I’ve been obsessed with the idea of buying a campervan for almost a year now. I think it would be the ideal way for our family to spend the summer. Driving and camping comfortably anywhere we desire. No itinerary needed. Just the open road and endless outdoor adventures around every corner.
As I began shopping, I did start to notice a trend with most campervans though – the majority of them all seemed to be colored the same.
So, why are campervans always white? Campervans are always white simply because it’s the color of choice for the big 3 cargo van manufacturers/models – Sprinter, Ford Transit and Ram Promaster. Most campervans start off as basic cargo vans that are typically used as commercial hauling vehicles. These cargo vans are a perfect ‘blank canvas’ for starting a conversion into a camper vehicle.
Choosing the right base model for your needs is important. They all vary quite a bit in terms of length, standing height, type of engine, front/rear/all wheel drives etc. You’ll be doing a lot of research to make sure you get the vehicle that is right for you!
Top 3 Best Cargo Vans For Campervan Conversion
Choosing a van to convert is the most important first step for a successful conversion. With numerous types and models available to choose from, trying to get one that fits your needs can be a bit challenging. To help you make a choice, we have put together a guide to the big three vans that are great for campervan conversions.
Read on to find out the pros, cons, and suitability of each van so you can make an informed decision when choosing a campervan to convert.
1. Ford Transit Cargo Vans
In 2014, Ford decided to expand its Kansas City factory and started building the Ford Transit Van which come as both a cargo van and passenger van. It is available in 130”, 148” and 148” extended wheelbase, a regular, high and super high roof heights as well as three different engine options.
It’s big size and fair price make it ideal for campervan conversion whether you are an occasional camper or a full-time van lifer.
- The high-top Ford Transit Van has an interior height of 6 feet 8 inches which is great if you need a van with more space. Its level floor makes the build out a breeze. There is no step down or up from the driving area.
- When it comes to maintenance and repairs, the Ford Transit Van offers both convenience and affordability. You can get it repaired anywhere and by any mechanic, in case it malfunctions. What’s more, the parts are cheaply available.
- The longer/extended version of the Ford transit van has dual rear wheels. This means that you’ll get improved stability even with larger loads as well as improved stability at higher cruising speeds.
- Since the Transit is new in the US market, it is hard to find older models at cheaper prices. This leaves you with the only option of getting a newer vehicle for your campervan conversion.
- Another disadvantage is that since it just made an appearance in the US market, finding layout guides for campervan conversion takes a bit of digging. Some people find that the front cabin is too basic for their liking.
- Also, most of the Transit vans are gas options, making certain models a deal breaker. What’s more, the vehicle’s average mpg sits at 17 which is on the lower end.
2. Sprinter Cargo Vans
The Sprinter cargo van – a product of Mercedes – is one of the most popular choices for campervan conversions in the van life community. First manufactured in 2001, the Mercedes Sprinter van has 3 wheelbase options of 144”, 170” and 170” extended.
It also has both standard and high roof heights of 5’5” and 6’4’ respectively. You have two options when it comes to engines; a standard 2.1 liter, 4-cylinder turbo diesel or a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel engine. This camper van has a variety of configurations. It has a robust four-wheel-drive making the Sprinter van a good choice for campervan conversions due to its versatility.
- The high roof model has ample interior space with adequate standing room of up to 6’4”. Well done campervan conversions from the Sprinter can accommodate a family of four. So if you are out camping with a bunch of friends or family, you are sorted.
- If you are on a budget but still want a Mercedes Sprinter to convert, you can always find older vans at cheaper prices since it has been around for over 18 years. Older models are also great if you don’t want a 4×4 vehicle. The best thing about it all is its ease of customization with numerous layout guides available.
- The 4×4 Sprinter is great if you plan to use it on off-road terrain. The Sprinter is also available in AWD and has dual rear wheels for improved stability. With a 22-23 mpg, it ranks better than the Transit.
- The biggest drawback about the Sprinter is its high price, both the buying price as well as the maintenance. And although you may get a cheaper option when you buy older models, maintenance and repairs can quickly escalate.
- What makes repairing the Sprinter expensive is the fact that you will have to visit the dealership for repairs and maintenance. Since Mercedes has exclusive ownership of both spare parts and software, the prices are higher than the average mechanics.
- Some people also complain of a complicated emission system. The Sprinter also has a low acceleration speed of 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds.
3. Ram Promaster Cargo Vans
The Ram Promaster cargo vans offer versatile wheelbases of 118”, 136” and 159” and come with either a low, medium or a high roof. Like the Ford Transit, it is still fairly new in the market having been first manufactured in 2014 by Fiat. Your engine options for the Promaster are a standard 3.6-liter V6 gas engine or a 3.0-liter l4 turbo diesel engine.
The improved fuel efficiency with the diesel engine combines with it’s wide cargo space makes it a great choice for travelers.
- The Promaster has a low loading floor height which makes it easier when loading and off loading. The low floor height also gives it a sturdier feel while on the rood as compared to its higher center of gravity counterparts.
- It has a front wheel drive which means you can easily navigate in tough conditions such as slippery terrain. Additionally, the front wheel drive is particularly useful in accelerating when driving on ice or snow.
- The wide and more square like cargo space is ideal for building out the conversion. This vehicle has the closest to 90-degree angle side walls of all the options.
- If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasant vehicle, the Promaster may not be what you’re looking for. This is because most people complain about the way it looks.
- It also has a low ground clearance hence maneuvering can sometimes be problematic.
- Although it has 4,420 pounds’ payload, the high roof Promaster has a limited towing capability compared to the Ford Transit.
The bottom line? Each van has different features that make them unique. It all boils down to your needs, budget, and convenience. If you are looking for a mobile home, the Transit, Promaster or the Sprinter can make excellent choices for your van life dream.
Can I legally live in a van? Living in a van is legal. Where most full time van dwellers get in trouble is with particular city ordinances that forbid overnight camping or parking. Make sure to park in appropriate places and you’ll be just fine. Worse case, you’ll get a knock at night time and be asked to move on.
How do you insulate a van? The most common insulation methods for campervan conversion are to use either rockwool or polyiso board with spray foam to fill in the gaps. Or some combination of all three. You’ll want to insulate the floor, ceiling and walls to ensure you retain as much heat as possible. Then you’ll cover your insulation work with some sort of wall covering and flooring to hold it all in place.
Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.