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Ute vs van: which work vehicle is the best?

Going to work and need a new car?

We looked at whether utes or vans are the best vehicle for the job.

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Buying a ute

Utes are the go to vehicle for many Queenslanders, and double cab 4WD utes are the biggest sellers on the lot in showrooms around the country.

One of the main reasons why utes are flying out the door is the practicality of having a vehicle that can carry five relatively comfortably, throw a few hundred kilos worth of gear into the back and be able to go off road – plus improvements to on road refinement and passenger comfort mean that you can take a date in a ute without having to shout over the engine note or rattling over every bump and pothole. The amount of styles you can get in a ute are astounding, from two-seater cabs without a tray to fit your own setup through king cabs with steel trays to luxury double cab utes that have all the bells and whistles fitted to the cabin.

Because utes are so popular, car makers are focusing a lot more attention into improving them. Because they are used more and more as personal vehicles (particularly for families), safety has seen a big improvement in recent years with most of the biggest selling utes achieving a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating; plus the cabins are a much nicer place to spend a day – top spec utes even coming with leather trim, upgraded multimedia systems and as many options as your bank account will allow.

You can throw pretty much anything into a ute, and your passengers are separated from whatever is in the tray. The downside, of course, is that anything in the back isn’t protected (from weather, thieves) without additional outlay – you can fit a lockable toolbox or a canopy, but this dulls the practicality of buying a ute in the first place.

A ute also has higher loading heights, so you’re often having to lift anything into the tray – while pickup style utes often lose some of their loading space with wheel wells cutting into the tub.

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Buying a van

Vans are traditionally the working vehicle, most often seen when you call up a tradie who needs travel between jobs. Utes may have stolen the spotlight as the ‘work vehicle’ recently, but vans have the upper hand in many ways.

Loading space in vans is much more adaptable, with wheelbases stretching out from enough to carry tools to cavernous spaces with metres of height and depth to carry whatever you need. All of these are inherently safer for the load carried being constantly undercover, so you can have your tools and equipment locked away safer than in a ute.

Plus, because the loading height is a lot lower, you won’t need to lift things up past waist height like you would in a ute (you can even fit loading ramps to pull the trolley straight into the back.)

Semi-bonneted vans move the engine further forward to give passengers more leg room and less engine noise, while front wheel drive vans also don’t have as much intrusion from the rear wheel wells into their cargo space, meaning you can throw in more gear.

Van designs are limited though, for example, you can’t access what you’ve got in the back as easily as you would in a ute – even vans with side doors aren’t as flexible as having the sides exposed and able to be unloaded from.

From a drivers point of view, vans are no more unwieldy than a dual cab ute, although some vans do have bigger blind spots because of their sheer size in tight city situations. More than three passengers in vans aren’t often catered for, with some vans putting the rear seat in the cargo space, while others partition off the loading space with a bulkhead, although – like fitting a canopy on a ute – this can limit the absolute practicality of the van.

Should I buy a ute or a van?

Utes are more adaptable as a vehicle for everyday use, especially if you’ve got more than two or three people to take around regularly. If you go off roading regularly, a ute may also be the vehicle to choose because, unlike a lot of vans, you can choose a vehicle with low range gearing and a proper 4WD system.

Vans may not be the most attractive looking vehicles, but you do get an extremely practical loading area, as well as the security of locking your tools or equipment inside your vehicle overnight.You can also customise a storage fitout that won't add substantially to the cost of your van.

If you need a towing vehicle, some vans are just as capable as utes – while some can even be fitted with part-time 4WD, although most lack sufficient ground clearance or even equipment such as lockable differentials to make them much use in serious off-road situations.

Motorama can find the right vehicle for your needs, whether you want your vehicle for work or play, our fleet consultants can assist getting you into one vehicle or setting up an entire companies’ worth.