CHOOSE THE RIGHT LIFT-GATE FOR YOUR PRODUCTION GRIP VAN!
One of the reasons for this post is strongly to help others not make the same mistake I made. Hopefully by reading this you'll not only find some helpful tips but also dodge an embarrassing mistake which I launched myself into by being too eager and too excited of what I thought was golden nugget find.
The thought of getting a lift gate for our new Grip Sprinter Van took fruition a few weeks prior to purchasing the van up in Portland, OR. I have been part of a Facebook user group called "Production Van's & Grip Trucks" for the past year and it has provided a plethora of great knowledge and insights into how to really bring your Grip Sprinter to the next level. I've also worked for years in the film industry and have always admired the conveniency and brilliance of how effective a lift gate can be when loading out after a long day on set, when everyone is exhausted.
So with all that collected, I began to educate myself on the different types, brands, and prices of what Lift Gates were out there in our market of the Bay Area, California. I quickly found 4 leading brands that seemed to be the easiest to acquire through a dealer/distributor. In no particular order they are; Tommy Gate, Maxon, Palfinger, and Dhollandia. I am sure there are more less known brands but I found these to be the most common and well known by distributors in California.
Next, I needed to decide what type of gate did we need? I found that the most effective Lift-Gate for a Sprinter Van was the "Cantilever" style lift. This lift essentially folds flat to the van's back doors when it is not in use and when operated, folds down, lowers flat to the ground in a bowing action. An important thing to mention here is that there are two different types of cantilever lift gates; full platform, and bi-folding platform. A full platform measures the entirety of both back doors together. A bi-folding platform, as you can guess, measures the same when unfolded at the ground for operation, but folds in half to store upright when not in use. You may ask why would you need this? This allows you to have access to opening the right side swinging back door open on the van if you need to have access to the van, but don't need to go to the trouble opening the gate. This allows for fast access to the back which can be nice in certain situations. It also allows you to perhaps install a roof ladder over the right swinging door to create roof access if you have goods and ladders up top you need to get to.
As you can probably tell, we fell in love with the Bi-folding Cantilever concept. We planned on having a roof rack and a ladder over that passenger side back door, in order to access anything stored on our roof. Deciding the exact type of lift is super important, this allows you to narrow your searches to who makes them and the quality and price of each of those brands. The 4 brands I mentioned earlier all make great Bi-folding Cantilever lift gates for my van, but some stood out as higher quality and loved by operators I know in LA and the Bay Area.
Let's rewind and disclose where I made a donkey of myself. When we were a few weeks away from finalizing final price on the used RAM Promaster Sprinter Van we eventually purchaseu, the concept of a Lift Gate came sizzling to the front of my mind. I always dreampt of having one, but could we afford it after dropping so much money already on this Promaster Van? I made some calls around the Bay Area to a few van Upfitters and discovered brand new gates with installation costed between $11,000 and $14,000 depending on the brand. I gasped at this and said, "that's just crazy, I can't afford that." For the fun of it, I began to look for Lift Gates on eBay and FB marketplace. I kept finding a few Bi-folding Tommy Gates lifts for sale, but all on the East Coast of United States. The shipping alone would cost thousands even though they were discounted to $3,000. Then one foggy afternoon in San Francisco, I stumbled upon a Bi-folding Tommy Gate Lift that was for sale on FB Marketplace. It was located in Redding, CA about 5 hours north of San Francisco, but a lightbulb went off in my head, I could pick it up on the way back down from buying the van in Portland, OR. The seller was a kid no older than 22 years old and he was asking $4800 for it.
My excitement was through the roof that I had found this Tommy Gate for only half the price. It gave me validation that it would work because it was coming off his van which was also a Promaster Van.
Fast forward a few weeks, I've purchased our used, but excellent condition 2019 Promaster Van in Portland, OR. I drove through Redding, CA, paid and picked up the Tommy Gate from the 22 year old kid, and drove the remaining distance home to the Bay Area. The following week my new van with the gate inside, over to a van-upfitter in East Bay. A technician comes out and says yeah we can install this but it's too short for you van. He said it's meant to go on a short-roof Promaster, not a high-roof, like mine.
