Category Archives: Vans In Business

News and information relating to the use and function of vans by UK businesses.

Man loading boxes into van

3-in-10 small businesses suffer breakdowns each year

Man loading boxes into van

It’s no secret that some small businesses work their cars and vans hard. When you combine that with the normal wear and tear seen in ageing vehicles, it’s not surprising that breakdown rates appear to be higher than those suffered by private car owners.

According to the RAC, there’s a 31% chance that one of a small firm’s vehicles will break down each year. Batteries and tyres top the list of problems, followed by clutch and alternator issues.

Breakdowns are inconvenient at the best of times. But for a small business they can be extremely costly, as Nicky Brown of the RAC explains:

“Any downtime for a small business is likely to be extremely costly as it represents a serious loss of productivity, missed appointments or late deliveries. And, the smaller the business is, the worse the problem.

What can you do to avoid breakdowns?

Unfortunately, some breakdowns are inevitable. But many are avoidable. Here are a few tips.

  • Batteries: 18% of all RAC SME breakdown calls to relate to batteries. Batteries can reach the end of their life and ‘die’ without warning. But if your car or van turns over slowly on cold mornings or you suffer flat batteries after a long weekend, consider replacing the battery. Ask for the battery to be tested each time your vehicle is serviced. If reliability is critical, you could consider replacing batteries more than five years old.
  • Tyres: 13% of SME callouts relate to tyres. Although some blowouts and punctures are unavoidable, many are caused by tyres that are incorrectly inflated, damaged, worn out or overloaded. The solution is to visually inspect tyres and check tyre pressures weekly. With many vehicles now lacking a spare tyre, punctures can be very inconvenient.
  • Mechanical and electrical problems: These can be hard to spot, but such problems sometimes display ‘early warning signs’ that provide clues something is going wrong. Examples are strange noises or vibrations, or perhaps difficulty changing gear. Train drivers to report these symptoms when they appear, rather than waiting until they become bigger issues and cause breakdowns.

Do you need that old vehicle?

Finally, if you’re running old vehicles in your business and paying for regular repairs, consider replacing them. If you can’t afford new replacements than long-term car and van hire is increasingly affordable.

This offers a number of advantages. You’re not responsible for maintenance costs and as most hire vehicles are new, breakdowns should be unlikely.

Hiring a car or van is also more flexible — you can add vehicles at busy times and return them when they’re no longer needed.

If you operate in Central London and are now forking out £12.50 per day for the ULEZ charge, then renting a modern Euro 6 van would enable you to avoid this charge. For many urban operators doing restricted mileage, this saving could be enough to pay for your daily petrol or diesel usage!

Renting can be cheaper than it seems — it could be worth a look.

Vehicle exhaust

London gets £23m van scrappage scheme ahead of ULEZ

Vehicle exhaust

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced plans for a £23m van scrappage scheme to help small businesses cope with the impact of the London Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).

The ULEZ comes into force in Central London on 8 April 2019 and will levy a charge of £12.50 per day on vans which don’t meet the Euro 6 emissions standard.

The scrappage scheme will be available to “micro businesses”  — those with less than 10 employees. Business owners will be able to apply for funding to help them meet the cost of scrapping non-Euro 6 vans and replacing them with compliant models.

Details of the scrappage scheme have not yet been announced, so it’s not known how much cash will be provided to owners wishing to update their vans. However, the Mayor’s office has said that the scheme should be in place “ahead” of the introduction of the ULEZ in April.

Given that this is now less than four months away, time seems tight to me. Applying for funding and buying a suitable new vehicle could soon become difficult within the time period. But it’s good to see that something is being done to help meet the cost of replacing older vans that are driven into central London.

Another concern is that even with the scrappage allowance, buying newer vans could be unaffordable for many small businesses. Used van prices remain high — according to auctioneer BCA, the average used van fetched £7,146 in November, an increase of 5.1% compared to the same month in 2017.

