Thoughts on a minivan camper conversion

Last summer as my wife and I drove around Vancouver Island we kept seeing a lot of RV van conversions. We decided to stop in an RV dealership and have a look at some. We saw many that ranged from used GM vans that were about 10 years old, and cost around $20K to new Sprinters that were over $100K.

A few weeks later, we were on the internet looking around at vans, and came across a Toyota Sienna AWD van for sale at our local dealership. We went for a test drive, and a few days later traded in our 6 year old Camry for the 3 yr old Sienna. The intention had been to look at camperizing the Sienna for a poor man RV.

We tested the Sienna out at Whistler at the end of October with the temperatures just above freezing. The only mistake we made was using an air mattress instead of the Thermarests that we already owned. We rigged up an electrical connection through the driver’s side window and had our fan heater to provide heat, and our electric kettle to provide hot water in the morning.

I visited GTRV in Richmond to look at doing a conversion of sorts. The almost $3K for the couch bed, which would be a permanent conversion coupled with $5K or more for a pop-up roof, left us thinking that this would not happen this year.

However, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we could probably build our own conversion bed / sofa that could be removable such that the vehicle could be returned to its normal state if we wanted to.

This has led to many discussions about different styles of sofa beds and other storage. However, some of the more intriguing ideas have come from YouTube and other websites. I am thinking of adapting something like this for the bed/dinnette:

I am also looking at some sort of cooking station for the back of the van. I saw a neat idea at the following site for a VW Caddy Camper

and:

I will do some more investigation and discussion with my handyman / carpenter friends and see what we can come up with. I will update this when it happens.

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About petergsimmons

Global citizenship is conferred on those who have lived in a variety of countries, and who don’t identify with any one culture. I am such a person. Having lived in Jamaica, Canada and Japan, I have been exposed to First World/Third World, East and West, North and South. This has lead to a rich living experience, open-mindedness and curiosity about the world around me. This variety of living conditions in human landscapes is coupled with equally diverse travels in natural landscapes from the jungles of South East Asia and South America to the Arctic tundra; tropical beaches to the Himalayas, resulting in an incredible journey through life itself.
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9 Responses to Thoughts on a minivan camper conversion

  1. Les says:

    Also looking at camperizing a minivan, but I’m planning on using a Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town and County. buying a used high top and installing it (I too looked into the GTRV, and while I liked it, it was priced out of my price range) or doing a custom build myself, using rigid foam board with layers of fiberglass inside and out. Awning on at least the passenger side. approximately 20mpg might make it affordable to travel, and while the Sprinter is in the same mpg range…. the initial costs are too high for me, as well as the Airstream van conversion van which was around $70,000

  2. 2BarA says:

    My late husband and I travelled lots of miles in a Ford cargo van with only two front seats. He
    made a frame from 2×4’s, covered it with two sheets of plywood (for ease of handling) and we put
    two 30″ foam matresses on that, making a queen-sized bed. We carried a porta-potty, large
    cooler, (later replaced by a smaller one which plugged into the cig. lighter), a large insulated water jug, one-burner propane stove and a small barbeque. A large plastic box held our dishes
    and food. We covered the floor with a carpet, covered the mattresses with an old quilt and
    used a duvet rather than sleeping bags. A couple of pillows completed the bed and allowed a
    good night’s sleep, even in cold weather. Sometimes we used two duvets. Later we bought a
    used camper van with stove, sink and fridge, but the bed was small and the van crowded because
    of all the built-ins. Since becoming a widow I have used the camper van a few times but due to
    recent surgery and other things, it sits unused, waiting for me to decide to sell it. You could
    easily and economically convert your vehicle for camping purposes using items from your house
    which can be returned to the house when you are not camping. Whatever you decide, I would be
    interested to hear what you do. Good luck!

    • In the end we removed the back seats completely, and built a set of boxes in the back well and behind the second row seats. These have hinged covers and are about 11 inches above the floor of the van. We then can remove the middle seats, and by using a table platform , make a sleeping platform that is 75 inches long by 48 to 52 inches wide depending on the portion of the van that you are looking at. We then got three sets of foam cushions made using 4 inch high density foam covered with fabric rated at 125,000 rubbings, as well as curtain material that we threaded some used tent poles through and hang from the handles above the seats. The total cost for all of this was about $1200 plus 6 hours labour from my carpenter friend who did it for the challenge.
      The beauty of this is that I still have 4 seats in the minivan during the week, and then on weekends, I can remove the two middle seats and have a very comfortable sleeping platform and enough space to store all of the food, clothes etc below the area that we sleep, but which is very accessible during the awake hours by simply flipping up the back lid or pulling stuff out from under the front table/platform. The other advantage of this is that the entire wooden box structure is attached to the vehicle using the six bolts that attached the third row seats. This is reversible, and therefore, does not alter the structure of the vehicle in any way.

  3. Jillian says:

    I am just about to start converting our Sienna, and would love to see some pictures if you have any. Thanks.

    • Rama says:

      Hi Gillian I’m thinking the same lines converting the sienna. Could you kindly give us a starting point and the journey taken so far in the conversion. My wife and I hope to keep this van for a commute up to seven passengers and on the weekends take it for camping for comfortably sleeping four passengers, two adults two kids. Is this realistic? Can you recommend any books or website to start this conversion.
      Thank you so much,
      Rama

      • Jillian says:

        If you want to leave all the seats in, just fold the back seats into the floor and tumble the middle row forward. You will need to put your gear (stove etc) in bins that go on the bed when you are driving, and move those to the front seat when u park to sleep. Put curtains on cords that can be removed when u are not camping. I really don’t think it’s realistic to convert the inside at all in a permanent way in your case.

  4. I have added some photos on Flickr.

    untitled-52.jpg
  5. Jillian says:

    Thanks for the photos! How do you think the weight compares to the original weight with the seats in? Did you make the mattresses yourself, or buy them? Thanks.

    • Te weight difference was small. the seats weigh about 80 pounds, and the wooden frame and covers etc was about the same. We had the cushions made locally at a place that makes them for RVs and boats. They also made the curtains.

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