Introduction: Van Conversion to Small Camper

Picture of Van Conversion to Small Camper

First things first;

I started this thing a while ago... before it was to be used as an instructable. I had a lot of pictures taking from the process but not all like it should be.

Anyway I will try to be as clear as possible.

In 2006 I bought a new car, a van. I always wanted one, so when I needed a new car, because the other car (Opel corsa) broke down, I went to find a small van.

I bought a Renault trafic L1H1. I had the conversion in mind, but also I needed this car everyday, so taking the L2H2 (wich is higher and longer) would have been better for conversion, but not so ideal as daily use.

I had some things in mind wich I wanted to do with the van;

* Daily use

* Travelling

* Moving stuff around (I do animation for children, street performance and have old mopeds)

So with all this things it started.

Step 1: Designing Your Needs

Picture of Designing Your Needs

Well that's the hardest part to do. Putting up a list from the uses the van will have and how to fit those into that small space as good as possible.

DIMENSIONS: try to find dimensions or blueprints online, as a starting guide. Measuring the van itself is still the main concern.

WHAT DO I NEED: depending on your wishes make sure you list up the things you need before you start. This will make the process much easier.

For me the needs were:

*Daily use car (so this was decided on buying the right type of car)

*Travel (I wanted to travel comfortably, so I added: insulation, ventilation, fridge, small heater, normal 220V sockets, radio, lights, speakers, and as much storage as possible)

*Moving stuff around (I had to keep place in the middle and still be able to load stuff like my old mopeds)

SEARCH FOR HELP: there are a lot of forums out there from people who did the same. Go and search the net, some forums or instructables to find ideas, solutions, and even some help if needed.

DESIGNING: With all above in mind you can start on the sketchbook. Throw out your dimensions find out what you want to fit in where and how... This will be important later on so you have a good plan for wiring, finding solutions, and to avoid problems.

Mostly at this point you will delete some stuff from the car like side panels and other things wich or no longer needed.

Step 2: Insulating / Electricity / Ventilation

Picture of Insulating / Electricity / Ventilation

Before you doing anything else on the van or start putting in stuff, those are the three main things you should know.

INSULATION: important step as in summer and winter (depending where you live) the temperatures will be shifting. In winter you would like to keep heat in, in summer you want to keep heat out as much as possible.

VENTILATION: Most of you will use the car to sleep / live in for some period (like holidays). You have to remember that when you are inside breathing hot air, and outide it's cold, there will be condensation. This has to be avoided as much as possible. Condensation will go everywhere you don't want it to be. When yo don't ventilate right, there will be humid spots everywhere, leaving ... well rust and mould... two things you don't want!!

ELECTRICITY: depending on your needs or wishes, you will need some sort of electricity running trough your van. There is allready a DC circuit in the car; wich you can use. Mostly this will be 12 / 24V depending on wich car yo buy. This is powered by the battery when the car is not running. When the car is on, there is the alternator wich takes over while the engine is running.

Normally you will have to install a second battery, wich is often called a household battery. As you don't want to drain the power from the battery wich is used to start the car. I strongly advise to take an extra battery, don't try to run everything on the battery of your car.

Car batteries and household batteries are 2 different types, both for 2 different types of use.

Step 3: Insulation

Picture of Insulation

I started of by pulling out the things I did not need anymore. Like the side panels in the back of the van. Bassicaly everywhere where I wanted to add storage or something in front of, I removed. As it would not be needed and not visible afterwards.

I had this kind of insulation (not rockwool or PUR) wich was covered by a aluminium foil and about 1,5 cm thick. Its some sort of white plastic. It's lightweight, easy to use and flexible. There are some manufacturers out there specialised in this kind of stuff.

On the floor I added 1 layer. the walls and inside the doors there is also one layer, the ceiling has 2 layers. I started with one layer, then added some cabling, and then finished off with another layer.

Try to fill all holes as much as possible, wich is not always easy to do.

