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My DIY Camper Van


Original Post
Ian Stewart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2010 · Points: 155

After lots of time and work, my DIY camper van conversion is finally somewhat presentable. The bones of it is a '97 Dodge Ram 2500 van that I had picked up about 4 years ago for $2000 (with only 42k on the ODO). I estimate that the remodel has cost about $2500, including the ARB fridge (which is about $1k alone, but totally worth it).

I've definitely learned a LOT throughout the process, and have a massive list of things I'd do differently next time, but overall I'm pretty happy with how it's turned out so far given it's my first van build.

Some of the highlights include:

- Swivel passenger seat
- Speakers and storage above seats (stereo amplifier under passenger seat)
- 16 gallon water tank (under fridge)
- 50qt ARB Fridge/Freezer
- Sink w/ extendable faucet and soap dispenser
- Under sink cabinet w/ automatic light
- Almost full size queen bed
- Lots of storage/cabinets under bed
- 2"+ insulation in floor, walls, and ceiling.
- Motorized vent fan w/ remote and rain sensor
- Everything powered by 100W solar panel, deep cycle marine battery (mounted under vehicle), and alternator isolator.

Major things to finish:

- Trim work (eg. hide all the wall panel gaps)
- Fix the folding bed. The folding side is supposed to fold up against the wall to completely clear up the middle of the van and turn the stationary side into a bench. However a mistake in measuring and stupid curved walls have caused that to not be the case yet.
- More conveniences (eg. already have a mirror that needs to go up on the wall, etc).

I've got a bunch of various pictures throughout the process and would be more than willing to share specifics if you're interested.

Cheers!

How it started.

Inside van.

Inside van.

Bed folded.

Bed down.

Sink + Stove

ARB Fridge

16 gallon water tank.

Inside cabinet (water pump/strainer, stove, 5lb propane, drain container)

Overhead storage with dual USB charger and vent fan remote.

Storage under bed.

Under bed from back.

Vent and solar panel.

Only, Locals · · #iGREWhereUflewHERE · Joined Jan 2012 · Points: 1,160

Nice work!

mucci · · sf ca · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 655

Very nice build right there.

What did you use for insulation on the deck and walls?

erik wellborn · · manitou springs · Joined Apr 2008 · Points: 355

Nice! Love the refrigerator.

John Greer Jr. · · modesto, ca · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 105

Nice work. Love the look of the space.

What kind of gas mileage are you getting with all the fixings installed?

Catalano28 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 0

Awesome setup! I'm currently looking to build a camper van. What are some of the things you'd do differently?

Darren Mabe · · Flagstaff, AZ · Joined Dec 2002 · Points: 3,725

thats a unique addition of the basketball hoop on the roof!

Sean P. · · Albuquerque · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 45

Looks great!

I'm curious, why did you choose to leave in the seat belt in the back?

Ian Stewart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2010 · Points: 155
mucci wrote:What did you use for insulation on the deck and walls?
Walls are primarily rock wool. The floor has a few different layers: foil bubble insulation to fill in the ridges, a layer of foil-backed demin insulation, then 1.5" rigid foam. I haven't tested it yet in super cold conditions, but when we were in Ten Sleep last and it was 40 degrees at night I was warm enough to sleep with my bare feet out of the blankets all night. It also used to get REALLY hot on the floor right between the seats at the front since the exhaust runs under there, but now I can barely feel a temperature difference. I'm guessing my dog might enjoy the extra floor insulation too.

Aside from just thermal insulation I was trying to cut out noise, too, and I think it's helped a lot.

The black square in the floor in the second picture is a mounting plate for a 3rd captains chair. There's a cover in the floor that can be removed to add in the seat.

Foil-backed denim insulation.

1.5" rigid foam insulation.

Walls insulated with rock wool.

John Greer Jr. wrote:What kind of gas mileage are you getting with all the fixings installed?
Anywhere between 16 and 18mpg depending on the hills and wind.

Catalano28 wrote:What are some of the things you'd do differently?
The number one thing I'd do differently is start with a van that is mostly SQUARE. I used this van because I had it and didn't want to spend big $$$ on a Sprinter, but it turns out that making everything work when there isn't a single 90 degree corner is a total pain in the ass. The windows are curved, the walls are curved, the corners are curved, etc. To put it into perspective, the ceiling panel is 48" wide and the width between the walls at the bottom is something like 68". So the walls curve in about 10" on each side. I honestly think I could have done the whole thing in 30% of the time if the van were more square.

