Building a Refrigerated Van

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Building A Reefer Van
A reefer van is essentially a conventional van converted to transport refrigerated produce. Depending on the goods transported, the maintained temperatures required can be as low as -22°F.

DIY or Specialist?

Converting a van to a reefer is not your standard DIY project, and although there are conversion kits on the market, these tend to be designed for light refrigeration vans carrying chilled goods, rather than a real freezer van.
The problem is that unless the conversion is performed to a professional standard, you could end up losing money in the long run. Unless your self-converted reefer van operates at maximum efficiency, it will soon begin consuming too much power due to ‘leaks’ in the thermal insulation.

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These leaks can also cause bacteria and mold to thrive: not good if you’re in the meat trade.
It is better to pay a specialist reefer van conversion company to do the job. Alternatively, consider buying something that’s already been converted by looking online at reefer vans for sale.
What’s Involved In The Build?
There are two essential components to every reefer van conversion:
A mechanical cooling system that removes heat from the cargo compartment;
Insulation that prevents heat from reaching the cargo compartment.
The insulation is usually made from Styrofoam, a high-density polymer foam that conducts heat extremely poorly. The Styrofoam provides a tight seal around all surfaces of the cargo space interior, ensuring no heat can penetrate from the outside, or from the reefer van’s engine.
The thickness of the foam insulation depends on the nature of the cargo. A standard three-inch thickness is adequate for most freezer vans while four inches may be necessary if the reefer van is to store deep frozen produce, such as ice cream.

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Next, the foam insulation is sprayed with a liquid polymer; this is a method called wet-lay. The polymer hardens to a tough, hermetic coating which can be wiped clean and protects the foam insulation from damage during loading and unloading.
The mechanical cooling system integrates three vital components. The condenser is located inside the cargo compartment and draws in heat, which is then transferred via a circulating coolant to the evaporator and compressor built into the refrigeration unit. Usually mounted on the roof, the cooling unit is either powered by the reefer van’s engine or is self-powered.

Either way, the compressor, and evaporator work together to discharge heat into the atmosphere, lowering the temperature inside the cargo compartment as far as -22°F.

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There are other conversion extras, including different flooring and door curtains, but essentially every reefer van refrigerates by employing the dual processes of mechanical cooling and thermal insulation.

Refrigerated Van Questions: A Common Dialogue with Cool Fox Trucks


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Customer – I am looking at the Mercedes Refrigerated Sprinter Vans and want to utilize two of the different sizes for my seafood delivery business. I would like a small van to haul fresh fish from the dock to my warehouse and a large van to distribute pre-packaged, frozen goods. Can you give me an idea of what you can do?

Cool Fox Rep – Great choice on the Mercedes, we upfit these all the time and have some good solutions for you. Let’s start with the small van that you will use for what we like to call “fresh” delivery, in other words you need traditional refrigerator temps of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. How many hours will the delivery route take and how many stops do you plan on making once your product is loaded in the vehicle?

Customer – Over an 8 hour day it will be a maximum of 5 stops for the small van, I haven’t decided on the Metris or the 144″ low roof, does that matter?

Cool Fox Rep – We can upfit either choice, although the Metris is smaller it can be pallet loaded. For your planned route, we would suggest our standard 3 inch insulation package and a medium sized refrigeration unit. If you add stops in the future, we would suggest a temperature control door curtain, especially at the side doors. Now that we have zeroed in on good specification, do you see a need for the electric standby feature on the refrigeration unit?

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Customer – We have standby on our larger vans in the fleet, it helps us prepare shipments the day before delivery and it works great keeping correct temps for us when the vans sit overnight with valuable product in them. The small van won’t need that option, but our larger van will. The small van will be loaded by hand with crates, so pallet loading is not a huge concern, however we like to thoroughly wash the vans down after each workday, how is the “washability” of your product?

Cool Fox Rep – All of our products use a seamless liner concept, floor drains and stainless steel hardware. We suggest to owners a quick spray of Simple Green on the interior surface, then hose and scrub away, water and debris will drain quickly and leave the cargo area clean for the next day. Particularly in your case, it is important that hardware be rust resistant since you are handling seafood and salt water. We only use high grade stainless fasteners and aluminum trim at door and floor edging, ensuring that, with proper care, your van will look like new five years down the road.

Customer – OK, seems you have a good plan for the small van, let’s talk about the large van for our frozen seafood distribution needs. We have a few vans that are just not that good at holding the temps we need to keep the product from defrosting so we would like to purchase a refrigerated van that solves these issues.

Cool Fox Rep – We hear this complaint often from end users that need to transport frozen products. Similar to our conversation on the smaller van, how long is the average route and how many stops will the van make?

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Customer – Our frozen routes are pretty rapid fire, covering about 15 stops per day, all within a 50 mile radius in the City. We Load the vans at night and leave them running at zero degrees using the standby feature.

Cool Fox Rep – For that many stops, we need a few things: A large enough refrigeration unit that can recover temps, deeper insulation, in this case 4 inches instead of our standard 3 and temperature control curtains at all doors. While this will add to your upfront costs, you will see a tremendous improvement on your defrosting issue.

Customer – I should also mention these vans are pallet loaded with forklifts and in the past we have had considerable wear on the floor and wall edging from the bumps and hits that you cannot avoid when loading and unloading. Do you offer any solution that can help preserve the cargo area from this type of damage?

Cool Fox Rep – We do. Our standard process includes aluminum edging at the door sills and bulkhead wall, this is where you will see the most damage normally and our edging preserves the liner edging. Additionally we offer a few flooring options to both prevent wear and keep air circulating correctly around the loaded product. Aluminum duct flooring offers protection and channels for air to circulate, ideal for your frozen van. If you a looking for simple protection and a bit of cost savings versus the ducted floor, we offer aluminum tread plate floors, commonly known as diamond plate. Lastly, our most durable floor is borrowed from the commercial kitchen industry, utilizing a 2 part epoxy and aggregate similar to concrete this floor is both FDA approved and indestructible.

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Customer – Thank you for this great information. What do you suggest I do next to get the ball rolling on these vans?

Cool Fox Rep – Contact the Sprinter team at 781-688-1073 we work together with the sales people there to get you the best chassis and consider that Mercedes Financial Services will finance the refrigeration upfit if you choose. Once the chassis specification has been decided, Mercedes will ship your van directly to our production facility to begin the refrigeration upfit process. A few weeks later we will deliver the completed van and you can start to enjoy your new van.


Refrigerated Sprinter Vans for Sale


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Mercedes-Benz Refrigerated Sprinter Vans are the gold standard in the Reefer Van category.

We are a Mercedes Benz dealer that carries many refrigerated Sprinters.

The challenge for most folks looking for a refrigerated vehicle is timing.  Often, it is difficult to find a refrigerated diesel van in stock.

For this reason, we ship vans throughout the country and keep a steady backlog of vans on order.