How to Make a Camper Out of an Old Van

by Chrissie Mayes

Thrifty vacationers are turning to camping van holidays in an effort to save money, yet the cost of buying the camper in the first place can outweigh any savings. Converting an old panel van to a motor home is a viable option. Look for a van in reasonable condition that has either an elevating roof or a high roof installed. The size of the van will determine the layout and internal fittings required--bigger vans will easily accommodate a bathroom area whereas a smaller van will only allow for the basics of camper conversion.


Completely clear out the back of the van and make a note of its interior measurements. Draw a plan of the preferred layout for accommodation that will meet your needs based on these measurements. Keep the design as simple as possible, sticking to the necessities of seating that converts to bed, kitchen area, small bathroom area and some storage.

Measure all your units and cupboards and underneath your plan write all these measurements down. Compare with the original plan. Calculate if any pieces of equipment will need modifying to fit the van. Take into account any angles on van sides by dropping a plumb line to floor of van, measure distance of vertical line and distance of line to wall. Use the measurements to draw a triangle to use as a template. Include a seating bench that can be converted to a bed on the plan. Check if there is enough room to allow the bed to convert to a double.

Cut the cupboards and bathroom area to fit the van using the template of the van side. Arrange in place. Do not fix in place at this stage in case the order has to be changed. Cut a flat piece of plywood to the size of your bench--the size and shape will be determined by personal preferences and space available. Place in position to check the spacing. Chalk out how it will look when converted to double bed and again check the spacing to ensure there is enough room to accommodate all the fittings.

Make a bench frame out of wood using the plywood template. Build to comfortable seating height. Ensure that it is the same width and length as the foam mattress and cushions that will be used for padding. Place in position to check for fit. Create hinged flaps to act as doors at the front of the bench for easy access to storage space. Design the bench to be converted to a double bed if space allows.


Cover the van sides, ceiling and floor with plywood if it is not already lined. Mark out where the cupboards and the bench will be positioned and where the electrical wiring will go. Nail 2-inch strips of wood in where the positioning markers are. Drill corresponding holes in the strips and in the cupboards. Cut small notches into back of cupboards to give passage to any electrical wiring.

Apply wood glue to the fixed 2-inch wooden strips and onto wooden pegs. Push the glued side of wooden pegs into the drilled holes in the cupboards and hammer gently in. Fix the cupboards and fixtures into place by covering protruding ends of wooden pegs in glue and press the units into the corresponding holes in the 2-inch strips of wood in the van. Use clamps on the joints between the van and the cupboards to ensure a good bond. Leave in place until the glue has set.

Wire up lights, sockets and all other electrical items to a separate 12-volt battery before installing any carpeting and paneling. Employ an electrician to complete this. Include an external hook-up and a split charger to keep the second battery charged.

Add finishing touches such as carpet, wallpaper or paneling, curtains, cushions.


  • check Source materials and internal fittings by looking for old trailers or trailer parts for sale.
  • check Design the bed to convert to a double using the camper table. Take the size of the table into account when making your measurements. If using the table is not an option use plywood on good supports that can be stored under the bench when not in use.


  • close Do not attempt the electrical work yourself unless you are a qualified electrician.

Items you will need

About the Author

Chrissie Mayes began her career as a freelance writer in 2010. She has also been working in the equestrian field since 1986 as a teacher, trainer, assessor and verifier and has written and designed course material and training. She is pursuing a master's degree in equine science at Aberystwyth University.

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  • photo_camera FOURGON ref 1184 image by Marie-Thérèse GUIHAL from