Vanlife has really exploded since 2019. The increase in domestic travel has certainly increased the number of people who are interested in giving the van-lifestyle a try.
The increase in the number of potential customers has also caused the number of so-called "Professional Builders" to explode in the last two years.
Like anything else, it's important you do your homework before selecting a builder.
I'm not saying that people who have started companies in the last couple of years are not quality builders. In fact, some of the best builders I've seen are up and coming companies.
So don't let the answer to this question be your deciding factor, but it can help weed out potential issues.
A builder that has done their due diligence will have a process for everything. Here are a few topics you should find out about before signing the dotted line.
Make sure their contracts and project documentation make sense. Everything with your build should be outlined in details so you know exactly what is and is not included in your agreed-upon price, including all materials & components.
Inevitably things will change over the course of the build. Make sure you understand how those changes will affect price & timelines.
These contracts should also include all insurance information for the builders (especially if you are supplying a van for which you paid) and payment terms that are agreed upon by both of you.
Part of the van building process is design and material selection. The more thorough this process is before the start of the build, the less unknowns that arise during the build process. You can get a really good feel for an upfitter with how they handle this part of the project.
What are all the payments and milestones? Make sure these are agreed upon upfront so no there aren't any surprises.
Most of these vans are complex systems for first-time owners to understand. Things like:
It's important to ensure that your builder includes a thorough orientation on the vehicle. I've found that many top builders also include printed & digital owners' manuals for you to easily reference how to troubleshoot or understand the systems in your van.
Just like when building a house, make sure you understand what is and is not covered by warranty. These projects are usually highly custom and many issues don't come to the surface until the vehicles are put through their paces on the road. Understanding the warranty & repair process is important.
For example, if your water pump fails, is the upfitter going to replace the pump at their expense and then deal with the manufacturer to get reimbursed for the repair or will they expect you to handle the warranty claim? Small things like this are important to understand upfront.
Similar to the warranty, many of the issues with a van don't come to light until many months of using the van. Some builders will do a 1 year walk-through and make sure everything after 1 year is functioning as it should. This isn't always required but something to ask about.
Working with a professional van upfitting company is an expensive endeavour and having confidence in your builders is vital to your peace of mind.
With any large expense, it's not a bad idea to reach out and see if you can talk to some of their past customers and get some feedback. Try to get genuine responses and really understand the overall experience they had with the builder. Any reservations or hesitations you might have can be easily fixed by speaking to past customers.
As you start to look at different upfitters, you will see that most companies have a certain design & aesthetic. It's important to look for a builder that matches your style. Don't approach a builder that mainly does Apartment Inspired vans and ask them for a rugged Adventure Van. Find a builder that has lots of experience building the style of van you are ultimately after.
Hopefully these tips. help you when selecting a builder and give you some questions to ask and things to look out for before committing!
Feel free to reach out and let us know about your past experiences!