It was around four years ago, Helen and I stumbled across a Youtube video about a guy who had converted a van into a campervan in 20 days or so. I remember being stunned and amazed!
We had a van at the time, a Citreon Dispatch which we were using for our business (which we went onto sell). However, the van was part-owned by my dad and we needed it for the business so converting it into a camper was out of the question.
After selling the business, we went travelling internationally for around 12 months before coming home and buying a house. Obviously, at that stage in our lives, all our spare cash was going towards renovating the home we’d bought.
Vanlife continued to gain momentum globally during this time with more Youtube videos, blog posts, and Instagram photos being published than ever before. However for us personally it still seemed like a pipe dream.
We returned from our first trip to the Philippines in February 2020 just as our home refurbishment was entering its final stages. At the same time, however, we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic and my mum was needing surgery and treatment for an illness.
As a result, we decided around a week before the national lockdown to sell our little run around (a Peugeot 207 from 2007 which we got as a wedding gift from my dad) and drive my mum’s car full time as she was no longer able to do so.
While it couldn’t have felt further from reality at the time, all this led us to a great position personally, financially, and professionally to look to buy a van to convert into a camper a couple of months later.
Skipping over the lockdown here in the UK between March, April, May and some of June. We get to July, at which point Helen, I and the rest of the nation realise that summer holidays in the UK are likely going to be all we’re getting this year.
At which point Helen and I look to buy a tent (along with what feels like the rest of the UK). However, in order to maximise long term content production of the great travel spots in the UK (and possibly Europe) locations, we decided instead to look at purchasing a van to convert into a camper.
Long story short, we bought ourselves a 2007 Vauxhall Combo and are in the process of converting it into a campervan / micro camper. In this article, we’ll be covering the process from start to finish.
We’ve included everything and anything we’ve been through in this article (and it’s a working process, expect weekly / monthly updates for the foreseeable future) which means it’s suitable for both those looking to convert a Vauxhall Combo specifically, as well as those interested in van life or converting a small van into a micro camper in general.
As you may have gathered from the rather long introduction this is the first van we’ve ever tried to convert into a campervan. We have very little DIY / woodworking experience and zero electrical or auto-maintenance experience and limited outside ‘free’ in-person help (dads who have little to no knowledge but a lot of ‘I got this’ confidence).
Table of Contents
- Our Long Term Plans For The Van
- Researching The Right Van To Convert
- Purchasing Our Vauxhall Combo
- Pricing The Sale Of The Van
- Gutting & Cleaning The Van
- Tester Trip
- Neccesery Repairs
- Converting The Van From A 5 Seat To A 2 Seat
- Van Insulation
- Framework For The Bed
- Total Cost Breakdown
- MOT, Service & Repairs
- Things We’d Like To Do In The Future
Our Long Term Plans For The Van
Given our budget, and the current global pandemic which was preventing us from travelling internationally our plans for the van long term are as follows;
- Spend around £2,500 on the van (inc conversion)
- Use the van to travel the UK only and create content about the places we visit.
- Sell the van over the summer in 2021 (one year after purchasing) at which point we should be able to travel internationally again, or may look to purchase a slightly newer van to convert for trips to Europe.
- Ideally sell the van for around the £2,000 mark which hopefully will have meant the van cost us £500 for the one year of ownership (excluding; insurance, breakdown cost and the cost of repairs while travelling i.e. if we break down and need a new oil filter etc.)
Of course, these are just our ideals. As well as being in an unknown situation when learning how to convert a van were also in an unknown situation in terms of international travel / this global pandemic.
Researching The Right Van To Convert
I’m not going to spend too much time going over the research we did to find the right van/vans to convert as there are hundreds of articles to help you.
However, what we did do is relatively simple, and given the outcome, it left us with little choice as to the right van or van style which ultimately made our decision much easier.
We basically listed our wants and needs for the van.
For example, our van needed to be under 2.4m long in order to fit on our drive, and it needed to be under £2,000 – we wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise.
Our wants were more things we would like, but they wouldn’t make or break the decision, such as electric windows, two side-doors, and to be in any colour other than red or blue (not sure why I don’t like those colours on a car/van).
Our needs really limited what we could purchase, and left us looking only at short wheelbase vans.
Purchasing Our Vauxhall Combo
Much like the other van, we went to view we found this van on Facebook Marketplace. From a sellers perspective (especially private sellers) Facebook seems to be a favourite over AutoTrader and eBay as it’s free to list (eBay is usually around the £45 mark which can really eat into the cost of some cheaper vans).
I really wasn’t sure whether or not we were going to buy this van prior to viewing it. I knew based on our research around the pricing for the same van (around the same year with similar miles) that we’d need £100 or £200 knocking off for it to be ‘good value’.
However, once we saw the van up close and checked out its condition I was determined to at least make an offer so I did a quick HPI Check.
