A Guide to Van Conversions

  • ECWVTA introduced last year
  • Three main types of type approval
  • Factory bodies are increasingly popular

Only when a chassis cab has a body attached can it be certified as a ‘roadworthy’ vehicle. But the whole process of putting the two together, or bodybuilding, is a complicated area and understanding was confused even further by the introduction of ECWV Type Approval last year.

In this article, Parkers attempts to unravel the mysteries and shed light on the grey areas surrounding conversions, bodybuilders and type approval.

What is a Bodybuilder?

A bodybuilder, or conversion specialist, is a company that manufactures and retrofits bodies that mount onto the back of chassis cabs. They range from small, independent firms that specialise in niche or one-off builds, to multinational companies that partner with manufacturers.

Types of Conversions and Bodies

There is a whole host of conversions to suit different types of businesses. By far the three most popular conversions are one-way tippers, dropsides and box vans. You can also get Luton vans, three-way tippers, curtainsiders, refrigerated vans, freezer vans, beavertails, flatbed, cherry picker, tankers, welfare vehicles, and more besides. 

What is a Type Approval?

Type approval is the confirmation that production samples of a design will meet specified performance standards. The specification of the product is recorded and only that particular specification is approved.

Officially, type approval is required for any vehicle that has undergone a permanent transformation from the factory specification and, for commercial vehicles, is most commonly associated with the fitment of bodies onto chassis cabs because of their varying sizes, weights and dimensions.

Before the EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval was introduced last year, the EU wanted every single transformation, no matter how small, to be certified, but industry associations successfully lobbied for the exclusion of light and cosmetic alterations, such as the retrofitting of ply lining and van racking.

There are two reasons why type approval is needed: it allows the authorities and government to understand the emission outputs of each vehicle, and ensures each conversion confirms to a certain standard of safety and security.

The Types of Type Approval

There are three main sorts of Type Approval in the UK; European Community Whole Vehicle Type Approval (ECWVTA) for large scale bodybuilders, the National Small Series Type Approval (NSSTA) for small-scale bodybuilders (up to 500 vehicles per year) with fewer testing and administration requirements, and the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) for one-off builds.

What is the VCA?

The Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) is the designated UK Approval Authority and Technical Service for type approval to all automotive European Community (EC) Directives and the equivalent United Nations Economic Community for Europe (ECE) Regulations.

Manufacturer approval programs

Some manufacturers offer factory-fitted bodies which are fitted on or just after the assembly line, but the most common arrangement is to develop a partnership with a local bodybuilder as part of a ‘Conversion Program’.

For example, Citroen’s ‘Ready to Run’ Luton vans are manufactured by Buckstone Bodies, while Volkswagen’s ‘Engineered to Go’ Lutons are manufactured by Ingimex. These vehicles are often stocked throughout the dealer network or, in the worst case scenario, there can be a short lead time.

If neither the manufacturers, nor the approved partners, are offering the body you would like, another option is to purchase a chassis cab from your local dealer, and inform the sales assistant which conversion, along with the name of the bodybuilder, you would like. In the majority of cases, the dealer will arrange for deliveries and pickups with the bodybuilder. You will need an IVA test, though.

The IVA option is probably the most costly (£230 plus VAT just for the test) and time consuming, but it’s essential for certain operators who have specific requirements for their vehicle. The IVA is geared toward specialist and niche trades.