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I first got interested in converting an RV into a camper when I was looking at buying a used RV. It seemed like such a cool idea: You could go wherever you wanted and sleep anywhere you wanted as well as cook inside your RV. This would be great if you were going on vacation and didn’t have a lot of money to invest.
Plus, if you had a large RV, it would allow you to carry more stuff than just a tent and sleeping bag. In fact, most people who convert their RV into a camper tend to only use their camper for vacations. If you are thinking about doing it yourself though, there are a few things that you need to know before jumping right into it.
The first thing you should consider is what type of RV will you convert? A toy hauler is typically smaller than a fifth-wheel trailer which means it has less interior space. The other option you have is a travel trailer which usually takes up more room inside the RV. Most toy haulers cost around $30-40k while travel trailers start at $60-80k.
If you plan to camp out a lot, you might want to save some extra cash by getting a travel trailer instead. But, if you plan to use your RV to drive around the country every now and again, keep reading because we will discuss how to do a DIY RAV4 camper conversion using a toy hauler.
If you’re in the market for a small, affordable vehicle that can take you camping or on long road trips, but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to buy one already converted from camper shell to car, then this is the article for you!
I’ve done all the work and put together my own DIY RAV4 conversion so you can follow along and do it too. With over 100 photos and videos throughout this post, there is plenty of information to get you started with your own DIY RAV4 camper conversion. So let’s begin…
Getting the Car Prepped
One of the biggest considerations when doing any type of project is whether, or not, you have everything you need to get started. For example, if you decide to install a new shower system, you need several different tools, materials, and supplies.
However, if you have them already, it makes life much easier and saves you time and money. Since you don’t have any experience working on cars, you will likely need to purchase a number of items before starting and this can add up quickly.
One thing you will likely need to start with is removing the back seats entirely. If you have not taken out the seats and you put the sleeping platform and other bits in the car you may notice that you are sleeping on a slope and everything will be much harder to get right.
To remove the seats, you will want to pull off the carpeting from underneath the seat. Once you have removed these layers, you can lift the entire seat assembly out of the way.
With the seats out of the way, it was finally time to think about the design of my conversion. How would the sleeping platform and other structures fit? What would I need to do to get everything to work?
So, with all the extra stuff removed I took measurements of the interior of the car and noted down the dimensions before I went and started making sketches of what I needed to make this project work.
Planning & Assembling the Sleeping Platform
Space is important when you are making your designs, that is why I wanted to make sure that there was a lot of headroom above the sleeping platform.
The last thing you want is to sit up and knock your head on the roof of the car. The RAV typically has a tall plastic tray that is located between the wheel wells. It is under the metal flooring of the car and this is where the real axel is located.
Removing this part of the car was not really useful as it would not free up enough space to be worth the trouble. Because of this, we left it in place, luckily having this part in the car still left plenty of space to play with. Now all I had to do was make sure that the sleeping platform rested as close to that part of the car as possible.
It took a while, but I eventually came to the conclusion that a platform for a cooler and the sleeping platform would all fit on a plywood sheet that was approximately four inches by eight inches.
When you are making your measurements it is important to note that the size and thickness of the cooler you are bringing along will play a big role in how big the platform will need to be.
On top of this, you will need to think about how to access the items you are bringing with you as well as the placement and space needed for the seeping platform.
We eventually got the logistics figured out and with that, we went to the store and bought all the equipment that we needed. Below is a list of what we bought:
- Thick Pine Plywood Sheet – 3/4 Inches Thick and 4 Inches x 8 Inches in size.
- A few Quarter Sawn Boards – 1 Inch x 2 Inches x 12 Inches
- Piano Hinge – x1
The quarter sawn boards are to help you build supports for the seeping platform and of course, the plywood sheet is for the platform itself. Once we had all the equipment and materials we needed it was finally time to build the support structure.
There are some issues that I encountered when I was putting together the platform. For one the floor of the car was not straight and this meant that there had to be some severe customization made to the platform so that everything was level.
Once we got everything assembled we found that we had to bolt the platform to the car floor. Don’t worry, you do not have to drill holes in the car. You can use the same attachment points as the seats. You will need to do this as you will need your build to be sturdy and not rattle around your car when you are on the go.
Once all the supports were level it did not take long to shape the plywood and get it into place. Getting the plywood to fit just right did take a bit of work. I had to get the shape just right so that it fit in the space just right. But once that was done it was easy sailing.
So, with the cut, sanded and shaped sleeping platform in place it was finally time to turn to the part of the platform that was going to hold the cooler, kitchen implements, and a kitchen table.
Installing the Table
Cooking can be a lifesaver when you are on a shoestring budget, and if you actually enjoy cooking you will be glad to have a handy table you can use to do all your cooking while you are on the road.
While you could buy a camping table and store it in the car it may not be ideal if you are lacking storage space. That was the case for me, so I started trying to figure out a way that I could have a storage table built into my platform.
