Considering Van Life? Here is some information on how much money van life costs to start up and to sustain.
Van life costs can vary depending on what van you choose and where you want to travel to. A typical van conversion can easily cost you around £10000. Here I will explain a few details that will outline the common expenses.
Lets assume you are starting from scratch and looking to know how much money to save to get started with a Van Life lifestyle.
Buying a suitable van
There is a huge variety of different vans out there for you to chose from. Some already converted and some even factory built as a motorhome already and equipped with all mod-cons.
The main key factor when buying a used van is to buy a reliable one. Trust me you don’t want to end up breaking down in the middle of nowhere and you will be doing some distance in your van.
Check the service history and receipts
A regularly serviced engine is usually going to give you a longer lifespan. Check the paper work for regular services and oil changes.
The MOT advisories are a good indication on forthcoming repairs that may need to be carried out. Check over the last 5 years to see if anything was flagged up and if so check for a receipt to see if the advisory has ever been repaired.
Its also useful to look for the age of the batteries as some motor homes or camper vans can have as many as 4 batteries and these can be expensive to replace.
If the van has any gas appliances installed, check that the install has been carried out or signed off by a certified gas safe engineer.
I personally would be very cautious of buying a van, converted or not, that doesn’t have reassuring history. Could you imagine spending all that money converting a van and then find a terminal problem. Ouch!
Have a mechanic or engineer take a look if you are not confident
Even if you have to pay for a professional mechanic to take a look its worth it. Buying a van to travel in will be expensive and is an investment. Do not hold back on getting it checked over properly.
Buy a van with an MOT
This almost goes without saying. Why would someone sell a van without an MOT. The exception would be that you could be buying it to fix up from scratch, therefore you would know exactly what you are doing already and not even need to read this post.
If there is a genuine reason such as a license to drive or tax issue then it could be worth making a deal with the seller that you take it for an MOT at your cost and if all is well you will complete the purchase.
Check forums for common faults
Forums and social media groups are a perfect place to research your potential van and you can even ask what typically goes wrong with that make and model of van.
Be wary of opinionated replies, as it is common for people to have opinions on certain makes!
Be rust aware!
Rust is the biggest killer of vans. Once rust starts its very difficult to contain and usually the only way to deal with it is to cut it out. Check under the doors, under the side on the van and also on the inside of the wheel arches. As per the previous comments on checking forums, definitely look up common areas that rust on that particular model of van.
Converting your van
How much does a van conversion cost? Do not underestimate just how expensive a full van conversion will cost. It is usually around the same cost of what your van cost you in the first place. Much of the expense comes from the wood involved for the flooring, the cladding on the walls and ceiling, and the materials for the insulation such a celotex. On top of these essential materials you will be amazed how much money you spend on hidden materials such as screws, paint, sealant and even tools and drill-bits!
It is essential that you make sure your van is well insulated, and lined with a heat reflective foil. This helps with not only keeping warm but also with keeping cool. If your van is poorly insulated, even the smallest gap can let a huge draft in and rapidly cool your van in seconds.
By spending more time and money on a quality insulation, not only will you be comfortable at night but you will also be reducing condensation problems that lead to damp, mould and rust problems.
Once you have spent out on the insulation materials, you will need to look at flooring options. This can be quite expensive depending on what you want for your flooring.
Carpet flooring in a van is not recommended, it becomes damp easily and mud will get everywhere. It is far better to look at wooden, vinyl, or lino as a van life flooring option. These types of flooring give you the option of wiping and sweeping clean and also are far better for sealing in water. Sure go ahead and get yourself a nice mat to keep your feet cosy.
If you are building a toilet / shower area in your van, be warned at the cost of waterproof plastic cladding that would make up the walls.
Plumbing costs can be quite pricey too! Depending on whether you are hoping for hot water as well as the cold as hot water heaters can be expensive and must include adequate ventilation.
Once the basic essential of your conversion are complete, the cost of the mod-cons can also add up, particularly if you install a fridge!
How much does a van conversion cost? I would honestly say that you should expect to spend at least £4000 / $5000 / €4500 on a basic conversion. If you are looking for a high quality conversion you can double that!
