The A-to-Z of LCV

A light commercial vehicle, or LCV, is the workhorse of British industry and the lifeblood of modern society. A bold statement but everything from our daily paper, home shopping, prescriptions from the chemist and flowers are delivered by vans and that’s before tradesmen such as builders and plumbers are mentioned. But a van is just a van, right?


Car derived vans – As the name implies, these are vans that tend to look and drive more like cars - a recognised body shell with reduced seating and increased ‘boot’ for cargo space. Although limited in height and cubic capacity, the car derived van is an efficient, hard working commercial vehicle.

One of the true innovations in this class was the Ford Transit Connect. Loosely based on the Ford Focus chassis, the cargo area was sized to take a full euro-pallet through either rear or side-doors, enabling easy loading by forklift rather than traditional handballing.

Panel vans– The typical van is your panel van, a cab with a single row of three seats, a divider and a large cargo space. Significantly larger than the car-derived van, the length of the panel van varies with short, medium and long wheelbases as does the height with standard and high-roof options.

The upshot is that there are dozens of permutations of body allowing for huge variety in capacity and payloads.

Box van – Popular for moving bulkier items around, stripped back this is a chassis cab with a flat skeletal chassis behind, that gets converted to a multitude of box body configurations for different industry uses. The most common conversion is the Box van which includes the addition of a solid roof and walls plus either twin barn doors or a single roller shutter door.

A well-known variant is the ‘luton’ van which adds an over-cab storage area. Note that on most box and luton vans, the cab is separated from the cargo area and it is common to see a tail lift added to the rear of these vehicles.

Unlike a panel van, the cargo area of a box van or luton is above the wheelbase. This makes for a much wider, flatter working area and both configurations offer a huge amount of cargo space for their footprint, hence they are a favourite for removal companies.


Common types of van

Refrigerated vans – Whether a panel or a box van, adding insulation and a refrigeration unit makes an adaptable, efficient delivery vehicle. Often seen in pharmaceutical, medical, food or drink industries, maintaining the cool chain is vital especially in the final mile to the end destination. That last delivery to customer locations can be the most challenging due to limited access, congestion charging and similar, so a standard refrigerated HGV may not be suitable. Additionally, maintaining the temperature of smaller deliveries would be very inefficient in larger vehicles.

A box or panel van converted to refrigerated cargo can then be sub-divided down with movable bulkheads to create different temperature areas for mixed cold and chilled cargo.

Dropside /Tipper/ Flatbed/ Beavertail – Again starting from the cab and chassis, adding a simple floor enables an adaptable load space to be used for everything from scaffolding to manufactured parts. Note that if a ramp is added to the rear to load vehicles this can be referred to as a beaver tail and is popular for carrying plant and machinery.

If partial walls are added to the flat-bed, a dropside configuration is created and is popular in the construction and renewable energy sectors, and is very common in the building and maintenance trades for easy access, loading and unloading of materials.

A commonly seen more specialist variant is the traffic management dropside, sometimes seen with large rear illuminated warning signs dropping cones at the side of the road on the UK’s road networks.

For larger loads of bulk cargo, again aggregates, soil and similar, a hydraulic ram added to the front of the cargo area with a pivot at the rear creates the tipper derivative which comes with either a single cab or double cab option for carrying more crew.

Minibuses & Crew Cab Vans – A simple van conversion by adding seats and windows, delivers the minibus but while ideal for delivering workers to sites in agricultural and similar industries. Newer crew cabs vans now offer an added row of seats with cargo area and a double cab, two additional rows of seats with minimal cargo capacity. Whatever your required mix of workers and cargo, there is a van that’s just right for you.

Welfare vans – Delivering workers to site is one thing but whether by the side of the road, railway or in the middle of a field, those workers need places to shelter in bad weather and take a break. The welfare van is a home-from-home offering seating, cooking and similar comforts in a more temporary format that a portacabin.

Additional configurations – As we have already discovered there are a multitude of body/purpose options in LCVs and these are just the common ones! Additional customisation includes:

  • Lining – A hard working panel van often has a plywood inner lining built in. This provides protection to the metal skin of the vehicle but also to cargo with a less hard and abrasive surface. Other options include rubber or metal flooring offering additional cushioning, grip or durability as required.
  • Safe storage – While ‘no tools left in this vehicle overnight’ is the most certain way to prevent theft, for large amounts or heavy tools, this may not be practical. Adding a fixed, lockable safe ensures that opportunistic thieves will be disappointed if they pick on a well specified LCV.
  • Roof bars – It sounds obvious but adding storage on the roof creates more space inside and more suitable storage for example, for copper pipes in the plumbing industry. The increased value of copper has also led to the development of lockable pipe storage units, purpose made for van roof bars.
  • Steps – If the roof is being used as storage it makes sense to add safe, secure steps or ladders attached to the vehicle.
  • Bulkheads & fittings – Perhaps the area of greatest specialisation is the mobile workshop. Drawers, workspaces, storage and so on are common-place but applications include mobile garages (think about RAC and AA vehicles), tyre fitters, engineers and even blacksmiths with mobile forges.

The light commercial vehicle or ‘van’, is easily dismissed and often demonised in the popular press as the ‘white van’, but in truth they are a marvel. Has any vehicle or class of vehicle ever had such variety and delivered such stalwart service?

Common types of LCV