5 Van Conversion Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

By: Scott Adamson
/ September 16, 2020
For the DIY Van Builders looking for “what not to do”, this one’s for you…

Listen, Van Conversions are hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Mix that in with the fact that they’re time-consuming and relatively expensive, you’re bound to make some decisions you’ll later regret.

The reality is that despite the wealth of information available online, it’s nearly impossible to think of every single detail when it comes to learning how to convert a van.

A big portion of van conversion projects will come down to personal preference and lifestyle. But today’s article isn’t going to be about van build decisions like:

Instead, this article is about 5 build mistakes that many first-time DIYers will make in their van.

And if you’ve already built your van and see something familiar on this list, don’t worry… I’ve made my fair share of mistakes too, which is why I’d like to help other new van builders avoid them!

Here are 5 Mistakes To Avoid in Your Van Conversion

Mistake #1: Not Insulating the Floor

A lot of Vanlifers assume that if you aren’t spending time in cold and snowy winter climates, then you don’t need to worry about insulating the floor.

Folks, do yourself a favor, and insulate your van floor.

 

 

Insulating your floor will make your van so much more comfortable and efficient.

The thing to remember is that even warm destinations can get chilly overnight, especially throughout winter.  If there’s a cool wind blowing around your van, the air is sucking heat out of your vehicle more than you might think.

If you’re insulating the rest of your van (which you absolutely should) then it really isn’t that much more money and effort to do the floor.

And as for the loss in headspace, floor insulation should only add about of 1-2″ to your floor.

Mistake # 2: Not Evenly Distributing Weight

When it comes to the layout of your van, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the aesthetic of your tiny home and lose sight of your vehicle’s overall weight distribution.

One of the quickest ways to wear out your suspension and tires, among other issues, is to have one side of your van significantly heavier than the other.

The trick is simple… Make sure that the heaviest objects are evenly spread across the entire chassis.

Four Quarters

Many people assume that good weight distribution means storing your batteries on one side of the van and water storage on the other. While this is a great start, you need to imagine your van is split into 4 instead of 2. Weight should be evenly distributed from front to back and from side to side.

So what are the heaviest objects in the van?

  1. Water
  2. Batteries
  3. Cabinets
  4. Exterior Storage
  5. Fuel Tank
  6. Fridge
  7. The “Garage”

Water

Water weighs 8.34lbs per gallon. If you’re storing a 32-gallon water tank, that’s 266.88 lbs in water, alone!

 

 

Batteries

The weight of your batteries will depend on what type of battery you install. But here are a couple examples of a typical battery bank:

2 x 6V 335Ah AGM Batteries = 205.4 lbs (102.7 lbs each)
OR
3 x 12V 100Ah Lithium Batteries = 93 lbs (31 lbs each)

Cabinets

Your cabinets will store all of your belongings, from clothing, to food, to kitchen equipment… The weight of your cabinets can add up very quickly once you finish packing “your life” into them. Try to avoid bringing heavy items that will likely go unused.

When it comes to building materials, many DIYers will use heavy lumber for their cabinetry. Instead, try to use lightweight materials such as 8020 aluminum.

Exterior Storage

Adding an exterior storage box is a great way to store tools, recovery gear, or even snowboards. If you choose to install an exterior storage box, keep that in mind when determining your weight distribution.

Fuel Tank

Something you may not have considered when it comes to weight is your fuel tank.

Diesel = Around 7 pounds per gallon
Gas = Around 6 pounds per gallon

Fridge

Depending on the size of your fridge/freezer, this item can add a significant amount of weight to your van. For example, the Dometic CFX3 75DZ weighs over 60lbs (27.8 kg) when it’s empty!

The “Garage”

Many Vanlifers opt to install a fixed bed as a way to ensure ample “garage” space in the back of the van. While this is a great storage solution, it’s tempting to fill it with all the heavy items. So if you have a garage space, keep weight distribution in mind to avoid the added pressure to your rear axles.

Mistake #3: Not building enough functional storage

After watching countless Van Tour videos on YouTube, something I’ve noticed is that while there are a ton of innovative storage ideas out there, many of them were not super functional or easy to access.

Finding tiny or hidden spaces to store items is a cool idea in theory, but if it’s hard to get to, it’s safe to assume you won’t use whatever is being stored in there very often.

When building your storage, the rule of thumb is that accessing whatever is being stored should be very easy and time-saving.

Mistake #4: Not Budgeting for Van Upgrades

When creating a van conversion budget, a lot of DIYers will focus solely on the livable space inside the van. What they sometimes forget to budget for are the additional upgrades that are often needed for a safe and comfortable life on the road.

Here are just some of the upgrades you should consider budgeting for:

1. Suspension  & Tire Upgrade

When you convert a van, you will be shocked at how quickly the weight of your van adds up and how close you get to your vans GVWR.

GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

The GVWR is the absolute maximum weight that your van should be carrying.

The thing to remember is that typically, a work/cargo vehicle will be loaded and unloaded so it won’t always be pushing its max capacity. When you convert a van into a Camper Van, you are permanently adding that weight to your vehicle.

As you get closer to your GVWR, remember that you’re putting the vehicle at its ultimate limit pretty well all the time, which makes it hard on your suspension, breaks, and tires. Everything is working harder than in a typical van.

For that reason, almost all van conversions can benefit from a suspension and tire upgrade.

You’ll notice a significant improvement in ride quality, steering, and turning.

2. Recovery Gear

Some of the most epic Vanlife adventures can lead you into some pretty sticky situations. Make sure to budget for essential recovery gear needed to self-rescue!

3. Backup Camera

Your van is likely a lot bigger than other vehicles you’ve driven before. Take advantage of the extra visibility a good backup camera will give you!

Mistake #5: Not Installing a Heat Source From the Get-Go

Similar to insulating the floor, many Vanlifers assume that if you aren’t spending time in cold climates, then you don’t need to install a heat source in your van.

I’ve met a ton of Vanlifers who originally hadn’t included a heat source but quickly changed their mind after spending some time on the road.

Again, you’d be surprised how cold the van can get overnight, even in warm destinations. It’s worth the effort and money to install some form of heat source from the get-go

What is the best campervan heater?

Our recommendation is the Espar Airtronic D2 Heater.

  • It’s a dry fuel source.
  • It’s very convenient, featuring automatic temperature control and includes a hand-held controller.
  • It can be installed as a DIY project (no professionals required).
  • It doesn’t take up any usable space.
  • More energy-dense than propane, meaning it will take less fuel to heat your van.

For a more detailed explanation of why I chose the Espar D2 for my first van conversion, be sure to check out this article. 

Bonus Mistake #6: Analysis Paralysis

When it comes to converting a van, there are a million decisions to make and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to waste time overthinking every decision and stop yourself from progressing with the build. There comes a time where you just need to bite the bullet and get started.

Just remember that one day you’ll be camped out in scenery you never could have dreamed of… You’ll look at your tiny home and take pride that you built this with your own two hands.

So, just get started!

Scott Adamson
Wanderful Idea Guy
Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.
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