As I’ve written before, for van operators with older vans who only drive into the ULEZ area occasionally, hiring a van could be cheaper than buying a newer one. It’s certainly worth crunching the numbers yourself before rushing out to buy a new van. You might be surprised.

To learn more about the ULEZ, including vehicle and post code checks, click here.

Renault Master F1 transporter

Vans you can’t hire – Renault Master F1 transporter

Renault Master F1 transporter

This bespoke Renault Master conversion is being used to transport Renault Formula One cars.

These days, you can hire most popular types of van. But there are some models that are just a bit special and are usually only available if you’re prepared to buy one.

A good example of this is the Renault Formula One team’s new van-based F1 car transporter. Based on the Renault Master large van, this custom-built vehicle carrier is used to transport Formula One cars all over Europe.

Renault F1 car in transporter

It’s a tight squeeze, but with the car’s nose removed the Renault F1 car will fit in this 3.5t van!

I should point out that the cars transported in this new transporter are only show cars. These are static display models based on last year’s R.S.17 car. They have the current livery, but have had their R.E.17 engines removed.

However, the new transporter has turned out to be so useful that it has been used to transport ‘live’ F1 cars to testing and to collect and deliver vehicles that are being worked on at local suppliers.

Renault F1 previously used a tow vehicle and trailer, a contractor or even a 40-tonne lorry to transport its show vehicles. This new solution is cheaper, more manoeuvrable and quicker to unload than any of these. The team says a car can be unloaded by a single person in just 15 minutes.

Unloading Renault F1 car from van transporter

Unloading is quick and easy with the help of a powerful 10.6KN electric winch.

Despite the big body, payload isn’t a problem. The transporter offers a payload of 844kg, which is ample for a show car (350kg) or a race car (700kg). It can also be driven on a normal car licence, increasing the number of team personnel who can drive the van.

This success story highlights a theme we’ve discussed before — having the right-sized van for the job is crucial. Too big is wasteful and expensive. To small is unusable. Kudos to Renault’s converters for devising this neat solution.

Milk & More StreetScooter EV

StreetScooter electric vans deliver 90% fuel saving for Milk & More

Milk & More StreetScooter EV

One of Milk & More’s StreetScooter electric vans

The UK’s largest milk delivery service is swapping 200 of its diesel vans for electric models. Milk & More has spent £6.5m to buy 200 StreetScooter Work electric vans, which will be used alongside the company’s existing electric milk floats as part of a drive to reduce its environmental impact.

The StreetScooter is an electric van that’s been developed by German postal operator Deutsche Post, who bought StreetScooter in 2014. The German logistics giant already operates 6,000 of these electric vans. It recently opened a second production facility for the model to increase production capacity to 20,000 units per year.

Milk & More’s vans have a 905kg payload and an eight cubic metre box, which allows each van to carry 860 pints of milk at a time, as well as a range of other fresh products such as bacon, juice and bread. The van’s range is said to be up to 75 miles. In their first month, fuel costs are reported to have fallen by 90% versus the previous diesel vehicles.

Interestingly, the MIlk & More vans are left-hand drive, which the company touts as a safety benefit as drivers can get out kerbside when delivering. In busy streets I can see how that’s a plus, although visibility is never quite as good in a van as when you’re sitting on the correct side of the vehicle.

Ford launches mental health awareness campaign

Ford mental health campaign

Don’t let mental health be the elephant in the room — Ford’s campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Far too many people suffer mental health problems in silence. One common problem is simply that people never seem to find the right opportunity to discuss how they’re feeling.

To try and help with this problem, Ford has launched a national awareness campaign in conjuction with the Time To Change campaign, which is being run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Around one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. Young men are particularly at risk, but research shows that only one in three men are prepared to talk openly about their feelings. A similar number said that they would be “embarrassed” to seek help for a mental health problem.

A vehicle can be a very private and therapeutic place to talk. With no interruptions and no need for intense eye contact, two-thirds of people questioned by Ford said that they were “more comfortable” talking about problems when in a vehicle.

