What are the main types of vans?

Written by Steve Cook

Published on

Vans are some of the most versatile vehicles on the road. Whether you need one to transport heavy tools or deliver parcels and goods, your van plays an essential role in your business.

With so many types of commercial and business vans out there, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the most common van varieties on the market, and help you to decide which one might work better for you.

What are the main types of vans?

Panel vans

Panel vans are the most common type of van in the UK. They typically have a boxy shape with solid metal panels replacing rear windows. This provides protection against the weather and security for the things you’re carrying. Panel vans come in all sizes, from small and compact to large and roomy.

Small panel vans, like the Ford Transit Connect and Renault Kangoo, offer agile handling and a good amount of cargo space for making urban deliveries. Larger panel vans, including the long wheelbase Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, offer much more room for cargo, while still providing a comfortable drive. These jumbo vans can haul over 1,000 kg.

Panel vans usually have rear opening doors for easy loading access. Many feature sliding cargo doors to the side, too. Their customisable cargo areas allow shelving, racks and other storage solutions to be installed.

Popular with couriers, delivery drivers and self-employed contractors, panel vans offer versatile and secure transportation for you and your cargo.

Crew and combi vans

For transporting people and equipment, crew and combi vans feature rear seating within a spacious cargo area. Combi vans have removable rear benches, allowing you to customise the space based on whether you’re carrying cargo or passengers. Crew vans have fixed rear seats, reducing load space. But both models offer enough capacity for transporting tools, materials and supplies.

Medium vans, like the Mercedes-Benz Vito Crew and Ford Transit Custom Double-Cab, are popular choices. These vans carry 3 to 7 passengers plus cargo. Their flexible seating and refined ride quality make them a good option for employee transportation or passenger shuttle services.

Pickup trucks

With an open cargo bed and enclosed cab, pickup trucks can easily haul equipment, materials and other work gear.

Compact trucks, like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma, have modest cargo beds sized for routine loads. Full-size pickups, such as the Ram 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500, offer larger 6-8 foot beds that can carry over 1 tonne.

Four-wheel drive is a common feature on pickup trucks. This allows off-road driving and improves traction, especially in bad weather conditions. Other useful features include towing packages and truck bed caps to protect cargo. Pickups are popular work trucks for contractors, agricultural workers and tradespeople who don’t need huge amounts of cargo space.

Box trucks

Also known as cube vans, box trucks have an enclosed cargo area and cab-over driver section. This maximises the load space while allowing a compact overall length for easy driving.

Box trucks come in different sizes, including 12, 14, 16, and 20+ foot lengths. Some larger models may require you to have a commercial driver's licence.

Box trucks offer roll-up rear doors for easy loading access, plus side doors on some larger models. Their fully enclosed design provides security while protecting goods and cargo from the weather. Box trucks are a good option for furniture moving companies and couriers delivering large loads.

Refrigerated vans

Refrigerated vans, also called reefer vans, provide temperature-controlled transportation for fresh produce or frozen food. Internal refrigeration units keep the temperature inside the cargo space cold. Drivers can set the temperature to suit the goods they’re carrying, whether that’s chilled produce like vegetables, milk and cheese, or frozen goods like meat and fish.

Reefer vans come in different sizes, allowing the cargo area to be customised. They commonly feature electric standby systems that maintain cooling when the engine is off.

Service and utility vans

Service vans can be customised to create a versatile workshop on wheels. Plumbers, electricians and motorbike repair mechanics equip vans such as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit with customised interiors. These mobile workshops combine efficient transportation with the ability to work anywhere.

Utility vans offer similar features but in a smaller package. Models like the Peugeot Partner cater to the needs of mobile contractors, installers and computer technicians. With enough cargo space for tools and materials, plus agile handling designed for busy urban streets, utility vans are a great option for all sorts of tradespeople and professionals.

Shuttle vans

Designed for moving multiple passengers, shuttle vans feature seating for 8 to 15 or more occupants.

Basic models like the Ford Transit provide flexible seating and cargo space, while higher-end options like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter feature plush seating and interiors, and amenities tailored for passenger transport.

Forward-facing, rear-facing, and combination seat layouts allow you to choose the most optimal fit for your operation. And wheelchair-accessible models feature lifts and ramps to cater for mobility impaired passengers.

From airport transfers to convention shuttles, these versatile vans move medium-sized groups efficiently.

Frequently asked questions

What are the most common types of vans on UK roads?

The most popular vans in the UK are panel vans like the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and Volkswagen Transporter. In fact, the Ford Transit is the best selling van in Britain. Other common types include crew vans, pickup trucks, minibuses and box vans.

Why are panel vans so popular?

Panel vans are the go-to choice for many businesses because they’re versatile, spacious, and cost-effective. Their enclosed design protects tools, materials and cargo from the weather, plus privacy and safety from potential thieves. Easy customisation for racks and storage makes panel vans adaptable work vehicles.

What's the difference between a crew van and a combi van?

Crew vans have fixed rear bench seating, while combi vans have removable rear seats. This allows combi vans to transform into additional cargo space when not shuttling passengers. But both models offer flexible transportation for people and goods.

How much can a large panel van carry?

The biggest large panel vans, like the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transit, can carry over 1,000 kg (or 1 tonne). Their long wheelbase and high roof space maximises cargo capacity for hauling large loads.

Which vans are best for tradespeople?

Tradespeople need vans with lots of space for tools and materials. They also need a vehicle that’s durable and robust, easy to drive, and inexpensive to run. Three of the most popular vans for tradespeople are the Ford Transit, Vauxhall Vivaro and Mercedes Sprinter. You can check out the full list in our guide to the best work vans for tradespeople.

What insurance do you need as a van courier?

Couriers need van insurance that covers them for delivering parcels and third party goods. It’s sometimes referred to as “carriage of goods for hire and reward”.

Whether you deliver parcels, packages or documents, courier van insurance keeps you protected while you’re working.

How do running costs differ between vans and cars?

Things like fuel, heavy duty parts, maintenance and specialist insurance can make vans more expensive to run than cars. We’ve created a detailed guide that compares the running costs for vans and cars.

Can you drive a van on a regular car insurance policy?

For personal use, some car insurance policies may allow you to drive a van. But commercial van use isn't covered by car insurance policies. This article explains when you can drive a van on car insurance.

Which vans are popular for courier work?

Couriers need vans that offer plenty of cargo space, are easy to drive and manoeuvre, and relatively cheap to run. Based on this, the Ford Transit, Renault Trafic and Mercedes Sprinter are popular choices. Check out our guide to the best vans for courier work to see the full list.

What are the most popular commercial vans?

The Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Renault Trafic and Vauxhall Vivaro are among the most popular large commercial vans in the UK. For small-to-mid size models, the Ford Transit Connect and Renault Kangoo are popular choices.

What features make commercial vans good for businesses?

Large, customisable cargo areas, durable design features, and a wide range of size options make insured commercial vans a good choice for businesses. In addition, their relatively low running costs make them popular with small company owners and self-employed tradespeople.

How are commercial vans different from passenger vans?

Commercial vans prioritise cargo space over passenger seating and comfort. They’re also typically more robust, featuring simplified interiors and durable parts that can withstand regular loading and unloading of heavy equipment, tools and materials.