Buying a campervan is not for the feint of heart. If you’re buying a vintage vehicle in need of major work, fix the seat belt first since you’re going to need to buckle up for a wild ride. While the overall cost and time commitment depends on how old your vehicle is, its starting condition and how complicated and expansive your plans are, keep in mind that a restored VW Westfalia or an improved Ram Prosmaster or Mercedes Sprinter can easily cost more than $60,000. Of course, if you can do much of the work, your cost will be much lower. If you’re looking for pure functionality, the Mercedes Sprinter and Ram Promaster are two practical options; especially if you can find something that is only a few years old and in good condition.
If you’re set on purchasing a VW Westfalia, here are some suggestions we can offer after completing several updates. In both cases, we purchased older VW Westfalias that needed a complete update.
- Budget at least $20,000 for a complete upgrade if you’re unable to do the engine work yourself. $30,000 to $40,000 is not uncommon if you need to replace all of your systems along with your interior. GoWesty offers some helpful information about how to size renovation work. It’s not surprising to see that they no longer pursue this type of work since the margins are low–even when charging 50k+ per project.
- The most expensive part of a full reno project will often be body work. A quality body job can cost $8,000-$12,000. If you have extensive rust or dents, wet sanding, patching and the interventions needed to remediate these issues are time consuming. Also, the cost of paint is extremely high, which contributes to a major part of the overall cost.
- GoWesty will become your best friend as you secure replacement parts. In many instances, you’re going to have to get creative and seek out parts on EBay or other VW parts sellers like VW Bus Depot or JBugs. Keep in mind that many of the more popular parts go out of stock in the summer, so plan ahead.
- If you’re updating a VW bus, don’t forget that there’s only so much you can do to upgrade the brakes, suspension and overall comfort of the vehicle. A newly renovated vintage vehicle still sits on the original chassis and brakes that can do only so much to slow you down if you crest a steep hill and fail to slow down and downshift to manage your speed.
- While you can lay down Fatmat Rattletrap insulation to reduce sound and vibration, an older vehicle is still going to be noisy. You might also find that high speeds cause certain parts of your vehicle to vibrate more severely.
- Make sure to check your headlights to ensure that your headlights are bright enough, but also ensure they are aligned properly.
- The Samba.com is an excellent resource for all things Westy related
Some Conversion Examples
Although it might appear that one can’t convert a van into a camping-ready spaceship on wheels, there are some aspirational stories floating around that suggest you can DIY a campervan project for under $20,000. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Ford Transit for under $20,000
- The Samba.com offers tips and stories about Westfalia conversions
- Vanlife Outfitters Promaster conversion details (brilliant post loaded with helpful information)
- Vanlife Customs inventory with photos (Promaster, Sprinter, Transit conversions)