I gasped and bit my tongue. He explained being that short of a platform would make the pitch angle on the ground too steep for carts to roll onto he believed. To add even more despair, he confirmed that the bracket assembly that came with it is meant to fit any Promaster 1500/2500/3500 models with up to 159" wheel base, but not the 3500 Extended Version (which is exactly what I had just bought). He did however add some a sliver of hope, he said you can buy the part from Tommy Gate and have it shipped. Essentially it was called a "Front Channel Display," a bracket that would extend the length of the Gate I had, out far enough to adapt it to my extra long van. The part was quoted back to me that day at $6,678!!! For a single part. That was the final straw on the camel's back that sealed the deal, I messed up!
The learning lesson here is I should have done deep research on Tommy Gate's Website and called them to ensure this model would fit my specific van. My naiveté and eagerness took me over the edge. I would have discovered 2 important things. On there website it breaks the model's down by a 2 letter system to signify which type of van it fits which is based on
assembly and also the size of the platform. Both fold out the same width, but one is 55" tall and the other, 70" (which is meant of the high roof and creates a longer platform for utility carts you may push on that have 48" or longer wheel bases. I learned a lot about all these details, I just wish I had done it before this marketplace purchase.
After this painful experience I began to do a deeper dive into what quality of those 4 brands I listed earlier. I figured if I am starting from square one again, might as well get intel on which ones are favored the most by operators and the general consensus. It turned out the 2 that were most revered, were the Palfinger and Dhollandia Lift Gates. I got quotes from the 3-4 places that were distributors here in the Bay Area and they all quoted $13-14K. This to me was still way out of the question. But with some patience and a persevering attitude I stumbled across something amazing.
I came across a post on the Facebook group I am a member of, "Production Vans & Grip Trucks," showing a recent install of a lift gate on a sprinter. The author of the post had the highest praise for this place in Los Angeles, CA, called, Complete Truck & Body Repair, Inc. I found their number online and called them that afternoon. I reached the one of the owners, Robert Xiuhcoatl, who ran it with his father. He was one of the kindest people I've ever come across. We spoke in depth about lift gates and discussed the folly I had made by assuming the used gate I bought off FB Marketplace would work for my Promaster. He then set in motion a plan to get me back on track. Since he agreed Palfinger and Dhollandia were the better of the 4 gates in the main market, he reached out to Dhollandia. They responded that they had just been hit with a 200 unit (Lift Gate) order and that would put them out at least 30 weeks. That's like 5 months and felt too long to wait. Palfinger on the other hand responded and told him they have one Bi-folding one in stock and Robert gave me a quote of $9,999.00. He then offered, if I drove my Tommy Gate Lift down to his shop, that he would be willing to sell it and install it onto another van that it would correctly fit. I could keep the profits and he would gain the install charge, a win-win for both of us. The significance of that meant that I could reap back all of what I invested in the incorrect Tommy Gate and I could commit to the Brand New Palfinger Lift Gate at his shop, one that would be the correct size, and most of all one of high value favorable performance.
I drove my new Promaster 3500 Extended van down to Los Angeles, CA, that next week. In the back was the Tommy Gate lift gate, strapped down to inner supports in the cargo area. Robert's dad used a fork lift to pull the Tommy Gate out that next morning and placed it on a pallet so we could advertise it. We got working on immediately on the Palfinger Bi-folding "Mini-Fix" Cantilever Lift Gate that had come in that afternoon.
After a full day of work the technicians finished the Palfinger Gate on my Ram 3500 Promaster Extended Van
and I couldn't be more happy. They spend so much attention to detail and really made sure it operated correctly, folded up cleanly without marking that back doors and lowered smoothly with it's hydraulic lift controls. The spent a good half hour with me showing me proper functionality of the handheld control unit as well as the outside control unit on the bumper of the van.
It's been 1 month since I since I installed the Palfinger and I am absolutely in love. It has literally single-handedly changed the dynamic of what I can do with the van and what I can hold on it. I found a buyer for the the Tommy Gate who has a short roof Promaster 1500 and it should fit his van perfectly! So all in all, this turned out to be a great ending to a wild journey.
To bring this story to a close, I'd like to re-visit how important it is to do your homework on something this huge. I am usually pretty good this type of deep research, but clearly did not go deep enough on this project beforehand. I guess you could say, when in doubt, call the manufacturer and confirm that the used lift gate you're about to purchase will fit your van correctly!
Good luck and have fun through the process!!
~ Evan Adler
Operator / DP
Focus FIlms LLC