10 Best Vans For Your Camper Van Conversion

Note: When you make a purchase using our links in this article, we may make a commission. And ,as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for your support! See the full disclosure here.

Sharing is caring!

Choosing the base for your camper van conversion is a big decision, and it can get a little overwhelming. This handy guide will walk you through what to look for when shopping for your van. Plus, we’ll give you the 10 best vans for your van conversion and answer all your questions about van conversions!

Camper van conversion opened up in the desert

Camper Van Conversion Cost

First thing’s first, let’s talk about money. The cost to convert a van to a camper van can be split into two big expenses: the cost of buying your van to convert and the cost of actually converting it. 

The Price of the Van

The most common vans to convert are cargo vans, such as the Ford Transit. These large vehicles have spacious interiors and are often completely empty besides the front seating, making for easy converting. 

A new cargo van will usually run between $25,000 to $40,000, depending on the make and model. Used cargo vans will be cheaper, often being in the $15,000 to $20,000 range or less. Older models of cargo vans can sometimes even be found for under $10,000. 

The Price of the Conversion

Once you have a base to convert, then you’ll have to consider the costs of conversion. If you pay a professional company to do your conversion, you’re looking at a minimum of around $10,000. That’s just the start with prices going all the way to $200,000 and beyond! Most professional van conversions will fall in the $30,000 to $60,000 range.

If you’re the handy type, it’s also possible to do a DIY campervan conversion. This can be significantly cheaper, running between $5,000 and $15,000 for your typical build. But, it’s possible to do a DIY build for as little as $1,000!

Important Criteria for Choosing a Van to Convert

When shopping for the right van to convert, there are a handful of things you’ll want to think about. These considerations will affect what you can put in your van, where you can take it, and even how much it will cost you upfront and long-term. Let’s take a look at each one in turn:

  1. Height
  2. Length and width
  3. Make
  4. Fuel efficiency
  5. Fuel type: gas or diesel
  6. Drivetrain
  7. Weight limit
  8. Used vs. new

1. Height

The height of your van will have a big effect on comfort. You’ll probably want to be able to stand up inside your van, so it’s important to make sure the interior height is sufficient. 

A standard Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has just shy of 68 inches of interior standing height, so anyone taller than 5’6” might find the standard model a bit short. Thankfully, many cargo vans will have a “high roof” model. A high roof Sprinter has 79 inches of standing room, which will be comfortable for anyone up to 6’6”. 

Keep in mind that you will eat into the headroom when you put down flooring, insulation, and ceiling materials.

2. Length and Width

Besides height, you’ll also want to consider the other dimensions of your van. The length of your van will have a huge effect on how much space you have when you convert a van to a camper van. A longer van means more room for more stuff, like a larger bed or kitchenette. 

Cargo van length will partly be determined by the wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear wheels. Sprinters have either 144-inch or 170-inch wheelbases. Manufacturers will also often have an “extended” model, which has an even longer body on top of the longer wheelbase.

The width of your conversion van camper is less essential, and you’re unlikely to find different widths of the same model of van. However, it can still make a difference in living space and can help you decide different makes of van. For example, the interior of a Ram Promaster is 75.6 inches across at its widest point, while a Ford Transit is only 70.2 inches across.

You might think that 5 inches don’t matter, but just like height, you will lose inches when you install insulation and walls.

3. Make

Each car manufacturer will have its unique van that will have its advantages and disadvantages. But, beyond the specific model of your van, there are also a few reasons why one make of cargo van can be better than another.

Ease of repairs

The biggest difference will be getting repairs. A Mercedes-Benz will be more expensive to repair than a Ford. According to CarEdge, a Mercedes-Benz will cost, on average, $18,364 in repairs and maintenance in its first 10 years. By comparison, a Ford Transit will require an average of $11,701 in repairs and maintenance in the same period.

Reliability

Some makes of vans may also be more reliable than others. According to CarEdge’s data, a RAM ProMaster has a 63.2% chance of needing a major repair in its first 10 years, compared to only a 35.32% chance for a Ford Transit.

Availability of dealerships

Also, if you want to get repairs done at a dealership, you’ll find some makes of cars have more dealerships than others. There are over 3,000 Ford dealerships in the US and over 2,400 dealerships for RAM trucks, while Mercedes-Benz only has a paltry 383 dealerships across the US. 

4. Fuel Efficiency

One of your biggest expenses when living in a camper van conversion is going to be fuel. And while no van is going to beat a sedan when it comes to gas mileage, some vans are definitely more fuel-efficient than others. 

If we look at a comparison of gas mileage from Momentum, we can see that Ford vehicles are the overall winners for gas mileage. A diesel engine Ford Transit gets 22 miles to the gallon, while a Nissan NV gets only 15. That can make a big difference over time!

