How To Fix Van Racking

Whether it’s a new van or an old one, you might have reached a point where you need to maximize your van’s cargo-carrying potential. Or you might be having a rough time finding that one screw or tool that you’re sure is in the van, but you can’t locate.  

Van racking is one way to improve on this- whether you’re an electrician, plumber, chef, or carpenter. It provides improved tool safety, better organization, ease of access, and improved productivity. 

However, before you decide on the racking system to install in your van, you should do some research: 

  • The type of van 
  • The items being transported 
  • The weight of the van racking system 
  • The cost of the racking system 
  • The flexibility of your racking system 

After that, follow the steps listed below to fix your van’s racking system 

  • Map out the van’s floor 
  • Install plywood flooring 
  • Fill the gaps on the floor edges 
  • Identify the fixing points 
  • Mark out your van’s floor 
  • Fix 3/4-inch plywood to the roof and wall ribs 
  • Fix your rack to the fixing points 
  •  Attach horizontal plywood for the shelves 
  • Attach the ceiling planks to the roof ribs       

If you’ve been planning on racking out your van, then what are you waiting for before starting? 

This article has all you need to fix your van racking successfully. Read on. 


Tools You Might Need to Fix Your Van Racking 

  • Spirit level  
  • Impact driver and drill 
  • Hammer/ Mallet 
  • Chisel/ Gouge 
  • Circular saw 
  • Pocket screws 
  • A cardboard box 


How To Fix Your Van Racking 

Now that you’re well equipped with the basic technical know-how, we can then go into fixing your van racking system.  

Most DIYs prefer wooden racking systems, and that’s what I’ll be talking about in this section. 

  • Map out the van’s floor 

You can use cardboard to help you map out your van’s floor before installing the plywood floor. Ensure to leave enough room for a better tool or item accessibility/ enough workspace depending on your van’s racking needs. 

  • Install the plywood flooring  

Apply an adhesive such as Loctite Foamboard Adhesive beforehand to hold your 1/2 – 3/4 inch plywood to the van floor. Additionally, you can screw your plywood to the van floor for additional support.  

A solid plywood flooring provides a fixing surface for your racks and prevents your van floor from being dented by heavier items.  

Birch plywood is the best for van flooring due to its superior screw holding and strength.  

  • Cover up the gaps on the floor edges  

Use an insulating foam sealant to cover the small cracks and crevices left between the floor edges and the walls.  

Filling up the edges also helps improve the insulation of your van’s cargo bay. 

  • Identify the fixing points  

The bulkhead, roof and wall ribs, strengthened wheel arches, and the floor bed will serve as your fixing points.  

If you don’t have a bulkhead, you should install one to isolate the cab from the cargo area. 

  • Mark out your van floor  

Having measured the size of your items, use a tape measure to transfer the exact dimensions on the floor, and then mark out the fixing points for your main rack rails.  

You can use a marker pen to mark the points on the floor to avoid mixing up when installing the rails. 

  • Fix 3/4 inch plywood boards to the roof and wall ribs  

Attaching plywood ribs to the ceiling provides you with fixing points for the vertical rack rails. You must install the panels since you might not want to drill your roof ribs excessively.  

It also offers you greater flexibility when fixing your racks. Additionally, you can run two plywood boards along the roof ribs for additional fixing points. 

  • Fix your rack frame to your fixing points  

Attach your vertical rack rails to the floor, wall, and roof ribs using screws and adhesives. 

Ensure to use finished solid 3/4 inch plywood sheets for the vertical rails. You’ll use a spirit level to ensure that your rack frame is perpendicular to your van floor.  

  • Screw your horizontal plywood sheets/ shelves to your vertical rails 

Here, you’ll need to know the exact heights of your tool storage and systainers to partition your columns. Remember to leave some room between the top surface of your item storage and the lower level of the subsequent shelf/drawer. 

Furthermore, your columns may be wider than most systainers, given that they’re based on the broader and heavier items placed on the van bed.  

Use pocket screws to attach the horizontal partitions to the columns to form shelves. 

  • Use adhesive to fix the ceiling planks to the roof ribs  

You might need to cover up your roof ribs, and using ceiling planks is an excellent idea. 

Shiplap, plywood, tongue and groove, and wood ceilings are some of the van ceiling alternatives you can pick from for your van’s internal roof. 


Best Wood for Van Racking 

Plywood is a top choice for wood van racking as it is strong, cheap, easy to work with, and light. It rivals some hardwood alternatives out here, but a hardwood racking system adds so much weight to your van that it reduces your van’s payload.  

Birch plywood is the best wood material for your racking system. It’s smooth, strong, and doesn’t have jagged edges or knots making it very durable and not prone to cracking or splintering.  

However, birch wood is prone to insect and fungal infestation. Seal and inspect your birch racking system periodically for any infestations. 

