/ Buying a van/camper

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henwardian - on 03 Jan 2013
Hi. I'm planning to buy a van/camper in a few months time with the intent to make a climbing tour around Europe and perhaps a little further too.
Ideally I'd like to get something for about £3500 maximum but I'm unsure whether to buy a 2nd hand van and do a conversion myself or buy a camper straight off. Was wondering what other people out there thought and what their experiences were?

More details:
If I buy a van, maximum would need to be a bit under £3000 so I could buy conversion materials.
I'm not a DIY wizard but I know basically what I am doing and have access to lots of tools.
I am looking for a vehicle that will last fairly well, run reliably and get a good milage.
Bed should fold out to give space for 2 people.
Lastly, I am very tall so the bed really needs to be 220cm minimum.
chalkyjim - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

T4
It's your only option.
readysalted - on 03 Jan 2013
There's a V reg (I think), camper in the for sale/ wanted section of this site. IIRC it's got 12 months MOT, and all the bells and whistles (onboard water supply, ski locker, snow chains etc. etc.), and it's white, with no crazy vinyl nonsense or weird paint job, which would make it more appealing to thieves. All for the price of £2400. It may now be sold, but last time I looked I don't think it was.

When I have (or need) a bit of spare cash, I occasionally buy and sell vehicles as a bit of a hobby, and so I like to keep tabs on the market prices of all kinds of vehicles, and I was shocked to see the price of that particular van so low).

The downside is that it is a citeroen something or other, not a dub. But if your only criteria is: A van for under 3500, then I think that may be it. Leaving you money to spend on booze, hookers, kit, or more sensibly putting aside incase of repairs.
alanlgm - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: whatever you do make sure you get a diesel. my campervan is 3.5 tonne but has a 2 lire petrol engine in it.

on occassion i have considered getting out to push just to give it that extra help up hill
galpinos - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

How plush do you want it to be inside? What do want from it, a basic place to doss or a real home form home? Does it need to be spec-ed for winter, i.e. fully insulated and diesel heater? How many people does it need to seat with seat belts?

Personally, for that money I'd get a van and do a basic DIY conversion. I have a professionally converted Bongo but that cost a lot more than your budget, needed to be nice as I bought it with the missus and had to be converted by someone else as the missus has no faith in my ability to actually finish a job.

Having a van is ace though; weíve had some of our best holidays in it.
dave frost - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: Having a camper is great, but they're not cheap (as you may have found).

As someone else mentioned make sure it's diesel (most are). I have a merc sprinter thats 6 metres long and 2.5m high with a 2.2 liter diesel engine and its more economical than our 1.4 petrol car! we can pretty much get all the way to chamonix on 2 tanks of diesel (about £120 cheaper in france).

I think £3000 wont be enough for a VW van, look at sprinters and fords etc, plenty of other good vans about. I dont really like the T4/T5's anyhow, ridiculously expensive.

£500 will get you a very basic conversion indeed. But that may be ok for what you want (spring and summer in europe). DIY conversions are suprisingly difficult, more difficult than any DIY in your house, and everything seems expensive. The last thing you want is to do a bad job as it will make the van hard to sell later on.

I can give you the number of an auto electrician if you want ?

Cheers
Dave

peas65 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

We have a transit, good condition, LPG and petrol cost £1500 (so you could get a much better one)
Had it nearly 3 years, lowish running costs, would totally recommend a transit it is perfect, good head space, 3 seats in front, drives really nicely.

Converting it cost about £1000 including electrics, all wood, solar panel, cooker, etc

We have converted it to a very good standard and it is very homely and great to spend time in. We had little experience before doing it ad it just developed.

Ignore those who say you cant do it for £3500, tis plenty so long as you are happy to work hard.
peas65 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to peas65:

Would echo the get a diesel comment though as ours in petrol mode has been known to do 350 miles for 100 pounds- ouch!!!!!
In reply to henwardian: I don't understand the obsession with VW's! The OP didn't state he wanted a VW, yet people comment that his budget isn't enough to get one!?

In my opinion, surely he'd be better off buying a LWB, High top van for a self conversion, as he'd fit a lot more in, and make it suit his needs better? And with a new-ish Transit, or sprinter etc etc there's plenty of options for nice vans!

To the OP:
I'm getting into the latter stages of my camper conversion, on an '03 plate Ambulance, so if you need any advice, drop me a message and I'd be happy to help!
jezb1 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: VW vans are possibly one of the most overrated vans of all time!

