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Step Van conversion? Any problems?


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#1 infostream

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 03:12 PM

I did a bus conversion years ago and from that experience and my present needs, I am thinking a step van is the best vehicle to convert. But I don't see many conversions online so I am wondering if there is some problem that I am not seeing.

The kind of vehicle I mean by a step van is a UPS or Fed-X delivery truck, I want to have 14' behind the driver's seat.

The step van seems great to me because:
More room than a van.
Easier access than a box truck.
More stealth than a bus with all those windows.
Easier to build and more efficient use of space than a bus (because of the curved ceiling).
Can park on a city street with no hassle unlike Bus, RV or Camper Van.

Am I missing something? Why aren't there more people doing it?

Anyone have any info on conversions, particularly installing small windows and vents?


#2 David & Lorna Schinske

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 03:54 PM

You will not buy a UPS truck. They are shot to pieces by the time they are pulled off the road plus then all the usable parts are stripped off to put on the UPS trucks still on the road. We have seen several converted step vans (not UPS but Grumman vans, chip trucks, etc). Usually you will find them on places like "vandwellers". I would think that the skoolie conversion and "stealth" conversion sites would be your best source of info. There was a guy on www.skoolie.net that converted a van recently. Go ask there. Those guys would probably be happy to help you out.

As for why there aren't many online.. Escapees is one of the biggest RV sites on the web. The folks that post here are just a tiny percentage of the RVers in the US/Canada. And this is a tiny percentage of a fairly wide section... Class A, B, C, HDT, trailers, pop-up are all covered here including vintage.

#3 infostream

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 05:14 PM

Thanks David and Lorna, Skoolie looks good although I'm getting error messages trying to register or read forum posts at the moment. Everywhere else I have looked is buses and vans.

I was just using UPS truck as an example of the type of vehicle because people are familiar with it. I've looked at a few used ones of the type I want for sale, so they are pretty easy to find here in L.A.

Thanks again, I can't wait to get back out on the freedom road!

You will not buy a UPS truck. They are shot to pieces by the time they are pulled off the road plus then all the usable parts are stripped off to put on the UPS trucks still on the road. We have seen several converted step vans (not UPS but Grumman vans, chip trucks, etc). Usually you will find them on places like "vandwellers". I would think that the skoolie conversion and "stealth" conversion sites would be your best source of info. There was a guy on www.skoolie.net that converted a van recently. Go ask there. Those guys would probably be happy to help you out.As for why there aren't many online.. Escapees is one of the biggest RV sites on the web. The folks that post here are just a tiny percentage of the RVers in the US/Canada. And this is a tiny percentage of a fairly wide section... Class A, B, C, HDT, trailers, pop-up are all covered here including vintage.



#4 David & Lorna Schinske

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 06:33 PM

... Skoolie looks good although I'm getting error messages trying to register or read forum posts at the moment....[/b]

There is a problem with the host server. It has been messing up for a couple of days. At some point it will straighten up.

Edited by David & Lorna Schinske, 08 September 2010 - 06:33 PM.


#5 Neon Moon

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 05:10 AM

I did a bus conversion years ago and from that experience and my present needs, I am thinking a step van is the best vehicle to convert. But I don't see many conversions online so I am wondering if there is some problem that I am not seeing.

The kind of vehicle I mean by a step van is a UPS or Fed-X delivery truck, I want to have 14' behind the driver's seat.

The step van seems great to me because:
More room than a van.
Easier access than a box truck.
More stealth than a bus with all those windows.
Easier to build and more efficient use of space than a bus (because of the curved ceiling).
Can park on a city street with no hassle unlike Bus, RV or Camper Van.

Am I missing something? Why aren't there more people doing it?

Anyone have any info on conversions, particularly installing small windows and vents?


I don't think one (step-van VS bus) has any huge advantage over the other, I just think it's a matter of personal preference, and what you can find the best deal on. I don't think there's much in the way of differences one would find in the way of the conversion process.

As far as "stealth", unless you plan to leave the step-van plain white (to resemble some type of service truck), I don't think it's going to "blend-in" to the surroundings as much as you might think. I would also think you'd like windows in it, and not all buses are left with 2 dozen windows in them (my 22 were removed in exchange for 5).

