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How to choose the best van

Not all vans are created equal, and there's lots to consider before choosing the right one for your needs. So from how you'll drive it to what you'll use it for, this is our guide to picking the...

Volkswagen range of vans

You might not think too hard when it comes to picking a new van. Simply head down to your local showroom, or open up the classifieds if you're buying used, and go and stick your money down – does that sound familiar? But putting a bit more thought into which van you’re actually choosing will save you hassle in the long run – and could even save you some money. Here are all the things we think you should consider before deciding on your new van.

Choose your payload carefully

Chances are the first thing you’ll think about when you’re looking for a new van is the amount it can carry. And that’s a sensible place to start.

Payload is defined as the maximum load a van is rated to carry by the manufacturer, and it’s worth remembering that it includes everything that’s inside the van – including people. 

So it’s no good buying a van with a 500kg payload to shift 450kg if you weigh 70kg yourself; with you in the van too, you’ll be over the legal weight limit. 

Ford Transit Custom range of vans

Which van size and shape do you need?

While all vans might look the same to the untrained eye, there are, of course, considerable differences inside. Remember to think about the niggly details that might not be obvious at first. For example, some vans will offer more space between the wheel arches for sliding larger items in, while others will offer wider-opening doors.

And don’t forget to consider what shape you need the space to be. For example, a large van with a low roof might have a similar volume to a small van with a high roof – but the latter will be far more useful for carrying taller items. 

You might want to think about what shape your van is on the outside, too. For example, a short, high-roofed van might be useful for town work, because it’ll be easier to park on the street. But if you regularly need to get into low or tight spaces, such as underground car parks, a smaller, longer-wheelbase van might make more sense. 

It's not all about space

Don't just think about your load; think about yourself, too. After all, you’re likely to spend quite a lot of time in your van, so you’ll want it to be comfortable. Check the seats are supportive, make sure you’re happy with the layout of the controls and instrumentation, and decide which creature comforts are must-haves for you. 

Along the same lines, thinking about passenger space when you’re buying a van might sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re going to need to carry passengers on a regular basis, you might want to consider just how you do so. 

For starters, do you want two or three seats up front? Two seats will be more comfortable for both occupants, but they deny you the flexibility of a three-seat bench.

Then there are the crew and combi van options, which give you an extra row of seats behind the driver. These allow you to carry up to three more passengers – though obviously, doing so eats into both the load space and payload left for cargo carrying and makes access to cargo through the side door trickier. 

Person loading boxes onto a van

Running and maintenance costs

Obviously, running costs are of huge importance to any van operator, so good fuel economy is crucial. But that’s not the only financial aspect to consider. 

Don’t forget to check out the likely maintenance costs of your intended purchase, for example. And try to look into the cost of parts, in case things do need replacing down the line. 

There’s insurance, tax, and finance interest to consider, too, and you might also want to get a steer on how reliable your intended van is going to be. If it’s off the road for long periods, that could end up costing you money in lost business.

How will you drive your van?

Think hard about the type of driving you’re going to be doing in your van before you make your choice. 

For example, if you do regular motorway trips, a high-top van will incur much greater fuel consumption due to its poor aerodynamics, and you’ll want a reasonably gutsy engine so that it isn’t working too hard all the time. 

By contrast, if you spend most of your time in town, you can probably afford to opt for a taller vehicle with a less powerful engine. 

It’s also worth thinking about whether an electric van might be a better choice. Initial purchase costs on electric vans are high, but running costs are much lower – and such models are much better suited to low-speed, short-range work, such as multi-drop deliveries. 

Ford E-Transit 2022 front cornering

Do your research

We’ve got plenty of new van reviews here on, and we’re here to help you to try and find the right van for you. So if you want to know which vans are the best – and which are the duds – head on over to our van reviews section, where we’ll tell you what’s what.

A good place to start are the winners of our annual Van and Commercial Vehicle Awards, because each year we pick the best vans across multiple categories, and name one as our overall Van of the Year. Our reigning champion at the moment is an electric van: the Ford E-Transit.

Once you've found a van you like, head over to What Car? Leasing, where you can browse the best leasing deals for vans for both personal and business use.

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