Save Money: Van Conversion Cost vs. Buying a Van – Which Option Is Cheaper?

Save money on your vanlife adventure! Discover if converting a van or buying one is the cheaper option. Van Conversion Cost vs Buying a Van - Let's find out!
Save Money: Van Conversion Cost vs. Buying a Van - Which Option Is Cheaper?

Is it cheaper to convert a van or buy one?

It is generally cheaper to convert your van yourself rather than buy a pre-converted one.

This article compares the costs of a van conversion and buying a pre-converted van to help you make an informed decision. We will also explore some of the financial considerations, the true van conversion costs, the pros and cons of campervan conversions, the resale value of your campervan, and more. In the end…which Option Is Cheaper and More Suitable for You?

Before diving into the world of vanlife, comparing the costs associated with van conversion and buying a van is essential. This comparison goes beyond the initial expenses and includes long-term considerations such as maintenance, upgrades, and potential resale value. Evaluating both options will give you a clear understanding of which path is more cost-effective in the long run.


Understanding Van Conversion Costs

With a van conversion, there are many aspects that you need to consider, including the cost of the vehicle itself, how much you have to spend on your conversion, how specced out your van conversion needs to be for your needs, and how you plan to use it. It’s essential to consider all these as they affect how much a DIY van conversion costs.


Finding the Right Van for Your Conversion Project

Whether you buy a pre-made campervan or convert your own, you must purchase a base vehicle, which will be the same fraction of the cost.

The cost of the base vehicle is purely dependent on how old the van is and its condition. You can buy a vehicle for £1,000, up to £50,000.

On average, for a high-top roof van conversion (like a Sprinter, VW Crafter, Peugeot Boxer, Citroen Relay etc.), the cost of a decent used van is around £8,000-£15,000 depending on the brand, specific mileage and mechanical health. To find out the best van conversion vehicle for you, click here.

Conversion Materials and Equipment: Exploring the Essential Components

If you convert the campervan yourself, you must budget for material costs and the essential van conversion tools.

How much you spend on materials, again, depends on the size of the vehicle you pick.

Below you’ll find a quick overview of how much various van conversions cost, taking into account essential components involved in a van conversion, including insulation, flooring, electrical systems, plumbing, furniture, and appliances.

micro campervan van conversion

Micro Campervan Material Costs

  • £200 Building materials and insulation
  • £50 Hardware (screws, rails etc.)
  • £500 Electrics
  • £100 Plumbing
  • £150 Heating
  • £100 For other appliances

BASE VEHICLE COST: £2,000-£5,000

TOTAL: £3,100-£6,100

-> The complete cost breakdown for a micro camper

For a micro campervan conversion, you will need a lot less wood, and since the size of the vehicle will make it difficult to go on long haul trips, all the systems can be smaller as they wouldn’t need to accommodate full-time vanlife.

cargo van conversion

Transporter/Cargo Van Campervan Material Costs

  • £500 Building materials and insulation
  • £100 Hardware (screws, rails etc.)
  • £800 Electrics
  • £150 Plumbing
  • £150 Heating
  • £500 For other appliances

BASE VEHICLE COST: £3,000-£10,000

TOTAL: £5,200-£12,200

-> The complete cost breakdown for a cargo campervan

Cargo van conversions are medium-sized vans you usually can’t stand up in, such as VW transporters, Chevvy cargo vans etc. Since these vans are physically larger than micro campers, they will take more physical wood and screws.

The fact that they are larger also means you could take them out for a few months and take more off-grid adventures as you can fit more batteries, water storage and the like.

high top van conversion campervan

High-top Roof Campervan Material Costs

  • £1000 Building materials and insulation
  • £250 Hardware (screws, rails etc.)
  • £1500 Electrics
  • £250 Plumbing
  • £300 Heating
  • £2000 For other appliances

BASE VEHICLE COST: £8,000-£15,000

TOTAL: £13,300-£20,300

-> The complete cost breakdown for a high-top roof campervan

High-top roof van conversions are vans where you can stand up, like Sprinter vans. They are perfect for long trips and full-time vanlife, and generally, the sky is the limit with what you can do with these conversions.

Again, the fact they are larger still means they will take more building materials, and you can also fit in more functional appliances like a more extensive electrical system, larger fridges, a toilet, shower compartments and the like. These will all add to the total cost.

You can reduce these costs based on your personal needs, especially if you use reclaimed and recycled materials. The above comparison tables are the lower end of what you could spend on any van conversion.


Advantages and Disadvantages of DIY Van Conversions

It’s worth mentioning that a huge perk of doing your own van conversion is that you can completely customise it to your own needs and wants.

You can design your campervan layout any way you wish. And you can go as adventurous and off-grid as you want. Whilst this may be possible in per-made camper conversion, finding the exact layout and spec you want might be more difficult or impossible.