Once we were happy with the HPI Check and the condition of the van it was time to see if we could get the van down to a price we were happy with.
The 2007 Vauxhall Combo was listed at £1,295 it had;
- 10 months MOT
- No service history
- 160,000 miles
- 7 Previous owners
- Small oil leak
- Little / no rust
During the research phase, we’d looked at the different prices of vans and then specifically reviewed the prices of this make and model van prior to viewing it. While we did view more listings here’s an idea of what we did to determine what was deemed ‘good’ value.
The listing below was £850 and as you can see it’s done 50,000 more miles and isn’t in as good condition when compared to ‘our’ van.
Meanwhile, this van was £1,000 and again as you can see it’s done 30,000 more miles, is 5 years older, has additional and worrying (in my opinion) issues in regards to the milage display not working. It also only has a couple of months MOT compared to ‘our van’ which has 10.
Finally, this van had only done 130,000 miles, it’s of similar age to our van (there are around 18 months between them) and the MOT is a couple of months out. Overall, this van is slightly better than ours and as you see costs £1,450.
As a result, we determined £1,295 to be a reasonable price but not one we’d be willing to pay. £1,200 would be okay but again probably a little too high for us especially given the oil leak. We knew we’d buy the van at £1,100 or less, and we knew anything less than £1,000 would be a steal!
Ultimately, we ended up paying £1,050 for the van. £245 less than what the van was listed for.
Pricing The Sale Of The Van
Cora comes from a business background, so she looked at a lot of the conversion and the planned lifespan of the van while in our ownership as such. Depending on your long-term plans for your van you might want to do the same.
After all, we knew this wasn’t a van we were planning on owning for any more than two years. All of our decisions have been based on this, and would be totally different if we planned to keep the van beyond the five-year mark (we’d have paid more for the van, bought a newer van with fewer miles, and likely paid more for the conversion).
So, while it might seem silly to consider what you might choose to sell the van for when you’re finished converting and travelling in it, for us it was a logical decision. One that gave us more confidence when it came to research, buying the van and spending money on the conversion, and even in some cases when thinking about the design.
We believe that we could sell the van for around the £2,000 mark if it’s got around a year’s MOT on it in around one year’s time (again, all these are pretty dependent on the van not breaking beyond repair!). At which point we expect the van will have done around 185,000 miles (meaning we’ll have done around 20,000 miles during the year of us owning it).
There’s a couple of methods you can use to come up with this decision, without a doubt our favourite is to find as close to a final product as you’re planning to sell.
In our case, it’s a micro camper that has been converted to a similar standard as ours (no electric, gas or water) with around 185,000 miles on the clock and roughly a 12 month MOT.
Be sure to remember that the majority of the vans you find won’t have sold, so allow for the cost of negotiation when looking at the prices.
We personally found the following when doing our ‘pricing to sell’ research;
2013 Vauxhall Combo – 187,000 miles
This is the exact same make and model van as we have now, which made this great start. At the 187,000 miles mark, it’s also very similar to what we expect to achieve, however, it’s a 2013 model (6 years newer than ours).
The conversion is incredibly basic, it doesn’t look comfortable. In fact, personally, I’d have likely ripped it all out and started again if I bought this one. That said, it does have a sink, which likely means there’s some water capacity, it’s got a full service history and comes with 12 months MOT.
After a bit of giving and take on the differences between this van and ours, I’d say it’s right around where ours is and mainly comes down to personal preference. It’s for sale at £2,995 and would likely sell for between £2,500 – £2,800 post negotiation which makes our valuation of £2,000 pretty good.
2003 Renault Kangoo – 150,000 Miles
Next, we found this red, 2003 Renault Kangoo. There’s no mention of the number of miles this van has done in the ad, nor is there a photo of the dash.
Instead, I looked up the MOT history using the reg plate and found that on the last MOT 15 months ago (usually MOT every 12 months but due to the current situation the government extended it by 6 months) it had done 142,000 miles. I’m therefore estimating today it’s around 150,000 miles.
While this van is priced at £1,250 and would likely sell for around £1,000 after negotiation – £1,000 less than what we wanted to sell ours for it does have some red flags.
The biggest being the fact that the MOT hasn’t been completed for almost 15 months. It has done 30,000 fewer miles but does come in red (a colour I personally find relatively undesirable especially in older cars/vans).
The conversion looks as though at one time or another it was a relatively well-done project, however it looks to be relatively dated given the colour combo of the purple cabinets, red exterior and the full leather cream seats.
Despite this, I still think this van brings the final sale price of our van down to around the £1,700 mark as if you purchased this Kangoo, I can’t see you spending much more than £700 on an MOT, any necessary repairs and adjusting the interior.
2007 Fiat Doblo – 255,000 Miles
This is the highest price van we looked at, but also the best in terms of conversion. Sadly, that’s where the good news ends on this van as it’s done a whopping 255,000 miles despite being the same age as our Vauxhall Combo.
