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A van is a vehicle used for transporting goods or groups of people. It is generally a rather box-shaped vehicle on four wheels, about the same width and length as a large automobile, but taller and usually higher off the ground. It can either be a specially designed vehicle or be based on a saloon/sedan car, the latter type often including derivatives with open backs (pick-ups etc). Vans really are offered 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).

Word usage and etymology Edit

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.

United KingdomEdit

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 and varying body sizes. Minivans are the same Vans but smaller.

United States Edit

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.

The term van is also used to refer to a Minivan. However, minivans are usually distinguished by their smaller size (190 to 200 in long), unibody architecture, and front wheel drive powertrains. Minivans have essentially replaced the large family station wagon, many luxury family sedans, and short wheelbased full-size vans that do not require extreme volume, towing, or passengers beyond 7. By comparison with full sized vans, they get good gas mileage, do not require overheight parking, have comfortable flexible seating accommodations such as folding middle or 3rd row seats, lowering windows on passenger doors on left and right side, and power hatch.

However, when it is necessary to tow a large mass, such as a camper, a full size van may be preferred for its larger engine, converted from cargo form to a family vehicle, referred to as a conversion van. A conversion van receives a full interior, extra seats, and comfort options such as air conditioning, indirect lighting, premium sound system, and a video screen system. While a minivan can tow between 2,000 and 4,000 pounds, a full size van can tow in excess of 8,000 pounds, as well as its own weight.

Full size vans are noted for their short nose, which creates a unique engine location. The engine block is located between the two front seats, next to the legs of passengers. An enclosure known as a doghouse covers the engine, and often has an inner padding, as the engine produces a lot of heat.

Japan Edit

Early Japanese vans include the Mazda Bongo (see 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 Dodge Caravan. These are also popular around the world.

Examples Edit

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 Econoline had a flat nose with engine mounted between and behind the front seats. The Dodge A100 had a similar layout using Dart components 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, now part of Daimler-Chrysler quit making their model in June of 2002 and replaced it with the Dodge Sprinter, which is based on a narrower, more fuel efficient European design pattern with a 150 hp 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.

Usage Edit

In urban areas of the United States full-size vans have been used as commuter vans since 1971, when Dodge introduced a van that could transport up to 15 passengers. Commuter vans are used as an alternative to carpooling and other ride sharing arrangements.

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 shuttle people and their luggage between hotels and airports, to transport commuters between parking lots and their places of work, and along established routes as minibuses.

Rollover safety Edit

Recently, the larger passenger versions have appeared in news stories for having a tendency to roll over, particularly in the case of inexperienced operators. The van body is taller than the cab and bed of the pickup that uses the same style frame and powertrain resulting in the basic van having a higher center of gravity than a similarly loaded pickup from which it is derived. The suspension is also higher because of the extreme weight capacity of 15 passengers of between 150 and 200 lb each which may be over one ton of passengers alone. The seats in the passenger version raise the load, passengers, above the floor, further raising the center of gravity (and often shifting it rearward). The bench seats allow passengers to slide if safety belts are not used. In the United States it is common for only the front seat passengers to use their safety belts, perhaps because belted passengers feel they can still lean and shift a large amount. However, the NHTSA, cited below, has determined that belted passengers are about 4 times more likely to survive in rollover crashes.

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. Items should not be added to a roof rack of an already top-heavy vehicle.


Vans have been optimized to provide maximum cargo carrying capacity. With this comes certain tradeoffs such as increased fuel consumption (because of greater air resistance and increased vehicle mass) and a greater requirement for other resources such as steel, brake blocks, oil, etc. Modular vehicle concepts (eventually using semi-trailers) and low-energy vehicles may help reduce those compromises in the future. Today, some vans are available in versions using more environmentally friendly fuels such as compressed natural gas (CNG) or high-ethanol mixtures (such as E85).

Depending on the application, towing a trailer may make it possible to transport bulky goods without the need to propel a large vehicle all the time. Of course there are tradeoffs with trailers as well, such as increased difficulty in parking, possibly reduced security of the cargo, and extra engine/transmission wear in lighter vehicles not designed to routinely tow cargo.

For craftsmen in cities, workers may be able to arrive via public transit, to use bulky or heavy materials which is delivered for them separately and perhaps stored at the worksite from day to day. Thus costs such as parking fees, tolls, and fuel may be reduced.

For carrying smaller loads over shorter distances, some people use human-powered transportation, such as freight bicycles with trailers.

Hybrid vehicles Edit

Hybrid vans are Micro-vett Daily Bimodale and Mercedes-Benz Daimler Chrysler Hybrid Sprinter.

Vans by ManufacturerEdit









  • Żuk A 03, A 05, A 14, A 09, A 11, A 15, A 07, A 18, R, M, A 151 C, A 16 B
  • Lublin van


  • Nysa N57, N58, N59, N60, N61, N63, 501, 503, 521/522
























Alternative propulsionEdit

Since light trucks are often operated in city traffic, hybrid electric models are useful:

Wheelchair accessibleEdit

Some vans can be converted into wheelchair accessible vans for mobility impaired people:

The following vehicles may be used in yards or in historic city centres:

See alsoEdit