Granted a step-van may start with a flat ceiling/roof, but those may take some reinforcing, depending on what plans you have in mind. Flat roofs shed less water than curved ones too ;) I have a flat (vaulted) ceiling. Granted it is the by-product of raising the roof, but it left plenty of headroom after insulating the floor and ceiling. Of course how tall a person is also plays a role in ceiling height (I'm tall, so there wasn't much choice).

I'd say street parking may all depend on what street in what locale.

I think you just don't see many simply because they're not as common as other vehicle conversions. I wouldn't see that as a negative, and quite the opposite, it would be a plus to me because I've always preferred vehicles that were "different". I doubt there's anything someone could say as a reason not to convert a step-van. Drivelines vary in them, just as they do any other vehicle, so I would be sure to get something that fits the majority of your intended use (highway driving, or mountain driving, pulling a trailer, etc?) which may affect things like rear axle gear ratios.

Window installation would depend on the type windows you selected, and the body structure of the van body. I had to cut existing window pillars, so I re-framed the entire new openings with 1.5" X 1/8" sq tubing, then lined that rough opening with ripped-down 2X4s for the new windows to fit into and attach to.

I didn't add any roof vents, simply because I realized I didn't have enough open area on the roof once the PV panels, secondary freshwater tank, and solar water heater were added. But even on the 95*+ days I've spent in the bus (without air conditioning), it never got hotter inside than it did outside. Lots of insulation and the entire rood being shaded by the roof deck help with that. And if I could park cross-ways to the breeze (when one was available) it lowered interior temps by several degrees (5-10 depending on how strong the breeze was). I can also open both front & rear doors, and create a sort of "tunnel" effect which also exchanges the interior air in a fairly short time (again, depending on breeze).

I say go for it, nothing you can't figure-out as you go, and there are plenty here willing to offer advice. If it's something you're sure you're going to do, I'd start working on a floor plan, and keep your mechanicals in mind. I found it easier to work aroung them by re-arranging my floorplan, than it was to have to run additional wiring and plumbing to fit my floorplan, but I adopted the KISS method, and didn't set-out with the intent to build anything extravagant...but more functional.

Smitty

#6 Boogity

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 07:07 AM

Hi infostream and welcome to the Escapees forums.

I'm wondering if the reason we do not see many step van conversions is due to the typical stiff suspension and rough ride. Those vehicles are designed and built to haul freight and might just jolt your interior furnishings to pieces.

There are a few very interesting websites and blogs about "stealth" living in vehicles. I can't think of their names or addresses right now but a Google search might get something to show up. I used to read these sites once in a while a few years ago and they're very good. One guy converted a step van and installed residential windows in the sides. He finished the exterior of the truck to look like a window company installation crew vehicle with window advertising on the sides. He lives (or lived) in cities in various parking lots and on the streets. If I remember correctly he welded the rear roll-up door shut but maintained the roll-up door look on the exterior. He welded the door shut to minimize break-ins and theft and to create permanent interior wall space. This guy has hundreds of cool stealth ideas. I think he has lived in his vehicles for about 17 years and is a contract computer expert. He goes into cities to work in big businesses as an IT set-up consultant. Many of the businesses allow him to park at the job-site.

Even though I have no desire to live like that I do find it very interesting.

#7 infostream

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 10:16 AM

Thanks Boogity,
The jolt factor is something I wondered about, but I figured if these trucks are used to ship all kinds of freight, as long as I use some padding around electronics and other fragile stuff, it should be OK (I hope). The computer guy you mention sounds pretty similar to my lifestyle and work needs, I'll have to try to find his info. I also plan to do something to the outside to make it look businesslike, and in reality half my layout is workspace and I'm hoping the ability to work on remote sites (graphic design/public art/multimedia/nature videography) will help me find more of my favorite types of work.

Another disguise (and income) possibility with step vans and box trucks is to rent the street side for advertising. I would probably put my own business logo and website on the curb side.

It's looking like the community of Escapees, boondockers and other RV full timers is going to be another benefit I will really enjoy.
Thanks again Escapees.

Hi infostream and welcome to the Escapees forums.

I'm wondering if the reason we do not see many step van conversions is due to the typical stiff suspension and rough ride. Those vehicles are designed and built to haul freight and might just jolt your interior furnishings to pieces.

