I’ve had my camper van for two years now and thought it would be worth sharing some thoughts on it.
Owning a camper van
I’ve never owned or used a camper van before, so the whole experience has been new to me. Overall, it’s been very positive. I’ve really enjoyed having a camper van to go back to after both day walks or short backpacking trips. I love the comfort compared with a “base camp” tent, especially in the colder months. Being able to relax in the warmth with no draughts and sleep on a pull-out bed is wonderful. It’s also great to be isolated from the sounds and hubbub on a camp site. So far, I’ve only used camp sites. Next year I might do some offsite stops. It’s also great to have all your gear to hand, especially in bad weather. It’s a deep joy not to have to pack up a wet tent too. The only drawback is that sometimes you have to book ahead on camp sites rather than just turn up.
The Toyota Alphard as a base vehicle
My Alphard is a 2002 3.0L V6 4WD, which seems to be quite rare. Despite being relatively heavy with the camper van conversion, it drives well. The V6 has got plenty of power and the 4WD means it doesn’t struggle on difficult surfaces. It has a four speed automatic gear box (from 2005, they use a 5 speed auto gearbox on the 3.0L). It revs at around 3,000 doing 70mph on the motorway, which is a little strange when you’re used to cars doing about 2,000 rpm, but it never feels strained. Even at higher speeds, the V6 engine gives it a bit of zip. Overall, it feels very relaxing to drive. Not surprisingly, given the engine size, age and that it’s petrol driven, fuel economy is not a strong point. I’m getting around 25mpg on long journeys. I did manage 27mpg once! The only mechanical fault I’ve had was a drive belt snapping. The mechanics at the garage where I’ve had it serviced have been quite complimentary (jealous) about it.
In terms of the build qualty and standard specs, for its age, it’s very good. The paintwork is immaculate (pearlescent white). The headlights were slightly yellowed but I’ve sorted that with fine glass paper and polishing paste. The interior was almost completely blemish free. Not surprisingly, for a 2002 vehicle, it doesn’t have the level of gizmos of a modern car with a very basic trip computer. The aircon works but tends to be a bit all or nothing. It has front and rear parking sensors. I wish I’d had a parking camera installed. I did have a new stereo installed along with a Cat 1 alarm/immobiliser. I also had cruise control fitted, although I’ve not used it much. I had leather seats and a solar panel fitted (more of which later). The other really nice touch, which was standard, is an electric sliding passenger door.
Overall, I’m really pleased with the Alphard as a vehicle, especially given its age. Aesthetically, it’s not very pretty, especially from the front, but it’s not bad.
The Wellhouse conversion
Both reviews and personal recommendations suggested that Wellhouse do high quality conversions and I’ve not been disappointed. The side unit is excellent with a sink, two burner hob and worktop fridge. The fit is millimetre perfect and the laminate is very attractive. It is a bit tight on storage space, which is mainly a function of being a conversion rather than being built from scratch. I’ve increased storage by leaving behind the Dometic portable toilet. For solo use, storage is adequate but would be a bit limited for two people. Indeed, if you were using it for two people, I think it needs a side awning.
As I mentioned before, I have leather seats (front and rear). While they are high quality and look very smart, I wish I’d had cloth. Firstly, the leather smell lasts for ages. Secondly, leather tends to be hot or cold and not very cosy for sleeping. The pull out bed is easy to operate, but quite hard to sleep on, so I use an inflatable mattress with a fleece under blanket and a sheet. I use a backpacking quilt or sleeping bag to sleep in.
The pop up roof is straightforward to use and means you can stand up. It also increases storage space. I generally close it at night because it makes it quieter and warmer. There are zipped panels to expose mesh ventilation, which is nice when it’s warm, but the mesh is not fine enough to keep Scottish midges out (not that I’ve had a problem yet as I’ve not been to Scotland in it).
I had a solar panel installed, which is the only thing that has gone wrong. It seems the charge controller hasn’t been working properly and it’s wrecked two leisure batteries. Wellhouse replaced one battery last year and installed a new controller and another battery recently, so hopefully it’s now sorted. Customer service has been good and there were no quibbles over replacing them gratis.
As standard, there is a hot air heater which runs off the petrol tank and is really efficient. I’ve only used it occasionally as I’m generally hooked up to mains electricity and use a small electric fan heater. I’ve also hardly used the hobs as I usually eat out or boil water in an electric kettle. The fridge has been useful to store some food in, although it is quite small.
I’ve hardly used the sink or water tank either. For drinking water, I use a large water container which I keep in the space where the portable toilet used to be stored. I’d rather drink from that than the storage tank. Both the water storage tank and the waste tank have warming elements to stop them freezing, which were low cost extras.
What would I do differently?
If I were ordering again, what would I change? I would have cloth seats rather than leather as I think they are more comfortable for a camper van. I think a reversing camera would be useful for backing into bays. The vision out of the back is reasonable but it’s still tricky to judge. I might get a camera retro fitted. I’m not sure cruise control was worth the cost, but I’d probably miss it if it wasn’t there. I’m going to look into all weather tyres as I’ve shied away from using it in snow, but with 4WD, it should be pretty capable. Beyond that, I’m very happy.
I’ve loved having a camper van, especially a compact one. It’s just right for solo vanping and it’s meant I can do more walking and backpacking in the colder months. The Wellhouse Alphard is an excellent camper van and is half the cost of an equivalent new or nearly new VW T5/6 conversion, plus it’s probably a better vehicle to drive. Mine cost £24,025. It is a bit thirsty, but I don’t do huge mileage so it’s not a big issue. The conversion itself is high quality and staff at Wellhouse have been excellent both in guiding me through the purchase and after sales service. Since I bought my Alphard, they have started converting Mitsubishi Delicas and Honda Elysions at similar price points and are worth considering too. Wellhouse are happy to discuss the pros and cons of all of these conversions, so it’s well worth giving them a ring. At a much higher price point they do Ford Tourneo, Hyundai i800 and Toyota Proace conversions.
Disclosure: I bought the Alphard with my own money, with no discount. The only relationship I have with Wellhouse is as a customer.