Customizing can be fun. No matter what car, van, or truck you own altering its look, performance and power is always an option. Plus, it is a lot of fun as you get to make the selections of parts, colors, and even the height of your vehicle. That makes the project worth doing.
There are two ways to go about raising the roof on your van. The first way is to get a kit and do it yourself. This is the less expensive way and the more expensive option is to get the pros to handle the job. This is the best way as there are issues you may not be qualified to handle when you cut your roof open.
To learn more about high-top roof conversions and if there are kits available, just continue to read our article. It has that information and more High top conversions are not hard to do, it is just that fewer professionals are doing the job anymore.
Vans are known for having low roofs. But then that is understandable as vans were not originally made to haul passengers or go camping. The van was originally designed to haul cargo and boxes and crates did not need high roofs.
When it became popular to use a van for taking passengers to different destinations and to use them as a nice room instead of paying high hotel bills something needed to be done.
The only way for a van to expand was to go up so cutting the roof and raising it up was the only option available. That is the only method you have available. Because of the structural design cutting the roof open can be tricky.
There are cross beam supports that reinforce the sidewalls and that construction issue has to be dealt with carefully. Then you have to worry about sealing the new construction so that water and snow do not get inside after you are done.
If you are a handy fabricator and know how to do the work, raising the roof on your van is not going to be an impossible task. If you are not, you need to consider letting a pro handle the project as they have the tools and experience to get the job done right.
Yes, this is possible but there is one major concern you have to worry about. You can only go so high before road issues become a problem. This is a rare event but it does happen.
Adding a high roof to a van is not a problem and we have heard of some reaching an additional 30 inches high. That height is good if you happen to be driving someone who is in a wheelchair. They will not need to duck their head as they go in or out of the back of the van.
You will have to assess your height needs as there is only so far up you can go and if you are above average in height, you may not get all the headroom you want. Also, you may not be able to drive your new high-top extended van into many parking garages.
Parking in your own garage is generally out of the question and you may have to invest in a cover to protect the vehicle from the elements. Before you make final decisions you need to consider these and other situations.
You may put yourself in a bad bind if you do not do this before you finalize your plans.
Actually, this is up to you to decide on as some people 6’ 4” have been able to stand up straight in a converted van without banging their heads. There are low-top roofs you can put on which only give you 8 to 10 inches of extra headroom space.
Or you can go 24 to 30 inches and possibly up to 36 inches tall. We have not come across any 36 inch high roofs yet but if the streets and laws allow it, it is possible. When you are talking about how high you want to go, you need to start looking at local street laws, center of gravity issues, and one other important factor.
That important factor is not parking, although it is a big one, it is wind resistance. The taller you go the more wind resistance you get. The more wind resistance you get the lower your fuel economy.
That is important as you will be spending more money on gas or diesel if you go too high or do not design the high-top roof in the right way. While you are deciding on how high you want your new roof, make sure you get all the related information that will play a role in your design.
Yes and no. It will depend on how tall you are and how high your high-top roof extension will go. For example, if the interior of your van is 48 inches from floor to current ceiling, and you stand 6 feet tall, you will need to add 24+ inches to the roof for you to stand up without banging your head.
If you stand 76 inches tall, you would have to add 30 inches to the roof to have the right headroom. This calculation is done before you start working and have bought the supplies.
In your planning stages measure the interior of your van’s height and then your height. Subtract the former from the latter and that will give you the minimum amount of room you need to stand up without hitting your head.
For those over 6’ 6” in height, you may have some problems as you may not be able to add enough height to your roof to allow you to stand up without bending over. The one exception to this rule is if you go the pop-up route.
Then you can go as high as you need to as the roof collapses down to standard height when you are driving.
That will depend on which way you go and how much the professionals will charge. Of course, the materials you use will impact your costs and each installer will have their own price. You will need to shop around to get the best deal.
For our British readers, we found one installer that was charging around 1,000 BP. But they can go as high as 2200 BP+ on different van models. Fiberine doesn't want its competitors to know their pricing list, so they don't advertise any. You have to call them up and ask them.
Fiberline is a west coast installer and the reports on them have been positive. Then if you use local shops that sell high tops, you may be looking at prices around $2,000 to $2,500 depending on the company. The installation will be extra.
Tufport says its prices start at $4295 to start for their utility high top and $6395 for their deluxe models. You will have to shop around. There are a lot of DIY plans and kits you can use and their price range will vary.
If you have the high top made for you and you will install it yourself, the location you live at will determine your overall cost. One person paid $5500 to have one made and shipped to him but he lives in Alaska.
Your DIY costs will vary as well as some people use fiberglass, others use sheet metal and still more people use cedar and fir to make their own high-top roofs. Then all the hardware and extras you will need will add to your costs.
The only thing you do not have to pay for is your labor and time.
We have not seen any real evidence that this van maker produces any high-top cargo vans. We have seen pictures of a couple of their Express vans with extended roofs but those look more like low tops than high tops.
The Express van option is supposed to have been phased out in 2019 as it was not a big seller for Chevy. But then it was just a rebadged Nissan cargo van. We did see other automakers producing some high-top cargo vans with Ford being the leader in this category.
The Nissan NV is Japan’s answer to this issue and it provides 323 cubic feet of cargo room. The Dodge Ram Pro Master model provides 353 cubic feet of cargo space in its high-top version.
