≡ Menu

Homemade RV Converted from Moving Truck

After doing a preliminary search around Arizona for a cheap RV for my family to travel around the western USA in, I gave it up. Recreational Vehicles, as in motor homes, seem a little ill suited for what I want them for — back country living/ travel– in point, they seem a little wimpy.

Out of the RVs that I checked out, I feared that I would not be able to take them too far away from nicely paved roads — their itsy bitsy wheels, low ground clearance, and very heavy weight would not be good for back country travel. And if I could not get to where the free camping is, the RV would have little advantage when placed into my family’s travel strategy.

In Cottonwood, Arizona I pulled into a grocery store parking lot, parked our little Subaru, and looked to my left.

“Hey, that RV looks homemade,” I pointed out to my wife.

Homemade RV in Arizona

Homemade RV in Arizona

She grunted. I can’t say she cared too much about the custom made mobile home, as she left me to my own devices and went into the grocery store. I walked over to a guy who was putting his groceries into the back of the RV, and, as I assumed that he was the man who custom built the souped up traveling machine that stood in front of me, I began asking him questions about it.

Luckily for me, he was more than willing to talk about his creation. “It use to be an old UHAUL,” he said. He purchased the moving truck for $2000 seven years ago with the intention of converting into an RV to travel in.

Ford Econoline moving truck converted to RV

Ford Econoline moving truck converted to RV

“I use to travel in a van that I just lived in, but that got a little . . . well . . .”

I knew what he was talking about. It can be a little trying living inside of a van long term. They can very quickly get very messy and uncomfortable if you do not display the constant diligence necessary to keep the bed cleared off, to keep the garbage from building up, and to have the tolerance to not allow a low head clearance to bother you. To have a comfortable traveling/ sleeping combination vehical it seems important to have the sleeping area separated from the living areas. RVs and pop up trailors do this well.

The converted moving truck was a Ford Econoline and had a queen sized bed in a loft over the top of the driver’s cabin. Above it was a hatchway that opened up to allow the sleeper to look upon the nighttime stars as he slumbers. This roof top hatch also made the roof of the vehical into an additional living area.

Homemade RV interior

Homemade RV interior

“Yeah, I sometimes put a lawn chair up on top and I sit up there with my legs kicked back on the air conditioner,” the creator of the RV continued with a laugh. He then told me that people often think it funny to see him relxing on top of his vehicle. “Two times newspapers have taken my picture and put it in the paper.”

He then invited me inside of the vehicle to take a look. I climbed up into the converted moving truck and was surprised at how much room was in it. “I usually put my motorcycle right there,” he said as he indicated the tiled passage way that lead to the back door. It was the perfect size for a motorcycle. On either side of this walkway were handmade wooden storage bins and benches. There was a little home made table undereath of a 2 foot square window, a comfortable sized doorway was cut out between the driver’s cabin and the rest of the vehicle, and the entire interior of the RV seemed very livable.

Interior of RV converted from a moving truck

Interior of RV converted from a moving truck

Where I have found standard RVs to be cluttered and cramped, this converted moving truck was spacious and comfortable. I could fully stand up inside of it and stretch out my arms without being squished, or having to contort myself in any way to move through it.

The best part about this homemade RV was that the conversion was completed for very little money. All of the fabrication was done in a warehouse at the creator’s place of work, the wood and insulation were all taken from garbage piles, two small windows in the upper rear of the vehicle were taken from an old Greyhound bus, and the only things that were paid for was the air conditioning unit — $600 — a side window — $70 — and a good set of all terrain tires.

Raised tires on converted motor home

Raised tires on converted motor home

There was also a generator with an outside electrical plug hooked up to the RV, though I did not ask about its cost.

The insulation in the RV was one inch thick on the sides and three inches in the roof. “The insulation foam is probably the most expensive thing that you would need,” the handy man told me. But he was lucky, as he use to work at a military aircraft fabrication plant, and was able to extract the foam from shipping containers that once carried missles.

Other adjustments that were made to the designs of the original moving truck was that the front wheels were raised up three inches and good all terrain tires replaced the former UHAUL street only tires.

The creator of the moving truck motor home

The creator of the moving truck motor home

For seven years this homemade RV carted its creator around the American Southwest and Mexico. He told me how the truck handles well off road and he can get to areas that other RVers cannot access. He told me about how he can back right up to a beach, open the rear door, and have paradise at his doorstep — for free. It sounded pretty good to me.

The only problem was the truck’s low gas/ mileage capacities. From what I was told, it costs a good deal of money to move this truck.

