You want a van. You need a project. You’ve thought about this forever. You just don’t know where to start. And you’re not sure if it’s worth it.
I can relate to that.
As a brief introduction to this blog, I want to tell you that I am in no way experienced, knowledgeable or a self-claimed professional. I didn’t know anything about cars and the last time I used a saw was in year 8 woodwork class. I’m a 26 year old ski instructor with a need for adventure, the inability to head to the mountains and a solid belief in the ‘fake it til you make it’ attitude. I’ve also found myself, thanks to lockdown, with far too much time on my hands.
It’s because of all this time that I am now the proud owner of a short wheel base Vauxhall Vivaro and I am about a month into my conversion.
I think it’s really key to point out now that van buying is just as time-consuming as van building. Especially when you’re as indecisive and emotional as me. One day you want a van you can build a shower in, the next you’re looking at 7-seater cars you can squeeze an airbed into. You spend all day dreaming about the perfect interior, and then decide to buy a pre-converted rig.
There is just no right choice.
So you have to start making some decisions. And stick with them. Or you’ll spend years looking.
Make sure you have a good look around at the different van options. It’s very easy to set your heart on the classic VW T4. I wish. But I’d decided that my first build didn’t need to be my dream van. And that I should look at vans closer to my budget. The van-life hype is pushing prices up and I knew it, so I veered away from the ‘iPhone’ of the Van world and looked at popular labourer vans. This opened up a world of options and so I started looking at each model.
The next aspect I had to decide on was size. This was a simple task for me for two reasons. I was on a budget, and I didn’t own a car. I needed a vehicle that I could take to Sainsbury’s and not have to park 3 miles away. I also wanted to pay as little as possible to get my glorified tent onto the Channel Tunnel and to the Alps. So short wheel base and a low roof. I’m a short human and I didn’t need to stand up in one. Done.
Next, everything became pretty technical. Prior to this research, I had no idea what the average mileage was on a van, and I actually did not know what service history was. Cue life lessons from my Dad. It became pretty obvious pretty quickly that it was going to be hard finding a van less than 10 years old, with a mileage under 100k, for anything less than £9,000. Slightly (way) over my budget, but I had to keep looking. I searched through Gumtree, Autotrader and even Facebook Marketplace. I went to see at least three different vans, learnt what to check for when test driving (always try the windows), and I started to get a feel for a good or bad deal.
I’m now fluent in salesperson jargon.
But finally, after six weeks of real searching, I found the one. I’d stumbled across a ‘find my car’ tool on a finance site I’d been approved for on a previous van, and had found a nifty Vivaro on the outskirts of London. I called the guy to book a viewing. Unfortunately, it was New Years Eve, so I had to wait. Which was hard. I emailed three times to check it was still available. This thing had full service history, a roof rack AND bluetooth. It had 90,000miles on the clock and was only 5 years old. I wanted it. And I got it.
Pick up day was extremely exciting. But terrifying. A £3000 deposit was easy. Driving the thing from the suburbs of London and onto the M23, in the dark and the rain, was not. But I got my baby home, and obviously set up it’s own Instagram account. Priorities are key.
The next major task to address is insurance. I cannot stress enough: do your research. Even if you don’t want to. GoCompare some quotes, find out your ‘no claims bonus’, find out how much additional breakdown cover is. Look up road tax for your vehicle. Check how much it is to insure your van during conversion (there are specific insurers out there). Do at least some of this research. Otherwise, you’re at risk of crying into your tea the day it comes to sorting it all out. Speaking from experience. The day it came to the adult stuff, I turned into an emotional wreck and I’d wished I’d spent some time looking at this. I love a bit of research but I shouldn’t have put this stuff off.
Once you make it through this first maze, and you get your new set of wheels insured for the roads, you can throw yourself into a world of blogs, vlogs and van conversion “experts”. If you haven’t already, get yourself onto a ‘self-build’ page on Facebook. They consist 90% of experienced van-lifers having a pop at each other, but the odd video and recommendation can come in very useful and highlight things you may not have thought of. I’m also hoping that making connections with van-lifers now will mean an abundance of meet-ups, trips and drives to park on when the world finally returns to normal.
Despite van research providing my first daunting hurdle, I’m still pretty chuffed that I have one filling a gap on my parents drive. I’ve learned how to research more efficiently, and I’m coming round to the idea of making quicker decisions. Despite the crappy English weather halting play, I’m still absolutely sure that it’s worth all the effort.
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