Who says you need a van?

Who says you need a van?

When it comes to vehicles I have been very fortunate I have always been in a position to inherit or purchase an extremely reliable vehicle from family members for a more than reasonable price. While the price is always right, and the condition is generally impeccable the one downside is that you won’t have any preference as to what comes your way. For that, you will never hear me complaining.

A few years ago I acquired a 2004 Honda Pilot from my mother. A perfect adventure mobile. It is great on the highway, has huge amounts of room for friends and gear, has a hitch for a bike rack or towing, and roof racks for the space booster when required. I could not have been happier! I immediately went to work on a conversion for camping and traveling.

One of the biggest challenges with the pilot was lack of storage space for gear. While I could fold down both the second and third-row seats for sleeping I then lacked any room for storing gear. It quickly became apparent that the pilot and I were cruising towards an all out conversion. As such the goals of my project were as follows:

1) Provide a flat sleeping surface with enough head room to sit up
2) Provide maximum out of sight storage

I went to work drawing up various designs and then to making them out of cardboard to help visualize my plan. Eventually, I rolled out the power tools and got to work. Here is the picture before everything got started:

2004 Honda Pilot before camper conversion.

2004 Honda Pilot with second and third-row seats in rear before removal.

Before I got too far into the planning I knew I needed to remove all of the seats, this would give me a better idea as to how much space I had to work with. Note to future vehicle converters: take lots of pictures, print them out and make notes as you go. This will help you make better plans, it will also be helpful one day if you need to put it back together or sell the vehicle!

2004 Honda Pilot with second and third row seats removed.

Second and third-row seats removed.

 

2004 Honda Pilot with second and third row seats removed. Floor mounts accessible

Floor mounts now visible for planning.

Once the seats were out I was better able to evaluate my plans. Here you can see all of the bolts used for attaching the seats. I will later go on to use some of these for securing the box in place.

Cardboard mock ups for 2004 honda pilot camper conversion.

Cardboard mock ups for my design. Seeing if it fits and refining measurements.

Once I was happy with my cardboard and more importantly my design I got to work on building the actual box. I started with the main component of my design, the box that sits directly behind the front seats.

2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-4

Storage box located directly behind front seats, accessible from rear doors.

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Storage box located directly behind front seats, accessible from rear doors.

Custom Storage box for 2004 Honda Pilot

Storage box located directly behind front seats, accessible from rear doors.

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Lids attached with piano hinges, strip exposed on the right for attachment of the rear panels.

Rear panels attaching at the centre of car to the main box behind the front seats.

Rear panels attaching at the center of the car to the main box behind the front seats.

Rear panels attaching at the centre of car to the main box behind the front seats.

Rear panels attaching at the center of the car to the main box behind the front seats.

Yay! The hard work is finally done! At this point, you can see the main functionality has been achieved. At this point, I have a flat sleeping surface accessible from all doors with ample storage underneath and out of sight. The next step in this project was to sand, paint, and upholster the surface.

2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-13

2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-17

2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-16

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2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-15

With that, I was ready to hit the road! Over time though I did find a few things that I needed to add and or modify. The first thing was to find a solution to keep the bugs out while allowing some fresh air in. After looking at numerous solutions online I simply sewed slip covers for the door out of simple bug mesh. Think pillow case that slides over the door when it’s open. Works like a charm.

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Post Production Addition #1: Bus Screens

I take these out of the back of the seat and slide them on when ever necessary.

The next major objective I worked to achieve was power. This was a slightly more serious undertaking. I will be doing an entire post on that process alone in the future. Until then you can see I have 3 DC ports on the side of the box. They are all powered by a deep cell battery that is charged from the alternator of the engine when it is running. Fool proof solution to unlimited charging on the road.

2004 Honda Pilot Camper Conversion Vanlife Storage-20

Post Production Addition #2: Power

You will also note that I added a front fork mount on the platform for my bike. There are a lot of little things like that of which I am slowly learning about and adding over time. When I first built all of this it was generally just me, solo road tripping. Now I have a wonderful man, Gerald, in my life and it is quickly becoming apparent that most of my design was specific to a very short person, me! For example, he can’t get the driver’s seat back far enough due to the box, whoops! As a result, I am feeling a 2016 renovation on the way… Until then we can be found on the side of the road in many exciting places whipping up excellent meals and scheming for our next adventure.

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For those of you interested I have since published a part 2 with some more details!