Cargo Van Conversion: How much time to invest?



How long does it take and how much will it cost are the two questions most often asked. The answers are as unsatisfying as the questions.


A full cargo van conversion can be done in a couple of months. That probably includes a 6-day work week with long hours each day. Add to that a long period of planning and ordering of materials.

In all fairness, too many variables make it almost impossible to define a specific period in all cases. Some of the unknown factors are:

  • Design: Basic 2×4’s or more elaborate.
  • Skill set: Do you know how to use a hammer? How about plumbing? Electrical?
  • Tools: For all but the most basic design, a small workshop with a tablesaw, jointer and planer would be handy and time conserving.
  • Your job: Are you retired or will it be a weekend build?

No matter how you look at it, it is a big commitment. My personal approach is a gradual completion, where the initial installation of some basic items, such as a comfortable bed, toilet and plumbing, allow for the van to be used on short trips. Traveling during the build will show its deficiencies and will give you the opportunity to adjust the design as necessary. This however requires extensive and detailed planning.


costHow much a conversion costs, is almost as difficult to answer. Much depends on your expectations, the amount of outsourced work and the availability of the right tools.

A basic bed and a few cabinets will cost you a few hundred dollars and a couple of weekends to install. If you turn to professional layouts, native hardwoods and RV appliances, cost of a full conversion will quickly rise to $2,000-$4,000. Add to that some of the optional devices:

  • Heater: $75 – $2,500. Average $700.
  • Fridge: $200 – $1,800. Average $900.
  • Solar: $500 – $8,000. Average $2,500.
  • Toilet: $80 – $800. Average $250.
  • Cooktop, sink, etc.: $500 – $1,000.

My approach is to build to the best of my abilities, knowing that I will be satisfied with the results, install most, if not all, RV appliances for a finish that in some ways is equal or better than a factory build.

As time and completion are not critical, a frequent improvement of the interior will allow for trips during the early stages of the building process and the necessary time off to relax and re-energize for the next phase of the build.

Pay as you go

Building with a ‘loose’ schedule, also allows you to pay as you go, building when the funds become available, lessening the impact on your budget. It also enables you to wait for a sale and thus saving you a little more money.

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