How to Convert a VW Transporter Into a Camper Van: A Step-By-Step Guide

How to Convert a VW Transporter Into a Camper Van: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you are following my content, you will know that I like focusing on what’s really important, health, freedom, minimalism, and camper vans. I previously wrote about Everything You Need to Know to Build Your Perfect Camper Van and How to Find the Absolute Freedom by Living in a Van.

This article is a continuation in which I am driving my passion for van life to the next level: I got myself a further camper van. This one had different requirements. It’s for renting and its sole purpose is to create unforgettable moments for those who rent him and to maximize their happiness. The van is called Fred - The Wellbeing Van.

Fred was converted by the expert van builders and my friends from PortCamper.

In this article, I will cover how to convert a VW Transporter into a camper van: a step-by-step guide. I will describe the whole story, the van build, the various decisions I took, and how this project fits into my life philosophy.

What’s the Whole Purpose of Getting Another Van?

I love the van life.

For me there is no better way to travel and explore the world. There are hardly any limits. You can go where you want. You are not depending on anything. Nowadays, I don’t understand why people pay expensive vacations to go to Greece for one week and just lie on the beach. I want to explore. A converted van is best in enabling this. Everywhere we can read about these van life adventure stories.

I want to offer other people to experience the same. That is why I got a second van for renting out. I did some experiments and it seems there is sufficient demand for camper van rentals. Hence, income-wise it seems to be interesting, too.

My first van (Mercedes Sprinter) is for my personal travels and uses. The second van (Fred the VW Transporter) is purely for renting. Both have completely different purposes and hence their design and build is very different. The Sprinter is for long term stays in the van. I have traveled in that van for several months. It needs to be comfortable and practical. It’s a bigger van and designed for a comfortable stay for one person. For example, it has a fixed bed which you don’t need to convert all the time when you want to lie down. Believe me this can be quite a pain in the ass after a couple of days.

Fred the VW Transporter is based on entirely different design principles. It usually will be used only for a couple of days and weeks. In this case it’s ok to build and re-build a bed or not to have a fixed stove. In fact, you want a mobile gas cooker so you can also cook somewhere nice outside. Everything in Fred needs to be intuitive, easy-to-use, and robust.

In the rest of this article, I will expand on these principles and describe exactly why I made which decisions.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

Choosing the Van Itself

For renting a camper van you need a very solid and reliable basis. If the car breaks down, the whole project dies. One of the most recommended vans are the Volkswagen Transporter models. The type and year depend on specific needs and preferences. However, here are some models and years that are often highly regarded:

  • T5 Transporter (2003-2015): The T5 is a popular model that offers a comfortable ride, good fuel economy, and a range of engine options. It also has a spacious interior and is available in various configurations to suit different needs, including panel vans, kombis, and campers.

  • T6 Transporter (2015-present): The T6 builds on the success of the T5, offering improved handling and a more modern design. It also has a range of engine options, including diesel, petrol, and electric, and is available in various configurations to suit different needs.

  • T4 Transporter (1990-2003): The T4 is an older model, but it's still popular among Volkswagen enthusiasts for its classic design and reliable performance. It's available in a range of engine options, including diesel and petrol, and has a spacious interior that can be converted into a camper or used as a work van.

Ultimately, the most recommended model and year for a Volkswagen Transporter will depend on your specific needs and preferences. I did a lot of research and knew what I wanted. It needed to be a T6 because of newer technology; ideally in the 2017-2020 bracket. There are different engine sizes and different power output options available. I was looking for a 2.0 liter TDI engine with 102 HP because this does seem to be the right balance and the van does not need to be overpowered. I also needed it to be certified for the environmental class EURO6 otherwise I will soon get problems with driving in cities. Finally, I did not want an automatic gearbox as this is too error-prone and too expensive to maintain. The mileage was not such a critical factor as these cars, if well maintained, can clock many kilometres. I was looking at a range of around 200.000km. 