“A vehicle is a great place to start talking because it’s like your own private bubble, where you’re on a journey together and you’re shoulder to shoulder,” says Ford engineer and employee champion, Matt Loynes, who came through the lowest point of his mental health issues with the support of a friend. “This is about getting everyone on-board and making it part of the culture to take a moment to listen to friends, colleagues and family, to understand and to find the right help for them.”

If you have a friend, loved one or colleague who is affected by mental health issues, it’s not always easy to know how to help.

To give you some ideas, Ford and Time to Change have created five ‘top tips’ that could help you spot the signs and offer the necessary support:

  • Text/Call Reach out – start small
  • Find a good time and place
  • Go for a coffee
  • Ask how they are – listen without judging
  • Treat them the same

Ford Mental Health Awareness van

Datum's Mercedes-Benz Citan vans

Derby manufacturer doubles mpg with new M-B Citan vans

Datum's Mercedes-Benz Citan vans

Datum’s new Mercedes-Benz Citan vans

Derby-based specialist manufacturer Datum has managed to halve the fuel consumption of some of its vans by exchanging them for new Mercedes-Benz Citan units. Admittedly a degree of downsizing was also involved, but this shouldn’t detract from the official combined cycle consumption figure of 65.7mpg of the 109 CDI models.

Datum’s roots lie in the foundry industry, but today the firm uses the latest CAD/CAM software to design and produce specialist and one-off parts for customers in a range of industries. The company’s vans are used to deliver parts all over the UK and have met with a warm reception from drivers whose previous vehicles were “getting tired”, according to managing director Paul Nelson.

Mr Nelson was originally going to buy just one Citan, but he says:

“The intention, initially, was to buy just one. However, business is good, and the package put together by Mertrux sales executive Tim Gough was so attractive that we decided to take two.”

Datum’s new Citan vans are long-bodied 109 CDI models fitted with BlueEfficiency spec. This includes ECO Start/Stop, low rolling resistance tyres and an optimised alternator and battery management system.

Commenting on the new vans, Mr Nelson said:

“Our Mercedes-Benz vans are proving every bit as fuel-efficient as we’d hoped,” added Mr Nelson. “In fact, they’re twice as economical as our old vehicles. The drivers are very pleased with them, too, while their smart liveries mean the Citans also double as effective mobile advertisements for our business.

They do say that good things come in small(er) packages…

Flying Fish Seafoord Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van

Mile-munching Sprinters stay fresh with Reman engines

Flying Fish Seafoord Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van

Mercedes-Benz Sprinters have a reputation as being some of the most reliable vans you can buy. But when you run a fleet of vans each doing at least 100,000 miles per year, you’re bound to run into problems occasionally.

That’s the situation Flying Fish Seafoods finds itself in. Based by the A30 in Indian Queens, Cornwall, the company’s drivers spend the day collecting fresh seafood from Cornish fish markets, before making overnight deliveries throughout the south of England.

High mileages mean that the vans need routine servicing every couple of months. And while Logistics Manager Harry Squires is at pains to stress that “the vans are superbly reliable”, the company gets extra peace of mind by having access to Mercedes Reman engines in addition to standard warranty repairs.

What this means is that if a van suffers a fault that will require a time-consuming repair, the dealer has the option of fitting a Reman — or remanufactured — engine to the van instead. This means it can be put back on the road quickly and in a predictable timeframe. Essential for high-value, tightly-scheduled delivery work.

Use of a Mercedes-Benz Reman engine means that the vans’ three-year, unlimited mileage warranty is unaffected. Food for thought.

