Outfitting a van

Discuss equipment, technology, gadgets, repairs...
Post Reply
User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Tue Mar 29, 2016 1:28 pm

We have bought a merc vito van to travel and camp in. Not planning to convert it completely but would like to adapt it to accommodate us and kit. Can anyone please advise, particularly with regard to any of the following,

Midge-exclusion - the back of the van has sliding doors either side and 'barn-doors' at the rear, hopefully we can secure netting somehow so one or more of these can be left open without letting thousands of passengers in. Is there a way?

Bed - contemplating constructing a wooden bench, half the width of the van running front to back that will provide storage beneath with a hinged section on top that will fold over to make a double bed.

Loading - its not a very high van but would prefer not to carry a ladder and would like to be able to load it solo, without spending too much on a loading system.

Passenger seat - currently a bench seat, quite fancy converting to one of those captains chair swivelling seats, is there any reason this would be a bad idea?

Side windows - the sliding doors currently don't have windows and we're thinking of having one fitted, not heard of this causing any problems so hopefully not a bad idea?

Insulation - the van is lined with ply, do we need to insulate behind this to prevent condensation running down and rusting the bodywork and if so any tips?

Thank you.

User avatar
MikeB
Posts: 7966
Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2003 9:44 pm
Location: Scotland

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by MikeB » Tue Mar 29, 2016 2:27 pm

Right at the bottom of the DIY page in the Almanac there are links to discussions which might give some help / suggestions under the heading "Van conversions". As to loading, there are some nifty telescopic ladders available, and of course a Karitek rack is another solution - as is the alternative system, from Zolzer. Again, links are in the "Transporting Kayaks" heading in the Equipment page.

A simpler and cheaper solution is to just fit cross bars with a rear mounted roller (Rhino bars are what you want for this) and slide the boats up from the rear, into V cradles on the bars. (KCS make good ones, or Karitek). One lady of diminutive stature I know of can load her VW T5 Transporter using this system. Although you may still need a portable step, or ladder, to reach up to tie the boats down. The boat can slide sideways on the roller though if the van is on a side slope, or it's very windy. Perhaps V shaped rollers are available, and maybe they'd control that tendency?

Simon Willis' wife made up midge nets for the windows in their VW van, so it is certainly possible. Midge netting and Velcro perhaps?

Insulation is a very good idea - Jim Wallis converted his Merc van and will, no doubt, offer advice and suggestions. I believe various companies offer pre-fabricated kits for various bits of furniture for vans, so maybe worth looking for kits for Mercs? No doubt they might include beds. Or making up a suitable frame and structure is simple enough.

A properly fitted side window should be fine - as should a properly fitted Captains Chair.

Do show us pictures - --

Mike

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Tue Mar 29, 2016 3:48 pm

Thanks Mike, thats really helpful. The roller-lifting method must be more effective than I thought, I will stop petitioning OH that we really need a kari-tek type system and start manning up!

Velcro might work for the windows, and i think my blue peter skills will stretch to that - the doors may need something heavier duty. Having seen side mounted pull-out awnings I aspire to create a net awning attachment, draped somehow to allow sitting outside or even just on the back of the van, which would mean damp kit could be removed outside at a minimum. At best it would be like some kind of net-tented safari wonderland, admiring the sunset with a g&t and not a whiff of skin-so-softly...

Jonathan.
Posts: 366
Joined: Fri Nov 26, 2004 4:04 pm
Location: Cambs

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Jonathan. » Tue Mar 29, 2016 10:12 pm

I have no experience of fitting out vans but I know someone who has and - based on his experience - you might want to check on insurance implications before you change the number of seats, instal extra windows, or do anything else that just might count as a significant modification.

I say that because my friend ended up with a much higher insurance bill than expected.

Good luck
============
Northshore Atlantic
============

User avatar
Jim
Posts: 13523
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2002 2:14 pm
Location: Dumbarton

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Jim » Tue Mar 29, 2016 10:20 pm

My van came already converted (not very well but the value of the outfit is enough that I can consider the van itself was free and not get too worried about the amount I've spent repairing it, or how much I still have left to do) and the insulation is terrible - rockwool in the sides, polystyrene on the roof.

There are lots of approaches, and people have varying ideas about which are best and which aren't, as far as I can tell (with an engineering background) the best method for a permanent conversion is to get the van professionally spray foam insulated near the start of the conversion - it will bond well on sound paint and prevent any moisture ever touching the steel on the inside. Dave Manby provided a link in the inland board recently. The next best option seems to be something like celotex or kingspan, but it can be difficult to make it take the shape of the van accurately. Probably worth gluing wood battens to the side frames before foaming or insulating so you can screw into the battens rather than the metal - the latter forms a potential cold bridge and the screws will usually rust and spread rust to the holes (all the lining in mine is screwed to the steel ribs, and the bed frame is steel - I really must check if it is screwed or welded in).
You should also look at where the floor meets the sides, there might be a sheet of ply disguising the fact that there is no actual seal and that water can run down into the sills - seal it from the top if you can, then go under the van, remove the caps in the holes that lead to the sill void, and spray plenty of chassis wax in there - if you can find openings in the chassis rails spray it in them too.

Midge exclusion - never really bothered me yet, you can buy midge mesh from places like profabrics and pennine outdoor, so you could certtainly build fly-screens if you wanted.

Your bed plan sounds reasonable for a Vito. I would make it essentially free standing (although you can use the wheel arch as one of the legs) but screw it to the ply lining for additional support and to stop it sliding about.

Loading is beyond me, a LWB high top sprinter will swallow a Taran if you take the passenger seat out :-)

Passenger seat - yes, if you are going to camp in it regularly look on the motorhome conversion websites and source a suitable seat swivel and single seat to replace your bench seat, it seems to pay tor buy a good quality swivel, you will probably want TUV rating on it for peace of mind. Doing the passenger seat will create a narrow passage to the rear and you can use the passenger seat for sitting in the back. Depending how your bed works out, it might be worth also doing the drivers seat, but be aware it can sometimes get complex and require extra kits to move handbrake and stuff, you will also probably lose seat adjustment. PO modifed my bench seat (which was only ever held in by a single bolt (and sliding lugs) ) so it can be taken out and re-installed the opposite way round, like I say taking it out and storing it in the back (or garage) makes it possible to carry a sea kayak inside.

Side windows, again look at the motorhome conversion websites. You have 2 basic options: either use a traditional rubber window strip to mount the window in the door (you will need to saw the hole fairly accurately) which is relatively cheap, or get a bonded window which you can glue in yourself, or have professionally down. The bonded window doesn't need as neat a hole because it will overlap on the outside and hide the hole well, you can add some trim to the inside to hide it too. My van is old enough that most of the windows are rubber strip type anyway so the rubber strip side window looks right, on a modern vanm with bonded windows all round, you will probably want to go for bonded to look right.

Based on my brothers old T4 conversion (bed platform and little else) I would suggest sourcing some plastic storage boxes first and design the bed so you can slide them underneath to carry your gear.

Roll out awnings are ace when it's not windy, and you can get a privacy room (sides) to make it into a proper extension - I think mine is 4m x 4m and I love it! There are extras you can get (apart from privacy room) like brackets you can mount on the side of the van to arrange the legs cantilevered from the side of the van rather than down onto the ground, guys to strap it down in high winds, extra beams to clip in to make it more rigid in wind or rain, and even clip in beams with LED lights built in.

Electrics are useful, but I'm not going to second guess how to fit a split charge system to a modern Merc, so many circuits are monitored these days that you can probably cause all sorts of unexpected problems if you try to tap into an existing circuit. There may be auxiliary connectors under one of the seats you can use to extend into the rear and connect a charger for a leisure battery, or it might be OK to add wires direct from the battery (but you really want an ignition switched source to avoid discharging the starting battery) - the motorhome forums will know about that. If you only use it for LED lighting it might be enough to just charge from a solar panel. Again, mine is an older van and has a proper charge panel, and can be hooked up to the mains when available as well as charging from the alternator, it also has a 2kW invertor (I think to charge power tools - it was a motorbike racing camper), microwave and TV, but to be honest I only ever really used the lights :)

Final thing, if it is bog standard Arctic White, consider getting it resprayed. It may be coincidence but it seems that Arctic White doesn't get a clear coat, and is therefore much more susceptible to rust than any of the custom colours which do get clear coated. Mine is Arctic white with reddish brown stripes and spots :)

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Wed Mar 30, 2016 9:45 am

Thanks Jonathan, I bet he got a nasty surprise, so far every item we ask the insurers about adds a little increment to the premium. But it appears if we went far enough and it was re-categorised as a camper van then it would actually become less! I guess because it wouldn't be likely to be used as a works vehicle. I don't think we are going to do that much to it, though it could be a slippery slope...

Jim thank you for all that, very much appreciated. A bit nervous about looking behind the ply panelling as it may have been screwed on directly rather than to glued batons, but it will have to come off to insulate anyway. Its an 06 van (which is apparently after a period when they had really bad rust problems) and looks clean from the outside, so everything crossed there's nothing terrible lurking out of sight. I have passed the info to head of technical operations to digest while I design the fold-out netted porch-garden complex.

User avatar
MikeB
Posts: 7966
Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2003 9:44 pm
Location: Scotland

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by MikeB » Wed Mar 30, 2016 1:00 pm

Re-registering as a camper has, I believe, other benefits, not least being that you won't be limited to the speed limit for light commercial vehicles. Cars can travel at speeds of up to 60 mph on single carriageways and 70 mph on dual carriageways while vans are only permitted to reach maximum speeds of 50 mph on single carriageways and 60 mph on dual carriageways. 70 on motorways. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong).

While you may not necessarily want to use commercial campsites, many of them, even the less snooty ones (Caravan & Camping Club for example) will sometimes refuse commercial vans. Certainly I recall some sites noting this. If it's registered as a camper, and only has a side window or two, you'll have a stronger argument. All this said, I think the Oban site won't take commercial vans, although a pal of mine who uses his white transit for his job, and has a rudimentary sleeping and living arrangement in it, has certainly stayed there.

And then there is the insurance aspect.

As Jim suggests, while you have access, get those body cavities treated with some rustproofing. The other thing to check is under the cover on top of the engine. I believe the injectors are known to leak, and make a very nasty mess which isn't obvious unless you remove the cover.

User avatar
TechnoEngineer
Posts: 3296
Joined: Mon May 12, 2008 7:47 pm
Location: Berks, Hants, Essex

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by TechnoEngineer » Thu Mar 31, 2016 8:56 am

You can get a rechargeable dehumidifier to keep the condensation down (remember, "seal tight, ventilate right"):
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rechargeable-Mi ... B001P478OG

If you have insulation, ideally you'd use a condensation barrier on the warm side, and allow the cold side to breathe if there are any gaps.
XL-Burn-3 / Monstar / Kodiak / My Videos

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Thu Mar 31, 2016 10:21 am

The speed limit difference had completely slipped my mind, very glad you mentioned it!! And hadn't considered we might be turned away from campsites. There will be times we'd think a site with showers and toilets was a good destination so will bear in mind to ask ahead. Or perhaps we can keep our small tent in the van and pitch it at campsites on the pretext we are 'car camping'...

The dehumidifier looks perfect for the job, definitely going to use one of those thanks for the link, but still contemplating insulation. The spray on option seems the most effective but will it off-gas a load of nasty chemicals for the next ten years? Having shared an eight hour journey with 2 new armchairs, eyes and nose streaming the entire journey skin burning and a raw throat at the end, I'm wary of new chemically substances. Maybe unnecessarily so?

User avatar
uxb
Posts: 179
Joined: Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by uxb » Thu Mar 31, 2016 6:26 pm

I'm onto my third van ' conversion' It is used as a van , a bunkhouse, motorbike transport, wind/surf camper van and carrying 2 sea kayaks. And as a car.

So far it's had :

Bulkhead removed

'Combi ' limo tint Windows from Davy Wren in Oban. Needed for bright interior good viz at junctions and speed limits...

Insulation fitted ( kit from Vanguard Conversions in Ft William)

Plywood lined, Glasgow commercial van lining company who's name I've forgotten ,sorry..)

The indispensable, awesome Karri Tek roof rack

Indispensable quality stainless steel Vehicle Racking Systems Windsurf board rack

It will soon have the interior carpet lining applied ( Vanguard Conversions kit) once the removable sleeping platform has been built. Then a single passenger seat for comfort and access , currently looking for an OME one , otherwise Scotseat Kilmarnock.Then swivels for both front seats- makes sleeping in the back and changing into and out of wetsuits much easier.

I have insulated sucker mounted interior thermal window blinds that allow comfortable van camping in the snow. All this gives max flexibility for the many uses our van get put to. A full camper would be fine but it's a single use vehicle then..
This is my ninth van from £200 heaps from the auction ( spent a winter in the Alps with it! ) to campers , brand new T5 ( most unreliable vehicle I've ever owned..)etc. It's taken a while to get just enough conversion to be comfortable but still have a reasonably anonymous , versatile van.

