Apr 20

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Converting Suburban into a Camper

Converting a Suburban

I have been wrestling with trying to make a decision on whether to buy a Class C Motorhome, a travel trailer or converting a Suburban into a camper.  I had almost decided to get a trailer and even had it on hold for 3 days while I weighed all my options and about drove myself crazy trying to figure out what to do.  In the end, I cancelled the trailer and decided to convert the Suburban into a camper for several reasons. I spent a lot of time, hours actually with the company that will be doing the work.

Steps to Conversion on a Budget

The first step I learned was to write everything down; every dream and desire you want in the conversion.  Believe me, reality will bring things back into focus once you sit down with the people that will be doing the work.

I changed my list several times.

A few steps that are important are:

  • Decide how much your budget is and make sure the safety issues are not compromised in the budget.  There are other things that you can do to save money, but it shouldn’t be on the engine, fluids, tires, or transmission.  Anything under the hood should be your first priority.
  • Are you into Reusing things?  If so, do you have anything that can be used?  I am making screens for the windows and realized I have a lot of mosquito netting already.  I will use this and the shop will measure and sew the screens for me (If you can sew this is another area to save money.)
  • Salvage Yards often have some items you might be able to use.   The drivers side mirror on my Suburban has been broken for years.  It’s a heated one with the turn signal on it which for some strange reason the dealer thinks should make it cost an arm and a leg, $618 last time I checked.  Instead I went to a truck salvage yard and got the whole assembly, minus the heater and the turn signal, for a whopping $45.  That saved me about $573 not counting the tax savings.  This money could be used for several other things.
  • Another budget consideration is towing.  By converting the suburban instead of buying a small RV I can use my regular AAA membership instead of buying specialty membership for RV’s.


Make a List

Make a list of everything you would like in your new little camper.  Converting a Suburban into a camper has some challenges that a Van doesn’t like size and a floor that’s not even.  Will more than 2 people be traveling in the vehicle?  If so you will have to leave either the double bench seat, or the single one in the middle row.  Me, I am taking the single seat out as I need the larger bench seating, and taking out the 3rd row seat.  Now with the seating figured out, it’s time to make a list of what you really want.

Just make your list like you were brainstorming.  Write everything down that comes to your mind, whether it’s a dream or a necessity.  There will be time afterwards to whittle the list down.


When I made my list it was pretty short at first, then it was a couple pages long.  I wrote everything from magnetic screens for the windows to a chuck box to be welded onto the back.  In the end I nixed some of the stuff, and decided safety and gas mileage were my main priorities, not all the fluff that I was starting to come up with.


Here are some of the things I whittled the list down to:

  • All fluids checked and changed as needed, including the rear differential fluid.
  • All hoses and belts checked, and changed if needed.
  • Tune up if needed
  • GPS system that has a backup camera, Bluetooth, and  32 GB of storage for photos, movies, songs, etc.  Actually this is one of my favorite items that will be added.
  • The rear area behind the 2nd seat will be a bed on top of a platform that includes a pull-out table that will drop over the tailgate and have telescoping legs, and the other half will have a large pull0out drawer for storage.  Under the platform will be room for  flat chairs, or other small items.
  • The Suburban’s electrical system will include auxiliary batteries built into a box under the vehicle, and an inverter for converting electricity to house current.
  • I am putting small designer lights on each side of the vehicle where the 2nd row seats are, and in the back where the bed will be.  These I got at the Salvage yard from a conversion van.
  • The single seat in the 2nd row is coming out and a Fridge will go there, with a small wattage microwave.  The microwave actually was something the shop tried to talk me out of because it uses a lot of electricity, but it was one of the things I wanted, and am willing to sacrifice for it.  I might have to get a generator, but at this point we’re planning to put it in.
  •  A solar panel
  • Tinting the rear windows
  • Possibly changing the tires.  They are really good tires, and I was happy that they were relatively new with great tread.  That was until the shop asked me if I would be “off-roading” much.  Apparently the tires on the Suburban are all terrain and use more gas, make a nosier, and bumpier ride.  The shop suggested I go with regular street tires.  At this moment it’s on the list as a maybe as that will add another thousand dollars to the cost that I hadn’t planned on.
  • Add a large box on the back that will be like a chuck wagon: have room for the cooking stuff, stove, etc. plus storage space.
  • Some type of set-up to have shade on the side of the vehicle, coming off the roof racks.


These are the main things on my list to convert my Suburban into a small camper.  We will use one of those solar bags for showering, and the only thing we won’t have is a toilet.

I’m really excited and on Monday I go sign the contract and will see if all the things on my list are within my budget.  If so, the work will begin, and I will have a converted Suburban for our summer roadtrip across the United States!




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