Van Fans: Best Model (MaxxAir or Fan-tastic?) + Install Guide

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Living in a van is a lot like living in a standard house. While you can manage with minimal appliances, there are a few amenities you simply cannot live without (such as van fans). Not only do vent fans keep you cool, but they also offer health benefits. In this article, we’ll provide all the information you need to pick the best fan for van life.

What Are Vent Fans?

MaxxAir Vent Fan
@maxxairvent on IG | Photo

Before we review fan models, it’s important to understand what exactly a vent/exhaust fan is. These fans are slightly different from regular fans — while they can still lower temperatures, their main function is to pull in odors, moisture and smoke, then vent (or expel) these substances outside.

A typical van fan uses a motor to propel its blades and pull in contaminated air. Once the air is captured, it’s forced out of the van through an exhaust vent. Most fans require electricity to power and can be controlled by a switch or remote.

Why Do I Need a Fan in my Van?

If you’re new to van life, you might be wondering: do I really need a van vent fan? The answer is, if you’re spending extended periods of time in your vehicle, a fan is an absolute-must. Here are the top benefits of van fans:

  • Comfort: Having a van ceiling fan will help keep you cool and comfortable when you’re travelling in the summer or through warm regions.
  • Breathability: If you cook in your van, you’ll notice that the interior can become smoky and odorous. Van exhaust fans help quickly remove fumes, making your van breathable.
  • Air circulation: Fans promote air circulation, which helps reduce allergies and ensure high air quality. Air circulation is especially important for those with asthma.
  • Moisture removal: By removing excess moisture in the air, van fans can prevent mold and rust (which helps protect your belongings).

Now that you know the benefits of roof fans for vans, it’s time to examine the different models available.

What Should I Look for in a Van Fan?

What Vent Fan should you look for your Van
@maxxairvent on IG | Photo

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to selecting a camper van fan — the best fan depends on your budgetary needs, as well as the features you’re looking for. Keep in mind that the more features you want, the more expensive the van-life fan will be. However, if you plan to spend a solid amount of time in your vehicle, the convenience of these features can be well worth the extra cost. Here are some top amenities to look out for.

Multi Directional Airflow

A fan that can oscillate and/or promote airflow in several directions will be more effective than a fan that blows air in one limited space. Not only does multi directional airflow keep fresh air circulating throughout your vehicle, but it also helps cool different areas.

Speed

Some fans will let you customize speed and choose between low, gentle cooling and high, powerful airflow. For example, you could leave the fan on a low setting during warm days, then crank it up to high speed when temperatures rise or while you’re cooking.

Electric Lid Opening

Many fans are concealed by a lid, which helps protect the fan and improve your van’s appearance. If you don’t want to reach up and remove the lid every time you want to use your van roof fan, an electric lid opening may appeal to you.

Remote Control

While some fans for camper vans require manually pulling a string, others can be conveniently controlled using a remote control. This lets you power the fan, adjust the speed and customize other settings from anywhere in your van.

Rain Shield

Rain shields, also called weather shields, provide an extra layer of protection around your van fan by shielding it from the elements (including wind and rain). With a rain shield, you can operate your fan while the windows are open.

Thermostat

When your van gets muggy or overly warm, the first thing you’ll want to do is turn on the van fan. However, if your fan comes with a thermostat, you don’t have to worry about manually powering it — the thermostat will automatically trigger the fan when temperatures get high.

What Is the Best Fan for Van Life?

When it comes to choosing the best van fan, there’s no universal answer — it depends on your budget and preferences. However, most van owners agree that MaxxAir is one of the best brands out there. Since 1988, MaxxAir has been producing high-quality, effective roof vent fans for vans of all shapes and sizes. Most of their models include the following features:

  • Low power pull: MaxxAir van fans help conserve power; the lowest speed pulls around 0.23 amps, while the highest speed pulls 4.2 amps.
  • Vent covers: The brand offers its own vent covers, which are made of high-density polyethylene and help shield the fan from rain and moisture.
  • UV inhibitors: UV inhibitors can extend the lifespan of fans by limiting damage caused by ultraviolet light.

While they share several features in common, each MaxxAir van fan brings its own unique benefits. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the different models.

5301K/6401K MaxxAir Fan

5301K6401K MaxxAir Fan for your Van
@maxxairvent on IG | Photo

The 5301K/6401K fans are part of MaxxAir’s deluxe line. They offer the same functionality, but differ in color (the 5301K is white, while the 6401K is smoke-colored). Top features include:

  • Four different speeds
  • Manual lid opening
  • Built-in rain shield

With four speed settings, this model is highly customizable. On the downside, it doesn’t have a remote control option, which can be inconvenient. Overall, the 5301K/6401K is the best campervan fan for vanlifers who are on a budget. It has a respectable amount of features and can be purchased for less than $200.

