Campervan conversion – Van or minibus?

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  • Campervan conversion – Van or minibus?
  • Premier Icon timidwheeler

    I’m considering doing my own campervan conversion (I’ve always wanted to have a go). I’ve been looking at buying a base vehicle and have noticed you seem to get more for your money with a minibus rather than a van. (They also appear to have been driven by teachers and scout leaders rather than builders).

    What downsides are there to getting a minibus? I presume it’s not practical to take a couple of the back windows out and put panels in? Also I want a raised bed with a garage underneath. Will the windows prevent me being able to?

    Thanks for any advice.

    Premier Icon matt_outandabout

    Teachers and scout leaders can be shocking drivers…! Don’t assume the are better. That said, I think most minibuses do longer journeyers, although 17 on a transit is a heavy load… Do check though, as some will be driven around some zoo or something, short joirney’s at low speed etc. if they have a towbar, they may also have dragged some big trailer. I say this as our old buses would often have 17 on board with a 700kg trailer and from cold go up a 1:6 slope 1mile…
    Downside has to be insulation – all that lovely headliner and wall covering has no insulation behind, so you will pull it off anyway…
    Windows you can easily put opaque film covers on and the cover over with insulation and furniture.
    If you get a less than 9 seat, they can be car reg’d ( we had a couple of medium wheel base, high tops that were 9 seat and on car speeds etc).

    Premier Icon boriselbrus

    I have just about finished a Minibus conversion.

    I got a 10 year old Renault Master 16 seater with 45k miles, previously owned by a local council so it had been well looked after. Getting the seats out was a bit of a mission as they were mounted on steel plinths with were bolted in from underneath with nearly 100 bolts…

    Insulation was easy to fit. I’ve built it as a 3 berth with a seating/dining area which converts into a double bed, and a very wide (1.2m) bed over a bike garage which holds 3 bikes. I have a Propax gas heater and cold water system along with 12v 240v electrics.

    It took 6 days to build to the point it was usable, and a couple of days since for snagging/cosmetic finishing. It’s great! Much nicer to drive than the previous Transit, 36mpg and a really nice place to be in due to lots of windows. Where I needed to block windows I just covered them from the inside with black vinyl then insulation. The only downside of using a minibus is the factory fitted speed limiter to 60mph, it can be removed but only by reprogramming the ECU. It doesn’t bother me at all as up here there are no motorways so the speed limit is 60 anyway, and even when I take my car on the motorways I don’t usually do much more than 65.

    Premier Icon timidwheeler


    Cheers guys.


    have a look on my thread of my camper build

    I bought a minibus transit, it has 4 opening windows already, full heading, glass skylight, lower side step entry ( van version has none of these)

    there is basically 3 sections of windows along the side, I had middle section covered with vinyl, along with the rear door windows these were then all boarded on the inside

    Premier Icon tomaso

    Lots of glass can be nice and light, but if you want stealth, a panel van is better.
    Do you need all the seats, tracking trim and false floors?
    The time and parts that go into a camper equals big £€$£€$, so it is worth getting the best Base vehicle you can.

    Also worth considering ambulances… among other things, they’re already lined and insulated, have lights, ventilation, skylights, heating (though someone had already swiped the heater from mine when I got it 😥 ), overhead lockers, swanky electrics, air suspension and not too many windows.

    They’re also very well serviced, but it it can be tricky to get low mileage ones; on the plus side, they regularly make it past 350K.


    The one in best condition and the right size imo.

    Mini bus’s are regularly over loaded as often if you stick an adult in every seat your well over payload.

    But then so are panel vans they just tend to show it better by having Dave’s removals or Billy’s builders written on the side.

    Couldn’t pay me enough to buy a used ambulance 0-warm in 7 seconds on the beans from cold , spend the other half of their life idling , looms tapped into all over leaving birds nests of redundant unidentified wiring


    Two identical vans side by side, same condition etc, I would go for a panel van over a minibus…all that glass is heavy!

    But lets be honest, finding something in good condition can be a mission, so it would only be a deal breaker if you’d rather have a couple of double glazed windows rather than 8 single glazed ones.

    Couldn’t pay me enough to buy a used ambulance 0-warm in 7 seconds on the beans from cold

    Not that I’m biased toward ambulances or anything 😉 but they tend to have coolant preheaters so shouldn’t have been razzed from cold.

    Also worth bearing in mind that not all ambulances are emergency ambulances 😉

    Premier Icon Northwind

    I could be wrong on this but doesn’t a minibus remain a minibus until replated? So even if you remove all the seats, you’re still subject to all of the potential registration, limits, licence restrictions of a minibus?

    (I’m diabetic so I’m only allowed to drive a 9-seater, and I was told that the number of seats is kind of allegorical, a 12-seat minibus with 3 seats removed still has 12 seats in the eyes of the law)

    If that’s the case, it’s worth a look at this:

    As usual in goverment documents, there’s lots of words… the real thing to do when the time comes is click this link which you’ll find on page 3 of the above document and edit the letter to suit your conversion:


    And how would one know if his ambulance was an emergency responders or a morgue transporter – other than my neighbours on call private ambulance being black (he’s an undertaker)

    It does do 0-warm in seconds in subzero call outs from his house -hes the first to admit that.

    Premier Icon timidwheeler

    Some interesting points. I wouldn’t mind an NHS transport bus but wouldn’t want a full emergency ambulance. I have D1 so no issues with number of seats and I would be looking to get it ready registered as a camper once it is finished.

    And how would one know if his ambulance was an emergency responders or a morgue transporter

    Like anything it’s just a matter of doing your research 😉

    A lot of non NHS ambulances will have had relatively easy lives; think of how often you see medics ambulances at events, doing not a lot; that said, a lot of the ones with 350,000 miles plus are emergency ones, so the horrors of cold starting can’t be too damaging.

    I’m curious to see if having a coolant heater effectively gives you free-ish energy by reducing fuel consumption; of course, it burns a bit of diesel itself, but is that negated by the engine already being warm at start up?

    Back to OP, it’s worth considering the width to allow a cross ways bed, giving you more flexibility with layout, also bear in mind the lower floor of front wheel drive vans should give you better fuel economy and handling.


    “doing not a lot; that said, a lot of the ones with 350,000 miles plus are emergency ones, so the horrors of cold starting can’t be too damaging”

    I’m sure they are full of original parts when they get to 350k 😉

    Sleeping sideways is overrated if your tall and you ever find your self going down b and unclassified roads to areas where MTB trails tend a to be Was just yesterday I was happy id not gone for a coach built wide body as i drove colyumbridge to nethybridge and on to aberlour in the van.

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