Looking to start vanlife or just curious about the lifestyle? If so, my guess is you’re asking yourself how much does a campervan cost in Canada? Spoiler: The truest (and perhaps most aggravating) answer is “it depends”. Don’t worry though. I break down all of the options below to give you a better idea of how much it costs to buy and/or build a campervan in Canada. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope that this blog post provides some tangible information to add to your research and planning!
*All amounts in this blog post are in CAD
Don’t Knock it Til You Try It…Then Try It Again!
My own attraction to vanlife came as a complete surprise to me and probably everyone else in my life. Though roadtrips were a staple in our family travel adventures, I never grew up camping. In fact, up until 2016 I had never heard of or paid attention to campervan culture. However, that year my then-life-and-travel partner introduced me to “vanlife” on a California road trip in the form of a tiny blue hatchback. In truth, it was the most cost effective way for us to travel. And, despite each of us measuring 6 feet tall, we rented the smallest (aka cheapest) vehicle and slept in the front 2 seats. Even though I was with him, I was worried about waking up to people peering in the window of our front seat “beds”. He loved waking up to the surfers walking by our hotel-on-wheels! The epic morning ocean views did not convince me. I was not a fan of this whole “car camping” thing. Surprisingly, the size of the vehicle and the sleeping arrangements weren’t an issue. What I did find annoying was the lack of creature comforts. I wanted to look cute and feel fresh on our trip! Shower situation aside, we made it the length of Highway 1, with many a memorable moment and funny story to look back on. I was not planning on repeating that style of travel again though.
If life has taught me anything, it’s to never say never! To his credit, only a year later he convinced me to give car camping another shot on our around-the-world trip. We car camped in tiny Yaris-sized vehicles in 3 different continents, in very different climates. This time something was different. By the time we were car camping in our 3rd car destination, I was absolutely hooked and began researching how we could do this full-time. We had found our groove, ironed out the shower options in Iceland, Australia, and New Zealand, and the feeling of freedom and movement was unparalleled. I was in heaven. Five years, a pandemic, a parting of ways, and a whole lot more in-between, and I now have my own campervan, Betty
The Average Cost of Renting in Canada
It is not cheap, or even affordable in many cases, to rent an apartment or home in Canada these days. There are many reasons for this, such as greed (believing homes are commodities), low wages, renovictions (yes, that’s a real term), greed, rising inflation…you get the picture. But you came to this post for black and white numbers and not a commentary on the state of housing in this country, so here are the little graphemes (in Canadian dollars) for you!
According to Rentals.ca, Vancouver still claims top spot for a rental in 2023 in Canada with an average price tag of $2,574 for a 1-bedroom apartment. That is one heck of an expensive place to rest your head and house your things as a solo resident. In the middle of the country, Toronto is unsurprisingly not much less expensive. Depending on the neighbourhood you reside in, a 1-bedroom unit costs an average of $2,329.
The top 21 most expensive cities to rent in across the country are either in British Columbia or Ontario. The next 10 or so cities see Alberta, Manitoba, and Québec thrown into the mix, with 1-bedroom apartments ranging from $1,597 in Calgary to $1,164 in Winnipeg. According to the same website, either lodgings are free past Québec, or the Maritime provinces just weren’t included in the survey. Overall, the average rental price of a 1-bedroom place in Canada is approximately $1,662. Ouch.
Quick Vehicle Terminology “Lesson”
Throughout this guide you’ll see references to “wheelbase”, “extended”, and “1500/2500/3500”. Let’s break these down, shall we?
What does “wheelbase” mean?
Vans come in different lengths, which is measured (in inches) between the front and rear wheels, hence the term “wheelbase”. So for example, my van has a 136″ wheelbase. If the length includes the descriptor “extended”, that’s because there’s extra length added on behind the rear wheels.
What do “1500”, “2500”, and “3500” mean?
