What is a commercial vehicle?

Written by Steve Cook

Published on

In the UK, a commercial vehicle refers to any motor vehicle that’s used for work or business reasons, rather than private use.

Commercial vehicles are designed and built for carrying goods or passengers — things like large vans, lorries and buses.

There are a few things that set commercial vehicles apart from regular private vehicles. Let’s take a look at them here.

What is a commercial vehicle?

Designed for heavy use

Commercial vehicles are designed to withstand much heavier use than private vehicles. They have more durable parts, and features that can handle large, heavy loads and long hours on the road. For example, commercial lorries often have reinforced suspensions, tougher brakes, and extra transmission cooling features.

Optimised for carrying loads

The main purpose of a commercial vehicle is to transport goods, materials or people. As such, they’re built for hauling heavy loads efficiently. Commercial vans have large cargo areas and flat floors. Lorries come with open backs or box bodies. Buses have wide doors and spacious interiors to seat lots of passengers.

Higher weight and size limits

Commercial vehicles are usually much larger and heavier than private vehicles. In the UK, vans up to 3.5 tonnes are considered light commercial vehicles. Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), like articulated lorries, can weigh up to 44 tonnes when fully loaded.

Specialised body types

Commercial vehicles have body types designed for specific functions. These include:

  • Box vans with side doors for easy access
  • Refrigerated vans to transport cold and frozen food
  • Tanker trucks equipped for transporting liquids like fuel or milk
  • Tipper lorries with hydraulic backs to dump loose material like sand and gravel
  • Car transporters with stacked decks to carry multiple vehicles

Extra regulations apply

The use of commercial vehicles is governed by a few extra regulations around licensing, operator compliance, weight limits on roads, driver training, and more. For example, driving a large HGV requires a different category licence than driving a standard car. Operators must meet safety standards and implement maintenance programmes.

Range of brands and manufacturers

There are many brands that specialise in building commercial vehicles for the UK and global markets. Major brands include Mercedes, Volvo, Iveco, Renault, Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan, MAN, Scania, DAF, and Mitsubishi Fuso.

Insuring a commercial vehicle

For insuring a commercial vehicle or business van, you’ll need a specialist commercial motor insurance policy. That’s because commercial vehicles are on the road more often and used for different reasons than private cars, so the risks and liabilities are different.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Intended business use: The policy needs to cover the type of work you do, whether that’s the delivery of third party goods, passenger services, transportation of tools, or something else.
  • Public and employee liability: Commercial policies provide higher liability limits to protect businesses against injury, death or property damage.
  • Goods-in-transit: Provides cover for loss or damage to equipment, goods and materials being transported.
  • Specialist vehicle types: Specialist policies may be needed for certain vehicles like tipper trucks, tankers and car transporters operating under fleet or trader policies.
  • Breakdown cover: This is essential for commercial vehicles on tight schedules – it keeps you and your business on the road.
  • Comprehensive vs third-party: Comprehensive policies with fire and theft, vandalism and accident coverage are usually recommended for commercial vehicles.

As a commercial van owner, getting the right van insurance is really important — it protects you and your business against the risks you’ll encounter out on the road.

If you’re choosing a comprehensive commercial or business van insurance policy, make sure it covers you against the costs of causing damage to other vehicles or property. If your vehicle is involved in an accident while you’re working, the costs can really add up.

In summary, commercial vehicles are purpose-built for carrying goods or large numbers of passengers. Types of commercial vehicles include delivery vans, large goods lorries, buses, haulage trucks, and other specialised vehicles used in commerce and trade. They’re designed to handle heavy goods, large loads, and cover lots of miles.

What are the most common types of commercial vehicles seen on UK roads?

The most common commercial vehicles in the UK are vans such as panel vans, pickups, and minibuses. Other commercial vehicles are rigid and articulated lorries, tractor units, tankers, tippers, refrigerated trucks, car transporters, and motorhomes or caravans over 3.5 tonnes. Buses, coaches and minicabs are also a common sight on UK roads.

What are the differences between light and heavy goods commercial vehicles?

Light commercial vehicles include vans up to 3.5 tonnes gross weight. Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are over 3.5 tonnes and include rigid trucks, tractor units, buses, coaches and other large goods vehicles like concrete mixers and waste disposal trucks. HGVs require different driving licences and are subject to extra road traffic regulations.

What kind of businesses and trades use commercial vehicles?

Delivery services, logistics, and transportation companies rely on commercial vehicles. Builders, electricians, plumbers, carpet cleaners and other tradespeople use business vans to transport tools, materials, and equipment. Vans are also used by maintenance and repair services, mobile catering companies, florists, medical supply services and more.

What are some advantages of using a commercial vehicle for business?

Advantages include more cargo space, higher payload capacities, ability to tow trailers, improved safety features, and the convenience of having a mobile workspace or shop. You can also add branding to your commercial vehicle to help advertise your business. Most businesses can also claim back VAT on the purchase and running costs of a vehicle used primarily for commercial reasons.

What should you look out for when buying a used commercial vehicle?

When buying a used commercial vehicle, focus on the service history, mileage, engine condition, signs of overloading or hard use, accident damage, and maintenance records. Check that the V5 logbook matches the VIN. And make sure it meets your needs for carrying cargo, goods or passengers.