Talk to any aspiring van owner and there are usually two barriers to making the #VanLife dream come true: time and money. There are ways to build a van on the cheap—this couple tricked out a Sprinter for just $18,000—but a DIY build can require upwards of 1,000 hours of planning and construction time depending on what you do. Love campers and trailers? Come join our new community group.
And even if you turn to professionals like Sportsmobile or Outside Van, it doesn’t mean that having someone else build your van will take less time. It takes time to purchase the right van—especially the popular 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter—and even most professional build times can take four to six months.
Colorado-based Contravans aims to make the process much easier with simple van conversions that take about two weeks. Contravans is a team of conversion builder Vanlife Customs and the Denver-based rental shop Native Campervans. Using the two companies’ combined experience, Contravans is building prefab conversion van kits for the Ram ProMaster City chassis.
The Contra-Kit features a two-person full-sized memory foam mattress and a retractable kitchen and storage system that uses two sliding drawers accessed from the rear doors. The kitchenette includes a five-gallon water jug and a single-burner propane stove and cooler, while the 6.75 cubic foot drawer can hold lots of clothes, gear, and camping supplies.
The design upgrades the normal van ceiling with a slatted wood ceiling, wall panels with cubbies, and a deluxe remote operated ceiling fan with rain sensor. Two 12v power outlets and LED dimming lights run off of a 100ah auxiliary battery system and 400-watt inverter, meaning the whole system can stay off the grid for short periods of time.
The Contra-Kit costs $13,500 and includes installation, bedding, cooking and eating tools, and camping chairs and a table. The design is simple and compact, partly because the ProMaster City is smaller than the the full-size ProMasters often used for conversions.
But where Contravans really shines is the buying process. Order your kit online and the Contravans team will schedule the installation in two weeks time at their facility in Denver, Colorado. Once installation begins, you can head out on the road in just two days with a finished product. Contravans also throws in a six-month warranty on their work.
You still need to provide the van, and a brand new ProMaster City van costs about $24,000. You’ll also need to store adventure gear like bikes and skis on exterior racks since there isn’t room for a gear garage. But with an all-in total of around $37,500, the cost of a van and a Contra-Kit is much more affordable than a lot of other pricey conversion vans. Contravans also plans to build other conversion kits for the Ford Transit Connect, Mercedes Metris, and Toyota Sienna.
The Contra-Kit follows a trend of new build companies offering budget-conscious conversions; Maryland-based Off Grid Adventure Vans is building out the larger Ram Promaster vans for $60,000 all in and ZENVANZ sells DIY bamboo conversion kits for $18,000. It seems likely that as the camper van movement becomes more affordable, it will gain even more momentum.