One of the biggest challenges for any company is keeping commercial vehicles operating at peak efficiency, but many times, smaller companies and especially individual contractors must use personal vehicles to get the job done.  This can create problems when a contractor has made modifications to a truck or van for personal comfort or style and still asks it to perform on the jobsite.

For the most part, the entire Commonwealth is open minded about these modifications, but smart operators and tradesmen know there is such as thing as “too much.”

Too much tire, too many lights, too much exhaust, too much chrome.

On the one hand, a personal vehicle is an invitation to express yourself and your company, but the two things that are often forgotten about with modifications to double-duty vehicles are – how potential clients view you and any liabilities you might incur as a result of those modifications.

In most cases, such a vehicle is under the weight limit to require a Safety Fitness Certificate – 4,500 kilograms – but it’s important to recognize that limit is extremely close to the Gross Vehicle Weight of some modern one-ton trucks with only a few modifications.  If in doubt, it’s always best to be proactive instead of reactive and seek the clarification of the provincial government to avoid problems.

In our experience, though, small things like improvements to lighting, tires and wheels, and even lettering can all be done with little cause for concern, but when you get into bigger projects, such as utility bodies, flat decks, and even interior storage shelving or ladder racks, then you need to take the steps to protect yourself, even if you are modifying a “personal” vehicle that is used professionally and privately.

Canada has quite a few minimum performance standards for commercial vehicles – generally tied to the gross vehicle weight of the truck or van, but most of these are covered in the National Safety Code Standards.

Almost all of those modifications deal with how they affect the operations of the vehicle.  Adding a power lift gate, service body, even a toolbox should be considered carefully as it is critical to install these components properly to avoid unsafe conditions.

For sole proprietors or contractors with small fleets, an important consideration is to ensure any work done on the vehicle that modifies it from stock is done in compliance with Canada’s safety standards.  Where to start?  Without a doubt, the easiest place is to do business with a company that is authorized to use and apply the National Safety Mark from the Department of Transport.

Expertec - National Safety Mark

The purpose is twofold – it confirms that the work and modifications done comply with all current safety standards and it can help soften the blow from insurance.  Many commercial insurance policies are very strict in what modifications are allowed and how those modifications are completed.  There can be third-party liability in certain circumstances if an accident occurs as a result of the modifications installed, for example.

At the same time, in case of a claim, the tools, supplies, and attached equipment may not be covered if the wrong policy is purchased or the coverage is not adequate.   With that in mind, it’s critical to have a conversation with the insurance company to ensure that the policies in place cover all the modifications to the vehicle, the function of the equipment, and how those items are (or aren’t) separated within the policy.

The best advice is simple – approach all vehicle upfits and modifications with the intent to do them to the highest standards, keep open lines of communication with the insurance carrier and outfitting provider; and if in doubt about the operating status of any vehicle, get written clarification from the government in the province in which you operate.

Expertec National Safety Mark - Canada Department of Transport