We are finally at the end of our van build and wanted to share some advice that we wish we knew at the beginning. Doing this luxury sprinter van conversion has been such a rewarding experience that we highly recommend.
If you are thinking of jumping in, here are some important things you can expect to encounter so you are prepared ahead of time.
7 Things to Know Before Doing a DIY Sprinter Van Conversion
Before we get started, if you are looking for help on your van build, email Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org for remote consulting or to do your complete conversion.
1. Rent a Van Before You Build One
One of the smartest things we did before doing our own sprinter van conversion was renting someone else’s.
I can’t even tell you how many times we referred back to the Ford Transit rental van video tour we did. It gave us so much insight about what things we liked, what things we would change and most important what van to purchase.
After that rental, we met up with a couple that did a conversion on a Dodge Ram 159 WB with a shower. Both of those vans had a fixed bed so we did one last tour of a Dodge Ram 159 WB with a convertible eating area.
The contrast between the two Dodge Ram conversions was huge. One felt so spacious on the inside and they both had completely different features.
Outdoorsy has generously given us a discount code for our readers. Use Jen50 to get $50 off your first Outdoorsy rental so you can try it out for yourself.
2. Converting a Sprinter Van is More Expensive Than You Expect
Whether you choose a brand new van or a used one, you’ll be spending a lot of money.
Take time at the beginning of your project to figure out your layout. Then be very specific about what you want to include in your build. Price out all the components, make whatever changes are necessary, then try to stick to your budget.
The difficult part at the beginning is not knowing exactly what you need in terms of power. You also will have a harder time pricing things like wires than a sink faucet. We will be publishing the full detail of our van conversion cost soon to help you.
3. A Luxury Sprinter Van Conversion is Different Than a DIY Campervan
With a DIY campervan, it’s okay if your paint job isn’t perfect or your table cushions look homemade. It’s all part of the charm. The goal with a DIY campervan is to reflect your unique personality and create something special regardless of your budget.
If you opt for the luxury sprinter van conversion, you’re really building a small RV with amenities. It might not be as unique but it has high end finishes and lots of bells and whistles. It costs more to build and is fully loaded including a bathroom.
Things That Add the Most Money to Your Sprinter Van Build
- Vehicle – The biggest cost in your budget is the actual van. If it’s new, 4WD or big, it costs more.
- Electrical – Your electrical system with solar is the second biggest budget item. The more features you add into your van, the more substantial your electrical system needs to be. The only way to save money on electrical is to have less things that draw electricity like a propane cooktop instead of induction.
- Bathroom – A bathroom adds to your water and power needs. It also adds weight, complication and expense.
- Exterior Bling – Cool wheels, rugged tires, a high end cargo rack, flares, special headlights, etc… will add a ton of cost.
- Air Conditioning – A 12 volt A/C unit is one of the expensive things you might be able to skip by adding a few fans and windows to get good air circulation. But, if you travel hot places, it might be worth it.
- Heat – a heater that runs off diesel is expensive but most people feel that it’s a difference maker in comfort.
- Weight – If you build a bigger sprinter van the weight really adds up and you’ll have to add a lift. Our 2021 Mercedes Sprinter High Roof 170 extended has a payload capacity is 3,296. The same as the smaller model with 4 extra feet of length. Plan on adding a lift if you choose a large van.
- 12V Fridge – It’s mind blowing how much a super small, 12 volt refrigerator costs.
4. Construction Experience Helps on a First Time DIY Van Conversion
You don’t need prior building experience but newbies will probably need help.
Even as a contractor, with 30+ years of residential and commercial construction experience, Guy struggled at the beginning of the build. So, we hired someone to help us with the pre-wiring, the heater, the 3 side windows and the lower cabinets.
Now that we’re done, he easily could have built it all. The point is that a sprinter van conversion is more like building a boat than a house. It takes time to figure things out. If you have no construction experience, it’s even harder.
A lot of people trying to sell you their van guides will tell you that you can do it with no experience – I completely agree. BUT, it will take you a lot of trial and error and it will probably look like a DIY project. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Just keep in mind that if you are looking for a luxury van conversion, you may need help from experienced builders.
5. Converting a Sprinter Van Takes Longer Than You Expect
There are multiple things that will slow down your build.
- Your availability or the availability of your upfitter – If you’re doing the conversion yourself and you can’t work on it 40+ hours a week, it will take you longer than any online videos that you see. A lot of people take 9+ months. An upfitter will be able to give you their timeline but they might also deliver late.
- Materials – It took us so long to get things and we were held up over and over. The windows took 4 months. The swivel seat and the electrical distribution panel took 3 months. We had to order the refrigerator from Latvia because we couldn’t get one closer. You get the point.
- If it’s your first build, it takes a ton of time just to figure things out. We bought a van build guide and we still had a zillion unanswered questions. Guy probably logged as much time watching YouTube videos in the beginning as he did doing construction. You also make mistakes along the way that you have to fix, like a window that leaks after installation.
6. Your Mindset is Important on a DIY Van Conversion is Key
A van conversion is a huge project with so many unknowns to first time builders. It can really mess with your head and you shouldn’t feel alone if you are totally overwhelmed at the beginning.
I’ve talked to many people who had a really hard time getting started. You really need to embrace a few things.
- You are going to make mistakes. It’s better to do something wrong and fix it than to not get started because you aren’t sure what to do. One of the best ways to learn and figure stuff out is by making mistakes. Guy did something wrong in the shower framing and it took him less than an hour to fix it.
- You need to embrace a lot of learning – almost everything will be new to you. You have to look at this project as taking on a bunch of new skill sets. Guy has always been insanely good at construction but shied away from plumbing, electrical and finish work. Guess what? He is so confident in all 3 areas now after doing the van.
- You need to set aside a lot of time – the van was the perfect project when social distancing was king. I’m not sure if it would be as easy in normal times to say no to a lot of your regular social time.
7. Building a Custom Camper Van is One of the Coolest Projects Ever!
Everyone you know will want to come check out your van and see what you’re up to. It’s also one of the biggest, most interesting things you’ll ever build. And you can take it awesome USA road trips.
When Guy first started our sprinter van conversion, he was having big time buyer’s remorse and felt overwhelmed. One he got through the beginning steps, he started to feel more confident about it.
Now, he loves every minute he gets to work on on the van and wants to build more. He has so much pride in the fact that he built it himself.
If you have an opportunity to take on a project like this, we highly recommend it. The reason we wrote the post was so you would be prepared for what you are getting yourself into.
If you can give yourself the time and get whatever help you need, you’ll love that you jumped in and did something so bold.
Need Help on Your Sprinter Van Conversion?
Please feel free to reach out to us if you help on any aspect of your project. Guy is planning to take on a few builds during 2022 and he is also available for remote consulting. Email him at email@example.com
He has done some videos on part of our build which you can find on our Jen and Guy YouTube Channel. He’s also planning to add more when he has time to edit them.