take into account how many people will be traveling, the amount of gear you need to stow, and the types of locations you plan to camp when deciding on van height and length.
- H1 – Standard roof vans, interior standing height about 1.8m
- H2 – Medium roof vans, interior standing height around 2m
- H3 – High roof vans, interior standing height roughly 2.2m
The extra interior height of H2 and H3 vans provides more headroom and allows for overhead storage. But it comes at the cost of reduced fuel economy and manoeuvrability.
- L1 – Short wheelbase vans, around 5m long
- L2 – Medium wheelbase vans, approximately 6m long
- L3 – Long wheelbase vans, roughly 7m long
- L4 – Extra long wheelbase vans, about 8m long
Shorter vans like the L1 are extremely maneuverable and parkable. But they offer less interior space. The longest L4 vans provide cavernous space for builds, though are more cumbersome to drive.
Consider both van height and length based on your build plans. Solo travelers can opt for smaller H1, L1 vans for maximum convenience. Families will appreciate the abundant space of H3, L3-L4 models. Just ensure you have the proper driver’s license and experience for larger vans.
New or Old? The best van for camper conversion can be either
One of the biggest decisions when converting a van into a camper is whether to purchase a new van or a used van. Both options have their merits, and the right choice depends on your budget, timeline, and other factors. Beginning with a brand new van allows for full customization but at a higher upfront cost. Opting for a used van can provide big savings, but limits specification options and comes with some uncertainties around condition and reliability. In this comparison, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of buying a new van versus used when planning your camper conversion. Analyzing the key differences will help you make the best choice to meet your travel goals while staying within your budget constraints.
- No previous wear and tear
- Full warranty coverage
- Latest technology and features
- Customer build to your specs
- Peace of mind knowing full history
- Much higher upfront cost
- Depreciation as soon as you drive away
- Can take months for customer orders
- Significant cost saving over new
- Can find lightly used 1-3 year old vans
- Previous build issues already addressed
- Quickly available for purchase
- No factor warranty protections
- Existing wear and maintenance issues
- Limited ability to customize specs
- Unknown history and reliability
- How much you plan to drive the van each year
- Your budget for purchasing the base van
- Availability of new vs used vans in your area
- Importance of warranty coverage and latest features
- Timeline for needing the van ready for travel
Overall, purchasing used can make a lot of sense for camper conversions if you find a lightly used van in good shape. But buying new provides maximum customization, reliability, and peace of mind. Weigh the pros and cons carefully based on your specific needs and situation. Thoroughly inspect any used van and get a service history to avoid expensive surprises down the road.
4 Of The Best Vans for a camper conversion
For Solo Travelers: Volkswagen Caddy
The Volkswagen Caddy is a nimble and compact van that’s perfect for single travelers. Its small size makes it easy to drive and park, while still offering ample living space inside. The Caddy has a maximum payload of over 700kg, leaving plenty of capacity for building out the interior. Headroom is also decent, allowing you to install bed space overhead. Being a Volkswagen, it’s also reliable and gets good fuel economy.
Overall, the Caddy is an excellent base for a simple, functional solo van camper conversion.
- Compact size makes it manoeuvrable and easy to park
- Good fuel economy
- Low load height makes it easy to build out interior
- Reliable VW build quality
- Limited interior space restricts full-time living
- Low weight capacity limits heavy builds
- Not great for off-road use
Volkswagen Caddy Cost’s:
- New: £17,000 – £23,000
- Used: £7,000 – £15,000
Outdoor Gear reviews rating for the Volkswagen Caddy:
For Couples: Ford Transit Custom
A step up in size, the Ford Transit Custom provides a spacious canvas for a camper build designed for two. There’s room to include all the necessary amenities like a bed platform, kitchenette, and seating area without feeling cramped. The Transit Custom has a maximum payload approaching 1 tonne, giving you plenty of weight capacity to work with. It’s available with a range of fuel-efficient diesel engines and comes with Ford’s excellent build quality. If you want a two-person van camper conversion with all the essential comforts, the Transit Custom is up there as the best van for a camper conversion.