Popular vans and their fuel mileage (miles per gallon). Table from Momentum.

Your exact fuel efficiency will of course depend on your build and how heavy it is, as well as how and where you drive. But especially if you plan to travel extensively, a more fuel-efficient van for the base of your conversion is a wise decision.

5. Gas or Diesel

Speaking of fuel, you’ll also have the option of either a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle. Each has its own advantages and neither is necessarily better than the other.

Generally speaking, a diesel engine is more fuel-efficient and more durable than a gas engine. They also provide more torque, making them better at climbing inclines. The downsides are that diesel vehicles will be more expensive to purchase and maintain. 

A gas-powered van will be cheaper to buy and maintain than diesel, but are less durable and require more frequent maintenance. Gas engines also tend to be better suited to cold weather. 

6. Drivetrain

A vehicle’s drivetrain refers to all the parts that take the power from the vehicle’s engine and deliver it to the wheels. You’ve likely heard of the different types of drivetrain before:

  • Front-Wheel Drive or FWD
  • Rear-Wheel Drive or RWD
  • All-Wheel Drive or AWD

The difference has to do with which set (or sets) of wheels receive power from the engine and actually move the car forward. 

A front-wheel-drive vehicle receives power only to the front two wheels, while rear-wheel-drive powers only the rear set of wheels. And as you can probably guess, all-wheel-drive powers all four wheels on the car. 

With most camper van conversions, RWD is better than FWD. This is because most of your weight is going to be towards the back of your van, typically where all your furniture and things are. This will allow for better control and traction. 

AWD’s main advantage is providing better traction off-road and in snow or intense rain. If you plan on using your van in these conditions, AWD could come in handy. 

7. Weight Limit

Whatever vehicle you use for your camper van conversion, it’s going to have a weight limit. Exceeding the weight limit will severely damage the van, so it’s important you keep your build under that limit. 

When removing the weight of the van itself, you’ll be left with somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 pounds that you can add to the van. Most manufacturers will have different configurations of their vans with different weight limits. So, you can find a configuration to suit your desired build. 

8. Used vs New

Overall, it’s fairly easy to find a used cargo van, even one that’s relatively new. This can save you a lot of money. Because of this, buying a used van is a popular choice and is recommended if you’re converting a camper van on a budget. But, buying used does come with some caveats.

First of all, you’ll have to do a thorough inspection when buying a used van. If you don’t do your due diligence, you could find yourself with a vehicle that costs you more in the long run than a new van ever would. And at the end of the day, even the best maintained used van is still used, and won’t last as long as a new vehicle would. 

Buying new also has its perks if you can afford it. While a new vehicle has a higher price tag, you’ll also have the advantage of a warranty and the assurance of a vehicle free of wear and tear. Plus, you can configure a new vehicle exactly to your needs instead of hunting for a used one that has what you want.

Pros and Cons of Doing a DIY Camper Van Conversion

Doing your camper van conversion yourself can be rewarding and have a lot of benefits if you have the know-how. But, you’ll have to keep a few drawbacks in mind.

Pros

  • Cost – The biggest advantage of DIY camper van conversion is cost. A DIY conversion will be significantly cheaper than a professional one, with the cheapest DIY conversions even costing $1,000 or less.
  • Creative freedom – DIY gives you full control over your build. You can be sure that everything is built exactly to your specifications. 

Cons

  • Added expenses – You’ll need plenty of tools, including power tools, to do a camper van conversion. You may even have to buy or rent new tools, which can be an added expense.
  • Know-how – Building a van will take some knowledge. If you don’t have any relevant experience building things, you might find it very challenging. 
  • Labor and time – A DIY van build requires physical labor, plus you’ll have to make the time in your schedule to do all that hard work.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Professional Van Conversion Company

There are a lot of great things about hiring a professional van conversion company for your conversion. But, there are also a few distinct downsides.

Pros

  • Experience – A professional conversion company, especially a successful one, will have highly experienced staff performing the work. That means you can be confident you’re getting a high quality, reliable build.
  • Insurnace – Professionally-built vans will be easier to insure than DIY.
  • Less headache – You can save yourself lots of time, hard work, and frustration by paying a professional.

Cons

  • More expensive – A professional camper van conversion is almost always going to be more expensive than DIY.
  • Sketchy companies – You’ll have to do your research; if you do your conversion through an inexperienced, unvetted company, you run the risk of getting a low-quality van. 
  • Wait time – You might have to wait quite a while for your conversion, as popular van conversion companies are often booked months in advance. And that’s on top of the time needed to actually build the van.

