What are the best vans for a campervan conversion?

Choosing a van to convert is a BIG topic with lots of variables.  Everyone’s needs are different, but ultimately we all want a vehicle that will bring us joy and a sense of adventure.  Your van should be the perfect space to kick back and relax, soak up the views and enjoy life on your terms!

What size van do you need?

In this case, size is important. Don’t make the mistake of rushing out and buying a big vehicle with all the bells and whistles only to discover you can’t get it down those winding Cornish lanes to enjoy the hidden beach at the end. Or, at the other extreme, picking up a micro-camper for everyday convenience only to discover your bad back can’t handle not being able to stand up…

For this article we’re going to ignore the big coach-built motorhomes and focus on metal panel vans, largely because that’s what Kiravans kit is designed for. Here’s our quick guide to help you with those initial ‘van size’ queries:

Mercedes Sprinter, VW Crafter, Ford Transit, Fiat Ducato, Renault Master etc.

These vans are designed for hauling around quite a bit of stuff, hence you see them everywhere being driven by delivery drivers. 

  • Good internal space and permanent standing headroom
  • Enough room for a dedicated toilet/shower cubicle
  • Bigger kitchen area can allow for a larger fridge/freezer, multiple hobs and an oven
  • Depending on layout, you can have a permanent double bed in the rear
  • Great for long European road trips and living in for months on end
  • Being longer, they are not so good in tight spaces and can be more difficult to park
  • Not really a ‘daily driver’, so you would probably require the use of another vehicle

VW Transporter, Ford Transit Custom, Mercedes Vito, Renault Trafic etc.

A great ‘all-round’ van. They are easy to drive but spacious enough to live in comfortably for a few weeks at a time. Even better if the weather is good and you can live outside a bit.

  • Usually these vans have a rear bench seat that folds down to a double bed
  • The addition of an elevating roof transforms the van by adding another double bed up top and the ability to stand up
  • Front seats generally rotate to face the rear to open up more living space
  • Kitchen area can accommodate a twin hob, sink and small fridge
  • These vans are small enough to get you pretty much anywhere a car can go
  • Can be used as your daily mode of transport if you don’t mind slightly higher fuel bills
  • Great for days out, picnics and over nights stops too

Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner, Nissan NV 200, VW Caddy Maxi etc.

A tiny home on wheels, but generally more affordable and perfect for off grid adventures.

  • Ideal for one person, or two at a push...
  • These are basically car size, so are easy to live with day to day
  • The lowest cost option, for both purchase price and running costs
  • Best suited to short trips away unless you fit a pop-top and are OK living in a tiny space

What about the make and model?

Once you have decided on the size of van you need for your intended use, you’ll probably want to decide on a make and model. This choice will be influenced by your budget and how you feel about the look and reputation of the different makes available. We don’t recommend any particular make over another, but from working in the industry for many years we have learnt the following:

  • VW Transporters make up the bulk of medium sized van conversions due to their iconic reputation and solid build-quality. There is a big VW community with tons of invaluable knowledge out there to help with your conversion and a huge availability of conversion parts. With a devoted following, there are festivals, fan clubs and magazines dedicated to them. This explains why our VW Double Seat Swivel is our biggest selling product of all time!

Photo courtesy of @novathevan
  • Ford Transit Customs are gaining a strong following now in the UK due to their modern styling and car-like driving experience. We are seeing more and more dedicated parts entering the market for these vans and Kiravans is currently working on an exciting new DoorStore for this model.

Renault Trafics have historically been very popular on the European mainland for converting and have proved themselves very worthy. Slightly cheaper to buy than the VW but will still last for years if well looked after.

Finding and buying a van

Over the last few years there has been a clear rise in the number of used panel vans to choose from due the demand of online retail and courier services.  Ex cargo vans tend to have higher mileage but they should also have a decent service history.  You can expect most reputable commercial vehicles to run anywhere between 160 - 250,000 miles if they have been well looked after. The German makers have a reputation for going even further.

If you don’t plan to go far in your van each year then a cheaper, but newer, high-mileage van may be worth a look. However, if you want to maximise resale value, try and find the lowest mileage possible within your budget.

Parts for panel vans are generally easily available and relatively cheap because there are so many of these popular vans around.  We have heard recently that prices of some models of van have increased slightly due to demand for staycations, but do your homework, search well and you will find the right van for you.

So there you have it...

Size is important when considering what your campervan needs to do.

If travelling alone or with a partner for short trips, you may only need a micro van. If exploring with family, friends and even pets, choose something bigger that you can stand up in, cook and enjoy relaxing time in. And for those of you planning a big road trip where you’ll be gone for months, go for something roomy with your own private washroom facilities and big double bed!

The Kiravans mission has always been to design and source better kit, to help you convert your van with the confidence and reassurance you need. We have created a whole host of van conversion video tutorials, which means that you can build your dream vehicle at a fraction of the cost of buying an already converted camper.

So, once you’ve chosen your van, check out Kiravans for our full range of quality campervan conversion products and helpful installation video guides.