If you’ve got your eye on a particular van, usually anecdotal evidence from people who already drive 1 is often the best way to find out if it’s reliable or not. It got me thinking that there must be data out there for customers to use instead, but there’s not. As shocking as it sounds, there’s not a huge amount of van reliability data out there for customers. It’s about time someone did something about this & who better than Vanarama?
The Madness In The Method
To make this a fair test, I decided to find the data myself, with the 1 rule that I would not dig into my industry contacts for help and instead put my customer hat on - I would only use what anyone can find easily on Google.
Before we wade into this article, let's take a moment to think about what we mean by "reliable" when we're talking about vans. It could be as simple a definition as "it won't break down too often", that's pretty much every van if you treat it right. Then again, if your definition is "it does its job well" that could also be any van you pick so long as you use it how it's meant to be used. My point is that "reliable" means different things to different people. But what is clear is that the van you choose to drive needs to be reliable simply because you and others rely on them.
Instead of making guesses, I’ve found some independent data which looks at the number and size of extended warranty claims from provider Warrantywise. Added to this, there’s an annual survey carried out by Fleet News magazine (the FN50 survey) which asks the 50 top leasing companies which vans on their fleets they find to be the most reliable, and I’ve taken into account the warranty length offered by the various manufacturers. Personally, I always think that a strong warranty shows the confidence a van maker has in their product, so it’s only fair to give it weight.
As you can see, this list takes a bit more into consideration than the other lists out there, and the result is what I consider to be the definitive 7 most reliable vans and pickup trucks available right now in the UK split by size category. There were a couple of surprises, but remember this is based on data, not gut instinct and I didn’t get precious about my personal feelings for each van.
Small Van: Volkswagen Caddy
Small vans are beginning to turn the corner from trying to look like a smaller version of their manufacturer's medium van, but a van that's never done that is the VW Caddy - it's always been a classy looking small van that strikes its own style. It can't take a Euro-pallet - which is a bit of a cross against its name, but it's not a deal breaker for reliability. It does, however, boast an impressive choice of 2.0-litre TDI turbo diesel engines that return good running costs and offer excellent reliability.
The Caddy is a real favourite with the leasing companies, and the latest FN50 survey put the van in second place overall and top of the pile in its segment. Given this fact, it’s perhaps slightly disappointing that Volkswagen only offers a 3-year 100,000 mile warranty on the van (surely it deserves a little more) like its big brother Crafter van, which is blessed with an unlimited mileage warranty over the same period.
It recently had a nice facelift and is now known as the Caddy Cargo. Not only does it look sharper and smarter, it's packed with tech, a fresh cab environment and new engines too. Users say you have to pay a premium for a VW - and you do - but the Caddy proves that it's worth it. You can rely on it to work hard, carry well and impress your customers to boot.
Small Van: Fiat Doblo
Perhaps coming as a surprise to some, this capable little Fiat scored very well in our research when it comes to reliability. In a survey of the best and worst vans for MOT pass rates carried out by Honest John, the Doblo was placed first (!) above all other vans and across all sectors. It also featured in the top 10 most reliable vans in the FN50 survey for 2020, and, to top it all, the Italian manufacturer has committed to a 5-year / 100,000 mile warranty on every new Doblo.
With payloads of up to 1000kg in the Doblo Maxi, and fully independent suspension that makes driving an absolute pleasure, the Doblo has a great reputation for reliability and a ‘fit for purpose’ attitude. Even if it isn’t that nice to look at!
Medium Van: Ford Transit Custom
Is there ever going to be a list of great vans that this little beauty doesn't appear on? The Ford Transit Custom is (still) the best-selling van in the UK and personally I'm a big fan. I've spoken at length about it's style, top-notch cabin, efficient engines and great load-carrying ability. It's an all-round great package that our customers shower with praise for its reliability and durability. The finance companies like it too - it regularly appears in their top ten of most reliable vans and, like most Ford vans, it comes with the 3 year / 100,000 mile warranty.
Ford's excellent 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engines are incredibly efficient, returning excellent running costs and helping the Custom hit near class-topping payloads of up to 1459kg. Those 3 things are often highlighted as sure-fire signs of van reliability and Ford has always had a good reputation in that respect. The fact that the Transit Custom usually outsells its nearest rivals by almost 100% month-on-month (although not lately for obvious reasons) is a testament to this excellent van's reputation and abilities - it's a tough package to beat!
