Converting your own campervan can be a super fun, exciting process, and it can save you loads of money. With the best van for camping conversion, you can easily add a bed, storage, kitchen gear, and everything else you need for your Australian adventures.
I'm something of a van fanatic, and I always seem to have a conversion project on the go. I've drawn on my experience - along with in-depth research - to deliver the following guide to choosing the best vans for conversions. You will also find a list of my favourite vans along with a few extra resources for further reading.
My Van Life Story
I'm an avid traveller, and I was bitten by the travel bug at a young age. The year after I left school, I decided to head to Tasmania for a few months. Although I didn't own a van on this trip, I bought a small car and a tent, and I started developing my love for campers and life on the road.
Since then, I've progressed a long way. My first real camper was a nifty Toyota Townace 4WD van, a rare vehicle imported from Japan. It was a late 80's model, and it came fully decked out with a red velvet interior and retro brown trim. I spent many a month travelling with this van and my then-partner until the engine finally blew days after finishing a lap around Australia. This would have been around the end of 2016.
Another favourite of mine was a 1990's 4WD Nissan Urvan. This one was another rare vehicle, and it went most places an ordinary 4WD would. After hours of work fitting it out and two trips across the Nullabor, I eventually sold it before heading overseas for a time.
I currently have a 1998 Mitsubishi Express with a basic fit-out, but I really only use this for short weekend or week-long trips in my corner of Australia. Ideas for a new camper are in the works, so watch this space!
How To Choose The Best Camper Van
Choosing the best camper van can be a rather difficult process. Not only will you be spending a significant chunk of money, but you will also have to decide what features you need. Some vehicles are quite small, with little more than a bed and a small benchtop - my Mitsy Express is a great example of this. Others, like the Toyota Hiace, have way more space for storage, a kitchen, and in some cases, even a small shower or bathroom.
Here, I've provided as much guidance as I can to ensure you get your hands on the perfect model. Consider the following:
Now, budget is an extremely important one when you're looking for a new camper. If you're planning to convert your own van, you will need to ensure you leave room for conversion costs in your budget.
You can also expect to pay anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars for the vehicle itself. If you're a mechanically-minded person who doesn't mind driving an older vehicle, you might be able to pick up a basic tradies van for a couple of thousand dollars. New Mercedes-Benz or Toyota vans can reach $100,000 plus.
A general rule of thumb that I've heard thrown around a fair bit is that you should spend 2/3 of your budget on your van and 1/3 on your conversion.
There's no point in spending tens of thousands of dollars on a cheap van that could die at any time.
DIY vs Pre-Built
Another important thing to think about is whether you really want to convert your own van. Don't get me wrong - conversions are great fun for some people - but even basic handyman work can become quite difficult if you don't have the right tools or experience.
Yes, pre-built campers do cost more, but it's often worth paying the extra amount. Something I've done a couple of times to save a bit of money is bought an old but already fitted-out camper and given it a little love before hitting the road. It's amazing what a quick mechanic's visit and a few coats of paint can do to spruce up a well-loved camper.
There are a few important things to think about here, and you need to spend some time to ensure you get a van that's large enough.
Roof heights vary significantly, and some vans are tall enough for you to stand upright. Others include a pop-top design to boost the roof height while you're parked up.
In general, a longer van is better, as it provides extra space for storage and activities. Longer vans also enable you to add a kitchen and/or bathroom facilities as required, and they just have a much roomier feel.
The width isn't as important, but one crucial thing to consider is which way you want to orient your bed. Wider vans enable you to lay across the van rather than longways, which means that your bed will take up much less space.
4wd Vs 2wd
If you like going offroad, you will need a 4wd van. These aren't all that common, but they are out there. Most 4wd models tend to be a little small, but they remain excellent vans for campervan conversion - especially if you enjoy getting off the beaten track like I do!
One popular 4wd van that you'll often see around is the Mitsubishi Delica. Less common models like the Nissan Urvan and the Toyota TownAce pop up from time to time.
