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Vans and other commercial vehicles aren’t cars. They don’t just get people places, they get jobs done.

And while that in itself isn’t a tremendous insight, it has loads of not-so-obvious implications for businesses that lease, maintain, and operate commercial vehicles. Watch our quick video to understand how generic fleet solutions can be damaging to a business with a commercial fleet.

Here are 10 pretty important things you really need to know about Choosing, Driving & Maintaining your vans so they keep making you money, not losing it.

Choosing the van of your dreams...

Your vans carry your business to your customers. And that means you should:

1. Never pick a van out of habit

Driven a certain 3.5 ton van for 20 years? Never wanted anything else? Think again. Vehicles are always evolving, and your business is too. So keep an open mind. Chances are there are options out there that make more sense for you today, in terms of tax, fuel efficiency and whole-life-cost – and tomorrow’s environmental legislation.

2. Pick your accessories wisely

Need special racking? A tail lift? Crane? A tachograph? Not a problem.

Just be aware that these things might need:

  • Extra time for build and delivery
  • Safety
  • Calibration
  • Regular maintenance

Heavy add-ons will impact your fuel consumption (the second largest cost in a leased vehicle after the rental) and they’ll diminish your payload (as does the weight of your driver!).

3. Always be brutally honest about your weight

What are you using your van for? Carrying serious amounts of bulk-bought anvils or taking fluffy new-hatched chicks to free-range bliss?

Weight isn’t something to be precious about: Compliance breaches can endanger your whole business and cost you much more than leasing a van made for the extra load.

On the other hand...

If you’ll only be transporting heavy loads once in a while, it probably makes sense to go for a lighter weight vehicle for day-to-day and rent out a heavy van for the days when you need it.

4. Think about resale value

It's unlikely you'll be driving your van forever. That means you’ll want to maximise the resale value at the end of its leasing life with you.

So while air con is usually a good idea (Increased value!), alloy wheels aren’t (fancy when you first get them, they’re bound to look grotty by the time you sell). The upfront cost of a good accessory will often be offset by the increased resale value. See table below for more value add and value loss examples.

Resale value: Good vs. bad accessories

Establishing the leasing cost is actually quite simple: It’s based on the difference between the cost of a new vehicle and the price that the leasing company can sell it for after the rental ends.

Accessories heavily play into that: some of them increase the value of a commercial vehicle although others can make little difference or indeed reduce the value.

Here’s some examples:

Value add
Air conditioning £250 - £400
Bluetooth connectivity £0 - £50
Built-in sat nav £250
Metallic paint £250
Interior ply-lining £150 - £300
Value Loss
Bright or unusual colours £250 - £1,000
Alloy wheels £100 - £250

Using a van to run a business...

...you need to have unconditional trust in your drivers. They’re carrying a hell of a lot more responsibility than you might realise. Here are some things you need to be clear about:

5. Know your drivers and your drivers’ driving licences

Unlike cars, commercial vehicles usually have multiple drivers. And they all need the necessary training and the right categories on their licences to be covered by your insurance (this includes agency drivers).

On top of that you need to keep track of:

  • Non-EU licences
  • Changes to categories and legislation
  • 10 year licence validation checks
  • Updating drivers' address

With all this going on license checking can quickly become a major headache.

6. Load Responsibility

In the UK, penalties always come back to the drivers. They’re responsible for operating a vehicle according to the rules (e.g. overloading can cost the driver up to £1,000 in fines).

But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Apart from company penalties, it might impact your licence to operate larger vehicles – and effectively endanger your ability to do business.

So educate your drivers on:

  • Distribution of weight
  • Load restraining skills
  • Penalties
  • Diminishing loads

It may well be your best strategy for a healthy, efficient and profitable business.

How to calculate payload

Overloading is by far the most common infraction among commercial vehicles.

Many drivers unknowingly overload their vans, especially when transporting small, but heavy items - like sand. Just another three or four bags for the next job could take you 100kg over the weight limit. Items that are easy to handle in small quantities can often mislead you to think that they don’t add up to much.

And it’s far from a trivial offense. Here’s what the DVSA (formerly VOSA) currently fines drivers:

Vehicle overweight by Value loss
5% to 10% £100
10% to 15% £200
15% to 30% £300
More than 30% Court summons
Overloading can void your insurance (while obviously making the vehicle harder to control, more difficult to stop, and more likely to be involved in an accident).

So make sure drivers always correctly calculate the payload by subtracting:

The kerb weight (the empty vehicle) and their own body weight (and that of any passengers) from the gross vehicle weight (or GVW – it can be found in the owner’s manual).

