Is my vehicle a car or van?

Some cars look like vans and some vans resemble cars - but you’ll need to know which you’ve got to take out the right type of insurance.

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Updated 29 September 2021  | 2 min read

What influences the cost of van insurance?

You need to know whether you have a van or a car when you take out insurance because van insurance and car insurance are two different types of insurance policy.

A van can’t be covered with car insurance, and vice versa.

Key points

  • The difference between cars, vans and motorhomes isn’t always clear - some family cars are classified as light commercial vehicles
  • You must get the right type of insurance for your vehicle, whether it’s car insurance, van insurance or motorhome insurance
  • Official information is found in your V5 logbook (look for line J, ‘vehicle category’), but we can help you identify if your vehicle is a car or a van when you get a quote from us

Levels and categories of cover

There are three levels three levels of cover for cars and vans - fully comprehensive, third party, fire and theft, and third party only cover.

But vans also need an additional category of cover which tells the insurer whether the van is privately used, commercially used, or both.

You’ll be asked if your drive your van for social use only, for carriage of own goods, for hire and reward, or for haulage.

The average cost of fully comprehensive car insurance is £525, versus £565 for van insurance with cover for carriage of own goods.[1]

How to find out if you have a van or a car

You can use your vehicle registration number to find out if you have a van or a car.

When you get insurance quotes, the reg tells the insurer whether you’re driving a van or a car, and it’ll calculate your cover accordingly.

If you’re still not sure if it’s a car or a van, you can:

  • Check your V5C log book
  • Look at the design of the vehicle

Information in your log book

The vehicle category can be found on line J of your V5C log book - the document that registers you as the keeper and owner of the car with DVLA.

It tells you all the essential information about the vehicle, including whether it’s a car or a van.

  • M1: It’s a car and you need car insurance
  • M2: It’s a minibus and you need minibus insurance, not van insurance
  • N1 or N2: It’s a van and you need van insurance

The vehicle specifications

If you don’t have the V5C log book to look at, you can sometimes tell whether you’re driving a van or car based on the design and specifications of the vehicle.

Car

If your family vehicle is a regular saloon, estate or hatchback then it’s an M1 passenger-carrying car.

Cars have fixed or collapsible sprung seats, windows and carpets.

Van

It’s a van if it has one or more of the following features:

  • More than eight seats
  • A double cab (a separate area for the drivers and passengers from the tail end of the car)
  • A pick-up bed at the back, designed specifically for cargo (with or without a roof)
  • If it has no windows on the rear side panels
  • If it's a van that's been modified
  • If it has a gross laden weight of over 1,000kg
  • If its original purpose was commercial and domestic

People carriers, minivans and multi-purpose vehicles

If the manufacturer has categorised a people carrier, minivan of MPV as a family vehicle for social, domestic, pleasure and commuting use, it can be insured as a car.

If you use it for business, you’ll need business car insurance.

Dual purpose vehicles

Dual-purpose vehicles have the comfort and luxury of a car, but they are classed as a commercial vehicle because they were originally designed to transport cargo.

If you have a larger 4x4 utility vehicles and a double-cab pick-up, it’s likely to be a dual-purpose vehicle.

4x4s and SUVs

So long as your 4x4 or SUV was created for social, domestic and pleasure use, it’s classed as a car.

If the manufacturer has classed it as a commercial vehicle, but you use it for family errands, it’s a dual-purpose vehicle and will be insured as a van.

Examples of this would be the Jeep Cherokee Pioneer and the Land Rover Discovery Commercial series.

Minibus

If your vehicle seats nine-to-16 passengers, the DVLA classes it as a minibus.

You need a specialist minibus insurance policy.

Motorhome

If your vehicle has permanently fitted fixtures such as cupboards, a sink and a bed, then it's neither a car nor a van. It'll be classed as a motor caravan by the DVLA and will need to be insured under a specialist policy.

We can help you compare insurance for motorhomes, including campervan, compact, American RV (recreational vehicle), van conversion, low profile, coach built or over cab and micros.

Be aware that there can be confusion over van-derived MPVs, if its chassis is based on a previous van model.


Governing body guidelines

Different governing bodies have different definitions of cars and vans:

  • HMRC has different classes for tax purposes
  • Car and van manufacturers categorise the vehicle as a car or van when it’s sold
  • The Association of British Insurers produces classification guidelines in line with the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre’s classifications

It can be a grey area. And when you insure the vehicle, each insurer will have its own set of guidelines.

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[1]Average price paid for policies purchased through GoCompare in January 2022.