5100K/6200K MaxxAir Fan

5100K6200K MaxxAir Fan for your Van
@maxxairvent on IG | Photo

The 5100K (white) and 6200K (smoke) MaxxAir fans for vans are loaded with tons of amenities, resulting in high-quality, powerful cooling capabilities. Top features include:

  • 10 speed options
  • Manual lid opening
  • Thermostat
  • Built-in rain shield
  • Multi directional airflow (intake and exhaust)

The only thing this model is missing is a remote control option and electric lid opening. In terms of costs, this van fan can set you back as much as $300. While it’s a bit on the pricey side, it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking for a model with lots of features.

7000K/7500K MaxxAir Fan

7000K7500K MaxxAir Fan for your Van
@suzie_avanturiere on IG | Photo

The 7000K (white)/75000K (smoke) MaxxAir fan is one of the best vent fans for vans out there. It comes with all the bells and whistles you could imagine, including these features:

  • 10 speeds
  • Electric lid opening
  • Thermostat
  • Build-in rain shield
  • Multi directional airflow (intake and exhaust)
  • Remote control option

The multiple speed options let you customize the fan power to your liking, while the electric lid opening and remote control facilitate ease-of-use. Meanwhile, the rain shield helps keep your van life fan safe and sound. At a cost of just under $350, this fan is one of the brand’s most expensive models. It’s best for van owners who are willing to splurge on a high-quality, functional van fan.

What Other Van Fan Options Are There?

While MaxxAir Fan is known for offering some of the best 12v fans for camper vans, it’s not the only brand on the market. Here are a couple of other major campervan roof fan models.

Fan-tastic Vent 3350

Fan-tastic Vent 3350 Van Fan
@vikivandering on IG | Photo

The Fan-tastic Vent 3350 roof ventilation fan for vans by Dometic is an excellent alternative to the MaxxAir fan. It comes with an abundance of features, including the following:

  • Three speed options
  • Thermostat
  • Automatic rain sensor
  • Multi directional airflow

Like most MaxAirr Fans, this model offers multiple speed options and quality airflow. However, the real highlight is the automatic rain sensor, which triggers a shield the second it detects moisture. The only drawback is the price — it will set you back a hefty $350.

Hike Crew 11′

Hike Crew 11' Fan Vent for Van
@redemptionbus on IG | Photo

If you’re looking for a high-quality fan for a reasonable price, the Hike Crew 11″ van roof vent fan fits the bill. It’s extremely affordable at a price point of just over $100. Furthermore, it offers plenty of quality features, such as the following:

  • Remote and manual operation
  • Multi directional airflow (intake and exhaust)
  • Manual lid opening
  • Rain shield

While the Hike Crew 11″ is a great fan for the cost, it does have a few negative qualities; there’s only one speed option, and many users remark that it breaks down faster than other brands. It’s best for those who live in their vans part-time or need a temporary solution.

Automatic 12″ RV Vent Fan

Automatic 12″ RV Vent Fan for Van
@themidlifevanlife on IG | Photo

This Automatic 12″ RV camper van ventilation fan stands out due to its strong noise reduction capabilities. It uses an ultra-low noise and brushless motor system to help ensure your fan remains cool, quiet and comfortable. Other features include:

  • Automatic rain sensor
  • Reversible ventilation
  • Remote control option
  • Translucent smoke lid
  • Four speed options

In addition to providing these amenities, the fan is reasonably priced at under $200. However, it’s not suitable for all van types — if you’re interested, be sure your vehicle meets the recommended roof thickness guidelines before making an investment.

How to Install a Van Fan

Once you’ve settled on a fan that meets your needs, the next step is to install it into your campervan. Although you can hire a professional to do this, handling the installation yourself helps cut down on costs. Here’s how to complete a successful installation.

Step 1: Choose a Location

Choose a location for your Vent Fan
@nomad.vanture on IG | Photo

The first thing you must do is choose a location for your fan. Typically, it should go somewhere on your roof (either inside or outside). To help decide on an exact spot, consider the following factors:

  • Size: Nearly all vent fans are 14″ x 14″ — you’ll need enough available space to support these dimensions.
  • Airflow: For the best air circulation, avoid placing your fan too close to a window. An open window already provides fresh air; thus, putting your vent fan a short distance away will help maximize the circulation.
  • Van layout: Some vans may have gaps in the roof that are designed specifically for fans. Others will require you to cut out your own gap — make sure there aren’t any thick support ribs underneath your chosen cutting spot.