Generally, larger models use more fuel than smaller vans. And if your base vehicle has a high fuel consumption, the chances are that it will use even more when it's kitted out with extra weight.
Do some research here, and speak with other van users about their experiences if possible. Obviously, the more fuel-efficient your vehicle is, the cheaper it will be to run.
Diesel Vs Petrol
Ahh, the age-old debate. Which is better? Petrol or diesel?
Really, it depends. Most revheads prefer one type of engine or the other, but both have their merits.
For example, vehicles with petrol engines usually have more power, are cheaper to maintain, and are more affordable on average to start with.
Diesel engines are known for their reliability and low fuel consumption, but they are usually more expensive. Keep in mind that a turbo diesel (TD) engine will have a lot more power than a standard or naturally aspirated one.
Here's where things get really fun when it comes to campervans. Some popular vans for camper conversion are actually quite hard to get parts for. Or else, they are very expensive to fix when they do break - take the Mercedes Sprinter as an example.
On the other hand, there are plenty of models that are very cheap to fix, with loads of parts available at wreckers and from aftermarket retailers across the country.
One thing I will note here is to be very careful of imported vans. I had to replace the transmission in my 4wd Toyota TownAce at one point, and I couldn't find another one in Australia. In the end, I had to pay $5000+ to have it professionally rebuilt.
Safety & Security
Since your camper is effectively going to become your home on wheels, it's important to get something that's secure. This means quality interior locking, an alarm, and a working immobiliser (if these aren't mandatory in your state/territory).
Safety should also be a consideration since the chances are that you're going to be travelling a lot of km in your van. Try to get a model with a decent safety rating, all else being equal.
Last, but certainly not least, comes towing. If you're anything like me, you will sometimes want to tow a boat or a small trailer behind your van, especially if you're going somewhere coastal for a while. To do this, you will need a model with a decent towing capacity.
In general, this means that you will have to get a larger van if you want to take a boat along on your road adventure. However, 4wd models often have a high towing capacity for their size.
7 Best Vans For Camp Conversions
Now, this is a bit of a difficult topic to approach, as not only do we have to consider the best vans, but which models of these vans are the most appropriate for campervan conversion. For example, a 1990's model of one particular make could have a very different shape and size from a 2020 model.
With this in mind, I've outlined the best vans for conversion, highlighting the most appropriate models, how much you can expect to pay (note, this can vary significantly from state to state), and other things to watch out for.
1. Toyota Hiace - Best Overall Van For Camping Conversion
The good old Toyota Hiace has been performing in tough Australian conditions for decades, and it's my number one choice for campervan conversion. There are multiple sizes available, ranging from minivans that are hardly big enough for one person to long wheelbase models with ample space and high ceilings.
But the thing I really like about the Hiace is its reliability. Turbo diesel Toyota engines are known to do 500,000km plus, which means that even older models tend to just keep chugging along. They're also a really common van, which makes it easy to get parts if you do have a breakdown.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $4,999 - $93,988
Length: 5265 - 5915mm
Height: 1990 - 2280mm
Height (Internal): 1615mm max
4x4 Option: Yes (Rare)
2. Ford Transit - Best Large Van For Camping Conversion
The Ford Transit is another super popular van that's widely used as a commercial vehicle across Australia. It's a little larger than the Hiace, which means that there's plenty of space for a bathroom, kitchen, and living area. The large flat roof is perfect for solar panels, and the 2025 maximum height gives you plenty of head space and enables you to stand comfortably inside.
The main downside of the Ford Transit is it isn't as reliable as some of the other vehicles on this list - in my opinion, at least - but at least it's easy to find parts and perform basic maintenance.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $4,999 - $129,000
Length: 5981 - 6704mm
Height: 2543 - 2790mm
Height (Internal): 1786 - 2025mm
4x4 Option: No
3. Mercedes Sprinter - Best Luxury Van For Camping Conversion
The Mercedes Sprinter has long been the pinnacle of campervan luxury, and it's an attractive model to perform your own conversion on. It comes in a range of lengths and roof heights, and most models come with a powerful turbo diesel engine.
