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Should I buy a petrol, diesel or electric van?

Published 24 February 2017

There was a time when buying a new or used van was simple. And diesel. However, the trusty old diesel van has experienced something of a public relations nightmare in recent years, with much of the world’s air quality problems being levelled squarely at the doors of van buyers.

For some new and used van sales, you don’t get much of a choice. The engines in vans for sale are limited to diesel, diesel and more diesel. But, that’s not the case for all commercial vehicles. In fact, there are lots of large and small vans for sale with efficient petrol and electric powertrains. So, what should you consider before choosing your next new or used van at Honest John Vans For Sale?

Diesel

Benefits: In spite of the negative publicity, the benefits of diesel vans are hard to ignore. Not only are they more fuel efficient than petrol vans, they also provide more torque and are better suited for moving heavy loads and towing. Take the Volkswagen Caddy BlueMotion for example; it’s comfortable, spacious and returns a claimed 70mpg. What’s more, its 2.0 diesel engine emits less than 100g/km of CO2, which makes it theoretically cleaner than most family cars. So, what's the problem?

Drawbacks: The issue is with the other gasses that diesels emit, such as nitrogen dioxide (NOx). These gasses create a smog that is associated with a wide range of health problems, including cancer. The problem is so great that in London alone diesel emissions are linked to 10,000 premature deaths every year. As a result the Government is considering calls to ban - or severely limit - all diesel vans from city and town centres by 2025.

Another issue lies with a small device that's fitted to the exhaust of all new diesel vans - a diesel particulate filter (DPF). If you’re unfamiliar with the DPF then let us recap: it is a small device that sits in the tailpipe and traps harmful diesel particles being released into the atmosphere.

Once trapped, the particles are superheated and burned off during the DPF's regeneration cycle. However, this regeneration needs at least 15 miles to complete and if it doesn't get enough miles it eventually clogs up and stops working. The costs to replace a van’s DPF can span from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, which means modern diesel vans are no longer suitable for those who only cover short distances. 

Fuel Pump - Petrol (1)

Petrol

BenefitsPetrol-powered vans have come a long way over the past few years, with many getting closer to the torque and payload ratings of their diesel counterparts, which is good news for city-based drivers who don't cover enough miles to justify a modern diesel.

For example, Ford offers both the short wheelbase (L1) and long wheelbase (L2) versions of the Ford Transit Connect with the 100PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, while older vans for sale (built from 2014 - 2016) can also be found with the more powerful 1.6-litre EcoBoost with 150PS. The 100PS will produce 170Nm of torque and also shift up to 693kg of payload. Official economy ratings are also good, exceeding 50mpg.

Drawbacks: Petrol vans don’t have as much torque as a diesel, which means they can feel quite sluggish when fully laden. The running costs are also much higher and turbocharged petrol engines are known to struggle to get anywhere near their official fuel economy ratings when pulling a van that’s packed with people, tools and materials.

As a result they are not the most cost-effective option for those who cover long distances on a regular basis. However, for those who cover short distances, they make a lot of financial since with much lower running costs and no DPF. 

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Electric

Benefits: According to research from the Freight Transport Association (FTA), around a third of vans on the road never do more than 80 miles in a day and this makes the electric van – with a typical range of 100 miles – a viable workhorse for operators. As well as helping the environment, an electric van can also save money, with most costing just 2p-per-mile to run. Servicing is also cheaper and you’ll avoid a bunch of other bills, like road tax and Congestion Charging.

In the UK there are more than 5000 charging points and many are ‘rapid’ chargers, capable of juicing the battery to 80 per cent from flat in 30 minutes. Most are found in cities, although there are some rapid chargers in rural towns. And there’s the good old home socket, of course, which is where most will find their power, overnight, Depending on the amp rating of the supply, charging can take between four and 12 hours.

One of the drawbacks of buying an electric van is the cost. Even a relatively small one can set you back over £20,000. That’s why the Government introduced a grant scheme, which allows builders to claim back 20 per cent of the cost of the van, up to a maximum of £8000. That means a modern and capable van, like the Nissan E-NV200, can be yours for under £17,000. Or less if you choose to rent the battery. And that’s before you’ve spoken to your accountant about claiming any of the VAT back.

The amount of your grant will be automatically deducted from the price of the van when you buy it. The dealership will complete the paperwork, so there are no application forms for you to fill in, but you may be asked to complete a short questionnaire.

DrawbacksObviously, electric vans are not for everyone. Most have a range of around 100 miles and this is very dependent on the weight in the back and how the van is driven. As with petrol or diesel, the van’s maximum range will drop if you carry huge loads or drive it hard. However, if your daily mileage is less than 80 miles, an electric van could make a lot of sense when it comes to choosing a cost effective workhorse.  

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