So you’ve had enough of seeing other peoples photos and fantasising about the gypsy van life, and you’ve decided its time to get yourself a van. You need to decide if you want one for short trips and weekends away, or if you want to uproot your life to move into a van completely. When browsing sites like gumtree, ebay, craiglist etc. you’ll notice a variety of different set-ups and fit-outs and it can be kind of confusing. Do you want to buy a van and build the fit-out yourself? Or do you just want one thats ready to go? Either way, I’ve come up with a few points that I’d recommend you investigate on each van you inspect before throwing money at anybody!
Is it mechanically sound?
A lot of camper vans these days are 80’s model Toyota Hiaces, Ford Econovans, Mitsubishi Expresses etc which in most cases is a good thing, because old engines don’t have fancy technology/computers, so labour is usually inexpensive. But you obviously don’t want to get stuck with a van that needs hundreds of dollars of repair. If you’re not mechanically minded I’d suggest taking a friend that knows their stuff with you to inspect the vans.
Check for rust and leaks. If the van has spent a lot of time on the coast there is most likely going to be some rust, or some dodgily repaired rust spots. Rust is ok in small doses as long as it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the body of the van. Again, take someone who can judge this! Another major factor to consider are leaks – check the door seals, have they perished? If you’re going to be travelling in the van you’ll experience all kinds of weather and the last thing you want is a leak inside the van! For pop-top vans – don’t forget to check for any damp spots on the canvas in the pop-top. This could mean that it was installed poorly and again could have a leak.
Can you be self-sufficient? I suppose this depends what you have inside your van. We have a TV and power points that run off the second battery that we installed and charge our phones, laptops and cameras from. We never have to pay for a powered campsite for this reason! If you’ve just got a weekender van with a gas stove and a few LED lights then this won’t an issue for you, but if you want the full get-up and to be able to park anywhere and not have to plug in, you’re gonna need a second battery. It will cost you a few hundred dollars but is well worth the freedom. Installing our second battery and inverter was the best thing we ever did. The car runs off the first battery, and everything else off the second battery. This ensures that you can NEVER drain your car battery and get stranded. An alarm will sound when the second battery drops below fifty percent of its capacity and you can just run the car for a while to top it up again. This usually happens to us after being stationary somewhere for two days. Every time you drive, the batteries charge like usual and its basically an endless self-sufficient power supply.
If you’re going to spend lots of time in the van, you probably want it to have a high top or a pop-top so you can stand up inside. Nothing is worse than having to move around inside the van like a hunchback. Does the layout of the van suit your purpose? Do you want the bed at the front, back or up high? How many people can sleep in it comfortably? Is there enough storage for all of your gear?
Are you planning on parking overnight at beaches, rivers, mountains and all of the other beautiful places that the government likes to slap with huge ‘no overnight stays’ signs? If so, you probably want a plain van that maintains some degree of subtlety. Sure, it’s still a van, but at least it’s not plastered with pink peace signs, flowers, flames or other cliche murals! Let’s face it, they may look pretty but unless you want to pay to stay at crowded campgrounds every night you’re gonna have to compromise on the pretty-ness of your van so that you have a better chance at front row tickets to the sunrise.
Anyway, I could probably continue but there’s really no need to complicate things. Just try to imagine all of the things you do in one day, and visualise if you would be able to do the same things in your van. It’s easy to forget the smaller details when you’re caught up in a fantasy about being a nomad. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to ask us anonymously here or contact us here!