Campervan guidesVan Life guides

How to convert a panel van into a campervan

Campervan DIY conversion

Want to know how to convert a panel van into a campervan? It can be a daunting prospect, especially if it will be your first campervan DIY conversion. Fear not, here Van Life Matters offers practical tips and advice on how to convert a panel van into a campervan in this step by step guide.

Professionally converted campervans and motorhomes aren’t for everyone – the world would be a boring place if we all liked the same thing.

Your sense of wanderlust may crave something a little more unique, more bespoke. More you?

The beauty of a blank canvas panel van is that, with some hard work and determination, you can create exactly what you need.

Choosing a panel van

Before you begin your campervan conversion, it’s important to do your research and plan accordingly.

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to find the best panel van for a campervan conversion, based on your needs and budget.

Consider the vehicle size, fuel efficiency, and maintenance costs of the van.

Once you’ve selected a van, set a budget and start planning for the conversion process.

Cost of campervan conversion

The cost of a campervan conversion can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the project.

Beyond the cost of the van itself, expect to pay between £3,000 to £10,000+ on the conversion.

For a more accurate estimate, produce a list of the tools and materials that you’ll need – but be prepared for unexpected costs.

Savings can be made long the way by purchasing used equipment, repurposing materials and selling anything you that came with the van that you won’t need.

Campervan conversion tools

Having the right tool for the job, makes it much easier. But what tools do you need to convert a panel van into a campervan?

As a bare minimum, we'd suggest you'll need the following list of tools:

  • Tape measure: Remember to measure twice before cutting!
  • Mitre saw: Needed for cutting nice straight lines for your flooring and it'll make easy work out of cutting wooden battens when fitting out the interior.
  • Jigsaw and blades: You'll need these for making intricate shapes in wood, metal, cork and other materials along the way.
  • Clamps: Essential for plying the walls and you'll find that a second pair of hands will come in handy throughout the rest of the build.
  • Electric drill: Avoid trailing wires by going for a cordless drill. Look for an 18V drills with a long-lasting lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Screwdrivers: A good quality set of screwdrivers that aren’t going to round screw heads are key for your sanity.

Panel van preparation

Whatever van you're starting with, there will be some preparation needed before the real work can begin.

If you've got a used van, the best approach is to strip out everything back to bare metal so you can asses the condition of the loading area - you'll need to treat any damp, mould or rust patches that you might find.

You may be able to reuse some of the materials you removed such as fixings and ply boards, and you may even be able to top-up your conversion fund by selling any items that you won't need such as crew seats.

Planning a campervan interior

At this stage, you're almost ready to begin but ensure you spend plenty of time planning your chosen layout.

This can either be done paper, using accurate measurements or by using software such as SketchUp, which allows you to plan and visualise your interior.

It's important to consider how you'll be using the campervan and what amenities you'll need.

Do you want a fixed bed or a convertible bed? Do you need a kitchen or just a simple camping stove?

You should also consider materials and equipment for the interior, such as insulation, flooring, seating, and storage options.

For inspiration, it's a good idea to take a look at how other vans have been converted.

Van Life shows and events, present an ideal opportunity for this, especially if you're going down the DIY campervan conversion route.

Bed choices range from traditional 'rock and roll beds', to beds that neatly fold away to become seating and full length fixed beds.

Additional sleeping accommodation can also be accomplished with the installation of a pop-top roof.

There’s also a fridge, sink, cooker and swivelling front “captain’s chairs” to consider too.

It's also widely recommended that you hire a campervan before buying or converting a van into a camper.

Hiring a campervan will give you a real-world experience of how you'll use a campervan and give you a clear indication of what you'll need from it.

Campervan insulation and ventilation

Proper insulation and ventilation are crucial to keep your campervan comfortable year-round.

Add soundproofing and insulation to reduce noise and maintain a comfortable temperature inside the van.

Campervan insulation options include regular house insulation, which can be stuffed into any available spaces before covering with ply.

There are also foil and foam insulation panels that can be glued directly to the vehicle’s body, and spray foam which can be applied directly but it can be messy!

Ensure you fit adequate installation - you won't want to rip out your newly installed interior to add more at a later date!

Proper ventilation can be achieved through windows, skylights, and other exterior features to enhance your view and bring in natural light.

Campervan electrics

If you want interior lighting, campervan appliances, and charging ports for your devices, you'll need to think about the power source.

Before cladding your walls, it's worth considering your electrical wiring layout - with some clever thinking, you'll be able to hide any unsightly wires neatly.