Next, let’s go over what 1500, 2500, and 3500 mean. This has to do with the payload (measured in tons) that the vehicle can handle. You may have heard the term “1/2 ton” when referring to a truck, which is referring to the same thing. Let’s do a little math. 1 ton = 2,000 lbs. Therefore, a 1500 model is a 1/2 ton, a 2500 is a 3/4 ton, and a 3500 is a 1 ton. When you’re building out a campervan, the 2500 is fairly standard to choose out of the three.
With these tiny lessons completed, hopefully it will be easier to parse the information across the different vans we’ll cover below.
The Average Cost of Buying a New Cargo Van
Dodge Ram Promaster Cargo Van
We’ll start this series with my favourite of the cargo vans, the Dodge Ram Promaster. There are 3 lengths to choose from for the 2500 high-roof models: 136″ wheelbase, 159″, and 159″ extended. According to Autotrader.ca, an empty brand new 2023 2500 high-roof 136″ wheel-base model costs approximately $49,000 to buy outright. The 159″ wheel-base (also 2500 high-roof) costs approximately $50,000 to start.
If you’re looking to buy a used cargo van, they aren’t much cheaper these days thanks to covid supply chain issues. A quick search on Facebook Marketplace for used Promasters of varying years lists them from $27,000 to $80,000.
Ford Transit Cargo Van
Using the same website to source prices, the Ford Transit cargo van costs around $50,000 to begin for the 148″ wheel base high-roof model. A quick comparison will note that Promasters and Transits are similarly priced. For this reason, anyone in their price bracket often ends up choosing their van based on design preferences. If you’re looking for a used Transit, they are listed around $50k-$65k on Facebook Marketplace. Keep in mind that this is for more than the absolute base model of the vehicle and, as mentioned above, vehicles are retaining their value these days.
Mercedes Sprinter Cargo Van
Sprinters are perhaps the most recognizable modern-day campervan on platforms like Instagram and YouTube. They’re also the most expensive option. A 144″ wheelbase high roof 4 Cylinder Diesel Standard Output 2500 base crew model starts around $65,000. There are 3 length options: the 144″, the 170″ and the 170″ extended, which is a monster of a vehicle! As with the Promaster and Transit vans, you’ll see Sprinters retaining their value when being sold secondhand.
Vehicles from Roadtrek are already built, so the cost comparison doesn’t apply in this category.
The Average Cost of Buying a Used Campervan
Prices for vintage campervans can widely vary, as it will depend on the condition of vehicle, as well as if any updates have been done to the inside. When researching for this article, it appeared that prices ran quite the gamut, from super “affordable” fixer-uppers to spruced up vintage beauties. Here are a few options that I found on Facebook Marketplace to give you an idea of the price ranges in Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec.
Facebook Marketplace Listings: Ontario
We’ll begin in Ontario with a 1986 Dodge Ram campervan I found for $16,500. The interior was fairly basic, though definitely updated from the original model. There wasn’t any other information available with regards to mileage, upkeep, and so on. Another vehicle found in Ontario was a 1990 Chevrolet G20 located in Ottawa and selling for $9,900. It had an automatic transmission with 202,000 km and new tires, battery, front brakes and callipers. It appeared that much of the interior was original, except for maybe the paint colour and the funky red fridge! In Hamilton there was a 1993 Volkswagen Campervan with 308,000 km and a solar panel on the roof for $18,000 (right photo). The oldest campervan I found in this quick Marketplace search was the most expensive, but also arguably in the best condition and gave the most detailed description. The vintage 1977 GMC Camper (middle photo) found in Scugog was newly restored with a new carburetor and rebuilt engine at 58,000 km. It was listed at $26,000.