Judging by our research we think this van is overpriced and would actually be worth around £1,800 but as the ad mentions it’s a reluctant sale so I do wonder if the price is lead more by a lack of desire to truly sell.
This conversion is similar to our aims minus the gas and water conversion. It benefits from a high top at the back and the back seats still being in position. That said the major drawback of this van is the mileage, and while there’s little mention of the mechanics I can imagine it’s in need of a new engine at the very least if it’s not already had one.
If we were to price our van against this one alone we’d be listing it for around £4,000 (and it would likely be sat gathering dust as a result) which is why it’s so important to look at a number of different vans when putting together both this research and your research when buying the van.
2004 Fiat Doblo – 247,000 Miles
One of the biggest doubts about buying a cheaper van was the high mileage, the maintenance that goes with it and as such the lack of desirability when it comes to selling it. However, this research did somewhat put my mind at ease.
After all, this 2004 van (3 years older than our van) with 247,000 miles on the clock (70,000 more than ours) still sold for £2,450 in an eBay auction.
Even if the winning buyer didn’t pay there were plenty of underbidders who were bidding just £50 or £100 less. Now, this van was professionally converted and as such, it looks the part. It benefits from a higher top than ours, but the drawbacks are no doubt the mileage.
Again when you add together the higher mileage with the better conversion against our DIY conversion and lower mileage I’m pretty confident our £2,000 estimate is pretty good.
Gutting & Cleaning The Van
Within 10 minutes of getting the van back home, we’d already begun ripping out the interior and cleaning the exterior. Most second-hand vans you purchase are going to have signs of heavy use so the gutting and cleaning part is incredibly important.
Without a doubt, it’s the rear bench seats that caused us the most trouble. It took us around 1 and a half days to get these out in relatively good condition (they sell online for between £150 – £300 so getting them out in a saleable condition was somewhat important).
We used a heat gun that we had from renovating our house to gently remove the exterior stickers on the van as well as a small amount of abrasive paste to remove the oil and grease that refused to come off with soap and water – be careful if you do this as it can damage the paintwork.
We opted to visit Halfords to purchase some of the items we needed. It’s by no means the cheapest place, but it’s open on weekends and there’s one very local to us which makes it an incredibly convenient option.
The good news is that Halfords also offers small fitting services (such as fitting a roof rack, bike rack, or replacing a light bulb) for a small fee. This is a great backup solution if you’re not confident or comfortable with different things.
Being a relatively old van, as well as being relatively cheap wasn’t afraid of trying to do things ourselves that perhaps we’d have paid professionals to do for us had the van been worth more money. Again, this could be something to think about during the research phase if you’re new to van conversions (are you confident enough to cut a window into a £10,000 van yourself?)
As we’ve not previously had a converted campervan prior (nor really any type of camping item) we decided to go away for one night in our gutted Vauxhall Combo. We took along plenty of blankets and an air mattress and was keen to see how the van performed when being run over long(ish) distances and the layout/features that would be best suited to our needs.
- Breaks are very poor
- Consistent small squeak
- Loud squeak when driving over 50 miles an hour
- Iffy central locking
We also found what we need and want from our van conversion;
- The bed is going to fit pretty much the entire space of the back van
- Places to store bits such as food or clothes.
This was a pretty basic list, and we knew that over the course of months we’d likely find that there were things we’d like that we can / can’t have based on the size or layout of the van. However, this was a great starting point to work from.
Our tester trip brought up some issues with the van aside from the small leak we already knew about. Upon returning home we booked the van in for some diagnostics on the squeaks as well as to find out the cause of the oil leak.
Luckily, we live 3 doors down from a garage so it was a pretty convenient job. Sadly, they came back and reported it was all four brake pads causing the noises (especially the back two which had worn to nothing) and the sump for the oil.
The oil leak had been botch repaired previously which has to lead to somewhat of a blockage/gunk around the sump otherwise it wouldn’t need such a major repair. The garage explained that we could get away with not replacing it as long as we continued to fill it up with oil every so often but for peace of mind and our drive (which was freshly laid around 15 months ago), it was something we did want repairing.
The garage wanted to charge us £600 including VAT for the work. However, we were put off given the van had only cost us £1,050 and that we only expected the oil issue to cost us around £200 – £300.
We had no prior experience, nor did we know how much repairs like this cost despite owning cars and vans in the past.
On a bit of a DIY mission, I headed over to EuroCarParts and found the parts that were needed to complete the replacement ourselves. The website is really easy to use as you simply punch in your reg plate and it only shows you parts suitable for your car or van.
We found the parts available for around £150 after discount, however, they also provided you with a quote for the parts fitting by local garages. We punched in our postcode and found a number of places in the area that were willing to replace our front and rear brake pads for £150 (including parts). This was half of what we’d been quoted by the original garage.