A cheaper alternative to birch is Chinese plywood. It’s weaker and less durable but a good alternative to birch. If you don’t need to carry heavy items in your van, then a Chinese plywood racking system will do the job. 


Best Ideas To Rack Your Van’s Side Door Space 

Building a functional and practical racking system for your van wouldn’t be challenging once you’ve gone through this article. However, building a racking system along both van walls means that they’ll come across your van door, making it harder to get into and out of the van.  

Should you shut it off? No, that’s an amateur move. Instead, employ the ideas listed below to make maximum use of your van’s space. 


Build a Side Door Shelving That’s Accessible From the Inside and Outside of the Van 

You’ll use the same van racking frame used in your van’s interior to support the side door shelves. The only difference is that the side door shelves are accessible from both the inside and outside of the van.  

And even as van side doors vary in width, such as Nissan NV’s 41.7 inches to Ford Transit’s 51.2 inches, the width is sufficient to install two or more columns.  

Make the shelves fit your specific toolboxes for tools or items you use frequently. You’ll place the heavier tools or objects on the lower shelves and the lightest items higher on the side door racks.  

Secondly, you’ll have to reinforce the racking frame with 1/2 to 3/4 inch plywood to improve the structural integrity of the shelving.  

You can back-angle the side door shelving or provide them with edges to prevent items from falling over or denting the side door. 


Build the Side Door Shelving on a Swivel 

Alternatively, you can opt to build the shelving on a swivel to enable you to access the items or tools from the inside too.  

However, we don’t recommend this type of installation as it occupies more space than necessary.  

Also, you’ll need to have a locking system to restrict the shelving from rotating while driving.  


Cargo Hierarchy Tips to Successfully Fix Your Van Racking 

I can guess you have a lot of tools or items that you need to organize in your van. Some of the cargo may occupy less space but is heavy, while others are bulky and lightweight. 

Also, it’s safe to assume that you have some items/ tools that you use frequently and others that you rarely use. 

You will also need to use the most frequently used items to be easily accessible from the door.  

Cargo hierarchy is fundamental when planning and organizing your van for racking. 

Listed below are some steps you’ll take to rack your van successfully. 

  • Figure out what tools you’ve got in your van 

Figuring out the items to transport in your van helps immensely in deciding your van’s racking system layout.  

And since you might not have a clue on the exact sizes of your items or tools and their storage, you must take them out of the van first. You’ll then measure and weigh them to determine the strength of the racking material and the spacing needed. 

  • Build your racks around the more oversized items  

Racking involves building horizontal and vertical cabinets/ shelves around vertical rack rails.  

And since you’ll need your racking system to be solid and durable, I would recommend having straight one-piece vertical rails that are screwed to the roof ribs and to the floor. 

Measure the size of your bigger items, such as tool vaults, and use their width to determine your vertical rail rack positions. You can then fill in with the smaller items and storage containers. 

  • Build out your racking from the floor  

It’s pretty challenging to know the exact dimensioning of your van floor, given that van floors are irregular-shaped. Measure out your van’s bed if you prefer to add plywood flooring (which I highly recommend).  

To reduce the hassle around your van’s wheel wells, place a cardboard box horizontally to your van floor and map out the bed. You’ll then cut it out and use the obtained shape to cut out your 3/4 inch plywood. 

  • Place the heaviest items on the van bed  

Structure your van racking system so that the heaviest items are placed on the van floor. 

It would be best to place the lightest ones highest on the racks to maintain your van’s balance and stability. 


Wood Vs. Aluminum Vs. Steel Racking Systems 

The material you use for your van racking is vital since the racking system used should not add a significant amount of weight to your van. The extra weight from the rackings lowers the cargo you can carry without exceeding the van’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)

Therefore, the common racking materials are wood, aluminum, hardened plastics, and steel. Hardened plastics are the weakest and are mainly used to make cabinets or shelves.  

For steel, aluminum, and wood, you need to consider the one that has the best strength, suits your purpose for racking, has better durability, and occupies less space. 

Listed below are some essential considerations you need to know before settling on a specific van racking material. 

  • Cost 

Most DIY van rackers prefer wood racking as it’s the cheapest amongst the three to acquire and assemble. And, when constructed well, wood racks are very rigid and durable.  

However, wooden racks are prone to moisture damage and weaken over time if they hold heavy items. 

Steel is more robust and durable compared to aluminum and wood. However, it’s heavier, costlier, and prone to rusting when exposed to moisture. 

Aluminum is the best racking material as it’s lighter than steel, stronger than wood, and occupies less space when compared to both wood and hardened plastic.  

On the downside, most aluminum racks are designed for modular systems and may not suit you if you have unique van racking designs. If you wish to stick with steel or aluminum, you can contact a van racking company to design a specific one to suit your van.  

Doing so is costly, and you might have to spend more money to acquire one. 

  • Weight 

Wooden racks are heavier than aluminum and steel racking systems.  

