My Cargo Van Build
Today I’m sharing my cargo van build, optimized for my needs in and around New York City. I got my 2006 Ford E350 in 2020. Since then I’ve been customizing it to comfortably carry everything I might need on the road, two motorcycles, and a dog or two.
I’ll take you through all the upgrades I’ve made, including installing a rear bench seat, fixing the rusty floor, making my own custom storage solution, and what I pack inside. I’ll also share more info about the supplies I used in my van build.
The essential accessory I had to add right away was a backup camera— I park this thing on the street in New York City.
The backup camera I bought has an RF transmitter on the camera circuit and an RF receiver on the monitor, so I didn’t need to run a wire the length of the vehicle, just tap into the backup lights circuit at the back end, and the plug the monitor into a 12V outlet on the dash, along with a bluetooth/RF transmitter for connecting my phone audio to the van’s stereo.
The next most pressing issue was the rusty floor. While I’m not totally certain about the van’s history, I do know it’s from Vermont and if you look at the side just right, you can see the faint outline of an organic market decal. I think it was a grocery van that saw a lot of fresh wet food in it every day and also seasonally developed snow damage on the roof.
But the floor had one spot where it had rusted through, which allowed the floor mat to get wet, which spread the rust further. So I set the mat aside to dry, removed as much of the surface rust as possible with a wire brush on a drill, then followed the POR-15 rust mitigation process:
- POR-15 metal prep
- POR-15 cleaner degreaser
- POR-15 Rust Preventive Coating
- POR-15 Gloss White Top Coat Paint
It’s four steps: first the cleaner/degreaser, then the metal prep, then their famous rust-treating and rust-preventative coating, which I also applied to an extra piece of sheet metal before gluing and riveting it to cover the hole.
The final step is a top coat of paint, which protects the rust coating from UV damage, even though most of it will be under the mat. I’m not trying to say this is perfect, but it should at least prevent the floor from dropping out anytime soon.
Rear Bench Seat Installation
Another pressing upgrade was the back seat installation. It’s one of the things I needed to do to satisfy the passenger vehicle registration requirements, and I wanted to be able to fit an additional person as well as seat belt my dogs. It acts like a bulkhead to separate the cargo area from the passenger area.
I bought a used seat from Craigslist and we installed the brackets onto the floor of the van– the front area doesn’t have any rust and we made sure to go through an extra reinforced area of the floor, not just a single layer of sheet metal. So this thing is super solid and heavy. And it comes out when I need the extra space.
When the seat is out, we put up a cargo net bulkhead instead, to protect the front cab from stuff in the back in case of an accident.
Riding in the van is loud. I’ve been slowly installing some sound-deadening sticky film on the walls of the van to make it a little quieter. But it takes a lot of elbow grease to install this stuff because it has to be pressed hard with a metal roller, which also has to be done when the air is above a specific temperature. So I’ve been slow to make progress on this project, but each new piece seems to make a pretty big difference.
Custom Canvas Organizer Bag
The next major upgrade is this custom canvas organizer bag.
I made this by arranging all the things I wanted to keep in the van at all times on fabric, then creating pockets that fit all the things. I put vinyl windows in some of the pockets to make it easy to find things, like the first aid kit. I attached the storage bag to the interior wall of the van using sheet metal screws. It has a big zipper compartment at the bottom that sits on the floor and stores heavier and bulkier items.
Here is a list of the essentials I keep in this bag or elsewhere in the van:
- socket set
- utility knife
- adjustable C-wrench
- Bluetooth speaker
- first aid kit
- tire inflator
- traction boards
- ratchet straps
- wet wipes
- emergency toilet
- moving blankets
- hot hands
- picnic blanket
- jumper cables
- or flashlight
- extra battery
- fire extinguisher
- with wall-mount
You can get tools and supplies for your own dream van build at Digi-Key, the sponsor of my van build video. Check out all my favorites on Maker.io. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases you make using my affiliate links.
Incidents & Security
With all this good stuff and occasionally cargo left overnight parked on the street, it was only a matter of time before something happened to the van, and I’ll tell you about two somethings that happened.
The first one is a graffiti tag on the side of the van. A plain white cargo van is perhaps the second most common vehicle here besides the taxi cab, but a tagged white cargo van comes across as a few levels more sketchy.
The other thing that happened is that one night I forgot to lock one of the doors, and a bunch of stuff was stolen from the bottom compartment of the van bag. This inspired me to create some more secure storage inside the van, so if I’m forgetful again, the most expensive stuff is protected by one more layer of inconvenience.
Other Pain Points
If you read this far, then you probably want to know more details about the pain points of this van and how we use it. For one, it gets improper registration tickets occasionally, even though it meets the requirements to be registered as a passenger vehicle.
See, there is no combination plate in New York, and the passenger plate lets you park in residential neighborhoods and drive on the parkways, so some folks have the motivation to exploit the regulation. My van is legit but not every ticketing officer or judge agrees. I’ve had most of the tickets thrown out after contesting them, but not all of them! So this is a time tax and occasional monetary tax on having a regulatorily ambiguous vehicle parked on the street.
Another annoying issue is that the dashboard power outlets are always on, even when the van is off. I learned that the hard way— leaving stuff plugged in killed the battery, then driving on the bad battery killed the alternator, and eventually, I also had to have the dash instruments replaced to fix the chain of charging issues that ensued. So now I don’t use those dash outlets anymore, and I had power run from the ignition circuit to power the FM transmitter and backup camera so it can’t happen again.
That’s all there is to report so far! Thanks for coming along on this tour of my humble cargo van.
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