Sometimes you can remodel a ready-made campervan, though a note to caution: it can be annoying and stressful to undo someone else’s DIY build. So starting from scratch and building your own campervan might be easier. 🙂

Buying a Van: The Cost Considerations

Labour Costs vs DIY Efforts

Another aspect to consider is the labour involved in the conversion process. Deciding whether to tackle the conversion as a do-it-yourself (DIY) project, hire professionals or buy a ready-made can significantly impact the overall cost.

With self-builds, you pay in time. DIY van conversions take determination and passion, which can take a long time as you have to build the vehicle and learn many new skills.

If you are excited and passionate about jumping into a DIY van conversion, the A-Z of Vanlife Bootcamp is the perfect place to start.

On the other hand, if you were to buy a ready-made campervan, you would have to pay for the van conversion cost and the labour time for the converter. You can find some older campervans that have started to depreciate, so you can get an excellent deal.

But in general, it will still cost you more to buy a ready-made campervan, regardless of whether it is professionally converted for you or purchase a pre-loved one, rather than doing the conversion yourself.

One thing to note: even when doing a DIY van conversion, it’s wise to outsource some tasks, such as gas installations, heater installations, and 12v electrical system installations, to a professional. This will also add some labour costs.


Buying a Campervan

Exploring the market for pre-converted vans is vital to make an informed decision when buying a van.

The second-hand market for campervans is a mishmash of plastic-looking mass-manufactured motorhomes, professionally converted DIY campervans, and self-built conversions that are now for sale. Which one you go for is entirely up to you.

It depends highly on your style and what you seek from a campervan (space, specs, feel, off-grid, newness, custom built etc.)

It is possible to find a ready-made campervan for “cheap”, but these cheap options are often old, dated and of questionable quality.


Evaluating the Condition and Features of Pre-Converted Vans

So go look, and make sure you know what you are buying. It’s equally important to check the vehicle’s mechanical health, living space, and specs.

You can use our van conversion checklist to make sure you get everything when inspecting a used van to buy.


Price Comparison: Pre-Converted Vans vs. Van Conversion

Knowing what a reasonable price for a pre-made camper van is, is a tricky one.

If you look at the prices of a mass-manufactured plastic motorhome, they can sell new for £100,000, meaning that second-hand can still be worth around £30,000 to £50,000.

Some newly converted DIY campervans done by professional converters can also be around £30,000 to £50,000. This means that in the second-hand market for converted vans, you can find cheaper campervan options to buy.

  • New motorhome: £100,000
  • Second-hand motorhome: £0,000 – £50,000
  • Newly professional conversion van: £30,000 – £60,000
  • Second-hand van conversion: £10,000 – £50,000

As you can see, the range of pricing is bloody confusing. It is vitally important that you know what you want, view the vehicles you’re considering, and know their history.

If you have 2 vans of the same age, mileage, mechanical heath and layout, but one is converted by yourself and the other has been built by someone else (i.e. you are buying it), the latter will always be more expensive.

This is because, as mentioned previously, you are paying for the other person’s time converting the vehicle, which is reflected in the cost.

Learn to think with confidence positivity creativity

Planning Your DIY Campervan Layout

Other Factors to Consider

Lifestyle and Individual Needs: Tailoring the Decision to Your Preferences

Beyond financial considerations, assessing how a van conversion and buying a van align with your lifestyle and individual needs is crucial.

Consider factors such as the frequency and style of travel, the desired level of comfort, and the convenience of maintenance and repairs. Tailoring your decision to your preferences will ensure a vanlife experience that is fulfilling and enjoyable.

If you want to go off-grid and off-roading, you probably should do a micro camper with excellent suspension and clearance, as your requirements would not fit the standard mould. You do you.


Resale Value and Investment Potential: Looking Ahead to the Future

While vanlife is an exciting adventure, it’s also essential to consider your future and the potential resale value and investment potential. Assessing the long-term prospects of your van conversion or pre-converted van purchase will help you decide to align with your financial goals and the possibility of returning some of your investment.

Generally speaking, mass-produced motorhomes retain their value more. They are not better (quite on the contrary) just because they are uniform and shiny.

Mind you, plenty in the vanlife community hold onto their campervans and never sell, so there is no pressure. Don’t let money stop you from doing what you want to do.


Is it cheaper to convert a campervan?

To make an informed decision, consider your budget, personalisation needs, long-term plans, and the value you place on customisation and convenience.

Assessing your personal budget, future plans, additional expenses, and available time and skills will guide you towards the option that is cheaper and more suitable for your unique circumstances.

Van conversions offer the freedom to create a personalised living space and potentially save costs through DIY efforts. On the other hand, buying a pre-converted van provides convenience and avoids a conversion project’s time commitment and skill requirements.

Ultimately, whether you choose to embark on a van conversion or purchase a pre-converted van, the allure of vanlife and the freedom it offers are experiences that can be cherished for a lifetime. So, weigh your options, consider your priorities, and embrace the exciting journey of vanlife with careful consideration and enthusiasm.

Which Option Is Cheaper and More Suitable for You?



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September 13, 2023

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