For the windows I cutted out 3 pieces single layer and put some strong magnets inside. This way I can seal the windows and insulate at the same time. When not in use they are hidden away in the 'battery compartment'

There was a lot of Tec7 and Ductape involved here ;)

Step 4: Electricity and Cables

Picture of Electricity and Cables

This will be one of the first steps to do. Because like in a house you want the cables to be behind all your suff.

First start by making a good schedule of what you want and where. And work from those points back to the main powering unit you have installed.

To make all the cables run inside the metal frame and as much hidden as possible you can use the car's structure. This is not easy to do. you will have to remove panels, and try to run cables trough narrow tubes / spaces.

Batteries: there are many types of batteries you can use for this project but I recommend you to search on household batteries. I will not go into detail on those. There is a lot to find about it on the net.

Make sure yo have some basic knowledge about DC current and AC current, as well on how to connect everything and about cable cross sections. You don't want to fire up your car by melting cables! Or find someone who does, which can help you with that.

Finding a spot for the batteries. There are a lot of places where you can hide them, depending on the size of the battery you will have to make some compromises.

You will also need a lot of other stuff to make sure your electrical circuit is running decently to avoid all trouble afterwards. Such are, fuseboxes both AC and DC in my case. Fuses, connectors, cables, converters, switches and so on....

Step 5: Ventilation

Picture of Ventilation

Well it basically means cut a hole in your roof... or anywhere else.

This was a hard thing to do... I went up my roof, taped off the part where I wanted to cut for the ventilation, and then I had to make the decision... there is no way back after :)

So the circle was drawn, I started of by drilling a hole to fit my jigsaw in and off we go! The taping was to prevent scratching of the jigsaw on the paint.

Have someone insde helping to hold the roof up, preferably with a piece of wood, *NOT hands*, safety first guys!

There are a lot of systems out there to ventilate. I went with a big powered one who works in both directions. I can choose between air in or air out.

I glued the whole thing in place with the glue they use to glue your car window in. The rest I finished off with some tec7.

Since I needed my ceiling to be lower, (installing lights and speakers) I needed a tube to connect the ventilation in the roof and the hole in the ceiling. Lucky I had some stuff laying around which fitted perfectly.

Step 6: Making the Framework / Layout

Picture of Making the Framework / Layout

This had a lot of measuring involved.

Make sure you know where things have to come... I can assure you that fixing errors or making holes afterwards is not that easy.

I had some layout of where I wanted the fridge / heater / radio / storage places and so on. But still it's calculating and calculating even more the calculations you made ;)

Measure twice cut once.... well maybe twice. There will be errors! Don't let that get you down.

I used a mix of green MDF (waterressistant) some normal wood and multiplex. All I could find use for this project. A lot of screws and again Tec7.

For the edges with special shape I used a shape tracer to copy the curves. This is extremely handy and not expensive. It will save you lots of time. There are a lot of curvy edges inside those vans.

Step 7: Ceiling and First Layer of Paint ( Some Kind of Special Paint )

Picture of Ceiling and First Layer of Paint ( Some Kind of Special Paint )

The ceiling was lowered to fit in the lights / speakers / ventilation.

I made a framework to follow the shape of the van with cutted strips of multiplex fixed on some wood running through the whole length of the van.

The ceiling itself is hardboard, with all the cutouts needed for the lights / speakers / ventilation.

Once it was stapled / screwed on, I started to sand the connections and fill up with the special paint. It was something I found here in the garage, called 'liquid insulation' ... what's in a name. As it promised on the can 'the waterproof solution' I just had to use it :). I was just thinking, if I still have some condensation, then I better prepare for it. And it needed to be used up anyway.

Later on I sanded those spots and finished the whole ceiling with the paint.

Step 8: Fitting Stuff in / Panelling / Paint Some More

Picture of Fitting Stuff in / Panelling / Paint Some More

We're moving on to finally close the whole thing up.

We need to put the things in place, make the panelling and cutout where the closets will be.

I did this by taking a big piece of MDF cut it to shape (top, bottom and sides) and placed it in front of the framework. Then I drilled some holes far enough to the inside. These holes I used to cut out a first rough shape. This way I was able to put my head / arm inside and trace the insides of the closets perfectly on the back of the MDF panel. Later on I cutted out the right shape.