This prompted us to do more research, at which point we found the website, Who Can Fix My Car.
Much like EuroCarParts, you punch in the reg plate of your vehicle alongside the mileage, your requirements (i.e. new brake pads) and your postcode. From there local garages bid on your job providing you with a quote for the work.
Each garage is reviewed by those who have booked jobs with them through the website previously and you’re able to message the garage and book in with them directly too.
We booked the brakes doing with a local garage with more than 1,000 reviews and at a reasonable price (I think it was the second cheapest of the 17 different offers we received). However, they also advised us that the brake discs would need replacing as well as the pads.
Luckily, they also offered to replace our sump for an additional £136. Therefore, in total, the repairs cost £316 instead of £600 and we got the brake discs done too (something the original garage didn’t mention may need repairing).
Converting The Van From A 5 Seat To A 2 Seat
The Vauxhall Combo came as a cab crew van with 2 seats in the front and a bench seat in the back. Therefore, the V5C labels this as a 5 seat capacity van.
This was one of the selling points of the van as it allowed us an additional room in the footwell, as well as the benefit of two side doors and a relatively high-value item (the bench seats) that we could sell to recoup some of the costs.
However, it came with both admin requirements and physical requirements.
The admin requirement was changing the van from a 5-seater to a 2-seater using the V5C. Without making this change the van would fail its MOT. Sadly, getting the V5C back from DVLA after purchasing the van took a couple of weeks (I assume the guy we bought the van from was a little slow in posting it).
The physical requirement was removing the bench seats. Which sadly, was much more of a challenge than any of us initially thought. The bench seat is made of two parts (the backrest and the bottom) allowing it to fold down when not in use.
Each of these sections is bolted to the van as well as being bolted together to create a solid and safe structure in the event of an accident.
Sadly, the condition and location of some of these bolts made the process of removing the seats incredibly difficult. It took us over 3 days as we continued to try and preserve them as best as possible to sell them.
However, by the end of it, we got a dad with an angle grinder to simply tear apart the ruined remaining bolts.
During our tester trip to the Yorkshire Dales, we found one of the things we needed was to be warm, while we’re not planning on travelling outside of the UK in this van we know first hand that it can get cold on an evening (even in summer).
Insulation was therefore essential. However, finding the right combination of insulation for a micro camper at a reasonable price was somewhat of a challenge.
Again to nobody’s surprise here we’ve never bought or had installation installed in our house, let alone our car so we were at somewhat of a loss as to where to start. We did purchase Nate Murphy’s and used that alongside some other websites and Facebook groups as somewhat of a reference.
We found that the majority of people spent anything from £10 to £500 on insulating a van. Being that we wanted to be warm (at a low price) we went with the following.
We purchased: 10 sheets of 25cm x 20cm for £11.99 from eBay (I’d recommend purchasing 20 sheets, as 10 didn’t cover as much of the van as I wanted)
We used this for: Sound-deadening, as we planned to stay on-site at campsites blocking exterior noise at an affordable price while also getting some additional insulation was great.
We applied this: first, straight after gutting the van. The sheets come on a sticky back plastic so just remove the back and stick the mats where you want them to go.
It’s best to apply these where the metal of the van is thinner, in our case, it was the crevices on the back of the van doors, side doors and up on the roof. You only need to cover around 70% of the surface area to see results.
Itch Free Insulation
We purchased: 14 metres of itch-free insulation 370mm x 110mm insulation (where we chose to use this as a roll across the roof, sides or floor of the van we cut the thickness down using scissors / a knife to around 55mm (5.5cm).
This cost us £19.00 and was bought via eBay. However, this wasn’t enough, as we were already in the middle of the insulating process we opted to buy an additional roll of recycled insulation from B&Q this time we paid £16.00 for 6 metres of 370mm x 100mm.
We used this for: Keeping us nice and toasty. It’s the core of our insulation.
We applied this: in the large holes of the van after the sound deadening/dead mats. These gaps can be created by bolting wooden battens for the frame of your van to the interior of the van too. This is the core of our insulation. Being that our van is small we wanted to ensure the density of the insulation was relatively high (a large amount of warmth with minimal space). If you’re struggling to attach the itch-free insulation to the inside of the van you can also use some spray adhesive.
We purchased: 1x 750ml can of expanding foam from eBay for £7.89. Again, we didn’t have quite enough so I had to buy another can from B&Q and pay a premium of just over £10 for another 750ml so we could continue insulating without waiting for products to arrive which had been ordered online.
We used this for: creating insulation in the small gaps which were hard to fill using our itch-free insulation.
We applied this: to the small holes we couldn’t fill using the itch-free insulation.
Double Aluminium Foil Sheeting
We purchased: 1.2m x 10m from eBay for £19.99.
We used this for: creating a vapour barrier. It’s the final layer of our insulation being 5mm thick it brought our total insulation depth to around 5cm (it varies depending on the crevices of the van etc.)
