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Old 10-11-2019, 08:49 AM   #1
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Metal Roof Supports inside Conversion Van

Question that I’m hoping I can get some input on here…. My conversion van has a steel support system running horizontally across the roof. See the image below for what it looks like – it has three main support pieces that run across the interior of the roof and a metal structure along either side that they connect to, which is bolted to the remaining flange of the van’s body.



When I originally built out the van, I assumed these supports were necessary for horizontal structural support due to the fiberglass high-top roof. My thought was that they prevented the van’s walls from flexing inwards due to the removal of the OEM roof.

As I look to make some updates to the van, I’d really like to remove them to:
  • gain back the ~2” of headroom that they cut-out.
  • Be able to more seamlessly insulate the roof (with 1 continuous piece of XPS insulation, vs a number of pieces that fit around the supports)

Now that I'm much more familiar with these vans, I realize that I've never seen a similar support structure within a high-top van. Does anybody know if it's necessary? Is the high-top itself enough to prevent problematic horizontal flex of the walls when the OEM roof is cut out. Two possibly relevant notes:
  1. The OEM side-doors were replaced with taller doors to accommodate a handicap lift. This was done by welding a pretty thick steel frame in the door area that extends above the traditional gutter-rail.
  2. The bulk-head area of the roof is fully cut out (I see some high-top vans that keep the OEM bulk-head section of the roof.
Thanks in advance for the input, I can also provide additional photos if helpful (although the supports are challenging to photograph at present because they’re covered by the walls/ceiling.
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Old 10-11-2019, 09:30 AM   #2
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The cage is for rollover protection. It can be required in high tops for 2 reasons:
-Occupants heads are above the original roof place (i.e. wheelchair users)
-The roof perimeter, or support at the B-pillar has be modified. It sounds like your van is subject to both.

Of course, it's your van, and you can do whatever you want with it. But if you sold it, you probably should disclose its no longer compliant with FMVSS standards. And I personally wouldn't want to drive around in a van with a compromised roof structure.

Ford details exactly what can be removed to maintain compliance here, starting on page 28:
https://madocumentupload.marketingas...f8c80&v5=False
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Old 10-11-2019, 11:38 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by carringb View Post
The cage is for rollover protection. It can be required in high tops for 2 reasons:
-Occupants heads are above the original roof place (i.e. wheelchair users)
-The roof perimeter, or support at the B-pillar has be modified. It sounds like your van is subject to both.

Of course, it's your van, and you can do whatever you want with it. But if you sold it, you probably should disclose its no longer compliant with FMVSS standards. And I personally wouldn't want to drive around in a van with a compromised roof structure.

Ford details exactly what can be removed to maintain compliance here, starting on page 28:
https://madocumentupload.marketingas...f8c80&v5=False
That's a super helpful document - haven't come across it before. Thanks for sharing. The support structure certainly isn't strong enough to be roll-cage worthy, in my opinion. If memory serves me correct, it's no larger than 1" steel square tubing. Nothing that would stand a chance if there was a legitimate roll-over. The b-pillar modification would make sense to me. I could see where the conversion company likely had to add these in order to sell the van within standards.

Because I don't envision any way that they wouldn't be crushed in a roll-over event, I'd still lean towards removing them. Unless it could cause any issue with the walls flexing and such (and obviously I would disclose this to any future buyer).
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Old 10-11-2019, 12:06 PM   #4
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The converter would have had to perform a static roof crush test to certify the system. But vehicles over 8500 pounds only have meet 1.5x GVWR to be compliant, vs a dynamic rollover test for passenger cars.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.do.../tp-216-05.pdf

So it should be at least as good as stock, even if it doesn't look like it. If you start removing structure, the loss of integrity is just a guess. At the very least, I think you'll see cracking at the windshield body joints, which happens anyways on pop top vans or vans with a heavy roof rack. This can make it difficult to keep water from entering there, and you end up with damp carpet up front.
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Old 10-11-2019, 12:13 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by carringb View Post
The converter would have had to perform a static roof crush test to certify the system. But vehicles over 8500 pounds only have meet 1.5x GVWR to be compliant, vs a dynamic rollover test for passenger cars.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.do.../tp-216-05.pdf

So it should be at least as good as stock, even if it doesn't look like it. If you start removing structure, the loss of integrity is just a guess. At the very least, I think you'll see cracking at the windshield body joints, which happens anyways on pop top vans or vans with a heavy roof rack. This can make it difficult to keep water from entering there, and you end up with damp carpet up front.
Hmm... well your points are pushing me to keep the supports as-is. Waiting for somebody to offer a counter argument so that I can justify removing them (lol). But seriously, thanks for the input. The last thing I want to do is create more problems for myself down the road by removing them.
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Old 10-12-2019, 05:39 AM   #6
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I'm not seeing any images you speak of---are they still available somewhere?

