Utility van to Camper van

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Hi gents.
Throwing around the idea of picking up a "utility van" and doing a semi-conversion to a camper/overnight vehicle. I like to take off during the weekend and overnight stays get expensive. Having something with a bed and some basic utilities (not thinking of running water at this time, just a small battery to some lights and phone charging) will fit the bill for now. Would also allow me to travel a little further on weekends as I won't have to worry about round trips in the same day.

Anyone done one? For a size I was thinking something along the lines of Promaster 3500 but open to suggestions on reliability (so probably not Dodge)..The Nissan NV cargo looks decent too.
 

SERE

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If you end up doing something let us see, too. Take a look at this sight. The link is cued up to vans. If you want Nissan click on that section and you will have LOTS of information and ideas.

It can get monetarily out of hand quickly. Depending on how much you can do yourself there are lots of kits out there, and more coming for Nissans. That will save you some money.

There is a section for vehicles for sale by forum members.

Best of luck.

Matt

Vehicles: Expedition Portal

Vans: 4wd (and 2WD) Camper Vans (a.k.a. #vanlife)
 
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peterk123

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Do a google search for DIY camping van conversions. Then click on images. There are some incredible ideas out there. If you are handy then you can build one hell of a ride. I own a Toyota Sequoia and I sometimes do overnighters at the Cape Cod Canal. I have a queen sized air mattress I throw in the back and I am good to go. Perfect for an overnighter. My wife is not a fan of it though, so I have considered what you mentioned. Pete
 

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What ever you do, BE SURE to build the sleeping platform long enough that you can stretch out and then some.

You can get varying densities of open or closed cell foam rubber. I highly recommend this as a top for your platform. You can use a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. I've slept in sub zero weather in a van I had, no problem staying warm.

Foil backed bubble wrap insulation works wonders to keep the inside of a van warm.

I built a box/platform with lift up doors in the top, you can store a ton of stuff underneath. A small lift up(stowable) table top to eat at (or clean your guns) or what ever is handy. Lighting should be staged. Red lights for night vision preservation, a few dim white LED lights and a couple of retina burners if you ever need bright light. Box in a cooler so it doesn't slide around, get a comfortable chair or two that are low enough so you have head room while sitting.
 

greencobra

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you looking for suggestions for a van? or our blessing on the feasibility of your idea? hell, you can toss bedding into almost any van type vehicle and call it a minimalist camper van. us old, retired hippies did it all the time. i shouldn't think it would be all that hard to rig up an aux power source if your handy and creative. one thing guaranteed, you'll never stop adding to it. human nature being what it is, more is better.
 
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Do a google search for DIY camping van conversions. Then click on images. There are some incredible ideas out there. If you are handy then you can build one hell of a ride. I own a Toyota Sequoia and I sometimes do overnighters at the Cape Cod Canal. I have a queen sized air mattress I throw in the back and I am good to go. Perfect for an overnighter. My wife is not a fan of it though, so I have considered what you mentioned. Pete
I've thought a little about going the more traditional route and just getting a larger SUV as a daily driver and throwing a mattress in there...It will come down to cost and usage. The van obviously has advantages in terms of storage but it will also be sitting in my driveway 5 days a week..But for the right price and usage it's worth it.
 
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you looking for suggestions for a van? or our blessing on the feasibility of your idea? hell, you can toss bedding into almost any van type vehicle and call it a minimalist camper van. us old, retired hippies did it all the time. i shouldn't think it would be all that hard to rig up an aux power source if your handy and creative. one thing guaranteed, you'll never stop adding to it. human nature being what it is, more is better.
for the van I am looking for recommendations on those known for reliability.
 

deerdad

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Someone quick attach the image of the windowless van with free candy written on it. :D Vans are perfect for camping in. You can fit in a regular parking space, easy to drive in traffic compared to a reg camper, and you can spend as little or as much as you want to dress up the interior. Always loved the van craze of the 70's. Just about any van will work for camping in.

Greg
 
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What ever you do, BE SURE to build the sleeping platform long enough that you can stretch out and then some.

You can get varying densities of open or closed cell foam rubber. I highly recommend this as a top for your platform. You can use a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. I've slept in sub zero weather in a van I had, no problem staying warm.

Foil backed bubble wrap insulation works wonders to keep the inside of a van warm.

