A Guide To Buying A Commercial Van

A Guide To Buying A Commercial Van

As a tradesman, it’s important to have the best tools to do the job. It’s also just as important to have the best van to cater to your business needs, whilst keeping the running costs as low as possible.

When choosing a new van, it’s important to be crystal clear on the specification requirements of your vehicle so that you choose the best option for your business needs.

In this guide, we’ll look at everything you need to consider when buying your next commercial van.

  1. Reliability

Reliability is the most important factor to consider when getting a new van. No one wants a van that’s going to break down all the time. Not only will you lose out on business, it’ll be a nightmare to deal with and cost the business money. When buying a commercial van, opt for a make and model that is already well known for its reliability. Reliability is more about the quality of the vans build rather than the interior features and technology.

Last year VOSA revealed that 50% of all light commercial vans failed their first MoT. 33% were for simple­ problems such as faulty bulbs, worn tyres or even empty windscreen washer fluid bottles. 25% of failures were down to brake and suspension issues which could have been detected and resolved had there been routine maintenance on the vehicle before hand.

Getting your van serviced regularly is crucial to keep your van in good working order and reliable. We’ve done some research to find the UK’s most reliable vans….

The UK’s Most Reliable Vans

  • Ford Transit
  • Ford Transit Custom
  • For Transit Connect
  • Mercedes Benz Sprinter
  • Volkswagen Transporter
  • Vauxhall Movano
  • Peugeot Partner
  • Mitsubishi L200
  • Volkswagen Caddy
  • Mercedes-Benz Vito
  1. Running Costs

When it comes to running your van on a day to day basis, it’s important to consider not only the miles per gallon, but also the miles between services, tyre and brake wear.

If you’re managing a fleet of vehicles, it’s important to keep a regular record of your current costs as well as analysing if any drivers need re-training. This way, when you change your vehicles you have a record of your previous costs which can help you make your decision and compare costs in future.

If you’re considering buying an off the shelf standard model or a pre-registered van, make sure you choose one that fits your business needs correctly. Whilst an attractive deal can be appealing, choosing a van that does not meet your load and capacity requirements can cost you a lot more in fuel.

A fuel consumption difference of just 10mpg can increase running costs upwards of £1,000 a year on a high mileage vehicle.

  1. What About Low Emission Vans?

Low emission vans can help to reduce your day-to-day running costs and reduce your environmental impact, especially if you have a fleet. This is because they use alternative fuels or efficient technology instead of diesel.

If you care about what your customers/suppliers think about you, opting to go for a eco-friendly van can help to improve your image to them – whilst doing good for the environment and saving on fuel costs. There is also now an EU Directive (The Clean Vehicle Directive) that encourages organisations to improve their environmental impacts by taking into consideration their vehicle choices.

The government have also introduced a grant scheme to encourage low emission vans that fall within the following categories:

  • Battery electric vans
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vans
  • Liquefied petroleum gas vans
  • CNG/ Biomethane vans
  • Biodiesel vans
  • Hydrogen vans

Although opting for an eco-friendly van seems like a great choice, it’s important to pick a van that can still perform and wont restrict you.

Will you need your van to manage long distance or only local jobs? Will they need to return to base to be re-fuelled or maybe they can only be re-fuelled in certain stations? These are things that many business owners forget to consider which can have a big impact on the day to day costs of the business and time associated on the road and not at a job.

  1. Performance

When choosing a new van, you’ll want to make sure that the vehicle can perform to the best ability needed to get the job done, manage long distances if needed, and varied terrain if you end up getting a job in the country.

Consider what type of goods will be carried in the vehicle, will the vehicle be towing anything? What the maximum payload requirements? Calculating which system your vehicle can legally and safely take is a very important decision and can potentially cost your business financially and from a health and safety point of view. An over-laden vehicle is very dangerous, and the risk of causing injury is high.

Some payload abbreviations worth knowing are:

  • MAM- Maximum Authorised Mass. Also known as…
  • GVW- Gross Vehicle Weight or GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass
  • Kerb Massor Kerb Weight – The complete weight of a vehicle the body and all parts normally used when on the road, but without payload, driver, or crew
  • Gross Payload – This is the gross vehicle mass (GVM – see above), less the kerb mass.

Payload is often reduced slightly in alternatively fuel / low emission vehicles due to the weight of additional parts such as batteries, motors or gas tanks.

  1. Engine Size

The best way to reduce emissions and cost is to use smaller and lighter vehicles with a smaller engine. Downsizing from a larger vehicle can also provide you with more low emission van options and most plug-in vans are only available in a smaller van range.

