How To Convert Your SUV Into A Camper In 8 Simple Steps

diy car campervan conversion suv honda element

Over the years, our trusty Honda Element has taken us on countless backroad trips from National Park hopping in the scorching Utah heat to bone-chilling cold nights at Crater Lake. The spacious interior allowed us to easily sleep inside on our favorite forest roads, eliminating the need to find hotels or book hard-to-get campsites.

However, sleeping in sleeping bags on thin sleeping mats, with no shower, and no convenient way to store cold food often left us a bit eager to get back to civilization.

After spending more and more nights in our car, we had a thought: “Why don’t we convert our Honda Element into a full-time camper car?”

 

best honda element car camper conversion

 

So we set to work and over two week time of non-stop runs to Home Depot, screwing, sawing and drilling we were able to complete our DIY car conversion project.

After finishing the conversion, our SUV is now equipped with a foldable sleeping platform, a full-size bed, tons of storage, a fridge, a fan, and even a solar shower!

 

honda element camper car conversion

 

Below is a guide on how we, with a low budget and lots of sweat equity, converted our Honda Element SUV into a full-time camper car in 8 simple steps:

 

Step 1: The SUV camper layout

The first step of our conversion project was to come up with a layout and brainstorm some SUV camper ideas that fit all of our needs. Some of our “must have” requirements were:

-a semi-enclosed bed platform
-a fridge
-a solar shower
-a ceiling fan for hot summer days
-extra storage for clothing, food and my travel gear

Based on these requirements we came up with a general design of what the conversion layout should look like for our Honda Element.

 

Inside:
how to convert suv into camper car layout

Outside:

honda element camper car conversion layout plan

Once we had a general layout figured out, we took measurements and made sure everything fit in our car like the mattress and the fridge. Then it was time to get to work and start building!

 

Step 2: Create the SUV sleeping platform

One of the trickiest but most important steps of the small camper conversion was creating the SUV bed platform that fit a full-size bed on it. We wanted our camper bed to be comfortable but not take up too much space.

 

car conversion sleeping platform

 

For our conversion, we decided to create a bed frame that fits in the back of the car during the day and extends out for sleeping at night. We also wanted to install a fridge underneath the sleeping platform so we had to take that into consideration as we built the bed frame.

 

honda camper car conversion

 

We created a general bed platform from wooden beams and added aluminum bars as guides and support. The idea was to keep half the wooden beams in place and the other half set up to slide out and support our feet while we sleep.

We used a metal bar as a guide to slide out the wooden slats and a wooden beam at the end to keep them together. A metal rod was added in the back of the car underneath the platform to support the extended wooden beams at night.

 

suv camper bed

 

Inside the car, we added a 1×6 to keep the mattress from sliding forward during the day and to add extra length at night on the sleeping platform. We added a gate lock to keep the flap up and in place during the day.

 

Step 3: Choose the best mattress for a conversion

Once the bed platform was built we bought a 4 inch full-size memory foam mattress on Amazon. It was the perfect thickness because it is extremely comfortable without being too thick.

 

car conversion camper bed

 

Our Honda SUV is not perfectly square so we had to cut the mattress to fit the shape of our car. We also cut the mattress in three parts and sowed them loosely together through the mattress cover sheet so we could fold the mattress during the day.

 

how to convert suv into a camper car

 

We used a blanket and these bed sheets and pillowcase for a twin size bed.

 

Step 4: Make the tent cover

We wanted something to cover the extended bed platform at night to provide more privacy and to protect us from bugs or bad weather. We used a small kids tent from Walmart to create a custom cover in the back of the car that extends out at night along with the wooden slats.

 

car conversion camper

 

We sowed it into a shape that fit snuggly around the car’s frame and the wooden beams. We used tent rods, hooks and velcro to keep the tent upright at night.

 

diy car camper conversion

 

Step 5: Install a house battery

During our Honda camper conversion we wanted to install a small fridge and a fan in our car so first we had to add an extra house battery and wiring to power up these additional features.

 

suv camper conversion battery

 

We used a Pro Start Marine & RV Deep Cycle battery from Pep Boys.

