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Do Up Your Campervan on a Budget

1983 Mitsubishi L300 Pop-top Camper-van.
1983 Mitsubishi L300 Pop-top Camper-van.
Strip everything out that is not bolted in.
Strip everything out that is not bolted in.

Purchasing a camper-van can be a very expensive event. You've either got a good amount of money to spend and can afford all the bells and whistles, or you're on a budget.

When you’re sourcing a camper-van on a budget, your price range will limit your options to either a mechanically and structurally sound vehicle with no fit out, or the opposite, a neat fit out and a van riddled with rust. It would be most likely un-insured therefore requiring pit-passing and accompanying that, the dreaded mechanical issues.

The smart punter would most like choose the mechanically sound, minimum rust, no fit-out camper-van. Using a bit of imagination, anyone can renovate a camper-van back to its former self and do it on a budget. You'll have to opportunity to buy equipment as you go, so spreading the cost over a longer period of time, giving small relief to your pocket.

Engine Service

Even if you've got a good, mechanically sound camper-van, a minor service will give your motor a fresh breath of life. Most of it you can do yourself. Change your oil and oil filter, check and change your air filter. Update spark plugs and points, replace all fuses. If you're not sure on anything search on-line, there are many tutorials on how to do basic auto maintenance yourself. Go to your local mechanic if you're not confident doing any of the jobs yourself.

Getting Started

Looking at the insides of your camper-van, ask yourself a few questions; what came with it already? What can you continue using? What needs to go? What can you use for the time being? Can you refurbish any current furniture to improve its current condition? Do I have the basics covered; sleeping area, cooking facilities and water?

A few things need to always be considered when assessing any equipment for your camper van:

  1. Does it fit in the camper van? Is it too big and bulky taking up too much room?
  2. How heavy is it? The key to lower petrol consumption is weight.
  3. Will it be useful or is it just a want?
  4. Is the cost worth the convenience?

Strip Out

Totally strip out absolutely everything you can pull out, unscrew or remove. Take out any cupboards you intend to get rid of, anything broken, falling off or filthy. Pull up old vinyl, carpet and underlay. If you vigorously rub a gloved hand across the underlay and it crumbles, the underlay's effectiveness has come to an end. Throw it away.

Insects and Spiders

Let a bomb off inside, an insect bomb that is. Set up the can in the middle of the van, lift the pop-top up, and let it empty its contents. You'll be stunned, or dismayed, at what lives inside old campers.

Clean the Camper-Van

Now it's time to clean. Your camper-van will look renewed after a thorough scrub. Wipe all the trim down, vacuum every speck of dust, disinfect all the knobs, benches, walls and equipment. Sugar soap, dishwashing detergent and vinegar are generally readily available in the cleaning cupboard and not expensive.

Annex and Pop-Top

After brushing off any dirt, cobwebs & vegetation from the campers’ annex and pop-top, you’re ready to wash all canvas. Using a soft bristled brush, gently scrub with white vinegar. This needs to be done approx. 1 - 2 times a year and will remove any mould that may be growing. It is essential to do this on a day with no rain so the canvas can fully dry in the sun.

Examine all your canvas for any rips, nicks or tears. A small tear can develop into a huge hole in no time. Repair kits are available at most camping stores; you could also make your own patches by gluing and sewing a canvas square over the hole.

Go over the camper-van inside and out identifying any silicone that looks tired, frayed, or likely to let moisture in. Before applying fresh silicone, wash and trim loose pieces with a sharp knife.

Cushions

Discard old, soiled cushions. Just think how many 'old men' or 'dirty lads' may have slept on them. The average person sheds a hell of a lot of skin cells and I am quite particular with whom I let my skin cells mix with. Not to mention pets that may have travelled in the camper-van, leaving any numerous mites or fleas infesting old foam.

If the cushions are in good condition and you’re happy with recycling them, a thorough cleaning, airing, and time in the sun is always recommended (again those skin cells.)

Or keep the old cushion covers to make a pattern.

