#Vanlife is suddenly all the rage. First, New Yorker magazine wrote an article about the lifestyle, then Bloomberg followed up with an article talking about how hard to find or expensive the necessary vans are.
To which we say, hogwash.
We recently wanted to downsize from a bigger RV to a van for our full-time travel. We found a Class B RV for under $10K. Here’s what we learned in the process.
I’d love to build a van. Build videos like this one are church for me. All that organization and order. Size the van around your stuff, not your stuff around the van.
I’m no stranger to vehicle projects. I was into 60’s era Jeeps before we hit the road. I know how timelines can slip. It took me 6 months to rewire a complete Jeep. I watched the time it took our friends the Longneckers to build their Airstream.
I didn’t want to wait a year.
And then there’s the budget.
The big things aren’t the budget-killers. You could find a suitable starter van for a few thousand dollars. It’s all the $100 trips to Home Depot for miscellaneous bolts, connectors and brackets. Custom build projects are never cheap.
I could find used camper vans for $12K and under. That, we could swing.
Would a factory-built van work for us though? I saw three ways it could play out:
- We’ll try it, hate it, sell the van, and do something else.
- We’ll like vanlife, but not the van. We can either modify it or use what we’ve learned to start over with a custom build.
- We’ll like vanlife and the van and have skipped over the time and money required to build.
Ditching Suburbia Manifesto Shirt
Suburbia-ditchers have different values than most people - tell the world what they are:
Simpler Living. Closer Family. Richer Education. Uncommon Adventures.
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We decided to buy a used factory-made Class B RV.
Our maximum budget was $12K. Turns out we didn’t need to go that high.
What to Search For?
“Factory-made Class B RV” covers a lot of different vehicles, rooflines and floorplans. How to narrow that down?
I wanted something I could stand up in. I’m 6’3”, so that limited the search. I focused on Class Bs that have a taller fixed roofline including:
I didn’t rule out other brands, however. Other brands have a lower profiles, but they drop the floor 3-4” inside for additional headroom. These brands include:
Another option was campervans that have a “pop-top”. With a pop-top van, a portion of the roof raises up once you are parked. The raised section has a fiberglass top and canvas sides.
I liked how steathy these were when down. You can hardly tell it’s more than a basic van. They would be great for road trips - but did we want to live full-time in something that was half-tent?
I didn’t know. I kept them in my search. Pop-top brands include:
Class B Classifieds
I used the following sources for my search:
I looked on Craigslist, but using Search Tempest to do nationwide searches.
You can find good deals on Craigslist. I found two challenges:
- The deals are usually too far away to jump on and see in person.
- Sellers want in-person buyers with cash in hand.
I called on several campervans only to lose out to local buyers.
We did put a deposit down on a Craigslist Class B in California, but turned it down once we saw it in person.
We kept looking on Craigslist. We still dealt with unresponsive sellers, high turnover, and vehicles that weren’t as described.
eBay is a natural place to shop for special-interest vehicles. I’ve purchased 3 cars off eBay in the past and had decent luck.
The Class Bs that show up on eBay are usually creampuffs. Some are older models, but in near-perfect shape. The seller puts them on eBay because they want top dollar. They often get it.
There is a specific Class B RV category, but I found campervans just listed in the normal “Van” category as well.
You can setup alerts on eBay to get emailed when a new campervan gets listed.
For our budget eBay was a great place to research models and see photos, but I never bid on anything. They all looked like they would top out above our budget.
I hadn’t used Facebook Marketplace before. I did find some campervans listed, but none of them ever worked out to go look at. In some cases the sellers were non-responsive. Others took a week to respond to inquiries.
Like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace is regional. You can change your search city to see what comes up in other areas.
There is a specific group for Class B RVs for Sale. Group members post local findings or link to ads they find on the internet.
RVTrader.com is a popular choice for RV sellers. The site always features a good selection of Class B campervans.
Sellers are a mix of dealers and private parties. I contacted several private party sellers and never heard back. You’ll often find the same rig posted here and on Ebay, or Craigslist, or all three.
RVTrader also lets you setup email alerts for new rigs that match your search criteria.
Here are the search terms I used on all of these sites:
- Camper Van
- Van Camper
- Class B Motorhome
- Class B RV
- Van RV
- The brand name (“Sportsmobile” etc)
- Misspellings of the brand name (“Coachman”, “Roadtrex”, etc)