If you don’t have a pre-cut space for your fan, the easiest way to determine a good location is by examining the van windows. For instance, if you have rear windows, you’re probably better off installing the fan closer to the front of the van.

Step 2: Cut the Fan Opening

Cut the Fan Opening for your Vent Fan
@ourtinproject on IG | Photo

The next step is to cut out an opening for your fan (of course, if you already have one, you can skip this step). The first thing you should do is clean your van’s ceiling; use a cloth to wipe off any dirt or grime. Once the area is clean, follow these steps:

  • Gather your supplies: The easiest way to cut out a fan opening is by using a jigsaw. However, another type of saw or even hand sheers will also get the job done.
  • Create a template: Using cardboard, cut out a 14″ x 14″ template that matches the dimensions of your van fan. Then, tape this to the roof.
  • Drill holes: Take a drill, then make holes at each corner of your template.
  • Cut out the template: Use the saw to connect the dots you’ve made and cut out the template. Try to make your cuts as smooth and even as possible.

After the opening is cut out, use a metal file to smooth out the edges — this will make it easier to complete the installation. You may also want to paint the edges, which helps conceal the metal and prevent rusting.

Step 3: Waterproof the Opening

Waterproof the Opening for your Vent Fan
@thinkitbuildit on IG | Photo

Now that your opening is prepared, you can install the flange (or a plastic frame that will support your fan). You’ll also have to waterproof the opening to prevent moisture from damaging your fan. Start by collecting these supplies:

  • Drill
  • Clamps
  • Lap sealant
  • Butyl tape

To attach the flange, you need to drill holes into place, then attach screws to the holes. The easiest way to do this is by using the flange as a template. Clamp the flange into the opening, then drill holes along it.

Before you start screwing the flange into place, you must waterproof the area. Remove the clamps and flange, then apply the butyl tape along the perimeter. This will act as a barrier against moisture and help keep the area dry.

Once you’ve applied the tape, put the flange back into the opening and screw it in. Finally, finish the project by putting sealant around the flange.

Step 4: Screw the Fan In

Screw the Fan In your Van
@nomad.vanture on IG | Photo

Waterproofing the opening is arguably the most difficult part of the installation process. Once that’s done, it’s relatively easy to attach the van fan. The flange will have connection points for you to screw the fan to — just a few simple screws, and you’re good to go!

If you’re unsure how to screw the fan in, it’s helpful to consult an online diagram of roof vent fans for vans. Generally, the top part of the fan should be screwed into the base of the opening. The vent should protrude outside, where it will propel any contaminated, unwanted air.

Step 5: Attach Any Extra Amenities

Attach Any Extra Amenities to your Vent Fan
@thinkitbuildit on IG | Photo

Depending on the van fan you’ve purchased, there may be extra amenities to install (such as a vent cover or rain shield). The brand should provide clear instructions on how to attach these elements (it usually involves using nuts and bolts).

Step 6: Connect the Fan to Power

Connect the Fan to Power
@finallyhome.dk on IG | Photo

Before you can actually enjoy the benefits of your van fan, you need to connect it to a power source. While the wiring steps vary depending on the fan model, most fans (such as MaxxAir fans) feature two wires: a red one and a black one. Start by wiring them to a 12v panel, then connect the panel to your batteries. If the wires are not long enough, extend them using butt connectors.

After the wiring is complete, test the fan’s function by turning it on. Ideally, you’ll end up with a high-quality, powerful fan that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Can You Drive a Van with the Fan On?

Now that your new van fan is installed, it’s time to start using it. Since the fan is attached to the van roof, you might be wondering: is it okay to drive while the fan is on? The answer is, as long as you have a quality fan and have performed a proper installation, it’s perfectly fine to drive while the fan is operating. However, to stay on the safe side, be aware of the following:

  • Lid: If your fan has a lid, make sure it’s not too far open while driving — otherwise, it could fly off.
  • Freeways: Driving on a highway or freeway while the roof vent is open could cause damage (due to the high speeds).
  • Weather: While rain shields help protect against moisture, extreme weather conditions (such as harsh winds) can inflict damage upon your fan.

As long as you watch out for these issues, there’s no reason why you can’t drive while your roof vent is open.

What’s the Best Van Fan for You?

There’s no denying the benefits of a campervan vent fan. In addition to lowering temperatures, fans keep you healthy by reducing allergens, promoting circulation and discouraging mold growth. In other words, you’ll definitely want one for your van conversion.

Choosing a van fan comes down to your personal preferences. How much are you willing to spend? What special features are you looking for? While a MaxxAir fan for vans can generally satisfy most needs, there are no shortage of brands out there. If you have any questions about finding, buying or installing a van fan, don’t hesitate to reach out!

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