Rebuilding Van Morrison - A Van Life

 My boyfriend and I have wanted a camper van for about a year now. It started as just a dream, but then quickly became more and more attainable. My boyfriend, Derek, spent a great deal of time looking for camper vans on Craigslist and Sportsmobile.com. If you’ve never heard of them before, Sportsmobile is the company that outfits vans and trucks into campers.

Eventually, we found a Sportsmobile dodge van for sale by owner in Austin, but their asking price was a little bit out of our price range… by about $4,000. As we were thinking it over, Derek found a very similar Sportsmobile for sale up in Truckee, California, near Lake Tahoe for only $4k.

We FaceTimed the owner, checked out the van virtually, and decided to fly up and buy it. At the time, I was still working full-time at my previous job that pretty much never allowed vacation, so I was unable to go with Derek to retrieve the van. 

The Problems

  • broken gas gauge
  • broken gear shift indicator
  • muffler
  • loose steering
  • dying A/C
  • dead rear batteries

The Remodel

And so, the remodel began. We took the van to a mechanic to get a quote on the gas gauge and gear shift problems, but those are evidently time and labor-intensive problems that cost way more than they’re worth. So instead, we record our miles and count the gears as we shift.

We got a new muffler, new tires, new brakes, new rear batteries, new speakers, new door pull straps, LED light bulbs, and fixed the front end steering, and then I began working on the interior of the van.

My mom used to be a seamstress, and she taught me how to sew when I was younger, so I was SUPER excited to reupholster the inside of the van. The majority of it is just ripping off disgusting fabric and stapling nicer fabric onto the pieces, but the couch was a bit more complicated. I decided on a dark grey and lime green color scheme – because lime green is my favorite – and I went on down to Hancock Fabrics to find the best material.

I found a really durable outdoor furniture fabric on sale in neon green and bought the whole bolt of that at about $9/yard. I think the couch required about 4 yards, and the bed (which I covered in royal blue) was about 2 yards. The couch required a few extra steps like making fabric buttons, deep buttoning, and sewing a zipper onto the bottom of one piece, but it all came together very nicely.

Then, our next step was to paint the cabinets. Sadly, we forgot to sand down the surfaces, thinking that the primer + paint would be sufficient, but it wasn’t. So, we’ll likely be repainting the cabinets at some point… when it’s not sweltering outside. We painted the cabinets with the carpet still in, and then ripped the carpet out to make way for vinyl wood flooring.

Once we ripped out the carpet and the padding, we sanded the OSB board (the sub floor) down and primed it with latex-based floor primer. Then, we laid some 2mm-thick peel-and-stick vinyl wood planks along the floor. They were only $0.99 per plank, and we used about 45 planks total. We were able to cut the planks very easily with a box cutter and a putty knife, so placing them around corners was pretty easy. A couple planks wouldn’t stick down very well in the corners, so we went to the store and bought some flooring glue to re-glue the problem pieces.

We took our van to the Sportsmobile office in north Austin to just ask a bunch of questions, so that’s how we found out what we should replace and what we should forget about.

The vinyl flooring comes all the way up to the captain seats, but we left the front piece of carpet installed to help reduce the road noise. Our friend Aaron made a nice wooden threshold piece to cover the gap between the vinyl flooring and the carpet up front, and now all we have left for the flooring is to install the molding along the bottom of the cabinets to seal off the floors.

Once we get back to town, we’re making an appointment with the guys at Sportsmobile and having them take a look at all the electrical wiring to make sure everything is connected properly.

We still need to clean out the water tank, replace the exterior water connection, install a carbon monoxide monitor, repaint the cabinets, finish the flooring, and then start looking into fun toys that we might want like a roof rack, rocket box, solar charger, Yeti cooler, and more.

-Aicacia Young


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