There are a few very interesting websites and blogs about "stealth" living in vehicles. I can't think of their names or addresses right now but a Google search might get something to show up. I used to read these sites once in a while a few years ago and they're very good. One guy converted a step van and installed residential windows in the sides. He finished the exterior of the truck to look like a window company installation crew vehicle with window advertising on the sides. He lives (or lived) in cities in various parking lots and on the streets. If I remember correctly he welded the rear roll-up door shut but maintained the roll-up door look on the exterior. He welded the door shut to minimize break-ins and theft and to create permanent interior wall space. This guy has hundreds of cool stealth ideas. I think he has lived in his vehicles for about 17 years and is a contract computer expert. He goes into cities to work in big businesses as an IT set-up consultant. Many of the businesses allow him to park at the job-site.

Even though I have no desire to live like that I do find it very interesting.



#8 infostream

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 10:45 AM

Thanks Smitty,
I have plans to keep the outside looking business and the small windows completely blocked for night parking. In Southern California there are lots of streets that don't have residences on them where you see people living openly in RVs and buses, so I think I will have even more flexibility with my planned set up. During the day I'll be at the beach working at my desk with a view of the ocean, when I'm not on a jobsite. And when winter comes, (50 F, brrr, Palm Springs is only a couple hours away).

I already have a floor plan that I am really excited about, and a 2 stage plan. At first I'm going to keep the kitchen and plumbing really basic (camping equipment) and see how it goes, but I will build access for any electrical or plumbing I might want to add later. I will have a shower area, but I will be taking most of my showers at the gym anyway.

Last night I made a list of things I will take with me and realized my first floor plan had too much storage space.

The only scary thing to me now is buying the used vehicle, I'll have it checked by a mechanic, but it's always a little bit of a crap shoot. Just always have to have enough $ in reserve for repairs. Otherwise as soon as I finish cleaning out my house, I'm ready to start and excited.

I don't think one (step-van VS bus) has any huge advantage over the other, I just think it's a matter of personal preference, and what you can find the best deal on. I don't think there's much in the way of differences one would find in the way of the conversion process.

As far as "stealth", unless you plan to leave the step-van plain white (to resemble some type of service truck), I don't think it's going to "blend-in" to the surroundings as much as you might think. I would also think you'd like windows in it, and not all buses are left with 2 dozen windows in them (my 22 were removed in exchange for 5).

Granted a step-van may start with a flat ceiling/roof, but those may take some reinforcing, depending on what plans you have in mind. Flat roofs shed less water than curved ones too :D I have a flat (vaulted) ceiling. Granted it is the by-product of raising the roof, but it left plenty of headroom after insulating the floor and ceiling. Of course how tall a person is also plays a role in ceiling height (I'm tall, so there wasn't much choice).

I'd say street parking may all depend on what street in what locale.

I think you just don't see many simply because they're not as common as other vehicle conversions. I wouldn't see that as a negative, and quite the opposite, it would be a plus to me because I've always preferred vehicles that were "different". I doubt there's anything someone could say as a reason not to convert a step-van. Drivelines vary in them, just as they do any other vehicle, so I would be sure to get something that fits the majority of your intended use (highway driving, or mountain driving, pulling a trailer, etc?) which may affect things like rear axle gear ratios.

Window installation would depend on the type windows you selected, and the body structure of the van body. I had to cut existing window pillars, so I re-framed the entire new openings with 1.5" X 1/8" sq tubing, then lined that rough opening with ripped-down 2X4s for the new windows to fit into and attach to.

I didn't add any roof vents, simply because I realized I didn't have enough open area on the roof once the PV panels, secondary freshwater tank, and solar water heater were added. But even on the 95*+ days I've spent in the bus (without air conditioning), it never got hotter inside than it did outside. Lots of insulation and the entire rood being shaded by the roof deck help with that. And if I could park cross-ways to the breeze (when one was available) it lowered interior temps by several degrees (5-10 depending on how strong the breeze was). I can also open both front & rear doors, and create a sort of "tunnel" effect which also exchanges the interior air in a fairly short time (again, depending on breeze).