I also continued on a small gimmick I had in mind. I wanted a small swivel plate as a support to put on my laptop to watch a movie or something.

Step 9: Finishing the Panels / Closet Doors & Ceiling.

Picture of Finishing the Panels / Closet Doors & Ceiling.

So once the panels were cutout to perfect shape it was time to laminate them.

I did this a bit the same way as we did before with the panelling. You put your panel onto the laminate both facing up. You draw rough (about 2 cm inside of the edge) on the laminate where the holes should be. Then you glue the face of your panel and the back of your laminate. When pressing them together with a wooden roller, you can avoid the gaps (that's where you drawn the rough cutout). This way you prevent of braking the laminate and you have a guide of where to add pressure.

After drying they're ready to be finished, meaning cutting out the laminate on top of the openings.

You start carefully in the middle by making a hole big enough for the router to fit in, then work you router with a flush trim bit on it to the edge and continue to follow the edge. This way you will cut out exactly the same shape.

I also finished the doors with the same laminate and added a border in the same laminate.

In the meantime I glued the edges of the cardboards used for the ceiling together. After drying and sanding, I could start with glueing the immitation leather on to it. I used the same technique as for the panelling. Glue both pieces, let dry & press together.

The inside was completely sealed with plastic and masking tape. This way I could spray smooth and easy.

Be carefull as the fumes of this contactglue are very harmfull and will irritate. I did this together with a friend, we were both crying ;) of the irritation. Lucky it only took about 2 minutes to spray the ceiling.

Mask are absolutely necessary!!!!

After pressing the immitation leather to the ceiling, it was ready to cut out the holes for lights / speakers / ventilation. Just use a regular cutting knife.

Step 10: Installing and Finishing Off

Picture of Installing and Finishing Off

All that was left to do was the finishing.

I installed the lights. 2 original lights wich go on the car system, 6 led lights wich run on the extra batteries.

I installed the speakers. Glueing in the big panels, hanging the doors, and finished the closets inside with some carpet on the bottom boards. This was to prevent the stuff from moving to much while driving.

Finished the power outlets, installed a little magnetic holder for keys and some other small details.

So that's about it.

I hope you had some inspiration and some tips / help from this instructable.

Have fun on your own project.

Best regards


Step 11: Video / Small Walktrough

Hey I just did a quick tour of the van.

sorry about the quality it's done by phone, and it's nice weather so there is some high contrast...

...and I filmed it vertically :( ...

Anyway hope it gives a better look to the van.


Dr.Bill (author)2017-06-09

Where's the bed?

dieter demeyere (author)Dr.Bill2017-06-09

Hi Dr.Bill,
The bed is an air mattress.
My first idea was to put the folded on the left side above the wheelcase. Some kind of flip down system. But the height between wheelcase and ceiling was to short, meaning if I would fold out it would not reach the other wheelcase on the right side. And if I putted a fixed bed it would have taken all the space of where the cabinets are.
So for my intended use there were much more disadvantages to put a 'fixed' bed in there.
The air mattress fits perfectly between the sides with some space left on top and bottom.
And I have a battery powered air pump which takes me about 1-2min.
Everything depends on the requirements you need, but for me this was the perfect solution.

bushypants (author)2016-08-05

Good one bro!

Thank you.

How's your van going?

viktorrayo (author)2016-08-06

Well done . It is really good job !

NotAPot2PN (author)2016-07-27

Wow, Dieter! Well done! I'm both impressed and exhausted - exhausted just from looking at your project. I'll never be able to build anything similar, but I'm so glad you did it and let us see how. Thank you!

Hi NotAPot2PN,
Thank you! Well I have to admit that when I started I had something in mind...but not that well finished. I just kept going ;).
Glad I recieved a lot of materials and use of machines for free. Otherwise I would not have been able to do things like that.
Sharing it with you guys was all my pleasure ;), as was building the van also.

eastcoaster53 (author)2016-07-21

hi, looks thing i would think about when i build mine would be having the back open to the front. is there a reason for doing it your way? you can pull up anywhere and sleep. if some hoons or thugs give you a hard time in the middle of the night you just get in the drivers seat and drive away. maybe there's a reason that i don't know about.

