Van Build Series Pt. 2 - Cleaning and Removing the Panels

In the last installment of my Van Build Series, I talked about how my wife and I decided what type and size of van we needed for our conversion and how we went about finding our base-van. You can read that post here.

In today’s post, I would like to continue the van build series by talking about the first few jobs that we needed to do before we could even start thinking about prepping for the camper van conversion.

The Ugly Duckling

Ready to start work on our new van

Ready to start work on our new van

Just looking at our van, it was quite obvious that it had been a workhorse for quite sometime. One of the reasons it was so cheap was that it was definitely not the prettiest van to look at, but my wife and I tried to see past this and instead focus on the potential.

The bodywork had dents and scuffs all over (although it was not rusty - which was a massive plus) and it was pretty filthy. Nothing here that can’t be sorted with a clean and some TLC!

The inside was no better. The cab had a thick layer of grime and grit that had worked into every gap and small space in the dash. The seats were filthy and smelled strongly of dust and everything looked as if it hadn’t ever been cleaned in the entire life of the van - as I said above, it had obviously been a workhorse rather than someone’s “Pride and Joy”, which was why it was so cheap to buy!

Cleaning the Van

So the first step in turning our Ugly Duckling of a van into the Beautiful Swan of a campervan, that I’m sure she’ll become, was to clean the cab.

I used a Dr Bronners soap bar and warm water with a cloth, a knife (to get into all those nooks and crannies) and a couple of old rags. I wetted the soap and rubbed it straight into the dash, using the knife to work dig out the grime from all the small gaps. I removed part of the dash so I could clean it properly and then rubbed everything down with a damp cloth, rinsed it with a second cloth, and dried it with a third. Each section of the cab needed at least three goes like this before I could move on to the next section. All in all, I think I must’ve spent somewhere between five and six hours just on the cab!

Luckily, my wife had hired a carpet cleaner for our living room and it had an adapter for cleaning furniture. I managed to hijack the carpet cleaner before we returned it and got stuck in to cleaning and removing the grime out of the seats - the waste water was black with dirt on the first few goes, but after several passes with the cleaner, the water started to clear.

The Loading Bay with Ply Lining and a Row of Seats

The Loading Bay with Ply Lining and a Row of Seats

The van was registered as a three seater, however at some point in the past an extra three rear seats had been added. Despite being very tatty, they were still in a usable condition. However, as they had not been registered with the DVLA, I was unsure how safe they would be. Because we had already decided to remove all the panels in the rear of the van and the seats were bolted through the ply flooring, it was an easy decision - the seats had to come up.

Removing the Rear Seats and Panels

This was a far more difficult job than I had initially thought and was and definitely a two-person job. Fortunately my wife was on hand to hold a spanner on the top bolt, so I could get underneath and remove the bolts from under the van (we took it in turns going under the van and turning the bolts).

WD-40…….My New Best Friend!

WD-40…….My New Best Friend!

Loads of WD40 and shear determination finally saw the bolts removed. I’m so glad that we didn’t use the seats as I don’t think they would’ve been safe in an accident - they were just bolted through the floor with small washers - it really didn’t look safe at all!

As a side note, the seats themselves were in fairly good condition and we did manage to sell them for £10 which payed for the WD-40 and all the soap and cleaning products we used!

After removing the seats, it was just a matter of unscrewing all the screws that held the ply-wood panels on the walls and floor and then removing all the panels one at a time. I’ve kept hold of the panels for now as I thought they might come in useful for measuring as we get going with the build.

Up until that point, I had no idea what I would find under the panels. I was dreading pulling them up and finding a ton of rust, holes or other nasties, but to my relief it all looked good.

Dirty, but sound - no serious rust!

Years of Dirt and Grime had Built Up under the Ply Floor and Wall Panels

Years of Dirt and Grime had Built Up under the Ply Floor and Wall Panels

Slowly Getting There with the Cleaning

Slowly Getting There with the Cleaning

Our Van - Clean as a Whistle!

Our Van - Clean as a Whistle!

It took a further two days to sweep it out over and over again, wash down, scrub and dry the loading bay, as well as removing the fixing brackets and old support handles by the back door which were extremely difficult to remove. Thankfully I had the perfect sized drill bit for drilling them out.

So that’s stage 2 of the van build complete - the cab and loading bay are clean and we are ready for sanding, sealing and treating the interior metal with rust preventing under coat.

Cost of this part of the van build: £0.00

Time spent: 25 hrs

Next Step: Treating internal rust, sealing holes, finishing the internal prep work