Motorhome conversions and self-build projects – what you need to know

For many people the idea of carrying out their own motorhome conversion is appealing – you can customise your vehicle to have exactly what you need and it can be a fun process too.

However, a large project such as this needs some careful consideration, so here are Club Care Insurance’s top tips to make sure it all runs smoothly:

Deciding on a layout for your motorhome conversion

layoutBefore you even consider base vehicles, makes and models, you need to establish the layout that your motorhome will need, so that you can look for a base vehicle to accommodate this.

You will need to plan your layout considering how you will be using your motorhome. For example you will need somewhere to sit and sleep, but if you will be taking your motorhome to campsites with facilities do you need a toilet or shower or will you just use the ones available on site? You will need some cupboard and/or wardrobe space, but are you a keen surfer who will also need a storage area big enough to safely stow your board?

The real benefit of a DIY motorhome conversion is that it is completely tailored to suit your needs, so take some time before you begin to establish what those are.

Visit motorhome shows and dealers to look at how van conversion manufacturers best utilise space in their designs.

Motorhome conversions – which base vehicle to choose?

base-vehicleOnce you know what your motorhome will look like when finished, you now need to find a base vehicle that has the space to accommodate this layout.

Choosing the right base vehicle is important and will be dependent on a number of factors alongside the layout you have planned and how much room you need, including:

  • What is your budget?
  • How confident you are at manoeuvring (a long wheel-base van offers more space between the wheel arches, and ultimately more space inside, but can be harder to manoeuvre. If this concerns you, a short wheel-base model would probably better suit your needs).
  • The size of engine you want – a bigger engine size will use more fuel but will be quicker and give you more pulling power uphill which may be important if you like to travel long distances on holidays or are planning to tour in Europe.

Before choosing a vehicle make sure that it fits all your needs – a motorhome conversion is a big commitment and unless you are completely happy it isn’t advisable to compromise on anything that you think is important to the enjoyment you will get from it.

Once you think you have found the perfect base vehicle, it is very important to take it out for a test drive and make sure you are happy with the way it handles. It is also important to consider how comfortable it is as you may be spending a lot of time driving it, and take your tape measure along to double check that there is room for everything that you need it to house.

It is worthwhile test driving on a few different roads, so if possible take it on country lanes as well as larger roads and test how easy it is to park.

In addition, give the vehicle a health check, looking for the following:

The service history – make sure that the vehicle comes with a service history so you can see what work has been done on it in the past, and more importantly, what you are likely to need to do in the future.

Leaks – carefully check all door and window seals for damp patches or stains that indicate water has been getting through.

Rust – check the vehicle for rust, paying particular attention to underneath the van, any joins and the wheel arches. If you do find rust make sure that you are satisfied that it can be fixed.

Weighing your van before beginning the conversion

weighingRegardless of whether you have opted for a Transit-sized van, or smaller van, it is very important that it is legal to drive on the road. Once you have purchased your chosen base vehicle, you need to take it to a weighbridge so that you know the weight of the vehicle now, and subsequently what the maximum weight of all the new items you add can be. To do this, follow the steps below:

  1. Take the vehicle to a weighbridge and find out its weight (this should be done with a full tank of petrol but no passengers)
  2. Subtract the weight of the vehicle now from its maximum legal weight, found on the data plate.
  3. This will then give you the maximum weight that your appliances, furnishings, accessories and passengers can be.

Once you know the maximum combined weight of all your motorhome fixtures and fittings, you are ready to convert!

What is involved with a motorhome conversion?

whats-involvedOnce you have drawn up your layout and chosen your base vehicle, the next step to a successful conversion is determining what needs doing, and then working out what you can manage yourself. Here is a guide to some of the tasks that will be required, though the exact list will depend on what you want from your motorhome conversion:

  • Fitting windows and doors
  • Installing a gas and electricity supply
  • Plumbing for kitchen and bathroom sinks, the toilet, shower and washing machine.
  • Water tanks – you will need a clean water tank for the sinks and shower, as well as a waste water tank to collect all the dirty water you have used.
  • Light fittings
  • Insulation
  • Furniture – either pre-bought and fitted or custom built
  • Upholstery for beds and seating
  • Fitting of kitchen appliances including fridge, freezer and cooker
  • Storage including kitchen cupboards, wardrobes and under-seat storage

Insuring your self-built motorhome

insuranceIf you are carrying out a motorhome conversion, you will need to make sure that you are insured during the process.

Provided that the conversion is completed within 120 days of taking out the policy, our motorhome cover can offer this insurance.

To remain insured throughout the process you need to ensure that you follow certain criteria during the build process. 

A full explanation of what is involved to remain insured when building your own motorhome can be found within the motorhome insurance section.

Checking you are licensed to drive

Make sure that you check that your driving license allows you to drive the vehicle, taking into account that it now has a revised gross vehicle weight.

Now you are ready to begin your motorhome holidays

holidaysOnce you have converted your motorhome and are ready to go, you should consider joining the Camping and Caravanning Club to provide you with a number of options for enjoying those new-found motorhome holidays.

You can also find out more about motorhome conversions in the December issue of the Club Magazine, where you will find a review of a conversion by Waveney Campers. The magazine is sent monthly to all members of the Club. By joining the Club you will then be able to enjoy a stay at over 100 friendly sites, as well as join rallies and trips overseas.