Ford Transit Camper Conversions: 12 Crucial Things to Consider

In RV livingby Morten Storgaard

The Ford Transit is becoming one of the most popular camper van bases.  This van has a lot to offer, but there are some crucial things to consider before you buy the van and design your build.

Here are 15 key areas to think about when converting a Ford Transit to a camper.

Engine Sizes and Types Vary

Ford currently offers three different engines.  These engines include the 3.7-liter gas engine, the 3.5-liter gas engine, and the 3.2-liter turbo diesel engine.

The 3.7-liter engine is the standard engine, and while it offers a lot of power, it does have the worst gas mileage of the three.  This being said, this engine does provide an option to be fitted so that it could be converted to a natural gas or bi-fuel engine.  This is an elegant feature that could be really useful in the years to come.

The 3.5-liter engine comes with twin turbochargers and Ford’s EcoBoost feature, which gives it 310 horsepower and better gas mileage than the 3.7-liter engine.  This engine is an excellent option for people who want to stick with a gas engine without sacrificing fuel economy.

The 3.2-liter diesel engine is the most fuel-efficient of the three engines, and it can provide a lot of torque for towing.  Diesel engines are also rated to last much longer than gas engines, so you should get more durability out of it.  The downside is that you’ll have to use diesel fuel, and the engine may be harder and more expensive to work on than Ford’s gas engines.

The Height Will Vary

Ford offers three different roof heights.  These roof heights are labeled as low, medium, and high roofs.  The low roof has an overall height of about 83 inches, the medium roof has a total height of about 101 inches, and the high roof has an overall height of about 110 inches.

Inside, you’ll get a standing height of about 53 inches, 68 inches, and 77 inches.  To make these numbers a little easier to digest, this comes out to 4’5”, 5’8” and 6’5”.  Most adults will be able to stand up straight in the high roof, many will be able to stand up straight with the medium roof, but the short roof will most likely leave people wanting for more.

One thought to keep in mind with the medium roof however, is that you will lose some of this space with your build.  For example, you may lose an inch or two when you insulate the ceiling, and you may lose another inch or two when you add insulation and flooring to the floor.  If you’re anywhere close to 5’8” and you want to be able to stand in your van, you may end up having to go with the high roof instead.

Popup Roofs Can Be Added

Parking and even driving can become complicated with a high roof.  Some garages will not accommodate the high or even the medium roof, and you’ll undoubtedly have more wind resistance when driving with a taller ceiling.

This can cause poor gas mileage and can even make your ride less stable on windy days.  On top of this, you may find that driving through forest roads is more difficult as low-lying branches may end up scraping the top of your vehicle as you drive to your campsite.

Luckily popup roofs can be added to these vehicles so that you can choose when and where your roof is raised.  Companies like Sportsmobile offer professional popup options, and with a little hard work and skill, you can even create your own popup.

Popup Roofs Vs. Hard Side

A popup roof will make the Ford Transit more versatile and will offer better ventilation than a hard side roof.  These roofs also tend to be a bit lighter since the canvas and lift mechanisms don’t weigh as much as an actual roof.

The major downside is that these roofs don’t offer the protection and stealth capabilities of a hard side roof.  People will know you’re in the vehicle when your roof is popped up.  Also, the canvas and lift mechanisms on these roofs are much more likely to fail when compared to a standard vehicle roof.

Fiberglass Roofs Can Be Added

If you are unsure about which roof option to go with, keep in mind that taller roofs can be added.  These aftermarket roofs are made from sturdy, durable, and lightweight fiberglass, and frequently, you won’t even be able to tell that they didn’t come from the factory.

This means that if you decide to go with a small roof or a popup roof, you won’t be stuck with it forever.

Remember, these aftermarket roofs are expensive.  Switching out your roof could easily cost upwards of $10,000, which could make the change painful or simply not worth it.

The Lengths Will Vary

You’ll also have to choose between three different lengths with this van as well.  These lengths are approximately 219 inches, 236 inches, and 264 inches.  This comes out to about 18’4”, 19’8”, and 22’ on the outside.  The short and medium lengths should fit in a standard parking space without too much trouble, but the 22’ length could be problematic in some parking areas.

Inside you’ll have lengths of about 124 inches, 141 inches, and 170 inches in the cargo area.  This breaks down to approximately 10’4”, 11’9”, and 14’2”.  All of these options are longer than a standard cargo van, but you’ll see a big difference in space between the short and long length options.

Also, keep in mind that regardless of what length you choose to go with, the width is only going to be about 71 inches at the rear. 

This means that many people will not be able to comfortable lay horizontally.  As a result, you may decide to place your bed vertically, which could take up a lot more space inside the van.

Alternatively, you could sleep diagonally in the bed, or you could add bump-outs to the sides of the van in the back to gain a few additional inches.  This is what some professional companies are doing now, and it seems to work well.

Wheelbases Will Vary

There are also two different wheelbases for you to choose from with this van.  You can go with the regular wheelbase or the long wheelbase.  These are often shortened to the acronyms of RWB and LWB in the company literature.

The wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear wheels.  Different wheelbases have different pros and cons associated with them.

Long Wheel Bases Vs. Short Wheel Bases

Long wheelbases are usually more stable and offer a smoother ride.  They are also easier to load since you can have more weight in the rear without worrying about stability issues.  On top of all of this, the wheel wells will sit further back in the van so you can build your bed right on top of them.

Short wheelbases have a shorter turning radius.  This makes them easier to drive and park in the city and in tight campgrounds and forest roads. 

Just keep in mind that the tighter turning radius may not match the long rear end of the van, so you will have to watch that you don’t smash the tail end of the vehicle when making tight turns around obstacles.