Hi eastcoaster.
Well my reason to keep te 2 compartments separate is due to that in winter, when driving my car daily I don't have to heat up the whole van ☺... I live in Belgium it is not the most tropical place on earth.
But both, open or close, have their pos and neg points. Like said in point 1: Find out your needs, and work according to that.
Success if you plan to build your own.

hi,dieter. wasn't thinking of that.where i live the weather isn't so extreme. still a very good build.

Thx. Offcourse you build towards your needs. So if the weather over there is nice. I would also leave the back open.

McMorras (author)2016-07-23

Very nicely done!
Now I just need a van to retrofit :D

dieter demeyere (author)McMorras2016-07-23

Hi McMorras.
Thank you! I hope you find a van soon!
If you do, throw out an instructable about it. Or a picture on the 'I made it' session.
Love to see other stuff, ideas.

fjr_scoot (author)2016-07-21

Nicely done! Thank you for sharing.

You're welcome

Schnelly B (author)2016-07-21

Nice! Have fun taking that on adventures!

I took it trough italy 3 weeks.
Will continue on those trips

SusanH75 (author)2016-07-20

Nice job

dieter demeyere (author)SusanH752016-07-23


TreborG1 (author)2016-07-19

I've built a camper on my 2006 Chevrolet Silverado Extended cab truck with all the convenience of a home away from home with all the 12 vdc and 120 vac needs.With using a 45 watt solar array on the top, a 1,000 watt inverter inside, a 3500 watt generator on rear porch, I've paralleled both engine battery and the deep charge battery in the camper with no present problems. I can run my car stereo in my camper all day long as long as I have sufficient sun light on the solar panels without draining the batteries. I've put in a battery trickle charger to keep the battery voltages up to par when I plug up to external power and when needed, I can bring both batteries up from 8-9 volts DC in about 15 minutes with the generator or on land power. I've even jump started other people's cars with their completely dead battery in no time.

Paralleling the batteries together is not a problem, that is the way they build the battery banks with the solar array systems.

dieter demeyere (author)TreborG12016-07-19

Wow...lot of battery things going on here.
Maybe I should have been more clear.
The 2 yellow batteries, connected in parallel, are both household (deep drain) batteries. They are connected with the mains of the car battery, but only for charging, when the car is running.
If you look at my electrical diagram (sketchy) you will see that there is a circuit breaker between those 2 and the car battery. So the power of the car battery is never used to power the needs in the back or to charge the households.
On my schedule I also connected the main positive and main neg to different battery...but not in the car... I forgot why not. And is still adjustable.
I hope this clears out all the battery stuff :)
Thx for all the nice comments!

batvette (author)dieter demeyere2016-07-20

Should use an isolator on that second bank. Its like a relay, closes the circuit when the engine is running.

batvette (author)TreborG12016-07-20

Hope that 45w array is not of the harbor freight variety. Amorphous silicone, low output and service life.

MadelineW5 (author)2016-07-19

So the engine and the camper share electrical? I see that there is not that much needed electrically inside the van. I like this. I also imagine a backup charger using a propeller while driving or solar if you needed more juice ...yet I bet that it becomes complicated.

Awesome work!

Hi Madeline.
No they don't share you can read in my other replies about batteries.
Well the biggest need of electricity is the small heater. It's 350Watt on 220V. I actually using 2 converters. One of them is only used for the heater.
The rest I kept as low in consumption as possible. Special fridge, led lights and so on.
You could use a propeller but that will make consumption of fuel go bigger. So I would go with the solar panel option.
Thx for your interest.

SuzyM1 (author)2016-07-19

Great job! Very intelligent design. Very thoroughly thought out. : )

dieter demeyere (author)SuzyM12016-07-20

Thx. Glad you liked it.

MichaelAtOz (author)2016-07-19

Nice build and 'ible, thanks for sharing some good ideas/techniques. You may want to insulate the battery terminals to prevent the foil insulation you store there from shorting out?