- High ceiling provides generous headroom
- Nearly 1 tonne payload capacity
- Choice of fuel efficient diesel engines
- Spacious interior with room for 2
- Can be tricky to park due to larger size
- Not as nimble as smaller vans
Ford Transit Custom Cost’s:
- New: £25,000 – £35,000
- Used: £10,000 – £20,000
Outdoor gear reviews rating for the Ford Transit Custom:
For Families: Ford Transit
With multiple size configurations and ample payload capacity, the Ford Transit is a camper converter’s dream. The Transit can be customized with extended lengths and raised roofs to allow standing room, creating cavernous interior space for family-sized builds. Strong chassis ratings enable heavy duty conversions with all the comforts. Choose from powerful turbodiesel engines to handle big rigs with ease. The Transit has proven reliability to endure mile after mile of family adventure and a clear favourite for the title ‘The best van for camper conversion’
- Highly customizable with size and roof options
- Up to 1.4 tonne payload capacity
- Powerful and proven turbodiesel engine range
- Ideal canvas for family-focused camper builds
- Boxy design lacks character
- Large variants can be cumbersome
- Entry models have basic features
Ford Transit Cost’s:
- New: £28,000 – £45,000
- Used: £9,000 – £25,000
Outdoor gear reviews rating for the Ford Transit:
For Families: Mercedes Sprinter
When converting a camper for family travel, size and functionality are key factors. The Mercedes Sprinter really fits the bill here. Its large dimensions allow for multiple beds, generous storage, and all the amenities needed for comfortable family trips. Yet it remains easy enough to drive for everyday use. The Sprinter has beefy chassis options that can handle big builds. It also comes available with 4×4 capabilities for off-road family adventures. If you want maximum space and versatility for a family camper, the Sprinter is hard to beat.
- Cavernous interior space
- Multiple roof height and length options
- Can accommodate beds for the whole family
- 4×4 options available for off-road
- Expensive purchase price
- Large dimensions make parking difficult
- Requires more powerful (thirsty) engine
Mercedes Sprinter Cost’s:
- New: £30,000 – £50,000
- Used: £15,000 – £30,000
Outdoor gear reviews rating for the Mercedes Sprinter:
Outdoor gear reviews Best Van For Camper Conversions
The Overall Winner: Ford Transit
Taking everything into account, we think the Ford Transit is the best overall van for camper conversions in the UK right now. It strikes a great balance of size, versatility, driving dynamics, and cost-effectiveness.
The Transit is available in multiple lengths and roof heights, so you can customize it to your needs. It offers ample payload capacity even for larger builds. Driving comfort and handling are excellent for a big van.
Overall, the Ford Transit has that perfect combination of capacity, convenience, and affordability that make it so great for DIY camper conversions. Any way you outfit it, the Transit makes an outstanding campervan that will enable adventures for years to come.
Deservedly taking the title ‘The Best Van for Camper Conversion’
Registration/Insurance Requirements for Your Van Conversion
Once you’ve found the best van for camper conversion and completed your van conversion in the UK, there are some legal requirements to keep in mind for registration and insurance purposes:
- Notify the DVLA of vehicle modifications – Changing the interior of a van is considered a “material change” that must be reported. This includes installing beds, cabinets, sinks, etc.
- Obtain revised registration documents – The DVLA will issue new registration docs showing the van is now a “motor caravan.” This allows you to drive and park it as such.
- Review insurance policy – Most standard auto policies don’t cover van conversions or camper conversions. You’ll need a specialized motorhome or campervan policy that covers both the vehicle and conversion aspects.
- Consider breakdown coverage – Extended policies provide breakdown assistance for motorhomes. This can be crucial if trouble strikes while traveling.
- Research campervan sites/networks – Many converted vans join official campervan clubs or networks to access benefits like discounts and approved parking sites.
Following proper registration and insurance protocols is a crucial part of legally converting and operating your van conversion in the UK. By notifying the DVLA, obtaining proper documentation, and securing specialized campervan insurance, you can ensure your van meets all legal requirements. This provides peace of mind that you will be driving safely and legitimately as you embark on road trips and adventures in your new home on wheels.
Consulting experienced campervan converters or clubs can help guide you through the process smoothly. Taking the necessary steps will allow you to hit the open road without hassle.
Embarking on a van conversion is an exciting journey, but choosing the right vehicle is a critical first step. Whether you pick a nimble Caddy for solo travel, a spacious Transit Custom for couples, or a cavernous Transit or Sprinter for a family-sized build, the destination will be epic open road adventures.
Take time to weigh your needs and budget to find the ideal van canvas and you will find the best van for camper conversion. Calculate the required payload capacity and interior room for your planned build. Assess power requirements and availability of parts and service. With vision and proper planning, your perfect van conversion awaits. Soon you’ll be living the vanlife, transformed from cargo hauler to comfortable, customized campervan.
The freedom of the open road beckons – your converted van will get you there in comfort, style and reliability. Just slide open that van door and the journey begins. Check out our wonders of the UK blog to find your next adventure!