I say go for it, nothing you can't figure-out as you go, and there are plenty here willing to offer advice. If it's something you're sure you're going to do, I'd start working on a floor plan, and keep your mechanicals in mind. I found it easier to work aroung them by re-arranging my floorplan, than it was to have to run additional wiring and plumbing to fit my floorplan, but I adopted the KISS method, and didn't set-out with the intent to build anything extravagant...but more functional.

Smitty



#9 dreamscape

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 11:22 AM

I'm a bus guy, so I've got a dog in this hunt! :D

A couple of things come to mind. I don't know what you have figured for plumbing, fresh water, black waste and gray. I wouldn't think there will be a lot of room for that in a step van. In a bus there is much more storage underneath for those things. Also heating and cooling come to mind.

Used buses are more plentiful, especially when searching for parts. You could get away with a 35' coach and have lots of room for your business, kitchen, bath and sleeping quarters.

We have a 40' coach and wish we had a larger one at times. I know my wife can vouch for that, we live in ours full time.

The bus conversion market is very low right now, lots of them out there and at a very good price.

It's all about what you want but think about it, look at other rigs before you open your wallet. They are hard to sell when the time comes.

Buses are also built tough, travel millions of miles and provide good service.

HTH,

Paul

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#10 David & Lorna Schinske

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 12:41 PM

... We have a 40' coach and wish we had a larger one at times. I know my wife can vouch for that, we live in ours full time.

The bus conversion market is very low right now, lots of them out there and at a very good price.

Your "stuff" will expand to fill your space! We currently live full-time in a 22 ft Class C. We decided that we did not need 40 ft (we had a 40 ft Eagle shell that we scrapped). So we had planned on getting a shorter skoolie but fate conspired to place a low priced 40 ft skoolie/"moving van" in our path at the right time and place when we needed it (oh, to have the cash we paid for that Eagle shell... my skoolie would be completely converted). So we are now back to a 40 footer (very long in a tight neighbourhood). When Dreamscape/Paul says "bus" he means a different thing than when Smitty/Neon & I say "bus". Smitty & I both mean and have "skoolies". Paul means "highway coach". Hey, they are all "RV's".

But the two have something in common. Very, very rarely (as in pretty much never) will you get back the $$ you spent to convert whatever you are converting when you sell it. So keep that in mind and convert to what you want. There really isn't any "wrong" way to do it as long as it's wired up safely and the LP lines are right and leak free. The only other problem you could have is getting it into an RV park. but a public campground will take it. I know I've seem 3 or 4 cargo trailers and a couple of step van conversions roll thru this rv park (overnights mostly). I've been told they have to "look" at my BlueBird before they will let it in (we're long term renters). Like Smitty, we will remove most of the windows (but I'm keeping the original windows) so it will look less "school bussy".

Edited by David & Lorna Schinske, 09 September 2010 - 12:44 PM.


#11 infostream

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:13 PM

Paul,
Thanks for the response.
I like your passion for your rig, but I don't need that much space, and plan on doing some driving around, so smaller = less gas, easier parking. There's gazillions of step vans on the road, so I don't think parts will be that hard to come by, got to be easier than the 1968 Le Mans I have been driving for ten years.

You sound like you are living in luxury on that bus, must be nice.

I have a super efficient floor plan laid out, and the idea of having the fridge 2 steps from the bed, plus all my entertainment media/music/computer etc appeals to me. I'll miss having a back yard and garden, but I'll have the beach, the parks, the desert. And I definitely won't miss cleaning a big house.

.

I'm a bus guy, so I've got a dog in this hunt! :unsure:

A couple of things come to mind. I don't know what you have figured for plumbing, fresh water, black waste and gray. I wouldn't think there will be a lot of room for that in a step van. In a bus there is much more storage underneath for those things. Also heating and cooling come to mind.

Used buses are more plentiful, especially when searching for parts. You could get away with a 35' coach and have lots of room for your business, kitchen, bath and sleeping quarters.

We have a 40' coach and wish we had a larger one at times. I know my wife can vouch for that, we live in ours full time.

The bus conversion market is very low right now, lots of them out there and at a very good price.

It's all about what you want but think about it, look at other rigs before you open your wallet. They are hard to sell when the time comes.

Buses are also built tough, travel millions of miles and provide good service.