This part of the project took the longest because I wanted to make sure everything looked good from every angle. This included doing things like cutting the corners off of the table so that it could fit in the space without hitting the sidewalls of the car.
Since the car is a Toyota it does not come standard with a toolbox and since I am not an electrician I knew I would have to figure something out.
I ended up using a piece of plywood that was roughly three inches thick and then drilled holes at each corner where the legs should connect. I then used screws to attach the leg to the plywood.
It works fairly well although if your vehicle does not look exactly like mine you may want to cut down the height of the table a little. Also, I recommend drilling multiple holes through the corner pieces so that you have more support.
Once the main cooler box platform was created, I noticed that there were a few boards leftover and with them, I created a box that I could slide a sturdy piece of leftover plywood.
The result is a small box that slides under the bed of the car. When you open it you find a very nice surface you could use to cook and hold various items you might need. When you are on the go, you can simply slide the wood back in the box and off you go! With that completed, I decided to move on to the rest of the parts of the platform.
Sorting Out the Storage
The next thing I needed to tackle was figuring out how best to organize the storage. I started by looking at what other people were doing in their camper van conversions.
Remember that piano hinge I bought earlier? This is the part where I actually use it. With it, we were able to build small bits of storage that were able to fold away under the platform. We simply utilized the areas around the edges of the platform that were not filled with the platform.
So, I just measured out a small rectangle of plywood that would fit in the space and attached it to the sleeping platform with the piano hinge. Now, this was only one board but it served its purpose quite nicely. You can see here that I had already installed some additional piano hinges so that I could create even smaller spaces.
Once again, these are simple things that are easy to install and they add a lot of functionality to the platform.
At this point, I had everything cut and sorted out, and assembled. So, the next step for me was to take everything apart again and paint it all. I opted for a simple black enamel paint as it protects wood really well and the color will make everything look less obvious.
You can paint your platforms whatever color you choose, it all depends on what your personal preference is. Once everything was painted it was time to reassemble everything and get it in the car.
Once all the parts are in their proper place you will be done! I, for one, was really pleased with how everything turned out. With the main work out of the way, it was time to make the final touches and get the last bits sorted out before the RAV4camper conversion was complete.
Making and Installing Window Covers
One thing that you will probably need before you are ready to sleep in your newly converted camper is something to cover the windows. It is quite a scary thought to sleep in a camper that is open for anyone and everyone to just see. So, I opted to create some sort of covering for my own privacy.
There are several options you could go for if you want to obscure other people’s vision in your car. You may decide that you want to tint your windows, but that is quite a permanent decision and not one that is ideal if you want to enjoy natural light during the day. On top of that, tinted windows will let in enough light to disturb any sleep.
Because of these reasons, I opted for creating a window cover of some sort. Now, your two main options will be curtains or fitted window covers. In my case, window covers were more ideal as it completely blocks out the light, stops anyone peering through the windows and offers some insulation.
I purchased reflectix to use as a structured material and I also bought thermal material. Finally, I bought a fabric to wrap these materials so that everything looks appealing.
I traced out the size for each and every window in the car and then cut out my reflex panels. Next, I used an adhesive spray to attach the rest of the materials to the reflex panels. With that, I was done and I had some very light-blocking window covers. I even tested them out in the daytime and barely any light.
Installing an Extractor Fan for Heat Regulation
Airflow and heat regulation is important when you are spending a lot of time in an enclosed space. Especially when you have to sleep in that space. So, in order to fix this issue, I decided to purchase a portable extractor fan from Amazon.
It was pretty much exactly what I wanted. It has three speeds which should suit most people’s needs. Also, it is easy to mount so that you don’t have to worry about drilling into the walls. The only downside would be the price tag. But, if you plan on using it often, you are saving money by purchasing it now rather than later.
The Final Touches
Well, that is the majority of things sorted out. All that is left to do are a few odds and ends that will really bring the whole project together. So, let us get started.
Putting Up the Rain Guards
First off, we are going to put up our rain guards. We are going to start with the back ones because they are easier to install. First, take your mirror caps and remove the tape that holds the mirror in place on the windshield.
Then, peel off the plastic backing that is attached to the mirror itself. Once you remove all the plastic, slide the mirror into its final position.
Remember, there is plenty of room for adjustment. Next, repeat this process with the front guard. After that, we move on to the side mirrors. Simply put the mirror into its final location and then attach the reflective film to the glass.
Do this with both sides. Lastly, we have to make sure that everything is in its correct position. This means making sure that the rearview mirrors are pointing straight ahead.
Tieing Down Any Loose Ends
Now, we have to tie down anything that might come loose. For example, your cooler or any other baggage you are bringing with you will need to be secured somehow. You do not want your cooler box and other items to rattle around, fall over or make a mess. So, we will go ahead and secure everything.
Take one end of the bungee cords and loop it around the bottom of the cooler box. Repeat this process with the other end. Make sure that the loops are tight but not too tight. Just enough to hold the weight of your cooler.