10 Best Vans For Your Camper Conversion

Now that you know what to look for in a van to convert, let’s look at 10 of the best vans for your camper van conversion.

1. Ford Transit

White Ford Transit van

The Ford Transit is a hugely popular cargo van for camper van conversions – and for good reason. They have the best fuel economy of their competitors on top of being highly reliable.

The Ford Transit has three roof heights (low, medium, and high), three lengths (regular, long, and extended), and is available with rear- or all-wheel drive. The Ford Transit’s customizability, reliability, and efficiency make it one of the best vans if you want to convert a camper van.

No wonder there are so many van lifers who use this van.

2. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

White Mercedes Sprinter van

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is one of the most popular models for a conversion van camper and it’s easy to see why. These vans are high quality and highly engineered, with the quality you expect from a luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz. 

The Sprinter comes in three lengths (144” wheelbase, 170” wheelbase, and 17” extended wheelbase) and two roof heights (standard and high). The Sprinter has rear-wheel drive by default but is also available with a “4×4” drivetrain. This is essentially all-wheel drive which can be engaged and disengaged when needed. 

The Sprinter’s high quality has made it so popular that “Sprinter van” is often used as a catch-all term for any cargo van. If you decide on a Sprinter for your camper van conversion, you’ll be in good company!

3. RAM Promaster

Charcoal grey Ram Promaster van

Although it doesn’t get talked about as much in discussions of van conversions, the RAM Promaster is still a great option. Plus, it’s got a few unique features that set it apart from other cargo vans. 

For one, the RAM Promaster has the widest body out of the popular cargo vans, allowing for more space in your build. Plus, the flat-sided walls can make that build easier. It is also unique in having front-wheel drive where most popular vans have rear-wheel drive. 

RAM Promasters also come in four different lengths (8’ cargo length/118” wheelbase, 10’ cargo length/136” wheelbase, 12’ cargo length/159” wheelbase, and 13’ cargo length/159” extended wheelbase) with two roof heights (standard and high). 

Because of these unique features, a RAM Promaster can be a great choice for a unique van to camper van conversion.

4. Nissan NV

White Nissan NV van

The Nissan NV is a unique-looking little cargo van that’s not especially popular. In fact, it will be discontinued after 2021. Despite that, it can still be a good choice for a camper van conversion.

Besides just standing out from the crowd, the Nissan NV’s unique look can make it a bit better for stealth camping. Because it’s only rarely used for conversions, it’s less likely to be recognized as a camper van. And like with most Japanese car manufacturers, Nissan has a reputation for reliability and quality manufacturing.

5. Ford E series

White Ford Econoline

Now that we’ve gone through the modern options, it’s time to get into a classic. The Ford E series, formerly known as Ford Econoline, is the precursor to the modern Ford Transit. It has many of the advantages of a new Ford van, but because of their age, you can find them extremely cheap.

Ford produced E series cargo vans from the 1960s up through 2014, so a wide range of models can be found for sale, including relatively new ones.

6. Chevy Express/GMC Savana

Beige and red Chevy Express van

Another choice for classic cargo vans is the Chevy Express, also sold as a GMC Savana. Although these are still produced by Chevy, it’s more common to see older models used for camper van conversions. 

Like any older model of van, the biggest advantage is going to be lower cost. And, like most older vehicles, an older van can be a bit more simple to repair.

7. Compact Cargo Vans (Mercedes Metris, Ford Transit Connect, RAM ProMaster City)

Every major model of cargo van also has a “sister” model which is smaller and more compact:

These compact cargo vans are largely similar to their bigger counterpart but smaller in almost every dimension. They’re also a bit cheaper than larger models. They’re a bit small for most camper van conversions, but for those who don’t mind less room, they’re great for an ultra-compact camper.

8. Step Vans

White step van

A “step van,” also known as a multi-stop truck, refers to the big, blocky vans used by postal and delivery workers. You also see them in other applications like ice cream trucks and food trucks. 

These vans are a good choice for a camper van conversion because they’re very roomy and sturdy. Plus, their flat sides can make for an easier camper van conversion. And even better, they can often be gotten quite cheaply used or via auctions.

9. School Buses

Maybe a bus doesn’t quite qualify as a “van” conversion, per se. But, if plenty of space is what you want, it’s hard to beat a school bus build. These massive vehicles provide tons of room and are ideal if you want to have your whole family live in an RV. 

Often known as “skoolies,” this particular style of camper van conversion is fairly popular and has quite a following. Old school buses can often be bought cheaply at auction and both DIY and professional conversion are possible. 

The major downsides of skoolies are that they’re much harder to navigate than a cargo van, especially in narrow city streets. And, they’re not nearly as fuel-efficient, getting only 6 to 12 miles to the gallon. But, if you want maximum space in your camper, it’s hard to beat a bus.

