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How to choose the right van

You may have just started a new business, perhaps your business is expanding so you need a van or you just want to replace an old one.  Whatever your situation choosing the best vehicle is important.

You need the right van for your job with the correct equipment which is right for now and the future.  So how do you make your mind up?

Take a look at these handy sections designed to guide you through the decision making process:

How will you be using your van?

Load type

First you need to decide on the ideal payload for your van.  To do this check the size, weight and volume of your typical load.  Here are some typical weights and sizes to help give you an idea:

  • A bag of dry sand -1330kg per cubic metre
  • A Euro pallet -1200mm x 800mm
  • Baled hay - Up to 225kg per cubic metre
  • A bag of cement - 25kg or 50kg
  • A sheet of MDF - 2440mm x 1220mm x 15mm weighs 30-37kg
  • A bag of potatoes - 50kg
  • A tin of 5L paint - 7kg

Think about how the load will be accessed.  If you have a heavy load you may need access to the load area with a fork-lift truck.  Access to the side of the van may be important if you work in towns.

Finally consider any special requirements the load may have.  For example a catering business may require temperature control in the load space.


Calculate the maximum number of passengers you will carry.  You may need a few extra seats if your business involves teams, or if you are going to be using the van during the evenings and weekends with the family.

Think about driver comfort too.  Most vans are pretty refined these days.  But if you spend all day in the van on deliveries, or regularly make long journeys, then it may be worth investing a little extra for luxury.


Are there any access restrictions to consider where you will be working such as narrow streets or height restrictions?  Will you be travelling in Low Emissions Zones?

Type of journey

Where will the load be carried?  How often will the van be at full capacity? How frequently will you be using it?  Short trips around urban areas put different demands on a van then long motorway trips.

Remember to think outside the box when you are considering how you will use your van.  If you only carry large loads occasionally you might want to consider getting a smaller, more economical vehicle and hiring a bigger van as and when needed.  Equally, a small van might be great now, but think about your business needs in another year.  Will a smaller vehicle still be suitable?

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How much would a van cost to run?

When it comes to the crunch, cost is a fundamental factor for most businesses in choosing a van.  So it's essential to fully understand what you will need to shell out and when over the vehicle's lifetime.  By understanding the total costs you can then justify the expenditure to your business.

Initial cost

This can vary hugely depending upon how you choose to fund your van (check out How to fund a van).  If you decide on an outright purchase you'll obviously need plenty of ready cash.  The initial cost will be much lower if you choose a lease with only the deposit and first months' lease to think about.

Running Costs

Fuel consumption will be the key indicator of running cost so check out the pence per mile figure with the manufacturer.  Think about what sort of driving you will do and what will be in your van.   Lots of motorway miles will make a big difference to your fuel costs, short urban journeys might not be such an issue.  And remember that when a van is fully loaded the unit cost of transporting your load is lower meaning improved fuel economy so consider how you will plan your journeys to improve fuel economy.

Use our Running Costs Calculator to help you work out what a particular van is likely to cost you based on the likely mileage you will be doing and the length of the lease.

Insurance costs will differ greatly depending on the value and nature of your van and its load.  Investigate whether it's worth investing in additional security measures to help secure your van and its load.  This might help bring your premium down.


Even though you are just acquiring your new van it's worth keeping in mind how much you'll get for it at the end of your lease or when you come to sell it.  Consider the costs of servicing and maintenance to keep your van in tip top condition.  Easy to plan for if you include them in a lease agreement; slightly more unpredictable if you choose to buy a used vehicle outright.

Vehicle operator licence cost

You won't need a special licence for most vans.  If you choose a van over 3.5 tonnes though, you must have a goods vehicle operator licence.  An added cost to think about.

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How to finance a van

At Vanarama, we have a range of van leasing options to suit you and your business needs. You can read more about these in our dedicated Finance Options section:

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How do I know what type of van to choose?

