2019.5.21 - selfie, the rumps, near polz
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DIY Mercedes Vito Van Conversion! HOW TO, TIPS & REGRETS For A Self Built Camper Van!

If you were wondering what exactly we've been working on these past four months or so, then allow us to share with you our recently self converted camper van! Better yet, we've put together this post with a bunch of tips, regrets and mistakes that others can learn from too!



Here's our complete guide to converting a camper van, and how to convert a camper van yourself with everything you need to know for a DIY, self built van conversion!


DIY Self Built Mercedes Vito Van Conversion Van Build How To Complete Guide, Regrets and Tips

Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. Making purchases through these links helps to support By The Compass at no extra cost to you! Read our full disclosure here.



Before we get into the guide, we should say that we're not exactly experts when it comes to electronics, carpentry and mechanics. Although we had a good idea of how we wanted our van to turn out and a rough plan on how to get there, we did find ourselves making up a lot of it as we went along. That considered, it came out great and we learnt a lot along the way that we're now able to share and help others with.


Better yet, we decided to record videos of the whole process to showcase the van build and illustrate all of the top tips that we're going to share. Those videos are all right here in this blog post, but be sure to subscribe to our Youtube channel for future videos too!



The Process


What the videos don't make completely clear, however, is that the process is far from linear, meaning that we would often find ourselves jumping from job to job and would start something without having finished something else and, if we weren't trying to make a coherent video series, we probably would have done things a little differently. For example, we would've made the insulation and cladding of the walls not such separate stages. So, that's just something to bare in mind as you read on.

Read Our Ultimate Cornwall Road Trip Itinerary HERE!

AD: click here to try audible for free

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage One // Stripping Out The Van

It all became very real when we started to tear down the plastic trim and strip out the interior of the van. On the surface, it doesn't seem like much of a challenge, but it quickly revealed plenty of hidden dirt and even the development of rust. That said, the rust was nothing too serious and nothing that a bit of rust converter and paint couldn't fix. This stage was really just a lot of cleaning and unscrewing screws.

What you'll need:

Electric drill & a comprehensive set of drill bits - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N

De-ruster - https://amzn.to/2PpFLLA / https://amzn.to/2L0MKvK

Paint brushes

Metal scourer

Cleaning cloths




Stage Two // Insulation

The trickiest part of insulating a van might just be deciding how you're going to actually do it. We did our research and paid a visit to B&Q to see what exactly we could get our hands on and what exactly our options were. In the end, we came away with a pack of insulation board, a bunch of recycled plastic bottle insulation and a few rolls of reflective bubble insulation.


We went with the insulation board as an affordable and effective way to insulate the floor, but insulating the floor may be completely unnecessary after all - particularly if you have carpet like us. If you decide to do it anyway, we'd recommend a solid insulation board instead of the polystyrene style ones we used. The recycled plastic bottle insulation seemed like the perfect product in terms of actual insulation because it's rot-proof, non-flammable and very easy to work with, so we'd definitely recommend it. The reflective bubble insulation is really only to act as a vapour barrier, so it goes right over the top and stops any moister from building up. We'd recommend that as well, but we'd suggest doing your wall cladding as you go a long to make everything a lot easier. Expandable foam is another product we tried, but didn't have a lot of fun with, so we wouldn't recommend it

What you'll need:

Actual insulation - https://www.diy.com/

Reflective insulation - https://www.diy.com/

Insulation boards - https://www.diy.com/

Insulation tape - https://amzn.to/2vkDbx8 / https://amzn.to/2PpFQim

Spray adhesive


Read our Guide For Eco Friendly Road Trips HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage Three // Flooring

After ripping up the existing rubbery floor in our van, we noticed that there were four sort of troughs or grooves in the base of the van. These troughs were the perfect place to run 34x34mm lengths of timber, with our insulation boards fitting perfectly in between.


We screwed the timber into the base of the van with self tapping screws, but an strong silicon of some sort could work too if you'd prefer to avoid using screws for this. Then, it was time to screw down the MDF flooring on top - in our case, we had to use multiple smaller sheets (6mm x 610mm x 1220mm), but one or two bigger sheets would have been better with less joins and gaps. Something worth knowing here is how to 'scribe' around the wheel arches, but we won't bother explaining that, as it would be much easier to watch a video.

