How to Secure Racking in a Van

Here is how to secure racking in a van: 

  1. Install a plywood base for fixing units.
  1. Fasten units properly using screws and washers. 
  1. Use carriage bolts to hold the shelves firmly. 
  1. Fix battens using small bolts. 
  1. Secure units to metal ribs using rivnuts. 
  1. Use metal brackets to hold racking firmly. 
  1. Use pocket hole screws and adhesive. 

A cargo van that looks like​ ​​its contents​ exploded inside it isn’t fun, nor is it safe.  

But with proper racking, you’ll be more organized, focused, professional-looking, safe, and likely enjoy your trade. 

In this detailed guide, I’ll walk you through how to secure racking in your van, the key considerations for doing it, and how to stop tools from sliding and crashing once it’s done. Let’s dive in. 


The Tips For Securing Racking In a Van 

This is how to secure racking in your van, whether you’re using metal or wood: 


1. Install a Plywood Base For Fixing Units 

​​Cut out 4✕8 plywood according to the floor area of your van, and lay it down to form a foundational bed (or false floor) for attaching the entire racking unit. ​ 

A good tip is to lay the ply base in sections and create removable panels that allow future modifications. 

Bevel all corners and sharp edges of the ply to allow easy fitting. 

By replacing the wheel arch covers with 1/2 or 3/4  inch ply, you form another support and fixing surface. 

Pro Tip: It’s good to pick a van with a high roof if you’ll need to adjust the height of the ply floor. 


2. Fasten Units Properly Using Screws and Washers 

Once you’ve assembled the racking units, place flat washers on the fastening points before you drive down screws. 

Even if you find holes that fit the screw shank just perfectly, it’s still a good idea to use washers as they distribute pressure evenly, stop the screws from moving, and prevent them from sinking into the bound surface. 

Also, use screws that are long enough to reach the fixing surface, so you minimize risks of water penetration and rust. 


3. Use Carriage Bolts To Secure Shelves Firmly 

Most vans have “upfitter points”, which are essentially nuts that are spot-welded into the frame, and you can easily use bolts to secure cabinets through these points. 

Suppose you’re working on a Ford Transit 350 High Roof, for example, you’ll find about 8 to 10 of these points on each side. 

If you can’t find enough of them, you can spot-weld M8 nuts in alignment with 8 mm holes on the vertical metal ribs. 

Having done that, simply run M8 carriage bolts with big washers on their heads through the rear supporting frame of your racking and into the vertical ribs of the van. 


4. Fix Battens Using Small Bolts 

It’s easy to exhaust the fixing points on your van’s metal ribs, so fix wooden battens onto the ribs and walls using smaller bolts like the M6 type. 

The battens provide a firm fixing surface when secured with bolts and nuts rather than self-tappers. 

If you fixed enough ribs to the back panel of your cabinet for strength and support, simply install the cabinet as a single unit on the wall battens. 


5. Secure Units To Metal Ribs Using Rivnuts 

Carriage bolts and nuts come in handy, but you’ll find cases where you can’t get to the back of the ribs to install a standard nut onto a bolt. 

That’s where you’ll need rivet nuts, or rivnuts for short. If you’ve never handled rivnuts before, you can easily insert them straight through the holes on the van walls using a rivnut tool.  

Afterwards, fasten the cabinets to the walls using bolts that go into the rivnuts. 

Notably, rivnuts provide a stronger mechanical connection than self-tappers, which would pull right out in a high-impact accident or gradually under load. 


6. Install Metal Brackets To Hold Racking Firmly 

Bend metal brackets appropriately so they align with your van and use them to secure shelving using at least two points. 

For example, you can fix a bracket through a screw port near the back of the van and fasten it to the back of a top shelf.  

You can then use another bracket to fasten the opposite end of the shelf and one more to secure its middle portion to a roof rib. 


7. Use Pocket Hole Screws & Adhesive 

You can install extra vertical supports for your shelving using 3/4-inch ply with pocket holes.  

Before you fix the supports, however, be sure to secure battens on the roof and side ribs where the pocket screws will go into. 