If you haven't bought a van before then chances are you won't know your chassis van from your crew and can only guess at the benefits of a panel van!  Don't worry, you are not alone.  Take a look at our jargon busting information below and all will become clear:

Car-derived van

What is it?
A van built on the platform of a car, with the rear seats removed to create loadspace.

Potential use?
Light deliveries or self- employed tradesmen who don't need to carry too many heavy tools.

Chassis cab

What is it?
A basic shell of just the cab minus the rear body.  Bought for specialist conversion to buyers' requirements.

Potential use?
Varies depending on conversion type.

Panel van

What is it?
The most popular van on our roads.  A big range of body styles. A good balance between load carrying ability and ease of driving.

Potential use?
Used by many trades including electricians, plumbers.  Also popular with delivery firms.

Small or Light vans

What is it?
Carrying more than a car-derived van the small van is easier to manouvere, generally more fuel efficient and easier to drive than a panel van.

Potential use?
Used by trades with low load requirements and popular for light deliveries.

Crew van

What is it?
An extra line of seating behind the front seats for extra crew carrying capacity.  Usually a panel van. Also known as a double cab van.

Potential use?
Often used by businesses like road gangs/scaffolders.

Micro van

What is it?
A small van with a box body.  It often has a rear and a side loading door giving optimum access to cargo.

Potential use?
Ideal for tight streets, busy towns and multi-drop deliveries where parking is limited.

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How do I choose the components of a van?

OK, so you know what basic shell you want.  Now what else do you need from your van?  In the main, vans up to 3.5 tonnes are sold to a standard manufacturer specification; but there sometimes options to choose from.  Here's a quick guide on how to select the components:


The distance between the front and rear axles has a big impact on the length and therefore the capacity of a van.

There are three options:

  • Short wheelbase
  • Medium wheelbase
  • Long wheelbase

The length of the wheelbase will ultimately determine how much storage capacity you have.  Of course, it will also affect your van's manoeuvrability.  The longer the wheelbase, the harder it will be to get around those tight spaces.

A couple of points to remember:

Don't forget to consider extra equipment when you choose your wheelbase.  If you need grabs, hoists or a tail lift for example, the wheelbase must be able to accommodate these.

Van manufacturers offer three different roof heights; low, medium and high.  These and the different wheelbases are not always a standard size.  So always double check sizing if you are comparing different vans.

Body type

The best body type will normally be the smallest one to do the job as this will be the most fuel efficient. Before selecting a low, medium or high roof there are some things to consider:

  • How much will your van need to carry?
  • Is it likely to run empty or light?
  • Are the loads high volume/low weight or vice versa?
  • Will you need specialist loading/unloading capabilities?
  • Are there any height or length limitations where you will use the van?

Some businesses with a chassis cab will need a specialist body type:

Luton: Popular with removal firms. A box type body extending over the cab for extra load space.

Refrigerated: Refrigerated bodies keep the contents of the van cool. Often used by catering firms or florists.

Curtain-sides: The van's sides are made from canvas to facilitate easy loading. Great if access to the entire side of the vehicle is needed.

Tippers: A hydraulic ram pushes the front load area up. Useful for carrying heavy materials like aggregates which need delivery direct to site.

Drop-sides: An open top with shallow sides drop down for easy access. Often used in building/horticulture where bulky items need transporting.

Wheels and tyres

While few manufacturers specify a tyre preference when customers order a new van, there is often the option of upgrading to alloy wheels.  As well as making a van look better and offering better road handling, alloys can help increase a van's re-sale value.


Depending on the amount of miles covered, fuel has to be one of the biggest costs for any business.  Choosing the right fuel type can save you serious money in the long term.

Diesel, which delivers a higher miles per gallon yield than petrol, is most popular fuel choice.  With  tax breaks being offered by the Government for driving eco-friendly vehicles, more people are considering alternative fuel types.  These also have the advantage of being exempt for the London Congestion charge and are suitable for driving in Low Emissions Zones.


Your choice of transmission is largely a personal, rather than economic choice.  Although automatic gearboxes tend to come into their own in vehicles with frequent Stop/Start operations, or urban driving.

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