I love vans as they are so practical , especially a modern one which drives like a good car, and can be simply customised to the perfect vehicle for you- once you decide on your priorities...

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Thu Mar 31, 2016 10:30 pm

Your van enthusiasm is infectious! Cant wait to get home to see ours which was picked up this evening.

I've not seen it minus the bulkhead. Hoping that makes it much brighter in the back, and if so do we need one or two side windows.... I don't like tinted glass for some reason but I guess its the most sensible, otherwise there will be curtains swinging around the whole time.

It does drive like a car, better even. Once we located the handbrake...

What sort of sleeping platform are you building?

User avatar
uxb
Posts: 179
Joined: Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by uxb » Fri Apr 01, 2016 8:46 pm

The sleeping platform will be a simple three piece 20 MM plywood platform that is snug against the back doors up to the start of the sliding door on the passenger side and curves forward to the rear of the 'Combi' window on the drivers side. It will covered with lining carpet and sit on square wood battens covered in the lining carpet and the sections will be secured by stainless steel boat locker latches so it is secure and won't rattle and squeak when driving.
Simple, easy and quick to remove. When sleeping on it Basecamp Thermarests go on top. All the bedding can be easily stored in dry bags so all you wet stuff can be left underneath.
I didn't mention that the floor is lined with shower tray vynyl tanked up a few inches and silicone like our previous van, photos below with and without platform.

Swivel seats , lining and platform from Scotseat.

Image

Sleep platform.
Image
Van Racking Systems Windsurf Rack
Image
Wet Stuff under platform - the old version was noisy when driving as it sat on steel angle iron and was lashed down with bungies.
Image

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Sat Apr 02, 2016 12:58 pm

Wow, thats vantastic!! :D Really smart and so versatile. We have been laying in the back of the veto this morning plotting how best to organise it, and its booked in for windows this coming week - one side and two in the rear doors, for now.

RichJ
Posts: 178
Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2006 6:03 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by RichJ » Sun Apr 03, 2016 10:48 am

Hi there,
Does adding windows change insurance?

Rich

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:42 pm

We got a figure based on adding roof-rack, seat change and windows and it didn't add a great deal. But not sure what difference windows alone would have made.

User avatar
Jim
Posts: 13523
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2002 2:14 pm
Location: Dumbarton

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Jim » Mon Apr 04, 2016 4:29 pm

Speed limits depend on the gross weight of the van, I forget the cut off, mine is a 3.5t van and is limited to 50 on single carriageway, 60 on dual carriageway and 70 on motorways unless they have changed the limits again.

Re-registering as a motorhome does/did remove this restriction and allow even larger motorhomes to go 60 on single carriageway and 70 on dual carriageway, but you will need to check with DVLA (or the motorhome converting community) about the latest situation - a couple of years ago DVLA stopped doing re-registration for self converted vans (not sure if professional conversions were to be re-registerable or only when building on a chassis from new), but may have been convinced to start again now.
Wierd thing is, the MOT class is decided by the test centre not the registration document which seems highly suspect to me, some places will test a van with side windows as class 4 claiming it was presented as a motorhome, others will treat all self conversions as class 7, and if you get really lucky you will get a situation like I had, where I dropped it off at one centre who decided they couldn't do it because it was class 7, and subcontracted to another centre who issued a class 4 certificate for it (the original centre charged me for class 7).
And then you get to specialist insurers who might require certain bits of furniture to be fitted in order to insure you conversion as a motorhome - again completely independently of what the DVLA have it registered as, or what the MOT certificate says.....

Always declare any modifications, each insurer will have a different view on whether it adds anything to the premium or not. Some websites even ask if the van has ply lining so that might make a difference to some insurers.

I think like car insurance, modifications that mean one company will refuse insurance, might get a lower premium from another company - I still can't work out how that can be!

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Tue Apr 05, 2016 10:39 am


User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Tue Apr 05, 2016 12:14 pm

Image

Image

User avatar
uxb
Posts: 179
Joined: Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by uxb » Tue Apr 05, 2016 8:03 pm

That Refleks stove will be great for the winter but the flue would play havoc with the roof rack....

secondtimer
Posts: 65
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 4:30 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by secondtimer » Fri Apr 08, 2016 8:38 am

Here's some feedback on insurance. Our Renault Trafic was a three-seater with a bulkhead, which had a window for rear vision. We fitted a single rear seat, a rear sliding window in the side panel and removed the top quarter panel/window from the bulkhead. Our insurer cancelled the policy as a result and we had to go to another insurer who loaded the premium with an additional £300. Wish we'd got a quote before we started!