I built a box/platform with lift up doors in the top, you can store a ton of stuff underneath. A small lift up(stowable) table top to eat at (or clean your guns) or what ever is handy. Lighting should be staged. Red lights for night vision preservation, a few dim white LED lights and a couple of retina burners if you ever need bright light. Box in a cooler so it doesn't slide around, get a comfortable chair or two that are low enough so you have head room while sitting.
thanks for the bubble wrap idea. I would plan on insulating it. For the bed I was also thinking building a small platform and then could put some slide out storage underneath.
 
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Someone quick attach the image of the windowless van with free candy written on it. :D Vans are perfect for camping in. You can fit in a regular parking space, easy to drive in traffic compared to a reg camper, and you can spend as little or as much as you want to dress up the interior. Always loved the van craze of the 70's. Just about any van will work for camping in.

Greg
 

greencobra

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the only thing i'd recommend is look for a van type vehicle with a little height to it, like a mercedes benz sprinter. from experience it's no fun trying to move around the interior of your little camper on your knees. :) best of luck on this and as someone already mentioned, shoot us some photos of the vehicle as you go along with the build.
 

Uzi2

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thanks for the bubble wrap idea. I would plan on insulating it. For the bed I was also thinking building a small platform and then could put some slide out storage underneath.
Trust me, Slide out storage will be a pain and you will lose storage space (several cubic feet) to the drawer slides and framing. Top loading with two large hatches will allow you to see everything in there and the sleeping mattress will just lift up with them. Use a bungie/s to hold the hatch open.
 

Broccoli Iglesias

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Hi gents.
Throwing around the idea of picking up a "utility van" and doing a semi-conversion to a camper/overnight vehicle. I like to take off during the weekend and overnight stays get expensive. Having something with a bed and some basic utilities (not thinking of running water at this time, just a small battery to some lights and phone charging) will fit the bill for now. Would also allow me to travel a little further on weekends as I won't have to worry about round trips in the same day.

Anyone done one? For a size I was thinking something along the lines of Promaster 3500 but open to suggestions on reliability (so probably not Dodge)..The Nissan NV cargo looks decent too.
@Rusty Shackleford ... you did something like that.
 
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You can pick up used short busses in good shape for around 6-8 k
Any idea of good sources?
This would actually be ideal. Would love the idea of chucking a woodstove in one for winter getaways..
If it was something this large the build out would be easier and I could still probably chuck a motorcycle inside..
 

Sparkey

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I don’t have any good sources I see them pop up on CL and have seen them in the auto trader mag at the pizza place also believe First student bus company has some listings on there site
 

Asaltweapon

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Ambulances are also an option. Lots of built in cabinet work is already done plus storage boxes galore on the outside. The trade in values are very low.
 

GomerPile

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I owned a Roadtrek camper for a couple of years. Honestly, there was no part of their conversion that a reasonably capable builder could not handle.

If I were considering another camper, I would DIY. Yes its very feasible.
 
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@Rusty Shackleford ... you did something like that.
Ya, I did a 3 month road trip around the US in an older Veri-Lite truck camper loaded in a 2001 F250 super duty 2wd long bed. Bought the camper for $2400 and sold it for the same amount when I was done traveling. The truck sold for $3400 ~3 years ago, so at the time the whole setup would have cost $5,800. For anyone that comes across this and tries it, I needed to add an air bag suspension kit to the rear axel to make it handle safely, but after that the whole thing drove great. Took it on numerous mountain roads during the trip and drove through a blizzard one night between Moab and Denver with no problems. Got between 17 and 20 mpg when the camper was loaded with the v8 gas engine.

My top advice for anyone considering traveling in a camper is get a membership to Anytime Fitness. The memberships are pretty cheap and they have locations everywhere. Its 24 / 7, which means parking overnight is technically allowed (I was never approached about it), bathrooms with a shower are single occupancy, and you can get a workout in while your are there.

examples of the camper I was in: 1993 veri lite truck camper - Google Search

An in-bed truck camper really is a great option, and really very comfortable. My girlfriend even traveled with me for a few weeks here and there at different times on the trip. We had just started dating at the time, and going on 4 years now, so I think that is a testament to the living conditions. It had a full bathroom with shower (although small), hot water, fridge, stove, king size bed, furnace, water tank / pump. Finding parking was pretty easy as well, even in major cities. Worst case, truck campers are still only charged for a standard spot if you need to pay for overnight parking. The downside is that they are too tall for a lot of parking garages.

