Most likely, the first thing you’ll be doing in your DIY camper conversion is stripping out various fixtures and fittings from your van. Whether you’ve bought a panel van, minibus, Luton van, or any other vehicle, there will be trim, fittings and possibly seats to be removed before you start your van conversion.
After stripping out your van and giving it a good clean, you’ll be able to assess it’s condition and work to follow. Here I share my experience in stripping out my van for conversion.
Removing fittings and plastic trim
In my LDV Convoy minibus, I had plastic trim on all the walls, which needed to come out, but before removing the trim, I had to remove some lights, handles, speakers and seat belts.
After I removed all these fittings, The next step was to remove the plastic. Most of the plastic trim was screwed to the metal, so I simply had to unscrew these to get the plastic off.
Removing the seats
The seats were up next. I had a 16-seater minibus, and the seats were secured using Unwin floor tracking rails. These allows for the seats to be moved back and forth along the tracks.
What seemed like an easy job, was a bit more difficult. All but one seat came loose. On the left side of the van, the seat was bolted directly to the wheel arch.
I got my spanner set [Amazon] and socket set [Amazon], and attempted to get the seat out. Wedging the spanner in between the seat mount to hold it in place, I got under the van and attempted to loosen the bolt, without any luck.
After a fair bit of sweating and cursing, I gave up and decided to apply WD-40 [Amazon] and try again the next day. When I returned, I still couldn’t get the bolt loose, and realised I needed another solution.
Due to the location of the bolt, the only way to get in there was with a mini hacksaw [Amazon], as a normal sized hacksaw wouldn’t fit in the small space. With the little hacksaw I managed to cut the bolt and remove that last seat.
Removing the carpet from the roof
In my LDV Convoy minibus, I had grey carpet all along the roof. It was old and dirty, and even wet and mouldy in places. Since I needed a clean, flat surface to stick the insulation to, I decided to remove the carpet lining.
For this job, I used a blade window scraper [Amazon] and a Stanley knife. Using the Stanley knife, I carefully cut in between the carpet and the roof, to remove the carpeting at the edges, being careful not to cut into the carpet (or the fibreglass roof for that matter).
Once I had a little piece of carpet to grab onto, I used a combination of the scraper and the Stanley knife to remove the carpet from the roof. The glue was so tough, that pulling the carpet didn’t do anything but bend the fibreglass roof, and I feared that if I put too much force into it, I would actually crack the roof.
Cutting the carpet into smaller strips with the Stanley knife, allowed me to remove it piece by piece, making the job a whole lot easier.
After all the carpeting was removed, I used the blade window scraper to scrape off all the glue, followed by a good clean with white spirits. This gave me a smooth, clean surface to stick the insulation to.
This process took 2 of us about 3 or 4 evenings. It was a tedious job, but a necessary one.
Removing the old floor
As mentioned above, the seats were secured to tracks, which in turn were secured to the van’s metal floor. In between these rails, there were layers of ply wood, with a hard vinyl type flooring on top.
Initially, I contemplated removing all the rails – not only did I no longer need them, but I thought I could sell them on Ebay for a decent price (they don’t come cheap). However, when I saw how many bolts kept those rails in place, I quickly abandoned that idea.
There’s a bolt every 10CM or so, and 6 of these rails span over 3m in length. After my experience with that rusty seat bolt, I wasn’t going to attempt to remove 180 bolts. Not to mention trying to fill 180 holes in my floor.
Plan B: Keep the rails, and remove only the plywood. The plywood was rotten in places, especially in the foot-well – A common area for puddles of water in LDV’s, so this needed to be removed.
Since I wanted insulation under the floor, and couldn’t afford to lose any headroom, I decided that the rails could be used as supports for the new floor, with insulation in between.
For this job, I needed an angle grinder. I borrowed a battery powered angle grinder from a friend, but before we could start grinding away, I needed to remove the vinyl from the floor. I removed the vinyl by cutting it off with a blade, I then used a paint scraper to pry it away from the wood.
Removing the vinyl first not only made getting the wood out easier, but also stopped the grinding disks from getting clogged up and prevented the smell of burning vinyl in a confined space.
After removing the vinyl, we cut the plywood with the angle grinder. This worked well, but progress was slow because the batteries kept going flat.
Later, myself and another friend took turns cutting the wood with a mains powered angle grinder. This took 3 days of cutting, and at least two dozen grinding disks to cut through that wood.
After cutting through all the wood, it was back to the crowbar to pry it out from between the rails, followed by a good clean.
In my case, removing the floor was definitely the hardest part of the van conversion.
Cleaning the van
Now that all the old plastic, wood and carpet was removed, the van was almost ready to begin work, the van just needed a good clean.
One of the best purchases I made early on, was a Black & Decker car vacuum [Amazon]. It runs on 12V, and is powerful enough to pick up wood chippings, dirt and dust. This was definitely a worthy investment.
A dustpan and brush was also useful, as well as a hard bristle cleaning brush for the bigger or more stubborn things. These things are often overlooked in the planning process, but definitely some of the most useful tools.
Stripping out your van for conversion is definitely not a glamorous job, but an essential one. It is at this stage where you will be able assess the van’s condition and decide what to do next. In my case, this was dealing with rust.
When planning your van conversion, allow at least a week for this part of the job. Some of these tasks could take a considerable amount of time.
Tools used in this job
|Tools||Tool use||Direct link|
|Draper Screwdriver set||To unscrew various fittings like speakers, handles etc.||Amazon|
|Teng Tools spanner set||To remove various bolts where the socket set couldn't reach. Also used in conjunction with the socket set in many cases||Amazon|
|Bacho socket set||To remove seatbelts and seats||Amazon|
|Bacho mini hacksaw||To cut through seized bolts||Amazon|
|Paint scraper||To scrape off carpet glue and to remove vinyl from the floor||Amazon|
|Stanley window scraper||To remove carpeting from the roof||Amazon|
|Stanley claw hammer||Used with crowbar to remove wood from floor||Amazon|
|Roughneck crowbar||Removing the wood floor after cutting with the angle grinder||Amazon|
|Stanley knife||Cutting carpet into strips for easier removal, and cutting vinyl floor for easier removal||Amazon|
|WD-40||To loosen stuck/ rusty bolts||Amazon|
|Angle grinder||To remove the old plywood floor and cut parts of the metal seat rails||Amazon|
|Black+Decker car vacuum||For all the cleaning duties - used almost daily during the van conversion process and also for general cleaning while living in the van||Amazon|