Complete guide to buying your first van

Buying your first van

There’s a vast choice of vans which can make buying your first a minefield (Picture © Ford)

Buying your first van is as big a milestone as getting a first client or signing off a company logo for many business owners. Along with sound management and manpower, a van can be one of the fundamentals of business, transporting personnel, products or tools. 

However, buying that first van can be a minefield. Not only is there a choice of vans as vast as the carrying capacity of many of those on the market. There is also a huge variation in prices. In this straightforward guide, we look at the most important things to think of to get right van for the job.

Buying your first van

Trade or trendy? The MINI Clubvan is probably the most stylish van around (Picture © MINI)

Buying your first van: what will you use it for?

Are you a florist running light loads around the neighbourhood? Or a tree surgeon towing heavy duty equipment over rough terrain? However unusual your job, you can guarantee there will be a van for it.

Panel vans (steel-sided with side or rear-entry doors) usually come in four main sizes: small, light, medium and large. Small vans are frequently based on popular cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and even the MINI. Light vans are purpose built but frequently have passenger versions. Examples of these are the Peugeot Partner and Ford Transit Connect. Medium and large vans often use the same base but have different load capacities. The Ford Transit is the favourite, although the Volkswagen Transporter, Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic are other popular choices.

If your work takes you off the beaten track, there are four-wheel drive vans, pick-up trucks and 4×4-based panel vans. These include models from Land Rover that will get you places an ordinary van might fear to tread.

Buying your first van

Ford’s popular Transit come in both medium and large sizes (Picture © Ford)

Buying your first van: how to check payload

The payload is how much weight a van is safe to carry. Manufacturers typically list a payload weight in kilograms. But even if they don’t list one, it’s easy enough to work out.

Take the maximum gross vehicle weight (how much the vehicle and whatever it’s carrying can weigh in total) and the kerb weight (the weight of the van without any load on board). The payload is kerb weight subtracted from gross vehicle weight.

Depending on how you intend to use the van, it may also be useful to check the towing capacity of the vehicle and the maximum weight that the roof can carry. All manufacturers should provide these figures on their websites or with a van’s literature.

Buying your first van: compare the running costs of different vans

The price of the van, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and associated cost of road tax and insurance should all be added up and compared.

This is especially important for anyone torn between two different sizes of van. Often a smaller van can carry nearly as much payload as a larger van and it will be more frugal to run.

Also, consider the servicing schedule: some makes may not need servicing as frequently as others. The labour rates and parts prices for servicing will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Dealers will be able to provide an overview of scheduled maintenance costs, so comparing one van with another should be straight forward.

Finally, keep an eye out for packages that include free servicing for a defined period of time, as it could reduce running costs by hundreds of pounds a year.

Buying your first van: length of warranty

You might think that buying a van from a premium brand such as Mercedes would guarantee the most peace of mind. Think again. The Mercedes warranty on popular models such as the Vito and Sprinter is three years long with no limit on the mileage in that period. That’s no different to a Ford or Toyota van. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi and even little known SsangYong offer five years of protection with their models.

Buying your first van: which are the best new vans on sale?

It’s the most common van on the road, and with good reason: the Ford Transit is as highly regarded by the independent critics as it is by the thousands of drivers who buy one each month. What Van? declared the Transit Courier its Van of the Year 2015

You can search through and read the comprehensive reviews of What Van? for most makes and models of vans here.

Parkers also provides a handy search tool of every van it has tested and rated. Alternatively, try browsing the tests at Business Vans.

* Realising the importance of van fleets to businesses, Green Flag will be present at Toolfair events starting at EventCity in Manchester on June 11/12, the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on 17/18 of September and Sandown Park in Surrey on November 5/6.

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