Fleet News

LCVs: the best options

Van fleet operators are notoriously stingy.

Buying creature comforts for drivers is a largely unexplored phenomenon – offer them the chance to save £1,000 in the future by shelling out £100 now and many will scoff and turn away.

This state of affairs was acceptable when vans were relatively basic lumps of metal, but as more and more added extras are being offered, just saying no without thinking is no longer an option.

Several fresh factors have come into play, not least the ever-increasing regulations regarding an employer’s duty of care.

So what options should you choose when buying a new van and which can you safely do without? Here we list some of the most popular options.

  • Driver’s airbag

    Amazing as it may sound, there are still a few new vans on sale that don’t feature a driver’s airbag as standard.

    If there is one option that we’d recommend above all, it’s this one.

    Don’t even consider buying a van without an airbag as in the event of a crash, a driver is likely to sue your firm for every penny it’s got.

    Imagine an injured driver taking you to court for compensation.

    The judge asks if the van had an airbag and you rather shamefacedly have to admit that it didn’t as you were too mean to shell out the extra £250.

    Average cost – £200
    Importance factor – 5/5

  • Reversing alarm

    When we are talking bangs for bucks, this must be the daddy of them all.

    For around £100, a van can be equipped with a sensor which will start beeping when it is backed towards an immobile object.

    The nearer the van gets, the quicker the beeping, until, when it is a foot away, the beeping becomes a continuous tone.

    Not only will this protect a van from all those annoying knocks and scrapes that bug commercial vehicles, but there is also a chance that a device may save the life of a pedestrian walking behind.

    No van should be without one.

    Average cost – £100
    Importance factor – 4/5

    ABS brakes

    All new cars come with anti-lock brakes (ABS), but some vans still feature this basic safety item as a paid-for option.

    The first thing to say about ABS is that unless you give your drivers some training in how to use them, you might as well not bother to fit them.

    The principle of jumping on the brake pedal with all your might is an alien one to older drivers used to cadence braking, so our advice is to send them off to a special training day and then send them off on their work with vans equipped with ABS brakes.

    It’s especially important in commercial vehicles as loads may shift around or alter in weight as vehicles are partly unloaded.

    Average cost – £400
    Importance factor – 4/5

  • Traction control

    It is standard on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Volkswagen Crafter and Ford Transit and an option on a lot of other vans nowadays.

    But what is it and what does it do?

    Most manufacturers use the Bosch ESP system which senses sideways movement of the vehicle and eases off the throttle on the wheels that are losing traction.

    It works brilliantly well, although it won’t save the skin of a driver who loses it big time.

    To prove how important ESP is, Mercedes-Benz found that since it fitted the system as standard on the Sprinter in 2003, at-fault accidents involving the vehicle dropped by a third.

    Average cost – £700
    Importance factor – 4/5

  • Electric windows/ heated mirrors

    Don’t scoff at the back there – this is serious! I can hear some readers tutting and asking “Whatever next?” but there is a definite safety side to these items.

    They normally come as a package and while the worthiness of providing electric windows may be questionable, the fact that icy mirrors in the winter will be a thing of the past must be worth considering.

    How many van drivers do you see in the cold months plying the roads in vehicles covered with ice and no rearward vision?

    And while we’re at it, Ford is worthy of a mention here for its Quickclear windscreens, which de-ice themselves in less than a minute.

    Average cost – £200
    Importance factor – 3/5

    Full bulkhead

    Most modern panel vans get a full bulkhead as standard nowadays but for those which don’t, it’s worth adding it to the purchase.

    A bulkhead acts on three fronts – it makes the cab quieter and more cosy, it stops thieves breaking in from clambering into the load area from the front and it stops errant loads from thrusting forward on heavy braking.

    Average cost – £150
    Importance factor – 3/5

    Central locking

    More vans are featuring this as standard but consider buying it for those that don’t.

    With as many as five doors to lock, it is too easy for a driver to forget one – and that could mean the loss of a valuable cargo. With central locking, one plip of the key does the job.

    Average cost – £200
    Importance factor – 4/5

  • Alarm

    While most vans feature an immobiliser you’d be amazed at how many have an alarm as a paid-for option.

    It makes sense really – few thieves are going to hang around your van with a piercing noise emanating from it, are they?

    Average cost – £150
    Importance factor – 2/5

  • Air conditioning

    A cool driver is a safer driver, although on the downside we don’t get that many really hot days in Britain to warrant using air-con.

    Don’t forget also that if you have many trusty and long-serving drivers, it might just pay you to look after them instead of treating them like disposable items.

    Also, a recent investigation by residual value experts CAP showed that air-con is the number one item that used buyers said they would pay extra for in a van, so the original cost could well be recouped when you sell the vehicle.

    Average cost – £300
    Importance factor – 2/5

    Ply lining

    This little addition won’t improve the driver’s lot but it will certainly help keep your vans spick and span in the back, which means a higher price at selling time.

    You will pay around £150 for wooden panelling in the back but auction experts reckon a van will be worth about £500 more with a clean rear end than one with a scuffed load area.

    A no-brainer really.

    Average cost – £150
    Importance factor – 4/5

    Metallic paint

    As with ply lining, metallic paint will be chosen solely for its ability to make your vans worth more at selling time, although of course a smart sparkly van will say a lot more about your business.

    Metallic paint sounds unnecessary but it does make a vehicle look incredibly smart and you should more than recoup the cash laid out at selling time. The downside is that in the event of the crash, metallic paint costs more to repair than the standard stuff.

    Average cost – £300
    Importance factor – 3/5

    Satellite navigation

    If your drivers do the same rounds every day, this bit of kit will be a complete waste of cash.

    But if they travel to different destinations all the time, it can save its own cost in a short time in terms of driver hours and fuel saved.

    Our advice is to buy a good quality unit which can transfer from one vehicle to another.

    Those offered by the van manufacturers are built into the dash and therefore will have to be sold when the vehicle goes.

    The downside of portable units, though, is that thieves are likely to break in and steal them. If you buy a Citroën Relay or Dispatch, you get sat-nav thrown in for free.

    Average cost – £99-£1,100
    Importance factor – 3/5

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