Campervan & Motorhome Conversions: What You Need to Know
Converting a motorhome, van or campervan into your ideal mobile ‘home from home’ is something many owners consider. But we tend to think that our ‘bespoke’ dream is out of reach and perhaps we should settle for an off-the-shelf variant. There’s no reason why this should be the case. It’s not impossible to customise your vehicle so you have exactly what you need – and it can be a fun process too, as long as you plan ahead and consider all the potential pitfalls, too.
Decide on a layout
First things first: establish what layout you need in your new motorhome, so you can decide the best base vehicle to accommodate it.
Think about how you’ll be using the space: you’ll need somewhere to sit and sleep, of course. Will you need a toilet or shower? Or will you be staying on campsites with these facilities? Are you going to eating out a lot, or do you want decent cooking facilities on board?
You will need some storage space for clothes and so on, but if you’re going to be surfing, you may also need a storage area big enough to safely stow your board. An elevated roof might be welcome if you like a lot of space. . If touring is a year-round passion, then features such air con and diesel-fuelled heating become more important.
‘Doing it yourself’ means your motorhome can be 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.
Decide on a base vehicle
When you know what your motorhome will look like when finished, you need to find a base vehicle that will accommodate this layout. Other important considerations are:
- What is your budget? How much money can you afford to spend?
- How confident you are at manoeuvring? Aa long wheel-base van can be harder to manoeuvre, so if this is a concern, short wheel-base model may be a better choice.
- What size engine do you want? A bigger engine size will use more fuel but will be quicker and give you more pulling power uphill – important if you like long-distance holidays abroad.
Some vans are more popular than others for conversions. For the VW Transporter range as well as vans from Renault, Ford and Fiat, furniture kits and everything else you need should be readily available. Choose a less popular make, and your choices might be more limited.
Once you think you have found the perfect base vehicle, take it out for a test drive and make sure you are happy with the way it handles, how comfortable it is and that there is rooms for everything you want to build in. See how it is on country lanes as well as wide open roads, and how easy it is to park.
Give it a thorough health check, looking for leaks and rust, and make sure it comes with a service history.
Weigh your van before converting it
Regardless what size of van you have opted for, it’s crucial that it is legal to drive on the road. So take your chosen base vehicle to a weighbridge, so you know the weight of the vehicle now, and can decide the maximum weight of all the new items you’re planning to add.
Weigh the vehicle with a full tank of petrol but no passengers; subtract the weight of the vehicle now from its maximum legal weight (this is found on the data plate), and you will know the maximum weight to allow for all your appliances, furnishings, accessories and passengers.
DIY or call in the experts?
The next step is working out what needs doing. This could include:
- 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
- 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
Some of this can be done yourself, depending on your capabilities and the time you have available. Gas and electrics must be certified, so fitting power supplies and associated appliances should be placed in the hands of experts. Likewise for panel and floor work: if you have no prior experience, tackling it yourself could result in damage to the van. When it comes to the furniture, choose your units, specify your layout, and get a conversion specialist to take care of everything for you — or alternatively, check out a conversion flatpack kit provider.
Insuring your self-built motorhome
During the conversion process, when the vehicle is unlikely to be in use, it remains important to have the right type and level of insurance cover in place at all times. Any conversion process requires time, effort, and money, so it’s important to make sure the coverage you have in place reflects the value of your investment.
Club Care Insurance can cover your motorhome while you are in the process of conversion, providing it is converted within 120 days of taking out the policy. To remain insured throughout the process you need to ensure that you follow certain criteria during the build process. See our motorhome insurance pages for full details.
Check you are licensed to drive
Don’t forget to check that your driving license allows you to drive the vehicle, taking into account that it now has a revised gross vehicle weight. Your vehicle’s VC5 log book must classify that vehicle accurately: the conversion process will mean that the DVLA categorisation will almost certainly need to be changed from ‘van’ to ‘motor caravan’. Depending on the ‘maximum authorised mass’ (MAM) of your base vehicle, you might also need to update your driving licence.
… and off you go!
If you’re not already a member, why not join The Camping and Caravanning Club to help you enjoy your new-found motorhome holidays?