Tom holding a drill when removing rivits from the van walls

Van Build Preparation – How to Start Your Van Conversion

| Our Citroen Relay Van Build

PREPARATION IS KEY!

We’ve all heard it before, but van build preparation is especially important for a DIY van conversion. This is because, like any home, your foundation will determine its overall longevity and health. In this case, our soon-to-be little home on wheels. The last thing you want is to have to find and fix rust issues or leaks once you’ve finished your van conversion.  Here’s how we prepared our van for starting our conversion with top tips we found helpful along the way.

Below is what we did for our van build preparation and how,. At the end I have listed some helpful tools and products you need to get the job done.

Start from scratch

The first stage is to remove all existing panels, fixtures and flooring so you can see what’s underneath.

You may want to keep any floor or wall panels as templates for cutting out the new ones.

Getting a good look at the shell of your van ensures you spot any potential issues, rather than having to deal with problems of rust or damaged paintwork later. And if you do find any bigger problems, you can get them fixed before you begin.

Expose it all now, start from scratch and build a strong foundation!

Like most jobs with the van, you think is going to be quick, but it always takes longer than expected. There’s no point in rushing it though, as you could end up causing damage to your van. So, take it easy when ripping panels, wheel boxes, fixtures and plywood out; grab your hammer, screw driver, a nail to excavate any nails buried in the plywood and always wear gloves.

We removed everything, including all screws, bolts and large ‘D’ rings that were fixed to the van floor.

Don’t do any damage

I will stress that as fun as it is tearing things out, if you damage it now, you WILL have to fix it later. So, don’t go too crazy with that hammer.

Take it easy unscrewing old screws; make an effort to get as much dirt and dust out of the head for a good fit for the screwdriver, otherwise you end up stripping the screw head (which is a whole annoying problem of its own).

Rivets

When it comes to rivets, they are fairly easy to deal with, you can just drill them out:

Use a drill piece that is slightly larger than the centre hole, then drill into it until the wall of the rivet fastening breaks. (Safety first – always wear eye protection & gloves when dealing with power tools.)

Get cleaning

There’s no better way to inspect the empty shell of your van for rust and damage than during and after a thorough clean. If like most of us you’ve purchased a van that had a previous life, it’s important to thoroughly check for areas that need fixing or better preparation.

Look out for:

  • Holes
  • Rust
  • Deep scratches in paintwork revealing bare metal

We used a combination of broom and the small brush attachment on the end of Henry the Hoover to clean up at the end of any task. Laborious but necessary…

There will always be tools, pieces of wood etc. lying around during your build, so it is important to clean up any metal filings or ‘crumbs’ straight away. If left, they get caught in the soles of your shoes or get moved around by any one of the tools. This can cause tiny scratches in your paintwork which can lead to rust.

Progress is Progress [no matter how big or small]

As I said, you soon learn that everything takes longer than you think it will, so the sooner you learn and accept that the better.

Make it watertight!

There were lots of holes left in the floor after removing the old plywood. We wanted to ensure they were all filled in and watertight before we did anything else.

A tedious part of van build preparation, but we filled every hole up. First, we tidied them up with a file or wire brush (for heavier areas of rust you can use an angle grinder with wire brush attachment). We then cleaned them with methylated spirits, and then painted inside and out (any of the exposed metal) with red oxide. Lastly, we put a generous squeeze of Soudal – Fix All on, and popped a M4 bolt (10mm) through with a nut and washer.

·       We repeated this for any holes that we couldn’t get to the back of, but instead of a nut and bolt, we just put a screw through and made sure the Soudal covered all edges for a tight seal.  

·       For the large ‘D’ Rings, we did the same but just used the screw part and left out the ring. Ensuring that there was a complete seal of Soudal around the washer.

(We will go back and add some Underseal to the bolts later!)

Repair Paintwork

Part of van build preparation is finding any areas of damaged paintwork, big and small. Luckily there weren’t too many.

We looked for any scratches where the bare metal was exposed and gave them a good covering of Red Oxide. Once dry, we sprayed with Primer, and then applied a White topcoat. (We had paint leftover from our old work van – you can find the matching paint for your van online, or use a general white gloss – link below)

A large area that needed help for us was the back step area. There were scratches and an old paint spill from the looks of it. We we scraped the old paint away, cleaned thoroughly and treated it with Red Oxide before priming and painting. It’s an area that gets a lot of wear so it’s important to ensure it has been well protected and is ready for its next life!

The couple Tom and Max Swinhoe in the back of the Citreon Relay Van in preparation for their van conversion.

That’s van build preparation done!

It’s not as fun as building, but once the epic clean up and hole-filling is done, you can relax knowing you’ve done all you can to stop any rust or leaks. Now you can get onto planning the next part!

Below is a list of some basic tools and products you might want to use for your van build preparation. But if you have any questions about our van build preparation, please get in touch.

Veiw inside the citreon relay van that we are converting

What do I need?

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Thank you for reading our blog, we hoped you enjoyed it and we certainly hope it was helpful. If you did, and you haven’t already checked out our other blogs, please stick around. Or find more videos on our YouTube channel, where you can leave your questions and comments and follow our van build series.

Next up – how we installed our key safe!

Our new van still with all its original ply wood walls ready to be removed

FAQs

Are you going to reuse any of the original plywood?

We kept the plywood floor and wall panels, just in case we needed to use them as templates. We will try to repurpose as much as we can, but won’t use any pieces that have water damage etc.

What if the floor is in good condition?

If your van had previous owners, you may still want to remove all panels and flooring to give it a good clean. This will allow you to check for any damage or problem areas. You won’t be able to tell if there is any rust, for example, unless you remove the floor, but keep it and reinstall it after. Recycling the wood as possible is definitely best for the environment and your costs. 

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