For many people, converting an empty van into a camper is a highly rewarding and satisfying experience, as well as an opportunity to learn new skills. With the resources available to you on this site and others, you’ll be able to get well on your way to having your dream DIY camper van planned out in no time!
That said, before you embark on a journey to start your own DIY camper van conversion, it is helpful to consider the cons of doing it yourself – as well as the pros.
This way, you go into the process with your eyes open and know what to expect along your van building journey.
The advice in this post is equally applicable to a Sprinter van conversion as it is to converting other vans into campers – the process is more or less the same irrespective of the brand and model vehicle you choose as the foundation for your build.
Pros of a DIY camper van conversion
1. Save money
The first benefit that may spring to mind when you contemplate doing your own van build (and potentially the number one reason why you considered doing it yourself in the first place), is going to be that this is the most affordable way to make the dream of owning a Sprinter camper van a reality.
Most people expect to make this cost-saving compared to working with a professional van conversion company because you’re not paying for someone else’s time and parts mark-up, as you will be if you work with a van conversion company.
Instead, you will need to have enough time to get the work done yourself, to a standard you are happy with (and that is safe!).
For more insights on how much a Sprinter camper van conversion costs when you do it yourself vs. a professional van build, read this post: How camper van conversions can cost between $5k and $150k.
2. Pride and sense of accomplishment
Ok, so you may initially want to do your own van build priority to make it more affordable, but don’t underestimate the huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes with creating your own tiny home on wheels.
It is hard to put into words the sheer pride you will have when you’ve built even a fraction of your DIY camper van. You did it yourself!
You may have had to spend a lot of time working out how to do it, buying the parts and tools, and then actually doing it, but you MADE IT, and you made it exactly how you wanted it.
Once you’ve had that feeling it’s hard to go back to not being a DIY sort of person, whether that comes to your van, future vans, or working on your house.
3. Learn new skills
On a similar theme, building a DIY camper van conversion is a great opportunity to learn new skills.
If you’re not already experienced in all (or any) of the trades and crafts you’ll need to finish your van build, then you will be once you’ve invested the time in learning them – whether that’s from a friend / family member, YouTube, other internet research or good old trial-and-error.
By the end of your van conversion, you’ll likely know a lot more than you did before about some or all of these skills: basic woodworking, electrics, fabrication, upholstery and plumbing.
You never know, your passion may even result in you choosing to change careers…!
4. Create a custom, one-of-a-kind camper van
If you build your own camper van, you can make it exactly how you want it, for every detail, from the overall layout and the size of the bed, down to the type of wood and size screws you use.
If you want a unique camper van that is designed ‘just so’ and is the product of your hard work, then you will get just that.
It’s worth noting, of course, that you can also get custom van builds from any number of fantastic professional van builders (like these), but the difference is you (and they) will need to spend a lot of time getting it the way you want it.
This is especially so if you’re an exacting sort of person and are very particular about how it will look and function.
5. Start your van conversion from Day 1
Once you’ve bought your Sprinter van, you can start work on it tomorrow, and work on the build at your pace.
You don’t need to book it in with anyone else and wait months for your van’s build slot to come around.
For information on the different types of Sprinter van models to help you work out which is the best choice for your conversion, read this post: Which Sprinter Van is best for conversion?
Cons of building a DIY camper van
1. Overall van conversion time
Most people who have built their own campervan will tell you it took them longer than anticipated to complete it, and many will tell you it’s not quite finished, even if they’ve been using their campervan in its current state for months!
As with many personal projects, especially if they involve learning new skills and sourcing niche materials, the time to complete your van build can be much longer than you expect.
Throw in a dose of real life (work, family, and other priorities) and it’s not unusual for your van build to take a few months longer than you thought it would.
Unless you really feel like you’ll never get your van build complete, the fact that it takes longer than you originally hoped is only an issue if you think it is.
The best way to think about it is to enjoy the process and appreciate the progress that you’re able to make – one step at a time – so you don’t get overwhelmed if your to-do list feels long.
2. Lacking (or needing to learn) skills
Yep, if you plan to build a camper van, you’ll probably need to learn some new skills. For many people, this is a great excuse to learn and apply them!
But, it’s no secret that it takes time to learn new things – whether that’s basic 12v electrics or carpentry, and you will likely be much slower at these things than a practiced tradesperson would be.
It also helps to invest in the right tools for the job, as these should make some of the trickier aspects of the buildout easier to handle, and quicker to accomplish to a high standard.
For some examples of important tools for van conversions, read this post: 12 must-have tools for a Sprinter van conversion.
For some aspects of your build, if, after extensive research, you’re still not confident that you can do them to a high standard and safely, it’s still best to enlist a professional.
This is particularly true for areas of your build such as the electrics, installing diesel heaters, gas cooking appliances and using the tools necessary to cut holes for additional windows and vents.
Don’t compromise safety in your pursuit of a 100% DIY build!
3. Finding a suitable place to work on your van
If you live in an apartment or a place with limited private off-street parking, then finding a suitable place to do your van conversion can be an early challenge to overcome.
You’ll need some privacy from prying eyes, and ideally a power supply for all those tools and lights you’re going to need.
Plus, you’ll be making some noise with power tools, so it’s best to work on your van away from others’ homes where you could make yourself unpopular with the neighbors.
Ideally, a private (level) driveway or even better, a tall garage is going to be the best place to build out your camper van conversion.
If you’re somewhere that gets extremely warm, cold, or wet weather, then a covered space to work becomes even more important at those times of the year.
If you don’t have access to such a space, consider renting a storage unit or garage on a short-term basis.
4. Getting DIY camper van insurance
Something that doesn’t get talked about as often as you’d think it would is the challenge with obtaining comprehensive insurance for your DIY camper van.
Many insurance companies simply won’t cover your van’s modifications, as they lack the desire or structure required to consider bespoke vehicles and customizations for their insurance coverage.
Some insurance companies may even consider that a DIY van conversion makes the vehicle uninsurable.
That said, you can usually find insurance for your van itself, and our community has found success with smaller insurance companies who are willing to consider modifications and adjust the insurance coverage accordingly.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in the US, then State Farm has consistently been a well-regarded national insurance company to speak to, in order to obtain a custom quote for the necessary coverage.
5. The frustration factor
It wouldn’t be a good project without a small degree of frustration. This will make it all the sweeter once your van build is complete and you have a cool DIY camper van to cruise around in.
It’s important to recognize that it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re embarking on a camper van conversion because there are so many elements and steps to go through to get from an empty Sprinter van to a converted camper.
The learning process you go through when building the van is something to be appreciated and enjoyed – if you take that mindset then it will seem less frustrating, even when things go wrong – because they do, so it’s unrealistic to expect them not to.
Screws thread, wood breaks, cuts don’t go straight, the wrong parts arrive and you have to wait a month for new ones… so an element of patience and acceptance is key to avoid pulling your hair out over any or all of these things 🙂
When starting a large project like a DIY Sprinter van conversion, it pays to do your research and plan the build before you get started.
If you have a clearer idea of how you’re going to approach the conversion, what tools and parts you’ll need, and what order you’ll do the work in, then it is easier to break it down into manageable stages and milestones to celebrate.