Hi Michael, I thought of that too, but its seems non conductive... I've tested before to be sure ;). So there is no problem on shorting the circuit.
If people would use some conductive insulation, better not store it with the batteries or have the terminals protected.

stephane275 (author)2016-07-19

i se a problem in your structure. you been talking about preventing moisture, condensation inside, yet you used mdf or hdf witch are the worse material for this job. stick to plywood, better if you use the water proof ( exterior use) kind. First it will not retain water as much as mdf or hdf, second it won't fall apart if they stay in a humid environment for a length of time.Third plywood is much lighter, and stronger, so you can use thinner boards. You save on weight, save on gas,save on redoing it after a couple of years.

Hi Stephane,
I see what you mean. But most of the build I used the green MDF...wich is not waterproof but can handle some moisture. I also made sure I had enough ventilation. Not only by the fan on the roof, but I also did not 'seal' some corners. Also original the structure of the car had some air vents which I even opened more.
Plywood would have been better....but most of the wood stuff I got for free, so that was a saving in the budget which I could spend on other things. Mostly electrical parts.
The van was finished in summer of 2012. We went out with 2 persons for a 3 week trip in Italy. Sleeping in the car every day. At this point today still no humidity problems.
But if I had the money or the material available I would have used plywood indeed. ?

there is one other thing also, health issue. It's not a well known fact and manufacturers keeps this quiet, mdf and hdf release harmful gas, very nasty for our heath, when it's only a piece a furniture in our houses, it's ok, but like the tendencies these days is to have a floating floor in our kitchen( made with mdf) cabinets( made with mdf) people start to get sick without knowing it's their new kitchen doing it. Now your van is covered all sides.

Hutch Fix It (author)2016-07-17

Looks good! I like to point something out to help you. With your batteries setup you should put your batteries in parallel like you have them but when hooking it up to your load. Hook up the positive from Battery one to the load and the negative from Battery two to the load. In doing this it will help the life of you battery's. The way it is set up now battery one would have a shorter life than battery two.

For a camper you do not want the batteries to be parallel. The household battery is a deep-discharge battery. You can run it almost flat without damage but the high-current load of starting the engine can kill it. The Starting battery is a high-current battery. It will fail very rapidly if discharged repeatedly. They should not be in parallel because you lose the advantages of both. Even worse, running your starting battery down can leave you stranded; unable to start the engine.

There are "Battery Isolator" relays designed so the engine can charge both batteries, but the household battery takes the load when the engine is off. That is the optimal setup for these.

The way he has the two household batteries connected now is correct. The only difference in the load on the two should be the negligible internal resistance of the cables and connections.

Hi Hutch,

I understand what you mean, the loads are indeed connected to the first battery, but since there are cables running trough (on top of the batteres) it's kind of connected to second battery also. The resistance of the cables is indead putting a little less to the second battery. I see if I still can arrange the cables to do it right. There had to be a reason why I did it this way... just don't know it anymore... it's about 5 years ago ;)

thx for the support!

PeterS13 (author)2016-07-18

Really nice build! Out of curiosity, how much does the car weigh afterwards and how much before? I made something like that but ripped part of it out again as the available weight until the maximum allowed is reached was too little.

dieter demeyere (author)PeterS132016-07-18

High PeterS13, I have no idea actually ;) the weight is sure within the maximum load... as I never had trouble. The load capacity on this van is 900kg so I guess it would be hard to get over that number.

The batteries are the most heavy inside. They weigh about 80kg each. So there is about 160kg only on batteries.

I guess add about max 80-90kgs for the rest (alltough that would be too much I think) .... So lets suggests it takes about 250 kgs in total.

AlexD243 (author)2016-07-18

Really Good! Do you have some picture about the "finish product" as you use it now?

dieter demeyere (author)AlexD2432016-07-18

I will try to upload a video with a walktrough ;)

scastetter (author)2016-07-17

Very nice. Would you consider building one for someone?

Hey scastetter,

thank you for your reply! I could consider it, depending on the needs of the client and the time I have on my hands ;)

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