BUYING A USED van, then getting it converted into your dream camper sounds like a perfect plan for some people. There are many van converters willing to do the job, and you can find most of them online.
Not all converters are competent, though, and our Diamond Dave Newell has just appeared on a BBC TV programme as an expert to champion one motorhome buyer's rights.
Diamond Dave's expert evidence revealed the van conversion's flaws
If you're thinking of employing a van converter, there are many ways to make sure you only use a reputable and experienced camper van conversion company (see our quick checklist at the end).
QC Gary Bell champions consumer rights on TV as The Legalizer
Camper van case on The Legalizer
If only Joanne had done this. She was one of the claimants on Episode 5of The Legalizer, the BBC's consumer rights TV programme. In the show QC barrister Garry Bell takes up several cases and guides people through the small claims court process. (Click the link above to catch it on BBC iPlayer while it's still available.)
Motorbike fan Joanne and her husband and young family bought a lovely big used van, then found a converter to turn it into a comfortable family camper van. The firm had a flashy website full of photos of its converted vans and quotes from apparently happy customers.
The Legalizer featured motorbike fan Joanne's camper van conversion
The website promised high quality materials and workmanship. Busy mum Joanne was looking forward to adrenalin-fuelled weekends away driving motorbikes off-road and then enjoying a hot shower, toilet and comfortable bed in the motorhome.
Joanne commissioned the firm to convert her panel van to an agreed floorplan, with a bike garage at the end, and paid £10,000.
Joanne, her husband and their two young boys were looking forward to attending motorbike events in comfort
Camper van dream became a nightmare
When it was ready she drove to North Wales to collect the finished camper van, but soon the dream turned into a nightmare. She said:
- The rooflights leaked
- Mattress was wet
- The oven slid across the floor while they were driving
- The electrics didn't work
- The toilet leaked
- There was no wall insulation...
Soon she had a long list of things for the converter to fix.
Not everything was fixed securely
But he didn't do it in a reasonable time, despite her chasing. In the end she paid another company to fix the main problems she'd spotted, which cost her another £3000.
Water ingress was already causing damage
She'd had a miserable, long drawn-out, frustrating and expensive experience. What could she do?
Joanne turned to QC Gary Bell on The Legalizer for help
Legalizer to the rescue!
QC Gary Bell strode across the screen, saying: "At some point we've all felt ripped off, cheated and conned. I want to help consumers fight back and get justice. I want to empower you to use the law to get what you're owed."
What a hero!
What to do when things go wrong
He explained that if you're not happy with something you've bought, you must tell the company clearly what's wrong and give them a chance to fix the problems in a reasonable time.
The firm wasn't answering calls and emails, so he duly helped her to write another letter stating calmly and clearly what was wrong, what she wanted the firm to do about it, and how much money she wanted them to pay her for the remedial work she'd had done, and by what date.
Download a Small Claims Court form
When the converter still hadn't responded in a reasonable time, he helped Joanne to find and download a Small Claims Court form, then fill it in and post it to the court.
She itemised her losses simply and clearly for the claim
To build her case, he then needed an independent expert opinion on the work done to convert her panel van to a camper.
Practical Motorhome's expert Diamond Dave Newell inspected the camper
He asked Diamond Dave Newell for expert evidence
QC Gary Bell then called on Practical Motorhome's workshop expert Diamond Dave Newell to provide the independent expert evidence needed for the court. Dave runs his own motorhome workshop and writes for the magazine every month, offering expert advice.
Dave checked everything in detail to help The Legalizer build Joanne's court case
Dave's verdict: it's dangerous
He was shocked when he inspected the van conversion – not only was the work done badly, but the finished camper was potentially dangerous!
- Flue outlet for fridge obscured by sliding door when it's open
- No heat vents for fridge
- Gas-fired space heater is vented through driver's side wall, with opening window above it. If burning poorly it could produce carbon monoxide, which could come in through the open window. Carbon monoxide fumes in a small space are lethal
- Poor finishing standard
- No insulation, so damp will quickly ruin internal walls, which aren't waterproofed
- Rooflights not sealed
- Ceiling panel not straight
- Finishing trim not glued on properly
- Battery not vented down through the floor. When lead acid batteries are being charged they give off hydrogen, which is explosive. This void under the seat could fill with hydrogen and oxygen and when the battery was charging it could blow the compartment clean out
The battery should have been vented down through the camper's floor
Small Claims victory!
The van converter didn't turn up to court and the judge awarded Joanne £4627. Just after she appointed some bailiffs to collect it, the converter paid up.
David versus Goliath
This episode of The Legalizer was well worth watching – QC Gary Bell has such a calm presence and shows how to get the legal system to work for you. He covered other cases in the show as well, including that of a couple who had paid £10,000 towards another van conversion that never materialised.
Whether your grievance is with a large company or a small one, he demonstrated that as an individual consumer you can take them on quite easily – and get your money back.
QUICK CHECKLIST FOR BUYERS
How to check a converter's reputation
Fortunately there are many good motorhome manufacturers and van conversion companies in Britain. We regularly review their 'vans in Practical Motorhome magazine.
If you're considering getting a company to convert a panel van you've sourced into a motorhome, here are a few tips that should help you find a really good van converter.
- Read the results of our annual Practical Motorhome Owner Satisfaction Survey – readers report their experiences of buying new and pre-owned motorhomes and campers, so you can find the very best motorhome manufacturers and converters right here
- Check motorhome forums, such as ours, asking other people if anyone has used the firm.
- Type the firm's name into google to see what comes up
- Do the same with the company directors' names to see if they've run any previous businesses and check those out, because any court judgements against the firms should pop up online
- Finally, when you do commission a company to transform your van into a camper, discuss it with them and put what you've agreed in writing. Keep copies of all the paperwork, as Joanne did on the programme.
With a bit of luck, you'll get your dream van, as agreed, and will soon be off on an adventure in your pride and joy.
29 November, 2013
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Click here to watch Episode 5 of The Legalizer, the BBC's consumer rights TV programme featuring Practical Motorhome's Workshop Advice columnist Diamond Dave Newell.