Questions about buying and building a BOX VAN into a full-time traveling tiny home…

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magentawave

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I have been living full-time in a very well thought out and designed and as functional and comfortable and aesthetically pleasing as possible 2006 Toyota Sienna minivan for the last 16 months. It’s been okay but now I want standing headroom, a real kitchen, shower and bed with lots of storage. I was seriously considering buying a tall Ford Transit, Dodge Promaster or Nissan NV2500 / 3500 but prices have been nuts! But then, as a builder forever, I can appreciate having a platform with plumb walls so I just recently revisited getting a box van. My build would be simple and clean and I figure for the initial cost of buying a box van plus materials cost to build, I could definitely do this for thousands of dollars less than starting with a tall cargo van. Plus, by keeping the exterior plain and stock looking, I would feel better about traveling points south (Mexico and beyond) in a box van vs a tall van that screams “rich gringo.”

Anywho, I have some questions, please…

1) How big of a deal is it to replace the plastic roof on a box van with metal? Do you lap the seams of steel sheet metal using a gnarly adhesive like Sikaflex plus rivets? What about bending the edges so they fit over the top sides of the existing structure?

2) is it true that the ride of the 10’, 12’ and 14 foot box vans is smooth like a van but that the 16’ has a rough ride?

3) Diesel or gas? I know nothing about diesels and have read that modern diesels are a nightmare due to emissions junk. What year is the cut off for “good” reliable diesels?

4) I like the extra width you get with the 12’ and 14’ers vs the narrow 10’ box vans. So far it seems that all the 12’ plus box vans are duallys. Is it possible to convert a dually into a 4WD? Perhaps lose the dual tires and have a very wide single 4WD axle?

Thanks!🤙🏼😀👍
 
I had really good luck building a standing height barely topper on an old J10 Jeep 4 wheel drive truck. It ended up using the tailgate as a porch and outside storage for propane. This gave me about the same or a little more room than a high top van would have. Even though the topper was light weight, less than 800 lbs as a full timer I ended up with close to 1,000 lbs. of gear so I did beef up the suspension and because of wind resistance and gearing for remote rough roads seldom went over 60 MPH. Bottom line is it worked great. At the RTR several years ago there was a Class C chassis that the body had been destroyed by water damage and the owner had used similar methods to the one I used to rebuild a box on the back to live in. It should be fairly easy to find a cheap Class C with water damage as they generally leak. Tnttt.com foamies forum will show you the methods to cheaply build a well insulated light weight box which you could put on a long wheel base single rear wheel 1 ton 4 wheel drive chassis. I wanted stronger structure than foam so I used interior doors which worked well as long as you insure they stay water tight. When on Sandy beaches or rough roads weight is the problem, this is one way to solve it. Problem with box trucks, ambulances and school buses is by the time you get them built out they are usually very heavy and you are somewhat limited on tire size.
 
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Thanks but I really don’t want to get into removing and then disposing of the house part of a Class C motor home and then finding another box, etc., etc. I’d rather just start with an existing box van.
 
There are many good examples on this site, just search them out. I think you will be hard pressed to find a good working 4 wheel drive system under an existing box truck application in this country. Added to that the ride you are concerned about is based on this being a commercial truck capable of carrying loads not driver comfort. Don’t forget also to check on insurance availability and cost in your state of residency. There maybe a few reasons to reconsider before you buy as an existing certified RV is much easier to license and insure. That goes for a non commercial truck as well.
 
1) ... adhesive...

3) ...What year is the cut off for “good” reliable diesels?

4) I like the extra width you get with the 12’ and 14’...

Thanks!🤙🏼😀👍
.
1 -- Vulcum 116.
3 -- Our 1996 Cummins 505ci mechanical has zero computers, zero emissions equipment... reliable for nearly two decades full-time live-aboard.
4 -- Our box is about 7x12 by 7h, about 600cf.. . we prefer short narrow compact for winding through narrow tracks to our favorite boondock spots.
.
For portraits plus our reasons for our decisions, check our introduction:
https://vanlivingforum.com/threads/expeditionvehicle-build.44908/#post-576110
 
Check the laws in your State. It can be almost impossible to get insurance or to convert a commercial title into an RV title. Give your insurance company the VIN number of something similar to what you are interested in if you have not picked out a single vehicle, (just shopping). and ask for a quote.
If you are in Nevada, Forgitaboutit.
 
