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Converting A Moving Truck Into An RV Style Travel Vehicle

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In the autumn of 2009 I’d just begun my family travels. My kid was only a couple of months old and my wife had just recovered from giving birth. We were on the road in Arizona, I was working on various archaeology projects, and the framework for our future travels was in a very primordial state.

We had numerous ideas as to how we could continue our travels with the kid, and one of them was getting an RV and spending some years roving overland through the Americas. So we dug into the RV market in the southwest USA, which is probably the global epicenter for this form of transportation, and checked out a multitude of mobile homes. What we found did not seem too enticing:

Simply put, factory built RVs did not seem heavy duty enough for the type of travel we were thinking of. There was something about them that just seemed a touch too fragile. They seemed more equipped for semi-permanently parking in some RV lot than for continuous movement around a continent. I got the impression that if we got one of these vehicles we would be sitting still most of the time:

Sitting still as I perpetually repaired the damn thing.

Then, just as our RV search was coming to a close and we were getting ready to bag the idea, something at the edge of a parking lot in a supermarket in Jerome, Arizona, caught my attention. It I was exactly what I was searching for:

An RV that had been converted from a Uhaul moving truck. The owner and the architect of the conversion happened to be standing outside of it, and he gave me the low down on the project.

Read about this at Homemade RV Converted From Moving Truck.

At the time I published this blog post I didn’t think that it would have much of an impact, but it became a nucleolus for people thinking of doing/ engaged in similar moving truck to RV conversions. The idea spread.

One person that this article caught the attention of was Terry E, who contributed progress notes and photos to the page about the conversion he was doing to a Penske 2008 moving van. Terry’s project is now just about complete, and he recently took his homemade RV out for the first of what’s intended to be many trips.

The following in an interview that I did with Terry about his moving van to RV conversion along with various updates and photos detailing the project that he sent in to Vagabond Journey over the past few years.

Interview with Terry about his moving truck to RV conversion

Why did you decide to convert a moving truck into an RV rather than just buying a standard, factory made RV?

Factory RV’s are not built well unless you buy a very pricey unit, which was not an option. Used RV’s even if taken care of by the owner are still subject to road vibration etc and if not built well they start coming apart, thus lots of repairing. My project started out to be a mobile wood carving shop to do gun stock and etc wood engravings and then I changed my mind and decided to build a light weight RV with the bare bones items needed to travel.

Can you give us a step by step run down of the conversion, starting with how you bought the moving truck all the way up to the point that you’re at now?

I saw the Penske moving vans for sale at a dealer ship that sells GMC trucks and cars and after checking out used Penske Moving Vans on the internet. These vans were maintained by Penske, they also service them well before they putting them up for sale.

I then pondered the layout and only what I needed for my RV conversion and started with cleaning the floor so I could paint it. This made it easy to clean out with a broom. Next I started cleaning the walls with 409 cleaner and steel wool. Then came the carpet for the walls and then the cabinets using popler wood which is milled on 4 side instead of pine, although to save money you can use pine. The carpet just makes it look cool and is a sound killer. Then added the flat screen 32 inch and blue ray player for night time in bed with pop corn and wine.

The ceiling is bright when the sun hits it so I used 4 ft by 8 ft sheets of Insulfoam R-TECH Pollymeric skins front and back. This material was cut on 45 degree angle on the sides to fit in between the roof braces, which are different widths, then glued to hold the Insulfoam in place. Next is the 4 mill plywood sheets cut to the center of the ribs to over lap, then carpet each panel and place a 1 and half wood strip over lapping each panel and using finishing washers and flat head s/s screws in center of each rib.

How much money and time have you put into this project so far? How quickly and cheaply do you think it could be done?

The price of a moving van can be anything, mine was a 2008 that I traded my 2006 mustang straight across for. The cost to convert the van would be around $4,500.00 if you go to your local RV Salvage Yard for windows and doors. A new door is $400.00, a used door at salvage is $125.00, windows are around $400.00 and up, while used windows are $45.00 each, and small windows $20.00 each. This $4,500.00 is for all new wood, material, mattress, pillows everything needed to build with, the flat screen TV , which was just over $200.00, and the blue ray player, which was around $80.00. All is included in the $4,500.00. The price just depends on how nice you want it to be.

How does the vehicle perform? Have you used it yet to go camping or travel in the backcountry?

It’s almost done and we just used it for a trip to Glacier National Park and it was so cool and we loved it. The gas mileage was 12 to 12.25 miles to a gallon, not bad for a 26 foot long 324 horse power, I think around 350 miles to a tank of gas. The living space in the box is 8 ft by 16.5 ft. Lots of room.

Do you have any advice for DMV registration, insurance, and other legal matters?

Not really. I had no problem on registration and told the insurance I was going to use it for my wood carving etc.

When you get this converted RV finished, what do you plan to do with it? Where are you planning on going?

Well, I will finish it next year but it’s about 85 percent done now, and we are planning our next trip in Sept 8 to the 11 at Yellow Stone on the west side.

Do you have any additional advice for someone who is considering doing a similar moving truck to RV conversion?

The sky is the limit. You can do as little or as much as you want to, it’s not hard, very simple to build and can be very cool. The lighter you keep it the better the mileage you can get. If you think, well I cannot build cabinets then buy them at Home Depot or Lowe’s, but they will be heavier. At times you could used a second person to help in the build, to help hold things etc.

Notes on this conversion

My Penske 2008 moving van has a 16 foot box with a GMC cutaway van and a 6.0 V8, this engine puts out 324 HP and has 118k miles, and it runs great and so far around town driving is 9.12 miles per gallon. I am hoping for at least 12 or more miles to the gallon on the open road, we shall see.

My design is to be as light as possible to get to the 12 plus miles per gallon, I will have a two seat table with fold down leafs; this can be used inside or outside. Just below the cabinets with the microwave will be a kitchen cabinet with sink with faucet and a 70″ long counter top for a work area and a place to set the Coleman EvenTemp InstaStart 3-Burner Stove – 5444 Series this stove can also be used outside.

I will build a bathroom beside the kitchen cabinet for a Thetford curve Porta Potti plus a med cabinet. On the outside of the bathroom wall facing the bed will be black carpeted with a wall mounted flat screen TV with a drop down carpeted door that will hold the blue ray player.

The bed will be a new full pillow top mattress setting on top of the bed box frame, which under it holds plastic tubes for clothing. The rollup door in back will have a Tailgate screen door, so when the rollup door is up you will have the big window view all of nature, but keeping bugs out.

I will be adding electric outlets and a 12 volt converter plus a 12 volt deep cycle battery, and a gray water tank for the sink. City water connection on the out side for the sink and there will be no hot water heater to deal with.

Showers are at camp grounds like KOA’s just a very simple way to travel around. More pictures to come, so I hope this helps others in their build.

Photo timeline of the conversion

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Filed under: Back Country Travel, Travel Strategy, Travel Vehicles

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been moving through the world since 1999, visiting 51 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China. has written 2748 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Xiamen, ChinaMap

Happy New Adventure