AUSTRALIA, VANLIFE

Twins convert Van Betty for Vanlife


We converted a Toyota HiAce to live Vanlife around Australia!

*See chart at bottom of page for details on purchases, costs and where they were bought.

The day we bought our home on wheels Betty…

6th September 2017

We drove down to Sydney to check out a van we saw online at West End City Motors at Riverstone. The second we saw it we were filled with so much excitement and almost couldn’t bear the thought of driving away without it.

The salesman had the price tag of $12,000 for Betty but after two hours of asking all the questions we could think of, taking her for a test drive and using every bit of bargaining power we had (including the trade in of Amy’s old Mazda for scrap) we managed to get the price down to $10,200. We were stoked!
We got to drive Betty back up the Coast to our home and show the family. Fun times…

With all the excitement, we absolutely couldn’t wait to get started on the conversion.
The next day we booked in Betty at Nelson Bay Radiators and Automotive where Grant and the team did a thorough check over of the vehicle and made sure she was in good working order and that there was nothing majorly wrong. She came back with the all clear – thank god!

The process of ‘gutting’ the van came next. We spent approx three hours removing all 5 seats, belts and fixtures, wheelchair ramp and floor metal runners. 

Over the next eight months we very slowly converted Betty into the ‘house on wheels’ of our dreams. Due to our limited knowledge of carpentry and our cheap budget, we made a very simple conversion which also involved us making it up along the way.
We tried to gather as much FREE material we could from the shed (thanks Dad) and with that, we YouTubed, Googled and talked to anyone we could to learn ideas and methods of how to do a van conversion.


Process of Conversion

WINDOW TINTING

This was something we initially didn’t even consider but after a friend reached out and explained this option it was absolutely something we wanted and needed. Having Betty’s windows tinted ensured we had the best possible privacy as well a huge amount of glare and heat reduction.

Our good friends Tim & Lisa at NOVUS Autoglass at Salamander Bay helped us out with this job.

Front driver & passenger windows 35%
Front cabin windows 18%
Back cabin windows 5%
Back window at 5% 

two images of van window tinting

LAYING DOWN FRESH VINYL

It was always agreed that we would have some vinyl flooring down instead of carpet as it’s much easier to clean (Just a quick dust-pan no vacuum) and safer for spillages – Amy’s notorious for spilling her red wine!

We managed to snag some lovely vinyl with a ‘timber floor board look’ from Bunnings.
The task was fairly simple, we had to peel up the pre-existing ‘hospital floor’ vinyl and before laying down the new vinyl we had to fill in these two long gaps in the floor where the wheelchair runners used to be.

We cut two pieces of timber to fit and sealed them into place using a couple of screws and silicone sealant. Then we traced the perimeter of the old vinyl onto the new, cut to size and lay it down. (No glue needed).

laying new vinyl flooring in toyota hiace van

BUILDING THE BED FRAME

Our original idea of building a bed frame with 6-8 posts with slats and a sheet of ply was quickly shut down because thanks to Pinterest and Dads help, we came up with a much better solution. We decided to build the bed up to the height of the windows and directly attach the frame to the inside shell of the van not the floor. Having the bed suspended to the frame meant we could maximize storage space underneath! Perfect!  

We popped out the grey paneling from inside the van, bought two 50mmx3mm metal beams that we then drilled into the side walls of the van shell to give it more support for the next step. Dad had some metal angles lying around in the shed which were perfect for what we needed. We popped the grey panels back on covering the metal beams.

We then drilled these metal angle bars onto the grey panel ensuring the screw bit through the metal beam behind the panel. Now with a strong ‘frame’ we laid down lengths of treated and lacquered pine slats onto the angles with them being held in place by nuts and bolts on either side of the slat.

Next step we cut, lacquered, laid down and drilled a sheet of 8mm ply onto the bed slats.
We bought a queen size high density foam mattress 10cm from Clark Rubber. It was the perfect width but the length was 15cm too long so right then and there they snipped a bit off the end for us.

building bed frame in toyota hiace van

BUILDING REAR TABLE

We decided to build and attach a folding table to the rear of the bed frame so when you open the boot we can easily pull up the table and use it for prepping food, lying in bed while doing laptop work or better yet – reverse into a Drive-in with some popcorn, chocolate and red wine and have the best setup ever!

Materials used were completely free for this task as Dad had an old bed frame lying around along with two massive hinges and screws. Nice one Dad! We cut, sanded the edges and attached two hinges to the timber. We then clamped the table into place against the rear bed frame and drilled through the hinges. 

It can turn a full 180 degrees so when its facing down it hides all the storage underneath the bed, lifting it up to 90 degrees it becomes a table and in an upright position it gives us space to access the storage.

To hold the table in position we drilled two holes in each end of the table, threaded through some heavy-duty rope and tied a knot with a loop at the bottom.

To fix the rope to the inside of Betty we made a loop with the other end of the rope and secured this firmly by simply wrapping fishing wire around it. We then attached a carabiner on each loop and these easily hook onto two ‘pre-existing’ hooks inside the van.

installing back table in toyota hiace van

INSTALLING DUAL BATTERY SYSTEM

This was the most costly part of the conversion but easily the most important. It was essential we had extra battery power for us to run a fridge 24/7, run lighting, charge all electronic equipment and still be able to start the car afterwards. 

This meant installing a second battery in the main cabin. Kelvin and the crew at Out of Town 4WD Barnsley fitted this system for us. The battery system is located behind the driver seat next to the interior table. They fixed a battery box to the floor with a 105aph AGM deep cycle battery inside (which is designed to be slowly drained unlike the starter battery that boosts a lot of power up front).

