The Practical Guide to Van Ownership

Introduction

As a tradesman your van is your most important tool. It’s absolutely critical to your operation and will be one of the single biggest investments you’ll ever make. Making sure it’s safe, secure and adequately maintained is essential.

With so much weight riding on your van it’s highly important that you recognise your responsibilities as an owner and operator. From understanding the rules and regulations to ensuring your vehicle is free from mechanical defects, this guide has been designed to teach you everything you need to know about van ownership and what it entails.
Van Safety
Van Security
Van Insurance
Van Maintenance
Daily Walk-around Check
Buying and Selling
Enforcement
FAQs
Essential Links

 

Van Safety

Poor driving causes far more damage than mechanical defects. Simply watching your speed, reprogramming your habitual approach to driving and remaining more aware about what’s going on will significantly enhance your personal safety.

Watch Your Speed

20 Mph speed Sign - Van Safety

Image credit: Telegraph

This is without a doubt the most important aspect of safe driving. Speed limits are there for a reason. Around two thirds of fatal accidents occur in areas with a speed limit of 30mph or less. Reducing your speed by just one mile per hour will reduce the chance of a fatal accident by around 5% as it will give you those precious split seconds to adapt to the hazardous situation. If you’re working in the delivery and transportation sector don’t exceed the speed limit, even if you’re running late. No job is worth risking a life.

Reduce Your Driving Hours

Even though you’re sat down, spending long hours driving a van can be physically demanding. Make sure you take regular breaks and abide by these European Community guidelines:

  • Your daily driving should be limited to nine hours (this limit can be extended to 10 hours no more than twice per week).
  • Do not drive for more than four and a half hours consecutively.
  • Make sure you have a daily rest period of at least 11 hours.
  • Do not drive for more than 56 hours per week or 90 hours per fortnight.
  • Make sure you rest for at least 45 hours consecutively once per week.

As a UK van driver you may be exempt from European law. If so, familiarise yourself with the legislation set forth by the Transport Act 1968.

Stay Awake

Always make sure you’re well rested before you set out on your journey. If you’ve been driving for a long period of time get off the road and give yourself a break at the earliest possible opportunity. Until then turn off the warm blowers and open a window to let the cold air circulate and wake you up. Once you’ve had a break make sure you’re fully alert before you even start the engine again.

Use a Sat Nav

A sat nav will not only compliment your sense of direction, but will give you valuable safety information by alerting you when you’re driving over the speed limit. Modern sat navs with Internet access can even update while you’re driving and give you real-time updates regarding traffic congestion, weather, roadworks and car accidents. Pinpointing potential hazardous situations and amending your driving habits to suit the conditions will dramatically reduce your chance of causing an accident.

Check Your Vehicle

Before you set out on your journey, check your van for mechanical problems. Even small issues, such as poor window visibility or under-inflated tyres, can pose a serious threat to yourself and other drivers. Perform a walk-around inspection to make sure everything is in working order. If you find any problems, either deal with it yourself or file a report immediately.

Always be Prepared

Pack a few safety essentials in your van just in case – a first aid kit, high-vis jacket, torch, tools for minor repairs, and a spare wheel. In addition, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before you leave and that your insurance details and printed out and ready to hand over to other drivers in the event of a minor collision. It could also be a good idea to take a cheap digital camera with you just in case you need to take photos for your records.

Unfortunately accidents do happen, even to professional drivers. Just one mistake can have devastating consequences. If you are ever involved in an accident how you react is crucial. Switch off your engine; turn on your hazard lights; put on your handbrake; check the occupants of the other vehicles to determine their state of health; and then call the emergency services.

Van Security

Vans attract criminals. Not only are they valuable as vehicles, but they usually hold plenty of pricey tools and materials. Even if you don’t store anything of substantial value inside your van, making sure it’s safe and secure should be a top priority. Aside from avoiding broken locks and windows, getting extra security could reduce your annual insurance costs.