If you opt for wood racks, you should go for 1/2 – 3/4 inch plywood to offer solid support for heavier items. After designing your racking system, consider the material that contributes the least to your van’s payload.  

You will be subject to legal problems once you exceed your local gross vehicle weight rating. The extra weight will also affect your van’s performance and fuel consumption. 

  • Versatility 

Metal cabinets offer the best versatility, while wood provides the least.  

You might want to use your racking system for future vans or maybe transfer it between your vans. For such a purpose, a fully modular metal racking system will suit you better as some modular systems are fully reusable.  

However, plywood racking systems lose their structural strengths when drilled during multiple installations. 

If you prefer a rigid, permanent, one-time-solution racking system, go for wood as it is cheaper. Its downside is that it offers limited versatility since you’ll have to drill the wood each time you’re installing a new racking.  

Drilling the wood on multiple occasions lowers its structural integrity. 

  • Durability 

The durability of your racking system depends on factors such as its type of installation, frequency of use, and the material used.  

To a lesser extent, wood racking is less durable than metal racking, but wood racking systems are very stable when well designed and constructed.  

Its durability is dependent on the type and strength of the wood used. Some hardwood racking systems are durable and robust enough to support heavier items and tool systainers. 

Nevertheless, cheap wood alternatives such as the CDX plywood will break under intense cargo-loading stress.   

Pro tip: Some modified van insurance cover providers require racking systems that have been tested and certified to be installed on the vans.  

Any racks that lower the van’s stability, structural strength or pose hazards to the driver and other road users are not covered.  

Ensure to consult with your insurer before settling on the racking system. 


Safeguarding Your Items on the Racks from Crashing to the Floor 

Item safety and care are paramount if you need to keep your tools in excellent condition over extended periods.  

When racking out your van, you wouldn’t want your items or cargo flying out when negotiating a corner.  

The three most common methods to safeguard your items from falling over are listed below. 

  • Shelf upstands or cutouts  

The shelf cutouts are perfect for tool systainers or tool storage that have legs. You’ll use a chisel, or gouge and a mallet, to cut out sufficient room to allow the tool storage or items to sit on the shelving floor.  

On the other hand, shelf upstands “lock” the items, preventing them from sliding out of the shelves. 

  • Using dowels  

Dowels work in the same way as shelf upstands, but they’re more efficient. To install dowels, you’ll need to place your items on the shelf and map out the drilling points.  

Drill 10 mm holes or any other size of holes as long as the dowels are rigid enough not to fly out, but not too tight that they’re hard to remove. 

  • Back-angling the shelves  

Back-angling the shelves by no more than 10 degrees is another alternative for bags and softer items.  

However, back-angled shelves are not ideal for heavier items. 

They’re squeaky when heavily loaded as back angling doesn’t distribute the weight of the items uniformly throughout the shelf.  

The back-angled shelves usually have a loading point towards the back of the shelf and are only used for lighter loads. 


Van Racking Affects Van Insurance Policies 

If you’ve modified your van to include a van racking system, the traditional insurance policy won’t cover your vehicle. Instead, go for a revised van insurance policy covering all additional modifications to your van. 

The reason is that racking a van is classified under modifications that might affect a van’s safety, stability, and performance. Any damage to your van that results from the modifications are not covered in the traditional insurance cover.  

Therefore, inform your insurance provider before modifying to ensure that the changes are incorporated in the modified van insurance policy. 


Van Insurance Rates Are Higher For Racked Vans 

If you’ve installed a racking system in your van, it’s more likely that your insurance prices will be higher. The prices of different van racking systems differ a lot, but overall they increase a van’s value.  

Some van modifications such as installing a dashcam, telematics device (black box), and fitting a tow bar lower the insurance premium. 

Insurance providers have concluded that van owners that have altered their vans to improve their performance or cargo-carrying capacities are more likely to file for claims. It is so because van modifications are more likely to lure thieves to the vans. 

However, van racking is riskier to insurance providers as it adds minimal or no extra safety to the car. If the van is stolen or involved in an accident, the loss incurred will be higher, forcing an insurer to pay out more money. 

Secondly, heavy loads placed on the roof racking will affect the vehicle’s stability, acceleration, braking, and increase its fuel consumption. Furthermore, it exposes the van to a greater danger of rollover from crosswinds.  

Pro tip: Since van racking systems have different valuations, you must declare all present and future modifications to your insurer. If you fail to do so, you run the risk of having your insurance cover voided for failure to declare the modifications. 



Don’t assume that racking your van is a straightforward exercise that requires little expertise. It’s a task that needs deliberate and gradual planning to prevent you from making costly mistakes that may waste more resources to correct. 

Some racking systems that include powering devices such as those that serve electricians may require special installation knowledge.  

If in doubt, consult relevant parties or experts. Otherwise, you’ll be endangering your life plus that of others. 

Luckily for you, I’ve covered, in great detail, everything you need to know about fixing your van racking and its implications on your van’s insurance premium.