Would probably go high top sprinter or similar.

It's hard to get a good finish if your not DIY minded so bear that in mind.
richardw87 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

I am planning a similar sort of thing. Only difference is that I am planning to live in a van in the UK for 6-8 months whilst working and save some pennies and then bugger off round Europe, climbing all spring/summer and then rounding it off with a winter season working in the Alps. Having done a fair bit of research I have narrowed the van choice down to 4 which are all LWB high tops, I'm 6'2" and have a fair bit of gear to cart round, especially if I'm living in it full time;

Mercedes Sprinter - 311cdi engine and above, smaller engines are apparently weak. Fairly prone to surface rust but apparently pretty solid chassis wise.
VW LT35 - essentially the same van as the sprinter just with different running gear, slighty different front end and less prone to rust.
Iveco Daily - Apparently built to a slighty more industrial standard, however parts may be more difficult to come by (not sure how true this is.) Slightly heavier on the dino juice.
Ford Transit Jumbo LWB - Not looked into these too much as I had a Mondeo as my last car and the Delphi Fuel System on the TDCI engines and it's little nuances put me off a little. Having said that, I am not completely discounting these as they are rather nice to drive.

These can all be had for around £3000, my plan is to check out various examples of all the above in the flesh and make an informed decision. It may mean a little more trekking about but I think the effort will pay off.

Conversion-wise I am budgeting £1,500-2,000 for the whole job inc, Compressor fridge, full solar set up etc. Will see how this goes, planning to use reclaimed timber and such to keep costs reasonable...Will start off with essentials and build it up over time or as pocket money allows.

Don't take my word as gospel though, I am as new to this as you....Just passing on my thoughts/findings

Good Luck!
Kelcat - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: Hi, FWIW when we still had our business we owned a lot of different vans. Camperwise I've had a Merc, Fiat. & now drive a T5.
Vans;
Merc Sprinter - older ones tend to be better than the newest (2010+) model - so that's good news for you. However ones in good nick will still command a premium. We still had a delivery One going strong on 350k+ miles . Parts were expensive new, but could also be got from a scrapper.
Transit - hugely overrated. Had 3, all had various minor & serious complaints. Also got a lot of moaning from drivers as not being too comfortable.
Fiats - cheap and didn't seem to go well past 100k, but they do do a specific chasis for motorhomes which is why you see so many conversions on that base vehichle.
VW - yep expensive, but v reliable and for a conversion all the parts are so available it makes it easy. It's the smallest van I've had and thus the most carlike.
Ivecos- these were our van of choice by the time we sold up. Cheap, reliable, cheap parts and would go past 250k. We had 4 and they were no bother.
LDVs - avoid, avoid, avoid.

Hth, all just my opinion / experience & probably wrong!
In reply to richardw87: I was warned off the Iveco's, because of the spare parts, not because of accessibility, but becasue Iveco ONLY make commercial vehicles, and as such, their prices are commercial too (High!)

For cheaper parts, the tranny would probably be best, and the parts will be universally available even if you choose to go further afield one day (heading East?), where as the VW might not be so easy to get fixed.

I don't mean to be negative, but as someone who's currently balls deep in a conversion, I can advise you that you'd be lucky to do all the internals for £1500, things like the electrical split charge systems, the gas systems, water pumps, heaters etc etc etc all add up quite quickly, and that's without adding on the appliances, which realy aren't cheap!! I've tried to do mine on as tight a budget as possible, also using free timber etc, but it's still costing a fair bit.

Also, remember to consider weight limits. You need to try to keep it under 3.5t, which limits you slightly...use the minimum sized timber you can, keep the cladding thin, and don't put anything excess in!

and, finally, consider that for insurance, you're going to want to re-register it as a campervan, and to do so there's certain things it needs: a table, a bed (both solidly fixed to the vehicle), cooking facilites(plumbed in) and a couple of other bits, and also, the new rule..."It has to look like a campervan from the outside", although this is down to the testers opinion!! But, basically, you can't just fit out the inside and call it a camper, a couple of windows and wall vents should do the trick though!
Kelcat - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to richardw87: hi - our posts crossed over!
The Iveco (like most vans) shares a few common platforms. I didn't hugely get involved with the vans towards the end but clearly remember the Merc light cluster (delivery drivers seemed to break these monthly) costing £200 and the Iveco one costing £60. Fuel figures on both were very similar (we got about 25mpg, but heavy loads & limited speeds).
Eddie1234 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: I've been looking into exactly the same thing recently, similar price range as well. Theres loads of cheap vans on auto-trader if you're willing to do a self conversion.