Here are my own after the interior was removed in preparation for a work van build-out: https://imgur.com/a/kbyVF

Along with CarringB's observations you do not want to remove any structure the original converter used after the original van roof and upper door supports were removed. Those are highly integral to the van body remaining fairly stiff, much the same as when it was originally produced.

I have a 2000 E250 regular body with raised roof---had what I'm sure is the same upper structure you're speaking about. Foolishly I removed it thinking the extra room would be wonderful---it didn't yield all that much more space and the body is far more flimsy than when it was all in place.

The thicker steel lintel's are as much for door sealing surfaces as they are for somewhat replacing the original door supports that run along the roof and drain gutters. The real strength of the upper cage comes from it being welded together and then to the body. Its shape does intrude slightly into the interior but that's necessary to be sure it acts more as a roll cage. With a lot of time and money it could be removed with existing top in place and a new structure welded in that would give a bit more room---for the cost it really doesn't make a lot of sense

My 2005 E350 extended body with raised roof and extended height rear doors was a Club Wagon with wheel chair lift---the upper structure in place and it will remain. FWIW I think in 2003 Federal regulations required the side and rear door would have latching provisions at the top as the original normal height doors had.

Anyway don't remove that upper structure---it is important for some degree of safety with the raised roofs.
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Old 10-12-2019, 11:32 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JWA View Post
I'm not seeing any images you speak of---are they still available somewhere?

Here are my own after the interior was removed in preparation for a work van build-out: https://imgur.com/a/kbyVF

Along with CarringB's observations you do not want to remove any structure the original converter used after the original van roof and upper door supports were removed. Those are highly integral to the van body remaining fairly stiff, much the same as when it was originally produced.

I have a 2000 E250 regular body with raised roof---had what I'm sure is the same upper structure you're speaking about. Foolishly I removed it thinking the extra room would be wonderful---it didn't yield all that much more space and the body is far more flimsy than when it was all in place.

The thicker steel lintel's are as much for door sealing surfaces as they are for somewhat replacing the original door supports that run along the roof and drain gutters. The real strength of the upper cage comes from it being welded together and then to the body. Its shape does intrude slightly into the interior but that's necessary to be sure it acts more as a roll cage. With a lot of time and money it could be removed with existing top in place and a new structure welded in that would give a bit more room---for the cost it really doesn't make a lot of sense

My 2005 E350 extended body with raised roof and extended height rear doors was a Club Wagon with wheel chair lift---the upper structure in place and it will remain. FWIW I think in 2003 Federal regulations required the side and rear door would have latching provisions at the top as the original normal height doors had.

Anyway don't remove that upper structure---it is important for some degree of safety with the raised roofs.
I only have the one photo from my first post. Your support structure looks much more professionally/cleanly done than mine. Mine is only the three black cross-pieces that go across the width of the van, plus the the vertical structure on either side of the van. The components of mine are also all connected with bolts rather than welds.

Sounds like the verdict is to keep them! It is interesting to me that I've never seen any of the DIY people that install their own high-tops including a roll cage of short in their build. But I guess that goes back to most of them not compromising the B/C pillars w/ extended handicap doors.
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Old 10-12-2019, 12:24 PM   #8
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But I guess that goes back to most of them not compromising the B/C pillars w/ extended handicap doors.
Yup. This is key. If you only cut the roof within Ford's body-builder guidelines, then you don't need anything additional at all. And, I've seen vans with no roof at all! Some of them have replacement roll bars, but some of them most definitely do not.



I guess they must have good insurance Or they know they can just shut down their LLC when things go south, and open up another tomorrow.

At least the E-series has a full ladder frame. It's kinda scary that they hack up unibody vans too.

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