Have you ever looked at camper vans online and thought „that is a little too much space for me“? Well, so have I and for a long time I had this plan to get a pickup truck for our magnetfishing adventures that would also double as a camper for short periods of time. Best of both worlds.
From the beginning I knew I wanted something out of my „camper van“ that most people don’t want or need: A truck that can do work, hard work if need be. Not just because we find all this scrap metal during our magnetfishing trips that we would have to leave behind for someone else to pick up.
No, also because I am just not comfortable with spending all this money on a camper van if it’s just sitting there costing me more than I get out of it. For the time being I am a weekend and vacation warrior so until I can afford to change that all I spend on the van is in essence wasteful.
However, what if I could just build a truck that not only allows me to sleep in it, but also slowly make my money back? That is what this truck is doing for me, I can use it for metalworking and also to help people. I’ve helped friends move, helped others buy furniture or large hardware store items. I also use it both as a workshop to build and a rolling flea market stand to sell scrap art made from our finds, and I do all of that from wherever I want to.
If you follow this site a bit you’ll see I’m trying to work my way out of the city and become independent both in terms of finances and location and you can probably tell how much this truck factors into that plan. I might even say it is essential as it allows me to break out of the constraints that a third-floor city apartment comes with.
So let me tell you how I did it.
How I ended up with my cute yellow truck
Here in Germany even the cheapest roadworthy regular pickup truck like a Ford Ranger or VW Amarok starts at 6-8k on the used market and you still get a beater.
Most offers have stuff like broken air conditioners, been in a wreck or have so many miles that they probably won’t survive more than a year and all that comes with bad fuel economy and taxes / insurance that make your eyes water. For a long time I was quite envious of the US where it is apparently possible to buy an F150 for a grand (easily 15k over here for an imported one) and stuff like that.
Then, however I started to look at commercial trucks, fully expecting them to be even pricier since they have more space, long beds and double cabs and much higher loading capacities. Seriously, the Amarok pretty much tops out its allowed weight the moment you transport a six-pack of water. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that is is well possible to get such a vehicle for 3k, a bit harder below that and easy when you are comfortable spending 5k.
Step 1: The Truck
After it had taken me a good four years before I realized this option it took me a mere three days before I settled on a model, went out to look at it and then to push myself so close to bankruptcy that I could hear the voices whispering.
For a long time I had thought that I had to go with a compromise as pickups are surprisingly large when you stand next to one, but surprisingly small when you want to do something with them. Let me explain. With the regular small kind you get either a long bed or a double cab configuration. I know the US has stuff like the F350 Lariats but those are just not a thing over here. Germany is a country where a minivan is the choice for anyone who needs a spacious vehicle and a minivan with the rear chopped off if they want a bed.
The reason I wanted both though is simple: The more bed space I have the less often I have to drive to the scrapyard and the more time I have to cut out pieces I can use for my scrap art. With the double cab I have an enclosed space for my tools and myself, aka a folding trunk that serves as seats or a bed. I will show that later on in the build process.
I ended up buying this specific 1998 model Sprinter flatbed for a variety of reasons:
- It was borderline cheap at 3k with new TUV certificate, good tires and everything in working order
- The engine might not have stunning horsepowers (it has 78) but it is as close to bulletproof as it gets. I do not need to go fast, but I need something reliable as my mechanical skills are limited and so are my resources to pay a mechanic.
- The bed is lower than most trucks, in fact the perfect height for a workbench. You can buy beds where the sides fold down and many have them, but I preferred this option as it seems much simpler in practice.
- The salesman was really bad and said stuff like „yeah it’s a weird truck“ and „I know the rear seats are missing but maybe you can get them cheap at the scrapyard“. I used that to talk him down a grand from asking price, have new certification with some necessary repairs thrown in and I didn’t want the rear seats anyway. In fact I would have brought them to the scrapyard had they been installed.
All in all I was and am really happy with the purchase and the longer I own the truck the more we grow together. I have long said that technological progress stopped being useful somewhere in the early 2000s, somewhere between electronic windows that do in fact provide a little convenience and sensors that tell me when it’s raining or nerve-wrecking beeps while reversing. This truck has none of those, it just drives and I could swear it does so happily. Plus of course it’s yellow, I mean how boring is a white van?
Step 2: The Sleeper Cell
The first and probably most crucial improvement I did to the truck after purchasing it was to build what I call the sleeper cell. Instead of the rear seat row – or the tool rack the previous owner put in its place – I installed a wooden trunk with a folding top. The overall cost of this ended up being around fifty bucks and it is incredibly useful. Not only can I sleep on top (surprisingly comfortable I might add) but it also serves as seats when I need to take more than two passengers with me (gotta love three front seats) and it hides my tools and gear from the average passer-by. Of course I still take out all my tools when I’m not using the truck, but there’s still a bit of clothes and stuff that I would rather not have lying around in the open.
I did plan this thing to be roughly like it ended up as, but I could not have anticipated just how well it would work. If you sit there you have enough leg room, if you sleep there it’s wide enough not to be cramped even as a regular sized human and I can even bring my beloved bicycle along for the ride.
Step 3: The Rear Frame
The next thing I wanted to do was to build a metal frame for the back. This has two reasons: I can put a tarp over it in case I need to keep something dry but more importantly I can use the top bar to pull myself up on. This way I can easily get on top from the sides or the back, hugely useful when loading it with scrap metal and stacking all those shopping carts and bicycles.
This started out as a build I thought would take no more than an hour or two, but ultimately we ended up spending that long at the hardware store trying to come up with something that works.
Since we did this before I figured out the mobile welding setup (I will show that later) everything was bolted together and it took a looooong time.
We did do something really cool and curve-bent the top bars so that water could run off the top when a tarp is installed.
Step 4: The Workbench
Easily the most unique thing I’ve done to the truck was to fit a workbench to the right side of the bed. I have not seen that anywhere else so far, you can find a couple videos of tailgate-workbenches online but nothing quite like this.
It is however hugely useful and I am incredibly happy with it. I made a video of the build process, but honestly it’s pretty much a table and you can probably imagine how it works.
The coolest thing about this whole build is that it was completely free and built from recycled material. After looking at prices for a single sheet of that laminated plywood (70 bucks) I figured that I was not interested in spending that kind of money. In a random stroke of luck I found a guy online through our craigslist equivalent who was in the process of renovating a house which had a huge bunny cage made from this stuff. I got some other free wood in the process and some tips on electronic stuff and so we were both happy.
Step 5: The Welder
The last step that really made a difference for me was to have some essential tools. I can recommend this to anyone, seriously. While my five essential tools and how to make money with them post does use affiliate links it is far from a cash grab. It is just a simple post showcasing how even I, as a day job programmer with no connections to any kind of tradesmen manage to turn a profit from a set of very essential tools that won’t even set you back all that much.
But the one thing that really pushed my limits in crafting was to get a welder. Now my welder isn’t even a welder, it’s a set of two car batteries and a pair of jumper cables because there just isn’t a good mobile welding option under a thousand bucks.
If you are not limited by the constraint of mobility however you can do the very same thing with a hundred dollar welder, in fact I own one like that due to a failed attempt of running it with my inverter.
Back to the topic at hand: The battery powered welder. I think it goes without saying that this is hardly a professional setup and if you don’t know what you’re doing you should not attempt this. If you do however read up on the whole matter and keep a safe distance between the batteries and the workpiece you will find that it is well possible. Opinions on this are either „it works just fine“ or „no sane person would ever attempt this“ with no real middle ground but if you dig deeper once more you will find that the latter kind has never in fact attempted this.
In my opinion this is a really nice setup for anything off-grid and anything that is thick enough, the rods burn a little hot and you can burn through thinner metals.
The ability to weld on a hobby scale is not only incredible fun but also profitable. I sell these things, but to me the far better part is that I can now make so many things I always thought I wouldn’t be able to make. I wish someone had told me how easy it is to start welding, I could have made so much cool stuff but even with the truck I brought all this stuff to the scrap yard that I could have used to build stuff out of.
Anyway, that is it for my camper van work truck hybrid, I hope you enjoyed the post! If you would like to see a bit more of what we do with it let me show you one of our magnetfishing videos where we filled up the whole truck bed with scrap we found under just one bridge: