If you haven’t got the dosh for a T5, and you want something practical, hardwearing, bigger, and most importantly not overpriced keep an eye out for a pikey Transit van. They’re brilliant base vehicles, and you can spend your time exploring in it rather than at work paying for a T5 to look nice on your driveway. Maybe I’m a little bitter because I couldn’t afford one of the pretty smoke machines but I’m happy with the Transit, and it’s all bought and paid for.
Ideally I wouldn’t have bought a blue one, but I was primarily concerned with the condition rather than colour when I was on the hunt. It would have been a lot cooler (temperature wise) to have a white vehicle, but this can be countered with good insulation.
The only real downside to the van is it only having 5 gears, and only having the 2 litre engine. An extra gear would have made motorway cruising that bit more economical, and a bit more grunt up a hill would be nice. Still I picked up this van with just over 30k on the clock, and for a bargain price. It’s medium height and medium length, which is invaluable as you can stand up in it, and you can fit a wider bed in. Both of these features just add a little comfort that really makes the difference.
The install was quite a lengthy project. I spent around three years in total kitting it out inside, and it’s still not finished. This is three years fitting in around work though, not full time. I’m sure you can bash it out in a much shorter time if you have the luxury of not having to spend 8 hours a day slowly destroying your soul.
Insulation is pretty essential for your van. It keeps it warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Also stops all the condensation from your breath, cooking, and items you bring into the van. This will pro-long the life of your van and stop it rusting out. I made the mistake of sticking the 2 sided foil to the metal panels of the van. Apparently, best practice is to have an air gap so you don’t get heat transfer between the metal panels and the insulation. Oops! Never mind, I’m sure it’s doing something to help. Don’t forget insulation under the floor, to stop heat radiating up from the hot ground. This can cook your van pretty quickly.
I’m good with metal, and I don’t have the finesse for wood, so I played to my strengths and made a frame out of 30mm thinwall box section. This worked out well, and I managed to cram an awful lot of stuff into a relatively small space. Space is key when you’re planning on living in your van, and you’re not just using it as a day van.
The Electricary, you want at least 200Ahr of juice, preferably AGM (absorbed glass mat) rather than your standard lead acid batteries. Spend a bit of cash on decent batteries as you rely on them. Also If you have your batteries in you living compartment then can only really have AGM’s as they won’t vent. Just buy AGM’s basically. Link them up to your van start battery via a split charge relay. This is a must, as you can charge your batteries whenever you’re driving. Don’t just hardwire them all together, as you need to rely on your van start battery to start the van, and you should discharge batteries of different types and capacities separately, charging in parallel is fine though, hence using a split charge relay arrangement.
Fit a main isolation switch in between your batteries and the distribution panel. If you’re running two or more batteries in parallel to create a bank only connect the loads to ONE of the positive terminals and then the negatives to the OTHER batteries negative terminal. This is massively important. As shown below:
Get the insulation out of the way, then you can start building things in. There’s a few different layouts, so decide which one suits your needs. I went with the rib bed, with slim units running down the side. Be careful if you order a rib bed from Kiravans as they have a custom design of rib bed which has less height clearance for the wheel arches. I made this mistake, measuring a standard rib bed and then ordering one from kiravans. I had to make a spacer to match the footprint of the bed to raise it up enough to clear the wheel arches.
Fridges flatten batteries, so try and think about the size you need. Chest type fridges are more efficient as when you open the fridge all the cold remains in the bottom, as opposed to the normal front opening type, where all the cold falls out.
Don’t go mental on the inverter. What do you really need to run in your van? All I use mine for is laptop charging. I have a really good 300watt pure sine wave inverter. If you go big, you will drain your batteries faster, it will be less efficient on smaller loads, and you will need bigger cables/batteries and more room to fit them all in. Don’t over spec your van, design it for what you need. If you have excess money, spend it on the safety and convenience. If you have 240v output, make sure you have RCD protection, and also you can buy really great mini circuit breakers that are the same fitment as automotive fuses. I hardwired in a battery charger too, so if you can plug into shore power, you don’t need to faff about, it just starts charging.
Note – When you’re setting up your batteries, be really careful when attaching cables to terminals. EG if your negative is to the vehicle chassis, then be careful with the positive touching any metal in the van.