I have plans to eventually do a bus camper build and take another trip. If I ever actually get to it, I would buy an old camper, rv, or camper trailer that isn't road worthy anymore and strip out the appliances (furnace, hot water heater, water tank / pump, stove) and install them in the bus. All these systems are pretty simple and usually just require a 12v connection and plumbing to a propane or water source respectively. I would install each with a cutt-off valve on each appliance for whatever it uses (water or propane) and a second cuttoff valve on the actual feed line that goes to the appliance. The idea is that nothing in these campers is really too big or heavy to treat as a permanent installation, so with a little work on the install, you can make the whole thing modular, adding and removing the appliances you need. I would also use something like T Slot aluminum to make a track system along the walls or floors so it would be easy to move the location of any appliance / seating / cabinets / whatever by loosening the bolts that connect it to the T Slot track.
 
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For vehicle reliability, the below is a site I typically use when choosing a make / model to buy used.

Carsurvey.org - Car Reviews

If you look through the reviews for a year or so on either side of you range (considering a 2010 van, check reviews for years 2008 - 2012) you can get a feel for the common problems a given model has. Some reviews will even give a breakdown of the mileage that the problems occurred so you can know what to expect and when. Even if the model you are looking at doesn't have a lot of reviews, googling any issues that are mentioned typically turns up if the problem is common or not.
 
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My top advice for anyone considering traveling in a camper is get a membership to Anytime Fitness. The memberships are pretty cheap and they have locations everywhere. Its 24 / 7, which means parking overnight is technically allowed (I was never approached about it), bathrooms with a shower are single occupancy, and you can get a workout in while your are there.
.
good tip. That's really the only obstacle.
 

powerman

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Someone's making a Shaggin Wagon.
don't come nocking if the vans a rocking.
my cad guy had a braggin wagon, actual manufacture.

For the last two weeks contemplating same thing.
i'm all over the place.
I could use an enclosed trailer to haul some motorcycles and camping eq, track days stuff etc. have call into 3 craigslist adds.
problem need tow vehicle now with 5-7k tow capacity.
had a e150 ford wagon van (passenger) that would of been perfect but my son sold it.
started looking at sprinters even the Mercedes, then box trucks and as of last night back to e250 or chevy/gmc express Vans.
started to eye ball some e350 and freightliner box trucks that could be the tow vehicle and the camper in 15-30k range with relatively low miles.

OP having looked at all that, the standard Van makes great camper, I don't know if I would do a real conversion. I would buy a passenger version with interior and windows, tint them out dark, remove interior seats and call it a day.
Mattress right on the rug floor, with may some storage under it.
I would have a few water proof boxes with camping supplies to pull out and set up, colemen stove, canopy etc.
For interior I would throw a refrigerator, coffeepot, lights with 120v inverter and 12v wiring. add simple tv/stereo
and if nature calls some boat size john.

Anything more than that might as well buy a real camper.

anybody know the rules on driving semi truck size vehicles for "personnel use" and "not for higher".
 

jasonj84

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don't come nocking if the vans a rocking.
my cad guy had a braggin wagon, actual manufacture.

For the last two weeks contemplating same thing.
i'm all over the place.
I could use an enclosed trailer to haul some motorcycles and camping eq, track days stuff etc. have call into 3 craigslist adds.
problem need tow vehicle now with 5-7k tow capacity.
had a e150 ford wagon van (passenger) that would of been perfect but my son sold it.
started looking at sprinters even the Mercedes, then box trucks and as of last night back to e250 or chevy/gmc express Vans.
started to eye ball some e350 and freightliner box trucks that could be the tow vehicle and the camper in 15-30k range with relatively low miles.

OP having looked at all that, the standard Van makes great camper, I don't know if I would do a real conversion. I would buy a passenger version with interior and windows, tint them out dark, remove interior seats and call it a day.
Mattress right on the rug floor, with may some storage under it.
I would have a few water proof boxes with camping supplies to pull out and set up, colemen stove, canopy etc.
For interior I would throw a refrigerator, coffeepot, lights with 120v inverter and 12v wiring. add simple tv/stereo
and if nature calls some boat size john.

Anything more than that might as well buy a real camper.

anybody know the rules on driving semi truck size vehicles for "personnel use" and "not for higher".
You still need a CDL. It is based on GVW.
 
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