How to Find the Best Camper Vans

Having a camper van makes you a true nomad. You can live like a snail, with your home on your back. The best camper vans don’t just put a roof over your (mobile) head. They also have plenty of storage so that you can keep your belongings inside and pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Plus, compared to pull-behinds and larger RVs, camper vans are easier to maneuver.

Let’s take a look at this nifty vehicle/living space and consider its ideal uses so that you can find the type that’s best for you.

What Is a Camper Van?

If you’re looking for a motorhome, you have several options. You might come across vehicles labeled as RVs, motorhomes, travel trailers, campers, and camper vans. These are fairly generic terms, and some people use them interchangeably.

An RV is a recreational vehicle that usually refers to a mobile unit with a motor or a hitch that lets it be pulled as a trailer. Some people call these campers, although some campers have soft sides and pop-outs for sleeping areas. Camper vans tend to be smaller than RVs and campers and an integrated motor.

To understand what you’re looking for and stay on the same page as the sellers you’re working with; you should understand the classifications of recreational vehicles.

According to Wikipedia, if you’re seeking a true camper van, you need to look for a class B motorhome. These have a motor and driver’s seat, with the living compartment in the rear. The roof may be raised to accommodate a bed or offer more headroom. The chassis of a camper van depends on the manufacturer.

Class B RVs are constructed within the structure of a commercial van. The exterior is fully painted and less prone to leaks and corrosion than that of many other types of RVs. However, they’re usually only about 7.5 feet wide and much shorter than many Class A and C vehicles.

You can convert any van into a vehicle that supports your wanderlust. From the outside, you might not be able to differentiate a conversion van from a class B motorhome. There are some differences, which include:

Class B Motorhomes Specifically built to be a recreational vehicle Have an incorporated water and sewage system Have electrical connections Typically come with a bed, bathroom, and kitchen Usually have separate climate control systems for the driving and living spaces Not designed for daily driving May be ready to go immediately after purchase Conversion Vans Designed primarily as motor vehicles and converted into living spaces later Running water and sewage system may or may not be added Don’t necessarily have electrical connections Are customized and have infinite configurations May not have distinct heating and cooling for the front and rear Can be used as commuter or city vehicles Might need customizing before you can use them

The best camper vans to live in having a bed at the very least. They may also have features that are similar to a camper, including a kitchenette and shelving. You might want to look into those with electrical hookups or solar power to make van life as comfortable as possible in extreme temperatures.

Things To Consider When Buying A Camper Van

If you know that you want a smallish vehicle that’s drivable and can accommodate living quarters in the cargo area, a class B motorhome or conversion van is the way to go. However, there are a few questions that you should consider before you begin your search.

What Are You Using It For?

Most people who buy RVs use them for traveling. However, parking a camper in your backyard has become popular as the tiny house trend has taken off. Some people even transform recreational vehicles into accommodations that they rent out to visitors.

If you’re not planning on moving your vehicle, you might not need a camper van. You’ll generally have more room to work with if you choose a trailer or larger motorhome.

A camper van is one of the smallest RVs that you can purchase. If you don’t have a lot of room on your property, it might work as a unique outdoor bedroom. Camper vans fit well in driveways and usually don’t require a separate facility for storage.

If you will be traveling, a camper van is ideal. Many get decent gas mileage. According to USA Today, class B campers are two to three times more fuel efficient than class A RVs. Plus, you will have your belongings wherever your vehicle goes and a functioning automobile everywhere you decide to stay.

Camper vans are sometimes referred to as travel coaches because they’re so convenient for travel. They fit in most parking spaces, which means that you can live in your van and sleep just about anywhere that allows overnight parking.

What Size Do You Need?

If you don’t require a large living space, a van might be perfect for you. Even if you think that you need ample room to kick your feet up, you may not have a vehicle that can tow a camper. If that’s the case, a travel trailer is out of the question unless you want to invest in the RV and a new truck. When looking into all-in-one RVs, you’ll have to take drivability, storage options, and fuel efficiency into account.

Assuming that you have decided to go with a camper van because it’s versatile, relatively easy to drive and more fuel efficient than other RV options, you’ll need to make sure that you can accommodate all of your passengers.

Twenty-two states require all passengers in a recreational vehicle to wear seatbelts even if they’re not in the front seat. Therefore, you must have the available seating for your friends and family.

While many RVs manufacturers place seatbelts in the rear, they’re not required to follow any standards for those restraint systems. Only the front seatbelts have to comply with Federal safety standards. If you’re toting more than a driver and a passenger, you might consider bringing an extra car along with you on your journeys. But this can negate the convenience of having a small, easy-to-drive RV.