  • Simply un-pick or pull the thread out of the joins, being careful not to rip the fabric apart.
  • Take photos of each step and label all pieces as you de-construct the old cushion covers to assist in putting it all back together again.
  • Pin all the pieces of the deconstructed cushion covers to your new fabric.
  • Ensure the fabric is strong and durable similar to upholstery material. Spending that little extra on the correct fabric now will save you money in ht long term, due to the high wear and tear camper-van cushions experience.
  • Add 1-2 cm around the pattern as you cut it out for the hems.
  • As you’re sewing the pattern pieces together, check the sizing on the cushion repeatedly; you can always make small adjustments as you go. The best stitch would be a zigzag stitch so the fabric can stretch when sat on.

After repairing the tears car seat covers were sewn to save $$
After repairing the tears car seat covers were sewn to save $$
Making own car seat covers, curtains and cushion covers can save you $$
Making own car seat covers, curtains and cushion covers can save you $$

Camping in Style

Window Blackouts

Purchase enough silver sunshades to use as window blackouts. They will block out the heat in summer and retain the warmth in winter. Measure and cut out the exact shape of each of the windows, hem the edges using zigzag stitch with a stiff ribbon to keep them presentable. The shades come with suction caps to stick them to the window, so they'll be easily attached and removed. You could also cover cardboard with black plastic bags and fit them to your windows as a cheaper alternative to silver sunshades.

Curtains

Add your own personality by making new curtains. Curtain material has a white rubber backing to block out sun and prying eyes. It should cost approximately $10 a metre, depending on the quality. the cheaper the material is, the less it blocks out. Again, use the old curtains as a pattern. If there aren't curtains, measure the windows' length and width. Cut approximately 4 cm extra at the top and bottom, for the curtain cord to thread through. Double the width so the material gathers along the cord, opening and closing smoothly.

Sourcing Furniture

Caravan, camping and RV people, in general, are a friendly lot. The first guy I approached gave me a number of a mate of his that had "a couple of old pop-top camper vans in his back yard." Now this guy actually had nothing, but told me to call another guy, who told me to wait till this date and call that particular guy. So, it's not what you know but often who you know, that will get you success. You just have to ask.

There are shells of old campers that have been written-off or just discarded. Many of these still have functional furniture. Start with calling camper-van places that hire out campers; often there is a van rotting away in their yard. If you're fluky, you may get it for free - or for a 6-pack of beer in my case.

There are also car wreckers who salvage furniture or give you the option to remove parts yourself. Make sure you take a drill, wrench, screw drivers and fair bit of grit! Collect any brackets or screws you take off to reuse.

Another place to source furniture for campers is a caravan renovator. Often a caravan or motorhome will go in for a face lift, leaving at the service centre the remains of its insides.

Paint or cover with wood-grain contact any scuffed furniture. Add new handles and lights where you can. Use a product like WD-40 on any squeaky hinges or replace if broken or rusted. For as little as $25 you can buy a manual kitchen water pump, running water is a definite necessary luxury.

Your Local $2 Shop

Attend your local $2 shop. These places are overflowing with containers of every shape and size imaginable. You will also find shelves and storage baskets that can be attached to the wall of the camper with suction cups.

Floor Coverings

Vinyl is one of the most functional floor coverings available and is stress-free to install. The amount of dirt, sand and mud that finds its way inside when camping is best managed with a floor covering that’s easy to clean. Vinyl off-cuts can be as cheap as $20; use underlay if the vinyl is thin and recommended by the sales person. The sales person will be a great wealth of information as to the best procedure to lay the chosen vinyl.

Extras

Camping or camper vanning has endless 'stuffs' you need to own, to make getting back to basics more comfortable. Right down to the kitchen sink. Often you will find those little extras at sites like eBay, Gumtree, your local tip shop, auction sites on Facebook and any other on-line store on the market.

Further articles to follow with a lot of the process steps pulled apart and detailed.

Comments 1 comment

spiritwood profile image

spiritwood 2 years ago from Wales, UK

excellent!

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