You’ll then fix the vertical supports firmly to the floor, roof, and walls using pocket hole screws and suitable adhesive like Sika EBT for the joints. 

Using Sika EBT together with the pocket hole joinery increases the load-bearing capacity of the supports, and it can still take paint. 

Pro Tip: While you may be tempted to use silicone as a cheaper alternative, the joints will fail after constant rattling and shaking in your van. 


The Key Factors For Securing Van Racking 

Securing van racking needs thoughtfulness, research, and meaningful planning, so you get and set things right. 

Here are the main considerations for securing the racking in a van: 


1. Identify Exactly What Needs to Be Fixed 

Before you even start sketching blueprints, figure out what items you’ll actually be carrying, so you get an      accurate idea of how to fix storage features. 

You could clear out your van and grab detailed photos, so you have a blank canvas for everything, then start measuring interior dimensions. 

As you get a rough idea of how everything will be secured in place, bear in mind the items that will need extra protection or waterproofing. 


2. Check How Racking Affects Your Insurance 

Consider it a heads-up to contact your insurers before committing to a build.  

If you secure racks inappropriately or in a manner that violates safety standards, you could negatively affect your van insurance policy. 

And if you’re an employer tasked with the racking, it could take a toll on your employee liability insurance. 


3. Choose a Simple Racking Design 

In choosing your preferred layout, bounce ideas around before settling on a basic design. 

Check the inventory of tools and equipment you use both regularly and occasionally. Plan the design according to your trade, workflow, what you’ll use, and in what order. 

You may find removable shelves convenient for loading and unloading your van, just as you’d like a swiveling cabinet or a sliding partition. 

But the more moving parts you have, the more complicated things become, and the more likely you’ll put up with it being hard to maintain. 

Remember, there’s only so much space in your van, and your plans should factor in clearance space above everything. 


4. Secure Heavier Racking Material More Firmly 

The most common shelving materials include wood, metal, and composites. 

Understandably, your choice of van racking material depends on the following factors among others: 

  • Budget 
  • Your van’s GVWR 
  • The tools you use 
  • The space you need 
  • Where you drive 

Heavier racking material needs to be secured more strongly to avoid pulling out gradually even without load. 

Also, be mindful of the weight so that you don’t compromise safety and fuel consumption. 


5. The Van’s Weight Distribution Must Still Balance       

Remember, each additional load increases your van’s weight, which influences its overall performance and long-term reliability. 

If you must use heavier materials for racking and will carry heavy items, ensure the weight is evenly distributed along the van’s width and length. 

Otherwise, I can’t help but think you’ll be hauling a dangerous mini-workshop that can send your van tipping and crashing when you drive it. 


6. Consult an Expert If In Doubt 

Whether you’re an engineering veteran or a newbie simply looking to save bucks with DIY, you can’t go wrong asking an expert about your options when something’s unclear. 


How to Stop Tools From Sliding in a Van 

While you may have fixed your racking firmly in place, moving items could still be an issue. 

Here are four simple ways to stop tools from sliding and crashing inside a van: 

  • Put shelf upstands 
  • Use back-angled shelves 
  • Use cut-outs 
  • Use Miller dowels 

You might find yourself combining two methods or employing all.  

Back-angling shelves, something like 10 degrees, work great for soft tool bags. For crates and toolboxes, you might end up with point loads that produce irritating squeaks.  

Upstands at the shelf edges and recesses cut out into ply (for tools that don’t come in boxes) are also useful, but they eat up the vertical space for other boxes. 

Perhaps the greatest option is to go with a flat shelf with 10 mm through-holes for Miller dowels. And if you can’t find Miller dowels, improvise your dowels. 

Dowels can replace upstands without sacrificing vertical space and shelf width, especially if they’re removable. 


Final Thoughts 

There’s no perfect fit-for-all setup for securing the racking in a van, and the more custom you go, the better.  

Just remember, getting things right will help you save time and energy on the job, and I bet you’ll enjoy increased safety and productivity.