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What Type of Van Should You Get?

Vans are versatile and surprisingly affordable to run. Britons use them for both business and pleasure, for transporting everything from musical instruments to livestock.

Whether you’re carrying the tools of your trade or taking your extended family on holiday, there’s a van for you. It’s best to familiarise yourself with the taxonomy of these vehicles before you hit the dealerships or Gumtree. This way you will know which features are indispensable for you and which you can give a miss.

In this guide:

If you’re a tradesperson

The white van panel van is the iconic vehicle of Britain’s tradespeople, used by everyone from plumbers to electricians to plasterers. These vehicles provide enough space in their enclosed back to securely store all your equipment while remaining light enough to be driven without a special licence and to easily manoeuvre in residential streets between jobs.

The white sides also provide space for customised paintwork to advertise your business. But even if you don’t splash your name and brand on the sides, the white van is the universal symbol of trade on British roads.

If you’re a man with a van

If you’re running a moving or removals business, you’ll need a larger vehicle to fit all your client’s possessions. A box van will suit. These vans have large, cube-shaped load areas, ideal for fitting large items such as mattresses and furniture, and a separate cab.

If you’re forgoing the professionals and moving yourself, these are also the types of vans you should consider hiring. The Luton van, a variant of the box van, is particularly useful for self-movers because they’re all under 3,500kg and thus can be driven by anyone with a regular driving licence.

If you’re a delivery driver or courier

Box vans are also ideal for delivery drivers, especially those hauling large items and far distances.

But if you’re making short, frequent jaunts to deliver products and packages to clients and customers in urban areas, you should consider a city van - a van compact enough to drive easily through cities but large enough to fit a Euro pallet.

You’ll need to make sure these vehicles are covered by either haulage or courier insurance, however. Haulage insurance covers the van for the risks of long, motorway journeys with goods, while courier insurance protects the vehicle against risks while logging miles on tight city roads. Both are suited for vans which are carrying potentially valuable products and are thus vulnerable to theft but don’t cover the products themselves. Goods in transit insurance will cover the goods you carry for a client and is an add on to your van insurance policy.

If you’re in the food industry

If you’re making deliveries of or transporting perishable items, you’ll want a refrigerated van, also called a chiller van or a temperature-controlled van.

Those running food trucks, selling tacos or coffee to the masses, will want vans outfitted with kitchens. You can buy pre-made catering vans or modify your own box or Luton van. However, you’ll need to disclose any modifications you make to your insurer. And it’s more likely than not you’ll need to seek out specialised catering van insurance to cover the unique risks of a van used for cooking, including fires.

If you’re in the building industry

Many builders transport their tools to building sites in panel vans, but other types of vans are also essential players on building sites. These include flatbed or dropside vans. These vehicles have a cab and a separate flat, unenclosed load bed, which may be fitted with a small crane used for loading and unloading. They’re often used to deliver building materials to sites and remove waste.

Tipper vans are also crucial. They have an open load area with higher sides and a hydraulic ram that raises the front of the load bed. They’re used to deliver materials like topsoil to building sites and to remove waste.

If you’re in a band

If your band is headed on tour, you’ll want a specially designed splitter van. It would ideally be outfitted with both seats for the bassist and drummer, and a separate storage area in the back for all your road cases. You’ll need a commercial use insurance policy if you’re being paid.

If you’re going on holiday

Not all vans are used for commercial purposes. Many people use vans recreationally, and thus qualify for private use insurance policies for them.

If you’re headed on holiday and are keen to experience the outdoors, or the 1960s, you might want a campervan. At their most basic, these vehicles have beds in the rear. At their most deluxe, they have kitchen equipment, toilets, and showers.

If you prefer to stay in hotels, you might get use out of a minibus, a van with eight to 16 passenger seats. But make sure you’re qualified to drive these vehicles before you load in the family and their suitcases. Drivers with standard licences issued after 1 January 1997 are only allowed to operate vehicles under 3,500kg and with eight or fewer passenger seats.