Prioritise Security

When you’re buying a van give security just as much precedence as the vehicle itself. If the van has nothing more than a standard locking system, remember to take the costs of future security upgrades into account. It might not be worth as much as you think. For example, if you’re dead set on having an alarm system, immobilizer and tinted windows, but it has none of these features, keep on looking.

Install Slamlocks and Deadlocks

Van safety Lock

Image Credit: Insurefit

Van slamlocks and deadlocks are the most popular after-market security upgrade. Deadlocks will provide an extra locking point on the door and can be fitted to almost any van. Slamlocks will lock the van door whenever it is closed. This makes them a very effective form of security, even if you’re only stepping away from your vehicle for a moment.

Install Alarms and Immobilizers

Brand new vans usually come with both alarms and immobilizers as standard; however, older vehicles often do not. If you want to buy an alarm or immobilizer make sure it’s a Thatcham Category 2 model; this will provide basic level protection.

Buy a GPS Tracking System

Attaching a GPS tracking system to your van will increase the chance of recovery should it get stolen. In addition they will lower your insurance premiums. This location data can also be used to monitor your fleet via virtual mapping software if you ever feel the need to keep a watchful eye over your workforce.

Use Deterrent Stickers

Criminals can be easily deterred with simple warning stickers. “No tools left in this vehicle overnight” can commonly be seen on vans and will prevent the majority of thieves from even attempting a break in. While they are not 100% fool proof, they’re definitely worth buying if you don’t have the funds to install mechanical upgrades.

Install Integrated Lockable Storage Cases

If thieves manage to break through your security and gain access to your van, you’ll have one layer of protection left before you lose all of your precious belongings. Sometimes taking your tools in and out every night simply isn’t an option. If this is the case consider using lockable storage cases that you can attach to the interior of your van to place your toolboxes inside.

Start a Neighbourhood Watch Program

Starting a Neighbourhood Watch program is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of preventing crime. Parking your van in an area with an active neighbourhood watch team will significantly reduce your risk as other members will keep an eye on what’s going on around them and take steps to ensure everyone is protected. For information about starting your own Neighbourhood Watch program visit the National Crime Prevention Council.

Attach Tinting Film

Leaving your goods on display will inevitably attract unwanted attention. Tinting film will obscure the vision of potential thieves and lessen the risk of a break in. If they don’t know what’s inside in the first place they simply may not want to risk breaking in.

Park in a Well-lit Area

Criminals will naturally try to conceal their shady activities in dark and hidden areas. Well-lit areas, however, can be a deterrent, even if they’re away from society. Try parking your van under a street lamp or in front of a motion activated light.

Train Your Staff

Training is one of the most overlooked elements of vehicle security. If you’re running a business and have a fleet of vans make sure all of your drivers are aware of your security policies. Randomly inspect each vehicle on a regular basis to ensure your workforce is adhering to the rules and regulations. Consider holding a quarterly seminar to train your staff and refresh their memory if they start to slip up.

These security techniques will virtually eliminate your risk. Vans aren’t cheap and if you find yourself victim of theft it could bear a huge impact on your business, finances and life. It’s never worth taking any chances.

Van Insurance

Finding van insurance with the right features and for the right price can be a challenge. Even if you find a great deal for year one, it could increase when it’s time to renew the policy. This is because providers often change their calculation procedures and retract complimentary introductory discount. There are, however, a few ways to reduce your insurance premiums.

Consider the Size

Nissan NV400 Tipper

Consider the size of van you need

Before you buy a van think about how big it genuinely needs to be. Vans that are smaller generally cost less to insure; therefore, if you aren’t delivering goods a transit van will probably not be a worthy investment. Also consider the engine and performance. A more powerful engine will inevitably attract higher insurance premiums.

Describe Your Work Status

How you describe your job and whether your van will be used for commercial purposes will affect the costs. While describing your job as a “builder” rather than a “construction worker” may make your policy cheaper for example, make sure you are honest about your role; otherwise you could risk invalidating your policy.

Improve Your Van Security

Improving the security of your vehicle reduces risk; therefore, insurers will give you a better rate. Alarms, immobilizers and trackers will have the biggest influence over the price. In addition they will deter criminals from breaking in. Before you choose your insurance policy shop around to find out whether or not your chosen company will recognise the upgrade. In addition, compare the initial upgrade costs against your insurance premium to decide whether it will be a worthy long-term investment.

