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Demo van at Smithfield market where orders for six of the new refrigerated van conversions have been taken in the first month
Manufacturers generally sell dealer-approved conversions (this Movano is outside Smithfield market), but there are plenty of specialist converters too

CHOOSING a refrigerated van for your business can seem daunting. There are so many different types and getting it wrong can be expensive. So Business Vans has gone to an expert for advice on how to choose the right refrigerated business van.

Mark Foster has been in the refrigerated vans industry since 1985. He is managing director of Vanfridge which he set up in 2002 to cater for small businesses that need refrigerated vans.

Today, his expanded operation includes converting, selling and renting refrigerated vans. He knows the industry and he understands what small businesses need.


High roof Ford Transit conversion from Vanfridge

Which kind of fridge van?

There are four basic types of conversion, says Foster.

Insulation only

You line the van’s cargo area with insulation that’s 50mm thick. The lining material is typically Styrofoam, although some converters use a Polystyrene/Rockwool mix. Styrofoam is best.
Don’t, however, think that this on its own is suitable for transporting chilled food. It won’t keep your cargo properly chilled – unless you fit a fridge.

Chiller conversion

For a chiller conversion, line the van with 50mm insulation and fit a chill fridge. This is suitable for keeping stuff chilled and operating at above 0ºC. Reckon on paying between £3000 and £7500 for a standard chill conversion, depending on van size, says Foster.

Semi-freezer conversion

A semi-freezer conversion will have 75mm insulation and a fridge that has reverse cycle defrost or hot gas defrost (don’t panic – we’ll explain all that in a minute). This set-up will let you go down to about -10ºC to -15ºC

Full freezer conversion

With a full-freezer conversion, the insulation will also typically be 75mm thick, but there will be uprated and modified side and rear doors (costing an extra £900 or so, says Foster). The fridge will have reverse cycle defrost or hot gas defrost.

Result: a hold capable of temperatures as low as -20ºC. Reckon on about paying about £2000 to £3000 more than for a bog-standard chiller conversion.

You can go down to about -25ºC if you boost the insulation to 100mm thick and block off the side door or fit a slab-type side door in place of the factory sliding door.

Conversions come in all sizes – here’s a Vanfridge conversion of a Citroen Berlingo for Wiltshire Farm Foods

Three ways to defrost

So reverse cycle defrost, hot gas defrost and – the third type – off-cycle defrost.

What’s that all about?

Off-cycle defrost is cheapest and defrosts on a timed basis where the engine compressor shuts down – but it is unsuited to any temperature below 0ºC.

For that you need a more efficient defrost system. There are two. One is the reverse cycle defrost. This basically reverses the roof condenser and evaporator to defrost in seconds automatically as and when necessary. The other is hot gas defrost, which gives the same result using a different method.


Plug-in electric stand-by for the night

On top of this will be extras tailored to how you use the van. A common choice is an ‘electric standby’ – basically, a set-up that lets you plug the fridge into a power socket. This lets you store chilled or frozen goods in the van overnight – so long as someone doesn’t come along and unplug it…

It’s also a smart thing to do before you load up. Plug in, get the load space pre-chilled down to temperature, and then load up.

Fitting a standby costs £800-£1000, says Foster. But you can expect to get about half of that back when you sell the van. Of all refrigerated vans, those with 75mm lining and standby are likely to have the best residual values, he says.


What’s ATP all about?

ATP stands for Accord Transport Perissable, and it’s basically a set of standards that say your van’s body and fridge are up to the job of transporting food safely. Think of it like type approval.

If you transport food to mainland Europe then you’ll need the conversion to meet specific standards. It is illegal to transport perishable food in mainland Europe unless your van has ATP certification.

So if you transport food in mainland Europe, get the conversion done by a firm that works to ATP standards. They’ll be able to supply ATP certificates for certain vans or arrange for an individual test to be done to get you an ATP certificate. You do not need an ATP certificate for transporting food in the UK.

The van converter

One option is to go to the dealer and let them sort it out with a manufacturer- or dealer-approved converter.

There are plenty of these on the market, and the advantage is that they come with a manufacturer guarantee.

For a small business that doesn’t want a fuss and prefers to get the finance in one place, a manufacturer conversion could well be the answer.

Citroen has a good range of chillers in its Ready to Run range, and Vauxhall has an extensive range of converters who provide chillers.

Nissan offers a chilled version of the NV200

Nissan, meanwhile, has just introduced a chilled version of its NV200 (see our review Nissan NV200 Fridge Van review – cool conversion, straight from Nissan).

However, you’ll want to compare prices, so it’s worth looking at both manufacturer conversions and some of the specialists. Look for the level of bespoke detail and specialist advice on offer.

Don’t be afraid to pick their brains: a good refrigerated van converter, such as GRP  will be able to steer you towards whichever make and model of van best suits your needs – and acquire it for you at fleet prices.

There should be no worries about voiding warranties by going to a converter yourself, says Foster.

The lining and fridge are regarded as removable items. In some instances, you won’t even need IVA (individual vehicle approval) although this depends on the size of the vehicle and the projection of the fridge unit.

A quality converter will have had its processes approved by the Vehicle Certification Authority. This means that the converter can ensure its conversions meet European type approval legislation and can issue the necessary documentation.

Nissan NV200 Fridge Van
A good van converter will have useful tips – like what to do if you intend to carry fresh fish in your chilled van…

Choosing the right converter is vital. A good one will know all sorts of handy tips and tricks. For instance, if the van transports fish, it’s a smart move to fit a £25 strip along the side door to prevent fish water running out over that sill. If it does, it always gets in the side door runners and then, after about six months, really stinks.

Or if it’s important for you to carry Euro pallets, the converter can ensure the insulation fitted leaves 1250mm to 1300mm between the wheel boxes. It’s inexpensive to do that at the start, but pricey to change once the insulation has been fitted.

Foster recommends that you tell a converter what products you carry, the temperature you like to carry them at, how many deliveries you do and whether you need a standby (the plug-in option). This will help the converter get the right set-up for your needs.

Their response to this info – and their subsequent questions and solutions – will also help you gauge how knowledgeable they are before you commit.

Choose wisely, get it right, and you won’t have to worry. You can just chill.

Mark Foster is managing director of Vanfridge, a company he set up in 2002 to cater for small businesses that need refrigerated vans.


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