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Vans come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and just like people they can be hard to understand. Here is a simple glossary of terms used in the van industry to describe various types of vans.

Beavertail: A versatile van with a folding rear flap that doubles as a ramp, making it ideal for transporting small vehicles and garden machinery. It gets its name from its appearance as the folded down ramps can look like a beaver's tail.

Box van: A van with a large square load space, ideal for carrying bulky items. Box vans are usually completely square or rectangular and have huge carrying capacities. A box van body is also used to describe a solid walled trailer pulled by an HGV.

Car-derived van: A small van based on a car platform, with a low carrying capacity. These vans are ideal for small businesses that only need to carry a few items. A typical example of a car-derived van is the Toyota Corolla Commercial which looks like a car, but car platforms can be used and adopted to be more usable commercial vehicles like the Ford Transit Courier.

City van: The general term used for most small vans, typically under 2.5 tonnes and can carry around 700kg. Examples include the Ford Transit Connect, Volkswagen Caddy, and Vauxhall Combo. They get their name because, you guessed it, they are often found in cities.

Converted van: Any van that has been modified by a bodybuilder, ranging from refrigerated vans to Luton vans. One of the most popular conversions is for motorhomes, with the Fiat Ducato and Peugeot Boxer being the most common choices.

Crew van or double cab: A van with an additional row of seats, usually consisting of a fixed bench in the second row with a solid bulkhead behind them. Most crew vans seat five to six people. They have a modest payload allowance because additional seats and occupants eat into the carrying capacity.

Curtainside van: These vans look like small trucks. They have a solid roof but use canvas or plastic-coated curtains along the side to protect the load they carry. The curtains can be pulled back to reveal the length of the loadspace which also allows forklift trucks to side load the vehicle.

Chassis cab: This is the name for a van without a body on the back of it. There is a cab mounted to the chassis. The chassis rails extened out of the back and this is where a range of different bodies can be added to the rear. Typical bodies include tipper, Luton and motorhomes.

Dropside: A van with hinged gates on the side, allowing for extremely easy access to the load bed. These vans are often used by gardeners and the building trade because of their easy access from all sides.

Electric van: A van powered by an electric motor that takes its energy from a battery. Electric vans, also known as EVs, emit zero emissions from their tail-pipe and are therefore generally thought to be less polluting. One of the first mass-market electric vans was the Renault Kangoo E-Tech popular electric models are now made by Maxus and Ford.

Flatbed: A simple flat load deck area without sides, regularly used in the construction industry and often with a crane mounted behind the cab or at the rear of the load deck. Flat bed vans will have tie-down points or lashing bars to ensure that sheets and straps can be used to secure the items being carried.

Four-wheel-drive van (4x4): Vans with four-wheel drive provide off-road access into fields, gravel roads and forested areas. These vans can be dedicated permanent 4x4s or versions that have selectable four-wheel drive. They are regularly used by utility companies that which to access sites like electrical substations or sewage treatment works. These provide an alternative to pick-up trucks with a contained and larger cargo area.

Hybrid vans: Hybrid technology is occasionally found in vans and usually use a small petrol engine to recharge a small battery. Most are capable of operating for a short distance as purely electric vehicles.

Luton van: A box van with an additional usable storage area above the cabin of the van, commonly used by removal companies, offering even more storage capacity and for long international travel a self-contained sleeping pod.

Large van: Often referred to as 3.5-tonne vans, but many do not have to be that big. Popular examples include the Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, and Volkswagen Crafter.

Microvan: These small vans are not as common as they used to be but are still popular in Asia where parking and space in urban areas is limited. Popular examples are limited but include the DFSK Loadhopper, DFSK EC35 and past models like the Toyota Hiace.

Minibus: Converted vans with seating options for usually 9 to 17 people, similar to the ones used in schools. These are generally based on large vans or medium vans, but have more seats than regular passenger carrying vans.

Panel van: The general term used to describe a generic van. The sort of van that has solid metal sides and doors that open at the rear and side. As a general rule, all of our van reviews are of panel vans.

Pick-up: A commercial vehicle with a cabin, seperate load area and usually a four-wheel-drive drivetrain. Many variants can have single cabs, double cabs, or XL cabs that get a small amount of rear storage inside the cabin where the rear seats would normally be. Often there are options for hard tops and roller covers to make the load space secure and watertight.

Quadricycle: These are not technically vans or cars. A quadricycle is a small vehicle that is speed limited to less that 28mph. It doesn't have to conform to the same crash test regulations as a car of van. The electric Citroen Ami Cargo is an example of a quadricycle van.

Temperature controlled van (aka fridge van): Refrigerated vans can come in all shapes and sizes and are used to move anything from online food shopping to important medical supplies. These vans can have frozen, chilled, or ambient sections and operate at a range of temperatures.

Tipper: Vans used most often used in the construction trade. They have a hydraulic ram under their load bed to allow them to eject materials. There is often a hinged tailgate or side gate. Materials are usually ejected out of the rear of the body, but depending on the position of the hydraulic tipping equipment, it is also possible to eject sideways.

Transporter: A van used to transport cars. Van-based car transporters are often only capable of moving one car at a time. Transporters can be flat beds with tail ramps, or have slide decks that lower a platform to the ground to allow the car to be driven or winched onto it. The entire platform is then loaded onto the transporter. This type of transporter enables really low profile cars, like supercars, to be recovered without the need to drive them up steep ramps.

There are many different ways to pay for a van but the common question you'll be asking yourself is should I hire or lease or buy the van outright?

The answer to that question will depend on two things, your circumstances and how much money want to spend.

There will of course be other things to consider too, such as how long you plan to use van for. The business you are in might also impact the decision. That's because if you lease a van and you know its likely to get damaged - say from being on a building site - then you'll be paying through the nose to repair that damage at the end of the contract.

If you think your needs might change (ie. you'll need a large van (or a smaller van) at some point for a job then buying one outright isn't the correct decision.

Take a look at the options you have in our advice guide to buying, renting and leasing vans.

Buying a van

This is the easy part. If you buy a van you own it. Of course these days it's not that simple because it's not often that someone buys a van outright for cash. We'll do another advice article on financing vans and the finance products available.

For now lets look at the pros and cons of buying a van.

Buying a vehicle outright with your own money is usually the cheapest way of running a van. However, there are sometimes some incentives with finance deals that could make the cost comparable or even cheaper, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

But, we realise that not everyone can afford to buy a van for a great big lump of cash. That means you'll probably still need to arrange finance. Even with a finance deal, it is usually the best and cheapest purchasing method for most van drivers.

The reason for this is that you'll own the van for its entire life. Its yours to keep, use and sell.

Another benefit with a "cash" purchase is that you can negotiate the price to get a better deal. When it comes to buying a new van you a already own a van to trade-in.

If you own the van yourself, there won't be any restrictions on mileage or where you can drive it - for example taking it overseas. There are also fewer tax implications - which is always nice.

The negatives are that you have to pay for maintenance, tax and insurance yourself. You should do your very best to keep on top of them so that your van remains in the best condition. It's your van after all, and like if you don't brush your teeth you're going to have problems later on.

Another benefit of owning the van is that if you damage it you can choose how you repair it. You can shop around for the best price, do the work yourself or just leave it and save yourself the money.

Ultimately, it's your van and you decide what happens to it. You own the asset for its lifetime. You can potentially make great savings on not having to pay interest on any loans.

The only other thing to consider is depreciation. Your van will be losing value month to month. Keep an eye on the used market and you might be able to off-load it at a time that could be beneficial.

Leasing a van

Leasing a van is a fixed weekly or monthly cost. For this reason, businesses really like to lease their vans.

If you lease a van, you will be tied in to a fixed term contract. This is pretty similar to the way you probably pay for your mobile phone every month. The only difference is that rather than 12 or 24 months, the lease on your van will probalby be for three to five years.

There's also a big difference in that unlike most phone contracts you won’t own the van at the end of the agreement.

If you've fallen head over heels in love with your van, and there's a chance you might, you may want to buy it after the contract ends. Some agreements allow this (lease purchase) but be warned, they will make you pay a substantial amount as a balloon payment.

There are actually a huge amount of different lease options. It's a really complicated finance method but in a nutshell, you don’t own the van so most arrangements come with fixed maintenance and breakdown packages. That doesn't mean you can treat it badly though. You're still responsible for it. Think of it like an airport hire car. You're going to get one hell of a shock if you hand it back in with some big dents or scratches.

If you choose an all-in service from the leasing provider, you will be paying the same every month. This is great for budgeting.

The benefits of having a lease van is that it will save you money on maintenance costs. The new van will be in warranty, and most providers will ensure it is fully covered by the arrangement - after all, they own it and want to see the vehicle come back in one piece so that they can either hire it out again or sell it on.

When the contract finishes it's dead easy. You just return the van and can get a new one. This way you any surprise repair bills when the warranty runs out.

One thing to be aware of is that you need to service the van on time and to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Because of all the tracking and telematics in vans, many decent leasing companies will be able to see when the van needs a service and will probably contact you about it.

There is a downside to leases. They tend to have mileage restrictions. If your work requires you to travel around a lot they might not be for you. The limitations can be quite severe. If you're doing even 40 miles per day, that's 200 per week or 800 per month and 9,600 per year. Therefore an 8000 mile per year mileage cap won't cut it. Fortunately, those sorts of numbers are usually reserved for cars. Commercial vehicle lease agreements are usually a bit more generous.

Make sure you are aware of any penalty clauses. These could be in relation to returning the van before the contract ends, any repairs for damage, mileage limits or even speeding tickets.

When it comes to damange, you might have to go through an approved supplier. This can add to the cost. There could also be admin fees for arranging repairs from the leasing company's side.

Penalty charges on excessive mileage can also be really costly, amounting to several pence per mile.

Our advice is to read the terms and conditions carefully. Don't get lured in by a too good to be true, attractive headline figure. Check the small print.

If you need to terminate the contract early there will be high penalty clauses. These may reduce over time. For example if you are in your third year of a five year deal, and if you are looking to renew the agreement with a new vehicle from the same supplier. Leasing companies can be very generous if you are looking to become a repeat customer. So keep that in mind if you are approaching your mileage limit and want a new van.

One finaly thing to remember is that while your new van won't need an MoT for a few years, you will have to tax it and most arrangements don’t include insurance. Some providers will offer insurance, which isn't compulsory, but it can be one less headache of van ownership to consider.

Hiring and renting a van

There are so many options when it comes to hiring a van. Rentals can be from a single day rental to months or even years.

The main thing to consider though is that although hiring a van is very similar to leasing one, you will have no rights to buy it at the end and you don't own it during the rental period either.

In many ways you take less responsibility for the vehicle because everything from insurance, servicing and even damage repairs will be taken care of. But, you are also have to be more responsible because of this. It's back to the airport car hire scenario again. The company may look for any excuse to send you a bill.

The positives are that you pay a fixed price for simply driving away with the van. The only thing you need to think about is the fuel bill.

Because of this, the costs involved are higher than a lease.

Short term rental can be done by the day or the week, which is expensive. If you are looking for something more long term they might give you a discount, or you should consider leasing.

The good thing is though, that because they are very short rentals, the return clauses are short too. So you can hand the van back and stop paying if a job falls through.

Conclusion

As with everything in life, the choice comes down to money. But the length of time you need a van is also important.

You should also factor in what level of involvement you want to have. If you want to do your own maintenance, or you have a friendly garage you trust to do the work then owning your own van could save your thousands. But leases are straightforward, provide a fixed cost and have many benefits thrown in.

If, like most van owners, you want to keep a van for a long time and run it in to the ground then buying is the far better value option.

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