Check the laws in your State. It can be almost impossible to get insurance or to convert a commercial title into an RV title...
.
Bless the WorldWideWeb...
For free, you can receive at No! Extra! Charge!:
* misinformation/disinformation from the uninformed and inexperienced.
.
Our half-century experience is converting multiple commercial vehicles... and licensing and insuring them.
Not one started as a factory RecreateVehicle, nor did any of them appear to be a factory RecreateVehicle during our travels.
.
An aside:
If some state/province bureaucrats say 'nay, nay', do the 'mobility' thing.
Go someplace else, try some other bureaucrats.
Maybe you noticed, we have plenty of bureaucrats to choose from.
A plethora.
Copious amounts.
The darn things coming out our ears.
 
1) How big of a deal is it to replace the plastic roof on a box van with metal? Do you lap the seams of steel sheet metal using a gnarly adhesive like Sikaflex plus rivets? What about bending the edges so they fit over the top sides of the existing structure?

2) is it true that the ride of the 10’, 12’ and 14 foot box vans is smooth like a van but that the 16’ has a rough ride?

3) Diesel or gas? I know nothing about diesels and have read that modern diesels are a nightmare due to emissions junk. What year is the cut off for “good” reliable diesels?

4) I like the extra width you get with the 12’ and 14’ers vs the narrow 10’ box vans. So far it seems that all the 12’ plus box vans are duallys. Is it possible to convert a dually into a 4WD? Perhaps lose the dual tires and have a very wide single 4WD axle?

Thanks!🤙🏼😀👍

Replacing the fiberglass roof with new sheet aluminum is a fairly big job. You need a large well-equipped shop and plenty of helpers, or you can take it to a trailer repair facility.

Any box truck with dual rear wheels (DRW) will ride rougher when empty and smooth out only when loaded down to around half its weight rating or more. Lightly loaded, they can be rough.

Diesel is a good option for pulling or hauling heavy loads and/or lots of highway miles, but less desirable in light duty, short trip use. Gasoline engines are usually better for most vehicles with GVW under about 15,000 pounds, give or take. There are exceptions of course!

Most of the wider boxes are made that way because they are installed on a DRW chassis.
Narrow, single rear wheel (SRW) chassis will also usually have the narrow box, but not always.

Converting a 2WD truck to 4WD truck can get very expensive very fast. Almost anything can be done, if you have plenty of money and access to a well-equipped shop. Converting from DRW back to SRW is possible, but not advisable. You will not like the results.

In other words: Spend the extra time and money to buy what you want up front, and save the conversion money for the interior. I'd advise that you dont buy a used box truck for lets say, 25 grand and then have to spend 20 grand on the chassis and roof before you even get close to the interior.

Or so it seems to me.
 
As I stated on another post I had no problem getting my Ambo titled &insured as a motor home. It said cut away on the title but I told them it was an Ambo. It came with a bed & counter so I just had to tell them it has a stove & a place to use the bathroom which it does. Insurance is very reasonable.
 