Facebook Marketplace Listings: British Columbia
Looking for used vintage campervans in British Columbia was equally interesting and colourful. If it weren’t for an ongoing To Do list, I could entertain myself for hours looking at all of the unique campers for sale! One of the first ones I pulled up was a lime green 1979 VW Westfalia T2 named Frida (middle photo) in Comox, BC with a pop top bunk and a front seat hammock, but no stove or fridge. In the listing it stated that the automatic vehicle could sleep 5 adventurous humans, that the wheel wells had some rust, and that you’d make friends wherever the road took you. Frida was listed for sale at $21,000. Another campervan I found was a 1989 Ford Econoline from North Vancouver (left image) listed at $6,500. It was a custom converted van with approximately 260,000 km, plenty of storage, solar panels, a furnace, stove, winter tires, and a wee bit of mechanical “character”. The last vehicle I found was a 1997 Suzuki Every Micro van in Chilliwack (right image) with 131,317 km and a “very rare” fire engine red VW body kit. The interior had passenger seats and not much else, so it would require a full build out, unless you want to just toss a mattress in the back and pack a cooler for sustenance. It was listed at $10,500.
Facebook Marketplace Listings: Québec
Québec is such a fantastic and welcoming place for vanlife so I was excited to see what vintage options were available online. The cheapest campervan I found was listed simply as “Van” (centre photo) and appeared it could use some TLC, which explains the $5,000 price tag. Found in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, there was absolutely no information on the blue van, other than “Condition: Fair”. Eek! Another vehicle I found was a mid-range priced low-top with a rocking brown/orange/yellow exterior and a very on-brand vintage interior (right image). The only information listed was 43,000 km and that the seller was willing to consider an exchange. The sale price was listed at $11,000. The funky green low roof 1974 Dodge Van B200 (left image) from Mexico with a manual transmission and an electric fridge had only 20,000 km and was priced at $12,000. Interestingly, one of the most expensive vehicles I found (no image below) was a 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia with 426,000 km that the owner was asking $18,000 for!
Facebook Marketplace Listings: CONCLUSION
As you can see, there are a lot of very unique vintage campervans out there at a variety of price points. As with any used vehicle, make sure you do your research on what’s available, any red flags to be aware of, and never feel rushed into making a purchase. When possible, go for a test drive with the vehicle and have your mechanic look it over.
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The Average Cost of a DIY Campervan Conversion
I’m going to preface this section of how much campervans cost in Canada by saying that in many ways it’s up to you and your personal budget. You choose how frugal or expensive your DIY campervan conversion will be.
The cost of your build depends first and foremost on the amount of money, time, and energy you have available. It doesn’t matter what’s happening with Instagrammerific builds or what the Smiths are paying a professional builder to do. One of the best parts about vanlife is that each DIY build is one-of-a-kind. Additionally, similar to a traditional home, work of art, or just life in general, no project is ever “finished”. Everything’s a work in progress and it’s not necessary to finish your build by the time you hit the road for the first time. In fact, I’d bet with near certainty that after your initial trip you’re going to want to make modifications to the “rough draft” of your campervan.
If you’re in the market for a low-budget low-key conversion, you can spend as little as $10,000 – $12,000, including the cost of the vehicle. How the heck are you going to manage spending that little? For starters, your labour is free – someone else’s isn’t. Whatever you can learn to do on your own or apply your current skillsets to, make use of yourself as a handy resource! Another great way to keep costs down is by finding secondhand, recycled, or free materials.
In order to give you a well-rounded overview of how much a campervan costs to build in Canada, I’ve asked friends (and friends-to-be!) in the van community to share their experience with you. As with all other figures in the blog, the costs listed below are in Canadian dollars.