We applied this: After the itch-free insulation. It’s our final layer of insulation, and we applied it using the spray contact adhesive, although you can buy sheets with the adhesive pre-fitted – although this comes at a higher cost.
Framework For The Bed
The framework was quite a simple frame to create as it was to be able to fit the depth and width of the van along with creating enough stability to hold us and a foam mattress.
My Dad was the head designer and builder of the bed frame. We decided that to make the most of the van and the small space we had to work with that we could use the space under the bed to create 2 long drawers to pull out towards the back of the van.
These draws were to sit under the bed and hold things such as a gas cooker, cooking utensils and clothes. As we were making the bed width a priority we also decided that the draws once pulled out can double up as a work surface for cooking etc.
After planning and drawing out exactly what we wanted we purchased the materials.
2 x 2 batons
8ft by 6 ft marine plywood 18mm
Marine plywood – for drawers
44mm by 44mm batons for drawers.
The first part we needed to create was the bulkhead/headboard to the bed. We didn’t want to create a huge section that would totally block off the front of the van to the back, we simply wanted to create a barrier that would sit behind the seats to create extra storage.
As we had unusual shapes to cut out into the marine plywood we used a piece of large cardboard and put it in place where the bulkhead would go. We then slowly cut out to make the cardboard sit flush. (Or near as we could) to the footwell and base of the van.
Once the template was made in cardboard we transferred that onto the marine plywood sheet. We used a jigsaw to cut out the shapes to allow the bulkhead to fit into the van. (We kept going back to measure to make adjustments to make it flush to the footwell)
Once we could see where the bulkhead would sit we measured where the batons would sit and attach to the bulkhead. We did this by laying out the batons on the base of the van and held them in line to the bulkhead. We used a marker pen to where they each sat to give us an idea of where the base of the bed would start.
We decided to keep the base pretty simple and make 2 rectangles of 2 x 2 battens using brackets to hold the wood at right angles. We made this into a 2 part bed frame as we were using the frame to also hold the drawers to pull out the back. Having the battens down the middle also gave the bed much more support in the long run.
We started by cutting down the 3 wooden battens that would run the length of the bed. These were cut to 70 inches* long roughly 5 feet. We then cut 4 battens of X long to create the width of the bed. We used a fold-out table as our workbench to layout the battens to start screwing together. We created one single frame and then added the second (to make it a small double) on the side. We used 2 screw corner* brackets to hold the 2 pieces of batten together.
We used both a drill to create the hole with the 2.5mm drill bit and then used a 3.5 wood screw in each hole. Once we constructed the base of the frame we then created a second. This would then be held up by X inches tall battens located at intervals around the frame to create a gap. This was to lift the bed up from the floor and also gave us space to create the 2 pull out draws.
Once the frame was together we worked on the marine plywood top which was to create the top of the bed where the foam mattress would sit. As we had space for 3 passengers in the back of the van that meant we have a slight dip for the base of the seats and then a larger dip where the feet went. As this was going to be blocked off from the bed we worked out a couple of different ways to use it as storage space.
The original idea was to create an opening on the side that would fold down to gain access. The downfall to this idea was that the gap was too small to really be useful. The second idea and the one we chose to go with was to create 4 hatches on the top.
This meant cutting into the marine ply 4 shapes with a finger hole to gain access directly down into the open spaces. To do this we draw out the shapes onto the plywood, used a drill to create holes on the corners and then used the jigsaw to cut from one corner to the next eventually cutting out the square. We then sanded down the edges of the plywood square edges and the edges of the cutout piece. We also remembered to number them so we could slot them back in easily.
To create the drawers we used more plywood, 4 pieces for the front and back measuring X by X and 4 for the sides measuring X by X. We then created 4 battens to hold together the plywood in each corner. To create the frame for the draw we used the drill to create 3 holes vertically down each end of the 4 plywood panels. We countersank them so that the screws would sit flush to the plywood and not stick out.
We stood the pieces up to create the frame with the 4 battens on the inside, make sure you don’t put the long panels on the outside of the front and back panel as then your draw will be too wide for the gap – also leave room for the drawer runners to fit down each side. Slowly we screwed the frame together using wood screws in 3 places on each corner edge.
We then used a 2 x 1 batten to fit down the length of each side, this was to create a section to screw into for the base of the draw and to screw the draw runners into. We sat the draw on the table and added under 2 scrap pieces of the plywood to the edge, we then placed the batten on top. We screwed the batten into place on both sides. The bottom of the draw then needed 4 corners cutting out to fit into the base. We used a jigsaw to cut the corners to allow the bottom of the draw to fit snugly in place. We screwed them in place ready to have handles attached and the runners added on.
We decided to cover the interior in the carpet all over, this was to save some money and also we found that cladding would take too much space off the sides to add on any shelves etc.
