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Van life is becoming more and more popular every day. There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to live in a van full-time, but if you’re thinking about it yourself, there are some things you should know beforehand!
Here are four things to know before taking the plunge into van life:
- Choose a vehicle (2WD vs. 4WD) that fits your needs.
- Select charging and power supply options to power your van.
- Choose the right 4×4 chassis for your needs.
- Verify the needed interior height clearance/storage space.
Living in a 4×4 van can be really rewarding, but you should know some things first to do it. In this article, we’ll go over what you need to consider before hitting the road and give some possible options for accommodations.
1. Choose a Vehicle (2WD vs. 4WD) That Fits Your Needs
First of all, your van needs to meet specific safety requirements for living inside it. For example, the windows need to have privacy curtains, and there has to be a way that people can enter or exit without having to step on top of you.
Two-wheel drive vans are more common than four-wheel-drive vans, but the latter has more benefits on certain terrains.
In general, a two-wheel-drive van will be cheaper to purchase and less expensive to maintain over time. In addition, it is easier to park smaller two-wheel-drive vehicles, which can work well in urban areas.
By contrast, larger four-wheel-drive models can traverse rough terrain more efficiently while also being capable of carrying greater loads at once due to their increased size and strength of engines.
However, these extra features come with higher insurance premiums for drivers as they represent a riskier vehicle class that may require additional training by insurers. They may even require special licenses depending on state laws regarding driving offroad versus on-road transport options.
2. Select Charging and Power Supply Options to Power Your Van
Having your own off-road vehicle for forest or mountain adventures can be a lot of fun. You get to explore new places and see the sights from an entirely different perspective.
What’s more, you have complete freedom without having to worry about timetables or other people’s preferences because it is all up to you! The only downside might come when you need power for navigation equipment such as GPS devices, backup cameras, and media players in your car.
When living in a 4×4 van, you’ll need to be aware of how you can charge and power your devices. Fortunately, there are several options to choose from:
- You could use solar panels.
- Invest in power inverters for 12v batteries.
- You can use charge/boost cables.
It is essential to consider your options carefully, as using the wrong type of power supply could result in serious damage.
The most common option is using solar panels and inverters that convert DC into AC (alternating current). Solar panels can be one of the more expensive setups, but they are also reliable. In addition, you can add more panels to your setup later on if your power needs increase.
Personal note: I recently invested in a Renogy Premium Kit (400w) and I'm pleased with their customer support and the quality of their products.
The Renogy 400W 12V Premium Kit is the most economical choice for the off-grid adventurer. With the ability to access energy wherever there is sun, the options for your journey are limitless.
3. Choose the Right 4×4 Chassis for Your Needs
A chassis is a vehicle’s foundation. It provides the structure and support for all other components, including wheels, suspension system, engine, and transmission. Some of the most common chassis options in 4×4 van conversions include:
- Stamped or Hot-Rolled Steel – These are both great options when you’re looking to save some cash on your build project because they can be easily modified with relative ease, but if the metal isn’t in good shape, it might not make for a very reliable platform.
- Tube Framing – This is one of the most popular chassis types used in van conversions. It offers plenty of room for customizing into convertible layouts, including pop-top roofs, living space, and seating.
- Aluminum – is a strong metal with excellent corrosion resistance. However, it is not an efficient insulator against heat. It can be used to build body panels for custom vans, but care must be taken when welding the seams together because of its high thermal conductivity.
The type of chassis you choose will depend on your specific needs and what fits best with the rest of your build plan. When choosing a truck or van chassis that can be updated into an off-road capable rig, there are several options to consider.
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4. Verify the Needed Interior Height Clearance/Storage Space
One of the most important things to look for in a 4×4 van, something you’ll deal with daily if you’re living in your van full-time, is the interior height and space for storage.
Like most sprinter vans, some vans will allow you the comfort to stand up and walk around in the back. These vans may present some challenges when driving, but they’ll give you enough room to move around.
Conversely, if standing up isn’t an issue, then many other vans may be good options too! Here are some of the best brands to consider:
- Chevy Express (and its various iterations over time)
- VW Transporter or T30 and T31
- Ford e350
- Roadtrek SS Agile
Like most high-top conversions, other vans allow for a bit of storage space by cutting some of your headroom but giving you an extra foot or so of height on average. Having ample storage space is essential in a van so that you can keep all of your gear organized and out of the way!
It’s really up to you which is more important. You may find that vans like Sprinters are too tall for driving around town (due to their high center-of-gravity) but might be better options when on longer trips where standing up isn’t an issue.
Here are some of my favorite van build tools:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you build your own campervan. Here are some tools that I use daily while living on the road that made my life easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Electricity: When I first started my van life journey, I was using the Renogy 200W RV Kit, and I’ve recently upgraded my setup to the Renogy 400W RV Kit. I’m fully autonomous regarding power now, thanks to this upgrade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose this option from the beginning.
Quick Fixes: Whenever I need to fix something inside my van, I use my multitool from Victorinox. It’s compact and comes with a leather pouch that lets you store it wherever you want. Whenever I need more tools, I get my Cartmann toolset out.
Power tools: If you’re converting a van, you’ll need some serious tools for the building process. I can assure you, good power tools can make a huge difference. You’ll save time and avoid a lot of frustration while having some professional-looking final results. I personally went big with the full combo set from Dewalt.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van build, check out this resource that I made for you!