What is the best commercial van to buy for my business?
Choosing a commercial van is an expensive and important decision.
A small business owner is often looking for one van to do everything, but larger businesses and fleet managers may be looking for a mix of vehicles to meet a wide range of needs.
Everyone will be looking at fuel economy, maintenance and insurance costs to make sure that when they hand over the cash or sign on the dotted line, they are making the right investment for their business.
Here we look at some of the best vans on the market today and some of the trade favourites so you can see which choice is best for you.
- What is the best selling van?
- What is the best van for tradesmen?
- What is the best van for courier work?
- The best vans for your small business
- Size does matter
- What is the best used van to buy?
- Choose the right van for you
While the range of vans on the roads these days is pretty staggering there are a few familiar faces (or bonnets) that have stood the test of time and are still outselling the competition.
Last year’s new vehicle registrations saw both the Ford Transit and its mid-sized brother the Transit Custom in the top five with only the Vauxhall Vivaro selling in similar amounts.
On the heels of the top three are perennial favourites the Volkswagen Transporter and Mercedes Sprinter. In a market where van sales are continuing to rise it looks like we’ll be seeing plenty more of these vans on the road this year.
Every trade has specific needs that your van has to meet. So all the van manufacturers create a wide range of options from small compact vans to long wheelbase and high roof versions.
Perhaps you need the open load space of a tipper or a pick-up, or the huge box on wheels a Luton van provides.
But how do you know which is the right choice for you?
What is the best panel van for your trade?
Clearly payload will be important if you have to carry lots of heavy tools and materials, but you will also want to measure that against fuel economy and handling if you are covering many miles a week.
Let’s take a look at the typical demands of each trade and match them up with the van best-suited for the job.
Builders and plasterers
The medium panel van is built with builders in mind.
Usually these vans have payloads of around one tonne and with rear and side sliding doors loading stuff in and out is made easy.
While the cargo area isn’t big enough for materials like plasterboard sheets, what the medium van lacks in space it makes up with better handling and fuel economy. So you can better afford all those trips to and from the builders merchant. If lots of space is what you need the long wheel base and high roof options might be better.
Another option for builders is the tipper van.
Rugged and ready to cart your sand and stone around and drop it off with ease - if its heavy duty you need a tipper might be best.
With options to include a cab and tool box you can also enjoy some of the flexibility and security of the medium or large panel van.
You have a great choice when it comes to medium sized vans. For many, the Ford Transit and Volkswagen Transporter still come out on top. But for a long and happy working life you probably need to think about your after sales care, so a good relationship with a local dealership may be the deciding factor.
Most plumbers need their van to be big enough to carry the tools and materials they need but also small enough to fit on the front drive at home.
For this the medium panel van is often the perfect choice.
With interior racking options and extras like lockable roof storage for expensive copper piping, the plumbers van has to be a hard working mobile tool store.
Security for those expensive materials is essential and the fuel economy and handling of the medium van suits those who do a lot of driving but don’t want to compromise on space.
For those wanting their van for work and pleasure, the popular Ford Transit and Vauxhall Vivaro both offer higher spec versions that will carry the weight all week and still look good at the weekends.
Electricians need to balance their need for loadspace with the better economy they can get from the new breed of smaller vans.
More manoeuvrable and economic than their bigger cousins, vans like the Fiat Doblo, Ford Transit Connect and Volkswagen Caddy are gaining in popularity with trades that do a lot of driving.
Adding a roof rack for ladders and lockable pipe tubes may give you the flexibility you need to pick a smaller van.
Carpenters carry so many tools they effectively need a mobile shed. What with routers, sanders, table saws, nail guns and so on it’s a wonder there’s any room left for all the tools they need to get through the day.
Flexibility and space is vital and for most the medium sized panel van will do the job.
But for those that do want to be able to work comfortably inside their van, a high roof option will help and a long wheelbase version will provide even more space to comfortably carry tools and materials.
Painters and Decorators
Decorators are faced with a choice; whether to go for a larger van and have more space for all those ladders and boards or try a smaller van and make life that little bit easier driving from house to house.