Katie & Dan in a Van: 2018 Dodge Ram Promaster 2500
Katie and Dan are no strangers to adventure and do a fantastic job of sharing what they’re up to on YouTube (link above) and Instagram. They’re also some of the first van friends I met in real life and helped me in the process of buying (and building) my own campervan! From exploring epic national parks in the U.S. while working as digital nomads in their beautiful Vanji, to diving into the lesser known history of eastern Europe, these two are true travellers at heart. They purchased their van in a private sale in 2020 and haven’t looked back since. Here are a few stats to give you an idea of what their vanlife costs have been thus far:
Vehicle Cost: $33,000
We paid $33,000 and it was partially converted. It was a 2018 Ram Promaster that we bought in 2020 with 43,000 km on it. The conversion that the previous owner had started was very basic, and we basically gutted it to put in our own. However, we did keep the Max Air Fan that had already been installed, and the solar panels.
Conversion Cost: approximately $10,000
Katie and Dan completed their own build, with the guidance of YouTube University and some of their parents’ handiwork. They saved a lot on labour costs and really enjoyed learning the ins and outs of how their campervan works in the process.
Average Annual Maintenance Costs: approximately $300
We’ve only had her since 2020, and we’ve done two “check-ups” at the mechanic before our big trips, which were around $300 each time. Other than that, we haven’t had many maintenance costs thankfully.
Annual Vehicle Insurance: $1,600 (Aviva)
Extra Tips to Future Campervan Owners:
We really prioritized buying a vehicle in good condition with low KMs and we’ve felt really fortunate that we haven’t had any mechanical issues because of that. I really caution against buying a really cheap van and then doing fancy expensive conversion in it. You wanna make sure your time and financial investment is worthwhile.
Todd from Newfoundland: 2003-2009 Chevy/GMC Diesel Ambulance
Todd kindly reached out through a vanlife Facebook group to share information on his unique ambulance conversion. We haven’t met but he sounds like a handy guy who really enjoyed the process of building out his camper, which you can rent at Newfoundland Campervan Rentals! He also owns the HI Bonavista Hostel, just down the road from Cape Bonavista.
Vehicle Cost: $3,000
I bought an 8-year old Chev diesel ambulance with 240,000 kms for $3,000 in Newfoundland. As the owner of 2 bus companies that have owned at least 75 buses I knew exactly the perfect bus to convert. It is a Chev/GMC from the year 2003-2009. That bus has the 6.0 litre gas engine that will easily last a million kms combined with a 4l80e transmission that will last usually between 500,000 – 600,000 kms.
Conversion Cost: approximately $15,000
I could have kept conversion costs lower by not doing as elaborate a conversion.
Average Annual Maintenance Costs:
Starting in 2010 the tranny was replaced with a 6l90e that usually will only last about 150,000 – 300,000 kms and will cost about $7,000 to replace.
Annual Vehicle Insurance: approximately $6,000
Insurance as a rental campervan is about $6,000 per year. I rent it out on Airbnb for about $190 per day.
Rania: 2021 Mercedes Sprinter
Rania and I connected on Instagram about 6 months ago over our love of road trips and travel. She and her husband are in the GTA and not only have a beautiful luxury campervan, but they also own and rent out a gorgeous historic converted church in Fergus, Ontario.
Vehicle Cost: $90,000
Conversion Cost: approximately $110,000
This includes all of the labour, materials, and mark-up costs from Roadtrek in Cambridge who completed the custom build.
Average Annual Maintenance Costs: $200 – $300
Just the routine maintenance, especially when it’s new it’s not even once a year. It’s also diesel, so supposedly it’s better for long term use.
Annual Vehicle Insurance: approximately $3,000
Hard to say as it’s bundled with our other cars. This cost also includes the contents in the vehicle. The good thing about getting a ready made RV is that it’s certified, so insurance companies don’t give you any trouble insuring it as an RV.
Extra Tips to Future Campervan Owners:
If possible, rent a camper van first and take it around for a few trips. You won’t know what you want exactly, and how much space and amenities you are ok with or without, until you actually do it, and it’s a huge commitment (either money or time / effort, or both), to go into it blindly.
Kelly from The Mack Shack: 2004 Ford E350 Diesel Econoline
Kelly was another friendly soul who reached out on Facebook to share her family’s van purchasing journey with all of you. She lives in British Columbia and just purchased a 2004 Ford E350 Diesel Econoline in 2022.
