So far, we’ve covered the different vehicle options for van life, the pros and cons of used vs new, and websites and forums to watch when you are shopping for a van. Whether you’re buying new or used, now is the time to start thinking about who is actually going to build out your home on wheels. Are you leaning toward a DIY van build or are you thinking about hiring a campervan conversion company to do it for you?
No matter what, designing your van shouldn’t be a rushed process. I’ve worked with two different companies to convert each of my vans, and each took nearly a year from ordering a new 4×4 Sprinter to having it converted and ready for the road. If you don’t have the patience for this, then buying a used, already converted van might be your best route.
Now, let’s discuss some considerations for a DIY van build vs hiring a campervan conversion company.
DIY Van Conversion
If you have experience building stuff, you have time, or you simply think that building out a van would be a fun and enjoyable process, going DIY can save you a lot of money. It also gives you the flexibility to change your conversion after the fact if there is something about your build you really don’t like.
Things to keep in mind when planning to do a DIY van conversion:
- You’ll need a place to store the van and your tools as you work on it.
- Set aside more time than you think you need and have wiggle room in your budget.
- You’ll want to plan to get a bulk of the work done when the weather is good so you can comfortably be outside unless you have a large garage or other covered space to work in.
- YouTube is a great resource for all things DIY, as is the Sprinter Source Forum.
DIY Van Build Pros
- You can spend as much or as little money as you want.
- It can be a fun, bonding experience for all involved.
- Your van build van be unique and one of a kind.
- You can more easily change parts of the build later.
- You’ll be more familiar with how everything works and will be able to repair things on your own easier.
DIY Van Build Cons
- It’s more difficult to get RV insurance with a DIY build.
- It’s not a fast process so that’s something to consider if you want to hit the road within a certain time.
- The resale value is not as high as professional conversions.
- It can be a frustrating experience if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Since this is not a full-blown DIY van build course, I’ll share a few links in the resources section at the end of this lesson that will be helpful to those of you considering DIY.
Hiring a Van Conversion Company
Now, let’s talk about working with a conversion company.
When I was in this process with my first van, I lived in an apartment with no garage/driveaway or tools, nor do I consider myself a handy person. I knew that doing a DIY job would be frustrating, take forever, and probably end up being rather expensive due to mistakes made along the way and all of the new tools I’d have to acquire. I was also working 60+ hours a week trying to grow my blog into a sustainable business, so I decided that building a DIY van was not a good use of my time or resources. For these reasons, I decided to hire a professional conversion company for both of the Sprinter Vans I’ve owned.
The downside of hiring a professional is the upfront investment. Going with a builder is simply going to be more expensive. Second, if you decide you don’t like something about your conversion, you’re not going to want to rip it out and change it, like you could if you DIYed. Finally, there are a lot of inexperienced van builders popping up all over the place who are charging top dollar for van conversions they don’t even know will last. If you don’t do your homework, you could be overpaying and end up with a low-quality product.
Hiring a Van Conversion Company Pros
- It’s easier to get RV insurance.
- You’re more likely to have a professional grade job done.
- Professional van builds hold their value better than DIY vans.
- You’ll have more time for other things like family and work.
Hiring a Van Conversion Company Cons
- It’s more expensive.
- It’s harder to change something you don’t like after the conversion is done.
- You likely won’t be as familiar with how everything is set up, so you’ll likely have to pay to have things fixed rather than being able to do it yourself.
In the next lesson, we’ll share some tips for screening a van conversion company so you don’t make some of the mistakes I made when I hired a conversion company for my first van.
Buying a Professional Pre-Built Van
Rather than a completely custom conversion which requires time, money, a lot of decision making, and expertise, you could purchase a professionally built out van with a proven layout. There are a variety of conversion companies out there that offer vans like this, and Storyteller Overland is a personal favorite and happens to be one of our sponsors (meaning, they helped make this free course possible). We saw their vans in person at Open Roads Fest last year and were blown away by how sturdy, practical, and ready for adventure they were. With their motto “Live Free, Explore Endlessly, and Tell Better Stories,” they have been a big supporter and part of the van life community since the beginning. If you’re interested in buying a new van but are wary about the time, money, and uncertainty that go into a custom conversion, check out Storyteller Overland’s MODE4x4 Adventure Van Series. You can find them on Instagram here.
Van Conversion Companies I Stand Behind
Helpful DIY Van Build Blogs:
Browse the other van life lessons in Module 1
- Lesson 1: Choosing the Best Van for Van Life: Lifestyle & Location Considerations
- Lesson 2: Pros and Cons of Different Vehicles (Transit vs Sprinter vs Promaster vs others)
- Lesson 3: Buying New vs Used
- Lesson 4 (current lesson): DIY vs Hiring a Conversion Company
- Lesson 5: How to Screen a Conversion Company to Build out your Van
Did you decide to DIY your van build or hire a conversion company to build your van? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below and make sure to sign up for course updates!