Dont forget to insure it as a campervan and you'll save a lot on insurance too!
richardw87 - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to carrot_boy (North East Wales MC):

Cheers for advice, be it positive or negative its all very useful!

£1,500-2,000 is probably the initial budget to get the basics in to get it re-registered and make it habitable, although there are apparently some insurers who don't need it to be re-reg'd I plan to do it anyway to save hassle. My dad is in to T5's and has recently re jigged his van and has some bits left over inc. diesel heater (score!) and leccy bits and pieces (rcd's, switching units etc.) I am looking at using a small domestic oven/cooker unit with the correct valves so it will run on propane. I have a friend who has done this and it works a treat. I think it will be the compressor fridge that will be the biggest individual cost (£4-500), so may go with 3-way intially...

With regards to the 'looks like a camper' rule I think you're right the wall vents and windows and maybe some discrete decals should do the job...

It feels like it will be a bit of a mammoth undertaking, but I reckon it is totally do-able if I put my mind to it... It's the money part that seems to be pretty difficult (as per usual)

Just out of curiosity, what vehicle have you gone with??
Run_Ross_Run - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

How long are you planning on spending in the van at any one time.

If your talking months then you need to get a high top as you'll soon get pretty p'eed with having to crouch around. Me and the wife spent 7 months travelling around Europe in a M home and you need a few luxuries believe me.

Also think about washing/toilets. Not too much of a problem if your on campsites and Aires (in france) so a porta potti might have to be considered if you do a small conversion. An outside shower is a really good idea and can be fitted for a few hundred quid. Having said that i do remember having an alfresco shower with a, rather fit, naked lady (not my wife) in the ones provided at the Aire in Mimizan Plage so maybe shelve the shower suggestion.

Also, think about the gas supply for the heating/hot water (if applicable) and cooking. Refillable gas tanks are relatively cheap, will pay for themselves withing months and easy to fill.
In reply to richardw87: Renault Master Ambulance...I started a Blog, but didn't get much further. Might get some photos over the weekend and update it:

http://camperbulance.blogspot.co.uk/
Dave Kerr - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:
> > If I buy a van, maximum would need to be a bit under £3000 so I could buy conversion materials.
>

£500 for the conversion will be tight if you intend to put a window in.

I think we were about £1000 including the window for a basic conversion (no plumbing and no electrics).
deepsoup - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to Kelcat:
> LDVs - avoid, avoid, avoid.
> Hth, all just my opinion / experience & probably wrong!

I've never owned one, but based on what I've heard I wouldn't touch a Maxus.

I have had three LDV Pilots though (well, the first was a 200 series but near enough), and kinda sorta loved them. They're primitive, slow, not particularly economical to run, parts aren't as cheap as they should be for such low-tech stuff and they're completely knackered before they get to 100,000 miles when a VW is barely getting into its stride.

BUT.. they're cheap, cheap, cheap. You can buy a Pilot or a Convoy with low miles (which is important - they're not very durable) for very little dosh. It could - possibly - be a good budget option if you don't mind roughing it and saving up for a better van while you run it into the ground.

My three were all great for me at the time, but when the last one finally died I just couldn't face rattling along in a glorified 1970's van any more and bought a Renault Trafic. (Same as a Vauxhall Vivaro or a Nissan Primastar.)

Sooooo nice after the LDVs - quick, quiet, comfy. I'd recommend one of those to anyone - every bit as good as a T5 without paying through the nose for a VW badge. (And the turbo won't self-destruct at 130,000 miles.)
ads.ukclimbing.com
Jus - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

At that money get an old 2.5 T4. Very highly rated engine. Go for a LWB if you find one. It has an extra 40cm load space (handy for bouldering mats etc!)

Put this into the ebay search field (You cant paste Ebay links on UKC): VW T4 2.5 TDI Transporter 1998, 12 months Mot 6 months Tax

Itís a high miler but itís been well looked after (new timing belt, clutch, tyres etc) and it already has rear windows. New MOT too & a tailgate (very handy for when itís raining!)

Transporters also rust a lot less than other vans. You hardly ever see a rusty old T4. The number of rusty 5 year old Sprinters, Ivecos, Transits etc I see around is crazy.
PGD - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:
We have an LDV at work. It has rusted and is awful. Peugeot and ford vans both seem fine.
henwardian - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to everyone:
Thanks a lot for all the advice so far. Lots of great information on what I am looking for.

