When it comes to van shelving for tool storage, getting creative with a few sheets of plywood is the standard approach for most tradespeople, myself included. But not only is this time consuming, plywood shelving is heavy, unsafe in a collision, and quite a challenge to change once everything has been fastened together. That’s why I was happy to discover the bott Smartvan storage system, which has dramatically enhanced my ability to organize my current work vehicle, a 2021 Mercedes Sprinter 2500 with a 144-inch wheelbase.
After many successful years in Europe, this German modular shelving system finally made its way to the U.S. It is designed to precisely fit the dimensions of your specific vehicle with zero drilling required and is configured when you order the system on the company’s website (systainersystems.com). All that is necessary to install the shelving are a few Allen keys and Torx bits, which are included in the welcome kit that comes with the shelving components. There’s no complex measuring and no wasted space; just affix the brackets to the frame and bolt them for a perfect fit.
Installation. Two weeks after I ordered my system, it arrived in two large Gaylord boxes on a wood pallet. The boxes contained a lot of parts, but once I read the illustrated instructions, things started to make sense. During installation, I was impressed by the accuracy of the brackets, which use preexisting holes in the van frame, so no drilling was involved.
Then I added Systainer runners, which are the slides that mount to the brackets to hold the Systainers. They come in two styles to fit both the older generation T-Loc and newer generation SYS3 Systainers. T-Loc runners are cradle-style shelving mounts that hold the T-Loc and SYS3 Systainers as they sit inside of the shelf. SYS3 runners work only with SYS3 Systainers, which have integrated rail slots on their sides. Older T-Loc Systainers require a little more room between units than the newer SYS3 versions due to the runner design, but in both cases, I was able to fit more Systainers in a given space than I could with plywood shelving. In addition, the T-Loc runners accommodate the original style Systainer, which is now being used by brands such as Makita.
Galvanized steel shelving is available in several widths, heights, and depths depending on your needs, and each shelf comes with a rubberized material mat inside to stop cargo from sliding while also reducing noise. To get further organized, I added several different bottBox kits, which come in various sizes and fit neatly inside of the shelf. These work great for loose handheld items, such as tape measures and Allen keys.
Among many other available options are slide drawers, perforated panels with the company’s configured accessories—such as spray-can and caulking-tube holders—and cable hooks for things like air hoses and saw blades. They make a huge difference in terms of cleanliness and organization.
Ceiling-mounted guide rails. To mount my Festool guide rails to the van’s ceiling, I secured 1/2-inch-thick strips of plywood to the roof frame with threaded rivet nut inserts, a common fastening method used for camper vans. Then I fastened FastCap Track Racks ($25 a pair; fastcap.com) to the plywood with 1/2-inch-long wood screws. Metal rails tend to move and vibrate a lot during transport, and these guide-rail holders secure them nicely. They aren’t part of the bott Smartvan system but are a great addition to my work van.
Security. bott Smartvan is one of only two companies worldwide to receive an ECE R17 crash test safety rating. This standard, which simulates a collision of an obstacle with a fully-loaded vehicle at 32 mph, focuses on fixing points, flooring, sidewalls, and overall construction of the shelving system. The bott Smartvan system is designed to keep tool cases and storage boxes firmly in place. The frames have integrated lashing rails that work specifically with optional bott Smartvan lashing straps and anti-slip mats to help prevent loads from sliding around. Lashing brackets that attach to the frame with T25 Torx bits are also available, allowing loads to be secured in any position.
Not only am I able to securely carry more tools and equipment, but I also have more space down the center aisle than I did with plywood shelving. This makes life much easier when I have to carry a big load of materials to a jobsite or (as I recently discovered) move my home. And once I had the new shelving and partition installed, I realized how unsafe I had been before with my plywood shelving. I’ve also noticed better gas mileage due to less weight, and the chassis of the Sprinter van feels more rigid, which has made driving on windy highways much easier.
Price. After researching other shelving systems, I found that the bott Smartvan was priced competitively, especially considering the top-notch quality and customization. The rep I dealt with told me that I could add or subtract items as we went, so to become familiar with the system, I started with the Essential kit ($3,800) with some shelving and the frames, and then ordered runners, large Systainers (for extra storage) to add to the ones that I already owned, and accessories such as hooks, anchors, and lashing straps a few weeks later. I chose this option to ensure I didn’t end up with any accessories I couldn’t use.
The Advanced kit ($5,560) includes the same frames but also includes medium and/or large Systainers, drawer boxes, and a few more shelves. By the time I added extra shelves and Systainers to my Essential kit, I essentially made myself an Advanced kit.
I chose large Systainers to fit an assortment of smaller items that would otherwise roll around on the shelves, as well as for bulky items such as vacuum hoses and fittings that I like to store together in one place. And some of my existing Systainers are already maxed out with tools; the new, larger Systainers provide overflow storage and will keep everything more condensed.
You can also build your own system a la carte to be exactly the way you want it. The price is determined by the type and amount of items you choose to complete your build. bott-usa.com/vehicle-conversions
Photos by Tommie Mullaney.