How to convert a moving truck into an RV.
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.
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.
“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 vehicle into an additional living area.
“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 relaxing 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 underneath 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.
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. The only expensive things so far have been gas and insurance.
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 missiles.
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.
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
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.