What Is a Van Upfit & Why Do I Need One?

Posted by Kevin Prior on

Your work van – it’s your workshop on wheels. And just like your workshop –maybe even more so – it needs to be organized. If you have tools and equipment rolling around in the back of your van, it not only takes more time to find what you need, it can also be a driver distraction and a safety hazard. Plus, it makes a less-than-professional first impression.

How can you wrangle all the free-range equipment and supplies that have taken over your cargo area? That is a job for a van upfit!

What is a Van Upfit?

A van upfit is a professional storage system for your work van. It provides storage areas for everything you need on the job – from tools to small supplies, even to large tanks – upfits keep everything in place, easy to find, and ready when you need it.

But a van upfit – a well-designed and usable upfit – isn’t a one-size-fits-all product. It’s designed around the trades professional who’ll be using it. The ideal upfit for an electrician won’t work well for a painter or a general contractor (which is why we carry several trade packages). Even within a trade, different professionals will have different needs, and their needs may differ from job to job, so a good upfit needs to be flexible enough to accommodate those changing needs.

How do you find an upfit that works for you and your business? You start with a plan.

A Great Upfit Starts with a Great Plan

Sounds great, but where do you start? Ask yourself 4 key questions:

  1. How will the upfit be used?

Will you need access to heavy/bulky items? Will you need curbside or back access (or both)? What are your most frequently used tools and supplies? What about security – will you need locking storage or window grates? Think about your most frequent types of jobs and any cargo storage difficulties you’ve faced in the past. This information will help you develop a wish list for your upfit components.

  1. Who will be using the upfit? Will it be one person or multiple people?

If multiple people will be using the upfit, keeping items visible (or well labeled) and accessible will maximize efficiency.

  1. How much flexibility do you need in organization? Will you take the same equipment and supplies to every jobsite, or will it vary based on the project?

If your cargo frequently changes, consider highly adjustable upfit components, like adjustable van shelving, which offers:

Easy adjustability – shelves can be adjusted with a screwdriver. Remove two bolts from the speed nut clips that come with the shelf, tilt the shelf upwards, move the shelf to your desired location, insert the rear shelf studs, reattach the bolts, and you’re done!

Flexible positioning – Rail systems enable you to reposition the shelving in the van, increasing the available space for trade-specific equipment. And it can all be done without removing bolts, plugging holes and re-drilling the van.

A perfect fit – Adjustable shelving units are designed specifically for your vehicle, so they fit perfectly and make the most of the space inside your van.

Plenty of room for growth – change your shelving system as your job requirements, tools, equipment, needs change. There are plenty of accessories to choose from, including:

  • Safety equipment
  • Portable parts case holders
  • Step stools
  • Parts trays
  • Reel holders
  • Cargo straps
  • Door storage
  • Hard hat holder
  • Door tray lids
  • Aerosol can tray
  • Hooks
  1. How long do you plan on using your upfit? Will your needs be changing soon?

A solid, well planned upfit can last a decade or more, so it’s important to carefully consider how your needs may change to get the maximum return on your upfit investment.

It Takes Safety & Payload into Account, too.

Besides how well the upfit will work for you and your business, another important factor is how it will impact your van’s safety standards and payload capacity.

You can find the safety standards for your van in the owner’s manual or through the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations.

Figuring out your van’s payload capacity is important for road and jobsite weight restrictions; it will determine how much cargo you can carry, including the weight of the upfit. Here’s how to calculate it:


  • Gross vehicle weight rating is simply the maximum allowable weight of an entire vehicle when it’s packed up and ready to go – that includes the weight of the vehicle itself, all the necessary fluids for operation (gasoline, diesel, oil and so on) and any cargo, passengers, and tools. A vehicle’s GVWR is calculated by its manufacturer, and you can typically find it in your owner’s manual or on the vehicle’s doorframe, near the door latch. You might also find your vehicle’s GVWR on websites that list these numbers.
  • Curb weight is simply how much the vehicle weighs on its own, without any cargo or passengers. This measurement includes a full tank of gas and any other fluids that keep a car running.
  • So, a vehicle’s payload capacity – the amount of stuff it can safely carry after you’ve filled up the tank with gas and topped off the fluids – is just a matter of subtraction.

The Best Way to Purchase an Upfit

When you’re ready to purchase your upfit, plan to purchase it from a single manufacturer. Why? Because upfit components are created to fit together; purchasing bits and pieces from different manufacturers may save a little here and there, but chances are, they won’t fit together seamlessly (or, in some cases, easily). 

Do your research. Find a manufacturer with a solid track record and good reviews. Look for the quality of workmanship, what types of materials they use, their lead time, and their warranty. For the best fit, find upfits that are made for your van, not a one-size-fits-all kit. But don’t stop there – research installers, too. Make sure the one you choose knows your industry and is certified to install and maintain your upfit. Finally, thoroughly the spec quotes before purchase and installation to avoid unpleasant, after-the-fact surprises.

Here at American Ladders & Scaffolds we have done the research for you! We only use top quality brands such as Adrian Steel, Ranger Design, and Weatherguard. We have upfit over one million vehicles in our 60 plus years of business and have leveraged that expertise in engineering our innovative product line. Our strong reputation in the industry is matched only by our resolve to offer the best lead times and highest quality product. Our van equipment is made to last, and it shows!


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