.
Bless the WorldWideWeb...
For free, you can receive at No! Extra! Charge!:
* misinformation/disinformation from the uninformed and inexperienced.
.
Our half-century experience is converting multiple commercial vehicles... and licensing and insuring them.
Not one started as a factory RecreateVehicle, nor did any of them appear to be a factory RecreateVehicle during our travels.
.
An aside:
If some state/province bureaucrats say 'nay, nay', do the 'mobility' thing.
Go someplace else, try some other bureaucrats.
Maybe you noticed, we have plenty of bureaucrats to choose from.
A plethora.
Copious amounts.
The darn things coming out our ears.
Where you are it maybe easy, That doesn't make it so everywhere. There are reasons people can not just move elsewhere be it property they own, medical insurance, State disability payments, State income tax and many others. If you register out of State, you can get busted for that as well. If anyone is giving misinformation it is those that say jump in head first the water is fine.
I am not talking theory. I am talking past experience.
I live near Las Vegas. I found a commercial vehicle near Reno. I called my insurance and gave them the VIN. so I could drive it home. They said sorry we do not cover commercial vehicles. I called a commercial carrier. They asked what is the nature of your business. I said no business, private use. They said sorry we do not cover individuals or private use vehicles. I tried several other carriers. I found one that said after you convert it and send us the pictures we will write a liability only policy. I asked how much will that cost. They refused to say. I was not going to buy the vehicle, spend time and money to convert it only to find out I will get financially raped once finished.
My DMV said we do not recognise you as an RV builder so to convert to a RV title the work needs to be done by a State licenced mechanic.
You can misrepresent the vehicle use to an insurance company and they will take your money. File a claim and they may say fraud and not pay. Each State regulates insurance companies with different rules. What one insurance company will do in one State, they will not do in another. I stand by my statement. check the laws and insurance in your State before someone talks you into making a big mistake.
 
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I used to attend EAA's Airventure every year in Oshkosh, Wi & always flew over but wanted to buy a school bus to convert for us all to camp in & put a deck on top to watch the airshows. Found a great bus but couldn't buy insurance as the company said school busses were the most unsafe vehicles on the road because of the "Tip over factor" I did get a price on liability over over $1600 per year 20 years ago which just wasn't worth it for 1 week a year. I guess Ambo's ARE WAY BETTER than busses & both are better than pull behind campers or small motor homes. I've been in the plants & have friends that build them. They''re made for the 2 week summer road trip, no more. I saw one flipped over & it was 2; high. I live 30-40 miles from many of the factories, surplus dealers, frame sellers, etc I bought an entire building of machine shop equip from BigFoot who makes the self leveling jack systems as they had sold the building & it all had to go.
 
Replacing the fiberglass roof with new sheet aluminum is a fairly big job. You need a large well-equipped shop and plenty of helpers, or you can take it to a trailer repair facility.

Any box truck with dual rear wheels (DRW) will ride rougher when empty and smooth out only when loaded down to around half its weight rating or more. Lightly loaded, they can be rough.

Diesel is a good option for pulling or hauling heavy loads and/or lots of highway miles, but less desirable in light duty, short trip use. Gasoline engines are usually better for most vehicles with GVW under about 15,000 pounds, give or take. There are exceptions of course!

Most of the wider boxes are made that way because they are installed on a DRW chassis.
Narrow, single rear wheel (SRW) chassis will also usually have the narrow box, but not always.

Converting a 2WD truck to 4WD truck can get very expensive very fast. Almost anything can be done, if you have plenty of money and access to a well-equipped shop. Converting from DRW back to SRW is possible, but not advisable. You will not like the results.

In other words: Spend the extra time and money to buy what you want up front, and save the conversion money for the interior. I'd advise that you dont buy a used box truck for lets say, 25 grand and then have to spend 20 grand on the chassis and roof before you even get close to the interior.

Or so it seems to me.
I agree....best to start out with a "container" that you want, and just work on the inside. Not try to change the container.
 
As far as adding 4wd I'd pass & put a "Locker" on the drive axle. Most 4WDs when hung up only 1 front & 1 rear wheel spin. With a locker you engage both rear wheels from inside when you get stuck. Much cheaper & works well.
 
Do you do a lot of stealth parking in neighborhoods (in the U.S. I presume)?? I would rate that FAR less important than lower insurance and body-on-frame construction (especially on poor roads or off-road)
 
As I stated on another post I had no problem getting my Ambo titled &insured as a motor home. It said cut away on the title but I told them it was an Ambo. It came with a bed & counter so I just had to tell them it has a stove & a place to use the bathroom which it does. Insurance is very reasonable.
If you live in it and did not disclose this to the insurance company at the time prior to being offered a policy you have committed fraud invalidating the contract in case of a claim.
 
