It’s funny how the last three times I’ve been looking for a vehicle, the more than perfect one has dropped in my lap for a great price at precisely the right time. First the Jetta, then the KLR, and now this – the 2003 Dodge van I just snagged yesterday. All along, I’ve been thinking I’d start with a cheap old cargo van and turn the inside into something livable. Then this conversion van came along. It was at the top of my price range, but it’s clean and straight inside and out, plus it runs, turns, and stops well. It needs some minor work, though, which I can’t afford to give it while also spending my entire budget just to buy the van, even if it’s in this good shape. But the guy said make an offer, so I lowballed him his asking price minus the cost of the tires and battery it needs. Much to my surprise, he said yes! So now, like B.A. Baracus, I’m the proud owner of a big black van.
Step 1 is get it home. This is as simple as registering it, getting a one-way trip to Derry, jump starting it, and driving it home. Step 2 is fixing what needs fixing and getting it through inspection. This means, at minimum: tires, a battery, and a replacement ignition switch (a worn out old one is causing some electrical issues, but the part is cheap and easy to replace). It also has a code for a left front ABS sensor. This could be legit. It could be the result of low battery voltage flakiness. Or it could be nothing more than some corrosion that will wear off once the van is being driven again. Time will tell. The tires will be the expensive part, but that’s how I talked the seller down so much on the price.
There’s really no point in working on the camper van aspect of it until it’s at least safe, reliable, and street legal. It won’t take much. It just needs to be done first. Technically, I could take it camping immediately, since it already has a small bed built across the back of the van. I may use it, modify it, or replace it to change the van’s configuration to suit my needs better. I don’t know yet. I’ve also saved a few things from the house — a cooler, a set of plastic drawers, a storage bin, etc. — specifically for the van, so I’ll be making a trip to my storage unit to put them in there at some point soon. This will be one of those “no-build van builds” that involves just adding what I need over time using common household goods, rather than gutting the interior and building a fancy custom tiny home on wheels.
While I’m not planning on using the van to completely run away from society (yet), I do have a few specific purposes in mind for it.
- I want to be able to work on the road. For me, “work” means electrical power for my laptop, whether for my day job, other writing, or whatever. If we expand the definition to include my YouTube channel, this also includes charging all my cameras and batteries.
- I want to use the van as a mobile communication unit for rally events. This means having my ham radios installed not just for use while in motion, but also having a small “ham shack” in the back. This is primarily for rally, but it also means I can wander off to some remote spot and play radio, just for fun. This is also another need for off-grid electrical power.
- I want to use the van as a home base for remote motorcycle adventures. This means being able to bring the bike to some remote location with me, along with all my gear. Then I can explore the area – dirt roads, trails, whatever – while returning to the comfy cushy van to sleep instead of roughing it in a tent. Since my KLR isn’t a cushy long distance highway tourer, I can cover the distance in the comfort of the cushy van instead, letting each vehicle stick with what it’s good at.. This will require the addition of a trailer hitch, which can not only tow a trailer, but also let me add a rack to carry the bike on the back of the van. That way, I won’t need to use a trailer, which saves on space and potential tolls.
These requirements will basically determine how I go about setting up the van. Once I get the basics like sleeping, storage, and food/water figured out, electrical seems to be the next big priority, since two of these needs require it.
At any rate, this will be an ongoing process. The beauty of a no-build build is I can always go back and change it if I decide it’s not working for me. Plus it’ll generate a whole lot of content for YouTube, as well as any #vanlife-realted writing I might be able to pick up along the way. Hint, hint.