If you want a life on the road you generally have three options. You can buy a ready-made camper van, you can commission a custom conversion or you could go the DIY route. All three will get you what you want but a DIY camper conversion is cheaper and can be designed and built to your specific needs. That makes it the perfect summer project.
The most important consideration is the donor van. Do you go for a short wheelbase? Long wheelbase? Something else? What about make? Model? What is the best van for camper conversion?
1. Volkswagen Transporter
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The Volkswagen Transporter is an icon that will be most people’s first choice for the best van for camper conversion. It looks great, is very reliable and there is an entire culture built around the VW brand.
The Transporter makes an ideal donor van. It has good engines, a reliable gearbox and standard dimensions for a straightforward fit-out. The cargo area is open with minimal intrusions to work around, offering an excellent space to work with.
However, you also pay a premium. Transporters hold their value well so buying new or used will require significant investment. You do get what you pay for though.
2. Ford Transit
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There are literally millions of Ford Transits on our roads and for good reason. They are cheap, reliable, easy to fix and parts are available everywhere. It doesn’t have the brand cache of the Transporter but it has everything else.
The Ford Transit is definitely one of the best vans for camper conversions in the UK. The cargo area is large with minimal intrusion to work around. There are lots of components you can buy off the shelf and hundreds of accessories that will fit with the minimum of fuss.
The Transit may not be as cool as the VW but it handles well. It also has a range of decent engines, lots of options and every mechanic in the country knows how to fix them!
3. Fiat Ducato
The Fiat Ducato is another popular van for camper conversion. It forms the basis for over half the custom campers in Europe as it is also sold as the Ram Promaster, Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer.
Like the Transit, it’s a no-frills van with good dimensions, decent engines, smooth gearbox and excellent potential. It’s also priced similarly to the Transit. Because of its popularity as a camper, Fiat can pre-build conversion fittings such as lower chassis, water tanks and other features when you buy new.
If you’re buying used, there are more off the shelf conversion kits for the Ducato then there are for the Transit.
4. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has taken over where the Vito left off as a prime candidate as one of the best large vans for camper conversion. It is available in short or long wheelbase and has been designed specifically for long days on the road.
Build quality is on par with VW, the engines are smooth and have plenty of power, the gearbox is reliable and you can specify a lot of kit if you buy a new one. The cabin is also very comfortable.
Like the VW, you do pay for the privilege of driving a Mercedes-Benz. However, due to the Sprinter’s popularity as a courier van, used models and spare parts are plentiful.
5. Renault Trafic
The updated Renault Trafic is miles better than its predecessor. Build quality is better, the diesel engine is smoother, the interior is much more comfortable and the overall experience is much more refined. That surely makes it one of the best vans for camper conversion.
The Trafic has the same dimensions as other short wheelbase vans, has a history of being converted into campers, has a range of accessories you can have pre-built into it ready for conversion and looks pretty good too!
The Renault Trafic is branded as the Vauxhall Vivaro and Nissan NV300 so if you cannot find a Trafic at a good price, try one of these other brands for the same vehicle at a lower cost.
Other vehicle types ideal for camper conversion
While those are the five best vans for camper conversion in our opinion, they aren’t the only types. If you’re building a custom camper, you should also consider a more leftfield donor van.
Why not consider a large van for camper conversion? A Luton, minibus, old passenger bus, horse box or small truck? All offer the opportunity for conversion in much the same way and could easily be retrofitted to take a standard camper interior or fitted out by hand.
Or you could go the other way. The Vauxhall Combo, VW Caddy, Ford Transit Connect and Renault Kangoo are just a few of the best small vans for camper conversions in the UK. There are also some superb conversion kits that would suit these vans.
Mini-campers and micro-camper vans are a growing scene and popular with those who want the ease of driving a smaller vehicle. There is an obvious compromise in fitting out but you can still deliver an exceptional camping experience in a smaller vehicle.
Whatever donor van you choose, there is no feeling like getting out on the road. Once you try it, we guarantee you’ll never look back!