Buying new vans should be easy – it’s a simple matter of popping in to the nearest dealer, handing over the necessary wad of cash and waiting for your vehicles to arrive.
But in real life it’s far more complicated than that. Experts reckon that a staggering 30 per cent of fleet operators buy vehicles that are inappropriate for their needs. Making the incorrect choice can cost a great deal of cash, as once on the fleet these wrong ’uns will be with you for however long your lifecycle is; anything up to seven years.
Here are 10 top tips to ensure that when you make a buying decision, it’s the right one.
1 Deal or no deal? It’s important to choose a local dealer who understands the commercial vehicle market and who will support you after you’ve bought your vans if things go wrong. If your dealer has a nice shiny car showroom and a gloomy, cold shed round the back for CVs, then our advice is to look elsewhere. A competent dealer will give you all sorts of useful advice about which size vans are best for you and which finance options are most cost-effective.
2 Size matters Choosing the right size of van is probably the most important decision you’ll make. If you choose, say, the Ford Transit because you always have done in the past, then consider – could you in fact make do with the smaller Transit Custom or even Connect? They are both cheaper to buy than the big Tranny and will use less fuel.
Most vans are never loaded to the gills, so many users could well downsize safely. Even if you need the Full Monty for a few days a year, it will still be cost-effective to buy the smaller vans and rent bigger ones on the odd occasion when you need them. You can rent a large panel van in our neck of the woods for about £65 a day; peanuts really.
3 The same, but different Many of today’s vans are essentially the same model with different badges. For example the Citroën Dispatch, Fiat Scudo, Peugeot Partner and Toyota Proace are clones of each other; and so are the Renault Kangoo/Mercedes-Benz Citan and Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro. But when it comes to selling them, they don't always make the same money.
Just recently Ken Brown, an expert at residual value guide CAP, reckoned the Citan was making 20 per cent more than the equivalent Kangoo at auction and although the Citan is more expensive to buy, it could still win the day on whole life costs, which are a mix of front-end price, running costs and residual value.
4 Oddballs If you need a really special vehicle for certain jobs, you’ll lose money as second buyers probably won’t have the same requirements as you. Try to order standard models such as dropsides, tippers, Lutons or box vans if you can and adapt them to your particular needs.
5 Extras, extras read all about them! Most vans are boxes on wheels and an engine, with a myriad of paid-for options. On the whole these options are expensive and some won’t add any value to the van when you come to sell it. Basically, anything you can see like alloy wheels and fancy paint add value, but sadly extra safety systems which you can’t see don’t. So choose carefully.
6 Safety first Amazingly, some vans come without a steel bulkhead as standard. Don’t even think about buying one without this safety device fitted as in the event of an accident you are likely to get a tonne of cargo wrapped round the back of your head. A solid bulkhead also cuts down the noise significantly and makes the load area more secure.
7 Colour prejudice Most vans sold nowadays are white, but you can also get them in all sorts of hues. Surprisingly some colours prove a real turn-off for second buyers and your vans will be worth less when you come to sell them if you choose, say, moss green or that awful old BT grey.
8 Paint your wagon Eschew painted sign-writing at all costs as you’ll never be able to get it off when you come to sell your vans. Instead, choose one of the many excellent wrapping companies who will adorn your vehicles with fancy logos and then peel them off at selling time, leaving a pristine surface underneath.
9 Keep it clean None of the vans on offer these days have ply-lining in the cargo area as a standard fitting, which is a shame as it’s a bangs-for-bucks bonanza. Ply-lining will cost around £200, but when you take it out at selling time you’ll have a lovely clean, undented van to sell, which is a real bonus for second buyers, who will pay a lot more than an extra £200 for it.
10 Fuel for thought Some vans use more fuel than others and you’d be amazed at how a small change can make a huge difference to your company balance sheet. Did you know that a van which returns 39mpg will use £320 more fuel over 100,000 miles than one which returns 40mpg. So make a list of the vans you wish to consider and look at which are the most fuel-efficient. You’ll find all the figures you need by visiting the Van Comparator section of the web site.
A Final piece of solid advice… Lastly, always use whole life costs — a mix of front-end price, running costs and residual values — when calculating how cheap vans are to run. An excellent example of how cheapest front-end price isn’t always cheapest in the long run comes when we look at two contenders in the medium panel van sector.
A new Ford Transit Custom SWB 2.2TDCi 100bhp will set you back £18,895, or you could choose the rival Hyundai iLoad 2.4CDRi 116 for £16,128, saving yourself a whopping £2,767. It’s a no-brainer, you say; go for the Hyundai.
But the Transit Custom offers 42.2 miles per gallon on the combined cycle while the Hyundai only manages 34.0 mpg. That means over the course of an 80,000-mile lifecycle, the Transit will use 457 gallons less fuel, saving you £2,866 at today’s fuel prices. That puts the Transit ahead by £99. And the savings carry on mounting up dramatically the more miles the van covers in its life.
So if you run both vehicles for, say, 100,000 miles and get the same price for them at sale time, the Transit Custom wins hands down.