Avoid Modifications

Making aesthetic modifications is rarely worth it, especially if you use your van for commercial purposes. This is because body kits will cost more to replace and will make the van more attractive to criminals.

Limit Additional Drivers

The more drivers you add to the insurance policy the more it will cost. Although one may not make a huge difference, try to limit having too many, especially if the driver is under 25 or hasn’t built up their no-claims discount.

Consider Tools Cover

When you’re buying commercial van insurance tools cover may come as an optional extra. While this will bulk up the cost it could be worth the investment. Purchasing tools cover from a separate insurance provider will not only result in even more hassle, but may cost more over time. Always compare the costs before you make a decision if you definitely need it.

Increase Your Voluntary Excess

Your voluntary excess is the amount you have to pay before you can claim any insurance costs. If you have a problem you will have to pay this to the servicing garage before they will give you your van back. When you take out your policy increasing your voluntary excess can lower your annual fees.

Park with Care

If you can park your van in a secure area, such as a garage or driveway, make sure you mention this to your insurer. Off road parking will lower the chance of vandalism or theft, which will have a positive impact on the overall costs. Just make sure you’re completely honest and follow the rules. Park on the road and it could invalidate your right to make a claim.

Take an Advanced Driving Course

Pass Plus and IAM provide additional driving courses that are commonly used to lower insurance premiums, especially among younger drivers. They are designed to give you more comprehensive training and often take part during the evenings. However, it’s important to note that not all insurers recognise these extra-curricular driving courses; therefore, the course fees may not outweigh the savings. That said your driving abilities will no doubt be stronger. Visit the Institute of Advance Motorists (IAM) or Pass Plus for more information.

Build Up a No Claims Bonus

Every year you drive without making an insurance claim you will be awarded a no-claims bonus. In the event of a minor prang sometimes it’s better to simply cover the costs yourself without reporting it to your insurer so it won’t affect your premiums.

Shop around for van insurance and get a bunch of quotes before you make your decision. Don’t just use price comparison websites or brokerage services, call up the companies direct and explain your circumstances in person. This can be far more beneficial if you have special circumstances that online forms don’t consider.

Van Maintenance

As a van driver you will probably use your vehicle on a near-daily basis for work-related activities. If you encounter problems your only source of income could cease, which could have a huge impact on your life. Making sure your van is in tip-top shape is crucial. While an MOT might keep it road worthy in a legal sense, they are certainly not your only expense. These simple maintenance tips should be undertaken on a regular basis.

Adjust the Tyre Pressure

Image Credit: Concept Vehicle Leasing

Image Credit: Concept Vehicle Leasing

Tyre pressure should be amended to the load capacity. Incorrect tyre pressure can affect the steering, which could make you more accident prone. In addition, monitor the tyre tread. If it’s below 1.6mm you could receive up to three penalty points for each tyre and may have to pay a fine. These penalty points could raise your next year’s insurance premiums.

Fill Up Your Fluids

Check your engine oil, brake fluid, washer fluid and water/coolant to ensure you have the right amounts. Too little and you’ll eventually experience problems such as insufficient lubrication (engine oil), poor brake performance (brake fluid), poor visibility (washer fluid) and engine overheating (water/coolant).

Give it a Clean

Cleaning and waxing your van is a very important element of long-term preservation. Salt on the roads can deteriorate both the paint and metal frame. This not only looks unprofessional, but can cause mechanical failures. Excessive dirt can even cause excess drag, which results in more fuel consumption.

Vacuum the Interior

When it comes to vehicle hygiene people often forget about the interior. With tools and materials being hauled in and out on a daily basis, vans are a hotbed for dirt, sand and debris. This can quickly damage the fabrics and could even find its way under the bonnet, which could cause all sorts of problems.