The resulting weight is the payload – the maximum cargo the vehicle is legally allowed to carry.

payload-equation

7. Know your stats

Use telematics to track what matters: you’ll know where your van is right now, who’s driving it and how much fuel it’s using. It helps you spot and rein in bad driving habits, improve safety and save fuel (a whacking 7-10% on average).

To find out more about Telematics, how it works and how it can improve your fleet performance watch this quick video.

8. Know where your van lives

Where does your van spend the night? Is it safe to park there at night? Is the space big enough? Is it legal to park there? Will having your branding on the van actually do a disservice to your company if it sticks out like a sore thumb on your driver's front porch?

There’s more to your workhorse than its time on the road – know what to provision for and where you need to give your drivers guidance.

Maintaining your van...

...is nothing like maintaining a car. Because it’s critical to keeping your business going, your service network needs to...

9. Understand the cost of downtime

The breakdown of a commercial vehicle is is more than a whoopsy-daisy, it is money lost, by the hour.

If your car breaks down, you can easily get a rental. But it’s next to impossible to quickly source a replacement for a specialist van that suits your requirements, holds all your tools and has your company livery on it.

A day off the road costs an average of £727 (and potentially a lot more, depending on your non-delivery penalties).

The downtime cost spiral

Mark Lovett, Head of Commercial Vehicles at LeasePlan, on the importance of keeping vehicles on the road.

What’s the biggest problem you see for commercial fleet managers you work with?

Almost everyone, without fail, struggles with keeping downtime to a minimum – every hour off the road racks up enormous costs: Because you’re running late or missing a delivery, or because you need to find a replacement car that’s fit for the job.

What kind of costs are we talking?

To avoid that you’ve got to stay on top of your regular checkup schedule –that’s a lot of admin, but it’s budgetable maintenance cost and you’d usually try and schedule it around your quiet season or when that vehicle isn’t booked in for a job.

But things can get totally out of control when we’re talking unforeseen breakdowns.

Can you give an example of these unforseen breakdowns?

Say you’re a builder and your van breaks down on your way to a job.

That means you can’t get your equipment on site. You’ve got five workmen there already – but no tools…

So you frantically start making phone calls to get it fixed as soon as possible. Finally, you find a garage to take it in. They’ll charge you for the call-out, of course, and they can’t fit it in right away either. That might cost you, say, £500.

You make a couple more calls and you find a replacement van, but you’ll pay a premium price for needing it right away. And it won’t get there until 2pm.

You’re easily looking at another £300.

So by now you’re a half-day down which means a hefty fine from your client, say £500. And you’ve still got to pay your workers’ wages, which costs you £350. That’s over £1500, and you’ve not even earned a penny yet!

Obviously, the costs will vary across industries, but you can see how quickly downtime cost adds up.

10. Schedule maintenance around your needs

Does your garage have what it takes to get your van back on the road, quickly? Will they fit you in when it best suits your schedule AND prioritise you over fixing passenger cars, where downtime does not hurt business margins? Are they aware your tail lift needs greasing while they’re at it? Is their ceiling clearance high enough?

If not, don’t use them. When it comes to commercial vehicle maintenance, it’s okay to be a diva.

The benefit of treating a COMMERICAL VEHICLE like a small truck:

Considering a panel van to be a small truck means that the focus is now keeping that vehicle on the road and available for work at all times.

  • Using HGV maintenance providers will mean longer opening times, often 24 hours
  • HGV repairers understand that your business has stopped without the vehicle and therefore prioritise repairs
  • Repairs have the facilities to accommodate larger vehicles
  • Availability of key parts will be better
  • The focus is turnaround and return, not wash and vac
  • Priortising temporary repairs to get the vehicle moving, with full repairs when the vehicle isn’t in use
  • Seasonal repairs and timings – ie service & MOTs carried out at a quiet time for your business – ie not the week before Christmas
  • Understanding the legislation and report keeping required

We’re LeasePlan and we know commercial vehicles inside out.

We run hundreds of fleets from one-man-van small businesses to corporate field-service battalions. We do it from rough concept to resale, from paper push to petrol pump. And we know that it’s all about seeing the whole-life picture.

The above are just a few of the gazillion things you need to know about commercial vehicles to help you find your sweet spot between usage, cost, and admin.

Our job is to know them all so you don’t have to. We plan, run, and maintain your fleet so you get the most out of your investment. And we’ve got the supplier network to make it happen.

Sounds good?

We’re LeasePlan send us a message and we’ll help you figure out what you need.

Want to know more about how to build a successful commercial fleet. Our new eBook shines light on four steps you need to take to make sure your commercial fleet is efficient, driver-friendly, compliant and service focused.