If you have a boat, ATV or bicycles, you can tow them behind most camper vans. Getting a small trailer, sometimes referred to as a toy hauler, is an option.

Fuel Economy

Look into the fuel economy of the van that you’re interested in. Although this differs based on driving habits, the weight of the vehicle, the engine type and the age of the motorhome, many class B RVs get between 10 and 25 mpg.

To test the gas mileage, fill up the van and make a note of the odometer reading. Drive until you’ve emptied half the tank. When you fill it up, notice how many miles you drove and how many gallons of gas the vehicle needed. Divide the number of miles driven by the number of gallons needed to refill the motorhome. The resulting figure tells you how many miles you get per gallon.

New Or Used; Camper or Conversion Van?

The decision to buy a new or used vehicle hinges on money and time. You have to consider what’s in your budget and how much you’re willing to spend if you have to make repairs or upgrades.

Consumer Reports claims that class B motorhomes are the most expensive per foot. However, the total price, which ranges from $85,000 to $150,000 for a new model, still tends to be lower than larger RVs if you’re comparing unused equivalents. Camper vans also retain their value better than most other RVs.

Those who want to spend less can purchase a used camper van. Many people think that they want to live the RV lifestyle, only to find out that they have trouble living like a minimalist. Therefore, many used camper vans have minimal wear. You could get a luxuriously outfitted used camper that’s in great shape at a fraction of the cost of a new one.

If you’re on an especially tight budget, you can convert a van yourself. Consider buying a bare-bones cargo van with one of the chassis types below. You can buy kits to transform the vans or equip the interior yourself.

Class B Vans

If you don’t want to make an effort to customize your camper, you might want to look into a class B vehicle that’s set up for wandering.

Class B Van Types

Class B vans utilize three types of chassis:

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

This chassis is the longest, at 24 feet. These RVs are available with four-wheel drive and use a diesel engine. It’s the most common chassis found in class B motorhomes, but some dealers don’t service Mercedes because parts are so expensive. Also, the emissions system can be fussy.

Ram Promaster

Motorhomes built with this chassis are cheaper than Mercedes. They’re also less expensive and easier to service. The engine is identical to the ones found in many Chrysler vehicles. Therefore, many dealers and mechanics can work on it.

Although these vans are usually shorter than Mercedes, they’re wider inside, making them easier to outfit.

Ford Transit

This is one of the newest chassis on the market. The Transit is the top-selling van in the U.S. Plus; Ford dealers are plentiful in rural areas, where campsites tend to be.

Class B Van Manufacturers

There are several manufacturers of class B vans with the chassis options mentioned above. These are some of class B motorhome manufacturers in North America.

Advanced-RV

This Ohio-based company designs each motorhome for its clients. They understand that you want a vehicle that matches the types of activities you enjoy. The company’s founders are campers themselves, and they’re passionate about efficiency, comfort and functionality.

Airstream

Although this company may be known for its bullet-shaped metallic trailers, it also makes touring coaches. They offer seating for up to nine people and have luxuriously appointed interiors.

Coachmen

Coachmen makes class B motorhomes on a Mercedes chassis. They use high-end components and customize their cabinetry for efficient storage space.

Outside Van

Outside Van is all about customizing your vehicle for outdoor adventures. They specialize in full customizations. Choose a van from their stock, or bring in your own as long as it’s a relatively newer model.

Best Van for Camper Conversions

If you want to convert a van, you have a variety of options. First, you need to purchase a base vehicle.

The best van for camper conversions must correspond with your camping needs, vehicle maintenance experience, and budget. You can purchase a cargo or panel van with one of the chassis listed above. Some of those may already be outfitted for camping, or you can buy conversion kits for the standard chassis.

You can often have the dealer customize the van for you, but many buyers prefer to personalize it themselves. Creative folks can convert anything from a school bus to an ambulance.

Choosing a van can feel overwhelming, and this step might be the hardest part of the overall conversion process. If you don’t buy the right vehicle, you may end up spending more than you expected to convert it.

Most people consider the best van for camper conversions to be one of the following:

Panel Vans

Panel vans vary in size, but they’re usually larger than a minivan or Volkswagen bus and have plenty of room inside for a conversion. They often have high-top roofs, which give you more space to stand. Because metal panels take the place of the rear windows, these vans are usually used for cargo and don’t often include rear seats.

That’s ideal if you’re going to transform the cargo area anyway. However, the lack of windows limits the amount of light that can enter your space.

