Buying a standard passenger van and converting it to an RV – a van build – can be costly and labor-intensive. It can be worth it if you have the time and budget, but it’s also worth investigating whether building a van or purchasing a turn-key class B motorhome is more expensive.
So let’s explore that question in depth.
Why Van Life?
But wait – let’s back up and explore the pros and cons of van life. In other words, why would you choose this type of RV over others?
Pros of Van Campers
- Easy maneuverability. They’re the easiest type of RV to drive.
- Expanded camping options. Their compact size allows you to avoid most campground size restrictions.
- Improved fuel economy. Class B van campers are the most fuel-efficient type of RV.
- Minimalist living. Embrace doing more with less in a class B motorhome with limited storage space.
Cons of Van Campers
- Limited bathroom space. Most feature a wet bath, which combines the toilet and shower into a single space. Some models don’t include a toilet or shower at all, meaning you’ll need to find campgrounds with bathroom facilities or a gym membership for your hygiene needs.
- Minimal living space. Camper vans are built for 1-2 people to be comfortable inside on a rainy day.
- The stigma. This has changed a lot in recent years, but there can still be a stigma that follows folks that “live in a van down by the river.”
How Much Does it Cost to Build a Travel Van?
There are many ways to go about a van build, but they all begin with acquiring a chassis – your canvas for the rest of the build. The three primary chassis manufacturers for van campers are Ford, RAM, and Mercedes-Benz. If you’re interested in motorhomes built on these chassis, start with these resources:
- Class B RVs Built on a Ford Transit Chassis
- Class B RVs Built on a RAM ProMaster Chassis
- Class B RVs Built on a Mercedes-Benz Chassis
When starting a van build, most choose a chassis from one of these three manufacturers. Here are the starting prices for the Ford Transit, RAM ProMaster, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans (2023 models only):
These starting prices are for the van as it is – a passenger van. Each manufacturer offers various models, and prices vary depending on your choice of model and preferred features. But this provides a starting point for the cost of a new van build (used models are typically available for less).
Acquiring your canvas is just the start. You’ll then need to budget time and money for the build. Here’s a breakdown of a build completed by one of our favorite van lifers to follow – Two Roaming Souls.
- Electrical: $890.77
- Insulation: $380
- Kitchen Build: $1,196.17
- Solar Outfitting: $2,603.97
- Walls, Floor, and Ceiling: $502.31
- Bedroom Build: $293.03
- Cabinets, Closets, and Drawers: $300.82
- Tools and Supplies: $393.27
- Miscellaneous Costs: $884.47
To put this in perspective, they purchased a used van for a little over $10,000, keeping their total cost under $20,000 for their van build. They report working from roughly 7 am to 10 pm daily for two months in order to complete their build.
Because they completed their van build themselves, they didn’t factor labor costs into their breakdown. You’ll find professional van build companies out there charging anywhere from $15,000 to more than $200,000 for their build services.
How Much Do Class B RVs Cost?
You’ll always find outliers on either end of the spectrum, but Class B van campers range anywhere from roughly $90,000 to $250,000. Shopping for an affordable camper van requires patience and diligence.
Start by learning what to ask an RV salesperson:
Then, you’ll need to decide whether you want a gas or diesel motorhome:
From there, consider the pros and cons of buying used versus opting for a new van camper:
And ensure you know the basics of RV financing:
Our Favorite Class B RVs
Use those resources to compare three of our favorite Class B motorhomes:
Thor Compass 23TW
Technically a Class B+, the Compass 23TW provides a bit more luxury than your average van camper. It’s under 24 feet long and boasts a large slide-out on the driver’s side, dramatically expanding the interior living space when you’re parked.
It’s a rare camper van with a complete dry bath and comfortable sleeping space for up to three adults. It’s also equipped with large holding tanks for easy boondocking and a EuroFlex Murphy bed system that converts quickly when you’re done squeezing every ounce of adventure out of the day.
Thor Scope 18A
The Scope 18A from Thor Motor Coach is one of the best options for your first camper van. It’s meant for solo travelers or couples, but there are two extra passenger seats for kids or road trip guests.
The extra seats and foldable table with them wind up being the perfect place for your remote office if you’re diving into the life of a digital nomad. Plus, there’s a very functional kitchenette for meal prep and clean up.
Winnebago Travato 59G
Winnebago’s Travato 59G is one of the best-selling Class B motorhomes for couples. The bed folds over to the driver’s side to provide a full aisle for moving about the living area during the day.
The rear doors swing open, and it’s equipped with a fold-down screen for insect protection. There’s plenty of storage under the bed and a full wet bath inside for your restroom and shower needs.
How to Build a Camper Van
There are many ways to plan a van build. It depends on where you’re starting and your vision for the finished product. One of the best ways to learn about van builds is to follow those already doing it.
Here are a few of our favorite online personalities to follow if you want to learn more about building a van camper from the ground up:
Van Life Contents
Not sure if a van build is worth the time, energy, and money?
Head into your local Camping World to see if the right Class B RV awaits you. Our sales representatives can answer all your questions about features, amenities, navigation systems, financing, and more.
What questions do you have about van builds? Let us know in the comments below.