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Is your vehicle a van or a car?

Whether the vehicle you drive is a van or a car might sound like an easy question – but the answer isn’t always obvious.

In the last year alone, nearly 129,000 vehicle registrations were entered into our car insurance comparison tool – that actually belonged to vans.  Conversely, 48,564 registrations not belonging to vans were entered into our van insurance comparison tool.

So why the confusion?

In some cases, the two types of vehicle can simply be difficult to differentiate. The Volskwagen Caddy and Citroen Berlingo for example, both feature in the top 10 most popular vans insured by MoneySuperMarket – yet both could easily be mistaken for cars.

The shape of vans – and how their role is perceived – could also be shifting. According to our latest data, almost 40% of drivers now use their van primarily for ‘social, domestic and pleasure’ purposes – something made possible in light of the fact that the majority (52%) of vans now have three seats or more.

But drivers may also be confused around the official classification of their vehicle – more on this below – or simply just unaware that vans require a different type of insurance to cars.

However, whatever the reason, when it comes to getting appropriate cover, you’ll need to get the vehicle classification right.

How to check if your vehicle is a car or van

One way to confirm the classification of your vehicle is to consult your V5 logbook (look for line J entitled vehicle category).

But to speed things up, we’ve created a handy tool that can identify whether your vehicle is a car or a van – just by entering your registration.

How to tell the difference between a car and a van 

Generally speaking, a car is built for the primary purpose of carrying passengers. This means it will typically have seats and windows in the back and carpets on the floor.

A van is designed for commercial or business use. This means it will have a load bay at the back instead of seats and windows.

But these features are just a rule of thumb. In fact, we found that over 50% of vans insured through MoneySuperMarket had three seats, suggesting people may be using these for social, domestic and pleasure reasons too. 

As our data demonstrates – it’s not always possible to distinguish between a van or car just by looking at it. 

Still don’t believe us?  

Here are some examples of vans that can easily be mistaken for cars:


What’s the difference between car and van insurance?

Whether you drive a van or a car, there are three main types cover available to you. They are fully comprehensive, third party fire and theft, and third party-only. 

For any one of these, the factors below will have equal weighting when it comes to the cost of your van or car insurance:

Location the vehicle is kept in

Your age

Make and model of the vehicle

Size of the engine

Level of cover required

However, other pricing factors will have a different weighting depending on whether your vehicle is a car or a van. For example:

Your occupation

If you drive a van, what you do for a living provides a better indication of what the vehicle will be used for. In the case of car cover, your occupation only gives the insurer an idea of where the car is kept during working hours. Interestingly, the most common occupation given for van owners is ‘retired’, according to MoneySuperMarket data, while 6th place was ‘housewife or househusband’ – suggesting the vehicles will be largely used for social or domestic reasons

What the vehicle will be used for

If you are insuring a car, you’ll be able to state in the application whether it’s for social and commuting; social, commuting and business – or social-only. Insurance policies for vans tend to automatically encompass business use. (That said, it is possible insure your van solely for personal use too – almost 40% of people insuring a van through MoneySuperMarket chose this option.)

Content cover

As vans typically carry and store more tools and equipment than cars, there is a greater pricing emphasis on the content and accidental damage element of cover

Getting the right cover is a legal requirement – if you buy a car insurance policy to cover your van, in the event of a claim you would not receive a pay-out as the policy would be invalid.

Vehicle classification categories, set by the government, officially define what your vehicle type is. You can find your vehicle category in your logbook, but your car or van will fall into one of the following: 

  • If it’s M1, it’s car and you will need car insurance
  • If it’s N1 or N2, it’s a van and you will need van insurance

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Road tax

For vans, the cost of road tax it’s based on the age of the vehicle

MOTs

Some vans (if they fall into a vehicle class 4) come with the same £54.85 maximum MOT cost as a car. But your van falls into a vehicle class 7, the maximum MOT cost rises to £58.60.

Running costs

Petrol and diesel is the same price whether you drive a car or a van, but miles per gallon will vary depending on the vehicle. Especially when your vehicle plays a major part in your livelihood, it’s important to find a fuel-efficient engine.

Insurance premiums

Below are the average cost of van insurance by age, but other factors will also impact the pricing of van insurance premiums.

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Sources

1 Data refers to the average from the number of sessions on the car insurance journey on the MoneySuperMarket website that trigger a van registration message, with the user then clicking the link and loading the van question page. From September 2017 – September 2018, excluding June, July and September due to a fault in the system.

1. MSM internal van insurance data 2020.  

2. MSM van insurance provider data 2020. 

3. Examples of vans that can easily be mistaken for cars -  

https://www.ford.co.uk/vans-and-pickups/new-fiesta-van/van#
https://www.toyota.co.uk/new-cars/hilux/#gradeCarousel
https://www.autotrader.co.uk/vans/used-vans/vauxhall/corsa-van
https://www.mitsubishi-motors.co.uk/cars/l200
https://www.nissan.co.uk/vehicles/new-vehicles/navara.html
https://www.topspeed.com/trucks/truck-reviews/renault/2001-2005-renault-clio-van-ar131518.html 

4. Government vehicle classifications -  

https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-approval/individual-vehicle-approval-manuals#:~:text=M1%20vehicles%20%2D%20passenger%20cars,goods%20vehicles%20(over%203%2C500kgs)

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