To Build or To Buy?

Why We Chose to Buy a Class B RV Instead of Building Out a Van
Gabe and Rocio Rivero's 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sequence 20L with mountains in the background

During the dreaded days of early Covid, there was a boom in RVing and “van-life" became a hot topic in the industry. And while we were already proud owners of a beautiful Keystone Montana fifth wheel, the thought of quick and easy trips to the middle of nowhere in a smaller, more nimble RV had us intrigued.

Having been seasoned RVers at that point, the freedom of the open road and the ability to take our home wherever we wanted to go was something we absolutely loved… but in a van, the chance to embrace a minimalist lifestyle with complete flexibility had our minds considering all the possibilities. So, when my wife and I finally decided to embark on this journey, we faced a crucial decision: to buy a fully manufactured camper van or build a custom van. After careful consideration, we opted for the former, and this is why.

Ease of Obtaining a Loan

Gabe and Rocio Rivero with their 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sequence 20L in the Arctic Circle

Our first consideration was the financial aspect of buying vs building. After much research, we learned buying a fully manufactured camper van is the more straightforward choice when it comes to financing. Here’s why: 

Class B/camper van RVs are categorized as recreational vehicles, making them eligible for RV loans. Many people that have never been in the RV world do not realize that these loans often come with favorable terms that are more like a home loan than that of a regular car loan. You can sometimes obtain a 15 or 20 year loan instead of a traditional 6 or 7 year auto loan. This helped us immensely when it came down to our “buy or build" decision, as it allowed us to save a lot of upfront costs usually associated with a normal van build.

When considering the alternative, we calculated that, for us, converting a van into a livable space would be much more costly for the life of our purchase. While it offers the opportunity to customize your living space exactly as you desire, we realized that the expenses could add up quickly.

During our budgeting process we determined that we wanted our initial payment, including down payment, tax, tag and title to be $10,000, and we were able to work with a dealer to accomplish this on a fully manufactured camper van. Those numbers will vary depending on time of purchase, credit score, and several other factors, but we were happy that we were able to get what we budgeted for. 

Building out a van requires up-front purchases such as: the van itself, materials for insulation, flooring, cabinetry, a bed, and various appliances. This also assumes you have the tools and skills needed for the conversion. With these costs in mind, the initial investment seemed at  minimum five times the cost of a fully manufactured van up front, for a much lower quality experience. If you're not already a DIY expert, you will also need to consider the necessary labor costs. 

Based on our research, obtaining a loan for converting a van into a camper may be more challenging, as it often falls outside the scope of traditional auto or personal loans. We found that securing financing for a fully manufactured camper van was more accessible and less financially burdensome, ultimately playing a pivotal role in our decision.

Resale and Trade-In Value

Once we considered the loan and any upfront costs, we needed to look at how the asset would:

  1. Be valued over time
  2. What we could expect for resale or trade-in value
  3. How this would differ between a fully manufactured and custom-built camper van  

Fully manufactured camper vans, like traditional RVs, tend to retain their value relatively well. These vehicles are equipped with amenities that are already built-in and typically require less maintenance and upgrades than DIY van conversions. This means that when the time comes to trade up or sell, you're more likely to recoup a larger portion of your initial investment.

Buyers may have a hard time obtaining the financing needed to purchase a used van with a DIY conversion and be hesitant to purchase. The quality of workmanship and components used in conversion vans can vary greatly, so it can be challenging to determine market value for such customized vehicles, often resulting in lower resale value. In addition, most RV dealerships will only take name-brand manufactured camper vans for trade-in.

By choosing a fully manufactured camper van we felt more confident in the resale and trade-in value of our investment, making it a safer long-term financial decision for us.

Thor Motor Coach Sequence

Gabe Rivero standing outside of his 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sequence 20L overlooking the mountains
Gabe and Rocio Rivero working on their laptops outside of their 2021 Thor Motor Coach Sequence 20L


Peace of mind is essential when you're embarking on an adventure that involves traveling in your vehicle for extended periods. Fully manufactured camper vans come with warranties that can provide a safety net for unforeseen issues.

They are backed by manufacturer warranties, which can extend from one to several years depending on the brand and model. These warranties cover various components of the vehicle, including the engine, appliances, electrical systems and more. This warranty can save you money on repairs and maintenance during your ownership.

DIY van conversions will only have a warranty on the engine or vehicle-related aspects of the van if you buy it new or with some form of extended warranty. You also must be careful that any work you do on the van doesn’t void that warranty when working on your build-out. If something goes wrong, you're responsible for fixing it, which can be costly and time-consuming. In the long run, the cost and uncertainty of self-repairs can add up quicker than you think.

For us, the peace of mind provided by a manufacturer's warranty was a significant factor in choosing a fully manufactured camper van. It meant that we wouldn't have to worry about unexpected structural expenses for a year or engine/drivetrain expenses for several years. We knew that it would allow us to save some money and learn the ins and outs of our van in the meantime.

Ease of Use

Fully manufactured camper vans are specifically designed for extended travel by experts who make them daily and are often already set up in an easy-to-use format. They come equipped with all the essentials for comfortable living, including a kitchenette, bathroom, sleeping area, storage, and more. These features make it easy to adapt to the nomadic lifestyle of extended travel or even weekend trips without the hassle of setting up or packing down every day.

Van conversions, while customizable, may lack some of the amenities that come standard a manufactured camper van. It can be challenging to fit all the necessities into a van while maintaining a comfortable and open living environment. The style, comfort and layouts can be recreated to match one produced by a manufacturer, but you would need to be very skilled and knowledgeable to avoid the compounding costs of add-ons. 

By choosing a fully manufactured camper van, we could focus on the experience and adventure itself, rather than the constant adjustments and modifications necessary for custom van living. The built-in amenities made life on the road more convenient and enjoyable.

Ability to Modify After Purchase

One of the misconceptions about buying a fully manufactured camper van is that it locks you into a specific layout and design—this is not entirely true. They offer plenty of room for customization and modifications, even after purchase.

Many come with a flexible floor plan that allows for rearranging and upgrading various components. You can add solar panels, upgrade appliances, or even expand the living space to better suit your needs.

This is exactly what we did. By opting for a fully manufactured camper van we started with a foundation that was already 100% ready to go. From that point, we added a lift, put on new tires, upgraded the suspension to allow for more rugged adventures, added solar and lithium for off-grid extended stays, and made a few additions to the interior for that extra homey feel.

So, while doing a full build-out allows you to completely customize your van, we preferred browsing hundreds of ready-made, professional-built models as a base. For us, that meant getting on the road immediately and slowly upgrading our van until it was better than we could have imagined.

While building out a van offers the allure of total customization, it can come with financial, practical and long-term challenges. A fully manufactured camper van, on the other hand, provided us with peace of mind, convenience and a solid financial investment. It allowed us to start our adventure immediately. Ultimately, our Class B RV/camper van became the perfect vehicle to fulfill our dreams of life on the road. And our van, Vinnie, has taken us to places we never could have imagined.

Class B Camper Vans

Class B motorhomes are small, streamlined and ready to roll. Nimble and more fuel efficient than Class C motorhomes, Class B motorhomes offer living space best suited for small groups. Most Class B motorhomes do not offer slide outs yet still offer luxurious amenities like galley kitchens, beds and restrooms.

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Whether you're new to the world of RVing or you're ready to narrow your search, we're here to help you sort through it all and find the RV that's right for you. Explore RVs based off of your lifestyle and the features important to you.

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An travel trailer RV parked in a green field.