Introduction: Van Conversion to Small Camper

About: I'm a designer / performer. more on IG or FB ->

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 )

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

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.

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

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.

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