I agree....best to start out with a "container" that you want, and just work on the inside. Not try to change the container.
I went another route. I bought a hurricane-damaged class-C with the intention of demolishing the coach. Took me 3 days.
I will now install a commercial industry cargo box with a roll-up door that will likely cost me ~$8k for good quality.
I then build it out to my custom specs.
The 1999 Ford E-350 V-10, auto, with new tires cost me $1,250, the motor alone is worth $4k, the cab\chassis another $1k, and the tires another $1k.
Only 16k miles, zero damage otherwise.
Believe it or not a Facebook MarketPlace purchase. $1,250 is a common scammer's price.

I specifically wanted a VIN that was a motorhome given my research in Houston that would not allow full-time living in a commercial box truck. Commercial VIN's could not be converted in that locale according to three insurance companies.
I have since read it can be done in other states, Florida being one. I didn't want the headache. You can buy damaged class-C RV´s from insurance brokers. Commercial insurance comes with its restrictions, and failure to abide invalidates the policy. NTM I try not to be a lying fraudster like some.
 
NTM I try not to be a lying fraudster like some.
Take it easy there. Just because you feel like you're doing it smarter than others, it doesn't mean you have to disparage those that are doing their best to make things work.

I'm happy your plan is working for you. But this isn't a one size fits all lifestyle. You might want to leave your judgement at the virtual door. We're all here to help and be helped.
 
Just so people are aware we had a forum member built a Class C with water damage and used insulation core panels covered with Poor Man’s Fiberglass for a supper light weight water proof box on the back that turned out really nice. I didn’t connect with him but did see the rig at the RTR a few years back. Seems to me at the time he had less than $1000 in materials. Also some states I believe require you apply for a new title if you modify more than a certain portion of the factory body. I ran into that building fiberglass dune buggies a few years back. Insurance companies frown on modified or one of a kind vehicles. Lots of things you think wouldn’t be a problem are if you intend to get it insured to live full time in as well. I would check with people on the schoolies forums about insurance issues they have had with building and insuring their builds.
 
If you live in it and did not disclose this to the insurance company at the time prior to being offered a policy you have committed fraud invalidating the contract in case of a claim.
It's a Motor Home just like any other. You can do anything with it you can do with ones made in the factories 35 miles south. I planned to do 6 months on the farm & 6 months on the road in the winter before the ALS got worse. Planned on buying a 6 month tag & 6 month ins then drop all but comp for the off 6 month. The Ins co had no problem at all. DON"T post I lied or committed fraud when you don't seem to know your arse from a hole in the ground.
 
It's a Motor Home just like any other. You can do anything with it you can do with ones made in the factories 35 miles south. I planned to do 6 months on the farm & 6 months on the road in the winter before the ALS got worse. Planned on buying a 6 month tag & 6 month ins then drop all but comp for the off 6 month. The Ins co had no problem at all. DON"T post I lied or committed fraud when you don't seem to know your arse from a hole in the ground.
I was addressing box trucks (or any other vehicle with a commercial VIN) with a commercial VIN. Noted you failed to disclose if you informed your insurance company of your plans to live in it.
Take it easy there. Just because you feel like you're doing it smarter than others, it doesn't mean you have to disparage those that are doing their best to make things work.

I'm happy your plan is working for you. But this isn't a one size fits all lifestyle. You might want to leave your judgement at the virtual door. We're all here to help and be helped.
I addressed insurance fraud.
It's a Motor Home just like any other. You can do anything with it you can do with ones made in the factories 35 miles south. I planned to do 6 months on the farm & 6 months on the road in the winter before the ALS got worse. Planned on buying a 6 month tag & 6 month ins then drop all but comp for the off 6 month. The Ins co had no problem at all. DON"T post I lied or committed fraud when you don't seem to know your arse from a hole in the ground.
I assume Ambo stands for an ambulance?
An ambulance is not a motorhome.
It's not my judgment it is the law.
 

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