Some examples of panel vans include the:

Ford Transit You can stand up in the models with medium and high tops Double doors in the rear Sits lower to the ground Front of the cab is sloped Modern build Usually more expensive than Econoline Better gas mileage More efficient framing, which is easier to insulate Drives like a car Ford Econoline Less headroom Double doors in the rear Higher ground clearance Front of cab looks more like a truck Clunky build Usually less expensive than Transit Poorer gas mileage Less efficient framing, which makes you lose space if you insulate May be the cheapest option
Ram ProMaster High roof option Low load floor The front-wheel-drive layout feels more secure in poor weather Uncomfortable driver’s position Wide-angle driver’s view Cheaper than most Sprinters and Transits Unresponsive steering and poorer handling than the other options Mercedes Sprinter Available with high and super-high roof Comfortable front seats Responsive steering and handling High-tech safety gear, such as collision prevention and crosswind assist More luxurious internal features
Nissan NV Smooth ride Comfortable cabin High or standard roof options Slow steering Low price Front end looks more like bus or truck than car or van

These are not the only options for camper conversion vans. The Chevrolet Express Cargo Van can be up-fitted to create living space. It has a spacious cargo area and can be found in a passenger style if you need seats.

If you need a more rugged ride, you might look into options such as:

  • Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier
  • Toyota Hiace or Townace Van
  • Mitsubishi Express 4×4

The prices and availability depend on where you live and the age and condition of the vehicle.

Buses

Buses make roomy motorhomes. They can be much bigger than vans, which gives you lots of living space but makes them harder to drive. A coach-style bus can be as large as an expensive RV, but a school bus conversion may be cheaper and easier to find.

If you like the option of a bus conversion, you might want to look for a minibus version of the Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit. You could also look into a mini school bus.

The Volkswagen VW Transporter is a popular option for van conversions. You can buy VW buses in a variety of styles, depending on the date and location of manufacture. The Westfalia is already designed with camping in mind and might require less time before you’re ready to hit the road.

Box Trucks

Although box trucks are technically not camper van conversions because the cab is separate from the rear frame structure, many people choose to convert these into living spaces. Because of that, we won’t go into them in too much detail here. However, you can find some great inspiration for box truck conversion ideas here.

The Camper Van Purchasing Process

The best time to shop for camper vans is in the fall and winter. That’s when many campers head home or sell their vehicles after spring and summer on the road. You might find good deals on new motorhomes because the demand slackens during the colder months.

Do Your Research

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably ready to do some research before you buy. That’s an essential part of the process. You can join a forum or group for those interested in the van life to read real comments about everything related to class B motorhomes. Read reviews about the van types that interest you.

Some great places to start:

You should also get a sense of what fair prices are for the motorhome you’re planning to buy. To do this, you can peruse sites such as:

Test Out the Vehicle

Because most people buy camper vans with traveling in mind, you need to make sure that your new toy drives well and is trustworthy. You might think that the interior features are more important than the way that it handles, but you might have a different perspective after driving 1,000 miles.

Therefore, it’s vital that you test drive the van. Different vans have different maneuverability, and you want to be confident that you can drive it well. The comfort level of the driver and passenger seats also affects your ability to enjoy the road.

You should also test out the comfort of the other areas. Nap on the mattresses. Check how easy it is to enter and exit the bed if you have to get up in the middle of the night. How much time does it take to go from driving to living in the vehicle?

If possible, rent out the type of motorhome that you’re thinking of buying. This will give you plenty of time to examine its components and decide if it’s the best option for you.

Inspections

You’ll need to examine the camper van for a few things, especially if you’re buying it used. Check the vehicle’s history using the VIN. This will tell you if the vehicle has been in an accident. Some other signs that the owner is trying to hide damage include paint that doesn’t match or major parts that have been replaced.

Check the entire vehicle for wear and tear. Some problems to keep an eye out for include:

  • Cracked tires
  • Worn brake lines
  • Roof damage
  • Moisture damage
  • Rust and corrosion

Financing and Insurance

Although a used camper van may be more affordable, you might be able to get a loan with a longer term if you finance a greater amount. According to Insuramatch, a loan for a new camper that totals more than $100,000 can have a 20-year term. You might only be able to finance a smaller loan for ten years or so.

You’ll also need to take into account the cost of upgrading the vehicle. If you’re gutting and converting a van, it’s not unheard of to spend $6,000 to $15,000 doing so. Don’t forget to calculate the cost of insurance, which ranges from about $800 to $1,000 per year for this type of vehicle.

Although a wide variety of factors go into finding the best camper vans to live in, it’s easy to become enamored with the process. There are so many ways to customize a camper van for your specific needs that it just takes a little dreaming and a little doing before you’re off on your next adventure.

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