Commercial vehicles – what van should I buy?

Three different van types parked outside a warehouse.

A business van or commercial vehicle could be crucial to the success of your business. But with so many different business vans on the market, deciding on the right one for your needs can be tricky.

Whether it’s price, size, wheelbase, or mileage, there are a number of factors that come into play when making a decision. And depending on your trade or business, a van is likely to be one of your biggest investments and most important assets.

Read on to find out more about the biggest considerations for small business owners when choosing a van. And before you get your search started, read up on a few important questions that you need to keep in mind.

What is a commercial vehicle?

A commercial vehicle is a vehicle that’s used for work. It could be a van, a car, or even a moped.

Commercial vehicles are generally used to transport:

  • goods, such as a product a business sells
  • equipment needed to do a job, such as electric tools

This type of vehicle is more versatile and spacious than a passenger vehicle and can be used for any type of business.

What are the different types of van?

Depending on your business, there are different types of van that could be more suited to your needs. Here’s an overview of some popular types of business van:

  • panel van – these usually have space for three passengers, plus a large loading bay at the back. Panel vans don’t have rear or side windows
  • dropside van – also known as a tipper, a dropside van has a flat bed that can tip the contents out the back. These vans usually seat two or three passengers
  • Luton van – larger vans with a long wheelbase (which means there’s more space between the wheel axles). They’re usually panel-style vans and are also known as box vans
  • chassis cab – this versatile type of van is similar to a dropside, but it has a flat platform at the back that can fit a variety of different boxes or beds

Vans also come in a range of sizes, affecting the load and number of passengers they can hold.

  • small vans – although you’ll be limited by size, a small van can be easier to manoeuvre
  • medium vans – the best of both worlds – a good amount of space with the ability to move around tight areas
  • large vans – as well as more space these vans have a long wheelbase, which should make them smoother to drive

What are the best vans for 2024?

We surveyed almost 250 small business owners to find out which small and medium vans they’d recommend.

Business owners scored their van on criteria such as reliability, value for money, and space.

Read our guides to find out which vans got the highest average scores:

How big does your van need to be?

If you’re going to be shifting heavy items, from furniture to plant machinery, then you’ll need a larger van with a high payload capacity (the maximum weight a van can transport).

Similarly, if space is important then you’ll be after a high capacity van, while a long wheelbase vehicle will be essential for the likes of scaffolders.

If, however, you’re only likely to be working on private jobs where tools and materials are minimal, a small or medium van should suffice.

Brand new or used van?

Our survey of almost 250 business van owners found that the majority (69 per cent) bought their vehicle second-hand. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) bought a new van, while the remaining seven per cent lease their van.

New vans are, of course, significantly more expensive, but that doesn’t mean you should rule them out.

Commercial vehicles are built to last and this means you should be able to get plenty of years out of any new van. And this is important given your van will cover lots of miles, which could include long drives up and down the motorway.

Keep this in mind if you’re considering a second-hand van. Whilst vans are sturdy and reliable, the chances are that it’s already been put through its paces. The mileage may be an indication of how hard it’s been worked, but you’ll want to conduct a thorough inspection of any used van before you buy.

Before you buy a van, set yourself a maximum price to make sure you don’t end up spending more than you can afford.

Commercial vehicle leasing

Leasing a van is like renting one – you won’t own it outright but you can use it as you please for the duration of the lease agreement.

The upfront cost of leasing is lower as you’ll generally be expected to pay a monthly fee. However, it could cost more overall to lease a van instead of buying it.

There are tax benefits to leasing a van, plus you can have the option to upgrade or give the van back at the end of the contract.

Read our guides to buying or leasing a business van and business car leasing for more information.

What is the most important thing when choosing a business van?

Our survey of commercial van drivers asked them which features are the most important when choosing a vehicle. Here’s the top five:

  1. Load space (76 per cent)
  2. Fuel economy (67 per cent)
  3. Cheap to run/maintain (60 per cent)
  4. Side door (48 per cent)
  5. Low insurance (40 per cent)

What are the most popular van accessories?

As most van drivers spend a lot of time in their vehicle, it’s beneficial to make sure it’s comfortable and does what you need it to do.

Due to the damage and mess tools can cause, 71 per cent of businesses told us they use floor mats to protect their van.

Other popular accessories include:

  • seat covers
  • roof racks/bars
  • storage boxes
  • dash cam

What are the most popular van security systems?

Van security is an important consideration for business owners, with 72 per cent telling us that their van being damaged or broken into is a major concern.

We asked them which security systems they use to protect their van. Here are some of the most popular:

  • anti-theft alarm
  • security locks
  • steering wheel lock
  • GPS tracking device

Are diesel drivers planning to go electric?

The government is planning to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2035. As a result, many van drivers may be starting to think about the benefits of electric vehicles.

However, our research shows that at the moment the use of electric vans among small businesses remains relatively low. Just one per cent of participants in our study said they use a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or fully electric van. The vast majority (95 per cent) still use a diesel van.

Looking to the future, 23 per cent of business owners told us they’re planning to switch to an electric van within the next four years.

Read our guide on the pros and cons of buying an electric van for more information.

Do I really need a van?

The final question you should ask yourself is ‘should I get a van?’

Wanting and needing a van are two different things, and knowing the difference could save you thousands of pounds. If you’re just starting out, consider using your existing vehicle for a period to see how it goes.

Once you’ve built a steady customer base and it becomes clear a car will no longer cut it, then go out and get yourself a commercial vehicle.

This article is just a guide. Before committing to buy a vehicle you should conduct your own thorough research.

More guides for van drivers

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Conor Shilling

Conor Shilling is a professional writer with over 10 years’ experience across the property, small business, and insurance sectors. A trained journalist, Conor’s previous experience includes writing for several leading online property trade publications. Conor has worked at Simply Business as a Copywriter for three years, specialising in the buy-to-let market, landlords, and small business finance.

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