More and more van lifers are choosing to convert a used ambulance, rather than a consumer or work van, into a camper. It’s not so common just yet, but it’s definitely a growing trend.
Used ambulances make for fantastic van conversions. They offer plenty of living space inside the box and feature lots of storage space. Any full-time van dweller should consider them as a solid option for a mobile tiny house.
Just like any big vehicle, they aren’t very stealthy or easy to park in a big city, but if you spend much of your time in and near nature, you will love having such a roomy home on wheels. You can always pull up to a Walmart car park when you’re traveling between cities.
In this article, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of ambulance campers and how to choose the right vehicle to convert. We also show you 8 rad rigs you have to see before you start planning your own build.
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Pros and cons of converting an ambulance into an RV
Not even a professionally converted rig is perfect. Any vehicle you choose for your build has its upsides and downsides – you just need to decide which nuisances you’re OK putting up with, based on your needs and preferences. Going on adventures means getting out of your comfort zone, after all.
Old ambulances come with lots of benefits and a few drawbacks. We talk about them below, so you can decide if they’re for you.
- They are more affordable to buy than a Sprinter and other popular van models
- Not many people purchase them at the moment, so they aren’t hard to find
- The box shape of the cab is easy to fit out and spacious – ideal for full-time campers
- They’ve been well-maintained during their service years
- The roof is rather big, so you can fit lots of solar panels and a deck
- There’s already a lot of storage installed, such as cabinets
- Ambulances come with wiring, seating, and more
- The cab is well-insulated
- They’re as wide as a vehicle can be, so you can sleep sideways
- The headroom is decent on many ambulances
- They have a very sturdy construction
- There are lots of conversions on YouTube and Instagram to get inspiration from.
- Ex-ambulances aren’t stealthy
- The electrical system is complicated and will likely need some fixing and tweaking
- A lot of the interior space has already been fitted with furniture
- Ambulances aren’t very agile or easy to park
- Laws and regulations over driving decommissioned ambulances are blurry and vary across state lines
- The walls are thick and it can be hard to cut into them
- When cutting into a wall, you easily come across cables, ducts, and structural support
- You will likely install lots of gear, so it will be a high-maintenance RV
- The paperwork can be complicated, as they have been listed as commercial vehicles.
There’s an extra point, which is both a pro and a con: ambulances run on diesel engines. This means that they are more reliable and last longer; however, not all mechanics can fix diesel engines and diesel is more expensive than gas in America. Environmental concerns may also play a role in your decision.
If you’re ready to figure out the complicated rules and regulations and aren’t scared of removing the existing furniture to create a blank canvas, an ambulance conversion may be the right vehicle to take you on your adventures. The spacious and tall cab will allow you to stay on the road for months at a time.
Where to buy a used ambulance
Decommissioned ambulances are easy to find for sale. Add these sites to your browser’s favorites, so you can keep an eye on what’s new.
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How to choose an ambulance to convert into a camper
Once you find a few good current listings, it’s a good idea to compare them to your list of requirements, so you can stay objective.
You’ll need to consider:
- Your budget
- Year of build – ambulances tend to be decommissioned 5-7 years after production
- Engine model (research which ones are more reliable)
- Duty classification – medium is best, so you can add lots of gear
- CARB emission regulations in your state and where you want to travel to
- Location of the vehicle
- Box dimensions – they vary wildly
- Box cutaway (type 1) vs cargo van model (type 2) vs box on cutaway van chassis (type 3).
On top of these factors, there may be some extra must-haves that are personal to you. For example, you may need a four wheel drive, so you can go boondocking in the wild.
Before you go ahead and agree to a sale, make sure to get the truck inspected by a certified mechanic, so they can check what needs fixing. It’s a small expense that can save you a lot of pain down the road.
8 must-see ambulance camper conversions
Ready to start planning your own interior design? We have collected the coolest ambulance conversion projects we could find on the internet.
Amanda’s off-grid rig with mini wood stove
Amanda bought a 2006 Ford E-350 cutaway, which was used as an emergency response vehicle for the US Navy. She then converted it into a home on wheels over the course of 7 months, together with her dad.
This conversion is one of the coziest out there. Amanda built a full kitchen with an oven and cooker, created a platform bed, installed a small bench, and added a super cute tiny wood stove. Inside the bed platform she fitted a slide-out table, which sits in front of the bench. Amanda didn’t install a bathroom, but she keeps a composting head in a closet. On the roof, there are solar panels and a wooden deck on which the van lifer does yoga.