Connected to the deep cycle battery is a REDARC battery charger so when the car starts, the alternator charges the second battery but also ensures if it is fully drained it won’t discharge the starter battery.

Sitting on top of the battery box they hooked up a Repco 600W pure sine wave inverter (which converts 12V DC power into 240V AC power – a much higher voltage that is needed to charge certain items such as a camera & laptop.) It was our aim to have an off-grid setup so the crew also attached an anderson plug into the battery system so we can easily plug in our 250W solar panel to keep the battery charged when the alternator isn’t in action.

We have since plugged in an RCD (residual current device) into the inverter which is a safety device that minimizes the risk of electric shock. It has an in-built circuit breaker so if a high voltage surge occurs it will short out.

secondary battery installation process

INSTALLING INTERIOR TABLE

We spent a lot of time researching and shopping around for materials to build a table inside Betty. It was quite difficult and was going to cost us a lot to be able to find/build something with the right dimensions. It was by chance that we were walking through Officeworks and stumbled across a work desk that looked about right. We measured it and the worker even let us sneak it outside to Betty to make sure it fitted, and fancy that – it did!

From this point, all we had to do was assemble the table and make some ‘modifications’. With some timber dad had lying around we added some side panels to give extra support to the frame and to utilize more space for things like a spice rack, hooks and a spot to attach a power board.

After these small modifications, we simply placed the desk into position and drilled the frame to the floor and grey panel for support.

finer details of van build spice rack hooks

INSTALLING A SAFE

A spot to hide our valuables when being away from Betty was a must! We snagged a good deal on a safe at Bunnings and the installation was as easy as sitting it in place, pre-drilling holes into the floor and then fixing it with some bolts.

installing safe in toyota hiace van

MAKING CURTAINS

A task that was very daunting at the beginning and involved lots of trial and error in the process. Choosing what colours and textures to use was the first obstacle so we went to Spotlight for their large selection. We found a nice light avocado green ‘block out’ fabric to use for the main interior curtains that cover the windows.

For the curtain that separates the drivers cabin to the main cabin we used medium dark grey cotton and for the rear curtain and the curtain attached to the interior desk we used textured white cotton. Sarah did 90% of the work on the curtains which involved measuring all the space, cutting fabric to lengths and sewing all the hems. 

We drilled screws into the appropriate spots to where we would attach the stretch wire. Once the stretch wire was cut to length we twisted in little hooks at either end and then threaded the stretch wire through the top hem of the curtains. 

Lastly, we hooked the curtains onto the screws that were fixed to the roof/wall. To add a little creative touch, we pulled off a grey panel that was above the back window. We wrapped some funky fabric around it, staple-gunned it and popped the panel back in. Mad!

making curtains in toyota hiace van

INSTALLING ROOF RACKS & AWNING

Having an awning was a necessity, especially if were to be parked somewhere with no shade. A lot of the options we found for awnings that attached straight to the van were VERY expensive and meant drilling holes into the side of the van (which we really didn’t want to do).

We concluded that if we got roof racks we could easily attach an affordable awning straight to the rack and that would also give us the option to carry anything else on the road (kayak, surfboards etc.). The cost of the roof racks and awning (plus installation) came to half the price of what a e.g. Fiamma awning would cost without installation!

With a big help from dad we installed the roof racks over a few hours. We assembled the basic nuts and bolts to hold the racks in an upright position so we could lift them up above the roof and sit them in the gutter ready for mounting. Using a circular saw we had to cut off approx. 15cm off each bar as they were too long.

After this we popped on the rubber inserts for all the ends and tightened the clamps onto the gutter which locks the whole roof rack system into place.

installing roof rack on toyota hiace van

ADDING THE ESSENTIALS

In the last couple of months before hitting the road we added all the necessary items which included storage containers, fridge, camp table, solar panel, cutlery + crockery, toiletries, camping gear etc.

fridge and awing for toyota hiace van conversion

ITEMCOSTSTORE/COMPANY
Dual battery installation$2117Out of Town 4WD Barnsley
Engel 38L Fridge$780Tentworld
Rhino Rack roof racks x 2$495Roof Rack City Sydney
Window tinting$400NOVUS Autoglass Salamander Bay
250W Kings solar panel$2704WD Supacentre Online
10cm Foam mattress$239Clark Rubber
600W Inverter$206Repco
Kings Awning 2.5m x 2.5m$994WD Supacentre Online
Vinyl flooring$97Bunnings
4kg Gas bottle (Buy not swap)$85Bunnings
Curtain fabric$77Spotlight
Safe$65Bunnings
Timber for bed frame$59Medowie Hardware
Powerboard & RCD$57Bunnings
Interior table$39Officeworks
2 x 100L storage containers$31Bunnings
Kitchen equipment$25Kmart
Metal support beam$24Hunter Metal Market
20L water container$20Big W
Stretch wire for curtains$13Spotlight
2 x carabiners, rope & line$13Bunnings
2 x misc storage hangers$10Big W
Spice Rack$6Kmart
LPG 3 burner camping stoveFREEDad
Bed head & hinges for back tableFREEDad
Camping folding tableFREEDad
2 x folding chairsFREEDad
BeddingFREEDad
TOTAL COST$5227

Well if you made it this far, thank you!

We hope you enjoyed this blog post and hopefully gained some insight and inspiration for vanlife!

If you have any friends or know of anyone looking to do a similar thing and needs some help or ideas, please feel free to share this video via the social media links below.

If you have any questions or comments about Betty’s conversion, please flick us an email, DM on Instagram or comment on this blog!

Cheers

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