I had also thought of a construction technique that I think would have made things a lot easier. When I built this one I cut and installed the floor, then welded together the bed/bench frames and then just screwed it all down to the floor/wall studs. Next time what I think I would do is cut the floor to size and install T-nuts in the floor exactly where the various frames would be attached, and then I could use the floor itself as a jig to hold everything in place when I weld it together.

Darren Mabe wrote:thats a unique addition of the basketball hoop on the roof!
Gotta have something to do on your rest days! :)
mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 120

Looks excellent, but fisheye pics are disorienting. Really hard to get an idea of the actual spatial layout. Anyway, nice work!

I keep working on my Previa. Much less space than a full size van, but 25mpg. Latest project I am about to do is roof rack with rocket box.

rooooock · · Oakland, CA · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 55

Does the solar panel have a battery attached? Or just works when there's sun?

Jeremy Kasmann · · Denver, CO · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 0
Pontoon wrote:Does the solar panel have a battery attached? Or just works when there's sun?
From the OP:

"Everything powered by 100W solar panel, deep cycle marine battery (mounted under vehicle), and alternator isolator"
fossana · · leeds, ut · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 13,181
mountainhick wrote:Looks excellent, but fisheye pics are disorienting.
+1

Great job though. I like the clean Euro style (cabinet hinges, floors, etc). Thanks for sharing.
Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,759

What size battery and does the alternator isolator allow you to switch on and off the charging of the deep cycle battery when engine is running or just ensure even charge between car battery and deep cycle?

Jeremy Kasmann · · Denver, CO · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 0

The isolator prevents the system from draining the starter battery when the engine is off.

Ian Stewart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2010 · Points: 155

Yeah, sorry about the fisheye pics. I thought it might be able to show a more complete view of some of the inside and I didn't feel like changing the lens once I started taking the pictures.

Morgan Patterson wrote:What size battery and does the alternator isolator allow you to switch on and off the charging of the deep cycle battery when engine is running or just ensure even charge between car battery and deep cycle?
The battery is only 65Ah, though I'd like to either replace that with a 125 or just add on another. It hasn't failed me yet, but that doesn't mean I won't ever hit a cloudy stretch. The isolator is just an automatic one that ensures an even charge. I'm using this one (the 140 amp version) amazon.com/NOCO-IGD200HP-20…
John Greer Jr. · · modesto, ca · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 105

I just got a Ford Transit Connect and am in the middle of the conversion right now. under $200 total so far.

My new space shuttle ready for action.(pre conversion)

The next big ticket item is the solar.

What hardware did you use for the solar rig (brand, specs, charging circuit, etc)?
Do you have a wiring diagram of the system and how you did the alternator isolation?
Do you have the the battery in a box to keep it away from everything else?

VAN LIFE! WOOP WOOP

rooooock · · Oakland, CA · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 55

Thanks Jeremy, I had just woken up when I wrote that.

Tony B · · Around Boulder, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 23,195

If anyone is looking for a van to work over, I have a 1996 GM Vandura with a solid engine but a rough interior that I'd sell. Was going to sell it a few years back, but pulled it for a few more years of use. These days I am thinking of selling it again.
It is fairly roughly finished - nothing fancy, but presently quite useable, if you wanted to use it and work on it during rest days.

Pictures here:
mountainproject.com/v/10779…

It needs some work. IE: AC & cig lighter are not working.

New or new-ish tires, brakes, shocks, belts, hoses. Burns/Leaks little or no oil. I don't have to add between changes.
Still gets 13.5-16.5 MPG depending how you drive...

I'd take $1500. GM350 Small-block alone is worth a good fraction of that.

MrZ · · Colorado · Joined Dec 2010 · Points: 270

One of the best set-ups I have ever seen, in my opinion.

I gotta ask, how did you attain the background knowledge to do all of this?

Morgan Patterson · · CT · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 8,759
Ian Stewart wrote: The battery is only 65Ah, though I'd like to either replace that with a 125 or just add on another. It hasn't failed me yet, but that doesn't mean I won't ever hit a cloudy stretch.
I'm guessing because the panel is constantly (throughout the day) trickle charging or better you probably haven't run it down. I'm wondering just how long that that 65ah battery would last without the panel connected under normal use conditions with a load of food/beer in it... have any exp with that?
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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