Tips on van conversion How to convert your car into a camper van
A self-built mini camper is not only a great base camp for outdoor tours – such a small camper also convinces in everyday life and on the journey. We show you this with the example of a converted high-roof station wagon .
Sleeping where you like, in the middle of the countryside with the best view of magnificent landscapes – for this reason alone, thousands of hikers set out with their tents, sleeping bags and co. through nature. But wouldn’t it be great to be able to enjoy the starry evening sky, the silent night and the first rays of sunshine in the morning already on the way there?? With a camper van – new German for motorhome – the outdoor experience already begins on the journey: Whether on a natural tent meadow, on a panoramic alpine pass, nicely situated hiker’s parking lot or at the next farmer – a quiet place can be found almost everywhere and even more so in classic travel countries such as Scandinavia, Scotland or France.
An expensive motorhome – and that’s the good news – you don’t need for that at all. All you need is the existing vehicle, which with a bit of craftsmanship can be given a reclining surface and – usually underneath – storage space for your backpacks. Even an Opel Corsa, Fiat Punto or Skoda Fabia can be converted into a minicamper – but only with compromises in terms of comfort, storage space and bed length.
The advantage of high roof station wagons
Jurgen and Sina, both active in the outdoor test team, sold their small car for this reason and bought a so-called high-roof station wagon – a Renault Kangoo. In the "trunk" they fixed a foldable board on stilts. "We can not only lie stretched out on it, but also sit upright – yet there’s still enough room under the board for hiking and climbing equipment," says Jurgen, who, at over 1.80 meters, is not one of the short people.
In addition to the Kangoo, Citroen Berlingo, Dacia Dokker, Fiat Doblo, Opel Combo, VW Caddy and many others also belong to the growing species of high-roof station wagons. Designed as family cars and/or vans, they make perfect mini campers. Not only because they offer more roof height and thus headroom when seated, but also because the rear seats can be easily unclipped and re-clipped. "So you can use the car as a normal car in everyday life and turn it into a camper in a flash when you’re on vacation," Sina is happy to.
In addition, most high-roof station wagons have lashing eyes on the floor of the vehicle, which can be used to secure bed frames, crates& Co without having to drill holes in the car, which can cause problems during the biennial general inspection at TuV or Dekra. As long as seats are only folded down or unclipped to support or install a sleeping board, no certificate is needed and so- with no acceptance, writes TuV Sud in response to an inquiry from outdoor.
But if seats or belts are permanently removed by loosening the original bolts, the vehicle’s operating license expires. Similarly, if you not only create a sleeping and storage facility, but also permanently install a stove or heating system. Fast freezers should therefore already insist on a factory-installed auxiliary heating when purchasing the vehicle – or have it retrofitted in a specialist workshop.
It looks different with ready camping buses à la VW California or Ford Nugget. They score already ex factory with kitchen, heating and much place, comfort and storage space. However, they cost well over 40.000 euros is half a fortune and is therefore particularly vulnerable to theft, which in turn drives up insurance policies.
Also, specially converted minicampers can be better used in everyday life: They are more maneuverable, narrower and clearer, which makes it easier to maneuver in the city as well as in narrow streets in Italy or France. In addition, they consume less fuel than other motorhomes and, with their height of less than 1.90 meters, fit not only in most parking garages, but also in particularly beautifully situated parking spaces. In their driveways, height limiters are increasingly common to keep out RVs.
Also ferry crossings, for example to Scotland or Norway, do not tear with a high roof station wagon too large hole into the travel purse. It becomes expensive only with vehicles, which are higher than two or longer than five meters. Besides, with a high roof station wagon one does not stand out immediately as a camper. Jurgen: "The fewest suspect that there is someone staying overnight, which is not seen everywhere with pleasure."For outdoor enthusiasts, the self-catering option offers other advantages, such as the fact that they can sleep directly at the starting point of the hike and thus get an early start.
Or that they have much of what makes a car a camper anyway: A sleeping pad and sleeping bag, for example, as well as a stove, water bag, and camping gear. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can either hire a carpenter or a professional interior decorator. Companies such as Reimo, Vanessa or Zooom offer tailor-made, often very elegant, practical solutions for which, depending on the scope and vehicle, between around 2,000 and almost 10,000 euros can be spent.
The costs of a self development fall with approximately 150 to maximally 500 euro clearly smaller out. Besides, especially if you lack the handyman gene, such a makeover not only increases your creativity, but also your wanderlust. Jurgen: "I was with each screw and with each board mentally already on tour."
Tips on conversion variants
Those who make plans make God laugh, they say. But at least those who want to expand their car should not proceed without a plan – and know exactly how they want to lie, sit and stow their luggage in the car. The good news: you don’t have to be a handyman. It’s enough to know where the nearest hardware store is.
The most important question to ask before the conversion is about the seats: If the driver and passenger seats are enough for everyday use, the second row of seats can be removed, freeing up space in the footwell recesses for bulky items such as the cool box. Otherwise, fold down the second row and support the bed on it.
You should also be clear about the length of the bed. As a rule of thumb: body height plus 30 centimeters. In short cars like Renault Kangoo you can do this only by pushing forward driver and passenger seat. For tall people we recommend long versions like Citroen Berlingo XL or VW Caddy Maxi – here sleeping areas of up to 2.3 meters are no problem even without moving chairs.
The two conversion variants presented below are well suited for two people with bulky luggage that is difficult to squeeze into drawers. For other cases – such as solo travelers or those who value a proper table or shelf – you can turn to sites like hochdachkombi.de or micro-camper.de get help and suggestions.
However you go about it: You will need a sufficiently stable bed in any case. For this you should use plywood or the more insensitive, darker screen printing plates, which the hardware store cuts to the desired size free of charge. They offer the best ratio of stability and weight. Both versions are available in different thicknesses, twelve millimeters should be the minimum thickness. Otherwise, there’s a risk of falling into the stowage space under the bed. And then God would really have reason to laugh.
This is how the conversion succeeds in detail
Two side "ladders" made of square timbers are suitable as supports for the sleeping board. They can be fixed with lashing straps or bolted to the vehicle floor. The higher the beams, the more luggage space is created – but at the expense of headroom.
For the lying surface you need two boards of the same width, which you couple by means of a hinge. Where, depends on the ceiling height: The board near the driver’s seat must be able to fold back onto the ladder at the rear without colliding with the roof.
You need the second row of seats? If it can be folded down, it serves as a folding bed support. If it is too low for you, you can place a square piece of wood between the seat and the board or build yourself a support frame. You’ll need this even with rows of seats that don’t fold down horizontally.
If you remove the second row of seats, you can install a chest in its place. Its lid serves as an extension of the bed, which when unfolded is flush with the chest. This way it can be opened even if the bed is already made.