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What do you crave in a motorhome? Is it the performance of the vehicle? the spaciousness of the cabin? its electrical management capabilities? RVers have different priorities. So let’s start with the most basic of distinctions. The standard RV vs. the converted van.

The manufacturing process and the difference between the RV and the conversion van

There are 41 RV manufacturers in the world, most of them are American, the rest are either German, Canadian, French or English. Class-C RVs, in a way, are modified pick up trucks. They buy the motorized and mechanical components of the RV from a car manufacturer. In the case of Winnebago for example, depending on the year or model, they buy the chassis, engine, transmission and suspension of their vehicles from Caterpillar, Chevrolet Motor Division, Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, Freightliner, Cummins, Allison, Spartan, Volkswagen and Workhorse Custom Chassis. So in a sense they outsource their motorhome’s mechanics. When you are experiencing a mechanical problem, it is recommended you take your RV to the mechanical manufacturer’s dealership. The manufacturer is specified in the manual of the vehicle. An RV manufacturer’s main focus is making the hardshell for the RV, installing the wiring and plumbing, and furnishing the cabin to make it ready for living. Van conversions take place in the auto after-sales industry. The companies who make converted vans are more similar to auto customs than pure retailers. They get the vans as complete vehicles and then proceed to modifying the electrical system, adding a plumbing system with all the necessary wirings, tubing and tanks. Thus the manufacturing process is similar as both modify a basic vehicle and repurpose it as a drivable living quarters. Here are 2 subtle difference however, Firstly, at the point of sale, the RV is usually already finished. Depending on the model, it has a specific set of features and capacities with a design made for the masses. The van however is still unmodified when the customer puts in his order. The customer then will specify his needs for electrical, plumbing, amenities and furnishings making the motorhome customized to his specific needs. The second difference is the fundamental design of the vehicle. An RV manufacturer designs the cabin while the conversion van custom shops retrofit the pre-existing van’s cabin. The result is a more streamlined mechanical design for the conversion van. They will typically be more ergonomic and handle the road better.

An example of conversion vans done right

If you haven’t heard of them, Outside Van is a company out of Oregon that is in the van customization business. They turn Mercedes sprinters into vans geared for the outdoors.The cabin gets customized to your specifications whether you want an entertainment palace, an equipment hauler or even a hydroponic garden if that’s what you need. They then modify the outside to make it more functional in the outside world, from solar panels to roof tents, these guys make sure you’re well equipped for your mission.

The founders of Outside Van don’t make their identity public. Instead they explain the origins of the idea. They claim to be a group of people that lived an outdoor lifestyle and needed a vehicle to carry their equipment and provide them with restful shelter. They explain how RVs were too bulky and didn’t offer them enough mobility on hardcore terrain such as powder snow or dirt roads. So they started customizing vans to be self-sufficient vehicles for the active sports enthusiast. Now they’re gearing their brand towards durability by also accommodating the disabled, professionals with valuable equipment, event organizers, and niche specialists. Reportedly, no matter what kind of modifications the client needs, their vehicles will boast only the highest quality materials and looking at some of their designs, we believe them!

A photo posted by Outsidevan (@outsidevan) on

The XTR is their flagship camping van. The hydroponic water system has the dual function of heating the cabin as well as providing hot water for the shower, which by the way is a full stainless steel enclosement behind the passenger seat. The roof of the van comes equipped with a 100 Watt solar panel, a 10 speed roof vent and a 12v roof top A/C. The mini kitchenette comes with an induction cooktop, a glass top sink and 4.6 cubic foot fridge. For sleep as is the case for most of their vans, they provide these removable hard panels that mount sideways in the cabin, giving you room when you need it and a resting area totalling the size of the cabin when you slumber.

It seems that they’ve chosen the Mercedes Sprinter as their base model because it’s reliable and tested over their 20 years in business. On their website they describe the arrival of the OSV 4×4, an all-wheel drive Sprinter imported directly from Germany, “We ourselves can’t even but drool. We nearly had to forcibly remove our photographer because he didn’t want to get out! Unbelievable traction and a surprisingly smooth ride over rough terrain will make you wonder why all sprinters don’t have four-wheel drive standard.” It’s clear that these guys prefer customizing Sprinters although they do offer Dodge vans at much lower costs.

image by Javier Devilman Flickr/CC2.0

The Mercedes sprinter was created in 1995 but launched in the US in 2001 with both a diesel supercharged 3.0L engine and a gasoline standard 3.5L engine. They are produced only in Germany. As US imports, they are reassembled in North Carolina. As a consumer you are unable to buy one directly from the dealer as they are only available to businesses through certified dealers as part of the Dodge Link network. The cargo version of the van is the most popular offering enough cargo space to allow the hauling of 3 pallets of goods at a time. The sprinter is typically the van of choice in industries where dimensional constraints and performance expectations both are high. They’ve been growing in popularity as ambulances, SNG (electronic news gathering) vehicles and delivery vehicles for refrigerated produce. It is thus no surprise to be the van of choice for RV conversions.

Converted van VS C Class RV: The Verdict

Conversion vans

The automotive aftermarket is huge in the United States estimated at a whopping 273 billion dollars in 2016. Coincidentally, with the number of RVers also on the rise, it’s apparent that new verticals such as the sporty campervan are becoming more significant. “Outside van” has chosen to specialize in the higher-end of the camping and utility van market, choosing to gear their vans towards functionality rather than aesthetics. They are able to take everything that makes an RV great and apply it to the streamlined design of a Mercedes van. Conversion vans are a better option if you’re looking for a more adventurous and rugged motorhome

Pros

  • Better driving experience
  • More streamlined design
  • Typically more efficient
  • More customizable

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Slower ordering process

Standard C Class RVs

Typical RVs also represent a massive industry with very established manufacturers. With a new younger profile of RVers on the rise, the market for second hand RVs represents better value for people trying to buy their first motorhome. since they are also more widespread, the reviews online for different models will give potential buyers a good idea of which ones they should get and which ones they should stay away from. This is a better options for people getting into RVing for the first time with a limited budget.

Pros

  • Better Value
  • More reviews available for different models
  • Bigger second hand market

Cons

  • More bulky
  • More maintenance usually required
  • Generally less efficient
Campanda is a global marketplace for renting and listing RVs. On the platform, you’ll find C-class RVs as well as converted vans. Featured images by Bobbyvon Flickr/CC2.0 and Kelvyn Skee Flickr/CC2.0