Australian Van Conversion Guide

Australian Van Conversion Guide

Heya, Paula and Loic here!

We’re kind of excited.

The last screw has just gone into our van’s outdoor kitchen.

That means we’re officially done with the conversion of our little ford transit camper van. It was a massive process, but we’re stoked with what we’ve built (and learnt).

Both of us started with minimal skills, a good attitude and slight addiction to “van tour” videos. This post is filled with tips and tricks we picked up over the last 3 years building over the weekends.

The post will particularly be useful to you if you’re thinking of building your own DIY camper van. It’s broken down into chapters so you can get to the goodies most relevant to you.

We hope this serves as a good starting point.


Our Detailed Build List

Our Vehicle

  • Ford Transit 2010 (Mid Roof, Mid Wheel Base)
  • 190,000km odometer reading
  • 2.4L Turbo Diesel
  • Manual

I was originally looking for a high top short wheel-based Mercedes Sprinter, but they were too pricey for my uni student budget. I had to settle for something less fancy. 

After a heap of hunting, I purchased the vehicle for AU$8,200 at an online auction around Christmas 2018. It wasn’t the exact model I initially wanted, but the price was too good to pass. The same vehicle would have cost me AU$15,000 from a dealer. TK;Here is my guide to choosing a car and tips for getting a good price on vans in australia.

I knew we were going to be stealth camping a fair bit. So the vehicle needed to fit in a normal car park, have minimal windows and be larger than a Hiace. The high roof was a “nice to have”, but not essential for our use case.

I went to inspect it in the lot and it ran beautifully. The mechanic told me it was in good condition even though there was no service logbook. Purchasing this vehicle was a calculated risk, but it worked out well.

Since owning it we’ve done regular services and only had issues with a small leak in the fuel tank. A$500 fix for A$6000 savings

The Conversion

We  were planning on living out of this van for a long time. It has been beautifully over-engineered.

Hardware and Materials

Working on a more comprehensive list. This link is a good starting point though.

The Layout

Our vehicle is compact, so the layout had to be optimised to make the most of the space. but stille feels like there is plenty of room.
The layout is very functional (and pretty), especially for those planning extended trips without wanting to take a full-height van.

  • Indoor kitchen and sink. Including a small butane camping stove to cook inside on rainy days.
  • Outdoor kitchen pulls out and give even more storage options. The outdoor shower doubles up as water supply when cooking outdoors.
  • The extendable bed/couch system optimises the space in the van (custom-made mattress).
  • Custom-made magnetised blackout curtains. So you can sleep anywhere, anytime.
  • Added Sound Deadening Sheets, full insulation on van metal and behind walls (very efficient for cold and hot days). Carpet on exposed metal parts to make it feel more homely.
  • Heaps of practical lights, almost too many?
  • Surf box… fits three 6’4 boards
  • Ability to use the full length of the van when transporting items, by removing storage boxes under the centre of the bed.
  • Easy access to the electrical system and fuse box
  • Multiple device charging options. USB-A, USB-C, 2x cigarette ports.
  • No windows were added to the van to keep it “stealth”. This helps when camping in residential areas. Of course, you could easily add a window if needed.

Cleaning and Rustproofing

If you’re using a second hand van it is definitely going to be dirty and have some rust. I recommend stripping it back with sandpaper or chemicals, priming and painting it over.

Rust elimination and prevention is a dark art, plenty of more qualified people to explain best practices… Basically, this is just a warning to make sure you take it seriously. 

Clean, sand, clean, prime, sand, paint.

It’s a tedious job, but if you’re about to slap together a A$20,000+ build, you probably want it to last.

Here are a few videos that helped me. TK FIND VIDS


We initially used cheap plywood to do the subfloor of the van.


I spoke to the folks at Vanable Fitouts and they strongly recommended a dense foam board material called “”(TK name of material). Much lighter, easier to work with than plywood. Also waterproof, insulating and ultra resistant. If you end up choosing to use a plywood floor make sure to get marine grade ply so it doesn’t start rotting from condensation. Don’t use chipboard or MDF, both expand with the slightest moisture and will not last more than a couple years.

I confused my van for Potts Point villa and chose perhaps the worst possible flooring; hard wood laminate flooring from Bunnings. It was expensive and far too heavy. I have done van tours videos and they all use clip together vinyl flooring (aka TK real name name). Stick it down to your foam floor and you have a resistant, light and far cheaper floor solutions than what I have. 

If you’re worries about high use areas like the garage, rubber mats are much more resistant.


Generally vans in Australia require less insulation than the winter-proof builds of North America or Europe. Some people even opt to skip it all together… but they often end up half cooked in the summer heat.

I found the following three layer insulation system to work well. I’ll use it again on my next build.

First layer is an aluminium backed butyl sheet that you stick directly to the inner surface of your van’s metal sheeting. Their main purpose is to minimise vibrations and road noise when you drive or sleep next to busy roads. It is sound deadening keen noise out, but also keeps noise in. They work a treat! 

The user manual will say to cover the whole inner van surface. Appropriate for the cab, but don’t bother with the back of the van. It will cost you too much and weigh down your vehicle. I suggest one large sheet per exposed “panel” of your van and then as much as you can fit in the awkward nooks and crannies. Most important areas to cover are the floor and wheel wells. Full coverage is a good option in those areas.