“Yeah, well think of all the money you have saved by not having to pay for hotels,” I reminded the RVer, “The hotels that I have been staying in cost no less than $40 a night.” There is little chance that anyone traveling with an RV who takes time to stop and enjoy the scenry would average more than forty bucks a day in gas. If I had an RV, I could travel for a day, stop and made a good free camp for a week, drive another day, stay two weeks, drive for a couple of days, camp out for a month . . .

He agreed, and then said that he probably spent over 600 nights on the road sleeping in his converted RV for free. Nights that would otherwise have carried accommodation expenses.

——————-

This converted moving truck RV strategy seems like a good move — if this was going to be my move right now. These trucks can be had at bottom of the barrel prices, can be converted to RVs at low costs, and seem vastly more hardy than a factory made mobile home. Meeting up with the creator of the moving truck RV planted a little seed in my head that may grow to fruition in other circumstances, in another land.

For Chaya, Petra, and I, the work season is over, our sights are set abroad. We have a Subaru hatchback, friends in the West who have opened their doors to us, and no need now to drop a couple thousand dollars on a mobile home. We are ready to get out of the USA again. It is about time.

Perhaps on a dusty day in Australia in the not too distant future I will dig up this travelogue entry and look over the photos of this moving truck RV again, and perhaps I will then put them to better use.

—————————–

Update – October 30, 2012 – Photos of moving truck to RV conversion from Terry E 


moving-truck-rv-conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion
Notes from Terry E about 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.
Moving truck to RV conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion
Moving truck to RV conversion

Books that may help

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

About the Author:

Vagabond Journey has been featured on MSNBC.com, The Daily Mail Online, Business Insider, Gizmodo, the Des Moines Register, CBS Phoenix, NBC LA, and numerous other international and local publications. has written 2687 posts on Vagabond Journey.

Support Vagabond Journey’s travels:
Vagabond Journey is currently in: Xiamen, ChinaMap
  • http://www.melroseplace.tv Scott McArthur

    Yep, I have seen this quite a bit. Check out http://www.brotherscott.org where a guy wrote a decent eBook about living in a converted truck and some lessons learned. While it does have a lot of good information it is light and ends up being more of a life vision type thing. Very “Walden”. For some really out there conversions, check out http://www.mrsharkey.com/busbarn/busbarn.htm or google “housetruck”.

  • http://whichway.blogspot.com hotspringfreak

    OK! – Off topic but just to say to Wade y familia that I again live in Panajachel, Guatemala and have a nice view apt with all amenities for $5.70/day. That’s a 2-room, (one bdrm) red-brick view pad (full wall picture windows in both rooms) with kitchen and bathroom and when I added cable TV/cable Internet to reach that total. So, maybe come and visit me and stay awhile you are out and about, on your way to Isla Omoteppe? It’s 74 F daytime here while it’s frio in El Norte and it’s …well, exotic. I find this place warm and friendly with equal parts pandemonium. Now back to your regular programming.

    - Chris S

    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com

      This is great, Chris,

      Hopefully we will cross your path again! Your abode sounds perfect. We would love to take you up on your offer.

      Thanks,

      Wade

  • ed

    I was using a Chevy Vandura box truck for 15 years. But just got a 1998 F 700 24′ box truck to work on building. Looking at going all solar small kitchen, fridg a 3/4 bath, with composit toilet.
    Musician have been doing this for many years.
    Any help on getting info on links to supplies would be very helpfull

  • http://www.uniquetrucking.com/ @trucking companies

    That is awesome. I have wanted to do that my entire life. One of these days, maybe if I win the lottery, I will be able to do it but living on a truck drivers salary just does not cut it.

  • Jo

    Well i recently got divorced, and my ex has a very bad habit of telling me what i can’t do. which is one of the many reason why i am looking into buying a u-haul truck and getting it converted. that is where i am having no luck, trying to find someone to do it for me or at least point me to someone who can.

    • Wade Shepard

      It may be better just to buy a small RV if you don’t have mad technical skills and a workshop. They are essentially the same thing.

