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Van Conversion Mistakes & Regrets: Our Van Build Errors

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

In this article we will discuss several 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.

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    Not what you need? Check out our “Layout Planning” category page for more similar content.

    Planning Mistakes

    1. Didn't Install A Swivel Seat

    This is one of those mistakes that is often talked about on other blogs & YouTube channels. And it’s so true.

    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.

    2. Didn't Plan A Diesel Heater Until Later

    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 it when we finally did decide to install one.

    It really goes to show how important it is to plan your camper van layout in advance. It makes the building process considerably easier when you already have a predetermined floor plan.

    Interested In Camper Heating Options? Check out our post “How To Heat Your Van In The Winter” to learn more.

    3. Didn't Build A Sealed Propane Enclosure With Vent

    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 on this list.

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

    Propane Detector To The Rescue

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    Although not the best primary 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.

    4. Didn't Take Advantage Of Threads On Van Roof

    Did you know that on the roofs of most commercial vans there are sealed threads that, when opened, allow you to screw in a bolt?

    This is usually for the purpose of installing a roof rack for trade workers.

    And on our Ford Transit, any M8 sized bolt can be fitted into these roof threads.

    M8 Ring Eye Bolt (304 Stainless Steel)
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    Having a ring eye bolt on your roof is SUPER convenient. We could hang our solar shower, DIY awning, or even laundry to dry in the sun.

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Electrical Mistakes

    5. Purchased The Wrong Size Inverter

    Wrong Size Inverter - Mostly Costly Van Conversion Mistake
    2000W Inverter/Charger

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

    But we were wrong. We 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.

    We’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.

    Read More: How To Install An Inverter In A Camper Van

    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 Pure Sine Inverter
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    Later, we purchased this portable 300w inverter that you can just plug into a 12v socket.

    We LOVE this small inverter. It’s small and packs away when not needed. It can’t power your larger 120v devices, but it’s perfect for everything else, including laptops.

    It’s been great for space efficiency and is one of our 19 van life essentials.

    Bestek 300w Inverter Benefits

    6. Didn't Purchase More Durable Electric Wires

    Wrong Electrical Wires - Most regretful camper van conversion mistake
    Laying wires throughout our van

    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 to constant friction under vibration. And since many of these wires are now inaccessible behind our ceiling and walls, we worry that if the wires become severed due the vibrations from driving, we may not be able to fix the problem without having to rip our ceiling and walls out.

    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.

    14/2 AWG Marine Wire
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    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.

    7. Didn't Use Conduits For Added Electric Wire Protection

    Plastic conduits provide the ultimate protection for electric wires. And if placed strategically, these conduits can allow you to replace problematic electric wires with new wires without having to remove your wall and ceiling boards.

    Plastic Wire Conduit
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    • Our split loom is split and easy to put wires in. Our split loom tubing is thick enough to provide...
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    Check out our post on camper electric wiring to learn more.

    8. No Way To Charge Van Battery With Solar

    Our solar panels easily charge our house batteries. No problems there.

    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 van 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.

    Learn more: Solar Panels For Camper Vans

    Comprehensive Guide to Solar Panels and Camper Vans

    9. Electric Sockets In All 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.

    To avoid this mistake, think about where you want your devices to be (e.g. phone and laptop) when their charging.

    Also, can you install the sockets in a location that is hidden or tucked out of the way? When the sockets are in an open location, it also means the wires will be dangling your way and getting tangled with everything else.

    Food for thought!

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

    Building a camper van? Download our free e-Books with intuitive electrical, solar, and plumbing diagrams.

    Furniture Building Mistakes

    10. Shouldn't Have Used Home Depot (Chain Store) Wood

    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 the Baltic Birch variety.

    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.

    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

    Thank You For Reading!

    We’re Yuko and Eric! We both grew up in Asia ( Japan & Hong Kong ), we left our jobs and homes in 2018 and started traveling full time from Canada to Argentina in our self-converted camper van since end of May 2019. “Asobo” means “Let’s play” in Japanese. We named our site “Asobolife” because the life is always uncertain and we live only once so it’s important to always keep positive, playful mind and enjoy the moment you are in the present. We also want to use this website to share our road trip and van building experiences to inspire our readers. We hope you enjoy!

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