I'm doing some general research now, with a view to buying in a few months so not looking to buy right now (for those who suggested specific vehicles selling at the moment. But thank you).

In terms of comfort/facilities, I am really going for something fairly basic. I realise it's nice to have more space and cooler kit but just having a camper at all will be a big step up for me (from a tent) and I can think about upgrading with more facilities later on. I've stayed in a tent for as long as 2 months at a time so not too worried about spending months with minimal facilities. So... Specifics:
- I'd ideally like to seat 4 people but I realise that most vans have 3 front seats, maybe I could slap another seat with a seatbelt in the back somewhere.
- I don't think I will start out with a pop-top but such a thing can easily be added later on if I feel the need.
- I'd like a gas hob with 2 burners but a farely simple one designed for say car camping attached to a cylinder of gas will suffice.
- I'll put in a basic water container but no pump/plumbing/taps.
- I need a fridge, food going off in 2 days hacks me off bigtime so I guess for this I would need a leisure battery and a system to charge it.
- I'll probably not bother with a shower initially (could well buy one of those black bag/solar heated jobs you just hang on a tree), don't have a problem with swimming in lakes or using rivers to wash (or stinking when it's too cold!)
- No lavatory. I'm not getting involved with sewage, end of :D
- Will use this in spring/autumn/summer/migrate with the seasons so no very-cold-weather features needed for me (if I do take it out in the cold, a good quality sleeping bag will be enough, it always has in the tent and a van offers much more protection).
- A sink would be needed.
- finally, I'd quite like to string some fairy lights around the inside for illumination!

So the overall slant is definitely towards the simple/economical/feature poor end of the spectrum. Obviously if the ideal vehicle with bells and whistles shows up at the right time I wouldn't say "no".
Dave Kerr - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:
> (In reply to everyone)
> >
> > - I don't think I will start out with a pop-top but such a thing can easily be added later on if I feel the need.

Not that easily! Personally I'd try to include most of what you need in terms of major mods whilst the van is still a shell. Much easier than going back to change it once fitted out. See my comment re windows below.

> - I'd like a gas hob with 2 burners but a farely simple one designed for say car camping attached to a cylinder of gas will suffice.

This is what we have, works fine.

> - I'll put in a basic water container but no pump/plumbing/taps.

This is what we did and it's fine.

> - I need a fridge, food going off in 2 days hacks me off bigtime so I guess for this I would need a leisure battery and a system to charge it.

We elected not to go for a fridge and for camping in Europe, mainly in campsites I can't say I've missed it.

> - A sink would be needed.

You said above no plumbing. Not much point in a sink with no plumbing. We do dishes in a basin that lives below the cooker. Sinks take up a lot of room.

> - finally, I'd quite like to string some fairy lights around the inside for illumination!

We use alpkit LED lanterns which are adequate.

> So the overall slant is definitely towards the simple/economical/feature poor end of the spectrum.

This was our approach. It's basic but very comfortable. Having used it for two years summer and winter I still don't feel the need for plumbing, electrics or heating but I really wish I'd put more windows in.
woolsack - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to carrot_boy (North East Wales MC):

> I'm getting into the latter stages of my camper conversion, on an '03 plate Ambulance, so if you need any advice, drop me a message and I'd be happy to help!

Out of interest, what fancy electrical tgreasures did you inherit with an ambulance build? Split charge, nice inverter/charger etc?
suilven - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

Main thing is to get a good running van which is fairly economical and cheap to run. For that money forget VW. Every make has is good/bad points, and its about compromise and going with what you really want/need.

Mine is a Ford Transit, which I bought as a crew van with electrics, lights, toilet and sink all fitted. Just took out the back 5 seats and put in an old caravan bed which sleeps two, and a gas bottle / twin burner stove.

Transits are not without problems but will do mega miles if serviced regularly (my bro has one which is almost at 200k and goes like a dream)

Mercedes are great engines BUT I've looked at a LOT and the body work is crap - they are total rust buckets (as are many vans, they seem to use cheap steel for a lot of buses)

LDV - got an LDV minibus which I use for DofE work and whilst good engine and gearbox (Ford) the body is awful. Slow but reliable. Not sure I'd take one to the Alps (I've taken my Tranny twice and it was a joy)

As I say, I reckon main thing is to get a decent van with good engine and chassis, build it around that and keep it simple as has been suggested.

