A lot of people do their research, read motor-home reviews in magazines, get the manufacturers brochures, go to the shows and spend a bit of time on-line before making a decision to purchase their RV. For some though the fun is to be had from camping in a van that they themselves have converted.
With your golf clubs you can choose to buy a set off the peg, so to speak, or you can choose to move towards perfection in your game by getting a set that will suit your height. Likewise with a motor home you can choose to have one off the production line or you can decide to take control over precisely what you want before setting out to convert an existing vehicle.
With campervan and motorhome conversions you have two clear choices: you can do it all yourself with help from willing and enthusiastic family members or you can hand the work over to specialist converters with whom you can work to get the unit you want.
First a word of caution. This is not work to be undertaken lightly and if you feel that you are not fully committed to taking it on and fully completing it, then you may be better off investing in something that you can drive away ready to use. If you are somebody who relishes the technical challenge of this kind of work and if you enjoy the process and know that you you are happy to bring projects like this to completion then this may be just the project for you.
Before you begin do spend some time thinking about and researching what you want your camper-van conversion to do for you. What are you going to use it for? This may sound like a bit of a silly question, however a little bit of time spent planning before you acquire a base vehicle & get the drill out will really pay dividends as you make progress. There is a huge difference in setting out on a project that will accommodate you and your family for the odd weekend away and the type of approach you will take to creating a motor-home in which you will spend large blocks of time away in another state or country.
If you are going down the route of having the work done for you then chat with several companies before you decide what to do. Start off by creating a checklist of what you want. As you speak to one or two conversion businesses new questions will occur to you, so be sure that you telephone or call back around to people you have already spoken with. Discuss your needs and ask advice. You will soon develop a feeling for whether a particular business is really focused on your needs or whether they are trying to get you interested in something that they will find easy and profitable to do.
When taking to conversion specialists be realistic about your budget. Remember that you are paying for their time as well as the base vehicle and materials that will be used. While you do want to find the best value you must also be prepared to spend enough to get a proper job.
Whether or not you are doing the job yourself you will need to make decisions about the following. Some things you may not want but it is a handy checklist to get you thinking about the project:
- Air Conditioning: If you are planning on travelling in areas with extremes of temperature and humidity this may be close to the top of your list of priorities. If you’re staying in mainly temperate areas you may not want to include it.
- Awning: Do you want to build something that you can easily wind down and deploy or will you use one that you can easily drive away from and leave it on the pitch? Perhaps you will pitch up for longer periods and might want to investigate installing a rail like that on a caravan.
- Cab Blinds: These will provide privacy and will, by reflecting and absorbing heat help to regulate the temperature inside your new motor home.
- Carpets and Trim: Hard wearing vehicular grade carpeting and trim are a must for any conversion. It comes down to choosing the colours to match you vehicle and upholstery.
- Cycle Rack: Whether you travel with you bicycles or scooters this is the time to decide to fit a rack, or perhaps even a garage for your larger motor bikes and other toys.
- Refrigerator: Whether you want the bells and whistles of the latest fridge freezer or the basic functionality of a little space-saving fridge is up to you. Give it a bit of thought as you will depend on it later for fresh food and cold drinks.
- Electrical System: Do you want mains outlets throughout, including one you can access in the awning? Which things will be powered by mains and which by the battery. You will need a vehicle battery, and at a minimum one separate leisure battery; do you want a second backup leisure battery for your solar system?
- Will you build in some lockers: You will certainly need cupboards and lockers inside. Do you want to be able to access some of them from outside?
- Furniture: You’ll need to make decisions about your seats, table and beds. What other furniture do you want? Perhaps you will need a second, folding table for another hobby?
- Gas: How will you organise your cooking system. You will need to check this out in terms of regulations before you begin. Are you allowed to fit a gas system yourself or are you required to use an approved gas fitter? Can you get some training and certification before you start?
- Heating: Are you going to include a heater or two and if so what type. Do you want your heaters to operate off both gas and mains electricity?
- Cooker: Do you want a 2 burner hob or have you got room for more? Perhaps you’ll cook outdoors instead?
- Lighting: Everybody is using LEDs these days for cool running, efficiency and low energy consumption.
- Styling: Would you like to add some aerodynamic fairings or graphics to the outside?
- Roof-lights: Where are you going to put them? Perhaps one each over the living area, galley, bedroom, and one for the toilet/shower
- Seating: Choosing the colour is important. How it behaves to allow access to lockers underneath will add to the fun involved in your decision making process.
- Security: This is very close to our heart here on this website. What measures are you going to build in, in order to ensure that you can enjoy all your holidays with the peace of mind that you deserve.
- Steps and Ladders: Think about how you will access your roof boxes and how you will step in and out of your RV. If you are building in a retractable step arrange the electrics so that you cannot drive away with the thing still down.
- Toilet: Where is your bathroom going and how easy is it going to be to build in a cassette hatch that is accessible from the outside?
- Top Boxes: One or two of these will allow you to carry a great deal of stuff.
- Television: Think about building in a satellite TV system now. We find that we don’t use the thing at all during the summer but whenever we go out in the winter it really is great luxury to tune into TV and radio from around the world.
These questions are not meant to offer a comprehensive checklist of what you can do. They are in effect designed to get you thinking about some of the things that you will need to consider before commencing your project.
Remember to check with your local regulator about their requirements for vehicle conversions, especially if you’re doing it yourself. Is it allowed where you live? Do you have to get approvals before starting out? Do you have to submit the finished vehicle for inspection? Will it be possible to drive it on your existing permit or licence? These can be hard questions and the easiest way to get the answers is to ask before you begin rather then be given them later on the road by somebody whose job it is to enforce the law.
I would love to hear about any work you have done on converting your motorhome. Perhaps you’d like to share some of the stuff that you did an learned? Drop me a line and let me know what you’ve done, or indeed if you have any questions I’ll be happy to chase down the answers.