What type of van to buy

There are so many great videos and articles on which van to buy. For most people size matters when it comes to living space. When looking for a van not wanting to feel cramped or having prison cell vibes can be a tall ask.

Having built my own vans and lived in different sized vans I can offer my insights and perspective from first hand experience.

Which van to buy? Mercedes Sprinter is the obvious choice and most popular by far, a great option ticking many of the boxes.

But before you commit to a big expense it’s wise to ask yourself a few questions.

What size can I legally drive?  How important is fuel cost (MPG)?  How important is stealth and am I going off road?

In this article:


One of the first questions is: What is the biggest van I can legally drive?

If you passed your car test before 1st January 1997 then you can drive (not for profit) up to 7.5 tons.  After this date you are restricted to 3.5 tons. 

Most commercial vehicles these days that have a twin wheel at the back, this is an easy indicator that it is Plated (literally has a plate in the cab) meaning it is registered with the DVLA for the maximum kerbside weight permitted by its plate when fully loaded.

Single wheels at the back usually indicate a maximum weight of 3.5 tons fully loaded.

To ensure your van does not exceed its maximum weight, you can go to a local weighbridge and check for a small fee (usually 5-10 pounds, many are free. I recommend ringing in advance). The consequences of being overloaded are harsh, especially if you are involved in an accident.


Whether you are a rock climber, cyclist or hiker, having a van to suit your needs and facilitate your travel is the prime objective. 

If you are tall then you will need to consider which way you can sleep in a van and the space you have when deciding the best layout.  Take into consideration the storage needed for any sports equipment.

MPG Vs 4x4

Are you going off-road? If you are a hiker or rock climber the chances are yes, so a 4x4 is an obvious choice.

True freedom is when you can take your home to the best views and not worry about getting stuck.  4x4’s are growing in popularity especially with the demountables and micro campers on the back of a 4x4.

If you tend to visit cities and stay in urban areas then a regular 2 wheel drive should suffice and save money on fuel consumption.

Stealthy Vs Obvious

If avoiding expensive campsites and hiding in plain sight is more your thing then a stealthy work van look is a good option.

I have driven a big van with a chimney and it stands out in a car park and attracts a lot of attention more often from the police or security guards checking that I am not stopping overnight.

Two's company

One person in a van can get lonely but two can start a war.

I often see individuals living in a van, but when I meet couples they are often very suited and adapt to sharing a small space well. Surviving with another in a small space is only possible if you are both willing to compromise and are super chilled.

Sometimes having a small van each is the perfect compromise.

The first van I had was an LDV Maxus ex post office van, it was beaten, scratched and the paint was faded. I was on a tight budget but it had a service history and a long MOT.

When at the beaches in Spain I spent a lot of time out of the van and that was great. But in more stealthy environments such as the cities it felt a little cramped. It was a medium wheel base and I had a shower room. It was a very testing time.

The Mercedes I had was very big and spacious. It felt airy, it was old and I had to rewire some of the looms but I loved it with the log fire and the size of the bed. It was great.

It did make a statement when entering a supermarket carpark or a beauty spot. And that statement generally was, the hippies are here, lock up your dogs!

Sometimes the lack of maneuverability of such a big vehicle can be a pain in the neck. I didn't keep it long and sold it to go to Cambodia.

After returning from Cambodia

I bought a 16 seater minibus, which I converted into the best camper van in the world (probably).

Other options

Lorries, buses, mini vans and car camping are all different types of living arrangements and  I have seen them in Spain, The Netherlands and Germany.  I considered some of them myself. They all have pros and cons like fuel cost, compromise of space and accessibility, the question is, are they worth the benefits?

Accepting you are on wheels and the restraints this comes with will help to focus on the most important reason why you are looking at a van for accommodation. Freedom and the ability to pursue the lifestyle you dream of. 


Can I live in a car? Yes, but it takes organisation, patience and compromise. One of my wifes campers was a Citroen Berlingo. It had a thetford toilet, bed, table, wardrobe, electricity and a diesel heater. She lived in it for just over a year whilst working part time.

Why is van life so popular? The main reasons that are often cited for the rise in popularity over the last five years are social media, the pandemic and the huge rise in rental prices around the world.

Is van life sustainable? Depends on your definition of sustainable. You can definitely live in a vehicle for many years but probably not when you are elderly, frail and unable to drive, (there may come a time when medical care staff are visiting people in vans as they do in houses now). The small carbon footprint of living is less than living in a house. You are likely to create less rubbish and use less energy.

How much does it cost? I have stated that in the UK I have lived on as little as one hundred pounds a month (not including paying off my minibus from my employer).