Heike - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

Hi there,

3000 pounds that's what we thought ...price wise. In the end we paid about 4 times as much. It's just that what we saw what we could get for the money was really crao so we invested our savings...However since having it I have learned a few things. You said you need a sink? In my opinion it's not necessary - only useful if on the flat anyways. Toilet as you said - forget it. Most important thing - does it drive amd has no problems?
Any thing else just ask
Heike
suilven - on 03 Jan 2013
In reply to Heike:

A flushing cartridge toilet is worth its weight in gold/keech. No camper worthy of the name should be without one.

Agree that does it drive and has no problems is major plus though ;-)
manumartin - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian: i live in haute savoie and run a 1992 t4 2.5 diesel california
I find it great ot use in the mountains , economical if not thrashed and very simple and reliable. drives great on snowy roads with winter tyres. pop up roof is cramped for an adult though so is rarely used. winter heater is a great bonus too.
In reply to woolsack: all sorts - yes, split charge, inverter etc etc, and also lots of VERY useless stuff - strobe lights, sirens, trauma lights etc, coms systems... and some stuff that I can sell, such as the stretcher, and auto-eject 110v power point, all sorts of ambulance specific stuff!

the nightmare of it all was the fusebox, I've never seen anything like it! and the mass of cables running into it was phenominal, we decided in the end to just cut through the lot, and start the wiring from scratch!
digby - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

Hi! You might remember my badly home converted long wheelbase VW. Pity I recently scrapped it. As it was actually a minibus it came with all the (removable) seats so if you found one that might be handy for temporarily carrying more people. I suppose other makes of minibus would be similar.
I just had a standard camping twin burner with grill running off propane (housed in a 60's drinks cabinet!). The fridge was an old camping chest type, top opening lid, which also ran off the propane. It worked really well, even when it was very hot out. Electric coolboxes are utterly useless.
Having the windows made it nice to live in, especially when raining hard, though hard to black out.
Never had a sink and didn't need one. As long as you have a large water bottle you don't need much else.
A good leisure battery is essential, and a solar panel to keep it charged would be great - a decently sized one, say 80 watts. You can find cheap ones online. No need to pay hundreds.
It was insured as a home converted campervan. There are one or two insurers who will do that but they do require the sort of things that someone pointed out above though probably less rigorously than for re-registering.
digby - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to digby:

... oh and don't forget that any diesel older than 2002 cannot go into London because of the Low Emissions Zone. There are a lot of cities in Germany with the same sort of restriction, and possibly elsewhere. Petrol/LPG aren't affected.

This is why you can pick up older campervans quite cheaply.

You probably don't want to anyway but it's as well to know. The fines are huge.
woolsack - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to carrot_boy (North East Wales MC):

>
> the nightmare of it all was the fusebox, I've never seen anything like it! and the mass of cables running into it was phenominal, we decided in the end to just cut through the lot, and start the wiring from scratch!

Ha! at least yours is in English [presumably], my camper is a 1970 4x4 Russian ex Military truck and that has some weird wiring conventions as well as everything being written in cyrillic. Definitely a chop it out and start again for most of it.
henwardian - on 04 Jan 2013
In terms of a sink. I'd like one so I can wash dishes in the van if I want to and drain pasta/etc without opening the doors. For this sort of thing I would envisage just putting a pipe directly out of the bottom of the van (yes, I know this has potential issues but sticking to water and biodegradable soap should make it reasonable when not parked in a proper campsite).
I would only want a pretty small top opening fridge, how much gas would a gas one consume in terms of time and cost? I'd rather not have to keep buying new gas containers too often :S

Liking the solar panel charging idea. Mayhap I could get away with a solar panel, leisure battery and fridge combo...
johnwright - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

For anybody thinking about converting a van have a look at this company http://www.arleigh.co.uk/ they supply most thinks for caravans and mobile homes. Have a look at the website.
tombeasley - on 04 Jan 2013
In reply to chalkyjim:
> (In reply to henwardian)
>
> T4
> It's your only option.

Another vote for a T4 even if you convert your own.
almost sane - on 05 Jan 2013
In reply to henwardian:

Only get an LDV if you are happy to deal with low power, poor (extremely vague) steering, leaking bodywork and lots of internal noise.
LDVs are very good if you want to practice improvised repairs on anything from door locks to electrics...
Fultonius - on 05 Jan 2013
In reply to chalkyjim: Fitting a 2.2m bed in a T4 won't leave much space for furniture!

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