Cargo Van vs Passenger Van – Conversion to Camper Guide

When you want to DIY, having a nice project helps fill in those spare weekend hours or retirement days when there is nothing to do. Converting a van into a camper is a very constructive project that can test your patience while letting your talents reveal themselves.

There are going to be good and bad points with either style of van. If you do not like all the windows a passenger van has, then the cargo would be the way to go. However, you like the reverse, then you do not have to put windows in. They are already in place on the passenger van.

To learn more about the pros and cons of converting one of these van styles, just continue to read our article. It explores the topic so you know what you will be getting into once you decide this is a project you will do.

Can I Use a passenger Van as a Cargo Van?


Yes, it is possible but you will need to check the payload capacity before you get started. Cargo vans may have a higher limit than passenger vans will. All that figure will do is tell you how much cargo you can place inside.

It is not hard to make this conversion as the first step would be to remove the 2nd and 3rd row of seats. Then, you would need to remove all the carpeting in the rear area, the cup holders, consoles, and other passenger van perks.

After that, you will need to cover the seat brackets using traditional van flooring material. The difficult part will be removing the many windows and replacing them with sheet metal.

Also, do not forget to remove any electronics wired in the back of the van. As you can see, there is a lot of work involved in making this transformation. Just take your time and make sure you remove everything that will lower or limit your cargo holding space.

Then, you can design it so the windows remain in place just in case you want to return the van back to a passenger vehicle in the future.

What is The Difference Between a Sprinter Van and a Cargo Van?

The biggest difference you will come across is that the Sprinter is far more comfortable to drive than the cargo van. Made by Mercedes Benz to Mercedes Benz standards the Sprinter will make hauling cargo a lot simpler and far more enjoyable.

Then the maximum payload space in the Sprinter reaches just over 4500 pounds and has a towing capacity of 7500 pounds when you have lots of cargo to haul. That is for the Sprinter cargo van trim.

The numbers go down when you opt to use a Crew van trim. There you only get 5,000 pounds towing capacity and just under 3200 pounds payload weight. To see the specs differences you just have to check the cargo vans to see if they match up to this standard or not.

One thing is for sure, most cargo vans made by other companies just do not have the luxury that Mercedes Benz puts into its vehicles. The other difference you will see right away is the cost. The Sprinter is going to be far more expensive than the regular cargo van.

One person who owned both vehicles said he made more money using the Sprinter than the cargo van but that may just be talk.

Can You Convert a Passenger Van Into a Camper Van?


This is possible and it will take a little more work than converting the passenger van into a cargo van. The latter conversion’s hardest task is the removal of key passenger components. The hardest part to making it into a camper is designing the room in such a way you have all the new components you need and in the right spots.

To get the design right, you have to select the right size passenger van. Some people can do it with a 135-inch wheelbase, others with a little longer wheelbase. Space is going to be your primary concern and how to use that space wisely will be second.

There will be a lot of time spent on making decisions. You have to figure out if you want storage space under the bed, what type of heater or air conditioner you need to use. Insulation will be an issue as well. Don’t forget the toilet decision either.

The actual conversion work will seem simple when compared to all the work you had to go through making the right decisions and making sure they fit the space in the back of the van.

Cargo Can vs Passenger Van (pros and cons)

One of the very first pros you should be concerned about is that there is no one perfect van that works for a conversion. You just need to pick the style of van that will fit what you want to do and what you want inside.

Once you realize that the other pros and cons will help make up your mind which van is best for you to convert. Here are some short lists to help you make up your mind:

1. Cargo Van


  • Easier to insulate
  • Pick your own interior wall design
  • Lots of flexibility and space design
  • Less work as you are not removing a lot of items
  • No windows to worry about
  • May be cheaper to convert depending on materials used


  • May have to add in windows which can be both costly and time-consuming
  • May need seats added
  • With seats, you have to add seat belts and seat belt anchors
  • Need to add air conditioning and heater systems

2. Passenger vans


  • Amenities like air conditioning, electrical, flooring, and seats are already in place
  • Windows are there and you can use them or not
  • Seat belts and anchors already installed
  • Driver and passenger comfort already installed
  • May be cheaper to insure than a cargo van
  • Seats can be used for bed


  • Insulating will be tough and expensive
  • Covering windows or removing them will be difficult and costly
  • Bed length may be too small for some people
  • May be hard to insure

Sprinter Crew vs Passenger for Conversion


There is a lot of work no matter which van you use to make your conversion. The difficult part will be getting the design right, then finding all the appliances, parts, and materials that will work in that design.