    • Larry Viviano

      I have a u-haul i turned into a R.V. I have worked on R.V’s for a couple of years and was always turned away from buying one because they just are not built well enought. I go on many ruff back roads and use it in the winter. I am one of the jack of all trade guys. I have it set up to run on propane and battery packs with a inverter, or can be plugged in to electric. I also have a generator to charge the batteries. I have a on demand water pump, 60 gallon water tank, 10 gallon water heater, stand up shower and compost toiet. The kitchen has a propane stove, oven and microwave, large sink for cleaning wild game or clothes and a full size rv 3 way frig and freezer. R19 pink insulation board on the floor walls and ceiling. Seven large windows side entry door and two roof vents. The back has a wall with entry door and two large screens that lead to the rear deck covered deck large enought to BBQ on or haul a ATV. I have put electrical out lets thru-out the rv. I use them for the radio, air conditioner, computer or my flat screen TV. I would be happy to assist you in your project. I an send pictures of mine, maybe help you with yours.

      • Dwayne Olson

        Would appreciate any pictures, plans you could send me. Just purchased a 24′ truck to convert. Thank you

        • Wade Shepard

          If anybody wants to put up photos of their conversions on this page it would be excellent. Just email them to me along with whatever notes you may want to add and I will publish them. My email address is below.

      • Jamie

        I too have just gotten a 24f’ truck to convert. I would love to see pictures of yours and any helpful tips or layout plans. THANKS

      • http://www.erininamarieness.com Erinina Marie Ness

        This is very close to what I want to build. I just want to add a low garden on top and do more to the outside and use a little bit bigger uhaul…as well as solar panels, compost toilet, and a bunch of other personal stuff. Larry, can you send me pics of your project too?!

  • Efren

    I would love to build, retrofit a uhaul truck. Is it legal to do so? do you need special paperwork for it to be registered and so forth?

    • Wade Shepard

      It’s not my impression that you need meet any special legal parameters to do this. In the end it’s is just a Uhaul truck with a bed in the back.

  • Larry Viviano

    I did run into a couple of issues when licencing my converted u-haul truck. The insurance took several attempts to find a company to cover the truck. It is no longer a box truck that is driven down the highway filled with moving box’s. Now it is a home on wheels! It has a bed, shower, gas stove and heater. The sectuary of state did not know what kind of plate to sell me. I thought they would give me a RV plate that coensides with the G.V.W of the title. I had to get the truck weighed, and was given a 27,000 lb G.V.W plate. The truck weights only 14,000, i dont know why i had to purchase such a expensive plate. My advice from experince, do a little checking first to avoid any surprises.

    • Wade Shepard

      Did you have to tell them that you converted it? Could you have just registered it as a box truck without mentioning the adaptions that you did to it? Thanks for coming back to offer this information here, it’s really helpful (especially since I will probably be doing one of these conversions someday).

      • Larry Viviano

        I told my insurance company that I would like to ensure my truck, gave them the title and they ran the vin number and realized it was a large box truck. They asked what I was going to use it for. I replied, just to haul my sleds and ATV, maybe a tool box. They questioned it a little more….. O.K, when can we see it we have to do a walk around on the truck. (by this time the conversion was finished) So than I also told them about the other conversions besides the rear deck. I thought than I could insurance like a regular R.V. It took 5 companies before I found an agent that could cover the truck. Next time I do a build I will insure and register before I start the conversion. It sure was a lot of fun to build and am amazed at the reaction people have when they see it!

        • Wade Shepard

          Thanks Larry! Your advice here is incredibly valuable? Would you mind sending in some photos of your conversion that I could add to this page?

  • Phil

    Oh Yeah Wade ! . My observations exactly… Store Bought RV’s SUCK for anything but super slabs . And Old cheap used ones …Dont even go there ..They leak because someone tried to go off road with them ! I’m going the Used U haul route my self. One Tuff box !
    Specificly its going to be 14 foot a toy hauler . I’m sleeping in the attic! wall mounted Fold down table and bench and anything else that can fold up and out of the way . House size Fiberglass single Shower stall that has a seat in it I will convert into a potty that will be in a front corner . Much room under the box to mount fresh water and gray water drums , Genset , My propane use will be a small BBQ grill . But mostly a George Forman and a microwave , a Small 110 Hot water heater.
    Never liked propane as a major energy source for RV’s. I’ll go 110 VAC .
    Besides plug in , Looking at solar cells and inverter and passive solar .
    the First thing I will do is laminate Kitchen foil to the entire inside of the box !
    then install foam panels. A GOOD ! Radiant barrier is a must . The Foil faced foam you can buy, is not that good.
    Best thing is, I’m picking up the truck This WEEK!

    • Wade Shepard

      This sounds excellent! Let us know how it works out.

