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Van Conversion Mistakes & Regrets: Our Van Build Errors

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Campervan-Build-Regrets

No matter how much research we put into our campervan builds, we’ll always have a list of van conversion mistakes. Our van build regrets include:

In this article we will discuss SEVEN van conversion mistakes and what we wished we could have done differently during our van build. The purpose of this post is to help educate our readers so they can make their own choices on how to proceed with their own camper van conversions.

Want to build a camper van? Check out our
DIY Camper Van Build Guide

Wrong Size Inverter
('Most Costly' Van Conversion Mistake)

Wrong Size Inverter - Mostly Costly Van Conversion Mistake

One of our biggest van conversion mistakes was purchasing the wrong size inverter. Initially, we had dreams of taking hot water showers out the back of our van, so we purchased this 2000w Victron Multiplus Inverter to power our 1,440-watt water heater. This inverter cost us almost $1,200!

We ignorantly thought that our 2,000-watt inverter would have been sufficient to power our 1,440-watt heater.

But I was wrong. I didn’t account for the initial spike in power consumption from the heater when it’s first turned on. And because of this spike in load, the inverter automatically shuts off. Even on low, the Bosch water heater triggers the inverter’s safety shut off.

I’ve since cut out the Bosch heater from our van and now we have a very expensive inverter to simply power our laptops, blender, and an Instant Pot. This was a costly camper van conversion mistake.

Lesson Learned

We’ve since learned that when sizing your inverter, you should calculate your largest 120v load and double the load’s wattage requirement. The resulting number is the size of the inverter that would be required to properly run that load.

In our case, if we double the 1,440w load that the water heater demands, we get 2,880w. So if we wanted to power our water heater, we should have purchased Victron’s 3000w Inverter Charger.

Better Alternative - Bestek 300w Portable Inverter

Bestek 300W Inverter - Essential Campervan Gear
300w Bestek Inverter

5 months into our van life travels, we purchased a small, portable 300w inverter that you can just plug into a 12v (cigarette-style) socket.

We LOVE this small inverter so much more than our bulky Victron, which we had to hard wire into our van’s electrical system.

And when we don’t need the portable inverter, we can simply pack it away. It’s been great for space efficiency and is one of our 19 van life essentials.

Bestek 300w Inverter Benefits

More Durable Electric Wires
('Most Regretful' Van Conversion Mistake)

Wrong Electrical Wires - Most regretful camper van conversion mistake
Silicone Jacketed Wires Everywhere

We didn’t know much about electric wires at the time, but we purchased these 14 Gauge Stranded Copper Wires simply based on the many positive Amazon reviews.

But what makes these wires so popular, which is their thin & flexible silicone wire jackets, also makes these wires less durable under vibration. And since many of these wires are now inaccessible behind our ceiling and walls, I worry that if the wires become severed due vibrations from driving, we may not be able to fix the problem without having to rip our ceiling and walls out.

Also, as you can see from the above picture, I didn’t put our electrical wires through protective plastic conduits. We hope you can be more careful in laying out your wires than we were!

Lesson Learned - Wires With Stronger Jackets

What we should have done is purchase electric wires with stronger and more durable jackets to resist cuts and other damage caused by constant vibration.

We also should have protected all our wires by putting our electric wires through plastic conduits.

Better Alternative Wire

14/2 AWG Wire For Campervan Wiring
Better 14/2 Gauge Stranded Wire

These 14/2 Speaker Wire would be much better for our van life needs. Not only are these wire jackets more durable, but there is also a 2nd outer jacket to further protect these wires.

These speaker wires have not only a more durable wire jacket, but there is also a second outer protective jacket. I would feel much more comfortable laying these wires all throughout our van.

Search Lumberyards For Better Quality Plywood

Camper Van Conversion Mistakes - Search For Better Plywood

Our next van conversion mistake is about the quality of the plywood we used.

We bought most of our birch plywood at Home Depot, a major all-in-one hardware store chain in the USA. The plywood was OK quality, but the price was cheap enough that I never bothered to visit actual lumberyards. I thought that wood from these specialized lumberyards would be more expensive.

But I was wrong.

Only after 80% of our van build was already completed, I finally ventured into a lumberyard and discovered so much better quality plywood than I had purchased from Home Depot.

Better Alternative - Baltic Birch Plywood

Van Conversion Mistakes - Baltic Birch vs Birch Plywood
Home Depot Birch Plywood (above) vs. Baltic Birch Plywood (below)

We started using ‘Baltic Birch’ plywood for the remaining 20% of our van build, which we purchased from a local lumber store near our home. And we love using Baltic Birch.

Compared to Home Depot’s cheap birch plywood, Baltic Birch is harder, stronger, and less prone to warping. And from the picture above, you can see that the Baltic Birch plywood has 7 inner layers versus only 3 inner layers for Home Depot’s Birch plywood.

And the price of Baltic Birch plywood isn’t really any more expensive than what you can buy at a chain hardware store.

We noticed right away that our van’s upper cabinets feel considerably stronger (and less warped), than our back benches (& convertible bed), which used the cheaper plywood from Home Depot.

Learn More: How To Build Beautiful Camper Van Upper Cabinets

Therefore, it’s worth to check out your local lumberyards and small hardware businesses before shopping at the big box stores. And a major side benefit is that you help support small and local businesses.

Living With Our Propane Tank
('Most Dangerous' Van Conversion Mistake)

Living With Propane - Most dangerous camper van conversion mistake
Keeping our propane tank inside our kitchen counter

The most dangerous aspect of our van build is that we keep our 11lb propane tank INSIDE our van. This is easily the most dangerous van build mistake in this list.

We do our best to mitigate the risks while we sleep, such as disconnecting the tank every night but the risks are still very real.

Luckily, after 2+ years on the road, we are still here.

Propane Detector To The Rescue

Van Conversion Mistakes - Bring A USB Propane Detector
USB-Powered Propane Detector

Although not the best solution, we installed a USB propane detector right next to our propane tank. We understand that this is still far from ideal, but having a propane detector in our van gives us an additional layer of security while we sleep.

Better Alternative: Under-Body Propane Tank

When we created our camper van floor plan model, I should have installed the propane tank outside, under the chassis of the van. The benefits of installing an under-body propane tank are obvious:

  • It keeps the propane tank OUTSIDE
  • You can fit a larger propane tank outside than inside the van.
  • Saves precious storage inside the campervan.

Installing an under-body propane tank makes so much sense and I would happily do it on a future van build.

Awkward Location of Our Diesel Heater

Van Conversion Mistakes - Diesel Heater Location
Diesel Heater Behind The Passanger Seat

Adding a diesel heater in our camper van was not something we planned for until near the end of our van build . And because we didn’t plan for the heater in our original layout, we had a tough time trying to find a spot for the heater.

In the end, we installed the heater directly behind the passenger seat under a shoe box that we had built next to the sliding door.

Camper Van Conversion Mistakes & Regrets - Diesel Heater In Shoe Box
Heater Covered By Our Shoe Box/Seat

It isn’t a terrible location, but the heater sometimes gets in the way. And it’s a little messy and unsightly.

It just goes to show that proper campervan floor plan & layout planning beforehand is crucial to fitting everything you want in your campervan.

If you are interested to know if a diesel heater is worth the price tag, the answer is YES. A thousand times “yes!”. Our diesel heater has allowed us to live comfortably in our camper van, even during harsh winters.

Learn More: How To Survive Winter Van Life

No Swivel Seat

We did NOT install a swivel seat because we didn’t think we would appreciate one. But we realize now that having one would have made the front half of our van considerably more livable & useful.

And now, because of the awkward placement of our diesel heater behind the passenger seat, we don’t think a swivel seat would work in our case anymore.

To me, this is one of my most frustrating van conversion mistakes because I had read so many other reviews of van life travelers mentioning how great a swivel seat was. But we still chose not to go ahead with installing our own swivel base.

Ugh!

No Way To Charge Van Starting Battery With Solar

The solar setup in our camper van is robust and easily meets our daily energy demands, even during partially cloudy weather.

However, we did not set up a way to charge our vehicle starting battery with our solar panels. This is important because there are many times when our van has stayed idle for 2-4 weeks at a time, which prevents our van’s starting battery from charging.

There are a number of power-consuming electronics under our van’s hood that leach away our starting battery’s charge on a daily basis and so it would be nice to connect our van’s battery to our solar panels to trickle charge them and keep them at 100%.

This would have been an easier process to take care of during out van build with a simple switch, but now that our van is completed, it’s much more of a hassle. It’s not the worst van build mistake out there, but one that I know I could have easily taken care of with proper planning.

Learn more: Solar Panels For Camper Vans

Electric Sockets In The Wrong Places

Socket In Wrong Location - Van Build Regrets
Our kitchen sockets are usually hidden behind our camping stove

The location of your 12v and 120v electrical sockets is one of those issues that is hard to plan for unless you’ve already lived in a camper van. So it’s one of the trickiest van conversion mistakes to avoid.

But after 2 years in our van, we’ve realized that many of our sockets are simply in inconvenient locations.

  • Inaccessible behind our camping stove;
  • Inaccessible under our bed;
  • And no sockets all along the van’s passenger side

It’s tricky to plan for if you are building your first campervan, but try to think about socket accessibility when planning your van layout.

Think about where your phone will be when it’s charging. This is especially true at night, when you’re sleeping.

Will you be traveling with USB desktop fans? We travel with 4 of these fans, which have helped to keep us cool during the hot summers. But our USB sockets aren’t in the best places to power these fan’s when we’re sleeping at night and therefore the fan’s wires are often all over the place.

Learn More: How To Plan Your Campervan Interior Floor Plan & Layout

Avoid Camper Van Conversion Mistakes With Proper Layout Planning

We are huge advocates of planning your camper van’s layout in advance, because once the conversion process is done, it’s hard to make physical changes after. And even though we planned well, we still had a number of build regrets. It’s difficult to build a 100% perfect camper interior on your first try, but you can learn from the van conversion mistakes of others.

So we hope this article was useful for you.

If you have any questions, please post a comment at the bottom of this post, or send us an email through our contact form. Thank you!

Learn more about how you can plan your own campervan floor plan and interior layout to avoid any major regrets in the future!

Read More: How To Build A DIY Camper Van

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