Thursday, 6 October 2016

Choosing a van for your conversion

This is the first big decision!

For me it came down to the fact that I planned to live in the van for extended periods of time - and therefore a bigger van, ideally where I can stand up, was the obvious choice.
If it was just a weekend van, which maybe I used for other driving/commuting to work, then I would probably go for something much smaller and more fuel efficient.

I chose a Long-wheelbase High-top Ford Transit for the following reasons;
  • Long Wheelbase; I wanted to have a full size bed so to leave room for other things it made sense. I decided against the Jumbo size van just for driving and parking effort.
  • High Top; I am 6ft/183cm and do not fancy having to stoop every time I want to cook - people say parking is an issue, but as mostly I will be living in natural areas not in underground car parks - this has not been a problem
  • Ford Transits are pretty ubiquitous, they are fairly easy to find and buy at a reasonable price - plus you can find them all over Europe and, on that basis, you can get parts for them anywhere if you need to.
    • There are other vans of a similar size that I would have considered if they came up - but having one van type to search for just make life a bit simpler
    • The same goes for many other panel vans in fairness and most brands of similar vans would probably be completely suitable
  • Stealthy; in the UK at least, they are probably the number 1 builder’s van.. no one will suspect! 

Millage and how much to spend on the Van

This obviously depends on your budget but for my van I ended up spending more than I initially hoped - but this was based more on economics than mission creep.
My general aim was not to spend more than half the cost of the van on the conversion - or spend about twice the cost of the conversion on the van. This is based on the premise of the vehicles millage-based depreciation.

If I spend $4k on a 10 year old van with 200,000 miles on the clock, that costs $2000 then after a few years, regardless of the condition quality of the interior components the van will be coming to the end of its natural life. People will not want to spend too much on a van with an engine that might die soon. Certainly not $4000.

It is not based on any particular formula, but it seems to fit fairly well and I think if you did some further asset depreciation analysis it would probably be in that sort of ball park.

Keeping the cost of ownership down

My aim is to use my van for a few years and then sell it on, hopefully for about the same amount I spent on it, ideally for more if I look after it! Hopefully, the added value of a really nice fit out off-sets the depreciation of the added millage.

To do this the millage must not be too high (mine was round 80,000) and in general the vehicle must be in pretty good condition.

I spent £7000 on the base van, which is £8400 with British VAT. Unfortunately it is hard to find non-commercial sales so most of the time you get stung for VAT. I could probably have spent a month or so looking for a deal and perhaps got up to £1000 off but I wanted to get it done and go climbing.

I bought it through a dealer which included a 3 month warrantee (which actually, when a power-steering pulley went in the engine, saved me £350) and they gave it a full service and body work tidy-up. The additional benefit of buying a newer van (4 years old) is that it looks fairly modern from the outside and I did not really have to do any rust repair work.

So based on my £8400 van - with my simple formula - my approximate max-cost for the kit-out is £4200.

£4200 is a lot! But if the aim is to sell it on at the end without it actually ‘costing’ too much then I might as well live in comfort for that period!


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  2. Really like what youve done but 30mpg would stop me wanting to travel far !!

    1. 30mpg sounds low.. but it is not too bad when you spend so little on anything else!

  3. What model Ford Transit Van do you recommend? I'm having trouble narrowing down which ones have the high roofs and which ones do not.

    1. Depends on how tall you are and how much you want to use car parks in cities.. but high top is so nice!

    2. NAte, what exaclty is your model and year? Im looking at a 2011 Ford Transit 300 2.2 TDCi, but it has alot of miles on it, 230.000. The asking price is 5000 Gbp.
      The van is from an extremely reputable dealership here in sweden, who are authorised Ford mechanics. The Service sheet is immaculate, and the dealer says the engine is in excellent condition, better than many with much fewer miles. (of course he would, right ?) Oh, and how tall are you? Im 6.1 and would like to be able to stand up!

  4. An interesting dialogue is price comment. I feel that it is best to write more on this matter, it may not be a taboo topic however usually individuals are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers. man with a van new york

  5. Nate,

    Have you found that not having 4x4 has limited you at all?


  6. Hey Nate,

    I will be picking up a Transit soon. I am wondering what kind of engine to get though. How much horsepower does yours have ? Most vans on sale have the 100hp engine, and I'm a bit scared it wouldn't be enough for mountainous areas. Will definitely be buying your ebook before starting the conversion, thanks a lot !


  7. Hi Nate,
    Your conversion is definitely one of the classiest I've seen and I like the way that you've varied your wall covering - the all wood in other conversions I've seen looks way too much like a dodgy sauna! That little window seat is a really neat touch too. The quality of the finish and attention to detail will be repaid when/if you come to sell - ever thought of starting a conversion business?! My question is really to do with the van itself rather than the conversion, and I was wondering what it's like to drive. I've driven Transit minibuses in the past and know that they drive pretty much like a big car rather than a small lorry, but what's it like to manoeuvre when you can't see the extremities so well because of the lack of windows? Reversing in narrow country lanes etc? Did you fit a reversing camera or were you tempted to do so?
    All the best and keep enjoying the outdoor life.


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