    • Mara

      That’s exactly what I want to use as a base as well, a 14′ uhaul box truck. It’s tall enough, and large enough for what I want without being too cumbersome for in-city use. I’d rather have a configuration with a queen-sized bed against the far wall (not planning on using the rear door) with a corner desk hutch against it, with it’s back to the bed to form a room divider, with a bookcase and some cabinets for storage, so I can have some much needed floor room by the side door I want to install- using the mom’s attic for the electrical. Ditto on the wet bath. Good luck with your conversion and keep us appraised!

  • Phil

    Insurance , I got a quote from GEICO on the used 14 footer , Comershal
    ( Hauling band equipment) liability only in Mo. , for $ 348.oo a year ! My Driving record is A + and the only driver on the truck , and I hold a class E CDL which always helps ! Driving range of a 50 mile radius for most business ..AkA Gigs ..LOL !
    I Didn’t lie , I’m a bass player in a weekend warior band , and we will most likely use the truck for this ….sometimes ….. 8) !

    • Wade Shepard

      That’s great. Have fun out there.

  • Rhonda

    I already have a used U-Haul 14′ Box truck, and currently am storing some of the things that I inherited from my mother in it. Have been looking at used RV’s and toying with the idea of just converting my box truck into a camper.
    Would love to see any pics of any conversions that have been done by anyone on this type of box truck.
    Would need a roof AC for SURE (South Florida), and would like a 3-way fridge, and am not sure whether the cost to convert will be more than just getting an inexpensive used RV.
    Need to be able to camp in the truck for a few weeks at a time, traveling to horse shows, etc.
    (Wouldn’t this truck be able to pull an aluminum horse trailer? It has a 454 gas engine)

  • Rod

    I have a Ford E350 box truck with a powerstroke. I had considered converting it, but I don’t like the clearence. I decided to sell it and get a NPR. The NPR gets better mileage, has a smaller turning radius and sits higher so I can build underneath for water systems, generator, etc. As a retired professional buyer, I have no trouble sourcing parts and I relish the challenge.

  • Randi

    I recently purchased a bus that is a Ford E350 cab and chasis. The bus was a 25 seater, so just a small bus. My plan was to build it into an RV until I went to get insurance for it. I found no insurance company that would even give me a quote. The companies would not insure it since it had been modified from it’s original manufactured status as a bus. I am in Florida and would like to check with other states to see if the same would apply or if I can get insurance elsewhere. I have looked at many ready-made RV’s and I am not impressed. My thoughts were to build an RV custom suited to my needs and live in and travel indefinately. Most of the ready-mades are built for more than 1 person and have too much wasted space for what I need. Still looking forward to traveling….

    • Wade Shepard

      It is my impression that most people who’ve done this or similar conversion projects are not telling their insurance companies about the additional work they’ve done — or they get the insurance before they begin the conversion.

  • Dwayne Olson

    So far doing pretty good on my project. I purchased a 1992 Penske prior rental truck with 215K miles on it (24″). First of all, had purchased it in the LA area, which is about 800 miles from here so I had to get insurance before I moved it. Called GMAC, was able to get liability insurance for $48 a year.
    Truck was only $2300 so I am not worried about getting insurance on that.
    I figure total amount that I will spend on this project, including truck will be less than 6K, thus my term “poor man’s RV”. Had it checked out by shop, only repairs needed were parking brakes and low beam lights.
    Purchased 2 x 4′s, built frame inside it planning for doors and windows. When I built my house they built basement using insulated concrete forms, which is 2″ of foam, 6″ of concrete, 2″ of foam. Lots of scrap that I saved from 7 years ago-too good to throw away. I now have 2″ on walls and floors, 4″ in ceiling. Used about 45-50 cans of foam, but should stay very warm. Had a unused shower, toilet, and so will build them so holding tanks can be below them. I used to work at a 7-11 store almost 40 years ago. When they remodeled they were getting rid of the old counters which I got. Very well built. I used them on both sides, then put piece of plywood across them for my bed. 3′ wide crawl space. Going to have waste tanks above the foam, so I don’t have to worry about freezing. Planning on working for Amazon this year in Fernley, NV-15 degree weather.
    Had 2 brand new outside entry doors that were surplus. One for the side and one for the back 21′ back. Leaving a 3′ “porch”, then the slide up doors.
    Going to put nice plywood on the ceiling and the bottom 4′, and leave about 3′ of foam exposed this year. Will just use extension cords for awhile until I figure out where I want plugs, lights, etc. Purchased some windows from a towing company that had picked up an abandoned RV.

