For those of us in the trades, there’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting a tool or digging around looking for the one item you need—it wastes brain space and time. The way you organize the tools and materials in your vehicle may not be something you’ve put much thought into, but it's worth it to do so: great vehicle tool organization shows a pride and professionalism in how we work—and it makes us more productive.
Engineering our work vehicles in a way that increases our work effectiveness is just as important as engineering any other part of our process. Thinking about vehicle organization in such a way to capitalize on hauling space, working efficiency, ergonomics, or simple cleanliness will create profit on a company’s bottom line and make the tradesperson more attractive to the employer. And, I can tell you from experience, that beyond the above benefits, vehicle organization makes the professional working environment a whole lot easier.
So, the question is: How do you engineer an organized work vehicle unique to you and your needs? Today, I'm sharing my top tips.
Consider these three things when organizing your work vehicle
There are three main things to consider when thinking about how to put together your method of organization:
1. What is it that you do and what are your working methods around that?
2. What types of tools or materials do you need and use?
3. What kind of vehicle are you using or working out of?
It makes it a lot easier to identify how you’re going to outfit your vehicle if you take the time to break down these three things separately. Do this before you start.
Visualize your tools
I recommend laying out all the tools you transport and use on the job site so you can see them in one place. This can easily be done by stacking them neatly in a driveway or on the floor of a garage. Doing this helps you visualize all the shapes and sizes and how they might fit together in your vehicle for the easiest access. When you look at this with the unique space capacity of your vehicle in mind, it also helps you identify any storage systems you may want to purchase or build in the future.
Look at your vehicle space
Vehicles have limited space and are all different, with varying access points. Try to visualize things such as how you like to load and unload your tools, or how your tools can be packed and stored to stay in place while driving. Organizing the space for your tools will require storage systems, boxes, or custom shelves you may want to build or purchase. As you consider the space, it’s also important to identify what materials you may be hauling from time to time and how you’re going to provide space for those.
Think about your working methodology
After getting a feel for your tools and unique vehicle space, think about your working methodology: how you work on site, your unique job or specialty, and how your tools and vehicle are a part of that. We’re all different—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, contractors, and so forth—and we all have different roles, which means we all have different needs when it comes to our tools. Some tools are used more often than others—try to organize your vehicle so these tools have the easiest reach. Keep tools that are used less frequently in areas that are a little harder to access. When you need them, they’re still there—even if it does take a little more effort to unload them—but this is still more efficient than leaving them at home or in the shop.
Build out your vehicle and loading tools
Once the considerations are made, it’s time to start building out your space to fit your needs. This may require loading and unloading your tools several times or making adjustments to your built-in shelves, boxes, or storage space. If something doesn’t seem quite right when you're working or feels cumbersome, that's a sign that you need to adjust your shelves or rearrange your tools. It took me about six months of adjustments to settle in (and there are still some things that could be done better)—your space might be a lot simpler. It's an ongoing process, so continue to optimize it as you go or as you purchase a new vehicle, add tools, change services, or get a job with different requirements.
Consider your gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)
When your vehicle is built out and loaded, you can see how everything comes together as an organized system. There’s a lot of weight in tools, so it’s important to not overload your vehicle—you can check your owners manual or do an internet search to learn more. Look for your gross vehicle weight rating tag (normally located on the inside edge of the vehicle door)—this will tell you the maximum weight your vehicle is designed for and how much the vehicle itself weighs. The difference between these two numbers is how much you can carry for each load. Keep in mind that each axle and tire has a weight rating as well, so the load must be distributed properly. If you’re carrying heavy loads like I am, I’d recommend weighing your vehicle empty and then again when it’s loaded. This will tell you how much your tools weigh and, overall, if you’re within your GVWR. If you haul a trailer or materials, you should consider that weight as well.
I know it may seem like a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort to organize your tool storage. It doesn’t matter how many tools you have or what kind of vehicle you use—what matters is the positive results you’ll experience in your efficiency and professionalism.
Once your work truck is organized, make sure to check out some of our other blog posts on professionalism and organization. Read about how to dress professionally as a tradesperson, learn about how you can provide verification for time and materials as a contractor, or listen to our podcast on organizational management.