Now, we can do the same thing with the bags that you are carrying. Loop the bungees around the top of the bag. Make sure that the knots are tight enough to keep the contents inside.
If you feel like you need more security, you can use zip ties instead of regular bungee cords. They are way stronger than the standard bungee cord and they are also cheaper.
Add Another Fan
Next, we are going to add another fan. As stated before, we are planning on using a portable extractor fan. But, just to be safe, we are going to go ahead and purchase a second fan. One to run during the day and one at night.
When operating the fans, make sure that they are pointed away from each other. It will help to prevent them from knocking the air back and forth. Also, try to avoid having them blow against each other directly. That could cause problems as well.
Let There be Light
You will need light while you are getting comfortable for the night, that much is obvious. You may find that trying to get everything done while holding a torch will not be easy and for this reason, it is a good idea to purchase some touch-activated lights you can stick inside the car.
Try to find some that are not too bright but light enough that you can see everything you need to.
Bring in the Mattress
One last step before we leave. Bring in the mattress. We will be sleeping here so we need something comfortable and soft to sleep on. I recommend an airbed. It is very comfortable and if you know how to inflate them properly, they are great at keeping us cool.
The Functionality of the Final Project
Before I actually hit the road I decided to test out the setup I had made. So, I played out a few scenarios to really rest out every feature I had installed.
The first test was when I took my car down to the local park and tried to cook myself some lunch using the table I had made. The main issue I found on this test was in how I stored my cooking items.
On top of that, I realized that it could be incredibly hot when you are cooking in full sunlight and because of this, I learned that it was actually really important to prioritize parking in the shade.
I went through the whole process of cooking food, eating, cleaning up and putting everything away just so that I could get a better idea of how everything worked. I did learn a lot but the issues I ran into were more down to my organization which I improved upon when I got home.
The second test was me spending the night in my newly converted RAV4 van. When I did this it was the middle of summer and very warm where I was. The extractor fans I had purchased and installed were actually amazing at keeping the space in the vehicle nice and cool.
I also found that the window covers worked super well and did not allow any outside light inside. Much like with the first experiment I learned a lot about what I could change about my setup and make myself more comfortable when I got on the road for real.
Despite some of the teething problems, I really loved how my project turned out and I cannot wait to take my converted vehicle out for a spin on a proper camping trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are a few frequently asked questions I have answered for your benefit. Enjoy!
Will a Twin Mattress Fit in a Toyota RAV4?
Yes – there is ample room for it. However, you should use a standard twin-size mattress. If you do not want to buy a new one then you can always use two regular mattresses together or even put the mattress under the seat.
Is it Cheaper to Convert a Camper Van?
No, it isn’t cheaper. Converting a camper van takes time and money. Also, it is more work than buying a new one. However, depending on what kind of camper you are converting. There might be some discounts available from dealerships.
What Should I Bring on my Camping Trip in my Converted RAV4?
You don’t necessarily need anything special. Just bring your mattress, water, cooler box, food, something to cook on, and anything else you think you might need.
How Much Does it Cost to Convert a Toyota RAV4 into a Camper Van?
It depends on what you plan on doing with it. As far as I am aware, most people who convert their RAV4’s install a bed frame, extractor fan, mattress, table, lights, and other accessories. Some people go further and add a fridge, stove, sink, shower, etc.
It all depends on what you want to do with it. The amount you spend will vary depending on what you are making your frame out of and how much money you are willing to spend on the other accessories, Because of this, I cannot put a number on how much it would cost.
How Easy is it to Convert a Camper Van?
To answer this question we have to look at the different options you have. A lot of people decide to either buy an already assembled camper van or build one themselves. Both these methods require a fair bit of skill and experience.
Although both can be done by anyone, it is easier to buy an already built one because if you mess up you can simply sell it back to the dealer. This would not be possible in the case of building one yourself.
If you want to go the route of buying an already made camper van then this is going to be easiest. There are plenty of companies that specialize in converting vans into campers. All you have to do is find one that best suits your needs. Make sure that they offer a warranty and that they have been around long enough to have proven themselves.
Once you have chosen your company, give them a call and let them know exactly what you want. They may ask you to send pictures of your current camper so they can get an idea of what you want.
After you have communicated with them, make arrangements to pick up your van. In most cases, they will come to your house and help you unload the camper.
Depending on where you live, you may also have to pay a small fee for the privilege of having someone deliver your camper to you. Once your camper has arrived, you will be given instructions on how to set it up. You should be able to complete the conversion within a few days.
That is all for this article, we hope that you enjoyed learning about my experience creating a DIY RAV4 camper conversion. I certainly learned a ton.
Have a fantastic day!
Discover How To Use The Power of Authority Marketing To Make You Money While You Adventure!
No Experience, Existing Product Or Technical Skills Are Required
DO YOU BELIEVE ADVENTURES ARE WORTH CHASING?