  • http://Jaybirdart.com Joyce Bird

    I just sold my 1986 Ford 15′ box van which I had converted to a primitive motor home. Loved it, but the fuel costs (6mpg) was eating the fun up. So I just purchased a 2008 Penske 12′ box van. Have cut a doorway to the cab from the box, put in a two foot window and built a bunk bed into the corner in back of the passenger seat. I carpeted it and painted the walls. Next I plan on adding a chair, table, portable propane stove and some sort of sink. Wastewater I will just dump at rest stops. I have a porta potti. Now I have to take it to the DMV to have it reclassified as a motor home. My DMV and insurance fees will go down by half! Great way to attend art shows and see the southwest! It can be done…quite inexpensively. So go for it!

  • http://tinalarkin.com Tina

    Hi- Enjoy this website, and would sure love to see some photos of all theses different projects!!! Am wanting to buy either a very small bus (14 seats or less) or a used Uhaul or Penske (no bigger than 14 footer). Would appreciate advice!! which would get the better mileage?? (I don’t have much stuff, so either would feel pretty spacious, and would be carrying a minimum of weight). I imagine the moving van would handle better on rougher terrain? (I sometimes travel rough roads). ADVICE APPRECIATED, and thanks again for great site!

    • ART

      My U Haul is a 1989, 460 v8, fuel injected, 3 speed auto 17 ft. van style, E 350 (1 ton). I live in Arizona. My truck is the one at the beginning of this story, amazed at the interest, good job Wade. Anyway, I bought the truck 2500, craigslist, private party, it got 10/11 mpg. I pulled off the rollup door and litterally added a TON of stuff to it, without my putt putt inside it weighs 8200lbs and still gets 10/11 mpg per tank, 33 gallon tank, it is a wee bit slower taking off but after 10 mph it feels empty, one major improvement was the added weight REALLY smoothed out the ride! I registered it BEFORE I changed it over,28 dollars a year tags! Insurance is 160 yr. Az. makes you registar it commercial, 1 ton,…….Az has random , portable truck scales and 2 yrs. ago I got snagged into one, first and only time, had my putt in it and weighed 600 lbs over my tag! They let me slide, went right to the dmv and upped my tag to 12 k for an xtra 12 bucks a yr., did not change my ins. The only thing on my recomend list is get one with overdrive, they are geared low and cruising waves over in baja the engine wouldnt work so hard to get me across the desert, plus better mpg. In the process of remodeling mine, putting some of your ideas to work. You are what you drive!

      • http://www.kq7a.com Jack

        Huh? That’s the same engine and chassis as my 1991 Winnebago. The only difference is that I’ve got overdrive on it. I paid $6500 for mine with no need to make any conversions. :)

        • Wade Shepard

          Not a bad set up there. Are you traveling with that now?

          • http://www.kq7a Jack

            I wish I was, Wade. That will come in time, now I am earning traveling money. It costs about 50 cents a mile to travel in a motorhome just for gas….travel slow is the name of the game.

            It’s a 27 foot motorhome and we also got a kar kaddy so we can tow our car behind it. If I didn’t already have the car, I would have opted for a cargo trailer+motorbike. I should write about it.

          • Wade Shepard

            That sounds like a clutch set up. When I was figuring out the particulars of mobile home travel in the USA, a satellite vehicle seemed a necessary part of the plan. To put it simply, I realized that I didn’t want to have to pack up camp and move our home each time I wanted to go to the store for beer or something. A motorbike would work too, but with kids and a wife I think the car is a better bet. This would drastically improve localized travels. Yes, if you want to do an article on this I’d love to publish it here!

  • Area51

    Hi Tina , Its hard to say with out knowing what motor is in the trucks. And How many miles are on them.
    But what ever the case, I would go with Diesel . The motors last twice as long as gas ones… If treated right . But the Van Sounds like a good option if it is a High top . Staying crouched over all the time in a normal van will get old quick . A lot of glass in the van, So to stay warm in the cold , You will need to something there to keep convection at bay .

  • Randi

    Tina….see my comment above about getting insurance on a “Bus”. Busses are looked at as commercial vehicles and therefore put you in a higher rate insurance bracket. I have not yet been able to get insurance on mine at all. In hindsight….I would have been better off with a cargo truck! Also, as Area51 mentioned, I would go with the diesel…..good luck!

  • James Starks

    I have had a short school bus, a 38 ft. diesel school bus, a 30 ft. transit bus, and a 35 ft. transit bus, insured them all as rv’s with farmers ins in Kansas. none were more than $150 a year. Never had to have them look at them, or send pictures, or anything. Currently using a small step-van, same low rates. Check around, it works.