User avatar
Krautsgalore
Posts: 81
Joined: Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:44 pm
Location: Cologne, on the banks of Father Rhine

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Krautsgalore » Fri Apr 08, 2016 11:07 am

I like the plumbing under the sink ;-)

Regarding missing rear windows: Coming to Scotland for nearly thirty years I always used to spent a few nights on Cashel campsite(run by Forestry Commission) on the the eastern bank of Loch Lomond.
Last time I was there in 2014 I had a heated discussion with the proprietor, they wouldn't let me on the site with my converted Land Rover Defender. No side Windows, so its a commercial van in their view and therefore banned.
That was the argument, although the car is a motor caravan by german legislative standard. I had to pitch a tent for the two nights, that came in handy to store stuff though I never slept in it during my stay.
There will be no next time on this campsite.

User avatar
uxb
Posts: 179
Joined: Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by uxb » Fri Apr 08, 2016 8:53 pm

secondtimer wrote:Here's some feedback on insurance. Our Renault Trafic was a three-seater with a bulkhead, which had a window for rear vision. We fitted a single rear seat, a rear sliding window in the side panel and removed the top quarter panel/window from the bulkhead. Our insurer cancelled the policy as a result and we had to go to another insurer who loaded the premium with an additional £300. Wish we'd got a quote before we started!
Put a wee sink, water container and a single gas ring in the back , all on or in a wooden box- this will qualify you as a camper van for insurance purposes..

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Sun Feb 05, 2017 9:56 am

With the help of advice here we did a rustic conversion of our mercedes vito. Side and rear windows and insulation were added and the bulkhead removed professionally, and we made ourselves a free-standing extendable wooden sleeping /sitting platform.

Image


So far so good, but the platform is a bit clunky to move from day to night configuration so we are thinking about adding a rock'n'roll bed - does anyone have any advice on these please?

We want to orientate the seating to face out the back - best for enjoying views and the bbq/fire. Mostly these beds seem to be fitted with seats facing forward, but shouldn't be a problem to face the rear...? But would this leave space to set up a table inside?

Since we don't intend to fully convert, we bought a couple of new things to make it more civilised. Can recommend the http://www.popupgrill.com, seen here with hebridean mutton and chilli sausages providing heat, light and fuel! Apart from fatty-flare ups it worked really well and meant we could enjoy a self-contained fire and baked-potatoes anywhere we fancied.

Image

Also totally recommend the Primus Tupike as a car-camping stove, it is stable and the heat controls worked well enough to gently warm soups and stews with no burning. This car camping business is really very indulgent, proper coffee at breakfast and everything.

Image

The very best buy though were the magnetic hooks. Ideal for hanging up the tea-towel. Oh, and the solar-lantern, link to follow, it was superb.

If anyone else has any conversion updates and tips to share would be lovely to see them. :)

User avatar
T4Mac
Posts: 43
Joined: Sun Dec 04, 2016 4:59 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by T4Mac » Sun Feb 05, 2017 7:53 pm

After much trial and error my van evolved into a camper where I can get at everything without detroying the van to get at it. Also, we often stop at aires when travalling in France and need to get the double bed up/and away without fuss. Most of our cooking is done outside therefore the cooker is removable. Here is another option for your bed/bench where you can look out the back or sliding door.......All DIY so cheap as chips.

Image

Image

User avatar
Grian
Posts: 378
Joined: Sun Mar 03, 2013 8:50 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by Grian » Mon Feb 06, 2017 9:01 am

Nicely done!! That looks so professional.

Our bed base is like yours but orientated the other way. We found this was not a good idea, far too far to drag it out for a start. Having seen yours though we may not get a rock'n'roll bed and go with an L shape as you have, so many advantages...

Where did you get the cushions please? I asked a few caravan and boat companies for quotes and it was pretty expensive. In the end we used thick thermarests as a temporary solution. Which is just as well since plan #1 was not very good - definitely trial and error!

User avatar
T4Mac
Posts: 43
Joined: Sun Dec 04, 2016 4:59 pm

Re: Outfitting a van

Post by T4Mac » Fri Feb 10, 2017 3:45 pm

The cushions are from a caravan. Free, as the bloke wanted the old seat out of the back of my van. Just ask around caravan places and watch ebay.

Image

Image

Post Reply