In recent times, there’s been a focus by some adventurers, enthusiasts, and DIY hobbyists to convert vans into small mobile homes for road trips or comfortable traveling. It’s called van life. Ford’s Transits are a popular van to take and convert, but this particular article will narrow it down to some tips and ideas for those of you rocking Chevy Express vans. Maybe you’ve acquired a conversion or upfitted van after visiting a commercial Chevy dealer near you, and you’re looking for some good ideas on how to convert it to your liking? Well, you stopped by the right place.
It’s important to make the distinction of differences in vans because Chevy’s Express commercial vans are nothing like Ford’s Transits as far as design and space capacity are concerned. So what works for one isn’t likely going to work for the other. Now that we have that out of the way let’s get into discussing some ideas about converting your van into something you can live out of while you travel, either for vacation, work, or recreational purposes.
Is Converting a Van for Temporary/Full-Time Living Even Legal?
The short of it is that, yes, it’s completely legal to convert your van’s interior to live out of it. Of course, all other standard laws still apply, which means that you shouldn’t drink and drive or disturb the peace with very loud music as part of a makeshift parking lot concert. In any case, so long as the van abides by the standard regional vehicular laws and road rules, you’re good to go.
The only time you will need to start worrying about the legal aspects of van life is if you have a vehicle over 40-feet long, at which point you will need a Class B license. However, so long as you keep your intended van under 40-feet, you should be fine. Additionally, if you don’t make any drastic external modifications that violate any standing laws, you should also be fine to modify and re-orient the interior of the van however you like.
Express and Cargo Vans for Van Life
Depending on what you plan on using your van life for will determine what kind of Chevy van makes for the best base for conversion. Now some of you might be wondering why you would opt for a commercial van instead of a typical minivan? Well, it’s because commercial vans, specifically the Express Vans, give you the most room and the most options for how you can personalize your van life experience. They can also hold more than 4,200 pounds worth of cargo, which is perfect if you plan on adding a ton of interior features to the van, like storage compartments, a bed, or heavy electronic equipment.
Typically these vans are oftentimes used for utility work on construction sites, for plumbing, cargo carrying, and other job-related tasks. However, the upside is that the Express can be gutted and renovated into whatever you want. This makes for an excellent way to outfit, customize, and decorate your van exactly the way you want.
Now some people who are a little more courageous and ambitious might go with something like the Chevy Express Cutaway. What is the Express Cutaway? It’s a van designed for upfitting. You can basically anchor a custom body onto the rear. This is a nice option if you have the cash and the creative foresight to overhaul an upfitted Express Cutaway into the sort of van that suits your ambitions.
However, the safer bet is to go with an Express Cargo Van because you get the length and space you need for things like bedding, a small kitchen area, and storage. The Express Passenger Van isn’t a bad option, but it features a lot of windows on both sides, and unless you opt to get them tinted, you probably won’t be too keen on having people easily looking into your mobile abode. You’ll also probably want to find an Express with a 155-inch wheelbase, this way, you get the most room to work with inside the van.
Delete the Interior, Make Your Own
If you opt to get your van from a commercial Chevy dealer near you, there is the possibility of finding a new or used version of a van with a deleted interior. When buying new, you actually have the option to delete the interior panels and trimming. The benefit of this is to give you even more room, space, and essentially a blank slate in which to deck out the interior with your own design.
If you have the money to spare, you can actually have professionals handle the interior decoration for you. It’s not the most cost-effective way of getting your van converted for life on the road or into a self-contained camping or vacation van, but it does cut out all of the time-consuming heartache that comes with doing the work yourself. In some cases, people will creatively lay out what sort of look they want for their van and then have professionals do the actual installation.
Alternatively, if you have any kind of carpentry skills, you can basically make some of your own furnishings, such as a bed frame, cabinets, and storage compartments. It’s the same thing as designing furnishings for a house, except it’s in a smaller space and for a van. If you’re not entirely artistically inclined with interior decoration, you can either keep it basic by leaving the actual design work blank for the interior and just go for adding the furniture until you feel comfortable expanding on the interior decoration.
Bolt It Down
The most important thing about outfitting your van for van life, whether for temporary or permanent travel purposes, is bolting down your equipment. This typically means that however you decorate the interior, you’ll need to make sure that you have a solid floor plan for the van without damaging the chassis, as well as making sure that whatever tables, seating arrangements, bedding, storage, or refrigeration devices you install are secured and bolted into place.
It’s probably important to lay out what you want inside the van first before you settle on your decorative motif. Once you figure out what you want in the van, then it’s time to build your visual theme around the items inside. Also, if you don’t plan on making the change permanent, it might be wise to have a plan for installing and removing the items, so this way you can rearrange the interior of the van the way you want without getting into a pickle where everything is permanently fixed in place. Since the Chevy Express Van is designed for upfitting and customizing, it certainly makes for one of the better choices when it comes to converting it for van life purposes.
Just remember that anything you don’t securely fasten into place within the van will be prone to moving about while driving. Sharp turns, passing lanes on the freeway, or abrupt stops can cause anything that isn’t bolted down to move, scoot, or fly all over the place. So make sure everything is secured in place before you attempt to go traveling with your new van life setup.
Power It Up
Maybe you’re planning on using your van for camping, weekend vacations, or interstate trips? Well, you’re probably going to need to make sure you have enough power to accommodate your furnishings, especially if you have a portable electric cooler or miniature fridge in your possession. That’s not to mention things like televisions or power for your electronic devices, such as smartphones or laptops, or even computers.
The good part about the Express is that you have the option to upgrade the alternator for extra power pull. You can stick with the base 105-amp alternator, but if you plan on using the van to power all sorts of electronic gadgets and storage units, such as a portable fridge, it might be best to opt for the 220-amp alternator available for the Express. This is perfect for a small 12-volt fridge, a television, your sound system, and any number of small or large power converters you might need for your traveling equipment.
At most commercial Chevy dealers near you, they usually let you opt for a heavy-duty battery that scales up to 770 amps, which is 170 more amps than the standard battery that comes with the Express. If you plan on using the van as a power station of sorts while you’re outdoors, either for a get-together, a camping party, or any number of other activities, the extra power certainly helps. If you also need the van for lighting up an area, the extra amperage will come in handy.
Another thing to consider is opting for the Duramax turbo-diesel iteration of the Express. Why? You get better cargo and trailering ratings as well as improved fuel economy. It makes it the ideal solution if you plan on traveling long distances with your newly converted van or if you plan on using the onboard power for long periods of time throughout the day or night. Hopefully this helps get you started on taking the next steps in pursuing your van life, especially if you choose to go with a Chevy van for your new adventures.