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Is my vehicle a van or car?

How to find out what you’re driving and why it matters for your insurance

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Written by  Mehdi Punjwani
5 min read
Updated: 08 Jan 2024

It’s not always easy to make the distinction between cars and vans, particularly with vehicles like minivans, large dual-purpose vehicles, and SUVs that can skirt the boundaries. For insurance purposes, it can be a challenge ensuring you have the right policy in place for your vehicle, as if you don’t then you risk not being covered when you need it. Here’s a few ways to tell the difference between a car and van, and how it will affect the motor insurance policy you will need.

How to find out if you have a car or van

To determine what category of vehicle yours is, you can check the following:

  • Your V5C logbook: Line J of your V5C logbook will contain your vehicle category

  • The DVLA: The DVLA’s categorisation of vehicles generally distinguishes by usage - we’ve outlined it below

  • General specifications: If your vehicle weight is over 1,000kg and has a bay or area for loading goods, insurers will class it as a van

  • Government specifications: The HMRC has its own definition also outlined below for tax purposes

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The main differences between cars and vans

Arguably the main difference between cars and vans is their intended usage - vans are often designed to carry goods, so you could say the main difference is that vans are used for business. This is why many standard van insurance policies cover commercial and business usage for your van, while car insurance policies generally don’t.

But as you can imagine there are plenty of grey areas here, so another obvious area of consideration is the vehicle itself, its shape, size, and interior. HMRC defines a car as a ‘mechanically propelled road vehicle’ that isn’t a vehicle constructed primarily for carrying goods, a motorcycle, or a vehicle not suitable or commonly used for private transport.

To distinguish cars from other vehicles like mopeds and motorbikes it must have at least three wheels. It must also generally be used on public roads. The body of the vehicle must either be built specifically for carrying passengers or include roofed accommodation and side windows behind the driver’s seat.

To be considered a van, as specified above, your vehicle will be designed to transport goods instead of passengers - but other common characteristics include:

  • No side windows in the van’s rear, unless they’re fixed and opaque

  • Space for more than eight seats

  • A double cab

  • A pick-up bed for cargo

What are the different vehicle types?

Your V5C logbook has specific vehicle categories that can be helpful in defining your vehicle, and they can also be found on the vehicle certification agency government website:

Passenger vehicles

  • M1: Vehicles used for carrying passengers, with eight seats or fewer plus the driver’s seat

  • M2: Vehicles used for carrying passengers with more than eight seats plus the driver’s seat, with a maximum mass of five tonnes or less

  • M3: Vehicles used for carrying passengers with more than eight seats plus the driver’s seat, with a maximum mass of over five tonnes

Commercial vehicles

  • N1: Vehicles used for carrying goods, with a maximum mass of 3.5 tonnes or less

  • N2: Vehicles used for carrying goods, with a maximum mass of over 3.5 tonnes but not over 12 tonnes

  • N3: Vehicles used for carrying goods, with a maximum mass of over 12 tonnes

Trailers

  • O1: Trailers with a maximum mass of 0.75 tonnes or less

  • O2: Trailers with a maximum mass of over 0.75 tonnes but not over 3.5 tonnes

  • O3: Trailers with a maximum mass of over 3.5 tonnes but not over 10 tonnes

  • O4: Trailers with a maximum mass of over 10 tonnes

A motor caravan is classed as a special purpose M1 category if it contains at least the following to be fixed to the living compartment (aside from tables that can be removable):

  • Seats and table

  • Sleeping accommodation - this may be converted seating

  • Cooking facilities

  • Storage facilities

For insurance purposes however, motorhomes and caravans require specialist insurance policies and won’t be covered under standard van or car insurance.

Other vehicle types you might consider include:

  • Pick-up trucks: These are often categorised as light commercial vehicles, and are commonly covered by van insurance

  • Double cab vehicles: Vehicles with double cabs, like combi vans, are usually categorised based on their usage - but those that can support storage of over 1000kg may be classed as a van for insurance purposes

  • Minivans and people carriers: These vehicles, while large and capable of being used for transporting goods, are usually classed as cars - but you’ll need business car insurance if you are using it for carrying goods

  • SUVs: If it’s used for personal reasons rather than business it’s classed as a car, but some SUVs are classed by the manufacturer as commercial vehicles - therefore it will be categorised as a van for insurance purposes

  • Motorbikes: Motorbikes and other two-wheel vehicles like mopeds have their own category and will be insured and taxed as such.

Does it matter if my vehicle is a car or van?

It does matter how your vehicle is categorised for things like tax, insurance, MOTs and services. Cars and vans are taxed differently, require different insurance policies to be road-legal, and have different specifications and standards for MOTs and vehicle checks. If you categorise your vehicle incorrectly you’re likely to face fines and convictions for driving without the right tax or insurance.

What is a car-derived van and are they classed as vans?

A car-derived van is classified, according to the Road Traffic Regulation Act of 1984, as a vehicle used for carrying goods that was built or adapted from a passenger vehicle. It may look like a standard passenger car but will have functionality of a commercial vehicle - for example, with space for a payload. Pickup trucks, people carriers and minivans, 4x4s and SUVs, minibuses, and double cabs are examples of vehicles that could easily be adapted to carry goods. These vehicles legally can’t weigh more than 2,000kg.

Is there any difference between car and van insurance?

Car insurance policies are generally sold for domestic, social and pleasure usage, although you can take out business car insurance. On the other hand, most van insurance policies are designed specifically to cover business usage, with extra policy features for tools and equipment, goods, and extra mileage.

Remember it’s crucial to take out the right kind of insurance for your vehicle to ensure you’re road legal and fully covered for any mishaps. Otherwise, you could face an expensive fine.

The best way to find the right car or van insurance policy is to compare deals on MoneySuperMarket. Just tell us about yourself, your vehicle, and how you’ll be using it, and we’ll show you quotes from the biggest providers on the market.

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