Stuff You Should Know About Step Vans for Food Trucks

Step vans are those boxy trucks we create food trucks out of.

Chevrolet was the first to call them “step vans” but it’s pretty much a general term today, and it’s what we refer to them as. These types of trucks are seen quite often being used by FedEx and UPS delivering our packages, as well as Bread Trucks, Bakery & Snack Trucks.

Step vans are perfect for creating a mobile food truck because the ceiling is tall enough to stand up in, and allows for enough area to have essential equipment installed and room to move about. These trucks sit low, usually one “step” up, making them easy to enter and exit.

Step vans that are used for food trucks come in standard sizes between 14 feet long to 18 feet long, in some extreme examples can be as long as 24 to 30 feet. Remember the larger the vehicle, the larger the harder it is to navigate in close quarters, fit in to parking areas, as well as finding a place to store it.

The thing to remember when talking about the length of a the truck is that it refers to the interior cargo area, and it is measured from the back of the drivers seat to the rear wall of the truck. So the length that is indicated isn’t the total length of the truck, for instance the the total length of a 16 foot food truck is approximately 27 feet, bumper to bumper.

There are 2 parts to Step Vans, the chassis and the body. The chassis consists of a frame with front wheels, dual rear wheels, an engine and steering wheel. Right now there are only two chassis manufacturers still operating they are International and Freightliner.

But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones here is a list of other manufacturers you might find when you are investigating your food truck: Freightliner, International, Workhorse, Chevy, GM, and Ford. You will find that most listings will include the chassis brand name in their descriptions, and any reputable food truck deal or manufacture will be able to provide this information. Know the brand comes in handy when looking for parts or options.

Step Van Chassis and Body Manufacturers

International manufactures both the P30042 it is a 16 foot chassis and the W52 which is an 18 foot chassis. International chassis used to be produced by Workhorse Custom Chassis, which used to be Chevrolet/GMC.

Freightliner produces what they call the MT45 and MT55 step van chassis. Once these chassis are assembled, they are shipped to truck body builders to be transformed into finished vehicles. The body is built on and around the chassis and it becomes an integral part of the whole vehicle. Because the body wraps around the chassis, the floor of the truck sits lower to the ground unlike box delivery trucks where the cargo box is mounted on top of the chassis.

The two primary step van body builders on the market today are Morgan/Olson and Utilimaster.

Morgan/Olson used to be Grumman Olson, and their popularity is evident by the number of results that show up when searching online for used step vans.

Here are a few brand names of body manufacturers you will probably run into in the commercial step van market: Grumman Olson, Morgan/Olson, Boyertown, Utilimaster, Supreme Body, Union City Body, and Penn Body.

Chevy and GMC Step Vans

Chevrolet P30

The Chevrolet P30 is one of the most popular step vans ever manufactured, so much so that the term P30 is used to reference step vans in general. The P30 is available in 14 foot, 16 foot and 18 foot lengths. The 16 foot model is very popular because of it’s cost effectiveness, weight handling abilities, and doesn’t feel too large, which helps it’s maneuverability.

The 16 foot interior offers a decent amount of space to create your perfect food truck layout including equipment set-up. Over the years, there have been several models of P30 with different weight capacities. This is measured in gross vehicle weight (GVW). The gross vehicle weight includes the vehicle itself plus any cargo and/or equipment on-board.

From 1979 to mid-1980s, the P30 supported 10,000 pound GVW. This model was powered by a Chevy 5.7L 350 V8 engine with Turbo 400 transmission. In later years, the P30 was upgraded to handle 14,000 and 16,000 pound GVW with the addition of heavier springs. P30s from the 1980s to 1990s were powered by 350 V8 and 454 V8 engines. Starting in 1982, Chevy introduced models with diesel engines which ranged from a 6.2L V8 to 6.5L V8. The diesel 6.5L engine became standard in models from 1994 and newer.

Chevrolet P60

Between 1980 and 1993, Chevrolet also produced a heavier step van called the P60 (or CX-950) but it did not sell as well as the P30. However, the P60 can be found today as a rugged and reliable step van with great resale value. The GVW of the P60 is 23,000 pounds and is available in 18 to 24 foot lengths. Standard power plants include a 366 or 427 V8 gas or 8.2L diesel engines.

Freightliner Step Vans

The MT45 Freightliner step van comes in 16 or 18 foot models powered by either a Cummins or Mercedes engine. With a GVW of over 19,000 pounds, this vehicle could be classified as a medium-duty truck. The interior offers excellent square footage for food truck equipment and storage.

Freightliner offers another model called the MT55. It features a more power with either a 230 or 260 horsepower Cummins diesel engine and an automatic transmission. The MT55 comes in 18 to 26 foot lengths with a 23,000+ GVW.

Both the MT45 and MT55 are excellent and reliable vehicles and convert extremely well to a food service vehicle.

Additional Makes and Models

The previous section focused on just a sampling of the most popular trucks manufactured and in use today, but they are not the only ones available. The following list consists of various makes and models of step vans that can be converted into a food truck:

  • Chevy P30
  • Chevy P42
  • Chevy Ultra Master
  • Ford E350
  • Ford E450
  • Ford F59
  • Ford P500
  • Ford P700
  • Ford P1200
  • Freightliner MT35
  • Freightliner MT45
  • Freightliner MT55
  • Freightliner M Line
  • Freightliner P500
  • Freightliner P700
  • Freightliner P1000
  • GMC P30
  • GMC P3500
  • GMC P42
  • International 1600
  • International FH1652
  • Oshkosh MT35
  • Workhorse P32
  • Workhorse P42
  • Workhorse P31842
  • Workhorse W42
  • Workhorse W50
  • Workhorse W62
  • Workhorse P500
  • Utilimaster 16 foot
  • Utilimaster 18 foot

The list above will help you become familiar with the makes and model numbers of the other step vans that food trucks are built on. In the research phase of your planning this list can be handy because these brands aren’t really known as household names.

Step Van Rear Panel Modifications

As you are looking at different types of step vans you will notice similarities as well as differences. One place to check is the back door set-up. Some step vans, if they have been used for some type of delivery in the past, might have a roll up door, similar to a garage door. These types of doors are not ideal for a food truck, they waste space, as well as reduce the amount of headroom in the cargo area and can be a problem for tall passengers working in the kitchen area.

A step van with a rolling or sliding rear door is ok to use, just keep in mind you will probably want to convert the back door to a normal door that doesn’t take up so much space, or depending on your interior design you may not even need a door in the back. Some equipment layouts use that area as a wall for griddles, stoves and/or other cooking equipment.

Additional Information on GVW

As mentioned earlier, the gross vehicle weight is the total weight capacity of the truck. This includes the weight of the truck itself, cargo, equipment, driver, fluids, fuel and anything else that goes in the vehicle.

It’s very important that the vehicle must not be overloaded past its GVW specifications. Step vans are placed into different classifications depending on GVW.

  • GVW Class 4 – 14,000 to 16,000
  • GVW Class 5 – 16,001 to 19,500
  • GVW Class 6 – 19,501 to 26,000
  • GVW Class 7 – 26,001 to 33,000

All of the vehicles list above require a commercial drivers license (CDL) and additional licensing standards. Most food trucks used for food trucks fall below the 26,000 pound GVW which allows operation with just a standard Class C drivers license. If your food truck and equipment hovers close to your GVW, be sure not to overload the truck to stay within legal operating limits.

Also, trailers with GVW of 10,001 may require a CDL if the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle towing the trailer is 26,001 pounds or more. Sometimes people might overlook the fact that trailer requirements take the combined weight of both the motorized vehicle and the trailer itself.

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