Regardless of how simple or extensive a fit-out that you may be considering, the first step is to choose a van.
Size does matter
The size of the van you choose will be influenced by how you are planning to use the vehicle once it is set up….
- Who? How many people – just you? Or you and a partner? Or a whole family?
- Where? Will you be camping off-grid in remote areas, ‘stealth’ camping in urban areas, or staying in regular campgrounds?
- How far? Will you be travelling long distances?
- Storage? Will you need a lot of storage space?
- Equipment? Will you be carrying surfboards, kayaks, mountain bikes, etc?
- Bathroom? Will you be installing toilet and shower facilities?
There are plenty of options when it comes to van sizes – most manufacturers produce vehicles in various lengths…
- SWB: Short Wheel Base – around 5 metres in length;
- MWB: Medium Wheel Base – around 6 metres in length;
- LWB: Long Wheel Base – over 7 metres in length;
- Bus: Alternatively, you may be drawn to the possibilities that are available in a vehicle normally used as a passenger bus or coach. These vehicles check in at around 12 metres in length.
There are lots of pros and cons to consider for each size of van:
- SWB vans are ideal for weekend trips and short overnight stays.
- Larger vans can be fitted out to provide more facilities for longer excursions or permanent living;
- Larger vans have more options for storage space, both inside and outside;
- Smaller vans are more easily parked in shopping centers, or stored in residential areas when not being used;
- Smaller vans can also be used as daily commuting vehicles when not in holiday mode;
- Larger vans may require a special license to drive on public roads;
- LWB vehicles can more easily accommodate a permanent bed, or beds.
- Larger vehicles can accommodate showers and toilets.
- More recently manufactured vans have car-like facilities, such as cruise control, lane guidance, etc, along with car-like handing and performance. Older vans may have more truck-like features, or less sophisticated handling and performance;
- If you will be using your van for long distance travelling, check for things like fuel consumption and nationwide service and parts support;
- Will the weight limits of the vehicle (GVM) accommodate your equipment requirements, including fuel and water?
- If you will be exploring the Australian outback, can you accommodate an additional spare tyre?
- Will you need a 4WD?
Weighing it all up
Once you have considered your particular needs and decided on the physical size of a van to meet those needs, check on the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of the van. This is also known as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).
This is important!
The GVM is the maximum operating weight / mass of a vehicle, as specified by the manufacturer. When your van is fully loaded it can’t legally weigh more than the GVM, without potentially becoming unsafe, and most probably voiding your insurance cover in the case of an accident.
Larger heavier vehicles will require a special license to drive on public roads. This usually kicks in at around 4500kg, but check with your local authorities.
So, step one – choose a van that suits your needs, and be familiar with (and understand the implications of) GVM. Every single item that you add to your van will count towards the GVM.