Tow-tal Transformations: Expert Tips for Renovating a Caravan

If you’ve been eyeing off the old Millards and Viscounts on social media up for sale, you aren’t alone. 

#VanLife is no longer the bastion of backpackers, or the digital- and grey nomads. With the new normal of remote work, there’s a rise in people hitting the road, or at least wanting to. 

Renovating caravans isn’t rocket science; there’s no engine, and while you may have to get some help with the electrics and/or plumbing – with a little bit of know-how, it can be a great DIY project. 

It’s a mini-reno in a box. 

Before You Buy Your Van – Find One Worth Saving. 

Caravans to renovate will vary in cost obviously; dependent on the year or vintage, and the condition. 

Vintage caravans from the late 1940s to the 1950s are rare, highly sought after by collectors, and expensive. For a more accessible restoration project, focus on caravans from the 1970s and 1980s, which were part of a boom in caravan popularity. Although the availability of these vintage models has decreased in recent years, you can still find well-worn but complete 1970s-1980s caravans in the range of $500 to $3000. 

So when you narrow down your choice, have a conversation with the seller, and then confirm for yourself these 5 factors before even thinking about your renovation design plan. 

  • Can you tow it? The first important thing is you can tow it without any major concerns. So ask. The vans axles and wheels must be in good condition. In Australia and New Zealand, you can get an Unregistered Vehicle Permit for temporary towing. If you’re doing the reno in your garage or a shed, aim for a roadworthy certificate in the long term. If you are doing it on the road – that’s a different story. 
  • It has to have good bones. The caravan’s frame should be structurally sound. Cosmetic issues can be fixed, but welding significant steel parts to make it roadworthy can be problematic. Check for rust-free major framework and minimal dents or holes. The water tank underneath should also be in good condition. Surface rust can be addressed, but extensive framework rust should be avoided.
  • Strong Flooring.The caravan’s floor must be strong and dry. Leaks in the ceiling or walls can often be fixed, but replacing the floor is a substantial undertaking. Don’t worry too much about the interior or exterior appearance; both can be renovated as long as the foundation is solid. But you should know that major dents or holes in the bodywork can often be difficult and costly to fix too.
  • Power Up. Test the caravan’s electrical system by bringing a caravan extension lead. Check that interior lights and sockets are functional. Ensure the exterior lights, including brake lights and indicators, are working correctly. While updating lights is manageable, a complete rewiring job can be time-consuming.
  • Window Frames and Mechanisms. Operate the windows to verify that they open and close smoothly, and the catches work correctly. Replacing a broken window pane is relatively easy, but fixing a broken winder mechanism makes things harder.

Renovating Your Caravan

In all probability you’ve probably already envisioned your dream on wheels, that’s why you’re here in the first place – doing your research. Which is great, because research and some bookwork are the first step. 

  • Make a plan, and a budget. No matter where you get inspiration from; TV, social media, caravan blogs and articles, or your neighbour down the street that’s done a great job with theirs – you need to plan your own look and style. Draw your floor plan, and get your mood board on, and list and price out everything you need to make it happen. Your budget should land somewhere between $3000-$4500 depending on the van, and your end vision. 
  • Clean out the van. Throw out anything broken (responsibly), or that you don’t want – including  the ‘white goods’. Old cabinetry, woodwork and fixtures can also be removed and replaced if you’re doing a complete refit. Salvage anything that can be revamped – it may save you some money, and the hunt for something that actually fits. 
  • Waterproof. If there’s any signs of water damage or gaps that can allow water to get inside, use a gap filler on the exterior to seal before you start any major work on the inside. 
  • Get rid of the rust. Check the interior and the exterior (and the wheels) for surface rust. It needs to be treated before it gets worse; a wire brush, sandpaper (or liquid rust remover) and a layer of sealant will do the job. Find a tutorial for best results. 
  • Fix anything broken. Do the big DIY jobs first – walls, ceilings, window frames etc to give you a solid base to work with. Don’t sweat the small stuff yet. If you have to lay a new floor, now’s the time. And double check the interior for any further waterproofing. 
  • Fit out. This will depend on the state of the caravan and it could include:
      • Renewing the cabinetry and shelving/storage.
      • Replacing the ‘white goods’. The kitchen will often need the most work, with the sink etc, and appliances to be installed. 
      • Renewing the plumbing and the bathroom amenities.
      • Ensure all the electricals and wiring are connected/working etc. 
  • Pick up a paint brush. The Interior: using the right tools and the right paint products, follow the instructions and paint the interior wherever it’s necessary. The general rule is lighter tones and colours will make it feel more spacious, but there are a myriad of other alternatives to make it feel more personalised. Get creative. Paint also doesn’t have to be your only option – modern laminates are great options for floors, walls, countertops, cabinetry, and wet areas
  • Grab a paint roller and/or spray gun. Clean the exterior of the van thoroughly, and protect the window seals and window with masking tape and paper. Follow the instructions on oil-based paint products and apply using the gun or roller in a cool, shady space. Don’t forget your wheel rims. 
  • Adding comfort. Cushions for seating and bedding at this time should also be replaced with a comfortable foam option, and recovered with durable and UV-resistant fabrics. Depending on your layout, a mattress may be more your style. 
  • Time to decorate. Budget or high end? Roller blinds  or curtains? Floor mats? Cushions are an easy way to make things more plush. Deck out your kitchen with kettles, toasters, crockery, and utensils that speak to your taste – while considering that your new dwelling is made to move.
  • Finishing touch. If you’re naming your newly renovated caravan, there are websites that do custom decals and stickers and other sites that sell original branded caravan stickers. 

How are your DIY skills? 

While our steps cover off all the major elements of buying and renovating your caravan, this article is a guide only. 

If your skill-set isn’t up to scratch, and tutorials and how-to’s won’t help, seek the advice of experts – before you make a costly mistake. Getting the electricals and plumbing checked out by a tradesperson is also recommended. 

NX Decor: Your Partner in Bespoke Caravan Renovations

At NX Decor caravans are our passion; we love upgrading and renovating the mobile spaces – it’s a core element to our business. 

Our laminate collection offers sustainable, versatile and resilient options to paint and other surface coverings, that are easy to care for, budget friendly, and will last for years to come. 

The colours and textures available will elevate your caravan renovation project to the next level, for a truly unique makeover. Prepare for an adventure filled with memorable experiences, awe-inspiring locations, and a caravan that will be the source of envy for other road-trippers.

Explore our collection, or visit our showroom and talk to our team about options for renovating your caravan.