10. Unique Vehicles

While most conversions will use some kind of van or similar vehicle, there are plenty of examples of camper conversions using other vehicles. Often, these will use some kind of work vehicle that can be bought cheaply at an auction. 

Box truck conversions are a great example of this. Box trucks are “chassis cab trucks,” where the front section is enclosed and separated from a larger cargo area in the back. You might best recognize these as the trucks you can rent from companies like U-Haul and Penske.

This rear cargo area provides a bunch of space and makes box truck conversions a great budget option. 

But there are far more unique builds out there for the more creative DIYers out there. For example, people have made camper builds from fire trucks and garbage trucks!

While these unique builds aren’t going to be most people’s first choice, and you’ll have a much harder time finding a professional willing to do it for you. But if you have access to a unique vehicle, and the know-how to DIY it, the sky’s the limit!

What Is the Best Small Van to Convert?

If you want to have a small, compact camper van conversion, you have a few options. Any standard cargo van on a shorter wheelbase (with or without a high roof) will be fairly small, while still having some room to move around. But if you want a truly compact conversion, a small cargo van like the Mercedes Metris is your best bet. 

However, if you really don’t mind tight spaces, you can get even smaller with a minivan conversion, like those done by Oasis Campervans in Colorado. These micro camper vans are super small, and great for stealth camping.

What Is the Best Van to Convert for a Family of 4?

Fitting a whole family into a camper van conversion isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. If you’re not married to a vehicle that’s strictly a “van,” a school bus camper conversion can be a great camper van for a family of four. Skoolies provide tons of space and are a great option for families. 

But, if you really want a van to convert and won’t accept any other vehicle, there are some options. With its wider body, a RAM Promaster can provide a bit more space to move around than other cargo vans. Step vans and box vans are also an option for a more spacious converted van.

Is It Worth Converting a Van into a Camper?

“Is it worth converting a van into a camper?” isn’t an easy question to answer, and will depend a lot on your specific situation. While at the end of the day a camper van can hold its resale value, financially speaking, it’s not a sound investment the way a traditional home might be. At best, you’ll likely only get back what you spent on it in the first place, and might not make a profit. 

But a camper van conversion is more than just a financial investment, and you should see it as more than that too. Converting a camper van can cost a lot of time, money, and effort, and it’s not the easiest lifestyle change to make. But for the right person, it can be an amazing change and completely worthwhile.

If you don’t mind the effort to make the change and adjustment to life in a camper van, the benefits can be huge. Living in a van brings tons of freedom and the ability to go anywhere, anytime. And getting a custom converted van means you can live that life just the way you want to.

So overall, yes, it is 100% worth it to convert a van into a camper van!

Camper Van Conversion Resale Value

Like any vehicle, a camper van will tend to depreciate in value over time. A camper van isn’t a secure financial investment like a traditional home. However, with proper care, it is possible to maintain the resale value of a camper van. 

Regular maintenance is essential for retaining value. Being proactive about engine maintenance and avoiding last-minute repairs will keep your van attractive to future buyers. And keeping the outside of your van in good shape will not only keep it looking good, but it will also protect against costly water damage. 

You can also increase resale value with renovations and additions. New appliances or extra amenities like solar panels can add a lot of value to your camper. 

The exact resale value of a camper van conversion is hard to calculate. But, looking at resale sites for camper vans can give you an idea. Looking at listings on conversiontrader.com and thevancamper.com, you can see older van conversions tend to resell for around $10,000 to $30,000. Newer van conversions, however, resell for much more, starting around $30,000 and going up to $100,000 for a newer, more advanced converted van.

Is it Legal to Convert a Van into a Camper?

Put simply: yes! There are no laws in the US that forbid a van conversion to a camper. But, you will likely have to register your vehicle as an RV, and different states may have different requirements for what qualifies as an RV. 

It’s Time to Make the Camper Van Conversion of Your Dreams!

Now, you have all the information you need to start picking the base for your camper van conversion. Whether you go professional or DIY, the perfect van for you is out there. Maybe it’s a cargo van, a step van, or even a skoolie, but whatever it is, it’s ready and waiting for you to convert it into the camper of your dreams!


Related Reading:

How Much Does Van Life Cost Per Month?

25 Must-Have Campervan Accessories

What is a Stealth Camper Van for Off Grid Camping?

Best Campervan Rental Companies: US and Canada


About the author:

Jennifer is a full-time RVer and part-time van lifer. She is one half of DashboardDrifters.com and the founder of RVSpotDrop, a web service for full-time RVers.

Jennifer Jennings ia an author for RVBlogger and RV Life


Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment