Grey company work van parked on a busy road

Buying a van – which one?

by Valens Quinn

When buying a new car, most people already have a strong opinion about what they want. Colour, brand, features etc., can be a very personal decision. However, where do you start if you need a new van for your small business, especially if you have not bought one before? This guide will help you understand what you should consider in making your decision about buying a van.

A van is a medium-sized motor vehicle, typically without side windows in the rear section of the body, for transporting goods.

WHY buy a Van?

If you need to transport goods in an enclosed vehicle that will not fit in a car, that needs to be protected from the weather and kept secure whilst still being very maneuverable and economical to run. Then a van might be the answer.

The small van is synonymous with small businesses, whether a tradesman, delivery driver, or even a mobile barista. They offer great cargo carrying capacity whilst driveable on a standard license and can still be easily parked.

WHAT factors should influence my decision when buying a Van?

When considering buying a van, you should evaluate the following:

  • Size – When you consider your needs, vans will normally be described as short or long wheelbase, which indicates length. Think about what you need to carry and thus your required dimensions. Width is also key if, for example, you need to be able to load a standard-size pallet in the rear. The bigger the van, the harder it will be to park and maneuver.
  • Roof height – Being able to walk around upright may be a requirement but remember you might now no longer be able to drive into a loading dock or car park that has height restrictions.
  • Payload – What is the maximum weight the van will carry? Note this measure will also have to include vehicle occupants and fuel weight. A twin rear wheel axle will allow additional weight to be carried. It is important to know that a gross vehicle weight over 4.5 tons will require a special driver’s license.
  • Engine – Traditionally, petrol gives better speed whilst diesel provides more pulling power and fuel economy. Another advantage is a diesel engine will have a longer service interval and is designed to do more kilometres keeping your van on the road longer.
  • Drive train – Although more expensive, an automatic transmission may significantly reduce your driving fatigue if you are negotiating city traffic. In the country, an all-wheel-drive variant might be needed to get you where you need to go.
Passenger considerations when buying a van
  • Doors – Door configuration can also be very important depending on how you want to use the van. Say you want to reverse up to a loading dock, then barn-style doors with 180-degree hinges allow you to do this. Sliding doors on both sides allow better access to contents etc. If you have ladders on the roof, will a lifting tailgate allow you to access them?
  • Weekend warrior – If the van will also be your transport during your time off, are there any considerations you need to make, like extra seating or provision to carry a bike or surfboard?
  • Seating– Extra seating is available in some models if your van is to carry the workers and the tools. Indeed most car manufacturers offer a small minivan in the same format for moving up to 12 people (a special driver’s license is required if you have more than 12 seats)
  • Comfort – Vans typically have a very upright seating position. If driving all day, consider this carefully when test-driving vans. You might also be able to pay extra to have more creature comforts like climate control air-conditioning.
Nice to haves when buying a van
  • Parking aids – Rear parking sensors and a camera will greatly assist in reversing into those hard-to-get spaces.
  • Safety features, if available, might save someone’s life or make driving just that much simpler and could include adaptive cruise control, hill start, speed limiters, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, automatic headlights, lane departure, road sign assist, etc.
  • Internal fit-out – You want your van fit for purpose, and lots of options are available and could include interior lining, refrigeration, safety barriers, built-in navigation, racking, draws, tie-down hooks, onboard power, etc.
  • Accessories – A van can become more versatile with optional accessories like roof rack, side awning, roof ladder, interior lighting, towbar, rear step, cargo barrier, grab handles, etc.
  • Branding – A van is also a mobile billboard and gives you the canvas to create advertising on its side to promote your business. Some businesses might want to stay incognito if the van carries expensive items.
  • Warranty & reputation – Check for how many years of warranty you get if used in a commercial environment. Also, check online forums where others may share their experiences of driving that vehicle.
  • ANCAP Safety measures how safe your car/van will be in the event of a crash. Ratings for vans in Australia can be found here. Simply the more stars, the better.
Running costs
  • Capped servicing – Some van manufacturers will offer a fixed-price servicing plan which helps you with your budgeting.
  • Running costs – Be realistic on just how much it will cost you to keep your van on the road and use this cost in your business planning to understand costs vs revenue.
  • Repairability –  Chances are, as a commercial vehicle, your van will do many more kilometres than a car. This, unfortunately, increases your chances of having an accident. How easy is it to get replacement panels, and at what cost? Because of the nature of this being a commercial vehicle, it is likely the interior fittings will be designed to take some punishment.
  • Insurance will differ by make and the driver’s age and driving record. Vans generally will do more kilometres, so more likely to be in an accident and will attract higher premiums.

HOW do I buy a van?

What is your budget? Just like cars, there are dealers for both new and 2nd hand. You can, of course, buy privately.

Car dealers might offer drive-away deals and special financing deals to encourage you to purchase. Look out for bonuses like roadside assistance or scheduled servicing thrown in.

Check the latest rules as you might be eligible for an instant asset write-off from the ATO.
Car dealers might also offer fleet deals or a special price for ABN holders.  The GST on your vehicle may also be claimable

Note: Registration is generally more expensive for a business vehicle but is also claimable as an expense.

HINT – Buying a van

Before you rush out to buy a van, there are a few further things you need to know. 

Vans are built to a price, and that normally means cheap. Although some vans come with a 5-star safety rating, some do not, and due to maximising cargo space, might be very unsafe in a head-on collision. Please consider what your personal safety is worth. In Australia, vans were not required to have stability control (reduces the chance of rollover in a poor traction situation) until November 2017, so consider this when buying 2nd hand.

Vans are not cars. Thus, comfort, aesthetics, and multimedia will not be of the same standard. A van is designed to carry weight, and as such, the suspension will be hard and unforgiving in corners. When the van is empty, it leads to poor rear braking and front heavy handling. Drivers often sit ahead of the front tires, increasing the risk of cutting a corner early. Rear and side vision is restricted. Engine noise will be greater if the engine is below the driver’s seat.  

A great guide for buying 2nd hand vans can be found here

SUMMARY – Which Van

Which small van or which large van is the one that meets your business needs best?

If you own a delivery van, every friend and family member will want your help on the weekend.

That aside, it is a great representation of your business from both functionality and advertising.

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