Aquaflow Mercedes-Benz Sprinters

Super-clean drainage engineer rewarded with gold Sprinter

Aquaflow Mercedes-Benz Sprinters

Aquaflow’s two new Sprinters — a gold Sprinter 314 CDI and a replica of the firm’s original van, a 1999 Sprinter 310D

When long-serving Aquaflow drainage engineer Neil George returns his vans at the end of a three-year replacement cycle, they are — in the words of boss Keith Borrett:

invariably as clean as the day he took delivery, if not cleaner

As a reward for taking such good care of his equipment, Neil has been allocated a one-off gold Sprinter, which is the firm’s 100th Mercedes-Benz van. This striking vehicle is fitted with black alloy wheels and a personal registration, MY 100 TH.

The new van has been fitted with a high-performance jetting machine for clearing blocked drains.

To celebrate its long relationship with vans beating the three-pointed star, Aquaflow has also acquired and restored a first-generation 1999 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which is now an exact replica of the firm’s first ever Mercedes van.

Nearly 20 years later, the company now runs a fleet of 45 vans, of which 35 are Mercedes. Managing Director Mr Borrett describes the Sprinter as “the foundation stone on which we’ve grown the company” and comments that out-of-hours servicing and great reliability means the vans are “always available for work when we need them”.

Aquaflow operates from a head office in Canterbury and a depot in Erith. It provides a comprehensive portfolio of plumbing, drainage, pump, tanker and mechanical services, as well as undertaking excavations and CCTV surveys.


SSE Ford Transit Custom

Smart meter roll-out sparks SSE order for 507 Transit Custom vans

SSE Ford Transit Custom

SSE’s new Ford Transit Custom vans will be used for its smart meter rollout programme.

Utility giant SSE has placed an order for 507 Ford Transit Custom vans as for its smart meter installation teams to use.

The new vans take Ford’s share of SSE’s 6,000-strong fleet up to 30%. Each van is specified with Ford’s 2.0-litre 130PS EcoBlue TDCi engine, with Auto-Stop-Start technology.

Inside, the vans are fitted with internal storage and racking systems at Qi Van Systems of Telford, Shropshire, and liveried at Mediafleet of Witney, Oxfordshire.

Delivery of the 507 Transit Customs will be completed by November and the vans will be in service across the UK.

“We chose the Ford Transit Custom for this role for a number of reasons,” said Gemma Trew, SSE van and truck fleet manager. “It was not simply a question of economics – although the Transit does offer excellent whole-life costs – driver comfort and load area convenience were significant factors too. The Transit’s load space shape is ideal for the job.”

The Transit Custom was the top-selling van in the UK last year, a record it’s maintained so far this year, in which the model has accounted for nearly 14% of all vans registered in the UK.

Iceland's 1000th Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Iceland Sprinter fleet tops 1,000 as PSM tech cuts costs

Iceland's 1000th Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Iceland’s 1000th Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Four years ago, supermarket Iceland decided to switch its entire delivery van fleet to Mercedes-Benz Sprinters. The frozen food specialist has just taken delivery of its 1,000th van and is within a few months of reaching its 100% target.

The attractions of the Sprinter to heavy duty users are well documented. Its reputation for durability and reliability are especially valuable. But unfortunately even the best vans are at risk of damage and unscheduled downtime due to driver error and avoidable collisions.

For example, in 2013, more than 30% of Iceland’s Sprinter vans had a non-start incident due to a flat battery within six months of delivery. The cause was usually a simple error like leaving an interior light switched on.

Management also had concerns about the level of minor damage caused by low-speed incidents.

After approaching Mercedes about these concerns, it turned out that Sprinters can be fitted with optional Parametric Special Modules (PSMs) at the factory. These are electronic units that can be used to access and control various performance parameters.

The PSM system appears to be surprisingly flexible. Iceland’s Sprinter vans are now delivered with PSM modules which apply a number of settings to the vans, including:

  • Activate hazards when reversing
  • Limit forward and reverse speed
  • Monitor battery voltage
  • Switch off interior lights automatically if they’re left on

The difference has been impressive. Since the PSM programme was introduced, flat battery incidents have fallen to just 5% of the Sprinter fleet.

Although some drivers may bemoan the Big Brother tendencies of such technology, it’s ability to cut costs and improve safety is invaluable for busy transport operations.