What you'll need:

34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

50mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

20-30mm regular timber screws

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

JigSaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX



Stage Four // Walls

Going into the van build, we knew that we prefered the look of cladded walls compared to just plywood or MDF, and if you're the same then your main options are tung and groove wood or repurposed pallet wood. We went with the latter for the sake of saving money and what would seem like less damage to the environment, but what we didn't consider was if this would mean extra weight and extra money that we would mean spending on fuel in the long run - we're still not sure if this is actually a big difference in weight though. What we did consider was that we wouldn't need to clad the areas of wall that were soon to be hidden behind units, so we used some more MDF to double as the back of the units.

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

Two sheets of 6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX


Read about our Essential Eco Friendly Items For Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage Five // Roof & Lights

The process for the roof was very similar to the walls, apart from the fact that you can only screw into a few certain spots so that you don't go straight through the roof. On the roof of our van, we had two ridges that we could screw into safely. The trouble with this was knowing where the ridges were when we had covered them with the reflective insulation. What we might have done differently is first screwing 20mm or so thick pieces of timber into the ridges and then screwing our pallet wood into that, which would have most likely made things a lot easier! Before you do anything though, you'll need to think about your lights - ours screwed straight to the wood with a cable coming from each feeding through a hole, running behind the wood and leading to the connection box that came with the lights. Stay tuned for a video on our electrics that will explain this in more detail.

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jig saw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX

Lights - https://ebay.to/2GYCRfk


Read about Our Favourite Eco Friendly Health & Beauty Products For Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage Six // Trim

At this point, you're probably going to wonder what to do where the walls meet the roof, as well as some of the van's metal frame that might still be on show... We cut some leftover pallet wood to continue the walls round to the back doors of the van, which took a surprisingly long time to do. Where the walls meet the roof, we cut some 3mm thin hardboard, which looked much neater compared to when we tried using the much thicker pallet wood. Another challenge of ours was figuring out what to do above both of the sliding doors, as well as where the roof meets the cab area, and the best idea we could think of was to use more of the pallet wood to box out any exposed metal. We should also say at this point that instructions for all of this are very hard to give, as we basically just figured it all out as we went along, hence why it isn't in the video!

What you'll need:

Pallet wood

3mm hardboard - https://www.diy.com/

A selection of regular timber screws

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX




Stage Seven // Chalkboard Back Doors

The original idea for the backdoors was to simply cover each with a sheet of plywood, but because of the curves in the doors, it wouldn't have been worth the trouble. The second option was to use pallet wood for the bottom halves and pallet wood for the curvier top half. It involved making a rough cardboard copy to then be traced onto the plywood, cutting that out, spray painting it black and then screwing it to the doors. The backdoors really aren't our best work, but they do make for a nice feature in the van doubling up as chalkboards. Plus, we absolutely had to insulate them being such large surface areas, otherwise we could've considered leaving them the way that they were with the original plastic trim, just like we did with the sliding side doors.


What you'll need:

Pallet wood

5mm plywood - https://www.diy.com/

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

Black chalkboard spray paint - https://amzn.to/2Ds0Ik8

White paint - https://amzn.to/2PtAYIX / https://amzn.to/2vi28t5

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot / https://amzn.to/2Ptlu7N Electric sander - https://amzn.to/2ZvInMA

Hand saw / jigsaw - https://amzn.to/2PyRUxX


Read our Guide For More Mindful & Sustainable Travel HERE!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!

AD: Click here to try Audible for free!


Stage Eight // Cab Wall

The main purpose of the cab wall was to double up as the back of the wardrobe unit that was going to go up against it. However, if we had a bit more in our budget, we ideally would've insulate it with some more of the reflective bubble insulation, but then again, we can always do that at some point in the future. For the wall, we basically just used a few sheets of MDF, but figuring out how to screw it to the van wasn't easy... Firstly, some of the plastic trim needed cutting to expose the metal frame of the van, which we then screwed some 18x44mm pieces of timber to. Then, we bolted a 34x34mm piece of timber to some of the metal that ran the width of the van under the front seats using the existing threaded holes. These pieces of timber then aligned well enough to create the cab wall and screw the MDF to.

What you'll need:

6mm x 610mm x 1220mm MDF - https://www.diy.com/

34mm x 34mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

18mm x 44mm x 2.4m timber - https://www.diy.com/

6mm x 40mm bolts

A selection of regular timber screws

25-30mm self tapping screws - https://ebay.to/2EKykcH

Electric drill - https://amzn.to/2Vk9Zot