Airbags Could Be A Problem

Vehicles are becoming safer and safer to drive, and vans are no exception to this.  One of the reasons for this is that airbags are becoming better and more prolific.  This usually isn’t a problem, but for van builds, it can be.  The reason for this is that new passenger vans now have giant side curtain airbags that extend throughout the entire rear of the vehicle.

This means that if you buy a passenger van to convert, you will have to remove this airbag when you begin insulating the van.  Unfortunately, this could set off safety warnings in your van and could cause some warranty and even legal issues as well. 

For example, your insurance company may not like the fact that you took the rear airbags out of the vehicle.  Also, you may have trouble reselling the van as you’ve made a major change that directly affects the safety of any passengers that may be in the rear, should the van be converted back to a passenger van.

Leaving the airbags in the back of the van could be problematic, as well.  What if the airbags go off and there is a kitchen with a propane tank in front of it?  That propane tank could come loose or become airborne during an accident.

Even batteries could be pushed throughout the vehicle due to a rear airbag going off, and this could also cause a deadly explosion.

Avoid these problems by simply going with a cargo van version of the Ford Transit.  The cargo van won’t have these rear side-curtain airbags, so you won’t have to worry about dealing with them at all.

Tech Packages Can Replace Windows

Having a lot of windows can be a real advantage in a small camper.  The windows can make the campervan feel larger, and they can let natural light in during the day.  They can also be used for ventilation and airflow.

On top of this, the windows can make driving easier.  In fact, windows can make driving so much easier that many people are afraid driving a large van would be difficult without them.  Fortunately, this just isn’t true anymore.

New technology, like backup cameras, sensors, and birds-eye view cameras, make driving large vehicles incredibly easy.  These cameras and sensors can help you with parking, blind-spot monitoring, and even lane changes.

Some of these cameras are so good that you could almost drive the vehicle without even looking out your front windshield.

These tech options can be more expensive, but in the end, they may end up saving you money.  One reason for this is that adding windows is also expensive.  The money you save on adding windows might be less than what you’ll spend on your tech package.  Another reason is that insurance companies love safety features like sensors and cameras.  For this reason, you may end up saving money on your vehicle’s insurance policy.

Ford Transits Can Tow

If you’re worried about space, you may want to keep in mind that a Ford Transit offers a lot of towing power.  Many of these van configurations will be able to tow between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds.  What this means is that you have the option to tow cargo trailers, flatbeds, and even campers behind your van.

Don’t want to have to worry about cooking inside of your small van?  Tow a teardrop camper with a kitchen behind your van, and you’ll have an extra bed and a kitchen that you can cook with.

Don’t want to tow an entire teardrop camper behind your van?  Add a hitch and a cargo carrier to the back of your van and set a kitchen up on top of that.

Some people tow entire campers behind their campervans.  These people have a small and versatile camper that they can take exploring and a great travel trailer that they can use as a basecamp.  This gives them additional room when traveling with others and reduces the number of amenities they need to add to their van build.

There are, however, two things to keep in mind before towing.  Firstly, not all Ford Transits can be used for towing, so you’ll want to look at each model before buying.  Secondly, the weight you can tow will be reduced with each additional pound you add to the inside of your vehicle, so you’ll want to know how much weight you’ve added to your build before you decide to tow any additional weight.

Older Vans Could Be Hard to Find

One major downside to building out a Ford Transit is the fact that these vehicles are still relatively new to the market.  This means that you may have a really tough time finding a used vehicle.  Ultimately, this means you’ll end up paying more for your Ford Transit than you might have paid for an old Sprinter van.

The positive side of this is that you’ll have a new vehicle to work with.  This means you won’t have to worry about all of the maintenance issues that old vans have to offer.

Also, you may be able to finance a newer van when you might not have had this option with an older one.  This means that you may be able to buy a newer and more reliable van without having to spend nearly as much money upfront.

Just keep in mind that if you do decide to work with a newer van, you may have to worry about warranty issues.  Be sure you know how each item you add to your van build affects your warranty before adding it.  For example, it’s not certain, but adding a roof vent may end up voiding your vehicle’s exterior warranty.

Ford Transit Connects Could Be An Option

If you’re intent on getting a Ford Transit but you can’t afford to buy a new one, you might want to consider the smaller Ford Transit Connect.  In fact, even if you can afford a new Ford Transit, you may still want to think about getting a Ford Transit Connect for your build-out.

The Ford Transit Connect is a smaller and older version of the new Ford Transit.  The cargo area is less than 5 feet wide and less than 7 feet long, but it’s still large enough that you can easily sleep in it.  Also, it has a higher roofline than a minivan, so you get more volume to work with.

Some people like this vehicle because its smaller footprint makes it easier to navigate city and country roads.  They also like the fact that it is front-wheel drive and that it gets over 20 miles a gallon with a regular gas engine.

On top of all of this, the Connect is easy to buy.  This vehicle has been around long enough that you can buy used ones for less than $5,000.00.  Because of this, you can get into van life with a Ford Transit Connect much cheaper than you can with the newer Ford Transit.

You Can Buy Professional Ford Transit Conversions

Don’t feel like you have to create your van build completely.  There are currently many large and small camper companies that can help you build the Ford Transit camper of your dreams.  Some companies can completely build your van for you and others can be used for specialty add-ons like popup roofs and solar panel installations.

Some companies to look at for a ready-made camper van are Outside Van and Beartooth Van.  These companies will completely build out your van so you don’t have to. 

If you’d like to do most of the work yourself, but want to save the hard stuff for the professionals, companies like Sportsmobile and Colorado Campervan can be used for adding pop tops and completing drive train alterations.

Final Thoughts

The Ford Transit makes a great base vehicle for building camper vans.

Many people have already converted them and you can too.

Why don’t you give it a try?

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