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Planning to purchase a refrigerated van? Here are some buying tips

When purchasing a refrigerated van, you need to take into consideration the size of the van, the type of refrigeration unit, and the additional features required. Here are some tips to help you make the best decision for your needs.

An insulated box truck on the left and a chiller van on the right


The length and width of the van will determine what you’re able to haul, as well as where you can park and, in some countries, what class of licence you require to drive it.

You’ll want to make sure that your new van is big enough to accommodate the items you’ll be carrying without taking up more space than necessary – a van that’s too big is a waste of money and is likely to be heavier than is required, leading to unnecessary fuel consumption.

Before you consider investing in a new van, look at the manufacturer’s documentation to determine the maximum cargo volume and the dimensions. Then take into consideration whether or not you need additional hatches or doors for placing items in the van beyond the rear door and/or side door.┬áThese can be helpful if you have a dual-compartment van with frozen and chilled goods.

The van’s tare weight and maximum laden weight should also be considered if you live in a country where licence classes are determined by the maximum gross laden weight.

If there are lights, ventilation fans, air conditioning units, etc. in your cargo area you’ll also want to make sure that they have access points so that wiring isn’t a problem after installation during use of these features; refrigerated vans need to be serviced and repaired occasionally.

Ensure that any wiring in the back is encased in conduit and that any chilly bungs (if available) have notches cut to accommodate wiring that runs in the ceiling.


Once you’ve decided what size your van needs to be, you’ll want to consider the type of refrigeration unit that’s best for you. There are several types of units on the market today. For example, there are plate and frame units which are common in smaller vans, standard compressor units which don’t need a fan or drain to function properly, evaporator compressor systems that require a fan to distribute air evenly throughout the entire space to maintain an even temperature at any given time without freezing items in one area while heating another part of the cargo space, and heat pump units

There are also multiple ways that you can install your refrigeration unit into your new van depending on your specific needs. The unit can be installed into the van through the wall or the roof. If you’re installing a compressor-type refrigeration system, it’s best to consider an installation through the roof because they require less insulation than evaporator systems and heat pumps. 


Depending on how often you’ll use your van for transporting groceries or any other large items, additional features may include:

  • grocery hooks that allow easy transportation without lifting heavy objects
  • rotomolded construction which protects against dents caused by items being crushed if they are stacked improperly and the load shifts
  • interior cargo lighting so you don’t have to worry about fumbling with a torch after dark
  • shoring bars to keep goods in place
  • wire racks to place items on for optimal cargo stacking within the new van.

Attachments in the back of the fan often needs to clip into something, which is where logistics tracks come into play. These are built-in tracks with uniform slots that take clips for shoring bars, ratchet straps and racks. Shoring bars are used to stop goods moving around when the van isn’t fully packed. Ratchet straps can also be used for this purpose.

Temperature and cooling abilities

Before you purchase a refrigerated van, consider the temperature inside the cargo space and check with the manufacturer what type of refrigeration unit will suit the temperature profile you expect. If there’s a large range of temperatures, condensation can result, and that will encourage mould to grow. An evaporator system may be the best option. If there are times when your cargo space will be exposed to humidity levels higher than 60 percent for long periods of time it would be best to have a compressor-style refrigeration unit that can withstand these conditions.

It’s also important to carefully consider much cooling capacity you will need. Refrigerated vans are better at maintaining a temperature of goods placed in them, rather than chilling or freezing goods from the ambient temperature.

If items need to be kept at a consistent temperature for long periods, you’ll need a van with excellent insulation properties otherwise you’ll end up running the chiller constantly. If you need your new van to freeze items or keep them frozen for longer periods of time, it’s best to consider an evaporator-style system because they’re better at keeping products frozen than compressor systems.

Energy efficiency

When you’re ready to purchase a refrigerated van, you’ll want to choose one that is energy efficient or uses minimal power. A 12-volt system will work well for most standard applications while heavier-duty trucks often operate on 24 volts. Another option is an inverter compressor which works with both systems and runs quietly so it doesn’t use up much fuel. Also, it’s important to check with your van manufacturer if you’re looking for a refrigerated van that has the ability to idle without affecting the interior temperature.


Finally, before making your purchase, think about how much your budget affects the options available. Price is determined by:

  • the vehicle’s condition and mileage
  • the demand and supply for that particular model
  • if it’s known to have any particular mechanical issues
  • the type of chiller
  • the insulation levels required
  • any additional features such as access hatches
  • the overall chiller capacity
  • the engine size.

As with any major purchase, it’s important to carefully research all of your options before committing to one particular brand or model. The right refrigerated van will depend on your specific needs as well as how often and for what purpose you plan on using it. By considering all of these factors before making your purchase, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what kind of refrigerated van is best suited for your needs. This will ensure that you’re investing in something that lasts for many years down the road. 

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

Posted in Advice