Reliability is a key demand for van users, but what makes a van reliable depends on what it's being used for. To help you get a handle on this subject, Vanarama's van expert Tom Roberts rounds up some of the vans available in the marketplace right now that are most often called "reliable".
Before we wade into this blog, 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 & others rely on them. So, instead of making guesses, I've waded through the Vanarama customer reviews to find out which vans they most often praise for being "reliable" & basing my list on their choices split into the small, medium & large van categories.
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 one that's never tried to do 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 - it does boast an impressive choice of 2.0-litre TDI turbo diesel engines that return good running costs.
Higher trim levels offer body-coloured bumpers, passenger car-style door mirrors & handles, but with every single version you get that smooth back end because VW have removed any panel indentations - it's a reliable blank canvas for business advertising. Users say you have to pay a premium for a VW, & you do, but the Caddy proves that it's worth it. You can rely on it to work hard, carry well & impress your customers to boot.
Small Van: Vauxhall Combo
The PSA Group small vans burst onto the scene in a flurry of red, white & blue, but of all them it's the Vauxhall Combo that stands out in terms of reliability. It's good value for money with high payloads (up to nearly 1,000kg) & fuel efficiency, great safety kit as standard & a roomy cabin that feels modern (even if the Peugeot Partner's cabin is a little more quirky & car-like. Like it's PSA Group brethren, it can take on the competition & hold its own.
Trim levels from Edition to Sportive & LE Nav all add incremental improvements, but all of them can be paired with a choice of 1.5-litre diesel Turbo D BlueInjection engine (or a 1.2-litre petrol, if you like) which get rave reviews thanks to their easy-on-the-wallet running costs & reliability. Users call it functional & comfortable, that's the kind of reliable language you need to listen out for when choosing your next van!
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 the best-selling van in the UK & personally I'm a big fan. I've spoken at length about it's style, top-notch cabin, efficient engines & great loading bay. It's an all-round great package that our customers shower with praise for its reliability & durability.
Ford's excellent 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engines are incredibly efficient, returning excellent running costs & 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 & 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 is a testament to this excellent van's reputation & 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 & 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 one of 3 power outputs in a 2.0-litre diesel engine! I've seen these vans being built first-hand. I know how reliable & durable they are because I've seen the amount of checks & 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 & Peugeot Expert, feels unique in an increasingly crowded medium van marketplace.
Large Van: Ford Transit
Here we are then, the Ford Transit. It's an iconic van that users rate so highly its name was used for an entire van segment. How often have you heard people refer to a generic van as a "transit"? The latest version of this icon is easily the best there's ever been thanks to the powerful EcoBlue diesel engines, the fact that this facelift is more than just some fancy new shoes (seriously, they've added tonnes of new features) & that the payload is now better than ever.
Users are raving about the facelift, which adds a new front end, LED running lights, 4G connectivity, better engines (2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engines, similar to the ones in the Transit Custom), electric power-assisted steering & new improved body types to suit every need. Reliability is often a sense of achieving purpose & the new Transit does just that - it's a large van that knows how to do everything a large van should. It's a comfortable, durable, tech-filled van that, for the price, provides high levels of quality you'd expect to cost an awful lot more - no wonder it's the UK's 2nd best-selling van.
Large Van: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
This large panel van has been showered with praise by users up & down the country (especially fleet operators & managers) thanks to its tech-filled interior, safety rating & 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 standard 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 1516kg. It's good & 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 two vans - the Transit has Ford's hallmark reliability, but the Sprinter is the tech-packed safety-focused new kid on the block people want a piece of.