Van accessories: choosing the right extras for your van

Choosing the right racking, shelving, storage, protection and security for your van

So you've bought the perfect van of your dreams (or at least the van for your business needs) but is there something missing from it? You can't always get everything you need in the van you buy, and if you buy a used van, then you might need to add some kit to make it suitable for your line of work. That's where the van accessories market comes into play.

Accessories for vans can cover a wide range of needs. If you've bought a basic van, then you might want to consider a full conversion to tailor it better around the type of usage you have planned. That’s a significant investment, however, and there’s a whole market for van accessories that allow you to better protect and secure your van, or make it more practical for your business, without spending a fortune.

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So in terms of van accessories, there is a vast range available to get any van up to spec. There are extras that can boost the carrying capacity of a van, improve security, or even make a van look more attractive. Here we round-up some of the aftermarket extras you can get for virtually any van on sale and give you our top tips on which ones to choose.

Van security accessories

Whatever van you buy, security is going to be a priority. Not only will you want to prevent your van from being stolen, you'll want to keep its contents secure, too. There are visual deterrents, such as stickers that say: 'no tools or items left in this van overnight', while physical security such as steering wheel locks and various types of external locks for doors can put off opportunist thieves before they've tried to get their hands on the van's contents.

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Door locks come in a variety of guises. Slide locks use an additional locking mechanism that needs to be undone before a door can be opened, while others are designed to prevent so-called 'peel and steal' thefts, where the door itself is bent out of shape to get to the load area.

Hasp locks are the circular type that cover the latch of the lock with a circular plate that's difficult to prise open, while armoured locks add extra steel plates around the lock mechanism itself, protecting them from attack.

On-board security can come in the shape of strong boxes to keep valuable tools and equipment in, or if you handle cash in your van, then a vehicle safe could be the answer. However, it's worth bearing in mind that these heavier security items will have a negative effect on your van's payload, so make sure you don't go over the van's Mass In Transit if you're regularly carrying heavy items.

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Another useful security extra for vans with rear windows are the window grilles or blanks. These parts usually fit in place behind the windows, so if the pane is smashed, there is no way a thief can get to the contents of the van inside. Combine this with window film (sometimes tinted to help hide the vehicle's contents), which will hold the glass together when it's shattered, and your van's contents will remain more secure.

At the high-tech end of the van security wishlist is the tracking device. This can use on-board GPS to track your vehicle if it's stolen, although this is an expensive option that requires a monthly subscription.

And you don't just have to add accessories to the van to make it more secure. If you park your van off the road, then a drop post could help prevent its theft, while a wheel clamp could be used as another visual deterrent. And if your van has remote central locking, then keeping the key in a Faraday bag will stop hi-tech thieves jamming the signal to unlock your van without the key.

Van practicality accessories

It's all well and good having a spacious van, but sometimes it can be handy to have some on-board storage or racking to help you carry more kit. Many manufacturers offer extras that can help you carry more stuff, from shelving to roof racks that fit on top of the van, or even inside hanging from above.

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Think about what you need before you invest in any additional storage. If you carry lots of small parts, then shelving with storage boxes will be useful. If you carry longer items, then it might be an idea to fit a roof rack with a tube carrier added to it. In addition, if you carry metal pipes, you can get locking tube carriers to help prevent theft.

A plywood lining can help keep the inside of your van looking tidy as it takes the scrapes and bumps of everyday van use instead of the van's paintwork. Some aftermarket firms offer plywood shelving that simply screws into the existing ply lining, as it's pre-assembled and fits into your van in minutes.

Metal racking is another option for interior storage. This can be used to store small, medium and large tools and components, and if you add plastic tubs to the racks, you can keep your van organised and tidy for every job.

If you just use your van for transporting equipment to and from a site, then you might consider a drawer kit. These plywood drawers raise the floor of your van a few inches, but can boost storage no end. And if you get a full length drawer system, you could have extra storage that can be accessed from the back or side doors.

Roof bars can be a handy addition for carrying oversized items, although care should be taken when securing items to the roof, and you should take into consideration the maximum weight that's permitted on the roof of your van. It'll be in the van owner's manual.

If you frequently carry items on the roof bars, then a rear ladder can be a wise investment. These usually bolt to the van's rear door, and help you to get to hard-to-reach places when loading and unloading.

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Glaziers will need some sort of rack to carry large panes securely on the outside of the van. These will usually be made from aluminium, so only the extra weight of the glass panes will affect the van's handling.

Another useful addition is a step. You can get them to sit on top of the existing back bumper, so you're not damaging the van's bumper when you're getting in and out, while some makers offer 'cassette' or cantilever side steps that automatically extend and retract when the side door is opened.

If you need to transport wheeled items (cycles/motorbikes/garden equipment/pianos) then a ramp might be a useful addition. Some makers offer a hydraulic fold-out ramp that stores vertically against the van's back door, while others will swivel into position and fold out once the back door is opened. The simplest form of ramp will be aluminium and simply lift into place to help with wheeling larger items in and out of the van.

Van interior accessories

If you want to protect your cab from the rough and tumble of a working life, then it might be worth buying some seat covers. These can protect the seats from dirt, ensuring your van retains some of its value after you're finished with it.

Floor mats will do a similar job, although we'd recommend getting some fitted mats so that they don't slip out of place and become a liability under foot when you're driving.

Another handy extra that you can fit aftermarket are rear parking sensors. They can take the guesswork out of reversing into a parking space, and the best systems can be set up to either give you the tightest parking possible, or alert you when you're parked far enough away from an object behind so that you can still open the rear doors easily.

For larger vans, a reversing alarm could be useful. This fits a speaker at the back of the van that plays a recorded message to warn pedestrians and other road users when you're reversing.

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Does your van have a bulkhead? If not, there are aftermarket fitments available. A bulkhead is a good security feature, because it separates the van's cab from the load area, while it also prevents items from flying forward into the cab area if you have to brake in an emergency.

Van lighting accessories

Sometimes the single load area interior light can't hack it when illuminating your van's interior. Fortunately, there are plenty of bright LED light units you can get to boost light levels in your work environment. Some can be wired into the existing light system, while small battery operated units can be stuck inside and turned on or off with a light finger press when you're entering or leaving the load area.

Then there is extra lighting on the van's exterior, in the shape of spotlights and fog lamps. Some manufacturers offer kits that can be retrofitted to existing vans to add more lighting, while the simplest form can be a light bar that goes on top of the van with spotlights bolted to it. If your van is extra long, then you can add side lights that run along the side of the van to mark it out.

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If you use a van for roadside work, then amber beacons will be a useful addition. These help to warn other road users if you're a work or slow moving vehicle that they need to be aware of.

Van styling accessories

Making your van look good can create the right impression with potential clients. You can really go to town by fitting out a plain van with accessories, although most van users will want to prioritise practicality over style.

If you do need to give your van a flash new look, you could add a set of alloy wheels. These could help reduce unsprung weight, making a van that bit easier to drive, although we'd recommend adding locking wheel nuts to make sure they stay attached to you van.

You can get cosmetic light bars and other kits to help make your van be seen, while tinted windows add some security and a flashier look at the same time. Various firms even offer body kits and lowering kits for commercial vehicles but be careful that you don’t impact your van’s practicality by reducing the ground clearance to the point that speed humps and kerbs become an issue.

Another possible addition that can add some style is the nudge bar. While the oversized bull bars of old are outlawed these days, there are still collapsible aluminium bar kits that can be added to the front of your van to give it a more aggressive look. Another variation on this are light grilles, which help protect the van from damage from flying stones and other debris.

Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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