With the meteoric rise of the van life and the increasing popularity of camping holidays and nomadic living, a lot of people are looking to get themselves set up with a camper, but is it better to buy a camper van or make your own? There are many incredible examples of self-built van conversions out there, but is it easier to get something already built for purpose?
So, is it better to buy a camper van or convert a van?
The short answer:
Pre-built camper vans come in such a wide variety that there is no doubt you will find something that will suit you, but they are considerably more expensive than a DIY conversion. If you’re looking for a cheaper option and you want to have more control over the style and functionality, a converted van could be for you, but you’ll need some DIY skills and a bit of patience.
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both options, so you need to decide what it is that you are looking for when it comes to enjoying the benefits of a camper van. Do you want to take on a project with a budget and create something that is uniquely yours or do you want a purpose-built high-quality explorer that you can trust?
Here, we’ll look at what the different costs that are involved in buying or building a camper van – in terms of time, effort, reliability, and the value of the final product, on top of what you need to pay upfront.
Is it Worth It to Buy a Camper Van?
Obviously, a prebuilt camper or one that has already been converted is going to save you a significant amount of time and effort. When you take into account the number of hours you would spend sourcing materials and working late into the night to get your van ready, some people might consider a prebuilt van to be well worth the extra cost.
A prebuilt van also offers you the convenience of having all of the essentials and features set up and ready to go. You won’t need to worry about installing sinks, ovens, compost toilets, or showers, and most will come with a full set of gear for camping and living already inside.
One of the other big benefits that you get from a prebuild is reliability, not only in knowing that it is securely and safely put together, but that you can get help if anything goes wrong. Prebuilt camper vans offer you peace of mind as well as a guarantee of quality, whereas repairs or maintenance on your own conversion will often be trickier to manage.
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in a camper van of any kind, you know that at some point you are likely to find yourself sitting at the side of the road trying to figure out why something isn’t working the way that you want it to. With vans made by reliable custom manufacturers, you can simply call a garage or workshop and start finding a solution.
Are Conversion Vans Worth It?
When it comes to upfront costs, converting your own van should be significantly cheaper than any prebuild on the market, although you do need to be a bit clever about it. Some people have put together full conversions for as little as $1000 but it is also easy to waste money on the wrong materials or on making mistakes during the build.
You need to have a good plan in mind and know the basics about how the plumbing and electricity are going to work, or it could end up costing you in the long run. There is nothing more frustrating than having to carry out constant repairs while you’re on the road, and they can become quite expensive over time.
Fortunately, there are loads of resources out there, and people to speak to that love to help others on their journey to build the perfect travelling home. The process of converting a van can be an incredibly rewarding one, and the opportunity to learn new skills along the way is a bonus.
If you want a camper that is truly your own, a prebuilt option is never going to be as personalised and individual as something that you’ve built yourself. From the way it looks to the way it fits your exact needs, a conversion can be whatever you want it to be, and for many people that is the true value of building a van yourself.
Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build a Camper?
For a lot of people, the appeal of a camper van is that it’s an economic way of travelling that affords you great freedom at a reasonable price. A simple van that you can convert yourself (or even using a DIY conversion kit) is obviously much less expensive to buy than a prebuilt camper, but is it cheaper in the long run?
The answer is: it depends on you. It’s easy to lose significant amounts of money while you are working on a big project like a van conversion if you don’t have a plan in mind, and a van on its own is no small purchase. Dodgy builds where corners have been cut are also likely to start racking up repair bills pretty quickly.
However, if you set yourself a clear budget, invest the right amount of time and effort, and seek out the advice and expertise of others, converting your own camper will always be the cheaper option.
Do Camper Vans Keep Their Value?
Something else to consider when you are making this decision is what your camper is going to be worth in the future. Prebuilt camper vans usually hold their value very well, and some models even increase in value over time.
If you are converting a van yourself, you should theoretically be adding value, but exactly how much the end product is worth is not very reliable. Conversions are highly personalised and the build quality is not exactly certified in most cases, so the value of them can vary greatly. If you are looking for a reliable investment, prebuilt options are usually a better bet.
If you’re looking for a van that has everything you need and is ready to hit the open road, buying one that is prebuilt is always the way to go. Purchasing a van that is made for purpose gives you peace of mind, security, and often more features and amenities, but it will be much more expensive.
If you want a van that is specifically tailored for you – to your taste and style as well as your needs – converting a van yourself is a much better option, and it is a fun project besides. It is also much cheaper, as long as you budget properly and put your heart into it, although it does take considerable time and effort.
Whether you’re buying or building, a camper van is a ticket to freedom – it’s just a matter of deciding on what kind of price you want to pay.