Insuring and taxing your van
How much does it cost to insure a converted van? This depends on the type of van conversion you have but a great tip is to look in to changing the class of your van to “motor home”. This will give you both cheaper insurance and cheaper tax, however this comes at a cost of ensuring your van looks like a motor home. In order to pass these regulations you will need to cover your van in motor home style graphics so that is identifiable as a camper van. This takes away from the stealth camping options as it will be a lot more obvious that someone is inside.
For travelling through various different countries you should check with your insurer that you will be covered to drive in those countries. Additional costs may be necessary to even cross through borders. On that note, always make sure you have with you at all times:
- Your driving license
- Your V5C ( Registration Document)
- A current MOT certificate
- Your insurance certificate
- Your passport
- An international driving permit (if required)
Quitting your day job and hitting the road
The thought of quitting your day job is always going to be daunting. You will potentially be a salary down and you will either be eating in to your savings or you will be confident that your online business is going to provide you enough income to afford your adventure or possibly just your nomadic living.
The best advice is to NOT quit your day job until you have IN DETAIL worked out your finances and have an in depth plan to maintain your living and running costs.
Maintaining your van
General running costs of you van in comparison to renting or mortgaging a house is significantly lower. so long as you have your van regularly serviced and have good knowledge of previous work carried out, then you should find maintenance costs fairly low. However, the maintenance costs can really catch you off guard if you are not prepared. I would always recommend you hold back some savings. You never know when you might get a tyre puncture or a battery die on you.
Batteries can can fail during the cold weather as well as not maintaining an adequate charge. They aren’t cheap to replace either, at least not the quality long life ones! The worst thing is that they show no real signs of failure and just stop working! There’s an unexpected couple of hundred to fork out!
Definitely make sure you have breakdown cover. If your van doesn’t start one morning at least can get the help and support of a mechanic. Worst case, should they not get you started, they will tow you to the nearest garage for repairs.
Keeping your engine and serviceable parts regularly maintained will ensure that you have minimal maintenance costs and give you a reliable ride on your journeys.
Maintaining your living
Just like the maintenance of your van, you are going to need to maintain your own lifestyle needs. From keeping warm to keeping hydrated, there are still going to be costs involved.
Its not that easy to know when your gas canister will run out. There are some gadgets out there that give you an indication but they are never that accurate. Personally I like to have a standby bottle for when it does run out, especially when I was running a propane propex heater. The last thing I ever wanted was to get caught out on a cold night with no heat! Usually the gas canisters have a one off cost and you exchange the old canister for a full one at a lower refill cost.
Water is the bane of van life! Like me you will find you are forever looking to top up your water. It runs out so quickly! Usually friends and family wont mind you topping up when you are visiting, but otherwise the hunt for water can be a serious annoyance!
Many fuel stations have a paid meter where you can top up but its not usually clean drinking water so you will need a quality filter inline with your water system. I recommend a double filter to be on the safe side if you are drinking water from fuel stations, roadside taps etc.
I used to find myself drinking bottled water most of the time, which I hated because of the environmental impact from the plastics, but since investing $52 / £40 / €42 in my double filter water system I now really enjoy the clean purified water from my own van tap.
I have owned various different heaters in the past but my favourite and most efficient has been my eberspacher. The diesel heater itself will cost you around $1600 / £1200 / €1400 and can be challenging to fit if you chose to do it yourself, otherwise you will need a skilled engineer to carry out the fitting. Yes they are expensive in the first place but, the overall by the time you have spent money on an alternative such as a Propex night heater alongside regular refills of propane, the Eberspacher eventually works out as a cheaper alternative. Not only that but it uses diesel from your main tank so you always have a good indication on how much fuel you have to power it and you wont need to keep topping up your gas which is an annoying inconvenience at times.
Saying that, the Propex night heater is a great heater and only costs around $790 / £600 / €710 but is also quite challenging to fit unless you have some technical experience. Do not forget to get it signed off by a qualified gas safe engineer!
How much does it cost to start Van Life?
The cost of starting van life can vary depending on the size, age and the quality of your van and conversion, but I would estimate that you would be looking at about $6500 / £5000 / €6000 for a quality used van with service history and low mileage. The conversion would then cost you $6500 / £5000 / €6000 again to get your van insulated with basic mod cons.
Buying a pre-converted used van is an option and could cost you significantly less but you should budget $10’500 / £8000 / €10’00 for a reliable converted van suitable to travel and live in.