With these requirements in mind, I did find the right model, which I imported from Belgium.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

Volkswagen Transporter Models to Avoid

While Volkswagen Transporters are generally known for their reliability and durability, there are some common weaknesses that we should be aware of.


Older models of the Volkswagen Transporter can be prone to rust, especially in areas such as the wheel arches, sills, and chassis. This also depends on where the car was used. In areas with snow, they treat the streets with salt, which attacks the body of the car. It's important to regularly inspect the vehicle for rust and address any issues promptly to prevent further damage.

Gearbox Issues

Some models of the Volkswagen Transporter have been known to experience gearbox problems, such as difficulty shifting gears or premature wear of the synchromesh. Regular maintenance, including checking and replacing the transmission fluid, can help prevent these issues.

Electrical Issues

Electrical issues are a common problem in many vehicles, and the Volkswagen Transporter is no exception. Owners have reported problems with the alternator, battery, and various sensors, which can cause issues with the vehicle's performance and reliability. I tend to avoid too many extra electrical components because these are just more sources of potential breakdowns.

Suspension Problems

Some Volkswagen Transporters have been known to experience problems with the suspension, including worn-out ball joints, bushings, and shock absorbers. Regular inspections and replacement of worn parts can help prevent these issues.

These are all very general statements and as with any car you can be extremely lucky or extremely unlucky. I recommend narrowing down to what you need based on your usage scenario. Then read a lot about the specific models you have chosen and speak to experts. Finally, when you find a suitable car, take a very close look and let it be checked by an independent third-party expert. 

Even then you are never safe from breakdowns and problems. You better adopt the mindset of expecting a range of problems. With cars, there are always unwanted surprises. 

Key Aspects to Consider When Converting a VW Transporter Into a Camper Van

Converting a van into a camper is an exciting project. Not only will you realise a dream, but the whole conversion process is actually a lot of fun especially if you enjoy manual and creative work. I recommend that you are very clear about your goals and the usage scenarios of your van. This will inform your decisions regarding some key aspects of your van build which I am laying out below.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

Layout and Design

The layout and design of your camper van will determine how functional and comfortable it will be relative to your usage scenarios. A camper van for a family used on weekends will look completely different than a van for a single person living in it full-time. 

You need to think about sleeping arrangements, cooking facilities, shower, toilet, heating, windows and lighting, or storage space. The geographic area where you drive and the seasons when you use it will influence how you lay everything out. The design is highly individual and refers to the colours and materials that you use. 

For Fred, we followed the Mediterranean Van style invented by PortCamper. This is characterised by bright and friendly colours and the usage of lots of wood. Fred comes with a fixed kitchen including a fridge and sink and a portable gas cooker, which you can use to cook outside too. The bench in the back can be converted to a bed that sleeps two people comfortably. An extra mattress can be placed on the front row to sleep a child. 

Plumbing and Water System

Installing plumbing and water systems is an essential part of any camper van conversion. The possibilities are endless. That is why it is so important to be very clear about your usage scenarios for the van. Everything from no running water to a fully-fledged water system with fresh- and grey water tanks and pumps is possible. Your desired level of comfort, space, and budget are your limiting factors.

For Fred I decided to install a fixed fresh water tank of 40 liters that can be filled from the outside and a grey water tank underneath the car. The build of this was more expensive but easier to use with less margin to mess up things than with portable water tanks. Everything is automatic. A pump drives water to the kitchen sink or the shower.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

Sanitary Equipment 

Most camper vans of this type (L1H1) often do not have any sort of sanitary equipment. This makes the build obviously easier and cheaper and you gain extra space. But it substantially limits your comfort. It sucks when you constantly have to look out for possibilities to use a shower or a toilet. 

There are lots of possibilities – often creative, often super weird. Fred offers an easy-to-use outdoor shower together with a foldable shower cabin, and a portable camping toilet (a “poty”) with a flush. This is the perfect trade-off of just enough comfort and saving space.

Electrical System

Installing a basic electrical system in my experience is a must for every van build. These will power your lights, fridge, laptop, phone charger, and any other appliances you may have. Important decisions revolve around 220V vs 12V circuits, solar panels, and additional battery.