Vehicle Cost: $3,500
When they bought the van they sold the shelves that came with it for $800 to offset costs.
Conversion Cost: N/A (in progress!)
The van needs tires and some cosmetic fixes. It wasn’t already converted when I purchased it. I’m very good at being thrifty and scored 4 solar panels for free, and found huge amounts of construction lumber for free so we’re aiming for a budget build.
Average Annual Maintenance Costs: N/A
These costs are not yet available since they just purchased the vehicle.
Annual Vehicle Insurance: approximately $785 for 3 months coverage and licence plates (WestLand)
Extra Tips to Future Campervan Owners:
A thing to keep in mind if you’re dealing with ICBC, and this may only be in BC I’m not entirely sure, is that when you purchase a vehicle you need to pay tax on what they value your vehicle as, regardless of what you paid for it. So, despite only paying $3,500 for the van, we had to pay taxes as if the van was worth $6,000.
Another thing Kelly mentioned was that she thinks fuel will be their biggest cost going forward because out west it’s currently $2.05/L.
Which Campervan Option Is Best?
I’m sure you can gather by now what my answer is going to be: it depends! There is no one best campervan to seek out. It all depends on what your style and needs are. Are you going to live or travel in it, how many people will be along for the ride, do you want to offroad and rough it or primarily camp in and around cities, etc… Do you want a vintage set of wheels or a brand spanking new mobile home? Is your budget unlimited and you’re having your rig professionally custom-built or are your funds tighter and you plan to put your own sweat equity into building the camper of your dreams? What is the timeline for your build? If it’s a DIY, are you starting from scratch with no building knowledge or are you an experienced craftsperson with your own tools and workspace? There are a million scenarios which lead to a million different “best” campervan options. At the end of the day, the best choice is the one that suits you and your goals. If all else fails, the one in the picture below is pretty rad and would fit any and all budgets! 😉
Campervan Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs
As with any vehicle, it’s important to factor in the cost of maintenance and repairs when making your decision. There are of course the standard oil changes, brake replacements, new (winter/summer/all-season) sets of tires, and so on to consider, not to mention all of the computerized components in vehicles nowadays. Before any big road trip it’s also a smart idea to have your mechanic do a once-over and ensure your rig is in tip-top shape. All costs will vary depending on if you do them yourself, at an independently-owned mechanic shop, or at a dealership.
From a camper standpoint, you’ll want to make sure that your house batteries and electrical system are in great working condition, that the water filter is functioning properly, and that your propane tank is topped up. Make sure to sanitize your water tanks and empty the toilet as needed as well. The costs for all of these things will depend on the type of systems in place, so it’s important to research the pros and cons of each before making a purchase decision.
Here are a few websites that provide excellent maintenance and repair checklists that can help you factor them into your budget, based on your location and where you’re having them serviced. This list from Van Sage provides great ideas for maintenance tracking, pre- and during-trip inspections, and many more items to keep in mind for a smooth trip. Vanlife Stays has provided weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly maintenance checklists. If you’re rocking a vintage VW bus, Volkswagen has compiled a helpful inventory specific to those models. And last, Dometic has a checklist according to the various interior and exterior parts of a conversion. Use these lists as a reference point and then call around or research on local companies’ websites to get a feel for labour and parts prices. Remember that you don’t have to go with the first place you talk to – shop around!
What are the Hidden Costs of Owning a Campervan?
Where to begin? Like any vehicle, there are going to be costs that creep up after you make your purchase. If and when you can, try to get the vehicle safetied before you transfer ownership to mitigate the number of surprises you’ll encounter. If you’re curious to see a monthly breakdown of what I’ve spent on vanlife so far, with a mix of living/travelling in and working on the vehicle, I’ve been documenting my costs since April 2022.
