Gone are the days when roads were populated with only the occasional white van. Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that the number of vans on the roads in the UK in 2016 reached an all-time high of over four million, a 4.3% increase on the previous year.

And one of the best things about vans is their adaptability, so it’s no wonder that some new van owners are putting their engineering heads together to create their own dream conversions.

But how easy is the whole process? And is it worth the time, cost and effort? We found several impressive van conversions to investigate. Time to hit the road.

The couple’s conversion

Tom Harvey, 30, and his wife Yazmin Malcolm, 29, are currently honeymooning around San Sebastian and northern Spain in their van, which they converted for only £300 on top of the price of the van.

‘We transformed my really beaten up old banger into a, well, slightly prettier beaten up old banger, as well as adding a new starter motor and a drive belt. Our van had already been converted into a campervan by the previous owners. It had awful brown cupboards, which we both hated, so we painted them with cupboard paint from a local DIY shop, and we removed the lino flooring and replaced it with wood-effect lino. We ripped out the single bed and built a new bed frame to fit a small double futon mattress, and added blackout curtains – it’s now a real home away from home.

‘If anyone was thinking about making one change to their van, I’d tell them to paint the cupboards. It’s a quick and easy way to brighten up the campervan and transform it from a drab, outdated motorhome to a fresh, more modern (slightly) space.’

Amazing van conversions; Tom's story
Amazing van conversions; a gentleman's tale

Taking business on the road

Kenneth Chia, a 32-year-old tailor based in Singapore who travels regularly to the UK with his business, came up with the concept of his van renovation after realising he could take his entire showroom of tailored suits to his clients at their convenience. He now counts Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Bentley as corporate clients.

‘Thanks to our mobile showroom, our clients are able to see our fabric selection and samples, get measured and check the fit of their tailored items in the mirror. We instructed Dreamz Garage in Singapore with the renovation, which included fitting shelves, storage space, hanging racks, a mirror and lights. It was fairly extensive and cost just under £4,000 to fit out the entire back of the van, but it was worth every penny as it’s added so much value to my business.

‘Our biggest challenge was fitting all the fabric samples onto the shelf space, which we get around by bringing along a cabin-size suitcase containing more fabric samples. If I was considering doing something a little less expensive? I’d add a simple rack and compartments, so you can keep everything you need in your van without creating a mess.’

The home on wheels

Julian, 40, is an events programmer from Falmouth. He decided to convert his van into a mobile home after realising he was spending 70% of his wage on rent and utilities.

‘I spent £2,500 buying a Mercedes Sprinter LWB van, making sure it had a long MOT to avoid any unexpected mechanical issues and a fairly low mileage of 129,000. I set to work converting it into a living space for myself and my dog Frank, spending around £1,200-£1,400 on the conversion, which included adding a table that converts into a bed, a wood burner, a large solar panel and a kitchen with running water and a gas hob.

‘I was motivated to transform my van because I couldn’t afford to buy land or a home, but I could afford a home on wheels. Living in a van affords you total freedom – I travelled 10,000 miles around Europe four years ago in another van conversion – and it means I can work remotely.

‘A tip for anyone considering doing the same thing? I bought an old caravan for £200 and stripped it down for parts I could use in my conversion – the skylights, cupboards, water pump and fridge – and I sold anything I couldn’t use.’

Amazing van conversions; Julian's home on wheels
Amazing van conversions; Cocktail bar

Turning van conversion into a career

Oliver Gray, 31, converted his van to start his own mobile drinks business The Cocktail Car Company.

‘When I bought my 1978 VW Campervan, it hadn’t been driven for 20 years and was in a terrible condition. I had it restored and turned it into a fully functional mobile cocktail bar. The roof opens up and the side folds down to reveal a copper bar top. We also fitted a bottle fridge, sink and LED lighting.

‘I had the underneath welded and had new brakes, a new conditioned engine, new clutch, new fuel tank, chrome bumpers, Porsche alloys, and an alarm and immobiliser fitted. Nearly every panel was replaced and I had a candy-apple paint job. I bought the van for £4,000 and spent about £40,000 altogether, which is a lot of money but it’s been a great start to my business.

‘It was very stressful and everything seemed to cost twice as much as I’d expected, so I had to put the project on hold every now and then until I’d saved a bit more money. It took 18 months in total, but I’m so pleased with it that I’d recommend anyone who is thinking of doing the same to come to me – I’m hoping to start a fleet.’

The road trippers

Shelley Dobson, 46, moved from London to Leigh-on-Sea in Essex with her wife last year, partly to realise their dream of buying a van to convert.

‘After lots of research – including renting a van to go to a campervan trade show called VanFest in the Malvern Hills last year– we decided to bite the bullet and convert a VW Transporter T6 Kombi to take around Europe, followed by a three-month road trip with our dogs in the US, eventually shipping the van over to New Zealand where my wife is from.

‘We added a pop-off roof, cold running water, diesel heating, a cooking range, a fridge, a full-sized double bed and storage. The van is now very different to its previous life making airport transfers!

‘It was challenging because some conversion kits weren’t up to date with our fairly new van so, for example, the blinds didn’t fit. Also keeping on budget was difficult – it’s easy to get carried away and we ended up spending £50,000 – but we’re completely prepared for our road trip. My tip would be to get online if you’re thinking of doing the same. There are so many amazing tips on Pinterest and forums to help you do it yourself.

Amazing van conversion; Shelley's van

What to consider before doing it yourself

  • While these adaptations might be right for you, they may not be right for your insurance provider! Always remember that any modifications will affect your van insurance and may very well make it more expensive. Be sure to be truthful when detailing the changes you’ve made to your van when getting your insurance quote, as anything missed off could end up invalidating your cover.
  • As it’s a legal requirement that all UK-registered vehicles are classified correctly, you’ll need to return the van’s log book (V5C) to the DVLA for amendment once you’ve finished your conversion. You’ll also have to send them photographs of the completed conversion, a description of the work carried out, as well as any receipts.
  • Have you got the skills needed to convert a campervan? DIY fans will have no problem. But if you’re not too handy with a hammer, you should budget for a professional van conversion company to do the hard work for you, with prices starting at around £4,000.

Considering a conversion? Get a good deal on van insurance right here.

Looking for a quote?

Get a new van insurance quote in seconds and start saving

Get a quote