A refrigerated van is exactly how it sounds, it’s a van that contains the same properties as a refrigerator. These kinds of vans are used to transport items that need to stay at a certain temperature - a good example of this is foods that need to stay cold to keep them fresh.

How do Refrigeration Vans work?

They work in the same way that household refrigerators do, they use an insulated airtight compartment to absorb heat and dissolve that heat outside the compartment to ensure the inside contents stay cool.

Every refrigerated van has a condenser, much like your refrigerator at home, and this is designed to condense hot gas into liquid while the rest of the heat is dissolved into the atmosphere. The liquid is cooled and then travels to the evaporator.

The evaporator is inside the space where items are kept and is similar to the condenser in appearance. The liquid enters the evaporator through a valve and then is evaporated at a low temperature as all heat is absorbed. Fans circulate air inside the space where the goods are, in order to keep the temperature regulated and cool.

The gas produced from this returns to the compressor. The compressor is the centre of the system; it takes the low pressure gas from the evaporator and compresses into hot, high pressure gas. This gas is then pushed out of the condenser for the process to start all over again.


Unlike household refrigerators, a refrigerated van travels outside for long periods of time in varying degrees of weather. The hot sun paired with the heat the vehicle generates to run can mean disaster for items that need to stay cool!

Therefore, the most essential part of a refrigerated van is its insulation. High-density polymer foam is the most commonly used form of insulation for refrigerated vans, as it contains loads of little air bubbles that prevent heat from entering the space where items are kept. The insulation should be thick and high quality - the better the insulation, the more heat you can prevent from getting inside the compartment.

What type of refrigerated van is for me?

You must first consider what you or your business will need a refrigerated van for, as this will give you an insight into the type that would be best and what temperatures you need to be able to transfer your items in. You should also consider how long your items will need to be in the van for before making your decision.

There are four main types of refrigerated van, these are ‘conversion’ vans which means they are regular vans which have been converted into refrigerated vans using various materials.

Insulation-only van

This type of van contains a thick layer of insulation in the loading bay, usually made out of styrofoam or polystyrene. Since there is no refrigeration, this type of van is not ideal for transporting perishable goods such as food items. This van would be a good choice for businesses like florists who want to keep a consistent temperature inside the van but don’t need to worry about chilling their items.

Chiller conversion van

This type of van is similar to the insulation-only van as it has a thick layer of insulation inside, however, it differs because a chiller conversion van containers a chiller too. Usually, this type of van can chill items to as low as 0 degrees and as high as 8 degrees, which is ideal for many food products. A chiller conversion van is a versatile option for any business that wants to ensure their items will stay at the same, optimum temperature throughout a long journey.

Semi-freezer conversion van

A semi-freezer conversion van has a much thicker layer of insulation than the previous types of vans and has its own freezer unit. With a semi-freezer conversion van, temperatures as low as -15 degrees are achievable, which makes this the perfect type of van for businesses who want to transport frozen goods.

The kind of van has some extra features too - the ‘reverse cycle defrost’ means that your goods can be automatically defrosted by reversing the actions of the condenser and evaporator. This only takes seconds! The ‘hot gas defrost’ uses the hot gas produced in the system to quickly defrost your items as well - these are handy features if your goods require fast defrosting.

Full-freezer conversion van

The final van is similar to the semi-freezer conversion van in the way that it has a thick layer of insulation of about the same size (approximately 75mm). It also has the same defrosting capabilities, meaning your products can be quickly and easily defrosted via the ‘reverse cycle defrost’ and the ‘hot gas defrost’.

The main difference with the full-freezer conversion van is that it has reinforced rear and side doors, and the freezer can keep goods much cooler - temperatures can get as low as -20 degrees! If you’re looking to let the inside temperature get as low as -25 degrees then you’ll need to look at a van with much more insulation (about 100mm) and an exterior with a specific kind of heavy door to ensure the inside temperature doesn’t fluctuate.

How can I purchase one?

You can purchase a refrigerated van in the same way you can purchase a regular van - usually through a reputable dealership or private seller.

Consider what you’ll be needing the van for - are your transporting items that need to simply be kept at a consistent temperature? Then an insulation-only van may be the easiest choice for you. Maybe the goods you are transporting are meat and dairy products that need to be chilled, in which case a chilled conversion van is probably the right way to go.

Another thing you’ll need to think about is whether it’s worth buying the van or leasing it instead. If you’re not 100 per cent sure that a refrigerated van is what you need for your business then it makes sense to hire or lease one first. That way, you can give it a test run and see how it works with your goods. If it turns out it’s not right for you, then that will be a lot of money and hassle saved!

Leasing a refrigerated van

If you decide that leasing will be the best option for you, then it’s time to do your research! There are a wide range of reputable companies that offer refrigerated van leasing, whether you need the van for the short term or long term, and can suit whatever requirements you have.

Leasing a van for a long term period could work out to be the most efficient thing for your business; you can often hire the latest models of vans and so you can be sure that they’ll be working well and are in top condition. However, leasing or hiring a refrigerated van means that the van is not your own and does put you under restrictions and time frames that you must keep to.

Getting a refrigerated van on contract hire

Another option you have is to get your refrigerated van on contract hire. Contract hire is a different form of leasing in which you drive the van over a fixed period of time - usually over a few years. You are given a predetermined annual mileage allowance for the driving period and a monthly rental fee. Like regular leasing, the van is not your own and will be returned to the company after the contract period is over. The amount that needs to be paid per month will depend on the size of the van, the length of the contract and the amount of mileage that was agreed between you and the company.

With contract hire, a maintenance package can also be purchased to cover the cost of any maintenance that the van might require. Getting a refrigerated van on contract hire is great for businesses that want a brand new van in the latest model, but don’t want the hassle that comes with getting rid of the van after the contract period has ended.

However, you’ll need to be sure you can calculate the estimated mileage for the refrigerated van before you decide to go for contract hire, and you must be sure on the term agreed because ending the contract early can be very expensive!

Buying a used refrigerated van

With all their capabilities, it’s no surprise that refrigerated vans aren’t cheap! If you’re looking to buy one new you could be spending more than £20,000 - and that can end up being very costly if you need a whole range for your business.

An alternative option is to buy a used refrigerated van. The overall cost will be much cheaper for a used van, and these can often be paid in smaller amounts over a number of months. Many companies offer a wide range of used refrigerated vans of various types, including us at Big Van World. We have a range of used refrigerated vans ready to be purchased - browse our selection here!