 

honda element conversion house battery

 

We moved the regular battery a few inches back and added the new house battery in front of it. We bolted both batteries to a custom stainless steel plate to hold them into place.

 

camper car house battery installation

 

A Battery Isolator Relay was installed to charge both batteries from the alternator when the car is running, but separate them when the car is off to make sure we don’t drain the starter battery and get stranded in the middle of nowhere. This worked out great and was super easy to install.

 

Step 6. Install the fridge

One of our must-have items for our camper conversion was to install a this Dometic high-efficiency 12V fridge in our SUV. This would help us keep healthier eating habits and avoid restaurants and fast food which means more savings in the long run.

 

best car camper conversion

 

We had to consider the fridge parameters as we built the bed frame. We wanted the fridge to fit under the bed frame and the mattress to sit on top of it. We had to place the fridge in the car before we secured the bed frame to the floor.

 

honda element car conversion fridge

 

Once the fridge and the bed frame was secured to the car’s floor, we ran wiring along the sides of the car to power up the fridge. The extra house battery can provide enough electricity to power up the fridge as long as the car runs for a minimum of 15 minutes a day.

 

diy car camper conversion fridge

 

 

Step 7. Install a ceiling fan

We decided to install a ceiling fan into our Honda Element’s sunroof to alleviate some of the heat during the hot summer seasons. We used this rooftop RV fan from Maxxair, which is great because it comes with a thermometer that you can set to turn on automatically when it gets too hot inside the car.

 

campercar conversion fan

 

In order to install the fan in the roof, we replaced the sunroof with a piece of wood.

 

campervan conversion sunroof

 

Then we cut a hole in the wood the size of the fan. The outside part of the wood was sealed with varnish so water can’t get in. Then we transferred over the hinges from the sunroof to the wood piece to secure the wood piece on the roof.

 

camper car conversion fan

 

We placed the fan in the hole and screwed it into the wood, making sure to add some caulking to the screws so water wouldn’t get in. Then we transferred the finished wood piece and fan onto the sunroof and secured in with the hinges.

 

Step 8. Create a solar shower

One of the hardest parts about traveling in a camper car is finding a place to take a shower. Wet naps and dips in the river are very scenic but can only go so far.

 

camper car solar shower conversion
That’s one way to shower

 

Sure we could pay $10 for a day pass at a gym, but we’re all about saving money where we can. So instead we decided to create our own custom build solar shower kit out of black PVC pipe from Home Depot.

 

solar shower camper car

 

We chose a black pipe because black color heats up water during sunny days and keeps the water warm.

 

camper car solar shower

 

We added caps on both sides to keep the water in the pipe and a Y-joint to fill it up. At the very top, a Schrader valve was added so we could add pressure with a car tire inflator.

At the end of the shower, we added a ball valve to the end cap and attached an RV Shower Hose when in use. When not in use, we simply close the valve and remove the hose.

 

diy car campervan conversion suv honda element

 

While traveling in an adventure van looks glamorous, not everyone has the luxury and time for a campervan conversion. Sometimes we just have to make the best of what we already have.

An SUV might not be as roomy as a van, but it still has a lot of space inside that can be utilized for sleeping and storage.

The best part about converting your 4×4 or an all-wheel-drive car into a camper car is that you don’t have to worry about your car getting stuck on rough roads and unlike a van, you can take it on just about on any trail or small road. But if you do decide to go with a campervan for extra comfort, here is our guide on how we converted an empty Promaster van into a full-time campervan.

 

honda element camper car

 

If you are thinking of converting your SUV into a full-time camper, here are some rough estimates of the time and money it took.

The estimated cost of our DIY camper car conversion totaled approximately $1200:

Estimated conversion time: 2 weeks working on it every day, about 100 hours.

 

camper car conversion

 

Converting your car into a camper vehicle is the cheapest and most convenient way to travel around. And by following these 8 steps you too can convert your everyday SUV into a full-time camper car!

 

This post may contain affiliate links, please read the disclosure for more info. Thank you for reading!

