I’ve driven more cargo vans than I’d like to remember. Me and a bunch of sweaty workers drove to construction sites across Arizona in an old cargo van all summer long when I worked for my uncle. I eventually left that gig and started delivering air conditioners. Again, sweating and tumbling down the road in a cargo van. This experience taught me that:
- cargo vans without air conditioning suck
- most cargo vans are noisy as hell
Sometimes the packages and tools behind me would slide around and cause a racket. I can live with that. But the worst part of all was the road noise and engine noise. If I knew then what I know now, I would have told my boss to soundproof the damn thing. Hell, I’ll buy the material myself if I have to! But I didn’t know how easy it was to upgrade the van with soundproofing material, and I suffered for no damn reason.
Well, if you’re driving around in one of these noisy tin cans like I was, I fully sympathize. And I want to help you drastically reduce that noise with as little money and time as possible. Here are my suggestions:
1. Use materials that block impact noise AND airborne noise
Not all soundproofing materials are the same. Some block impact noise, others block airborne noise.
The difference between these two types of noise is very important in choosing the right material.
Impact noise is a low frequency sound caused by vibrations. In the case of cargo vans, that’s the noise coming from the engine and from driving on the road in general. This sound is also called structure-borne noise, because it gets amplified when passing through a hollow or thin surface.
The other type of noise, called airborne noise, is the higher frequency sound that is transmitted only through air. Those are the traffic sounds, people yelling etc.
So to block engine noise and road noise, you HAVE TO use impact noise blockers. Regular foam panels won’t get the job done. Also installing them can be a bit tricky in vehicles. Vehicles don’t have even, smooth surfaces like walls. You need thin, flexible material that is designed for uneven surfaces.
What I actually saw make a difference for blocking impact AND airborne noise are these two products (aff links to Amazon):
These two helped my buddy soundproof his pickup truck on a budget, and I was very impressed with the results. They can be used for soundproofing the cabin, the engine compartment, doors, and basically any other area in the vehicle. This couple recorded their own soundproofing adventure using the FatMat material:
You can also read my more in-depth review of these two products in this article.
2. Soundproof the critical areas in the van
Soundproofing the entire van would DRASTICALLY reduce the noise. But you don’t have to soundproof the entire van to get SOLID results. In most cases, the engine and road noise are the worst problem and it’s fairly easy to reduce them. To do so, focus on eliminating these three critical areas first:
- the engine
- the wheel wells
- the cabin floor
Soundproof the engine compartment from the inside and install the FatMat on the floor of the cabin. I recommend placing FatMat under a carpet or a mat. The material is pretty strong, but it will last longer if there’s a protective layer between the FatMat and your feet.
I also recommend using the product in the back of the van. The vibrations coming from the road are definitely taking an advantage of that large, uncovered surface while you’re driving.
3. Measure the area
Before you buy the material, measure the surface that you want to cover first. You don’t have to be super precise, since the FatMat can be cut into smaller pieces. It can also be used for different soundproofing projects in your home. So if there’s some left at the end of the day, you can definitely make use of it.
The worst thing you can do is order TOO LITTLE material. Then you won’t have enough to do anything useful with it. The couple from the video used 50 square feet of FatMat to soundproof their van, and you saw how big of an area they could cover.
You can buy all of that material for around $120. But if you focus only on the critical areas that I mentioned, 25 square feet should also be enough.
With the spray-on foam the situation is different. It’s best to use it on smaller areas, and those that are generally not visible. Although it works great for soundproofing, it doesn’t look very nice. You can use it for soundproofing doors for example, inside the door panel and for the engine compartment as well.
One can of spray-on foam will definitely be enough for covering all the small nooks and crannies in the van and you’ll still have some left for future use.
I suggest you use both products. FatMat for large, visible areas, and spray-on foam for harder to reach places and uneven surfaces that aren’t too visible anyway.
Once you’ve finished this small project, your van will be a much quieter place. You can crank up the radio without the engine coughs and road bumps ruining the fun!
I wish someone had told me years ago how easy this was. If you decide to take advantage of this information, let me know how big of a difference it’s made for you in the comment section, or shoot me a thank you email at firstname.lastname@example.org.