Complying with racking rules
Monday, March 25, 2013
The new Van Enhancement Scheme should ease the red tape burden for converters striving to meet customer requirements. Steve Banner and James Dallas report.
Businesses looking to equip their shiny new van’s load area with racking, shelving, vice holders, cabinets and all the other fixtures and fittings their employees require should now be breathing a sigh of relief thanks to the new Van Enhancement Scheme.
Drawn up by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Department for Transport (DfT), the scheme relieves converters and operators of the need to comply with European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) rules when making basic modifications to vans.
Gradually extended to various different classes of vehicle since April 2009, initially on a voluntary basis, ECWVTA will apply to N1 category vans with a gross weight of up to 3.5 tonnes from 29 April onwards. Racking specialists had feared that it could have resulted in each and every package they install in a vehicle having to be inspected and approved by either the VCA or VOSA.
Up until ECWVTA arrived it was only the van or chassis cab that had to comply with the Type Approval rules to ensure that it met the required regulatory standard as it rolled off the production line. ECWVTA means, however, that all the components used in a body mounted on a chassis cab have to match the standard too and are in line with the requirements of the VCA or an equivalent body.
If alterations have to be made to the chassis then they have to be approved as well.
The VCA agrees that some packages may have to be submitted for separate approval because of the way in which they could affect the base vehicle’s own Type Approval status but adds that approvals should be as painless as possible under the new N1 Enhancement Scheme, with some modifications not requiring approval at all.
Andrew Humphrey, group managing director of van racking and conversion specialist Bri-Stor Systems, says: “Hopefully ECWVTA won’t be quite as onerous as we initially thought, but a lot of work will be required to ensure that it (Van Enhancement) functions okay.”
“We’re willing to consider funding anything if it is a properly-engineered conversion that has been well thought-out,” says Dave Freeman, manager of the commercial vehicle specialist division at leasing company Alphabet. It has some 16,000 light commercials on its books.
Refrigerated conversions can pose some challenges however he admits – a view shared by a number of other lessors – because of uncertainty over residual values.
“Fridge vans tend to be high mileage, the refrigeration equipment may not have been properly looked after and the doors are likely to have suffered as a consequence of constant opening and closing during multi-drop delivery work,” he says.
“Furthermore, if you’ve got, say, triple compartment (ambient, chilled and frozen) vehicles to dispose of then you can guarantee that buyers will only be after chilled. If you’re selling vehicles without a stand-by system then a standby will be what everybody is looking for.”
So long as the work is carried out by a reputable supplier using established products, having racking, tail-lifts, light cranes etc. fitted does not usually make it more difficult to find funding for an LCV, according to Adrian Millar, brand manager at VW Commercial Vehicle Finance.
Manufacturer-approved conversions shouldn’t present any difficulties, but highly specialised kit can, especially if there’s a contract hire agreement in place. In this case, the projected RV has a major influence on the rate paid, and the number of prospective buyers is likely to be limited.
So what are van operators looking for when it comes to bins, shelves and other extra equipment?
“They’re after turnkey solutions: in other words they want everything done at the same time so that the vehicle can go to work the minute it is driven away,” says Humphrey. “That can involve fitting a tow-bar, making any necessary electrical modifications and applying graphics as well as installing racking.”
Sometimes racking may be recycled from a previous vehicle.
“If it hasn’t been subjected to hard usage and is going into the same design of van then that can work okay,” says Humphrey. “Things may be more difficult, however, if it has taken a hammering and is going into a different vehicle.”
While installing a new system may be more expensive than re-using the old one, it may be lighter than the package that is being scrapped. Saving weight is a key issue for customers as it means lower fuel usage and emissions and may help the operator to achieve a better payload. To reach this goal, racking firms are designing their products a lot more carefully using the latest computer-aided design techniques and employing weight-saving materials where possible.
That is what Bri-Stor has done with its new lightweight Elite range of racks, shelves and drawer units. Said to be over 33% lighter than existing systems, it uses a mix of high-strength steel, alloy and plastic.
Specialist equipment, and this includes items such as tail-lifts and cranes, which are still likely to fall under ECWVTA rules, can be removed prior to disposal but this can create problems of its own, points out Adrian Millar, brand manager at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle Finance. “The time required to take it off means that the vehicle concerned will be hanging around for longer and may end up with a hole in its side or roof where the equipment once was,” he says.
Some devices can be removed and installed in a new van without creating such difficulties, always assuming the work is carried out professionally. So says Richard Short, sales director at tail-lift and crane specialist Penny Hydraulics.
“We quite often remove cranes and fit them to new vehicles,”
he reports. “We transfer lifts mounted inside van load areas such as our LoadLift too, although we tend not to be asked to transfer external tail-lifts.”
In some cases ancillary devices should most certainly be left in place because they will boost a vehicle’s used appeal says Duncan Ward, general manager, commercial vehicles, at auctioneer BCA.
“A tail-lift can add as much as £2000 to the value of a 3.5-tonner with a Luton body,” he points out. “If a Luton hasn’t got one then bidders may not even consider it, although it’s interesting to note that people looking for dropsides prefer them not to have a tail-lift at all.”
Cranes are sometimes taken off and sold separately once they are eight years old or more says Short.
“Once a crane is that age it needs to be crack-tested to ensure it is still safe to use,” he says. In practice that means it has to be shot-blasted so that the test can be carried out properly.
Being properly looked after involves being thoroughly examined by a competent person – a technician who specialises in cranes for example – at least once every 12 months, a legal requirement that also applies to tail-lifts. “We would suggest that a six-monthly inspection is carried out too,” says Short.
Having a crane or tail-lift suddenly fall apart while wrestling with a heavy load because it has not been checked over or maintained can result in severe damage, not to mention injury to the user and anybody else unlucky enough to be in the vicinity.