No need to buy the brand names for this material. Ebay search for butyl sheets will return a bunch of of results that are much cheaper than the white labelled stuff. It’s the same stuff. If you can weight for slower freight and have a large van you can get it even cheaper in bulk off Alibaba and Aliexpress. 

The second layers is a reflective barrier with some sticky foam (called TK). Use this over the whole inside of the van. There needs to be no bare metal showing anymore. This is the layer that does most of the work. Don’t cut corners here. Insulations taping the where a foam sheep meets another is a good idea too.

Depending on how you build your van, it would be wise to add a third layer of foam on the inner surface of you ceiling and walls. This creates an air gap which really help keeping temperatures consistent.

The final piece of the insulation puzzle is reducing thermal exchange via windows. Magnetic window blinds with insulation sandwiched within are a must. Granted if you don’t know how to sew (and your mum can’t help you) there are a few small businesses that sell custom made blinds. Fair warning, a lot of labour goes into these, so they are a tad ‘spenny.

TK diagram of the insulation sandwich and how to place to sound deadening panels. 

Furnitures Material

Working on a more comprehensive list. This link is a good starting point though.

Electrical System

Professionally installed and checked by an electrician.

  • 200aH Enerdrive LiFePO4 Battery
  • 2x Solar Panels
  • Enerdrive DC2DC battery management unit (solar and alternator battery charging)
  • 85L Buschman Fridge
  • Fuse Box and Spare Cables for you to add other 12v electrical loads
  • Dedicated spot to install an inverter if you need.
  • Auto running Water Pump (with switch to turn off and on)
  • MaxxFan (roof fan) with remote.
  • Sirrocco Fan (inside fan)
  • Heaps of lights
  • Reversing camera


Under vehicle PVC pipe water storage approx 50L litres. Enough room under van to increased if needed.

Small grey tank under vehicle. 20L

Water pump that runs both inside and outside tap

Choosing your van.

The biggest decision you face is figuring out which vehicle is suitable for your needs. I’ve spoken to mechanics, professional van builders and a bunch of van dwellers. Below is a comparison of vans models available in Australia and some of their key features as the pertain to van life.

FeaturesToyota Town AceToyota HiaceFord TransitFord Transit  ConnectMercedes SprinterIveco DailyMitsubishi ExpressRenault MasterRenault TraficLDVDeliver 9VWMultivanVWMultivanVW CadyHyundai StariaHyundai iLoadPeugeot
Short Wheel Base
Mid Wheel Base
Long Wheel Base
Low Roof
Mid Roof
High Roof
Pop Top 
Cab Model
Grey Nomad
Full Time Van Dweller
Stealth Camping
Variable window arrangements
Can have Bull Bar
Mobility Issues
High Step
Double Side doors
Fits into standard car park
Back Doors TypesTop LiftTop LiftBarn DoorsTK
Still in production
4*4 Version Available
GVM Range
Towing Limit
Manual or Auto
Reliability ease to repair in Australia(Score out of 5)35434Not sure2112
Serviceability and parts outside of major town centres
Links to new
Link to second hand vehicles
Link to auctions

Tips for finding a van in Australia

#vanlife has been growing trend for a while. Tradies and the new-age hippies are fighting for these hot commodities. Van prices are through the freaking roof!

Still, there are bargains to be had.

If you know where to look…

I bought my van for AU$8,300 on the road. The normal going price for that van in 2019 was AU$15,000.


Hopefully you can get a similar bargain on a trustworthy vehicle. I’ve added some tips for finding reasonably priced vans. TK here is my checklist for assessing and buying a van in Australia.

Buying a camper van from online auctions.

Online auctions are a great spot to start looking for a bargain. I use Grays, but Pickles, Auto-auctions and CarBids all do a similar job. Scope out a potential candidate and GO AND SEE IT IN PERSON. If you like what you see get a mechanic to check the vehicle before you start placing bids. Vehicles at auctions usually come with limited histories, and no cooling off period. If you place a bid, win and find out the van is a lemon, you will not be getting a refund.

BONUS TIP: There is significantly less competition between Christmas and New Year. Dealers and corporate buyers go on holiday.

Less people bidding = cheaper prices. 

Importing vans from Japan. 

There is a surprising supply of high quality Japanese cars (Toyota Hiaces especially) available from specialised services. The general gist of it is that you find a car you want from their portal and then get it shipped to you. Most services take care of inspections, mechanical checks, shipping and legal wrangle work.

Japanese cars tend to be well looked after and usually have fewer KMs on the odometer. They because have generally had an easier life than vehicles in Australia.

Sourcing vans from online marketplaces.

Other options include; Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, CarSales and private Facebook groups. These are more common paths to buying a car. Lots of options, but you’re generally competing with more people, so prices are less competitive. Haggling is expected on these platforms, don’t pay the advertised price. Get a mechanic to check the vehicle.

Getting vans from dealerships.

When buying from a dealership you’re usually paying a slight premium for the same vehicle. The good news is that they often provide warranties on the vehicle. You can negotiate the terms (and the price of the vehicle).

The bad news is that dealerships have little information on the vehicle they’re selling. They are often sourcing the vehicle from the auction sites I mentioned above, getting them detailed and then displaying them in their sales yards with a big yellow sticker with a healthily marked up price.

Still, it’s a good option for people who have an urgent need for a vehicle, need the warranty and a tax invoice or have extra cash.

Just remember they will tell you what you want to hear. Check their online reviews, get the vehicle inspected by a mechanic.