On the downside, it's a little more expensive than most other vans. However, the Sprinter is an excellent long-term option that you can rely on for years to come.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $5000 - $162,000
Length: 5267 - 7367mm
Height: 2365 - 2831mm
Height (Internal): 2243mm max
4x4 Option: No
4. Mitsubishi Delica - Best 4WD Option
Ahh, the good old Delica, probably one of the most unwieldy-looking vans I've ever seen. It's an older model, but it's arguably the best readily-available 4WD van on the market.
The main downside is that it's small, but you might have to make this sacrifice if you want to be able to explore offroad. You will also find that most Delicas are already fitted out, and it's certainly not the cheapest van for its age.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $3,500 - $50,900
Length: 4,595 - 5,085mm
Height: 1,855 - 2,070mm
Height (Internal): Varies significantly
4x4 Option: Yes
5. Mitsubishi Express - Best Budget-Friendly Van
If you've found yourself with a tight budget and just want a simple van that will let you hit the road, you can't go past the Mitsubishi Express. Yes, it's small, but it's readily available, and you should be able to pick up an older model for under $2,000 if you keep your eyes open - these are snapped up pretty quickly though!
I've got a little Express at the moment, and I love it. Granted, there's hardly enough room for a mattress and a little kitchenette, but I've done countless weekend trips in it over the last 18 months, and it's perfect for what I need.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $2,950 - $58,990
Length: 4999 - 5399mm
Height (Internal): ?
4x4 Option: No
6. Renault Master - Best Van For Long-Term Living
The Renault Master is one of the larger vans on the market, which makes it the perfect option for a spacious camper conversion. With the right design, you should be able to install a bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, with ample living space left over.
It's also surprisingly fuel efficient, the roof height is among the best available, and it features a reliable turbo diesel engine. The main downside is this model's low ground clearance, which can make it difficult to manoeuvre around campgrounds.
But in my opinion, this vehicle is as close to the dream you'll get if you want a spacious camper conversion for long-term living.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $8,000 - $94,500
Length: 5075 - 6875mm
Height: 2310 - 2808mm
Height (Internal): 1700 - 2048mm
4x4 Option: No
7. Volkswagen Transporter - Best For Solo Travellers
The Volkswagon Transporter is a popular mid-sized option that's perfect for solo travellers. The all-wheel drive model has decent off-road capabilities, and it features a turbo diesel engine that has great fuel economy.
For me, the main benefit of the Transporter over the larger models on my list is that it's that little bit smaller and easier to get around in. It can be pretty hard to drive a larger van in heavy traffic, so keep this in mind if you're not the most confident driver.
Carsales.com.au Price Range: $3,850 - $130,000
Length: 4904 - 5304mm
Height: 1990 - 2477mm
Height (Internal): 1410 - 1940mm
4x4 Option: No
Places That Convert Vans For You
If you don't feel like you have the skills, experience, or time to convert your own van, you can always get a professional to do it for you. You will find van conversion specialists in every major city and many larger towns, and I'd suggest doing a quick Google search to find the best options near you.
Van conversion companies are quite a new thing, and there aren't any chains or large businesses offering country-wide services at the current point in time. To choose a reliable option, pay attention to past customer reviews, ask for photos of their work, and ensure they have the appropriate skills and equipment to do a good job.
Van Go, a Sydney-based company, is an excellent example of what you should be looking for.
The best overall van for campervan conversion in Australia is the trusty Toyota Hiace. It's reliable, versatile, and built to cope with Australia's tough conditions. If you want a larger model, the Ford Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter present as attractive options, while the Mitsubishi express is an excellent choice if you're on a tight budget.
There are loads of different vans on the market, and the chances are that the best one for you isn't on this list. Spend some time doing some research, don't be afraid of buying an older model if you want to save some money, and above all, enjoy yourself while you're building your new home on wheels!
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.