Change the Engine Mounts

Bad engine mounts usually cause clunking during acceleration and deceleration. Most vans will require a complete replacement after every 30,000 miles, so it’s always best to bring this to the attention of a mechanic if you’re nearing this checkpoint. Replacing a broken engine mount is tricky business and shouldn’t be undertaken by anyone who doesn’t have the knowledge and tools for the job.

Replace the Spark Plugs

Nowadays most spark plugs will last around 100,000 miles; however, it’s always a good idea to get them checked after 30,000 miles to ensure they’re working properly. When spark plugs get old or dirty the spark struggles to jump over and ignite the fuel properly. This causes a poor, sluggish start and can heavily affect gas mileage.

Replace the Fuel Filter

Fuel filters should be replaced after every 40,000 miles. Depending on your vehicle this can be tricky; therefore, it’s generally best left to the professionals. In addition, if you don’t have the tools to release the fittings – and since it’s such an infrequent job – it’ll probably be cheaper to pay a mechanic than to buy the equipment yourself.

Replace the Air Filter

In most circumstance the air filter should be replaced after every 30,000 miles; however, if you regularly drive on dirt roads, consider changing it more regularly. This fairly quick fix can be performed at home if you want to cut down servicing costs.

Safe driving and daily maintenance is a key element of van longevity. Take these tips into account and solve minor issues when they start to occur and there’ll be no reason why your van won’t stand the test of time.

Daily Walk-around Check

Daily walk-around checks will help you pinpoint mechanical defects before they start causing problems. By devising a strict routine you’ll reduce the chance of missing potentially serious issues. If you ever suspect a problem during a walk-around check either attend to it or file a report immediately.

In a standard walk-around check you must assess the following:

Lights

  • All lights and indicators should work.
  • Lenses should be the correct colour.
  • Stop lamps should turn on when the service brakes are applied.
  • All dashboard warning lamps should work.

Brakes

  • Brakes should work without causing excess movement.
  • Hand brake should work without causing excess movement.

Horn and Steering

  • Horn should be within easy reach of the driver.
  • Horn should sound when pressed.
  • Steering should be firm and without excess play.

Wipers and Washers

  • Wipers should constantly move when they are turned on.
  • Wipers should effectively clear the windscreen.
  • Washers should point towards the windscreen.
  • Washers should work properly when activated.
  • Washer fluid should be filled up.

Seats and Seatbelts

  • All seats should remain secure.
  • Seatbelts should work properly and not have any damage (rips, tears, etc.).

Mirrors and Windows

  • All mirrors should be properly aligned for maximum visibility.
  • Mirrors and windows should be clean and clear.

Battery

  • The battery should not be leaking.
  • All the cables connected to the battery should be held securely in place.

Bodywork and Doors

  • All doors should shut properly and remain secure when closed.
  • Bodywork should not have sharp edges.
  • All bodywork panels should be securely attached.

Tyres

  • Tyres should have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm.
  • Tyres should be inflated with the correct psi for the load capacity.
  • There should be no deep cuts in the side wall.
  • There should be no visible chord.
  • All wheel nuts should be securely in place.

Fuel, Oil and Fluids

  • The correct levels should be in the: brake fluid, engine coolant, engine oil, washer fluid and power steering fluid.
  • All fluid caps should be securely fitted.
  • The ground should be checked for puddles. If there is a leak the cause should be found and dealt with immediately.
  • The ground should be checked for puddles when the engine is turned on. If there is a leak the cause should be found and dealt with immediately.

Exhaust

  • Exhaust shouldn’t have excessive amounts of smoke when the engine is turned on.

Tow Bars and Tail Lifts

  • Tow bars and trailers should be securely attached.
  • All electrical connections on exterior devices should be securely attached.
  • Tail lift should be damage free.

Load

  • Load should be adequately secured.
  • All doors should lock properly.
  • Tyre psi should be adjusted to accommodate the load capacity.

There are plenty of resources available to remind you to perform daily walk-around checks, such as posters, check sheets and videos. For a high resolution image that you can print off yourself download the Van Walkaround Checklist from GOV.UK.

Buying and Selling

Buying and selling a van is an art. There’s no magic formula or secret to success; what a van is worth is simply down to the market and how much people are willing to pay for it. If you can utilise the power of persuasion you’re already in a good place, if not, best start working on your haggling skills.

Buying and Selling Privately

Private buying and selling offers the greatest reward; however, it’s without a doubt the most difficult. If you’re selling it could take a long time before someone takes your vehicle off your hands. It’s essentially a waiting game, especially if you’ve valued your van at the peak of the market rate. Buyers will always expect to pay less, so don’t be afraid to give yourself a little wiggle room and set your “real” price 5-10% lower than your asking price. When buying or selling privately, use all the channels you can, such as:

  • Online classified ad sites
  • Industry and trade magazines
  • Local newspapers
  • Local free-ads

Sometimes it’s worth paying listing fees simply to gain more exposure. When buying and selling check all of your available resources and cross reference the prices of other vehicles with similar specifications. This will help you get a better idea of the current market value. If you’re really not sure what to pay get a free valuation from Motoring.co.uk.

Sell through a third party

Image Credit: B. Miller and Sons

Selling Through a Third Party

Using a third party to sell a van can really help speed up the process. Depending on the model and condition of your vehicle a dealer may be able to take it off your hands and handle the transaction for a percentage of the sale. The only downside is that you may receive less than you would if you were to sell privately.

Part Exchange Deals

In the motoring industry part exchange deals are very common. The process involves trading in your van for another vehicle and paying the difference in cash. If you have the money, but not quite enough to purchase outright, this can be a very quick and easy alternative. Whether selling to a franchise or an independent dealership, remember that they will try to give you as little as possible for it, so make sure you know how much your van is worth before you start negotiating.

Buying and Selling in an Auction

Auctioning off your van can be a fast and effective way of getting it off your hands; however, out of all the selling methods it’s definitely the most risky. If you’re buying a van auctions can be the perfect place to pick up a good deal.

Preparing Your Van for Sale

Taking a few hours out of your day to prepare your van for the sale will help you get a higher price. Simple steps such as giving it a clean and wax might not increase its value, but it will certainly make it more attractive in the eyes of buyers. Make sure you:

  • Remove any clutter
  • Vacuum the interior
  • Clean and wax the exterior
  • Touch up stone chips
  • Fix dents and minor aesthetic faults
  • Check the oil and tyre pressure

Fundamentally, make sure it’s looking nice and presentable. In addition, gather up all of the legal documentation – MOT certificate, service history and V5C – and anything else that’ll put prospective buyers at ease, such as old receipts and photographs.

Whether buying or selling remember to take the MOT and tax disc into account. This is another expense that certainly deserves consideration and should be crossed referenced with the asking price if they have expired or are close to the renewal date.

Enforcement

As vans are often used as commercial vehicles they are subject to stricter rules and regulations than cars and other motor vehicles. Vans have commercial classifications based on their weight. All vans that are less than 3.5 tonnes are either in Class 4 or Class 7.

Goods Vehicle Regulations

Any van with a gross weight of 3.5 tonnes or more is considered a goods vehicle and is subject to stricter rules and regulations. The exact details are outlined on the Goods Vehicle Operator’s License page of GOV.UK.

Weight and Load Capacity

Van Loading

Image Credit: Business Vans

As a van operator you should be aware of the maximum authorised mass (MAM) of your vehicle. This is defined as the combined weight of the driver, passengers, load and fuel. Information regarding this weight capacity can usually be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker near or under the number plate. Visit the Vehicle Weights Explained page of GOV.UK for more information.

Overloading and Strapping

When you’re transporting goods make sure you safely secure your load using the appropriate strapping. The weight load isn’t enough to keep everything secure, even if it spans the entire surface area. Overloading and incorrect strapping can lead to an instant fixed penalty fine or court appearance.

Speed Limits

Familiarise yourself with the speed limits for your van type and size. Different roads may also have different legislations. Visit the Speed Limits page of GOV.UK for more information.

VOSA Enforcement Procedures

Every year more than 10,000 van drivers in the UK are charged by VOSA enforcement teams due to mechanical defects or unsafe driving. Taking a 30 minute rest every 4.5 hours and making sure a daily walk-around check is conducted will greatly improve compliance rates. If you breach rules and regulations VOSA have the authority to:

  • Instantly prohibit the use of vans with serious mechanical defects or overloading.
  • Request on-the-spot fines from both UK and non-UK based offenders.
  • Immobilise vehicles if the driver refuses or is unable to pay a fixed penalty or deposit.

Fines can range between £100 and £5,000, depending on the nature of the offence. Drivers of vans above 3.5 tonnes may also face up to two years imprisonment. By adopting this advice and actively putting it into practice penalties and criminal investigations can be completely avoided, ensuring your business isn’t damaged by poorly managed vehicles or bad drivers.

FAQs

Q: How can I reduce my yearly running costs?
A: There are plenty of ways to reduce your running costs. Driving within the speed limit, turning off the air con, reducing idle time and smoothly changing gears are just some of the techniques you can implement today. If you are serious about addressing fuel efficiency issues consider buying a fuel mizer to monitor your activity and find out exactly where you’re going wrong.

Q: I’ve been fined! Can I dispute it?

A: Yes you can, but whether or not the fee will be waivered will vary on a case-by-case basis. If you genuinely feel like you weren’t doing anything wrong – pulling into a bus lane to prevent an accident for example – then by all means dispute it. However, in the event of speeding or a charge that was within your control take it as a valuable lesson.

Q: Is buying a van over the Internet safe?
A: Unless you really know what you’re doing it’s probably not a good idea to buy a van without inspecting it in person first. That said most websites have processes in place to ensure you’re adequately protected… Proceed at your own risk.

Q: I’ve found a really cheap van, but I don’t understand why nobody has bought it. Is something wrong?
A: Perhaps. If you’re lucky you can come across cheap vans that are in perfect working order; however, in most circumstances there will probably be an underlying issue that’ll need addressing. It could have a hidden rust problem and require wielding; or maybe the mileage is just a little too high. Sometimes repair bills will cost more than the vehicle itself. If you’re in doubt ask a mechanically-minded friend to help you out.

Q: Wouldn’t it be more financially viable to lease a van instead?
A: This really depends on your business model and how much you can afford. Motor vehicles rapidly depreciate, so if you’re only planning on having a van on a temporary basis it probably won’t be a worthwhile investment. Some leasing schemes allow you to buy the van for an outright fee after the leasing period is over; this is known as a lease purchase. If you like the idea of using a new van every few years then leasing may be a more suitable alternative. Over time, however, buying is generally better value.

Q: Can I drive a van with a car license?
A: Driving licenses are split up into different categories. With a standard car driving license you are allowed to drive vans that fall into category B or have an unladen weight of up to 3.5 tonnes. If you passed your driving test between 1st January 1997 and 18th January 2013 you will also be allowed to trailer up to 750kg. If you passed your test before 1997 you can drive a vehicle up to 7.5 tonnes. To exceed the limits set forth by the DVLA you must take a separate driving test. Always check your license to ensure you fall under the correct category, otherwise you could risk a penalty, points on your license or possibly even a disqualification.

Q: Will my van insurance still be valid if my vehicle or circumstances change?
A: Almost certainly not. If you ever buy a new van, make upgrades, move home, change your job or do anything that could affect your insurance agreement, you must let your insurer know immediately. Most insurers will charge a flat rate fee to change the contract agreement; and depending on your change of circumstances, your premiums could increase.

Q: Will my van insurance cover the contents?
A: This depends on your insurance agreement. If you need tool and equipment cover you must specify before you take out an insurance policy. When your van is parked on your property your tools could be covered by your home contents insurance. But again, this depends on your agreement.

Essential Links

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA): Government organisation responsible for maintaining a database of drivers and vehicles in the UK.

Highways Agency: Real time weather updates from the Met Office.

Fleet News: Company car and fleet operator news with dedicated updates for van drivers.

GOV.UK: Government-run services and information website.

Compare the Market: Price comparison website for insurance.

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