Choosing the best used van for your courier business can seem a daunting task; there’s a huge range of small, medium and large vans available on the UK used vehicle market, but which one is right for you?
As with any used van for sale, there are numerous mechanical and vehicle history checks that you should make, including checking the van’s mileage, servicing record, the condition of the bodywork, etc.
We can’t emphasise enough how important those things are, but what we’d really like to talk about here are things which specifically affect you, as a courier. (If you do want detailed guidance about basic vehicle checks on used vehicles, try taking a look at the AA’s checklist.)
Does size matter?
One of the most important considerations is what size van you should buy, and by size we don’t just mean its internal capacity, but your payload needs, too.
What sort of loads do you typically carry?
It’s important not to overload your van, but for some couriers, volume may actually be a more relevant consideration than weight. Some smaller and medium-size vans have great payloads, and may offer lower running costs and insurance than a larger van.
Of course, if your typical load takes up a greater physical space, size is everything, regardless of weight. Running costs should still matter, though, so check the van’s fuel efficiency stats, and its insurance group, too.
Internal space and pallet sizes
Consider the overall capacity of the van you’re thinking of buying, as well as the actual width and length of the load space, not forgetting to check the narrowest point between the wheel arches. Is it sufficient for the largest loads you carry?
If you carry pallets, you’ll need a van with good access, as well as the internal capacity to fit them.
The standard UK Pallet measures 1200 x 1000mm, while the Euro Pallet (which is often more common in the UK) measures 1200 x 800mm. There are other, Global Pallet sizes, too, but unless you courier goods beyond Europe, you’re less likely to come across them.
Helpful design features
- You’d expect a side-sliding door on a larger courier van, but in a smaller van it’s a real bonus that will make access much easier – the Ford Transit Connect is a good example. For larger vans, a side sliding door wide enough to slide pallets in and out will be extra useful.
- Plenty of internal fixing points, to keep your load stable.
- High and wide back doors to optimise access for bulky goods. Some vans’ rear doors only open to 90 degrees, but others open to a full 180 degrees, to make access even easier.
Mobility and maneuverability
Consider the type of driving you do most often, and the van that might suit that best. For example, does your van have to squeeze into tight urban parking spaces or turn on a sixpence in a busy high street? Will you spend more time navigating narrow country lanes than cruising wide open motorways? Long-wheel base vans don’t give quite the same level of mobility and maneuverability as smaller vans, so if you don’t need the larger capacity, a smaller van might suit you better.
Innovative fuel technology is now becoming more mainstream in commercial vehicles. For example, the Ford Transit Custom features a new acceleration control system, which detects if the van is part- or unladen to help you drive more economically (up to 15% less fuel consumption), and reduce wear and tear on the engine, brakes and tyres.
Compliance with emissions regulations
The Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London is designed to improve air quality and reduce congestion, but it can prove costly for couriers with high emission vans that don’t meet its standards.
Currently, all vehicles that meet the Euro 6 emission standard are exempt from ULEZ charges, with some exceptions for petrol models. Every new van built since September 2016 has had to meet the Euro 6 standard, so there should be a good availability for used Euro 6 vans in the UK. Vans that meet this standard aren’t just better for the environment, they’re cheaper to run.
ULEZ or Clean Air Zones have already launched in Birmingham and Bath, and other areas have similar schemes in the planning phase, so it’s a good idea to buy a van that complies with Euro 6 emission standards, wherever you are based.
How long are your journeys? DPF problems
If the distance you cover between delivery drops is shorter than 15 miles, there’s another consideration to think about: DPF problems.
A diesel particulate filter (DPF) is a small device that’s fitted to the exhaust of many modern vans. As the name suggests, this filter traps particulates that would otherwise foul our air quality.
Over the course of a 15-mile motorway journey (or equivalent), the DPF superheats these nasty particulates to burn them off. But there’s a problem if you don’t regularly cover 15 miles between stops – the particulates don’t get burned off, the filter becomes clogged, and it can be very expensive to clean or replace it.
The point is, if you’re a delivery driver typically making multiple short journeys, you could be storing up expensive trouble in a diesel van. There are petrol vans out there worth a look – the Citroen Berlingo’s punchy 1.2 litre PureTech petrol engine gets good reviews – and hybrid or all-out electric vans are rapidly establishing themselves, too.
Although a van is generally considered more of a work tool than a car, courier drivers spend a lot more time in their vehicle, and these days they expect the same standard of connectivity as car drivers. If budget allows, integrated sat-nav, media-pairing, Bluetooth, USB and charging ports will make driving more of a pleasure and can improve productivity, too.
And speaking of productivity, if you’re running a small fleet of delivery vehicles, the Mercedes Benz Sprinter features Pro Connect software that enables you to monitor and track their progress. You can get Pro Connect retro-fitted on older Sprinter vans, which makes them a good option in the used van market.
Vans inevitably get bumps and knocks in the course of their busy daily lives, so consider the costs for common replacement parts (shout out to the Citroen Relay, whose whole front section is made up of lots of different panels, so if you damage one area, you don’t have to take off the whole of the front, just replace one panel).
Vans to consider
We’ve trawled through a number of recent review sites to find the most commonly recommended vans in each size category.
- Ford Connect
- Mercedes Benz Citan
- Nissan NV200
- Renault Kangoo
- Fiat Doblo Cargo
- VW Caddy
- Vauxhall Combo
- Citroen Berlingo
- Peugeot Partner
Medium panel vans
- Vauxhall Vivaro
- Ford transit Custom
- Volkswagon Transporter T6
- Renault Trafic
- Citroen Dispatch
- Peugeot Expert
- Mercedes Vito
- Toyota Proace
- Fiat Talento
- Citroen Relay
- Peugeot Boxer
- Fiat Ducato
- Nissan NV400
- Renault Master
- Vauxhall Movano
- VW Crafter
- Ford Transit
- Mercedes Benz Sprinter