Medium Van: Vauxhall Vivaro
The new Vauxhall Vivaro medium panel van is rapidly becoming a UK favourite - probably something to do with its UK-built seal of approval that makes people feel like they're driving a reliable van! When you consider that the Vivaro's maximum payload is just a little over 1.4 tonnes, comes in 2 wheelbase lengths with no height options, you'll begin to see that reliability and simplicity of choice is what this medium van is all about.
Engine-wise you get a choice of different power outputs from the same 1.5-litre diesel engine, or 1 of 3 power outputs in a 2.0-litre diesel engine! I've seen these vans being built first-hand. I know how reliable and durable they are because I've seen the amount of checks and balances they have to go through just to get out of the factory. While some users may miss the old shape of the Vivaro, the new shape is impressively versatile &, despite platform sharing with the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert, feels unique in an increasingly crowded medium van marketplace.
The fleet companies can’t be wrong either - they’ve rated the Vivaro joint fifth in their latest reliability survey.
Large Van: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
This large panel van has been showered with praise by users up and down the country (especially fleet operators and managers) thanks to its tech-filled interior, safety rating and tough reliability. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is already catching up on the Transit's sales figures despite the fact it can carry just a little bit less. Engine choices are great with 2.0 and 2.1-litre turbo diesels available, but if you can afford to choose the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engine, do it!
Thanks to its engines, max payload at the 3.5t gross vehicle weight band is 1404kg. It's good and only just shy of the Ford Transit so you can see why they're battling for the title of best-selling large van right now. Reliability is also a key decision between the 2 vans - the Transit has Ford's hallmark reliability, but the Sprinter is the tech-packed safety-focused van that people want a piece of.
Mercedes-Benz offer a generous 3 year unlimited mileage warranty on the Sprinter. Given that many users of the van clock up some very high mileages in long distance courier work, the German manufacturer clearly has confidence in the reliability of its product. And to put the icing on the cake, the fleet users surveyed put the Sprinter right at the top of the pile as the most reliable van. You might be forgiven for thinking that, once outside of the protection of the manufacturer's warranty these high mileages might start taking their toll, but, no, Sprinter proved to be the 8th most reliable van in a study of extended warranty claims.
As with all Mercedes-Benz vans, Sprinter comes with lifetime, Europewide ‘Mobilovan’ roadside breakdown cover - 1 call and a fully equipped van will be with you in no time and the Mercedes trained technicians have an 80% roadside repair success rate.
Large Van: Volkswagen Crafter
Long gone are the days when the Crafter wasn’t much more than a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter but with a different badge. Crafter has, for a number of years, been very much a stand alone product and confidently taking on the competition in appeal and functionality. It’s also won a lot of awards…
Three wheelbases, 3 roof heights, front, rear or all wheel drive and 2 trim levels mean that it's easy to configure a Crafter for your own needs and with a choice of 2.0 litre Euro 6D diesel engines with outputs up to 177PS, you’re not going to be left behind either.
The data from the extended warranty provider Warrantywise show that Crafter achieved second place across all van sectors, proof of the Volkswagen’s bulletproof build quality. The leasing companies love it too, listing it in their own top 10 of the most reliable vans.
Pickup Truck: Toyota Hilux
Although we’re concentrating on vans, it’s worth taking a quick look at the reliability of pick-ups. You’d be forgiven for thinking that pick-up manufacturers might be a bit cautious when offering a decent warranty - although often not covering huge distances the vehicles can have a very hard life indeed. Off road driving can put a big strain on all mechanical components.
Toyota have brushed these concerns aside and are confidently offering a 5-year / 100,000 mile warranty on all new Hilux. More evidence of just how well built the Toyota is is offered by the fleet users in the FN50 survey who rank the Toyota the 6th most reliable commercial vehicle. Not bad at all.
Toyota have recently facelifted the Hilux, and, while some manufacturers have taken the decision to leave the UK pick-up market Toyota seem to be fully committed to offering a superb product, packed with tech and, for those that like a truck with some ‘oomph’, you can get a Hi-Lux with a 2.8 litre, 204hp engine, great if you’re planning to make use of the 3500kg of towing capacity.
- VW Caddy: From £21,672
- Fiat Doblo: From £13,995
- Ford Transit Custom: From £23,090
- Vauxhall Vivaro: From £28,105
- Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: From £30,000
- VW Crafter: From £28,185
- Toyota Hilux: From £26,895
UK Government's Department For Transport MOT Testing Data For Great Britain: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/mot-testing-data-for-great-britain#history