A tradesperson's guide to the right van

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Most tradespeople rely on a trusty van to help them get from job to job and carry the tools and materials they need. Experienced tradesman Andy Simms looks at what you should consider when picking a van for your business...

One of the first jobs I ever did when I started out was laying a new patio, which meant a lot of trips to the tip. It was a messy way to learn that a Toyota Yaris can only carry half a tonne of earth in a pinch, and not an experience I was keen to repeat.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll be looking to make do with what you have available, even if that’s a small family hatchback. And while you can make that work if you have to, if you’re serious about building a career in the trades, you’ll want to make the leap to a more useful vehicle.


Main considerations

Vans come in all shapes and sizes, from small transits to large Lutons or flatbed loaders. Then there are pickup style trucks, and even converted cars with panels instead of rear windows.

Like with any vehicle, think about what you need it for, and what your budget is. Remember that as well as paying for the van, there’s also fuel, insurance, and possibly getting it signwritten to consider.

When it comes to size and type, there are three main things to consider:

  • Capacity and Storage
  • Living with it
  • Operations

Capacity and storage

Obviously one of your main considerations will be recognising what it is you need to carry on a regular basis:

  • Tool and materials - There are some things you’ll want to have with you at all times, like core tools and materials for your trade that you can’t be on site without. You also need to account for the things you may require on a semi-regular basis, like specialist equipment - it’s better to have more space and not need it than too little.
  • You can add additional capacity to your van by adding racking (internal storage for tools and materials), a roof rack, pipe tube or possibly even a trailer.
  • Don’t forget you might need to transport people too.
  • If you are transporting heavy goods, be aware of overloading your van. As well as it being dangerous for you and other road users and potentially damaging for your van, you can invalidate your insurance and face fines and points on your license.

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Living with it

Your van has to be practical for everyday use:

  • Are you going to park the van on the street or on your drive?
  • Are you working in busy urban environments with little parking, or rural areas where parking is not an issue?
  • Does it have all the mod-cons you might want if you’re spending a lot of time in it, or are you happy with the basics?

Depending on how you plan to work, it can influence the size and type of van you’ll need:

  • Materials - If you get deliveries to site ahead of time, or your clients normally buy the materials, then maybe a smaller van will suffice. But if you expect you’ll be picking up materials ad hoc, you need to account for that.
  • Loading and unloading - With space at a premium in a smaller van it may mean loading and unloading your van on a regular basis, and only taking what you specifically need each day. If you’re not so inclined to do this - and I never was - then you may need a bigger van to compensate.

Your van can be one of your most important tools and biggest investments, so it’s important you find something that works for you and your business. Get it right, and you’ll have a mobile HQ that will be your best friend for years to come.

Tools and equipment