Finally, Mercedes Benz got in on the act and their Sprinter model has over 580 cubic feet of cargo space behind the driver. While Chevy may not make the high-top version for its cargo van lineup, you can still find them if you shop at other dealers.
There may be some older Chevy versions available for you to check out but we did not see any newer ones.
If you know what you are doing, this project will taker time and if you do not know what you are doing, then it is best to hire someone who does. There are always complications involved when you are customizing a vehicle.
Knowing how to handle them when they arise will save you a lot of frustration and help you avoid mistakes. One of those mistakes may be assuming that fiberglass high top is the only way to go. it isn’t as the look fiberglass presents may not work for your van.
Also, when adding a high-top roof to your vehicle, you need to take into account the maximum payload weight your van can carry. Everything you put in the van including the extended roof has to meet or be underneath that maximum limit.
There are steps to follow in doing this job:
1. Cutting the roof- once you start, you cannot undo your work. You also have to cut the roof to get the exact measurements for your frame.
2. Build your frame- after you get your measurements, you need to build it and before you even start this project you should have decided on the best materials to use. You can add a skylight and an exhaust fan to your design if you want.
3. Secure the frame- once it is built, you should attach it to your van right away. Lag bolts are the best securing method you can use.
4. Adding the exterior shell- this is best done after you secured the frame as you will have more room to maneuver than if you added the exterior walls first. You may want to wire in any electrical accessories before you add the walls for the same reason.
5. Seal everything- you will want to have everything water-tight and weatherproof.
There are a few good companies left that make fiberglass high top roofs for vans. If you read our other article on high-top roofs and who makes them, then you will know the reason why this is so.
That article has links to the few companies’ websites where you can contact them and get a quote for a fiberglass shell. If you want a used one to save costs, you would have to check the wrecking yards or the different classified ads.
Many companies used to do this work but they have either gone out of business or switched focus. Also, those that remain, may charge you a nice price just to make it and then charge you for the installation.
Make sure to shop around and contact some local fiberglass fabricators to see if they can do anything for you. it is hard to find someone doing this type of work anymore. Then when they are installed, the companies generally use sheet metal screws.
That hardware is not as secure as other screws or bolts you can use. With sheet metal screws if by chance you flip the van, the first thing that comes off is the high top and exposing everyone underneath it to harm.
The cost of a fiberglass high top could be expensive with some being sold for $2500 and up plus installation.
There is a problem with this topic. The word conversion sends you to a myriad of websites instructing you on how to convert your van’s interior to a camper. They do not send you to one talking about using a kit to convert your roof into a high top.
There are good reasons for this situation. One of the main reasons is that there is no way a kit will be helpful to you. The tools and materials you need are never sold together in one kit.
The reason for that is if you are going to use fiberglass as your material, that high top has to be pored already and designed to fit your van’s frame dimensions. Since there are different dimensions on different vans, making a universal kit or one that is adjustable is next to impossible.
Then you will need an angle grinder or similar metal cutting power tool to make your cut. Hand tools won’t cut it thus this kit would be far too expensive to buy and it would be better to go to pro.
The best thing we can do here is provide a link to some DIY plans that are free and those plans may help you or provide inspiration to design your own using your own materials. Just click here to get to that web page.
Different companies will install high-top roofs for you. Some of them may allow you to buy your own and bring it in for installation and others may require that you buy your high top from them.
The first installer to check out is Sportsmobile and they install and make more than just roof high tops. They have a wide selection of products to choose from and their experts will answer any questions you may have.
Then there is supposed to be Cyclevan and they may be known through their website and through the many YouTube videos that have been produced over the years. They also don't restrict their business to just installing high-top roofs. The demand is just not there to support that sole purpose.
Two other companies that do installation work, but that work may be limited to installing their own products, are Fiberine and Tufport. They have been in this business for a long time.
It is hard to make a long list of installers as they go out of business due to the lack of demand for high-top roofs.
We have not seen any kits made for this make and model of van. One reason has already been stated in another section. A second reason is that the Chevy Express vans that we have seen, some of them, come with factory-installed high-top roofs.
There is no reason to purchase or even make a kit due to this option. If you bought an Express van before Chevy stopped production, you would need to either go to a professional high-top roof maker or DIY yourself to change the roofline.
Conversion kits just do not work for van roofs. They do work for the interior of the van as they involve components that only need to be attached to the existing frame not alter that existing frame.
Also, kits would not be popular as there may not be a variety of styles to choose from. If you didn’t like what the kit did, you won’t buy it so it is not a moneymaker for any company.
If you want to turn your Chevy Express van into a high-top roof, then we suggest talking to the different companies before attempting.
Getting some tips will help you make better plans and see if this project is worth doing. And if we do not cover all topics related to this project, the biggest tip we can provide is to tell you to talk to experts in this field. They will have all the insight you will need.
1. Do your research- find out if a high top roof will work on your model of van and what options are available
2. Make your decisions first- once you start you cannot change course. So decide on your design, materials, security hardware, and size of the roof before you buy anything.
3. Materials- you are not limited to fiberglass but if you use other options you need to make sure the weight of the frame, etc., does not put you over the maximum payload weight.
4. Set your budget- make sure you can afford the design and materials you want to use. Call different companies for quotes to see if that is a better and less expensive way to go.
High-top roofs on vans are a good idea. The key is to know what you want and why you want one. The purpose behind converting your van is most important. keep in mind that the higher you make your van roof, the more it will cost you in fuel efficiency. be prepared for higher costs after the project is over.