A van is a kind of vehicle used for transporting goods or groups of people. It is usually a box-shaped vehicle on four wheels, about the same width and length as a large automobile, but taller and usually higher off the ground, also referred to as a light commercial vehicle or LCV. However, in North America, the term may be used to refer to any truck with a rigid cargo body fixed to the cab, even up to large sizes.
In the UK usage, it can be either specially designed or based on a saloon/sedan car, the latter type often including derivatives with open backs (such as pick-up trucks). There are vans in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the classic van version of the tiny Mini to the five metre long (LWB) variants of the Mercedes Sprinter van. Vehicles larger than this are classified as trucks (or lorries in British English).
The word van is a shortened version of the word caravan which originally meant a covered vehicle.
The word van has slightly different, but overlapping, meanings in different forms of English. While the word always applies to boxy cargo vans, the most major differences in usage are found between the different English-speaking countries.
British English speakers will generally refer to a passenger minivan as a people-carrier or MPV (multi-purpose vehicle), and a larger passenger van as a minibus. Ford makes a distinct line of vans with short hoods ("bonnets" in British English) and varying body sizes. Minivans are the same Vans but smaller. The word van may also refer to an enclosed freight railway vehicle (US boxcar).
The driver's mate of a delivery van was sometimes referred to as a "vanguard".
In the United States, a van can also refer to a box-shaped trailer or semi-trailer used to carry goods. In this case there is a differentiation between a dry van, used to carry most goods, and a refrigerated van (a reefer) used for cold goods. A railway car used to carry baggage is also called a van.
A vehicle referred to as a full size van is usually a large, boxy vehicle that has a similar platform and powertrain to their light truck counterparts. These vans may be sold with the space behind the front seats empty for transporting of goods (A cargo van), or furnished for passenger use by either the manufacturer (Wagon) or another company for more personal comforts, such as entertainment systems (Conversion van). Full-size vans often have a very short hood, with the engine block moved to within the passenger cabin.
The term van may also refer to a Minivan. However, minivans are usually distinguished by their smaller size and traditionally front wheel drive powertrain, although many now are being equipped with four wheel drive. Minivans offer similar seating capacity (traditionally seven passengers), and better fuel economy than full-size vans, at the expense of power, cargo space, and towing capacity. In addition, many new minivans have dual side sliding doors.
Early Japanese vans include the Mazda Bongo and the Subaru 360 van. The Japanese also produced many vans based on the American flat nose model, but also mini-vans which for the American market have generally evolved to the long-wheelbase front wheel drive form factor first pioneered by the Nissan Prairie and Mitsubishi Chariot. Microvans, vans that fulfill kei car regulations, are very popular for small business.
A full size van used for commercial purposes is also known as a van, however a passenger vehicle with more than 7 or 8 seats is more likely to be called a minibus.
Finally, the term van can sometimes be used interchangeably with caravan, which in the U.S. is referred to as a travel trailer.
The British term people mover is also used in Australian English to describe a passenger van. The American usage of van to mean a cargo box trailer or semi-trailer is used rarely, if ever, in Australia.
The first generation of American vans were the 1960s compact vans which were patterned in size after the Volkswagen Bus. The Corvair based entry even aped the rear mounted air cooled engine design. The Ford Falcon had a flat nose with engine mounted between and behind the front seats. The Dodge A100 had a similar layout and could accommodate a V-8. Chevrolet also switched to this layout. The Ford, Dodge and Corvair vans were also produced as pickup trucks.
The standard or full size vans appeared with Ford's innovation of moving the engine forward under a short hood and using pickup truck components and taillights. The engine cockpit housing is often called a dog house. Over time, they evolved longer noses and sleeker shapes. The Dodge Sportsman added a plug to the rear of a long wheelbase to create the 15 passenger van. They have been sold as both cargo and passenger models to the general public and as cutaway van chassis versions for second stage manufacturers to make box vans, ambulances, campers and other vehicles. Second stage manufacturers also modify the original manufacturer's body to create custom vans for the general public.
In the 1970s, songs like "Chevy Van" and nicknames like "sin bin" became part of the culture as owners transformed them into rolling bedrooms and lounges. Conversion vans became a large market with plusher accommodations than factory seats.
Dodge ended production of their full-size vans in June 2002 (as 2003 models), and replaced it with the Dodge Sprinter, which is based on a narrower, more fuel efficient European design pattern with a diesel turbo I5. Typical versions of the Sprinter are taller than other unmodified vans (tall enough to stand in), with a more slanted (aerodynamic) profile in front. They have been adopted primarily for delivery and lightweight Class-C van cab motorhome applications.
Many mobile businesses use a van to carry almost their entire business to various places where they work. For instance, there are those who come to homes or places of business to perform services or to install or repair appliances.
Vans are also used to transport elderly and mobility-impaired worshipers to and from church services or to transport youth groups for outings to amusement parks, picnics, and visiting other churches.
Safety can be greatly improved by understanding the unique characteristics of 12- & 15-passenger vans and by following a special set of guidelines developed for drivers, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A summary of this information is available at Reducing The Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans.Among other things, this document advises that carrying 10 or fewer passengers (preferably towards the front of the van) greatly reduces the risk of rollover crashes, and it suggests that repeated operation by the same drivers tends to increase their ability to handle these vehicles more safely over time. Car rental companies have also started adding stickers to warn renters about the difference in handling while compared to standard cars. Items should not be added to a roof rack of an already top-heavy vehicle.
The following vehicles may be used in yards or in historic city centres: