Building out your own Sprinter van conversion is possible for most people, if you know where to start.
It can be overwhelming when you start to think about budgeting for and planning your DIY camper van build out – but don’t worry, we’re here to help!
By the time you’ve read through this guide, you’ll have the knowledge and hopefully the confidence to start on your van conversion journey.
In this post we cover how to plan and build a DIY van build from start to finish, with links to other more detailed articles on this site that will help you refine your designs, budget and plans when it comes to areas such as your camper van’s bed, bathroom and overall layout.
Planning your Sprinter Van Conversion
This section on planning will help you decide how you’ll use your Sprinter camper van, how to set a realistic budget, how to find and buy a Sprinter van to convert, cleaning, preparation, measuring, layout and style planning.
1. Decide how you will use your Sprinter van
While moving into a camper van to live van life full time may grab the attention of headlines, the reality is that most people looking to buy or build a Sprinter van conversion are looking to own a camper van that they can use part-time, whether that’s as a weekender, for several weeks’ vacation, or road trip lasting for a few weeks or several months.
Whatever your planned use for your Sprinter van camper, make sure you have a clear plan for how you’re going to use it once it’s built out, so that you can factor this into your van build design, planning and budget from the outset.
This is important because your needs and budget requirement will vary depending on how you plan to use your camper van – particularly when it comes to features such as storage, washing, bathroom facilities, showering and cooking equipment.
If you plan for your campervan to be something you’ll use mainly for weekends or up to a couple of weeks road tripping at a time, you likely need a lot less storage and fewer cooking accessories, as well as potentially less electrical power and battery capacity than a camper van designed for van life where you want to be able to to go fully off-grid for weeks at a time.
2. Set a realistic van conversion budget
So you’ve decided to create a custom Sprinter camper van.
The biggest question most people have about converting a Sprinter van into a camper is how much does a Sprinter van cost (the van, plus the conversion cost)? Now’s the time to do your research.
Consider how much the Sprinter van costs, itself, before you spend any money on the van conversion.
Sprinter vans, when new, will most likely cost in excess of $45,000 for a cargo van, sometimes significantly more if there are lots of optional extras included in the factory build. Crew and Passenger Sprinter vans will tend to cost more. For a comparison of the different Sprinter van options, read which sprinter van is best for conversion?.
Then think about everything you plan to have in your van, and research what these items cost to buy, as well as install.
Do you need to buy (or borrow) tools to do the van conversion? Will you need to pay someone to help you with certain aspects of your build, such as connecting the electrical system or cutting holes for the windows and roof vent?
For guidance on how much a Sprinter camper van conversion costs, with rough cost estimates for each aspect of a camper van buildout, read how much do Sprinter van conversions cost?
3. Buy a new or used Sprinter van to convert
Nothing commits you to your Sprinter van conversion journey than actually buying the van.
With Mercedes Sprinter vans more popular than ever, and seemingly in short supply, be prepared to act quickly if you see a Sprinter van advertised for sale that will make a good base vehicle for your build.
Remember that many pre-owned Sprinter vans may have lived tough lives as delivery and trades vehicles so it pays to inspect them well, as well as consider used vans for sale with an open mind, in case they don’t have quite the specifications / colors you had in mind initially.
For guidance on which model of Mercedes Sprinter van to choose, including how to choose between the van lengths, a low or high roof van, and the difference between crew vans, cargo vans, and passenger van Mercedes Sprinter models, read this post next: Which Sprinter van is best for conversion.
4. Clean and prepare your van for conversion
Even if you buy a new Mercedes Sprinter van from a Mercedes dealership, you’re going to want to give it a clean inside to ensure you’ve cleared out debris, grease and dirt that may have accumulated or be left over from the manufacturing and time in transit to the dealership.
If you go for an older, used Sprinter van, know that it may need a significant amount of cleaning and preparation before you start your camper van conversion.
You’re basically aiming for a clean, blank canvas to start your custom van build from.
Although a dirty job, cleaning up your Sprinter van also has the benefit of allowing you to spend time getting to know all the features, nooks and crevices that your van has, that you will want to be aware of for planning your build-out.
This knowledge is useful for when it comes to drilling holes, finding strong attachment points for your bed and cabinets, or knowing where you need to add extra insulation, for example.
As part of the cleaning process, be sure to remove existing wall and floor panels to inspect your Sprinter van for dirt and also – very importantly – to check for rust.
Locating and treating rusty areas of your Sprinter van’s chassis is something that is best done as soon as possible, to prevent it from getting worse, and is also something that will be much more difficult (or impossible) to do well once you’ve started your Sprinter van conversion process.
5. Measure and plan your campervan layout
Until you get the keys of your Sprinter van and spend some time inside the cargo area, it is difficult to get a feel for exactly how you want to use the space, and what van build essential features you want to include in your design.
It can be really helpful to check out friends’ vans, or rent a similar Sprinter campervan for a weekend through companies such as Outdoorsy and RV Share, so you can try out van life before you start committing to your own van conversion and a particular layout.
Some big questions many people ask about converting Sprinter vans is ‘how do you fit a toilet or shower in the van?’, as well as ‘what bed layout is best?’.
To get ideas and inspiration for the best Sprinter van conversion layout for your build, check out the great Sprinter camper van build styles shared in these posts:
Make sure you clearly and accurately mark out exactly where the larger features of your van conversion will go, so you can plan to build (or buy) and install them appropriately.
Additionally, now’s the time to think about storage in your camper van.
Remember that anything that is stored in your van’s cargo area needs to be tied down, locked down, or stashed away somewhere it won’t move when you’re driving, as well as in the event of an accident or coming to a rapid, hard stop.
So everything from your bedframe to your kitchen equipment to your dog needs to have a home in the van for when you’re traveling, so they can travel safely inside your campervan, whether that’s secured inside a cabinet, or strapped to the van itself using webbing or bungee cords, for example.
6. Plan your Sprinter van camper conversion style
Having in mind what look and style you’re going for with your custom van buildout will help you budget for the right materials and may also have an impact on your layout and storage planning.
The two most popular styles, or ‘genres’ of Sprinter van conversions are what we call the ‘Rugged Adventure Van‘ and the ‘Tiny Home On Wheels‘.
Depending on your preference around design and functionality, as well as your budget and how you plan to use your campervan, your buildout will generally fall into one of these two categories.
‘Rugged’ Sprinter Campervan
These adventure-ready Sprinter campervans are usually built using durable, automotive and RV-specific components.
They’re designed for going into rugged environments, so everything from the walls and floors to the bed and galley kitchen gear is designed to be durable, tough and easy to clean up if it gets wet or dirty.
Often, they’re built to be modular, so you can remove items such as the bed and wall storage to make space in the van for work use, too.
Usually, all this functionality means that a lot of aluminum, steel, plastic and rubber is used, as well as fabrics designed for automotive, RV and boating uses, such as carpet and ultraleather.
There are now many great professional Sprinter van conversion companies who specialize in custom van conversions like this, including some of our favorites – Sync Vans, Momentum Vans and Outside Van – visit our guide to the best Sprinter van conversion companies for more) but that’s not to say you can’t do a buildout like this as a DIY project.
The downside to these types of van buildout is that they generally look less homey, and can cost more when you need to involve specialist van builders and/or specialist auto/RV or boat parts.
Inside, the van may look like a very nice… van, and not a little cosy home.
You’re likely to have more ripstop, L-track, and bungee cords around you while you’re chilling after a day out adventuring, so it may not feel quite like home as much as when you’re hanging out in a badass, adventure-ready bubble.
Tiny Home On Wheels Sprinter Vans
When we talk about ‘Tiny Home On Wheels’ Sprinter campervans we’re referring to the more artisan, crafty, one-of-a-kind Sprinter van conversions.
The majority of DIY van conversions fall into this category, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, if you’re building out your own DIY campervan, you don’t need it to look like anyone else’s. It’s the ultimate custom van build.
You can make it look like a tiny studio apartment, complete with warm wood finishes, curtains, plants and cosy bedding.
This also means that you can choose the materials to fit your style and budget – and these don’t need to be specifically designed for RVs, vans or campers (which tend to be more expensive).
We see a lot of Tiny Home camper vans built out using mostly wood, which is easy to obtain and easy to work with, requiring fewer specialist tools than metal alternatives.
This style of custom van camper conversion tends to appeal to people who plan to use it for full-time van life, as it includes more of that homey, home comforts vibe.
Although they can look homey inside, it’s also possible to make the van look very ‘normal’ on the outside – great for stealth camping in cities where you want to park overnight without drawing too much attention to your vehicle.
On the downside, some of these materials can be bulkier and heavier. A heavier can conversion means a less enjoyable ride (unless you upgrade your suspension) and fewer miles per gallon when you drive.
Wood can also split, and may squeak if pieces rub together as you drive. If you spend time in harsh environments such as very wet, dusty or muddy places, then it can be harder to keep your tiny home clean and dry.
This is why #1, deciding on how you’ll use your campervan, comes into play when it comes to choosing your Sprinter van build’s style.
Building your Sprinter Conversion
The reality of building a camper van conversion is that, similar to constructing a house, some of these stages necessarily overlap with one another, so you need to have all of these in mind and work on them simultaneously.
For example, while you likely need to start working on the electrics early on, so you can run wires and so on, you are unlikely to have everything electric-related fully installed until the last ceiling panel or cabinet has been installed.
1. Electrics, heat and light
When it comes to your vans electrics and lighting, know exactly what components are going to go where, and make sure you have all the tools, parts wires, and cables to complete the job – because – and take it from us, we know – it gets annoying to have to visit the hardware/auto store multiple times in a week because you forgot a connector or fuse 🙂
Depending on your plan for your van’s electrics, you may want to pre-run some electrical wires before putting up the walls and ceiling.
Many people prefer to keep this to a minimum, as it’s difficult to access them once you cover them, in case you need to change, add to or repair them.
If you do run wires behind the walls and ceiling, note where they are so you can plan for future access and also don’t accidentally drill into them when it comes to installing your bed and cabinets.
When it comes to heating and natural light in your van, now is the time to get your diesel-powered heater / furnace connected, any extra windows put in and your roof vent (or vents) installed.
2. Cover the basics – insulation, walls, floor and ceiling
Now you’re really ready to get started on your conversion. Time to cover the basics – the walls, ceiling and floors. Once these are up, it will definitely feel like a camper rather than a steel box!
Before you put any coverings up, apply sound-dampening material on larger metal panels – this will make the van quieter when you drive.
Many people also cover the rear wheel areas with sound-dampening material, too, as these areas are responsible for a lot of the road noise when you’re driving.
Next, take your time to thoroughly insulate your Sprinter van.
Don’t mess around with insulation – this is one area where it pays to use the stuff the professionals use – which for most is a roll of 3M Thinsulate, which is easy to cut with scissors and stick (using 3M90 spray adhesive, for example) in and around the entire van ceiling and walls.
We are also fans of insulating your van’s floors, which is better done with 1/4 – 1/2 inch closed cell foam, such as Minicel.
This will help level out the floor (which has grooves in it) before you put your choice of floor covering down.
Insulating your van’s floors will also help with road noise and warmth retention in general, particularly important for camping in colder climates.
When you’ve insulated your van, it’s time to lay your van’s flooring, walls and ceiling.
There are a number of techniques for doing each of these, depending on the materials you use and the style of build you’re creating, but whatever you do, make sure they’re all safely secured to your van using screws or bolts that won’t rust.
Choose galvanized or stainless steel screws or bolts wherever possible, for this reason. Pay extra attention to areas where you intend to mount your bed and any cabinets, as you may want to reinforce the walls beforehand.
3. Install bathroom, washing and cleaning facilities
Although many people choose not to have a toilet or shower in their campervan, most people will include some washing and cooking facilities in their buildout, especially if they’re planning to use the vehicle for longer-term van life.
Depending on the amount of plumbing you have planned to install, you will likely want to plan exactly where your water tank(s) are going to go early on in your van conversion planning process, as well as know where you will run water pipes to and from your van’s sink.
As the water tanks (one for fresh water, one for grey water) are large items, these should generally be put into place as early as possible so you have a better idea of the remaining space in your van.
4. Install your campervan’s bed
If there’s one thing every campervan conversion needs, it’s a bed. If you need some inspiration, these Sprinter campervan bed layout ideas will help!
Unless you’re planning a solo twin bed for solo van life, then your Sprinter van’s bed is going to be a big, heavy feature of your van buildout and definitely needs to be secured through to the van’s chassis – you don’t want it moving, at all!
It’s also another large space-occupying component of your installation, so needs building in – at least in part – early in your build.
5. Make or buy shades or curtains
If your van has a lot of windows then it’s worth making at least temporary window shades early on in your build.
Even if you won’t be camping in your Sprinter van for a while, you’ll be gradually adding expensive components such as batteries and other electrical items, as well as potentially storing other parts inside the van, so these shades provide privacy from prying eyes.
For your finished van conversion, most people either go the route of making or buying magnetic blackout shades, or making custom curtains or blinds for that tiny home vibe.
6. Gather your van life essentials
When your Sprinter camper van conversion is almost complete, you can start the really fun stage of thinking about decoration and what essentials you’ll need to use in your campervan when you’re on the road living the van life.
This includes lighting, gadgets, emergency tools, camp kitchen and quick-drying towels that will stay fresh for longer (and need washing less often than regular towels).
For some examples of van life essentials and useful gadgets, head over to our Van Life Essentials roundup next.
For more Sprinter van build inspiration, head back to the Sprinter Camper Vans homepage!
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