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Is my vehicle a car or a van?

It might not be a question you'd considered, but some family vehicles are classed as light commercial vehicles because of their dual-purpose nature and, if you drive one, you need to be sure you've got the right insurance.

Key points

  • Vehicle distinction is crucial in deciding whether you need car insurance, van insurance or motorhome insurance, but there can be many grey areas
  • Gocompare.com's easy-to-use forms can help you avoid mistakes and direct you to appropriate quotes
  • If in doubt, read our guide and try our infographic. Official information is found on your V5 log book (look for line J, vehicle category), or you can try speaking to your insurer

The car or van question is a grey area in insurance as a number of governing bodies have their own takes on classification.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have classes for tax purposes, while the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have guidelines that work in tandem with the classifications of the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre (usually known as Thatcham).

The manufacturers themselves also play a role when they categorise the vehicle use at point of sale.

As a result, each insurer treats the vehicle with their own set of guidelines.

It's confusing, but there are some very simple ways to tell if your vehicle fits into a car or van category...

Searching through Gocompare.com

If you search for car insurance through Gocompare.com you'll be asked if you know the vehicle's registration number.

If you enter a registration for a vehicle that insurers regard as a van, you'll automatically be taken into our van quote process.

There are also options within our car, van and motorhome journeys to enter a vehicle's details manually without a registration number.

If you can't find your vehicle listed on our easy-to-use forms, it's likely that you're searching for the wrong product.

What basic type of vehicle is it?

Let's start with the obvious. If your family vehicle is a regular saloon, estate or hatchback then it is, without any argument, classified as an M1 passenger-carrying vehicle. Congratulations! You have a car and can compare quotes for car insurance.

People carriers, minivans and multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs)

If the sole purpose for the vehicle, as categorised by the manufacturer, is as a family vehicle for social, domestic, pleasure and commuting use - and the vehicle is not typically used commercially or marketed for business purposes - then it's a car and will be insured as one.

4x4 utility vehicles and double-cab pick-ups are considered as dual-purpose vehicles and will be insured as a van... Regardless of how luxurious the interior is

If it's designed for family use then it's almost definitely a car.

Key traits are fixed or collapsible sprung seats, windows and carpets. But be aware that there can be confusion over van-derived MPVs - if, for example, its chassis is based on a previous van model.

If there's any doubt, consult your V5 log book. Look for line J, vehicle category:

  • If it says M1 it's a car and you need car insurance
  • If you see M2 it's a minibus and you need minibus insurance (quote through our van process)
  • If you see either N1 or N2, then you officially own a van and you'll need van insurance

Does your vehicle seat nine people or above?

If your vehicle seats nine-to-16 passengers the DVLA class this as a minibus and you need a specialist insurance policy. You can find minibus insurance quotes by using our van insurance quote process, but please note that the policy isn't technically defined as van insurance.

Even if this is a privately owned and run vehicle, a minibus insurance policy is appropriate because the liability is far greater if any incident was to occur on the road.

Is your vehicle a motorhome?

If your vehicle has permanently fitted fixtures such as cupboards, a sink and a bed, then it's neither a car or van. It'll be classed a motor caravan by the DVLA and will need to be insured under a specialist policy.Motorhome

You can compare insurance for motorhomes and their varieties - including camper van, compact, American RV (recreational vehicle), van conversion, low profile, coachbuilt or overcab and micro - in one quick search with Gocompare.com.

4x4 vehicles and sport utility vehicles (SUVs)

As with people carriers, minivans and MPVs there's a strong chance your vehicle will be classed as a car so long as it was originally created for social, domestic and pleasure use.

The problem here is when a manufacturer has classed it as a commercial vehicle but it conveniently lends itself to a family set-up - that is, 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.

Things get more confusing when a manufacturer services different markets with the same model.

A Mercedes Vito 109 Cdi, for example, is a van. But the Mercedes Vito 109 Cdi Long Dualiner High Roof model is recognised by HMRC as a car thanks to its side-panel windows, carpets and additional seats. To many insurers, though, it would be treated as a dual-purpose vehicle and insured as a van.

Dual-purpose vehicles

Dual-purpose vehicles are also commonly known as light commercial vehicles. Many have the comfort and luxury of a car - some are often described as style-oriented pick-ups - but they are actually classed as a commercial vehicle because they were originally designed with cargo or other roles in mind.

If you have any doubt, firstly check your V5 log book. And if you're still none the wiser, make sure you contact your insurer

The key vehicles in question are the larger 4x4 utility vehicles and double-cab pick-ups. Even with rigid, fixed seats, windows and carpets, it's still considered a dual-purpose vehicle and will be insured as a van... Regardless of how luxurious its interior is.

Key checklist

Your vehicle is likely to be classed as a van, or as another form of specialist motor, if it has one or more of the following:

  • 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 roof or without)
  • If it has no windows on the rear side panels
  • If it's a van that has been modified
  • If it has a gross laden weight of over 1000kg
  • If its original purpose is commercial and domestic

If you have any doubt, firstly check your V5 log book. And if you're still none the wiser, make sure you contact your insurer.

By Dave Jenkins


Infographic - is your vehicle a car or a van?