“So How Much Did Your Van Cost?”

A question that I am often asked, I thought I’d put together a quick run down of estimated spend on Harry to date:

I’m sure there are a number of other items that I purchased, but here’s a run down of all the big ticket items that I can remember.  Total estimated spend on Harry as of May, 2017, rounding up: ~$17,000. 

The Van: Estimated total, ~$13,000


Took out all of the carpet and rubber flooring and cleaned the whole thing with bleach. There was lots of mushroom-delivery-mold hiding.

  • I didn’t have enough cash up front to buy a van in cash so I applied for a personal loan at my local credit union. While the interest rate was quite high, the personal loan vs. auto loan was intentional. With an auto loan, I needed to have the car picked out ahead of time and evaluated by a loan specialist. I hadn’t found my van yet and wanted to be able to move quickly if I found one that worked for me. I also knew that I would need to allocate funds to any necessary repairs and that an auto loan wouldn’t give me that extra cushion (it only finances the vehicle, nothing more). I also wanted a loan that wouldn’t penalize me with fees if I paid it off early. I took out a 4 year Personal Loan: $10,000 @ 8% interest. After the interest it came out to minimum payments of $284/month. I paid off the loan early in 6 months, and for the sake of over estimating spend, let’s say 10k + 6 months at 8% of interest = ~ $10,500 total.
    • I also needed some cash upfront to pay for the taxes and fees which came out to ~$1300 after license/registration and taxes.
    • I bought the van for $8,000 from a private seller on Craigslist. The van had 126k miles on it and was a mushroom delivery vehicle prior to me converting it (read: it was full of mold under the plastic that I ripped out).
  • I also paid $100 upfront to a mechanic to do a due-diligence check before purchasing the van.
  • I needed quite a bit of work done under the hood since the previous driver rarely (if ever) changed the oil or took it in for tune ups. I spent about $1,200 replacing spark plugs and tuning up the engine. If I recall correctly, it also needed the suspension to be tuned up and that set me back about $800. Plus whatever I’ve spent on oil changes (3 so far at ~$80 a piece). So total spend on under the hood stuff is at about: $2,240.

The Conversion: Estimated total, ~$800

  • Multiple trips to Home Depot and several return trips to return/exchange items set me back about $800 in total for the wood, glue, insulation, reflectix, carpet, etc.
  • Note: don’t buy things more than one step out! What I mean by that: if you’re working on insulation, don’t buy things for the interior wood paneling just yet — plans often change as a project goes on, and more stuff just takes up work space in the garage (or wherever it is that you’re working). Plus, you may end up spending more than expected on a portion and have to cut back elsewhere.

Sa-curity: Estimated total, $550.

  • After I was robbed, I invested in security system. Head down to CarToys and they’ll set you up with a key fob and alarm system. Hurt to throw down this kind of cash for an alarm, but it hurts even more to have more stuff stolen or broken.64095601

All the fun stuff and accessories: Estimated total, ~$2,421

Aside from the actual van, this is where things really started to add up.

  • Whynter 45 quart fridge. I was able to find a refurbished unit online for ~$430, saving me about $50.
  • Suaoki solar battery generator. Really just a battery pack that can be powered by solar or home outlet or 12v. $390. I lost the first one when I was robbed, so I actually ended up buying 2 — double $390 and we’ll call it ~$800 total for that one. ouch.
  • Suaoki solar panel. So worth it, and super thin as well so it makes for a van-friendly set up. $180.
  • Smitty Built awning. Didn’t think I wanted this until I spent a very wet weekend camping in the rain. Sure, the inside of the van is dry, but having the door open let’s in a hell of a lot of rain and wind when it’s raining sideways. Additionally, opening up the door and stepping into a mud puddle makes getting up in the morning, or having to pee in the middle of the night a real pain in the a**. $200.
  • SportRack cargo box. Hugely helpful to free up space in the van with things that I may not access every day (tent, tarps, other shoes, gear, etc). $260.
  • 2 bar roof rack system. Needed to attach the cargo box and awning. $120.
  • Little Buddy Heater. So nice when it’s cold and I need to heat up the inside of the van quickly (as long as I don’t mind some condensation from the heat). Also, super nice if camp fires are not allowed and you’re sitting outside. I’ve used it at picnics/beaches and it’s been great. This was also part of the Great Robbery of 2017 (GR17) however, so I ended up buying a second one to replace my first one. Double the cost of $70 for a single heater, that brings me to $140.
  • Power inverter. A must have for driving and charging the solar battery, or keeping the fridge plugged in if I’m driving — might as well use the energy if I’m making it! Again, this was stolen during GR17 so I bought 2. The first one was actually larger (and about $10 more, priced at $30) and had 2 outlets, but since I was sick of spending $, I opted for a smaller, cheaper version at $20. Total spend on this one after replacing the stolen item, $50.
  • Radio adapter for iPhone. A nice to have, but since I don’t have an aux. adapter, and only get regular radio, sometimes a pod cast or Spotify make driving all that much more enjoyable. Stoen in GR17, so ended up buying 2 at $10 a piece. Total spend, $20.
  • Mattress pads. I originally bought this one at $125, but found it to be way too bulky for a set up that needed constant set up/take down. Ended up donating it and opting for 2 smaller, more compact Japanese beds. They’re comfortable, easy to roll up, and save a ton of space. Having the ability to keep half the bed area open is really nice when it’s just me int he van, so this was a huge improvement from the one big bed cushion. Bought 2 at $65 a piece, which puts me at $130 total for a full size bed set up.
  • Folding table. A nice to have, not super necessary, but really convenient when I camp somewhere without a picnic table. There’s not room for a table in the van, so it’s nice to have room outside to set up my stove/cooking situation. $35.
  • New camp stove. I had a “treat-yo-self” moment and bought a new one since I had been using my parent’s old, but still very functional camp stove which was probably 30 years old and had a lot of grime/soot/rust on it. It’s so much easier to keep something clean than try to resurrect something that’s seen better days. Worth the spend for the convenience of a new stove and cleanliness in the van. $36.
  • Shower speaker. This is another treat-yo-self buy, but sooo worth it. It clips to my backpack when I’m hiking to scare off bears or whatever else is out there, makes it way easier to hear my pod casts/music when I’m by the fire, and best of all: it’s water proof and sticks to glass windows. I can stick it right on the van. $20.

All this of course does not include things like gas every week, or fixing things like rock chips in the windshield, or replacing the wipers every now and then but it should give folks a decent idea of what a hobby like this may set you back.

Hope this is helpful! Feel free to post questions in the comments. Happy vanning!


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