In the purchasing process you’ll need to consider paying taxes on the sale of the vehicle, the cost of transferring the ownership, and buying new licence plates. Perhaps you’ll want to want to pay a mechanic to look over everything beforehand as well. Insurance prices will vary depending on your location, as well as the age, make, and model of your camper. Then there are the parts that may need replacing in a year or 2 or 5, depending on the age and wear and tear of it. While they may not be immediate costs, you’ll want to think further down the road to see if it’s worth the purchase in the long run. Check the tread on the tires when scoping out vehicles, as they can be a costly but necessary expense.
With regards to the van build itself, you’ll want to know the age of the battery and the rest of the electrical components. Calculate the amount of draw you’re going to need and if the current system will need an upgrade or not. You’ll also want to consider whether or not the plumbing and size of the water tank is sufficient for your needs. Are there any aesthetic changes you want to make? If so, do they need to be all completed at one time and what does your budget look like for them? Other potential larger costs to think about are if you’re going to replace the mattress or change the toilet, if there is one.
If you own a home of any shape or size, you’re going to become a tool collector. Not sure how to use them or where to start? You’ll learn quickly out of necessity, trust me! It’s quite a fantastic feeling to be honest. I forgot to include these items in my initial budget, and would strongly suggest you factor them into yours. Here are a few must-haves to put on your shopping list: car emergency kit, screwdrivers, socket set, pliers, tape measure, duct tape, electrical tape, pressure gauge and tire pump, multimeter (for your electrical system), spare fuses, cable ties, spare nuts/bolts/screws, hammer, flashlight/head lamp, pocket knife, scissors, wire cutters, zip ties, and a power drill.
There are several more items to add into your startup costs when purchasing a campervan. Some of them you can find DIY alternatives to, and others you just can’t skimp on. Some of these items may come with your vehicle if it’s built by a company or a solid pre-built private sale. If you’re building your own van out or modifying an already built van, then you’ll want to listen up. Without further ado, here are some more goodies to add to your vanlife shopping list: smoke and carbon monoxide detector, ABC fire extinguisher, 12V chargeable jump starter, first aid kit,
How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Campervan?
There are several organizations that you can rent campervans from in Canada, the US, and elsewhere in the world. It’s a great idea to try before investing a lot of time and money into your own home on wheels. I haven’t tried any of these companies, but here are a few to get you started in your research: RVezy in Canada and the US, Outdoorsy is across Canada, Karma Campervan in Calgary and Vancouver, and CanaDream is more of an RV rental option but they also have campervans and trucks across Canada. You can also find campervans for rent on Airbnb. Prices range quite a bit depending on the age and size and amenities available, as well as the length of your trip. The cheapest I’ve seen is around $150 per night. On the other end of things, I’ve seen some rentals reach up to $350 per night.
Conclusion: So How Much Does a Campervan Cost in Canada?
At the end of the day, your campervan is going to cost what you can afford. The first (pre-built) campervan I looked at was the make and model I wanted, had low kms, and the body was in good condition, but I would have had to re-do the whole build to suit my needs and it was already wildly overpriced and double my budget. Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying that one. Through patience, excellent timing, and sheer luck, I ended up finding an excellent (pre-built) campervan within my budget. Between the cost of the vehicle and the upgrades and renovations, it has cost roughly $50,000. I have yet to add in solar panels and a toilet would be great at some point, but other than that the rest of the major “costs” will be my time. To reduce expenses, I’ve been using YouTube University, friends’ expertise, and a lot of trial and error, selling items from the van that I won’t use, and working within my “budget timeline” – that is, not buying everything at once and putting myself out financially. Am I antsy to get everything done? Sure! I’d love to have a cozy completed space already, but I’m not going to stretch my pocket to make that happen. Whatever you decide to go with – DIY, pre-built private sale, professional build – your campervan cost will ultimately come down to your personal budget. May your search be filled with excitement, patience, and adventure along the way!
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