We’d contemplated a campervan conversion for a long time, yet I was torn what to buy. In the end we opted for an ambulance, because we thought it would be easier to convert; having insulation, lighting and heating already installed. By law any public service vehicle has to have a check every 6 weeks at the most, so we knew (or at least hoped) that, despite whatever the mileage, the van would be in reasonable nick.
A few things I’ve learnt over the past months, in the process of the campervan conversion, starting with the positives:
Can I even legally drive it?
Oops! Our retired ambulance actually requires a cat D licence to drive it, as it is plated at 4.5T. That leaves Dadonthebrink to do most of the driving for now, while we run through the paperwork to get it “replated”. (Thankfully, I asked the right questions from the auction house and knew about this before we bought Campy Van)
The whole process to rectify the weight involves a couple of steps:
First hurdle was to tax it. You can’t do it online.
I had to get it recategorised from PSV to private HGV, just to tax it (private HGV is important, so you don’t have to have a tacho). This was simple enough, once I knew, at the post office. (The DVLA sent me around in circles.)
I was slightly weary of insurance, but ended up being able to insure it through our Camping and Caravan Club membership as a van to Campervan conversion.
Next, once taxed and insured, we had take Campy Van to a weighbridge and get a plating certificate. We used our local council’s depo, where for £22 we got to park on their big scales and received a signed paper to certify the weight. Currently, with the wheelchair ramp and lift still in, Campy Van weighs 3000kg.
As soon as the V5 is back, it needs to be sent back to the DVLA with the plating certificate to get it recategorised to a vehicle of GVW 3,500kg- it will become a LGV, aka light goods vehicle. Then anyone with a B licence can drive it too (and we won’t be banned from city centres across Europe).
What exactly do these buttons do?
On the dashboard there are a range of buttons, nicely labelled. Some were obvious, some less so.
Confused, in the end, we popped down to our local ambulance service station and asked one of the mechanics to walk us through some of the quirks. He was very helpful and showed us were the fuel stop for the heater is and the key feature of the battery isolator…and some more of the nuances.
Tip: If you buy a retired ambulance use this button each time you park the vehicle before you get a chance to rewire. All the gizmos will slowly but surely drain your battery.
Cool things that are included in a retired ambulance
This was one of the main reasons for us buying an ambulance: a lot of work towards a conversion has already been done.
We have windows.
Cutting into the bodywork of a vehicle is, by all accounts, a daunting task for first-timers. All our windows were in. Maybe too many if you ask some, but I like having windows in every panel.
Two of our rear windows even have opening sections.
We also have a small skylight and roof vent. (This is not in the best shape, so may actually need to be replaced. We shall investigate.)
The van is insulated.
One of those tasks, again, that people do not look forward to. We have rockwool under the panelling
… but is it enough?
The van is lined.
I really dislike the DIY carpet lining and appreciate the fibre glass panels used for lining our retired ambulance. I especially like the robust mouldings around the windows. These will be easy to keep clean, whatever my messy, constantly muddy kids throw at it.
Now, I just need to figure out how to remove these and put them back nicely, if we decide to improve the insulation.
The van has easy to clean flooring.
Sadly, this will have to be ripped up as there isn’t sufficient underfloor insulation. I will try to replicate how the lino is curved up the wall though, as it’s great for sweeping out the van.
The van has heating.
There is an Eberspacher heater in the van. Sadly, the controller is a bit bizerk and the heater won’t work. The quote for having it looked at was not favourable, especially as our local ambulance repair shop said these heaters are power hungry and may drain our batteries quickly.
The van has lighting.
We have two set of lights in the back: bright white lights and cool blue dimmed lighting.
The driver’s cabin has some very strong (not very atmospheric) LED light strips.
The van has cupboards.
There are overhead cupboards all around. Although they say max. 3kg, they can actually take a 60kg person hanging on them. That’s quite a disparity! They don’t look fabulous with their tinted plexiglass fronts and the lovely green lino lining, but those should be relatively easy to rectify.
The van has rear seats.
We bought the van with 6 seats and a wheelchair support seat. The latter was taken out pretty quickly and one of the seats had to be repositioned, as it was blocking the aisle from the drivers cabin to the back. There are 2 fold-down seat in the rear. These are rather cool and will, most probably, be incorporated in final design.
The van has a sidestep.
It’s easy to get in via the sliding door, there is a slide out step. However, that step is wired to an alarm: if the engine is on then there is an ear deafening beep. Makes sense if we were to drive off with it out, but not when we are just idling.
… one bit of rewiring to figure out I guess.
The van has a reversing camera (and a reversing warning beep… that can be switched off).
Campy Van is long, almost 6.4m and, with the rear windows obsured, this is a great feature to have.
The van is plastered with warning stickers.
I mention these in the positives because it does have one useful one: the dimensions stuck on the front windscreen. The others make me laugh…but that’s another post.
We have a reserve battery.
Not something I expected, but something I have had to resort to using because I didn’t know about the Tip above. Under the driver’s seat there is another battery that is wired as an emergency start battery. If we drain the battery, we have one or two goes to start with this little power pack under the seat. Sadly, I only learnt the particulars of the battery and sneaky things draining it after I’d spend £150 on replacing glow plugs and having other bits looked at.
So Campy Van has some nice features which make it appealing for a conversion and then there are some bits that complicate the conversion…