Carl and Maddie’s old school campulance
Carl and Maddie travel full-time on a retired 1997 Chevrolet K-3500. Their floor plan is very simple: they have a flip-out bed on one side of the box and a big kitchen with lots of storage space on the other. The couple didn’t install any windows, so the cab is rather dark and very private. Carl and Maddie left much of the ambulance as it was originally to save some cash.
Neil and Jessicas’s $4K ambulance conversion
Neil and Jessica tour Europe with their four chihuahuas in their eccentric and affordable ambulance conversion. They called it Burro Ambulante – traveling donkey – because Jessica grew up in Spain. Inside it, there’s a pink and purple world, with an armchair and couch, a small removable table, a kitchen with an oven, and a platform bed. There’s no bathroom inside, but the guys use what they call a “piss pipe”, which they installed under their sink.
Chris and Michelle’s 4×4 ambulance camper with collapsible hot tub
Chris and Michelle bought a 2003 E-450 – an ex fire department ambulance – which they called Tanya and turned into an overland camper to tour the States. They initially left much of the interior as it originally was and traveled for two years. Once they had fully tested the vehicle out, they went all out and did a second, more radical refit.
Tanya features a permanent bed, a full kitchen with a propane oven, many cabinets and cupboards, a wet bathroom, and lots of outside storage. As the couple love traveling during the winter months, they decided to build a portable hot tub out of plywood, which they mount on top of a rug. They use a tarp to line the wooden box and an immersion heater to warm up the water. This must be the ultimate glamping piece of kit.
Tom’s overland ambulance camper
Tom bought a 4wd drive Chevy Duramax 4 GMC, which used to belong to Yellowstone National Park. It had less than 14,000 miles on it when he got it – it didn’t come cheap, but it felt brand new.
Tom installed new, thicker tires to drive easily in the sand. He wanted a camper that could take him anywhere and he knew exactly what he wanted from this rig, as he had converted multiple vehicles before. Inside, he built a double bed, a bench with a swivel table, a wet bath, and a kitchen with an electrical stove and 7-cubic-feet fridge-freezer.
Tom chose to install all his windows up high, so he can always look outside while standing. The box is incredibly light during the day, also thanks to the big skylight he added in the middle of the roof. On this, he fitted four big solar panels to generate power.
Ben’s $13K ambulance camper conversion
Ben chose to convert a 1995 F-350 4wd drive ex ambulance to travel Mexico. He calls her “The Big Girl”. There’s only one spot in which he can stand up fully in the van, at the entrance, so he created a shower there. The kitchen features a small sink and a two-burner stove. Ben repurposed a lot of the furniture that came with the ambulance to save on costs. At the back, he built a platform bed, which contains a slide-out table. He also installed a motorcycle carrier at the rear of the vehicle, so he can easily get to (and park near) trailheads.
Ginger and Greg’s super sturdy rig
Ginger and Greg live out of their sturdy ambulance RV with their dog Millie. It’s a pretty serious rig, which allows them to travel pretty much anywhere. The 4wd drive is turning out very useful in Mexico, where they like to reach lots of high, sandy places.
The conversion is unique. There’s a slide-out double bed at the back, a dinette with two benches and a table, a full kitchen, and a wet bath. The slide-out bed and drop-down table are electrical, so changing from day mode to night mode takes seconds.
Josh’s ex ambulance home on wheels
Josh is a professional musician who loves to live on the road. He travels full-time on Rosie The Jambo, an abandoned ambulance, which he found at the beginning of a trailhead. He converted it fully, making the interior look super rustic. One side of the cab features the wooden kitchen, while the on the other side be fitted a pull-out couch. Everything on his camper is DIY or economical.
Professional ambulance conversions
If you have a higher budget and are in a rush to set off, you could opt for a professional conversion. There are companies that buy used ambulances and turn them into RV campers ready to hit the road. SIV Ambulances and AmbuNet are two of them.
Their vehicles don’t come cheap, but you get to skip lots of boring and time-consuming steps: finding a good used ambulance for sale, demolishing and replacing the furniture, installing a new electrical system, and more. If you choose one of the vehicles in stock at these companies, you could get on the road within weeks. The downside is that the floor plan will have already been established, so you will have to adapt to how it has been structured.
A converted ambulance can make for a fantastic, spacious, and functional camper to live on the road. It’s quite expensive, but certainly more economical than other more popular vans of a similar size. If you’re going to get a big vehicle and fit it with solar panels, bike racks, and a deck, it will hardly ever look stealthy anyway.