VW camper van with pop top against mountain background - buying a camper van
Family travel, Travel tips & gear

Top tips for buying a camper van or day van

If you are thinking of buying a camper van or a day van and are wondering where to start, you have come to the right place.

We are the proud owners of a VW Transporter T5, which we had converted into a day van in 2019.

Read on for our tips on finding a van to convert into a camper van or day van, what questions you should ask when buying a camper van, how much budget you need and other things that may have popped into your mind at this exciting time.

If you are thinking of buying a camper van or a day van and are wondering where to start, you have come to the right place. Here's what you need to know about buying a VW transporter or van into a camper van or day van #camper #camping #campervan #conversion #tips #ideas #needtoknow #VW #transporter #dayvan #travel #inspiration #travelblog #TinBoxTraveller #motorhome #layout #ideas #vanlife

How we can to buying a camper van

It was a sad day when we said goodbye to our caravan in 2018. We’d had some brilliant touring adventures and in the months that followed we missed it dearly.

But the fact was it just wasn’t the right time for us to own this type of Tin Box. Mr Tin Box’s job was taking him away from home more, I can’t tow and the cost of keeping a caravan that we would rarely use was becoming silly.

However, touring is in our blood, so it wasn’t too long before we began considering our options.

I’ve written about our caravan vs camper van deliberations before.

Things to consider when you buy a camper van

How you are going to use this recreational vehicle will be a big impact on the final van and layout you choose. Here’s some things to consider when buying a camper van:

Using your camper van

Are you going to use your camper for holidays and how often? Or will you be using it for day trips? Does it need to be your family car too?

Seat arrangements

How many seats do you need? And do you require ISOfix for kids?

Are you happy for the kids to sit back in the vehicle or do you want them directly behind the front seats like they would be in a traditional car?

Sleeping in your camper van

How will you all sleep in the van? Do you want to consider a pop top bedroom, rock and roller bed, or will anyone be sleeping in an awning?

I’ve written more about how we sleep in our VW T5 van.

Do you need a kitchen and bathroom?

Do you want a fitted kitchen and bathroom? Or are you OK with using campsite facilities?

What living space do you need?

Is it essential that you have living space in your van or will you mainly be using it to sleep in?

Buying a camper van in the UK

In 2019 we decided the time was right to look for a camper van that would also serve as a family car – allowing us to pack up quick and go on an adventure if we wanted.

A kitchen and bathroom wasn’t essential but ISOfix seats for the kids were. And we’d be adding an awning for the extra living space we needed on longer holidays.

How we found our camper van

After what seemed like months of trawling Autotrader, we (Mr Tin Box) found our van: a VW Transporter T5. It was up for sale with Van Haven – a VW Transporter specialist in Dorset.

VW Transporter T5 van

We popped in on our way to CarFest South with the intension of looking but not buying. You know that pre-huge purchase conversation that you have as a couple: ‘don’t get too excited!’.

Well, we did. And three days later we had bought our new Tin Box and were chatting through the details of the camper van conversion with the team at Van Haven.

In the end we decided on a day van layout, as the vehicle will also be our family car, and this offered maximum flexibility. Mr Tin Box and I got a huge bed in the back and the girls got a funky set of bunk beds that go in the cab.

Read more about out VW Transporter beds. Here’s an overview:

We’ll think about whether to do the full camper van conversion (with permanent kitchen facilities) another time.

We were super-excited to pick up our newly converted day van. The girls especially after they got sit in it when we visited Van Haven.

Tin Box kids in van

Now it has been done up they have their proper car seats, which is an advantage over motorhomes as we’re yet to find one where ISOfix child seats can be fitted.

Here is our van during its conversion from being a work vehicle into a day van for us. Thanks to Van Haven for sending the pictures!

VW Transporter T5 van
Interior of VW Transporter T5
Radio in from of VW Transporter T5

Now I thought it might be helpful to share some of our tips for how we got to this point for anyone also considering buying a camper van or day van. So here we go:

How do you find a camper van or van to convert?

When we started looking we were overwhelmed with the options available. There are so many base vans, layouts, modifications and opportunities to buy new and secondhand.

We had to really think about our budget, how we wanted to use the van, what was nice to have and what was essential.

If you are buying new then talk to manufacturers and maybe visit an exhibition like the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC.

Camper vans at the Caravan Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC

If you are looking for something secondhand then Autotrader, Gumtree and Ebay are good sites to trawl.

Then there is the VW dealer network and their approved used vehicles, and also other van sales franchises. This may be a more expensive route but you are likely to have some sort of limited warranty to fall back on.

Alternatively you can go through a conversion company. There are many conversion companies around the UK, large and small. We went for Van Haven.

Most will have pre-built conversions ready to drive away. Others will have vans in stock ready to convert and most will also offer to source a van for you. You’ll also have a warranty.  It’s always good to have a look at the quality of work produced as it can vary widely.

Read all the pros and cons to each type of camper van search.

What questions should you ask when buying a camper van?

If you are looking to buy a pre-built camper van or a secondhand camper van then there are some questions it’s worth asking before you strike a deal:

  • Who did the conversion?
  • Is it registered as a camper van? Ours won’t be because it doesn’t have a permanently fitted means of cooking
  • What is the registration number? This is important so you can check previous MOT and run vehicle data checks
  • Does it have a habitation certificate or gas safety certificate?
  • What was the base vehicle?
  • What manufacture are the roof and bed?

Getting answers to these questions will give you reassurance and the information you need to do further research on the vehicle before committing your cash.

Find out more about the things you need to ask when buying a camper van or a day van.

How much budget should you set aside to convert a van?

How long is a piece of string? This topic is worth a blog post in itself and very much depends on your dream camper van specification list!

Things to think about when you are drawing up your budget include:

  • Lining out and insulation
  • A drive away awning – we have the OLPRO Cocoon Breeze
  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Pop Top
  • Bed
  • Electrics and gas
  • Heating
  • Windows
  • Detailing, bodywork and seats
  • Wheels and suspension
  • Accessories and awnings

Here’s my full list of camper van essentials to pack for your trips.

Potential extra costs

Of course, there’s not just the buying a van and converting it to think about. Also factor in the cost of:

  • insurance
  • road tax
  • fuel
  • servicing and MOTs
  • roadside assistance

If your camper van isn’t your primary vehicle these costs all add up.

More tips about camper van life

Read more of our posts about camper van life:

If you are thinking of buying a camper van or day van I hope you’ve found this post useful. Let me know if you have any questions not covered here and we’ll let you know what we’ve done or point you in the right direction.

All that’s left now is to start having adventures.

For more travel advice and reviews take a look at my tips for smashing travel with kids and sign up to my newsletter.

Planning your own camper van adventures? Why not use Pinterest to save this post about buying a camper van or day van.

If you are thinking of buying a camper van or a day van and are wondering where to start, you have come to the right place. Here's what you need to know about buying a VW transporter or van into a camper van or day van #camper #camping #campervan #conversion #tips #ideas #needtoknow #VW #transporter #dayvan #travel #inspiration #travelblog #TinBoxTraveller #motorhome #layout #ideas #vanlife