When considering what size van to go for, model specifications will list features such as Horsepower (HP) and Maximum Torque, but what do these terms mean?

Horsepower is a measurement to determine the power and rate at which an engine can work. It’s the maximum rate of acceleration and the top speed of your van. If you want to over-take another vehicle on the motorway, the more horsepower your vehicle has, the more responsive and quick it will be.

Torque is the rotational force of power that turns an object and is the pulling power of the engine when using low revs. When you start the engine, torque is what gets the van moving and is also used to power a van up a steep hill. A van with a high torque will have a more consistent performance regardless of whether the van is carrying a heavy load or not.

If you are driving on steep or rough terrain at maximum payload, you’ll need a vehicle with good engine power to maintain delivery speeds or time commuting between jobs. If you’re driving in the city centre, it’s worth considering an automatic or twin transmission van to reduce driving stress and running costs.

  1. New or Used

Buying New

If you want to buy an economical, fuel-efficient vehicle, buying a new vehicle or fairly new vehicle is the best option as these vehicles are relatively new to the market. Whilst the vehicle will depreciate as soon as you’ve driven it off the forecourt, buying a new vehicle comes with the reassurance of a warranty and gives you the option to choose the exact specifications to meet your requirements.

Consider the future of your business when buying a van. Is the vehicle large enough to grow if the business grows?

Buying Used

The market for used vans is large and whilst it may seem easy at first to find the van you want, there can be complications that don’t appear until a later date. Vans are much harder than cars to detect issues during a short inspection and due to transporting heavy loads, there can be significant wear and tear on the suspension and axles that can often go unnoticed. If you’re set on buying a used van, try and get an experienced mechanic to take a look at it first as this could save you a lot of money in repairs and lost business in the future.

If you’re not able to get a mechanic to look at your vehicle, here are some things to consider when buying a used van:

  • How does it drive? – Test how even the drive is as vans that have had a payload which has not been distributed evenly may lean to one side or have affected uneven tracking. An unbalanced vehicle can be extremely dangerous.
  • Check the exhaust – Make sure there is no black smoke emitted by the exhaust and that there is no rattling sound.
  • Do a HPI check – To determine if the vehicle is written off, stolen or subject to outstanding finance.
  • Check the axles– vans deal with a far greater load weight than cars. If you hear knocking or squeaking sounds from the axel you may have a costly issue on your hands.

Whether you’re buying new or used, take into account where your nearest dealership is and what the warranty on the vehicle is. If you’re opting for an alternatively fuelled vehicle, will your local service centre be able to help you with services and parts?

Maintaining your vehicle properly is the key to getting the most out of your van and keeping it running as efficiently as possible. Regular services will keep the van in good working order and reliable, meaning your business can remain reliable too.

Did you know? A 20% drop in try pressure can result in a 2% increase to fuel bills!

  1. Branding Your Van

The way your van looks says a lot about your business and is one of the initial things your customers see when you arrive at a job. A rusty old van gives the perception of a business that is struggling and takes no pride in its appearance. A spruced up, clean, well branded van gives the perception of a company that takes pride in its appearance.

Quality branding can also be the difference between catching a new customers eye whilst out on the road compared to people just driving past you and not looking twice. Your van is essentially your business advert, therefore it needs to reflect your business well and make a great impression to potential customers.

According to Signs Express, a van finished in an eye-catching design will register some 3,000-3,500 ‘impressions’ on pedestrians and other road users every hour.

What type of van branding should I use?

Old-school, cheaper methods of sign writing is less popular these days. Not only is it time consuming but can be limiting in terms of design and creativity leaving you with something basic.

More popular today, especially for fleets of vans, is vinyl. Prices can start as low as £100 per vehicle making it very cost effective allowing you to change your vans branding whenever you have new offers on. Vinyl does come with a downside though as it can be quite limited in terms of colours and shapes used.

Vehicle wrapping allows van owners to completely wrap their whole van in any design they want. Whilst this option is the priciest (anything into the thousands) if you’re not planning on changing it regularly, wrapping is a great choice and can turn your van into a genuine all-singing, all-dancing mobile billboard.

TIP: Never sell your vehicle with the wrapping/branding still on, as this can damage your reputation if the next owner drives irresponsibly , uses your van for fraud or any type of crime. 

  1. Van Insurance

Van insurance is quite possibly the most important thing to consider when buying a new van as is it a UK legal requirement to own the correct insurance policy before you can operate your vehicle.

Considering the insurance when choosing your van is a good idea as there can be many vehicle specifications that affect your policy cost.

For more useful information on van insurance and how to keep the cost down, check out our Small Business Guide To Van Insurance here: