We bought a van! This has been in the works for a while, but my fiancé and I finally did it. We decided to convert a van into a campervan and live in it for at least a year to see more of the US.
This is the first of the posts in the van life guide series and I’m really excited! We did a considerable amount of research before we finally pulled the trigger. If you are just getting started thinking about getting a van then these are the 5 things to consider when you buy a van.
Table of Contents
5 Steps to Buying a Van
#1. Set a Budget
This is the most important step and one you will need to think about before diving into van life. Vans can range from used ones that are only a couple thousand dollars to converted ones that can get up to 6 figures. If you are going to convert your van, then you’ll want to factor that into your budget as well.
We knew that we wanted to buy a relatively new van and that we were willing to spend around $60,000 on the van and conversion with hopes to sell it in the future. We ended up buying a new 2021 Ram Promaster Van for under $35,000 without fees or taxes.
#2. Decide to Convert or Buy a Pre-Built Van
Another question that you have to ask, is whether you are going to want to convert the van yourself or purchase one that is built out for you. You can find pre-built vans on sites like eBay, Craigslist, Conversion Trader, or Van Life Trader. Converted vans can run anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While converting a van yourself may seem like the cheaper route, tools and items you need to live in a van can add up quickly. We decided to do the conversion ourselves, because it seemed like a great project to learn from. Luckily for us, Dylan works at Stanley Black & Decker and already had all of the power tools we need.
#3. Design a General Layout
Now, you don’t have to plan your full design out yet, but you should figure out what you’ll need/want. This is a good van life guide tip to consider. Do you need a lot of space to store things like surf boards and bikes or are you good with having minimal storage? Need a high roof or a low roof van? Do you need space for a big bed or are you good with something smaller?
Make a list of all of the things that are non-negotiables and then look into the various layouts of the vans to see what will work for you. We knew we wanted a convertible bed, a spacious kitchen, and possibly a shower in our van, so we needed a lot of space.
#4. Choose a Van Type
This is part of the fun, but also it can be really complicated! In the US there are three main van manufacturers and models that most people look at: Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster, and Ford Transit. Choosing the one that is right for you can be a really tough dilemma. No van life guide is complete without a comparison of vans. Here are some of the pros and cons for each.
- Good Gas Mileage
- 4WD, which allows for more freedom on the road
- Higher payload, can handle larger weights inside the van
- Most expensive van on the market and expensive to maintain, might have to repair at a dealership
- Prone to rust
- Complex computer system
- Fuel efficient and cheapest of the panel vans
- Large cargo space with straight walls, which makes it easier to build on
- Front wheel drive is not as good as 4WD
- Lower ground clearance than the Transit or Sprinter
- Tallest interior height
- Less expensive, parts are easy to find, and dealers are common
- All wheel drive optons
- Slightly less fuel efficient
- Curved walls are harder to build on
#5. Try Before You Buy
You’re going to be living in a tiny space, so you may want to try it before you commit. You can test out car camping in your own car or rent a campervan for an extended period of time. I went on a 10 day campervan trip before and I absolutely loved it.
I had a feeling of freedom and flexibility like I had never experienced before. My fiancé did not get the chance to try it out, but he has been stuck with me 24/7 during this pandemic and he hasn’t killed me yet. We both feel completely committed to living in a van together!
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