Which vehicles are most suitable for living
Living on the road for an extended time, the comfort you experience depends very much on the type of vehicle serving as your home, and how well it fulfills your needs, preferences, and expectations.
If you already own any kind of enclosed vehicle, you can make it work to an extent. Even the smallest hatchback will protect you from the elements and store your most basic belongings. There isn’t a lot you can do, however, to convert a small car into a full-service dwelling. It can never be much more than a place to sleep, store a few things, and move from point A to point B. Eventually you will want to aim for something with more space. Let’s discuss some of those options, both the positive and negative aspects.
A nice RV is the most desirable dwelling for most people. RVs usually come equipped with propane connections, a private toilet and shower area, and a heavy duty electrical system, all of which are pain points in other kinds of vehicle dwellings. But the prospects are not all rosy. Driving a full-size RV is significantly more difficult than driving a van or truck. With the extra weight comes additional fuel costs. And RVs tend to have special licensing and insurance considerations. Once those issues are squared away, you will have a vehicle that was designed from the start for comfortable living and travel. Unfortunately, fully equipped RVs are also the most expensive choice, and they are not even close to “stealthy” in most city parking scenarios.
A conversion van may be the easiest route to get started, as they don’t require a ton of work and are far less expensive than a full RV of equivalent quality. These vans have already had some work done for comfort and style. The previous owner may even have equipped it for camping. All you need to do is organize the interior to fit your belongings and your tastes. Although less expensive than full-blown RVs, conversion vans are still priced a bit high unless you find one that has already traveled the world and seen all the sights.
Common cargo vans
A typical cargo van is essentially a “conversion” van that hasn’t been converted yet. That’s your job. The hard work and resources that you invest in converting your own van can pay off in the form of a more efficient dwelling that’s tailored to your needs. The overall cost may also end up being lower than buying a fully equipped conversion van or camper.
Most used cargo vans have either been used for deliveries or as somebody’s work van. If you buy a used cargo van, try to source one from the original owner and find out as much as you can about how it had been used. Delivery vans will almost invariably have a lot of miles, possibly 200,000 or more. The quality really depends on the maintenance schedule of the original owner.
Work vans may also have a lot of miles, but another issue to watch out for is the cleanliness of the cargo area, which will become your living space. Oil or chemicals could have spilled and stained the floors. The result could range from a minor inconvenience in terms of odor to a genuine health hazard. Plan on doing some deep cleaning and sanitation before moving in.
Box trucks, also known as cube vans, are essentially a pickup truck with a large, boxy cargo area attached. Possibly the most familiar example is the U-Haul moving van. Due to their ample size and flat walls, box trucks can make very comfortable dwellings with a bit of work. They allow for better use of vertical space, keeping the floor area from feeling so cramped.
Sometimes a box truck won’t provide easy access to the trailer from the cabin, and the back door may be a roll-up garage-style door. This can be an issue for some, especially for maintaining a low profile when entering and exiting the living area. Unless you’re loading and unloading pallets of freight, try to find one with a normal door on the back.
Despite the drawbacks, cabin separation can bring a degree of security because there is only one point of entry, and there is usually no way for someone to peek in the back. Another benefit is that there is no chance of items flying up into the cabin in an accident or fast-stop scenario. Still, finding a box truck with some kind of hatch or door connecting the cabin will be immensely more convenient.
Another excellent option is a step van if you can find one in good condition. These are large, boxy vans that typically have one tall passenger-side door, like a school bus. Step vans are often used for delivering bread, parcels, and such. (They also make great concession stands.) Similar to box vans, step vans have flat walls and plenty of vertical space for storage and standing up comfortably.
Unlike a box truck, the cabin and cargo area are usually connected in a step van. Thus the benefits and caveats are swapped. If possible, find a step van with a wall or cage behind the front seats, and a sturdy door for access. The barrier is there to stop your belongings from posing a hazard in an accident, while adding a layer of privacy and security.
Some people have had success converting used ambulances bought at auction. One commonly cited drawback of ambulances is that they tend to have a lot of engine wear due to idling for long periods, in addition to high mileage from driving around at high speeds and saving lives. Fortunately, ambulances are well-maintained while in service, so it is sometimes possible to find a real gem.
More in this series:
- Which vehicles are most suitable for living
- Finding overnight parking anywhere
- Cooling off in the summer
- Warming up in the winter
- Insulating your vehicle from heat and cold
- Effective habits for safe van dwelling
- Getting a restful night of sleep
- Earning income as a van dweller
- Maintaining connectivity anywhere
- Preparing for the move
- Preparing meals on the road
- Staying clean when water is scarce
- Supplying electricity to your dwelling
- Receiving mail and official documents
- Essential maintenance for your vehicle
- Adding your personal touch