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GMC Savana DIY Conversion Update 4: Moving Across Canada

It’s a new year and new location to be updating you from. We are now living on the Acadian Peninsula in northeast New Brunswick, Canada.

In the last update about our GMC Savana conversion, we had added insulation and lights in preparation for our epic journey across Canada.

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Driving across Canada in winter

Relocating 6000km from British Columbia to New Brunswick in early December was something of a questionable decision. Somewhat surprisingly then, we actually had a fairly straightforward and enjoyable journey across the country.

I do have to admit that a major part of this was due to the kindness of people who invited us to stay with them along the way. I think our morale would have been undoubtedly lower without such great company and hot meals almost every night.

Read next: 8 Must See Places on a Winter Road Trip Across Canada

GMC Savana Conversion - winter views driving across canada

Sleeping in our DIY GMC Savana camper at -35c

Over 12 days from Penticton to Toronto, we slept just three nights in the van. One night, the temperature dropped to around -35c but we managed to stay warm in our comfortable bed with individual sleeping bags, two duvets and a half dozen blankets! We also had our Mr Heater for additional warmth when we needed it.

After a night at -35c, almost everything else inside the van did freeze, however, so we definitely started the engine pretty quickly the next morning. On that subject, the van had no performance issues despite the extreme cold.

Winter driving conditions

On the driving side, we experienced fairly good conditions all the way across the country with a couple of exceptions. We drove through several blizzards between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie in Ontario and then JR experienced white-out conditions when driving from Toronto to the New Brunswick border.

On the whole though, for 6000km at the start of winter, it could have been much worse. We’re glad we left plenty of time to allow for any potential delays and road closures.

GMC Savana Conversion - Reaching Saskatchewan

Transferring to New Brunswick

After an extended Christmas period with our respective families, the van had a long break of its own. Come February however, we needed to officially become residents of New Brunswick.

We knew that transferring the van from British Columbia to New Brunswick would be a pain, but we really had no idea just how hard it would be! I figured the road trip would the difficult part.

The most I knew of the process before the move was that the van would need to pass a maintenance check to be able to be registered and insured in BC.

The main issue with this, I thought, was that since BC doesn’t require annual maintenance checks, there was a chance it would fail. As it turned out, the van passed the maintenance check (cost: $50) almost with flying colours.

The New Brunswick mechanic was actually shocked to see a vehicle with such little rust underneath since the vast majority of cars here have damage from the copious salt used on the roads.

Insuring the van in New Brunswick: a two-week saga

What turned out to be the biggest problem was the transfer was actually finding insurance. Over in BC, everyone must buy third-party insurance from a government corporation called ICBC.

In most other Canadian provinces and territories, insurance is sold by private companies. We mistakenly thought this would mean that the process of buying insurance would be both cheaper and easier.

In the end, it took us almost three weeks to get the van fully registered and insured in New Brunswick. Here’s why.

Doing things in the right order

The first issue was that no insurers would even speak to us until we had our BC licenses converted to New Brunswick ones.

To do the transfer, we had to provide proof of our legal status in Canada (passport, permanent residency card) and residency status in NB (utility bills, bank statement) plus some photo I.D. to Service New Brunswick.

Since we are living at JR’s dad’s house, this was the first hurdle. We also had to pay $90 each.

Van with kayaks on top

The problems of having a GMC Savana van

After getting this sorted, we quickly discovered more issues. The insurance brokers did not like the fact that:

  • GMC Savana vans are classed as a commercial vehicle automatically but we did not intend to use it for typical commercial purposes (i.e. plumber, electrician etc).
  • We are going to be converting the van rather than just using it as it is
  • It is our plan to be based in New Brunswick but travel all over Eastern Canada in the van, using it as our home on the road.
  • I work online and plan to continue doing so, using the van as an office and means of transportation to places that I will write content about
  • While JR had six years of insurance history in BC, I had none. ICBC did not allow ‘named’ drivers on insurance policies at the time. All of our vehicles had been insured under JR’s name since he drives 90% of the time.

To sum it up, we were an unusual, and therefore difficult, case. Some insurers refused to give us any kind of quote at all. Others had to spend a few days researching and clarifying before returning a $3k+ quote.

Interestingly enough, none of these factors were an issue in British Columbia. We paid a little extra for business coverage and that was about it. So there are some perks about having a government controlled insurance corporation…

For reference, we were paying around $2k annually in BC for fully comprehensive coverage and all my research had told me that New Brunswick was generally cheaper for insurance.

Plan B?

After striking out with several insurers, we started to wonder if we were going to be able to continue with our original plan at all.

The area we currently live in doesn’t actually have a whole lot of insurers and we were rapidly running through them. Reluctantly, we began to think about a Plan B.

  • Try a neighbouring province instead?
  • Go back to BC, where we knew we could get more affordable insurance?
  • Call it quits for now and go to Thailand for the rest of the winter….? (we really did consider this)

Before putting any one of these plans into action, we resolved to widen our search for brokers a little more. We eventually found ourselves JR’s hometown of Shippagan (population 2600), at the northernmost of the peninsula.

Again, we were told, they’d get back to us. Then it was a long weekend. Tuesday morning, we got the call – they’d insure us for $1400/year. Thank God for that!

Finally Registering our GMC Savana conversion van

The last hurdle was to register the vehicle at Service New Brunswick (SNB) and receive our new New Brunswick license plates. Easy, right? Mostly.

A van of this size seems to be in a bit of a grey area regarding whether it is probably classified as a regular car or truck when it comes to registration. In BC, the van was considered as a truck.

To clarify exactly what type of vehicle it is, SNB had to seek a second opinion. After a third opinion, we finally parted with $250 for our new license plates and registration.

Total cost for New Brunswick drivers licenses, insurance, inspection, registration and plates = just a shade under $2000, plus almost three weeks of effort. Vanlife isn’t always the easiest life….

GMC Savana Camper Conversion Empty Van

Starting the full conversion of our GMC Savana

Before moving to New Brunswick, we figured that starting the conversion wasn’t likely until April. Winter here is usually cold (-10c to -15c) and very snowy.

Having said that winter does seem to be waning. It is (apparently) a lot warmer for this time of year than usual. We may be able to start sooner than planned. JR has so far stripped the van (see photo above) and started taking measurements. Watch this space!

GMC Savana Camper Conversion Update 4: Crossing Canada in Winter! Also featuring the trials and tribulations of legally transferring a vehicle from British Columbia to New Brunswick. Spoiler: it wasn't fun.

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Sunday 14th of June 2020

Did I miss the description? I cannot tell if you have an extended or regular van. Currently shopping and interested if you fit everything into a regular wheelbase model.


Tuesday 16th of June 2020

It's just a regular wheelbase model GMC Savana 2500.


Sunday 24th of May 2020

We are looking at building our own van build (northern New Brunswick) Called for quotes and they were in the $4000 range. Which broker did you get your insurance youte with for your savana van.


Tuesday 26th of May 2020

Hi Vincent! We used Fairway, specifically the Shippagan office Prior to that, most of our quotes came up in the $4000 range too.