HTH,

Paul



#12 garwha

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 03:54 PM

My father did a step van conversion and after about a year in his wife wanted it gone. It was very noisey on the road and allways in need of more work. They wound op buying a 5th wheel.

There are plenty of older good quality motor homes that will cost much less than a conversion, and are road ready right now. I just can't see a reason to convert.

#13 David & Lorna Schinske

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:34 AM

... There are plenty of older good quality motor homes that will cost much less than a conversion, and are road ready right now.


Lots of folks don't believe that there are "quality" motorhomes. Yes they cost less than a conversion but it's kinda like why build a custom house when there are plenty of perfectly good houses already built, often costs less and are ready to move into.

#14 infostream

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 08:10 PM

It will be interesting to see whether I'm delusional or just wayyy cheaper than you can imagine, but my plans are not going to cost much from the list of stuff I have to buy. I will document everything, so time will tell

#15 Dennis M

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 11:08 PM

Biggest issue that pops into mind for me is gearing. Most of these vans are set up for urban or suburban delivery service and hence geared very low (high numerically) which would make it very buzzy and stressful on driver and machine on the highway. Add that to a relatively rough ride and it would be a non-starter for me.

Our truck, for example had 2.71 gears, slow acceleration, but above 40 MPH it will get up and go - and it is loafing along at 1,450 RPM at 62 MPH.
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#16 Redbear

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 09:16 AM

Thanks David and Lorna, Skoolie looks good although I'm getting error messages trying to register or read forum posts at the moment. . . .

Apparently, Skoolie.net crashed last week. It is back up as of Friday night, and seems to be working OK, but all the posts between the third and the tenth are missing. "Steve" runs the bulletin board on a personal PC farm, but it has up to now worked very professionally and reliably. If you still can't register, send Steve an email to get your registration fixed.

While you can look in the various categories to see what others have done, "Conversion Discussion" is where questions and answers about systems such as electrical and plumbing are shared, and those things will apply for do-it-yourselfers, regardless of the type of vehicle they are in. The engine/mechanical areas may be helpful to you, too.

Edit 9/12/2010: It appears the skoolie site still has bugs - the photo gallery is not back up.

Edited by Redbear, 12 September 2010 - 09:51 AM.

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#17 garwha

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 10:04 AM

I checked Craigslist a few days ago and a pretty decent 34' Holiday Rambler upper end model went for $8000, with everything working and running good, miles around 70,000. Can you do a conversion for that with a good gensetl, and all the other goodies.

#18 Guest_JUGGERNAUT_*

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:20 PM

More stealth than a bus with all those windows.


There's your answer.

Edited by JUGGERNAUT, 12 September 2010 - 12:21 PM.


#19 Jarlaxle

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 04:36 PM

Biggest issue that pops into mind for me is gearing. Most of these vans are set up for urban or suburban delivery service and hence geared very low (high numerically) which would make it very buzzy and stressful on driver and machine on the highway. Add that to a relatively rough ride and it would be a non-starter for me.

Our truck, for example had 2.71 gears, slow acceleration, but above 40 MPH it will get up and go - and it is loafing along at 1,450 RPM at 62 MPH.



Not so much on the newer ones: most Ford and GM/Workhorse chassis trucks have had overdrive transmissions for years...I think the last non-OD from them was the 1990 GMC P32 (which would have a carb'd 454 and TH-400). Even with deep axle gears, the newer ones will run 65MPH all day.

But yeah, they can be noisy & ride rough...
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Former rigs: 1976 Holiday TT, 1984 Ford B-700 school bus
Current rig: 1993 International Genesis FE school bus conversion.

#20 cdzsr

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Posted 27 September 2010 - 03:42 PM

Paul,
Thanks for the response.
I like your passion for your rig, but I don't need that much space, and plan on doing some driving around, so smaller = less gas, easier parking. There's gazillions of step vans on the road, so I don't think parts will be that hard to come by, got to be easier than the 1968 Le Mans I have been driving for ten years.

You sound like you are living in luxury on that bus, must be nice.

I have a super efficient floor plan laid out, and the idea of having the fridge 2 steps from the bed, plus all my entertainment media/music/computer etc appeals to me. I'll miss having a back yard and garden, but I'll have the beach, the parks, the desert. And I definitely won't miss cleaning a big house.

.