When much of your time is spent weaving through city streets and country lanes, the new breed of light van, like the Volkswagen Caddy or Fiat Doblo, will probably be the best choice.
A roof rack will help with the ladders, while all the paint and brushes should fit comfortably into the back and you can be enjoying a fuel economy of around 60mpg.
Landscapers and Gardeners
With heavy tools and materials needing to be transported everyday, a hard wearing van is an essential for a landscaper or gardener.
If moving lots of soil, sand and stone or removing branches and foliage from a site is everyday business, an open backed tipper may be the best option.
A medium sized van like the Vauxhall Vivaro or Ford Transit is a good choice if you want to be able to lock the door on the goods you carry, but for simple muscle and easy loading and dumping a tipper ticks the boxes.
Couriers spend all day on the road and most of that time in the cab so driving comfort and handling is essential.
For larger operations, the Mercedes Sprinter has long been a popular choice as its long wheel base and high roof options giving it up to 17 cubic metres of space, comparable to the Iveco Daily, Volkswagen Crafter and Vauxhall Movano.
But with smaller vans boasting better mpg and lower insurance costs you will need to decide whether a smaller van better suits your business.
With 3.2 Cubic metres of space the Volkswagen Caddy is one of the most popular small courier vans on the market and with 53 mpg compared to the Sprinter’s 35.3mpg it's easy to see how important it is to get the size of your van right.
Choosing the right van for your business is like finding the perfect pair of shoes. There can be no one size that fits all.
The most important consideration is balancing the space you need with the fuel economy that can make a real financial difference in the long term. Not to mention road tax and insurance which are usually both cheaper for smaller vans.
If you want to make an impression, car based vans like the Mini Clubvan can bring a touch of personality to your business van. And if you only need to move small items it could work for you.
If you have larger deliveries to make, small panel vans like the Fiat Doblo Cargo or Renault Kangoo are the popular choices. For florists, bakers or any other small business where a lot of heavy items aren’t being moved regularly, these vans can be an economic and versatile choice.
The size of your van is a major factor in the expense you face keeping it on the road.
Smaller vans tend to be cheaper to run, tax and insure so it’s crucial for you to pick the right size van.
The worst thing you can do is face the higher fuel bills a larger van brings simply for the pleasure of moving empty space around.
You should also think about your driving experience, most vans will come with a range of finishes.
It’s worth remembering you will be spending a lot of time in your van, so you should probably get the best interior you can afford.
Other running and maintenance costs
As well as fuel economy you also need to think about the other running costs that come with keeping a van on the road.
On-going maintenance costs are also important to consider. Researching the costs of parts and garage visits should be part of your decision making process and you should also look for deals that offer extended warranties or other benefits.
The commercial van market is very competitive and sometimes these extras make a real difference.
Your relationship with a dealer or garage is also important, so visit your local dealerships and get to know who you’re dealing with.
Used vans offer a cheaper alternative to buying brand new, particularly if your annual mileage is fairly low. The healthy state of the new van market means the supply of second hand vans hitting the forecourts is pretty good.
Of the second hand models out there if you’re after a small van, one of the leading publications recommend the Fiat Doblo Cargo. It still manages to pack a 1 tonne payload into its more petite frame, allowing you to downsize without losing too much space in the back. 
When it comes to the best medium panel van they favour the Vauxhall Vivaro. Although there is not much between this and its competitors they say it currently benefits from some discounting in recent years that means there are some bargains to be found. 
The pick of the best large used vans according to Auto Express is the Mercedes Sprinter. Even though second hand Sprinter’s are likely to have clocked up a lot of miles Mercedes reputation for durability and reliability means it should still give good service. 
Choosing the right van for your business is a balancing act. There are lots of competing factors that come into play and everyone will need their own solution. Researching the market carefully will pay you back later when your business gains an asset you can rely on and a van you will enjoy driving. For more advice on all things van related visit the Direct Line for Business Van Driver’s Knowledge Centre.