10 Game-Changing Exterior Mods for Your Camper Van

Customized Camper Van 25 photos
Photo: unsplash / Peter Thomas
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There are many accessories you can purchase for your camper van, but some will make a bigger difference than others. Today, I'll focus on the exterior accessories and upgrades worth investing in.
Of course, the usefulness of an accessory depends on how you plan to use your camper van. For instance, there's no point in purchasing a new off-road suspension if you don't plan to take your rig off the beaten path. Price is also something to take into account, as many of the upgrades I've listed below aren't cheap.

1. Suspension

The "Bam Van" Conversion by Limitless Van
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Limitless Van
One of the most popular upgrades among van dwellers is related to the suspension. When building a camper van, it's important to be mindful of how much weight you are adding to the rig. Naturally, the more you add, the more strain the factory suspension parts will go through. It's critical not to go over the manufacturer's GVWR recommendations.

If you have a top-heavy, high-roof version of a van and an overloaded suspension, the risk of a rollover increases. A suspension upgrade for a van allows for better control when carrying extra weight while dramatically reducing body roll on winding mountain roads.

One of the most popular suspension upgrades comes from Van Compass, a company that designs kits for the renowned Sprinter and Transit vans. It's not the cheapest upgrade, but it's definitely worth the money. They offer various upgrades, including mini spring packs, custom-tune front and rear shocks, and Sumo springs, which are a replacement for the factory bump stops.

2. Tires

The "Bam Van" Conversion by Limitless Van
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Limitless Van
Stock tires might not be enough to handle your adventure, depending on where you plan to drive and travel. Your van's stock tires are fine for the highway, but add some off-roading and winter driving into the mix, and the stock tires won't cut it.

There are various types of tires you can go for. Some of them are all-season tires, winter tires, and mud-terrain tires for an extra edge when driving on mud. Most "van lifers" whose adventures involve both on and off-roading opt for all-terrain tires. The key differences between the types of tires include gas mileage, handling, longevity, and road noise.

Size is also important - before changing your wheel or tire size, you should check the specifications for your vehicle. Generally, larger tires offer better off-road performance but reduce fuel economy due to heavier weight.

If you want a more compliant ride on rough roads, you might want to consider getting smaller wheels and larger tires to maximize tire sidewall height.

One all-terrain tire model I've seen on many camper vans I've written about is the BFGoodrich KO2. These tires boast a well-designed tread pattern combined with a very thick sidewall.

How much air you pump into your tires will significantly affect their performance both on and off the beaten path. This brings me to the next upgrade on this list.

3. Air Compressor

Livable Vans Custom Camper Van With an Air Compressor
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Livable Vans
If you do a lot of off-roading, an air compressor is a valuable piece of equipment to have in your mobile home. When driving through sand or dirt, letting air out of the tires offers more surface area, translating to better off-road traction and ride quality. When you return to the pavement, you'll have to refill the tires.

Even if you don't plan to go off-roading anytime soon, carrying an air compressor on your adventures is still smart. You never know when you or any fellow van lifers might need it.

My suggestion here is the Viair 450P-RV. Although it's a pricier option, it's rated for 150 PSI and capable of inflating vehicle tires up to 35". Furthermore, it can be used as a portable unit or hard-mounted to the rig and comes with all the necessary accessories.

4. Roof Rack

FVC Low Pro Roof Rack on a Mercedes\-Benz Sprinter 170"
Photo: Flatline Van Co.
No space should be left unused on a camper van. Roof racks are a versatile addition to any rig, as, among other benefits, they allow you to mount solar panels or other accessories without making holes in your roof. On the other hand, they make your rig less stealthy, increase weight and height, and can impact your gas mileage as they can make your vehicle less aerodynamic.

You should consider a few factors when purchasing a roof rack: compatibility, ease of installation, durability, appearance, weight, and budget. What's more, multiple types of racks are available, including modular low-profile racks, roof deck-based racks, and DIY racks.

Depending on your wants and needs, you will lean toward a different style roof rack. A DIY roof rack will do if you only need to mount solar panels. If you want the roof rack to be an extension of your living space, you might want to check out a roof deck-based rack, such as the Safari Roof Rack. The most common option is the modular low-profile rack, which allows you to mount solar panels, accessories, a deck, and more.

One modular and space-efficient option for the latter category is the Flatline Van Co. (FVC) Low Pro roof rack. It features a lightweight and aerodynamic design and is DIY-friendly, with its manufacturer claiming its installation takes two hours. Moreover, it's compatible with the three most popular vans for camper conversions: the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, the Ford Transit, and the Ram ProMaster.

5. Awning

"The Mothership" Custom Camper Van with a Fiamma Awning
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Tiny Home Tours
If you're not convinced about getting an awning for your camper van, all you need to do is spend a hot day around your van to see what it means to have little to no shade. An awning will not only protect you from the sun but also from the rain, allowing you to spend more time hanging out outside.

There are four main types of awnings available. The first is the full awning, which covers the full length of the vehicle and typically comes with a fully enclosed space. They're longer to set up and take down and weigh more, but they offer superior protection.

Inflatable awnings comprise a rail fitting and tubes that you pump air into. They're relatively simple to erect but weigh a bit more and are prone to tears.

Next, pole awnings are perhaps the most popular option. They're quick to set up, reliable if you choose a higher-quality product, and relatively cheap.

Finally, we have roll-out awnings - depending on their design, they can come with poles and/or guides. They don't offer all-around shelter from the weather, but they don't weigh much and are very simple to set up and take down.

The most common awning I've seen on the camper vans I've written about is, by far, the Fiamma F45s roll-out awning. It's available in various sizes, features a waterproof, UV-resistant vinyl, and can be deployed manually or by an electric motor, which is an extra.

6. Capsule/Flare

Vanspeed's California Coast Camper Conversion with Vanspeed Flares
Photo: Vanspeed
Another exterior upgrade you might notice on many camper vans is capsules, also known as bump-outs and flares. They are designed to increase the van's width.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is often upgraded with capsules since it's one of the narrowest vans suitable for camper conversions. People want to mount the bed to accommodate them from side to side, and taller individuals often need these capsules to fit from side to side.

There are two proven capsule brands I've seen time and time again: Vanspeed and Flarespace. Vanspeed offers flares made from durable, lightweight fiberglass for the 144" and 170" wheelbase Sprinter vans, adding up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of vital head-to-toe sleeping area. You can also add windows to them.

Flarespace makes flares for multiple vans, including the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Ram ProMaster models. They offer up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of extra space and are also made from fiberglass.

7. Bike Racks

Custom Camper Van Conversion With a Hitch\-Mounted Swing\-Away Bike Rack
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Tiny House Giant Journey
Many van lifers choose to bring their bikes on their mobile adventures. Bikes allow you to reach more remote places, are an excellent mode of transportation for shorter distances, and, most importantly, offer a fun and healthy way of spending time outside your tiny home on wheels.

Many people prefer mounting their bikes on the vehicle's exterior instead of carrying them inside the van. To do that, you need a proper bike rack. Several bike racks are available, three of which are recommended for camper vans: rear door racks, tow bar-mounted racks, and racks mounted on the vehicle frame extension.

Rear door racks can usually hold up to 176 lb. (80 kg), while tow bar-mounted racks are designed to hold up to 331 lb. (150 kg) on average. The option that can carry the most is the frame extension racks: they can hold up to 441 lb. (200 kg).

There's an additional factor to take into account when choosing a bike rack: whether you can open the rear doors when the bike is mounted. Many bike racks block the rear doors, but worry not; there are solutions for this as well: purchasing a carrier system or attaching the rack to a single door.

Depending on the model, a carrier system can be swiveled to the side or back, allowing you to access the rear doors if needed quickly.

There are many manufacturers with amazing bike rack products, such as Thule and RockyMounts. The bike rack I'm recommending today comes from Yakima, a brand known for its high-quality products.

The Yakima FullSwing attaches to your hitch and can carry up to four bikes (40 lb. Per bike). It has an integrated bike lock and a swing-away system that lets you quickly access the vehicle's rear.

9. Storage Boxes

ActiVan Camper Van Conversion with Owl Vans Sherpa Carrier and an Expedition Storage Box
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / ActiVan
Like I always say, a camper van never has too much storage space. Many people opt for exterior storage boxes, usually mounted on the roof or at the vehicle's rear.

On the flip side, they offer more room to store your belongings and an easier way to organize them. However, they can also extend your van's total length or height and can be a pricey upgrade.

One brand that comes to mind when I think of storage boxes is Owl Vans. The company has three box options, each offered in two sizes. For instance, the Large Expedition Box is TIG welded and boasts an all-aluminum construction and an adjustable internal shelf.

It can hold up to 75 lb. (34 kg) of cargo. However, it's designed to be attached to one of the company's carriers, such as the Sherpa and the B2.

9. Lights

Custom Camper Van Conversion with Baja Design LP6 lights
Photo: YouTube Screenshot / Tim & Katie
Having extra lights on your camper van's exterior never hurts. We can split these lights into three categories: awning lights, porch lights, and driving light bars and pods.

Awning lights are a common option for campers due to their convenience. You can install them along the length of the van's side, improving your camping experience outside your rig. Installation is straightforward, as most come with hooking clips. If you plan on purchasing one or more, make sure they're waterproof.

Porch lights are smaller than your standard awning strip but make up for their compact size with a wide diffusion range. You can add them all around your rig to make sure you get 360-degree lighting.

Driving lights are high-intensity lights that you put on the van's roof to light the road ahead. They are especially useful when off-roading if you plan on driving in low-light or night-time conditions.

One name stands out when it comes to premium lights: Baja Designs. The company offers a wide selection of lights, including LED light bars of varying sizes and floodlights. One excellent option of the latter category is the LP6 Pro off-road lights, which offer a 200-degree spread and 11,225 lumens.

10. Backup Camera

Yakry Y27 Wireless Backup Camera
Photo: Amazon
This upgrade might seem insignificant compared to the others on this list, but it's not. A backup camera can save you from damage to your vehicle - this relatively small investment will pay off down the road.

If you have a long van, travel by yourself, or lack rear windows, I'd say the camera goes from "nice-to-have" to "a must." Having a good-quality reversing camera makes parking a lot easier and safer.

Cameras come in two options: wired and wireless. While a wireless camera is easier to install, it can experience interference. You can't go wrong with a wired one; you just have to spend a bit more time wiring it.

There are many aftermarket options for backup cameras. For instance, the Yakry Y27 wireless system, which includes a 7-inch 1080p monitor and a camera, is a good option.


All in all, regardless of what upgrade or accessory you go for, carefully consider your needs before purchasing. I'm aware many of you reading this article do not have a camper van, but if you've reached the end of this article, there's a high chance you're interested in buying or building one.

Luckily, I've written several articles designed to guide you through this process. Here are 10 things to consider before buying a camper van. After you've narrowed down your wants and needs, check out my list of the most reliable vans suitable for camper conversions. Additionally, if budget is a major issue for you, here are the costs involved with buying, converting, and living in a camper van.
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About the author: Mircea Mazuru
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Starting out with a motorcycle permit just because he could get one two years earlier than a driver's license, Mircea keeps his passion for bikes (motor or no motor) alive to this day. His lifelong dream is to build his own custom camper van.
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