Van body types explained

Looking to get a van but confused about the different types available? Not sure what van body type best suits your needs? We’ve got you covered.

A row of sparkly white vans of all different body types

There’s a variety of van types on the market to suit most needs. Each van body style has specific benefits, depending on what you want to use it for.

Different van types have varying repair costs and performance too. This could have an impact on your van insurance costs.

But how do you know which is right for you? Here we’ll break down the most popular van types and what they’re good for.

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Do I need a special licence to drive these vans?

Your car driving licence lets you drive vans of up to 3,500kg in weight. Anything above that and you need an upgraded licence. If you’re carrying more than nine passengers, you might also need a Passenger Carrying Vehicle (PCV) licence.

What are the different types of vans?

Vans come in a wide range of shapes and sizes but each falls somewhere in a broad category. From small vans and campervans to pickup trucks and minibuses, choosing the right one might be difficult, and that’s before you even consider all the jargon.

The categories can be based on what the van is for, the way it looks or on some of its key features.

Pickup trucks

Pickup trucks have an iconic shape due to their open rear cargo bed. They're useful for hauling materials without the worry of height restrictions.

Pickup trucks can also come as a 4x4 if you need a little extra power. You can have single cabs with one row of seats, or double cabs that have two rows. Some trucks come with hard tops to make sure that your cargo is safe, secure and waterproof.

Luton and box vans

Both Luton and box vans have closed, raised cargo areas. They're the biggest kind of van you can drive on a standard driver's licence.

Given their size, these vans are useful for large haulage and removals. They’re also popular with couriers or delivery drivers because they can fit large parcels and big, bulky loads.

The difference between a Luton and a box van is that box vans have a separate cargo area from the cabin. Often the cargo area sticks out from the cab and is square or rectangular, giving a huge carrying area. Luton vans, on the other hand, have it all integrated.

Some box vans have a plastic curtain on the sides to allow forklift trucks to pick up goods. These are sometimes called curtain-side vans. Most Luton and box vans only allow access from the rear doors.

A typical Luton van has these dimensions: 7 metres long, 2 metres wide and 3 metres high.

Panel van

Panel vans are one of the most popular types of van around - they're likely what you think of when you think 'van' – smaller than a lorry and with no side windows or rear sears.

This lack of windows could be useful for van security, but as panel vans tend to curve at the top, they’re not always ideal for really big or bulky loads.

However, panel vans tend to be low to the ground, which makes them a good choice for lots of small, light loads. They’re also readily available, meaning you should be able to get one quickly if you decide it’s the model for you.

You can choose from several body types to meet your needs with low, medium and high-roof options and a choice of short, medium and long wheelbase dimensions.

Flatbed vans

Like pickup trucks, flatbed vans have an open cargo space at the back. The main difference is that flatbed vans:

  • Are longer than pickup trucks
  • Have lower sides
  • Have a separate cabin area.

Flatbed vans are good for hauling tall items and they’re often used in the construction and building trade.

You can get flatbed vans under 3,500kg, but most tend to be heavier than this. You might need an upgraded driving licence to drive them.

Tipper trucks

You could fit a flatbed van with a hydraulic arm that allows the front end of the cargo area to rise and the contents to then slide down and off. These are usually known as 'tipper trucks'. They’re ideal for cargo that is too big, bulky or heavy to fit inside a panel van.

The side panels can usually be folded down so that goods can be loaded and unloaded easily from either side or the rear of the vehicle.

Dropside vans

Some flatbed vans can have their sides dropped for better access. Often, they have hinged gates on the side. As the name suggests, these gates often drop down. They’re good for builders or anyone who needs to transport heavy machinery.

Refrigerated vans

Refrigerated vans are used to keep goods below a certain temperature. They’re typically used by a wide variety of businesses including online food shopping and medication delivery.

Many models can operate at a range of temperatures, meaning you could have ambient, chilled and even frozen sections.

Refrigerated vans are often converted from standard vans.

Minibuses and MPV vans

Minibuses usually have enough space to transport several people, often seating between nine and 17 at one time.

You might be able to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats using your current car driving licence as long as there’s no payment from or on behalf of the passengers.

Multi Purpose Vehicles (MPVs) usually have up to seven seats, ideal for larger families. They have tall, boxy bodies, which are designed to create as much space as possible.

Sometimes they’re also called people carriers. All MPVs have at least five seats, but some have as many as nine (the maximum before the driver needs a commercial licence).

Camper conversion vans

Campervans are growing in popularity, particularly as more and more people are holidaying in the UK and struggling with escalating prices of guest houses and hotels.

Ready-built versions can be expensive, but it’s also possible to convert a van into a campervan yourself. There are loads of examples online to help you build the perfect home-away-from-home on wheels.

Mobile catering and ice cream vans

Both mobile catering and ice cream vans are used for selling food to customers. Some ice cream vans only have a freezer – while others also have a machine to serve soft ice cream. Like refrigerated vans, both kinds are often conversions of standard vans.

If you're using your van to sell food, you'll need to register your business at GOV.UK. If you’re in England or Wales, you’ll also need a street trading licence. You can get more info at GOV.UK.

Do I need specialist insurance for my van?

Whatever van you choose, you’ll need to get it insured. There are a few different types you can consider depending on how you plan to use your van.

  • Social-only should be suitable if you don’t use your van or pickup truck for anything to do with work.
  • You might need social and commuting if you use your van to get to work and for social use.
  • Business use is suitable if you use your van to carry goods, tools or work equipment.

Haulage is needed if you use your van to carry goods for hire and reward.

If you're leasing a van or using it for a short period of time, temporary van insurance is also an option. This means you can buy a comprehensive insurance policy to cover you and your van from 1 hour up to 28 days.