When it comes to this decision, the crew may be a bit easier to convert as it has a larger cargo space than the Sprinter passenger van. It has 259.4 cubic feet of cargo room while the passenger van only has 81 cubic feet approx.

That extra space can save you on work when you do the actual converting. The other difference will be the payload capacity. The Sprinter crew comes with a 3,146-pound weight limit while the Sprinter passenger van only allows for 2,672 pounds.

Then the purchase price of the Crew is cheaper than the cost to buy a Sprinter passenger van. It is only $3,000 approx. but that is still a nice sum you could use to make your conversion.

The one area where the passenger van may have an advantage over the crew option is in the electrical and amenities department. Many items are already in place in the former van option and should save you time and money during the conversion.

Sprinter Crew vs Cargo

The engine is the same in all three options so the power will be there when you need it. One big difference when using the cargo van over the crew is that you get 2500 extra towing pounds. You also get 1400 more pounds for payload space allowing you to adjust your interior features a little bit.

Then the cargo van option has 3 wheelbase lengths, 144, 170, and 177 while the crew only has 2- the 144 & 170-inch styles. The longer wheelbase provides you with more room to work with.

Then the cargo van is like working with a blank slate. You can put your components where you want them and where they will fit the best. with the crew van, like the passenger one, you may have to do a lot of removing, altering, and other renovation work to make sure your components fit in the allotted space.

Is a Passenger Van Insulated?


There may be some insulation in the passenger van. That will depend on the automaker if there is and how much you will have. If there is some then it may be minimal insulation and you will have to add your own to make sure you can remain comfortable on hot days.

The biggest energy loss is going to be through any of the windows you leave in place. Some people recommend Reflectix or a similar product. This is a very good insulating material and it can help seal up your windows and keep the cool air inside when it is hot outside.

Bank on insulating a passenger van as it pays to be well insulated. Some mountain air gets very cold at night even if the days reach 80 or 90 degrees F. It is best to err on the side of caution in this situation and make sure you have more than enough insulation in your van.

Converting Passenger Van to Camper

Part of the difficulty that comes with designing the interior of the new camper van style, is weight distribution. You have to make sure you get the right components in the right place.

This is important as if the weight isn’t distributed correctly, you will have performance and handling problems. Adding a steering stabilizer will help out a lot as well.

Then, you need to get it right the first time as it is easier to make alterations and repairs in your driveway than when you are on the road. When it comes to the mechanics you will need to take your time as you will put more work in this area than adding the other components.

Another difficult part will be arranging any seating you want behind the driver and passenger area. This can be tough as you have to worry about insurance issues over seat belt anchors. It will take a lot of thought and patience to make this conversion work.

Transit Cargo Van vs Passenger


While it won’t take as much thought to make the conversion as it will the passenger van, it will still take a lot of planning to get everything in its right place. Also, you do have a blank slate to work with but that does not mean the conversion will be a piece of cake.

Two major choices you will make are one, deciding to build your own way or use a conversion kit. Then, two, making sure you meet all the requirements to make the converted van insurable.

The cargo option will be easier as you will have less work in the initial stages of the project. Also, you have your choice of roof heights which the passenger van may not have. This gives you more room to work with and allows you to stand up straight when you use the 110-inch high option.

Using a Transit van is probably going to be easier than using a passenger van.

Some Final Words

Having a nice project like converting a van is a good idea. Not only can you save on fuel and other costs over a travel trailer or larger RV, but you can also stealth camp in different urban areas.

It makes sense for those people who do not need a lot of room when they go camping. Plus, it is fun to do.

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