Van Build Stage One: Buying + Demolishing

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If you missed the first blog about our van build, I talk about What made us choose to build a van + experience van life Now it’s all about Stage One: buying a campervan and then demolishing the interior of it!

We read a lot of blogs, bought the Lonely Planet book on van life (actually!), watched youtube videos and scrolled instagram to get inspiration for our van, and in the end we narrowed it down to a choice of four vans which we would be happy with – Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter or Iveco Daily. The important part was that it was a long wheel base (LWB) which gave us room to fit in everything that we wanted, and that the mileage and engine were good.

We also dipped our toes into looking at buses, primarily for the height factor. The don’t make vehicles for tall people! However there was a lot more work involved there, and it was an area we felt we didn’t know much about. It didn’t stop us looking, but in the end we went back to looking for the right van for us.

It’s so easy to get sucked down the #vanlife rabbit hole. There is SO MUCH information out there, but as with most things online, it tends to be focused on the USA and Western Europe. We managed to collate enough useful information from all our sources that by the time we saw an Iveco Turbo Daily for sale on Trademe that met out criteria, after negotiating on a price we were all happy with we drove up there a day later ready to make the bank transfer and to fill out the online paperwork. Driving the campervan home (well, I drove the car while Paul drove the campervan), we felt that we’d made a good purchase and were ready to get stuck in.

The Iveco was already set up as a campervan, but it was from 1997 and in some places that was very obvious. While things like the squabs and mattresses had been reupholstered, the fridge was yellow from age and there was a lot of heavy material used throughout. It also wasn’t designed in a functional way – the bed was too short for the two of us and it had two long bunkbeds that took up what could have been a lot of really good storage space!

Back in Hawke’s Bay, we kept working our part time jobs and doing some van stuff around that. We took it in to the mechanics to get serviced and they were happy with what they found (which made us happy too!) We did our first overnight trip in the van out to Kairakau Beach and even though it went slowly up some of the steeper hills, it made it out there fine and provided us with a great night of sleep right by the beach. We boiled water for a cup of tea on the stove and spread out our stuff over the bunkbeds. And we drew lots of sketches and made lots of lists about what we needed to do, what we needed to buy, what we needed to research, what our dream van would look like, and what we envisaged our life on the road to look like.

Our first overnight trip in the van, before we started demolishing the interior!

Paul started to tear stuff out of the van. He unscrewed things, chipped off decades old glue and silicone, unwired things, and gradually we started to see the shell of the van appear. What also started to appear was the patchwork fixes that had been undertaken on the van by previous owners! Some obvious rust repair had occurred, but had then been painted over in an odd colour and covered up by a car mat. The more we pulled off the more rust we found. It was never in huge amounts, but it still meant we had to deal with it.

We took all the scrap metal from the van to the local scrap metal place. The money we got from that paid for a few takeaway meals! We sold the mattress squabs, old fridge, heater + other things on facebook marketplace. One guy took all the squabs to use on his boat. Someone else took the fridge for their own van build.

One of my first tasks – replacing the alternator belt!

We only kept two things from the interior of the van, which seems absolutely insane when you think of how much stuff was inside. The sink, and the toilet. Two things that were easily able to be reused and two things that if we had to buy new, would have cost us a bit.

The old interior of the van

We took up the floor and then spent many hours trying to scrape as much silicone off the metal as we could. That’s not a fun job! Trying to get silicone and glue off the inside of the fibreglass roof was even harder and there comes a point where we just had to acknowledge that we had done the best we could and did it actually matter that much?

Clearing everything out – note all the old silicone/glue on the floor which we had to get off somehow

We took out all the old wires and pipes and hoses. And the fittings that went with them, and then we had to chip off all the adhesive/glue/silicone on those too.

We took off the overhead storage above the cabin and tore off the carpet and fixings from that so we could recarpet it later.

We took off the headlining in the cabin and unscrewed all the mirrors + handles that were on it. Tore off the old crappy headliner and kept the template to recover with new headlining at a later date. Everything that we took off that we needed to keep we were pretty good about labeling so that we’d remember what it was!

I scrapped off the tinting from the windows. We wanted to have the absolute bare shell so we could see everything and know exactly what we were working with.

We took off the water tanks + hose storage tanks from underneath the van so we could give them a good clean.

Just some of the rust that we found on the van

Rust was one of our biggest issues. It wasn’t immediately obvious but the more that we removed things the more we found spots of it. And once you see rust the last thing you want to do is ignore it – we had to fix it! For the smaller spots we sanded back the rust, cleaned the spot with methylated spirits, applied rust converte r and then spray painted over the patch with a special paint to avoid rust. Many of the spots were around areas with bolts + screws in, thankfully we were able to replace many of these or get rid of them completely, taking away some of the risk of rust in the future. Or so we hope!

We found it behind rubber seals, underneath paint jobs that had been quick fixes over the year, behind door handles – they all had to be dealt with! After a few weeks of this we eventually started to become almost immune to it. Rather than being annoyed by it we just got on with fixing it!

One thing that surprised me, was how very little there is in the body of a vehicle. When you strip absolutely everything out you are just left with a metal and fibreglass hull. It feels weirdly flimsy, especially once you start to cut through the shell and see how thin it actually is.

Yup, cutting through the van. We did that too. We removed the hatches for the gas bottle + toilet. We had decided to move where the gas bottle went in the van, so we needed to enlarge that gap in the wall. But once we had the gaps that we actually wanted to keep, we somehow needed to close the ones that we didn’t, and for that we needed a panelbeater.

Holes in the side of the van that we needed to be tidied or covered up by the panelbeaters

After calling around several places in the Bay we were left with one option because they had a paint booth big enough to fit our van. We took it in there to get both panelbeating and a fresh coat of paint put on her to hopefully end up with her looking as good on the outside as we knew she was going to look on the inside!

While the van was at the panelbeaters for the next few weeks we kept doing a little bit of work on the van – planning, figuring things out, designing, and we also built our kitchen cabinet, hoping like heck we had the measurements right for when we finally got the van back!

Our freshly painted and panelbeated van on the day we picked it up from the panelbeaters!

Next post will be all about Preparing and Fixing the Van (possibly my least favourite part of the van build, and the part that seemed to be never ending!) If you missed the first post in this five part series, you can read it here: What made us choose to build a van + experience van life

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