How to find the right van for the job

Andrew Newbound

By: Andrew Newbound

The right van, for the right job. How to find it.

Most people assume that buying a van is far less complicated than buying your next family car. After all, there are fewer manufacturers on the market, a smaller range of vehicles from each, less paint and trim varieties, and a vastly reduced choice of add-ons and extras. Surely, this has to make it easier?

Of course, anybody who has ever considered buying a van knows the reality of making your final selection is very different. Choosing a van is far more complex than selecting which car you’re going to drive. There are a multitude of personal and professional factors to consider, each with an equally important and pivotal role to play in your final decision.

Select the right van and you’ve got a productive asset that works in harmony with you and your business. The right choice can make your life easier and help your business thrive. Equally, choose the wrong vehicle and you’ll likely find yourself fighting with frustration most days.

The wrong van limits what you can do, the services you can provide and the productivity and performance of your business. In extreme cases, the van you drive can make the difference between success and failure.

Clearly, it’s a big decision. So to help guide you towards the right choice, we’ve put together a handy checklist of points to consider.

ENVIRONMENT

Perhaps one of the first things to consider is the environment in which your van will operate. For instance, if the bulk of your work is done in a busy city or town centre, a large box or panel van is unlikely to be suitable.


With congested roads and narrow side-streets to negotiate, a long or wide vehicle could be difficult to manoeuvre and might soon get damaged. Unless you’re going to be transporting heavy and cumbersome cargo, something more compact might be better. Vauxhall’s Corsavan, Ford’s Fiesta van and Fiat’s Nemo are all perfect.

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time working at or delivering to busy construction sites or exposed highway maintenance locations, you’ll need a robust and heavy-duty van that’s equipped for a tougher terrain.

The same rule of thumb applies if your business involves long-distance deliveries and hours of motorway driving; performance, economy, comfort and safety will all be important factors. Large panel vans are built for this daily challenge.

CARGO SIZE

If you need to carry lots of tools and equipment, or you’re transporting heavy or large cargo, you’re going to need something that’s up to the job. A smaller van might appear to be more economical in terms of fuel consumption, but if you need to make multiple trips to get the job done, it’s likely to cost you more in the long run.

• Larger vans have a greater capacity and are built to transport heavier loads safely

• They also have stronger engines, offering a greater power to weight ratio that can provide surprisingly attractive fuel economies.

You should also consider the ‘type’ of cargo you’ll be carrying. Not everything is neatly boxed and clean. If you’ll be transporting dirty materials, this can impact the resale value.

• Larger and mid-range vans can easily be kitted out with ply-lining, racking and shelving, which helps to protect the interior of your vehicle

• Smaller vans clearly have less space to work with and these modifications, although still possible, can end up limiting cargo space.

Few service businesses, such as florists, caterers or small package delivery companies have the need for a large panel van. It’s pointless paying just to drive empty space around, so in these cases a smaller van can prove ideal.

Tailor your search to fit your needs

A great way to begin identifying your needs and start focusing your van search, is to work out the weight of a typical load. For instance, if you’re a builder regularly transporting bags of sand and cement, it’s worth considering these can weight up to 50kg each. You won’t need to load too many of them before building serious weight in the back of any van.

Perhaps surprisingly, ten bags could take you up to the half-tonne mark, and that’s before you add bricks, stones, paving slabs and your tools, etc. Clearly, small or mid-range van with a maximum payload weight of 500-1,000kg just isn’t going to be practical. You’re going to need to look at something stronger, such as Peugeot’s Boxer, Citroen’s Relay or Vauxhall’s Movano.

THE VAN’S ROLE

Although this might seem like an obvious thing, there are perhaps more issues to consider than you might think. For instance, will your van be liveried? If so, it’s a mobile advertisement for you and your business. Research shows that, like it or not, customers in all sectors often judge a company or professional tradesman by the vehicle they drive.

So, if you choose the wrong kind of van for urban deliveries and find that it becomes a magnet for bumps, scuffs, scrapes and dents, this is likely to create a poor impression of your business.

Additionally, if you choose a compact van and cram it so full with tools and equipment that it’s hard to find what you need quickly, customers might perceive that you’re badly organised and haphazard. This might not be true, but first impressions count and you could be stuck with this reputation long after you’ve replaced the van. Other points to address include;

HOW MANY MILES DO YOU DRIVE? If you regularly trek up and down motorways, perhaps consider medium range vans like Fiat’s Scudo or Vauxhall’s Vivaro.

WHERE WILL YOU BE DRIVING? Motorways, towns and cities, building sites or rural land? Urban drivers might find vans like Peugeot’s Bipper, Ford’s Fiestavan or the Citroen Nemo ideal. Longer distances and tougher terrains and no problem for vehicles including Peugeot’s Boxer and the Citroen Relay.

CARGO OR PEOPLE? Heavy loads or a big team need a van with space and strength; something like Nissan’s NV400, Ford’s iconic Transit or Vauxhall’s multi-purpose Movano.

IS ACCESS IMPORTANT? Look for vans of all sizes with side doors, rear doors with unrestricted 180 degree opening, also vans that offer a high-roof option.

NUMBER OF OCCUPANTS

Do you work alone or as part of a team? For lone drivers, space isn’t necessarily an issue; a cab with a comfortable driver’s seat and room for one or even two passengers is probably sufficient. You might also want to consider aspects of your role that don’t involve driving.

• Do you carry a laptop or handheld device and need space to use it?

• Do you need room to complete paper-work at the end of each delivery?

• If storage is important, work out how much you need to keep your cabin equipped but tidy

• Plus, if your van needs to double as a mobile office, look for built-in power points, sockets, even seatbacks that function as work stations.

For those who work as part of a team, adequate seating is a clear requirement. Larger vans often have two or three passenger seats, with some offering a crew cab or even a double crew cab to transport up to eight extra people. This can limit space to transport tools and materials, but if your team needs to be on site, this can be a compromise worth making.

COMFORT & CONVENIENCE

How many hours each day will you spend driving your van? If it’s simply a means of getting you and your equipment from one destination to another, with hours spent working in between, then comfort might not be number one on your list of priorities. Alternatively, if driving is your main role and the majority of your time will be spent behind the wheel, comfort will clearly be important. Look for;

• Adjustable seating and steering wheels, plus additional ergonomic efficiencies that give you the best possible driving position

• Driver-friendly features, such as air-conditioning, touch-screen technology, smart SatNav and Bluetooth

• In-cabin storage compartments built-in beneath, above and even in-between the seating

• Plus a rear ‘reversing’ camera to help you navigate tight squeezes and avoid those frustrating bumps and scrapes.

SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS

For businesses with specific requirements, it’s possible that an off-the-forecourt vehicle won’t necessarily meet every need. If you’re a mobile caterer, chances are you’ll need back-of-van heating or refrigeration facilities. Vans belonging to mobile repair technicians often host a built-in workshop, while Vehicle recovery specialists are likely to need extendable ramps and a winch fitting. None of this comes as standard with any new vehicle.

Fortunately, all major manufacturers recognise this and provide a selection of vans from their range with a bare rear chassis. In ‘skeleton’ form, these vans provide a base for specialist ‘conversion’ companies to build a rear section bespoke to your needs. This doesn’t just include large vans like the Citroen Relay or Nissan’s NT400 either. Some mid-range vehicles can be adapted too, including Fiat’s Doblo and Scudo vans.