It's worth consulting a professional electrician for advice on wiring at this stage, and perhaps contracting this part of the conversion out to a specialist because getting the electrics wrong is extremely dangerous.

Basic off-grid setups tend to use a leisure battery, charged by the van's alternator while being driven and by mains through electric hook-up. This will provide enough power for interior LED lighting, USB charging points and fridges.

You may also want to consider solar panel options too.

Campervan plumbing

Depending on your needs, you may need want to consider installing the following amenities.

  1. Freshwater System:
    • Water Tank: Install a freshwater tank to store clean water. Tanks can be made of various materials, such as plastic or stainless steel, and come in different sizes to fit your needs.
    • Water Pump: A water pump is used to pressurize and distribute the freshwater from the tank to faucets, showers, and other water outlets in the campervan. It is typically connected to the electrical system for operation.
    • Faucets and Fixtures: Install faucets, usually with a hand pump or electric pump, to provide water at sinks and other designated areas. Choose fixtures suitable for the space available and consider options with features like adjustable flow and temperature control.
  2. Waste Water System:
    • Sink Drain: Connect the sink to a drain system, typically using flexible plastic tubing, to direct wastewater away from the interior of the campervan.
    • Greywater Tank: Depending on local regulations and personal preference, you may consider installing a greywater tank to collect wastewater from the sink. This tank requires periodic emptying at designated disposal points.
    • External Drain Outlet: Alternatively, you can directly connect the sink drain to an external drain outlet, bypassing the need for a greywater tank. This option requires ensuring legal compliance and environmental responsibility.
  3. Toilet System:
    • Portable Toilet: If you desire a toilet in your campervan, you can opt for a portable camping toilet. These compact units typically have a waste tank that can be detached for emptying at suitable facilities.
    • Cassette Toilet: Another option is a cassette toilet, which consists of a portable toilet unit with a removable waste cassette. The cassette can be emptied at designated dumping stations.
  4. Gas System (optional):
    • Gas Supply: If you plan to include a gas-powered stove, heater, or other appliances, you'll need a gas supply system. This typically involves a gas cylinder or tank, gas lines, and appropriate fittings to connect to the appliances.
    • Gas Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation to remove any potentially harmful fumes produced by gas-powered appliances. Ventilation systems may include vents or fans to promote air circulation.

This is another stage where you may need to contract-in a professional, especially when it comes to fitting gas systems.

Campervan flooring and walling

Selecting the right materials for flooring and walling can make a big difference in the comfort and durability of your campervan.

Consider the durability, ease of cleaning, and insulation properties of different materials.

Start this stage of the conversion by installing a sturdy plywood subfloor to provide a solid base for your flooring flooring of choice.

You may want to fit a batten frame first, providing space for additional insulation before laying the subfloor.

Secure the subfloor using screws or adhesive, ensuring it is level and properly attached.

For the walls, attach wooden battens to the body of the van before cutting the panels to size and attaching them to the battens using screws or adhesive.

Trim or edging along the edges of the flooring and walls will help give a clean and finished look.


It's boring but essential. Ensure any modifications that you make comply with safety regulations.

All seats require seat belts, for example, and any use of gas or electricity to cook with should be accompanied by appropriate fire extinguishers.

You'll need to ensure your campervan complies with weight regulations, making sure you haven’t strayed over the limit by throwing a kitchen, dining room and bedroom into the back of your van.

Overladen vehicles could land you with penalty points, fines or worse.

It is also possible to write to the DVLA to reclassify your van as a motorhome, which will reap benefit in cheaper insurance premiums, cheaper MOTs and the ability to raise the speed limit of 60mph for windowless panel on dual carriageways and motorways to 70mph.

You will have to meet a fairly strict criteria, so make sure you check the DVLA website for more info.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Van Life Matters newsletter or download the Van Life Matters App to stay up-to-date with the latest UK Van Life news, tips and advice.

Related articles

‘AmBEERlance’ crowned Van Conversion of the Year winner

Mike Ruff

Jerba Campervans accredited as Living Hours employer

Mike Ruff

CamperKing named Campervan Converter of the Year for second year

Mike Ruff

Bailey to unveil first ever panel van conversion: Bailey Endeavour

Mike Ruff

Sterling Automotive Roamer Sport: Renault Trafic 2023 SWB conversion unveiled

Mike Ruff

Why choose van life?

Ashley Bevan

Leave a Comment

Van Life Matters