Whenever you are traveling or living in your van, space is at a premium. Our van is 144 High Roof. One of the nice things about the high roof model, besides being able to stand up with good posture is that there is some extra storage space if you get creative. (This is also why we design our window covers to fold and stay up when you don’t want them down, it saves space!) A number of people and various companies have capitalized on making a shelf that sits right above the driver and passenger side seats. These shelves are typically called “headliner shelves” or “overhead shelves”. This post explores the various options available for these shelves, including both DIY and just purchase and play. At the end we discuss the option we decided to go with for our own van.
To build or to buy
When building out any part of your own van, one is always confronted with how much do you really want to do by hand. For example, many people install their own Espar D2 heaters, but I haven’t seen any one build their own heater and install that. Similarly, people put all sorts of windows in their vans, but I’ve yet to see anyone fabricate their own window and use that.
For some projects the line between what you buy and install versus what you build and install is pretty concrete (e.g. no one seems to build heaters or windows, but lots of people install them). On the hand, there are some projects where the line is a little more blurry.
Let’s take a bed for example. There are numerous bed kits you can buy and install yourself. Yet, there are also many posts and Instagram pictures of people building their own beds (although I’ve yet to see anyone build their own mattress!) So the bed is one of those categories that is a little fuzzy. Some folks prefer to purchase and install, while others prefer to build their own and install.
DIY headliner shelf
The overhead shelf is similar to the bed in that it lies in this gray area – some people prefer to build, others prefer to purchase.
When you build your own the process is basically as follows. Make a template from some material by scribing the curves. Translate that onto a piece of 1/2″ plywood. Cover the plywood with the material of your choice. Speaker box carpet is a popular option. Then create a couple of brackets to mount the shelf. I think the best options are to mount the shelf to the existing screw holes for the jacket hooks and above the visor storage cubbies.
If you are interested in building your own, check out these resources to help get you started.
There is one other option I want to mention, it’s what I call, “DIY with help”. Vancillary sells a template that you can use to build a shelf. You can get it printed out on paper or as a downloadable CAD drawing. If you get the CAD drawing, you can take it to your local machine shop and have them make it. If you go the paper template route, you could use it to make one out of wood. They also ship you brackets with the template. This seems like a great option, if you like the idea of building it yourself, but want a little help to leapfrog the scribing and template making part. It will save you a bundle too!
Overhead shelves for sale
I know of three companies selling headliner shelves for Sprinter vans.
RB Components has one that looks nice (although I haven’t seen it in person) and sells for about $500. I believe they may have been the first company to make one and get it to market. They make two styles, the full shelf that mounts at visor level and the half-shelf that mounts above the visors.
The other option is the overhead shelf by Vannon. Theirs is what I would consider a “half shelf” and has a lower price point, coming in at $300. This shelf is not as deep as RB components’. Instead of extending all the way forward, it stops short a few inches and has a vertical piece that extends up several inches. The vertical piece blocks stuff from sliding forward and dropping down into your lap.
Van wife components is the third headliner shelf manufacturer. Theirs seems pretty similar to the one by RB Components and costs about the same too. I haven’t seen it in person either.
All three of these options mount to existing holes in your van; no drilling is required.
Time value of money
When we think about working on our van, there is always one major limiting factor. No it isn’t money, although that can be a roadblock sometimes, the real hindrance is time. We bought a van because we wanted to take our family out camping and adventuring more often than we did with our other vehicle. But if we spend all of our time running our business and working on our van, when do we get to go spend quality time outdoors.
When it came time for us to decide on how to put in a headliner, we bought the Vannon instead of building one ourselves. The Vancillary template was intriguing, but it meant spending time tracking down a machine shop or building it ourselves based on their template. I almost went this route and if you have the time, I would strongly recommend you consider it, you’ll save a bundle. But for us, where we are in our somewhat hectic life-stage with two young kids, we dropped down $300 (plus $80 shipping!) on the Vannon.
Vannon headliner shelf review
The Vannon overhead shelf recently arrived in the mail. It was delivered in a large box. While it arrived with one of the brackets slightly bent, I was able to slowly bend it back and install it without any issues. The folks at Vancillary were responsive when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to bend it back.
The Vannon shelf is made out of Aluminum, but is powder coated black. It comes with nice strips of soft shelf liner. This was a nice touch so we don’t have to listen to our jackets, stuff sacks and other gear slide around while we drive.
Vannon headliner shelf installation
As I mentioned before, the shelf installed without too much issue. I had to straighten a bracket out, but after that it was just a matter of tapping it into position. For those that are interested, these are the exact steps I followed.
- Remove coat hooks. Use a screwdriver or trim removal tool to pry them off.
- Remove four screws. 2 under the coat hooks and two that attach the “oh shit” handles to the side of the headliner area.
- Slide the Vannon overhead shelf into place.
- Tap and tap some more until a screw hole is lined up. Loosely put the screw in that hole. Do this for the remaining screws.
- Tighten down the 4 screws and snap the coat hooks back in place.
It does fit very tightly. I used a rubber mallet to tap it into place. And I’m not just talking one or two taps. It was more like whack-a-mole. Tap, tap here, then look at the other side and realize it moved a little too much. So then tap, tap there and then, oh look, now that screw hole isn’t lined up. Repeat that a few times and you’ll have it positioned perfectly. Even with those minor frustrations, I did the whole thing in the dark (used my Van’s interior lights and a flashlight) by myself in about 30 minutes. So in the big scheme of things, it was definitely an easy install.
All in all, I’m really happy with the Vannon overhead shelf. Yes, it costs more than a true DIY approach, but the time saved is sometimes invaluable. I’m looking forward to really putting it to the test with the numerous trips we have coming up.