DIY Van Conversion – Removing Plywood Panels + Bulkhead

Here’s my DIY van conversion guide for removing the plywood and bulkhead the Vauxhall Vivaro Mk3 version, some of these are obvious if you do lots of DIY. I’ve done small jobs in my house over the years but this is my first DIY van conversion.

I’ve include a few of my little tips and which tools you need to use as well as problem-solving over a couple of issues during the process.

Please note, I’m not saying I’m an expert this is simply how I did this from a complete beginner point of view! As well as reading my tips I’d recommend researching ‘the professionals’ way of doing things. Hopefully, this will give you a simple guide and cover some of those things that are maybe obvious to a professional…. but they weren’t too me!

If you think I did something wrong or there was a better way of doing it then feel free to pop useful comments in the section below so anyone else reading will be able to benefit. Thanks 🙂

My van – Vauxhall Vivaro Mk3

Stripping your van

One of the first manual jobs you’ll get to do on your van will be the stripping hehe! Basically that’s removing any fixtures and fittings, plywood panels, bulkhead then giving it a good clean before you move on to the next step.

I opted for my first job to be removing my plywood panels first, before the bulkhead. The reason for this were, I had the tools I needed to remove the plywood but not the bulkhead. See the list below.

And secondly, I’ve read that once you remove the bulkhead it becomes much colder and noiser in the cab. I’ll be driving the van around for some time before fitting the sound deadening and insulating it because I’ve opted to have a couple of windows fitted and that’s booked in for a month away (could have been sooner but I’m away too!)

This means in the interim I can order the tools needed, but I left the bulkhead until just before were windows are fitted in.

How to remove the plywood panels in your van?

Plywood panels inside van
Plywood panels to remove from my van

Stage 1 

If your plywood panels have been fitted the same way as mine then you’ll need a Phillips screwdriver to remove them, (that’s the star one as I used to call it!) I was lucky enough not to have any extra fittings, for example shelving units in my van but if you have these then I’d tackle them first!

Start at the bottom of the panels removing the screws then working up to the top, so that you don’t have the panel falling on your head by doing it the other way around! I had a cordless drill but discovered it was not charging so unscrewed all mine manually, I’d recommend a Cordless drill set, I’m getting one but too late for removing my panels.

In total, I had 36 screws to remove, it might sound a lot but most of them were small so it didn’t take long to take out. I also used an old hummus pot to keep them in!

For the main panel, including the wheel arch, there was silicone sealing the edges along the bottom and panel around the wheel arch, so I used a Stanley knife to score around the edges so it came away in one piece

I’m planning to maybe re-use my plywood panels, they seemed in a good condition so in order the use them in the correct positions, I used a Sharpie pen to write on the back of each panel where it was situated in the van ie, Side door top panel, driver’s side.

Stage 2

Once I’d remove the plywood panels with screws, I then moved onto the lower panels on the four doors which were held in place with some black plastic button, I now know they are called push fit plastic rivets. I’d been watching YouTube videos, in particular James and Sarah from ‘The Whole World or Nothing’, they converted a Mercedes Sprinter last year and did a great job, now James was very excited about a Trim remover tool, so I bought a set! 

It was the best thing for removing these rivets and they don’t cost a lot. As an option you could have pulled off with your nails but I had 70 to take off so the trim remover tool was well used! And a Chinese takeaway container was perfect to put these in!

Again, I labeled each panel using a Sharpie as I took them off, so I didn’t mix them up straight away.

Inside van
Side panels removed, just the floor to go!

Stage 3 

The floor – ok so I thought this would be nice and easy, it looked like 20 screws to remove. Immediately I had a few awkward ones that wouldn’t budge so I left them and got the ones out I could. There were 9 mischievous screws in the end, I popped into the house, got some WD40.

Another 3 came out with some persuasion but the 6 remaining were a bloody pain. I sprayed them again and went in the house for a brew.

My solution for the 6 pesky screws can from my friend Ben who has a cordless impact driver that had no trouble getting them out (it’s on my list to buy one!)

The floor panel was made up of three sections, one large piece of panel, then a thin panel running the length of the van and a small piece at the top. These had trim which along with the screws into the base held it together as one piece. I took these off which made it easy to remove the panel in one section.

Everything removed!

Stage 4 

In most panel van you might also have D Ring Tie Down anchor points, I had eight in my van, these come in all shapes and sizes but I needed a torx head to remove them. Since I had Ben’s cordless impact driver we swapped the head to a torx one and simply removed the eight tie down anchors.

I’ve now cleaned with some WD40 and popped them on Ebay.

How to remove the bulkhead on a van?

Before – Bulkhead partition in my van between cab and back

Prior to removing my bulkhead I watched a couple of YouTube videos to see how it was done, I’ll be adding my own when I do it so you can watch mine too. 

The short version is that people seem to think it will be easy, taking off a few bolts with a socket set and the bulkhead will come off, a few videos I watched made it looked more complicated and I saw people struggling. Here’s how I removed mine.

The bulkhead comes in two parts, both bolted into place and joined together along the middle. I used my socket set (it might have been small but it worked well) and slowly started undoing the bolts. Again, I popped them in a small container to stop them rolling out of the van.