The carpet is a 4-way stretch so it can be stretched and moulded to fit into the dips and curves of the van. This is important as then you can get a smooth(er) finish.
We started by holding up the carpet up to the side of the van inside, we placed the raw edge of the carpet up to the curve of the van wall meeting the van ceiling. We decided it was easiest to do the 2 sides in separate pieces, then the floor and then eventually the ceiling.
We worked with the recommended adhesive placing a small line on the carpet and then on the van wall, we then lined it up along to hold it in place. We had one person holding the carpet in place and the other would spray the adhesive and smooth down the carpet in place. We found this worked the best as it meant the carpet never had a chance to accidentally get stuck or crease.
We found that the carpet was simple and easy to smooth onto the sides of the van but got more difficult over the wheel arch. Both people then pulled the carpet to make it fit over and used the tips of our fingers to smooth out the lines and create a smoother finish.
Originally we were going to cut the carpet off at the bottom of the van side but it was just as easy to continue down onto the van bed and back up the other side again. It was harder to go back up the side with the carpet underneath as we had to come out from under the carpet to spray and then go back under to smooth up. I would try and line up the sides better next time as this meant the second side was a little untidy and could have been better.
We managed to cover most of the van bed and down into the footwells of the back seat area with the width of the carpet and only needed to patch certain areas. In the next van, I would prefer to do this in one piece to make it seamless from the back all the way to the front.
We have 2 sides doors which we also needed to cover, we included them into the side of the van and then cut around the rubber seal to make the shape of the door. We were able to glue the middle of the carpet to the middle of the door and work outwards.
We finished off with the roof, starting from the back doors moving to the front. We used the straight edge to line up along the back doors and we sprayed a section of the carpet and the van roof and then would smooth the carpet on, working section at a time.
For areas that we needed to access such as door handles, locks and lights we cut a small hole going from one end to the other to allow the carpet to go over it and sit behind it. We only cut a slit to allow the fabric to stretch over and then sit flush together at the back. That way there wasn’t any gaps that could be seen behind the handles etc.
Other areas we needed to keep open were the latches and locks for the back door, side doors and the lights at the rear of the van. We only had pieces left to cover the back doors but we managed to make it work with a line going across the back which we are going to cover with a trim, bunting or a shelf.
Total Cost Breakdown
Below is the total cost breakdown of converting the van. We opted to focus on cost over finish based on two factors. Firstly, the age of the van, and second our plans for the van. We knew we’d only be using the van on campsites and as a result, wouldn’t need solar power, and could probably get away with not adding any additional electrical components such as a leisure battery.
Had we bought a newer van, with fewer miles for more money we’d have spent more on the cost of the conversion.
Had we planned to stealth camp, we’d have spent more money and added in additional electrics inc solar and a leisure battery.
Again, these came at an additional cost, which we didn’t think we’d be able to get a return on when selling the van. They were also an additional skill we’d have to learn and as we had no previous experience, what we did have to learn felt like more than enough.
|Product||Cost||Purchase Location||Reason For Purchase|
|Vauxhall Combo Van||£1,050||Facebook Marketplace||To convert!|
|HPI Check||£9.99||HPI Check||To check the van hasn’t been written off or stolen.|
|GE 380 Bulb||£5.00||Halfords||To replace the rear light bulb which was out when we purchased the van.|
|8mm Stainless Steel Pad Eye Deck Plate||£11.82||GS Products||We bought 5 of these (cost including shipping). We found that we really enjoyed using Bungees during our test trip so being able to hang stuff easily was essential. These eye deck plates provided us with that possibility.|
|CR2023 Battery||£3.03||eBay||Price was for six but only needed one to replace the battery inside the key which we figured could be causing a couple of issues with the central locking system.|
|Gear Gaiter||£5.59||eBay||We actually didn’t know what this was called nor that it could be so easily replaced, but it was something we knew would help to ‘freshen’ up the appearance of this relatively old van at a reasonable price.|
|Steering Wheel Cover||£4.99||TK Maxx||Again a relatively affordable way for us to cover up something which is relatively worn and unsightly in the front of the van.|
|Dead Mat||£11.99||eBay||These are self-adhesive soundproofing sheets that will be used to minimise outside noise and vibration when driving. We purchased 10 tiles (each tile is 20cm x 25cm in size).|
|2x 750ml Expanding Foam||£17.17||eBay & B&Q||Used to insulate small gaps in which stuffing the insulation roll is difficult. We bought one tin from eBay but it wasn’t enough so had to pay a slightly higher price from B&Q for the second tin.|
|14m Insulation Roll||£35.00||eBay||Used to stuff into the gaps between the batons for the structure of the van and the exterior of the van to keep it warm/cool. Will also act as another sound barrier. Again, we bought one roll but needed another 1.5 to finish the job so we had to get the remainder from B&Q|
|Trim Fix Adhesive||£52.97||eBay||11 tins purchased to fix insulation roll in a place where required and repair any interior loose areas and attach the carpet to the interior (we ended up using around 8 of the 11 tins. It would have been cheaper but we ordered 5 and then ran out so ordered an additional 6 to play it safe.|
|Insulation Foil||£19.99||eBay||We purchased the 1.2m x 10m insulation foil which is 5mm thick to be used as a final layer of insulation after the insulation roll.|
|Insulation Foil Tape||£9.75||eBay||We purchased two rolls of the 50mm by 50m tape. We didn’t need this much but it allowed us to both works simultaneously.|
|70x 50mm by 50mm Steel Corner Brackets||£23.88||eBay & Mak-A-Home||These were used to help connect wooden battens together to create the structure of the interior bed and draws.|
|100x Steel Countersunk Pozi 3.5mm By 35mm Screws||£5.60||eBay||These are used to screw into the wood and connect the battens together which are designed to piece together the frame/structure of the bed and drawers etc.|
|12x 2.5 by 57mm Drill Bits||£7.78||eBay & Mak-A-Home||These are used in the electric drill to create holes in the wood. The size matches the size screws we purchased. We bought a quantity often as you’re likely to break a few given the small diameter. The ones from eBay didn’t arrive quick enough so we had to spend £4.12 on 2 from Mak-A-Home to put us on while the 10 (which cost less than £4.12) to arrive.|
|Aluminium Sheet 120mm x 1000mm||£10.25||Mak-A-Home||To cover the gap which was created in the back of the van near the doors when removing the rusty spare wheel rack. We could have got this cheaper as we didn’t need such a large sheet but we were in Mak-A-Home and wanted to get it done so we could insulate.|
|600x 4mm Wood Screws||£10.65||B&Q||To be used alongside the 3.5mm screws to make the frame of the bed, drawers etc.|
|Large Moving Box||£3.25||B&Q||Used to create the template of the head of the bed which helped us to structure and fix the bed design around the cup holder handbrake central area of the van.|
|10x 75mm Steel 90 Degree Corner Brackets||£7.99||Mak-A-Home||Much like the 50mm corner brackets (above), these were used to create the frame of the bed alongside the wooden battens.|
|12x 2″ by 2″ Plained Wooden Battens 2.4m In Length (28.8m In Total)||£47.18||Mak-A-Home||These are plained 2″ by 2″ wooden battens, often also referenced as 44mm by 44mm (or 46mm by 46mm) as this is the measurement once the wood has been planned. We chose plained wood as it adds to the final finish/look of the van and is practical with a small finish instead of a rough one which may cause splinters when creating the frame or using the van.|
|10x 1″ by 2″ Plained Wooden Battens 2.4m In Length (24m In Total)||£30.00||Mak-A-Home||These plained 1″ by 2″ wooden battens are also referenced as 21mm by 46mm (give or take a couple of mm depending on where you order from) as this is the measurement once the wood has been planned. Again, this wood is used alongside the 2 x 2 plained wooden battens to create the frame for the bed.|
|1 Sheet of 6ft By 8ft Marine Ply (18mm Depth)||£40.00||Wickes||We had to pay for this to be delivered to our house due to the size so the delivery was an additional (£7.95 – included in the total cost). The wood is used as the base of the bed. the mattress to sit on (instead of wooden slats that you might find on other designs).|
|Windscreen Repair||£4.99||eBay||A couple of chips in the windscreen we looked to repair using one of these affordable kits of eBay.|
|12 SQM Of 4 Way Stretch Carpet||£49.96||eBay||We used this to create a soft interior inside, add warmth and also cover the insulation.|
|x2 Ball Bearing 550mm Draw Sliders||£26.04||B&Q||Each set has two draw runners, therefore we needed two sets as we’re having two draws that pull out from the back of the van. These particular draw sliders can hold up to 45kg.|
|Wind Deflectors||£27.49||eBay||Being 13 years old, this van doesn’t have air conditioning (heck it doesn’t have automatic windows). We, therefore, opted to invest in some wind deflectors so we can drive with the windows down for some air when it’s warm without being defended by the wind hitting the van.|
|Plywood Sheet 18mm – 1.22m x 2.44m||£34.00||B&Q||This plywood was used as the top of the bed, where others might use slats, we opted for a piece of plywood as it allowed us to use the footwells where the bench seats were at the back of the van as cubby holes (which can be accessed by moving the piece of foam that acts as that side of the mattress and simply lifting up the cut out using the small finger hole)|
|Front & Rear Brake Pads & Brake Discs||£180||Express Tyre & Auto Centre, Wakefield||All of the brake pads and brake discs needed replacing, they had all worn away (some were down to nothing) which is of course incredibly dangerous (and causes a lot of noise)|
|Hammerite Satin Black Direct To Rust Spray Paint||£11.86||eBay||We bought this Hammerite to use on the side door runners which have rusted in places (hence the direct to rust) and to also apply to the roof bars to make them look a little smarter.|
