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Choosing a base vehicle for your self-build conversion is an important step. Get it wrong, and you will be condemned to years of frustration or a lot of wasted money. Get it right, and your van will become a part of your life and an extension of your personality.
It’s not necessarily the exact make and model that matters as much as the size, condition and other features that can’t ever be changed. As ever, eBay is a good place to research (eBay⇒) what’s available and perhaps to buy a van – although don’t forget the benefits of local dealers and private ads.
Here’s a list of questions to help you get started in choosing the right base vehicle:
- Will the van be my only transport – a car substitute when I am living at home?
If so, think about everyday convenience, motorway performance and fuel consumption
- What are the parking restrictions where I live – height, width, length?
- Do I need to be able to access height-restricted car parks?
In the UK, most restrictions are 2m but some are more or less than this. Car parks are often a no-no in most vans (and local councils and car park operators do this deliberately).
- How many people will need to sleep/live in the van?
What works for one or two people may not work for four, even if it is theoretically possible. Think through cooking, washing, sleeping, eating and lounging and be realistic about what will work for you.
- What kind of holiday am I planning? Wild camping, rural touring, campsite-based stays?
Once you are on a campsite, the bigger your vehicle the better, generally speaking. On the other hand, when driving in rural areas and if wild camping, smaller is generally better. Think about how you like to holiday and find a balance.
- Do I need to be able to have a proper bathroom?
You can manage surprisingly well without one, but some people do like a dedicated room with a private shower and toilet – rather than a sink and Porta Potti in the living area. Solar showers (eBay⇒)are also good, but can be awkward to use.
- How much storage will I need?
As well as the obvious – clothes, food, etc, what about things like sports equipment and camping accessories?
- Do I need decent/modern performance, or is an older design ok?
This is very subjective, but as an example, if you will be using your van as an everyday vehicle and need to make regular motorway trips, you may want to consider something reasonably modern.
Be honest with your answers and write them down. Use this information to create a picture of the type of van you are after.
My personal approach has always been to decide on the size of van first – e.g. max length, width and height – and then to see what vans are available to meet my criteria.
After that, I narrow it down further based on price, availability, personal preference and reported reliability and running costs.
After that, you have to find a real, flesh and blood vehicle (eBay⇒) that is available and affordable to buy!
It can take a while…
Next: Planning the Conversion
Disclaimer: All material is provided for information purposes and is my opinion only. I can take no responsibility for the accuracy, suitability, reliability or safety of the information in this guide.