The Transfer Van: How the dead are transported

The Toyota Hiace
    The transfer van is something that is so important, an essential part of society, and yet almost nobody knows it even exists.  This is not because we do not actively avoid it.  Instead it is just something which nobody is told or thinks about.  Thus I thought it was about time i brought the transfer van out of the dark.

    One of the things that surprises people about the transfer van is that it is literally a van and nothing special.  People often believe the body is transported in a special vehicle designed for the job, much like a hearse if not a hearse.  When I tell them that it is a van, often a Toyota Hiace, they are surprised but not shocked.  Nobody has ever expressed displeasure with the thought of their loved one, or themselves, being transfered in a van.  It is just something they never thought about rather than something they disliked.

    I should not that there are actual state and national laws on what vehicles can transport a body.  Because I do now fully know these laws or regulations I will not go into them in detail.  But basically the vehicle has to have an airtight seal between the driver and the body.  The compartment the body is held in must also have decent ventilation to the outside.  Thus one cannot just transport a body in the back of any car.

    Now for the transfer vehicle itself.  The most common is the Toyota Hiace (pictured right and below) as it is cheap, practical and so reliable.  The Hiace is used by 'Statewide' and 'Mortuary Services Support' (dedicated transfer companies) and many funeral homes.  It is just such a reliable van, I remember how we would run our Hiace up and down freeways for days on end and it never missed a beat.  Plus it is actually quite cheap (to run and buy) which makes it quite a good option from a financial point of view for the company.  All of this is exactly what one wants in the transfer car, last thing anyone wants is to be broken down with a body on board.  The next most common would be a basic Mercedes Van, this is used primarily be InvoCare transfer crews.  It is more expensive to buy than the Hiace, but InvoCare is not just rich, they are also happy and willing to spend money if it is justified.  The Mercedes is a much nicer van inside and outside with better airconditioning and more legroom for the drivers.  However there are other much less common transfer vehicles, I remember an interstate transfer company arrived with a really odd custom built car.  It was like a ute which's tray was a large single and sealed box.  This thing was apparently from the 1980s and on its second engine, which had done over 5 million kilometres.

    Because the Toyota Hiace is the most common transfer vehicle I will primarily look at this as the example of the transfer van.  In the back of the Hiace is an automatic 'lift' (pictured below) which can be raised or lowered.  This makes it possible for the van to hold four bodies at once and because the lift can be lowered it makes 'loading up' the body much easier.  One can simply lower the lift to waist hight rather than have to lift the body to head hight.  Inside the Hiace there is the divider, this divider is not only the airtight seal but also practical because it has so many shelves.  Here is where we keep the body bags, slide sheets, gloves, hand sanitisers, street map and so on.

    One massive drawback to the Hiace is that it is rather top heavy once the lift is installed.  A transfer van, exactly the same as the one featured in this post, actually flipped on its side in Melbourne only a couple of years ago.  When driving it you could really feel this top heaviness.  It was obviously impossible to take any corner too fast or the van would fall over.

Inside the cabin of the Hiace.

Inside the back of the Hiace with the lift raised.

Inside the back of the Hiace with the lift lowered.

The switch to raise and lower the lift.

Stretchers sitting inside the van.

The clamp used to keep the stretchers in place.
Our transfer van, back in the garage after a long day.
The transfer stretchers.
The leg-less one is lying upside down and on top of the one with legs

Inside the transfer van with no stretchers.

    This is what we will all ride in one day, a white van.  It is literally the second last thing most people will be driven in after they die (the last being the hearse).



  1. This sounds basic, but what what do you search for in the yellow pages/google to find a suitable local body transfer company? Do you have the names of any Sydney-based small businesses? Cheers!, John

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