|Wind Angle Mirrors||£3.82||eBay||There was just one small blind spot mirror on the van when we got it, it was on the driver’s side and had certainly seen better days so we ripped it off and replaced it with a new set.|
|Nuts & Bolts||£4.95||B&Q||Our van came with a roof rack which was super convenient however, when driving above 50mph it made a horrible rattling sound. This turned out to be metal on metal which could be fixed with some new nuts and bolts.|
|Stickers||£32.72||eBay & Amazon||We decided to ‘sticker bomb’ the panels on the back doors to give the van a little personality and hopefully prevent the van from being broken into in the search for tools (this has happened to us before sadly). Originally we bought 100 from eBay but that wasn’t enough, so we bought an additional 300 from Amazon, and surprisingly they were cheaper there than on eBay.|
|Primer & Spray Paint||£56.98||Halfords||This primer and spray paint was used to colour code the front and rear bumper from black to white. We did this to try and reduce the ‘van’ look and make it a little different / more personal.|
|Cargo Netting||£6.99||eBay||The original plan was to hang this on the interior roof but we struggled to attach the eyelets and therefore struggled with this. Instead, we’re looking at cutting it and using smaller pieces on the interior side panels.|
|Wheel Arch Trim Clips||£3.25||eBay||When we removed the bumper we had to remove these clips, which are notoriously known as the worst nuts/bolts on the entire car. Being plastic one of them snapped so we picked up some replacements so we could reattach the bonnet trim correctly.|
|Headlight Cleaning||£4.78||eBay||The headlights on the van have seen better days, we did try the trick with baking soda and toothpaste but opted to try this too.|
|Mattress Foam||£73.00||Dunelm||We started looking at foam cut to size online and managed to get some for £98 however, we then spotted some in Dunelm for £25 less. This meant getting four sheets of foam and slightly adjusting them. We used the adhesive spray to attach the pieces. If you’re looking for one full mattress this won’t. Before you but if you’re looking for it in sections consider this option.|
|Blind Spot Mirrors||£3.82||eBay||There was one of these small mirrors which help you see blind spots in a van with no rear or side windows but it was old and mouldy. Instead, we opted to replace it and an additional one to the passenger wing mirror too.|
|Various Things For Parents To Say Thank You||£25.40||–||From sandwiches to small tools, we bought our parents some bits and bobs when required fas thanks for working on the van with us.|
There are some things we’ve not included in this list such as the running costs i.e. breakdown cover and insurance, as well as some tools. A lot of these tools are multi-purpose and while they have been bought specifically for the van, they won’t stay with the van nor will they never be used again.
The hope is to build up a supply of tools, skills and materials that can be transferred onto other possible van conversions in the future as well as other DIY projects in general.
To help you when thinking about products and materials you may need in addition to the van which is not directly related to the build/conversion itself (and may or may not be sold with the van – if that becomes something you (or we) choose to do) we’ve listed roughly what we’ve purchased below.
|Product||Cost||Purchase Location||Reason For Purchase|
|Tire Weld||£9.00||Halfords||Repairs a puncher in a tire. Is suitable for 50 miles and designed to get you to a garage where you can purchase a new tire. This was essential for us as we don’t have a replacement tire.|
|Sun Shade||£9.99||Halfords||Designed to cover the windscreen and block out the sun, light and retain heat.|
|Nate Murphy e-Book||£14.00||Van Conversion Guide||Nate made the first video we ever saw about van conversions. He’s since grown in popularity and created an eBook for an incredibly reasonable price.|
|Air Vent Phone Holder||£7.99||TK Maxx||Turns out the phone holder we had from our previous car was no longer able to stick to the windscreen. We opted to replace it with an Armor All air vent phone holder.|
MOT, Service & Repairs
Post conversion, there were some things we had to pay for. These including the mandatory MOT, but also additional repairs and servicing. We’ve listed these separately, as these aren’t the cost of conversion, but more the cost of running the van (much like the breakdown cover and insurance).
We hope they’ll prove useful for those looking to understand the cost of running a converted van once the conversion has been completed.
|August 2020||New Front Drivers Tyre||£50.00||Puncture that if repaired would take the tyre to below the legal limit. We, therefore, had to have the entire tyre replaced.|
Things We’d Like To Do In The Future
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about a van that you convert like this it’s that it’s never truly finished. There are always things you’d like to add or change but it’s finding the time and/or the money to make those changes a reality that’s the difficult thing.
Some of this contributes to what we’d do differently if we were to convert a Vauxhall Combo into a micro camper again, as well as what we’d look for in our next van conversion in general.
I’d really like to fit some sidebars to the side of the van which makes stepping into the bed from the side doors or reaching onto anything strapped onto the roof bars a little easier. It’s quite hard to find second-hand ones, and new ones are around £130 – £200 (before fitting).