As I removed the bolts, every now and then I gently pulled at the bulkhead to see if there were other fittings I’d need to remove.

In summary, I removed the top section of the bulkhead first, after removing the bolts it lifted out really easily, then I did the same with the lower half. I’d planned to use some gloves as I was aware there would be sharp metal but it turned out if you hold in the right places it’s not an issue. Maybe have gloves on standby in case you need them!

I’ve now put my bulkhead on Ebay as I won’t be needing it for anything else, I’ll let you know how much I sell it for (if it sells!)

After – bulkhead removed

DIY Van Conversion Tool list

For all the tools I’m using for this van conversion you can see the full list here.

What tools do you need for removing the plywood panels + bulkhead?

Here’s my complete list for removing all my plywood panels, the bulkhead and tie down anchor points.

Please remember to check all your fittings, as you may have a few different ones too.

  • Philips screwdriver or Cordless screwdriver
  • Trim remover kit
  • Stanley knife
  • Socket set inc Torx female 
  • Sharpie permanent marker*
  • Small container (to keep screws in)
  • Rubbish bag*
  • Gloves (recommended, although I didn’t use)
  • Safety googles (recommended, although I didn’t use)
  • WD40 (for screws that won’t budge!)
  • Head Torch (if doing in the evenings)

Top tip

As I was parked 50 metres from my van I popped the essential tools for each trip in a shoebox ie. my version of a lighter toolbox. I had no need to carry my full heavy toolbox backwards and forward so this made sense. I popped it in an Ikea BIG bag which I used to carry other bits I needed each time. Worked for me!

How many screws/clips did I remove from the panels?

If you’re wondering whether to go for manual by hand or electric tools then here’s the number of items I removed (mostly by hand!)

Side panels and doors

  • 70 black push fit plastic rivets
  • 16 small screws
  • 12 screws with white cover
  • 8 medium size screws

Floor

  • 42 screws from panels
  • 28 screws from metal trim

Bulkhead

  • 25 bolts

Total = 201 items!

Cleaning your van

With everything out of the van it was time to give it some love with a sponge and soapy water! I was pretty lucky as my van wasn’t too dirty but still I got a bowl of soapy water and gave it a good wash.

Equipment for cleaning your van

Cleaning the van after removing all the panels

Before you fix any insulation it’s recommend that you clean your van so it sticks/better and who doesn’t want a clean van! 

  • Big car sponge
  • Car wash liquid
  • Bucket or bowl
  • Old towel

It turned our once I removed the panels and bulkhead my van was in good condition, not surprising as it’s a newer van but there were some parts where dirt had got in but a good sponge sorted that out.

Once I’d sponged the entire van I used an old towel to dry up most of the moisture and also left the side doors open to give it a good airing.

Fitting windows

Cutting windows out on my van (not me!)

If you’ve read my post about my van and plans for it then you’ll know that I opted for my windows to be fitted professionally! Why? Well, there were a couple of reasons:

  1. I didn’t fancy cutting holes in my own van (and messing it up).
  2. I wanted my windows to be watertight and potentially if I did myself this might not have been the case.
  3. I don’t have any of the tools for cutting metal + this would have been an additional cost.
  4. I found a local independent company and wanted to support them.
  5. There’s also the hassle of sousing my own windows to be fitted + other equipment needed

I’d opted for two windows one a side opening window and one barn door window on the back, both tinted.

My windows were fitted by Sarah from The Happy Campervan – highly recommend :). The work took a couple of hours to complete and Sarah kindly said I could wait whilst I had the windows fitted (and she was happy for me to take a few photos too.

The Happy Campervan

Next steps

And the next step is van insulation, new guide coming soon on the insulation I selected and how I fitted it.

4 thoughts on “DIY Van Conversion – Removing Plywood Panels + Bulkhead

  1. Kyle says:

    I’m so happy I came across your site. I’ve just put a deposit down on a mk3 vivaro and have similar design plans too. It’s such a relief to see someone with similar ideas, although I’m planning a rock and roll bed instead of the sofa as there’s 2 kids and a wife to consider! I’d love to see what you’re planning for the floor, I can’t decide between wood batons or going direct to the floor right now.

    • Becky the Traveller says:

      Hi Kyle, ooo, how exciting, I’d not found anyone else doing the conversion in the Mk3 Vivaro so that’s great that you have one too! Ah yes, I can imagine the Rock and Roll bed will make much more sense for you with your family. At the moment, I’ve put floor insulation directly down on the floor, then the plywood panel is on top. It’s the old one so I’m trying to decide whether to keep on replace but it’s in pretty good condition so I might keep to save money. The van in now insulated and I’ve spent a few nights sleeping in it, in colder temperatures and I’m pretty happy so I don’t think I need any extra insulation for the floor. Keep in touch, I’m on Insta if you are too? @beckythetraveller

      • Kyle says:

        Sounds like a plan!
        I’ve added you, I’m @Beranicus
        I’ll post photos as I go, I collect the Yeti Thursday! (that’s it’s name, yes it’s a white van).
        I’m realising more and more it’s tricky getting conversion stuff for the mk3 vivaro, so please keep posting sources for your build! 🙂

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