We equipped Fred with a top-notch electrical system. Fred is fully autonomous. The extra battery is powered by always-on solar panels. If we don’t have enough sun, the battery can be charged by an external connector to a power supply or by driving. Fred offers 12V USB plugs as well as 220V sockets powered by an inverter.  

Heating, Insulation, and Ventilation

Insulating your camper van will help keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. Proper ventilation is also important to prevent condensation and improve air quality inside the van. Windows, roof vents, or fans should be placed strategically to improve airflow. A heating is a nice-to-have depending on when and where you use the camper.

For Fred I decided to use the biggest possible windows on both sides and a roof window directly over the bed. This maximises airflow. The roof window has the added benefit that you can watch the stars in bed. 

Because I intend to rent out Fred all year long, we also installed a heating that is directly connected to the Diesel tank. This is straightforward to operate and extremely energy efficient. Fred is based in Barcelona, Spain, which has a great climate but may be a bit chilly in winter time.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

Safety and Security

Converting a van into a camper is a lot of fun but also includes some critical aspects, which you have to get right. These are mainly things that concern gas, electricity or water. I recommend getting this done by experts. Also make sure you follow official guidelines or laws. Most of them make sense and are there for a reason. Try not to cheat on these points.

Further safety and security elements such as locks to doors and windows, or gas and carbon monoxide detectors are optional but recommended. You will sleep more peacefully.


Last but not least, your budget is obviously another key factor that needs to be considered when converting a van. Assuming you don’t have unlimited funds, all decisions will be a compromise between design, functionality, comfort, and cost. That is why it is so important to be crystal clear about your goals and usage scenarios of your van. 

My goal was to build a van that I can use for full-time renting. My decisions were around creating a van that is attractive and comfortable for guests, that looks great, is very robust, and does not bankrupt me. I do think I achieved this with Fred. It was expensive for my circumstances but I consider this another investment. Based on my research and experiments I am convinced that there is sufficient demand so that Fred will amortise quickly.

Travelling in a VW Transporter Means Absolute Freedom

I like reducing my lifestyle to the minimum. Most of the clutter we don’t need. If we manage to reduce, I feel it is much easier to find happiness. Also, the less you have the less you can lose or can be taken from you.

This same principle applies to travelling (or living) in a van. It is certainly cheaper but the big benefit is the absolute freedom you get. You can drive where you want, and you can stop and stay where you want. You can find the most amazing places. Go running, swimming, skiing, or climbing. Even better, if your van offers a good degree of autonomy (water, solar panels etc.). For me, this is the absolute superior way of travelling. No need to fly to an all-in club vacation in Turkey.

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

How does this whole Fred project fit into my life philosophy?

The Fred project for me is a great example where I am turning a passion project into a (hopefully profitable) side business. I love van life, I love camper van conversions, I love minimalism, and I love the result: Fred - The Wellbeing Van. 

According to my experiments, there should be sufficient van renting demand in the area of Barcelona to become profitable soon. It helps that due to his custom build, Fred is certainly one of the most attractive and thought-through camper vans on this market. 

I have chosen Camplify as my renting platform. They are not yet the biggest player in my area but I love the platform’s features, their ease-of-use, and especially their customer service. They clearly understand that they win when I win. The first couple of times I will handle guest interactions (check-in, check-out, cleaning etc.) myself but will soon find ways to automate and delegate. As always, aiming for a (semi-) passive income stream.   

In conclusion, the Fred project as an investment is intended to contribute to my financial freedom and it’s in line with several principles covered in my 18 Rails to Help Maximize Happiness

Rent My Van: Fred - The Wellbeing Van

In today’s article, I covered how to convert a VW Transporter into a camper van: a step-by-step guide. This is my real-world story of having converted an imported VW T6 into a beautiful and practical camper van following the Mediterranean Van style. 

Fred is now available for rent. For more details, you can check out this website or click the banner below.