 

Related Article:

DIY Promaster Campervan Conversion Guide

How To Afford To Travel Full Time

 

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Ry Rinots

Nice! I’m converting my element as well, it’s always I interesting to see the different approaches people take. Just wanted to mention the toxicity of pvc leaching into your shower water. Safe travels!

Torey @ LovelyandGreen.com

Awesome, we have a Subaru Forester I would love to do this to… Are these fixtures all permanent? I couldn’t really tell. If we did this would it be a lot of trouble to change back into our regular car?

Richard Montagna

Nice job. I’m looking to do this to my Prado Landcruiser but don’t quite understand how you made the sliding bed. Do you have a more detailed description or drawing you could share that would show the make, model and length of the rails you used and how they were placed etc..? Thanks.

Thanks Richard! We didn’t use any rails to make the bed. Instead, if you look closely at the first picture under “Step 2: Create a platform bed frame”, you can see a metal bar that is only screwed to every other slat. It also has an identical metal bar underneath that is not visible. When you pull the end of these slats out to open the bed as seen in the first picture of “Step 4: Make a tent cover”, these metal bars act as guides to allow only those slats to slide out and because there are metal bars… Read more »

John Vance

Hey, I was just wondering what you guys did to cook the food, I love the battery fridge idea but did you guys have a kitchen area at all? Would love to hear about it

Hi John, the storage area behind our fridge became our kitchen. The area was the perfect depth for our camp stove and we used a medium plastic container to store our camp pots, utensils, and dry or canned foods. Since the Honda Element has a two part rear door, the lower tailgate was used as a kitchen and cooking table and the top liftgate protected us from the elements while cooking.
-Joel

Ethan Maurice

Wow! You guys have some serious amenities in your conversion. I converted my own Element in November, I think it came out quite beautifully and functionally, but lacks the refrigerator and shower and other things of that nature.

Venture on!

Ethan

windwisdom

I just bought an Element and I am so excited by the possibilities!

a t

Amazing conversion, well done and quite inspiring. I just read a comment on you moving on to a van conversion project. How’s that going? I’m planning on doing something similar, but instead of camping, using a car to live in while co-founding a startup in Silicon Valley. Your design with a fridge caught my eye because I consider healthy eating essential so there is no way I could eat out everyday, or make meals without one. I am planning on having a 24/7 gym membership because I workout daily, so that solves the showering issue, and am only planning on… Read more »

Bun

I just bought an element with the intention to convert it, How do you affix the fixtures (bed, fridge, etc) to the floor so that they do not move around as you drive?

Ty
Bun

Bun

Hey laura

One more question. What type of wood and wait is the thickness that you used to replace the moonroof?

Ty
Bun

Mike Wilsln

This is awesome! You’ve inspired me to convert my wife’s old Saturn Vue instead of retiring it. Thanks!

Kelly

Hi! I have a question, when installing the venting fan system how did you wire it?
Also, I read further down that you converted the Honda back to original to resell it. How did you recovert the glass for the sun roof? Thanks!

We wired the fan from a fuse block that we installed under one of the interior side panels, and powered that from the additional battery we added under the hood. If you don’t add the additional battery, the fan would probably kill the car’s starting battery within a few hours since the stock Honda Element battery is tiny. When we sold the Element, we simply put the hinges back on the factory glass moonroof and reinstalled it as before. The factory moonroof can be taken off and put back on by squeezing the latch as you open it, so nothing… Read more »

Katie

This is great! I’ve been wanting to do something similar to my subaru forester! You wouldn’t happen to have some more in depth information (for a complete newbie!) about installing your house battery and wiring would you? Also learning about how you did the flooring would be so helpful too! Great job!!

Check out our Promaster build where I made a wiring diagram for the van. The Element’s wiring was much more simple – you can just ignore the solar part and the second battery. If you want a short quick answer, the wiring goes like this: Element’s battery – 6 ga cable – isolator solenoid relay – 6 ga cable – deep-cycle battery – 10 ga cable – fuse block – 16 ga cables – accessories Of course, make sure you ground everything with the same size cable, so add a 6 ga cable from the negative of the battery to… Read more »