The Ultimate Guide to Building a DIY Camper Van on a Budget

The Ultimate Guide to Building a DIY Camper Van on a Budget

Posted by Heatso on 11th Apr 2023

Are you dreaming of hitting the road and exploring new places in your very own camper van but are worried about the cost of a professionally-built one? With careful planning, creativity, and a willingness to DIY, you can build your camper van on a budget.


Are you dreaming of hitting the road and exploring new places in your very own camper van but are worried about the cost of a professionally-built one? With careful planning, creativity, and a willingness to DIY, you can build your camper van on a budget. This guide will walk you through building your DIY camper van without breaking the bank.


Choosing the right van is one of the most important decisions you'll make when building a DIY camper van on a budget. While we have already covered the best vans for vanlife, there are certain steps you need to take to ensure you get the best bang for your buck.

Popular Vans for DIY Camper Van Builds

Some of the most popular vans for DIY camper van builds include the Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter. Unfortunately, depending on the configuration, these campers can be quite expensive.

Some budget-friendly options include the Chevy G series, Ford Ecoline, and Dodge RAM. These vans are popular because they offer ample space and can be converted into comfortable living spaces without costing an arm and a leg.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Budget Van


Before you buy a van, it's essential to research its reliability. A quick Google search can help you determine if there are any red flags about vans from that year or any common maintenance issues. Car forums are an excellent resource for finding information about specific vehicles.


Older vans often have more miles, but that doesn't always mean they're a bad choice. Well-maintained, older vans can last 150,000 miles or more, and diesel vehicles can run even longer. However, it's important to be aware that some vans have had their mileage "rolled over," where the odometer shows a lower number than the actual mileage.


Rust can be a significant issue for camper vans, as it dissolves metal and eventually causes structural damage, making the van unsafe to drive. Avoid any vans with visible rust, and be wary of purchasing vehicles from snowy climates, where rust develops more quickly. Be sure to thoroughly inspect any van you're considering for signs of rust.

Maintenance Records

Maintenance records can give you an idea of any potential issues the van may have and can also help you determine if it's been serviced regularly. When looking for a budget camper van, be sure to ask for maintenance records and thoroughly review them before making a purchase.


Before starting your camper van conversion, it's important to list your needs and wants. This will help you prioritize your build and ensure you don't overspend on features you don't need.

Your needs are the essential features your camper van must have to meet your basic requirements. Some common needs include a bed, kitchen, bathroom, and power source. Check out our list of 5 van life essentials for more details on the core components of your motorhome.

Your wants are the features that you would like to have in your camper van but are not essential. Some common wants include entertainment features like a TV or Wi-Fi and extra features like a roof rack or bike rack.

By making a list of your needs and wants, you can ensure that you're building a camper van that meets your essential requirements without overspending on non-essential features.


When building a camper van on a budget, it's important to keep things simple and minimalistic. This helps you save money and makes maintaining and traveling with your camper van easier. 


Instead of building a complex bed frame, consider using a platform or foldable bed. You can use foam or an air mattress to make your bed more comfortable. If you’re struggling with your bed, Bearfoot Theory’s Camper Van Bed Ideas is a great piece for inspiration.

Thetford Porta Potti 565E
Portable Toilet

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Thetford Porta Potti Qube 365
Portable Toilet

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Toilet and Shower

If you're on a tight budget, you can skip building a bathroom and opt for portable camping toilets and outdoor showers. The Thetford 565E and Qube 365 are affordable, compact options that can be easily tucked away when not used. Alternatively, you can install a basic composting toilet and a DIY shower system to save money.


We have recenty released an in-depth guide about the vanlife kitchen, mentioning necessary equipment, as well as tips and tricks. To summarize, a kitchen has to have at least 3 components: a fridge, a stove, and a sink.

We suggest using a built-in fridge like the Indel B CR49 instead of a portable cooler, even if you’re on a budget. Our in-depth refrigerator guide weighs all the pros and cons of a 12V fridge vs. a portable cooler, so you can make an informed decision.

Indel B OFF CR 49
49-liter Refrigerator/Freezer

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Indel B OFF CR 65
65-liter Refrigerator/Freezer

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EcoFlow 400W
Foldable Solar Panel

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EcoFlow 160W
Foldable Solar Panel

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Solar Power System

A solar power system is a great way to power your camper van while off-grid. Renewable energy is a sustainable and budget-friendly power source. If you're concerned about the environment, we recently wrote a blog about making your RV more sustainable with solar power.

Although the initial investment is large, a good solar system will pay itself off in just a year or two. Even a single 400W foldable solar panel can save you hundreds of dollars of shore power fees.


Using second-hand and DIY materials can help you save significantly when building a camper van on a budget. If you know where to look, you can get many of the materials you need cheaper or even for free.

Second-hand Materials

  • Salvage Yards: Look for salvage yards specializing in RV and camper van parts. You can often find used cabinets, sinks, and other fixtures at a fraction of the cost of new ones.
  • Online Classifieds: Search online classifieds like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for used RV and camper van parts.
  • Friends and Family: Ask your friends and family if they have any spare materials you can use for your camper van conversion.

DIY Materials

  • Plywood: Plywood is a versatile material that can be used for walls, flooring, and cabinets. It's relatively inexpensive and easy to work with.

  • Pallet Wood: Pallet wood can be used to create a rustic look for your camper van. You can use it for walls, flooring, and even furniture.

  • PVC Pipes: PVC pipes can be used to create a simple and inexpensive plumbing system for your camper van.

You can save money and create a unique, personalized camper van using second-hand and DIY materials. Remember, it's not about having the fanciest materials but rather about creating a comfortable and functional space on a budget.


The key to building a budget camper van is to keep things simple and minimalistic. Focus on your needs rather than your wants, and choose second-hand and DIY materials whenever possible. By doing so, you can save money and create a camper van that is comfortable and functional.

Don't forget to enjoy the journey. Building a camper van is a labor of love, and the process can be just as rewarding as the finished product. So take your time, enjoy the process, and create a camper van that reflects your personality and sense of adventure.