If you're considering becoming an expeditor but not ready to take the plunge and invest $200,000 for a new straight truck, consider a lower risk option: an expedite van. You can get into a fully equipped van for under $70,000. And if it's rated under 10,001 gross vehicle weight, you can avoid many of the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, such as hours of service requirements, which add a lot of complexity and cost to your business.

So, if you’re looking to haul freight that can fit into a van — such as auto parts, overnight packages, or medical supplies and equipment — a van might be the perfect fit for you. But with numerous van options and configurations available, what should you consider as an expediter? Keep these seven points in mind.

1. Van Make and Model

The Mercedes-Benz/ Freightliner Sprinter has been the most prominent van used in expedite applications for the past decade. It was the first diesel-powered Euro-style van to enter the U.S. market, offering high-roof configurations, which maximize cargo space and enable drivers to stand up inside the cargo area. This way, drivers can avoid having to bend down and strain their backs while unloading freight, like they often had to do with the conventional roof vans, such as the Ford E-Series and the Chevrolet Express.

In recent years, other automakers have introduced high-roof Euro-style vans to the U.S. market, including Ford (with Transit) and Ram (with ProMaster), giving expediters more van options to choose from.

2. Gas vs Diesel

Which engine is best for expediters?

After all, you can purchase a gas-powered van for about $7,000 to $8,000 less than a comparable diesel van. But if you’re purchasing the van for expediting, where you might run it for 70,000 to 80,000 miles per year, you’ll be better off paying the difference for the diesel because of its longevity and resale advantages over gas, says Jeff Smith, sales manager at Neely Coble Company, a Freightliner Sprinter dealer based in Nashville, Tenn.

According to Smith, the useable life of the diesel is about 400,000 miles, compared to 250,000 for the gas engine. “So, if you’re running the van for 80,000 miles a year, and you have a gas engine, that van will be used up by the end of three years. And you probably still have two more years of payments on it,” says Smith. “But with a diesel engine, after three years, you still have much more life left in the van, which will give you much higher resale (than gas), giving you more options if you choose to trade out of the van at that time.”

Which vans offer a diesel engine? The Euro-style vans — Sprinter, Transit and Promaster — all have an available diesel engine. Chevrolet Express also offers diesel, but the van is only available with a standard roof height.

3. Cargo Space

What do you plan to haul in the van? Your answer dictates what size van you choose.

For example, if you’re considering a Sprinter to haul pallets of auto parts, you would select the lighter single rear wheel 2500 van, instead of a dual rear wheel 3500, because the wheel wells in the 2500 take up less space than those in the 3500.

“The most popular configuration for expediters is the single rear wheel, high-roof extended 2500 because you can fit a pallet in between the wheel wells,” says Smith. “If you go with the dual rear wheels, the wheel wells come in too close together and the pallets won’t fit between them. You would have to build a false floor but that detracts from your overall cargo area.”

However, the trade-off with selecting a Sprinter 2500 vs. 3500 is about 2,000 pounds in legal payload capacity (2,994 vs. 4,956 lbs.). So, make sure the weight of your anticipated maximum loads will fit within the capacity of the 2500.

(CLICK HERE for more information of Sprinter specs and capabilities.)

4. Stock vs. Sleeper

Do you intend to have a sleeper unit outfitted in the van?

“If they’re getting a sleeper built, they go with the Sprinter 2500 extended van to make sure there’s enough room for both the sleeper and cargo,” says Smith.

He says that a sleeper conversion adds about $10,000 to $15,000 to the price of the van and takes about three to four months to complete, depending on the production schedule of the sleeper manufacturer.

But the vast majority of Smith’s expedite customers — about 80 percent — don’t add a sleeper to their vans. “They’ll put a cot or a bunk in there or they’ll just pay for a hotel room when they stop,” says Smith.

5. Auxiliary power

Smith recommends that expediters add an optional auxiliary battery to power refrigerators,TVs, laptops and any other equipment. “If you’re running all that equipment on a starting battery, there’s a good chance you’ll drain that battery at the worst possible time,” says Smith.

You may also want to consider installing fuel-powered heaters, such as those available from Webasto and Eberspächer, to minimize the need to idle the engine for long periods of time during harsh winter months, which can create issues with your diesel engine’s regeneration cycles and cause very expensive repairs.

“With the new emissions technologies that are on diesel vehicles, you need to avoid heavy idle situations as much as possible. So, if you choose to add a sleeper to your van, you need auxiliary power because, if you run a diesel engine all night long to stay warm, you will have issues with the [diesel particulate filter],” says Smith.

6. Driver Comfort & Safety Options

When Smith specs vans for expediters, he says he typically includes these options that enhance driver comfort and safety:

  • Bluetooth enabled radio to allow for hands-free calling
  • Backup camera
  • Suspension seating
  • Extra lumbar support
  • Power windows, door locks, cruise control
  • Multifunction wheel display (which gives readouts on fuel economy and service intervals).

7. Van Financing

If you’re adding a sleeper conversion to your van, and it takes about three to four months to complete, how does the financing process work? Do you have to start making payments on the van while waiting on the sleeper to be completed — when you’re not yet making money with it?

No, says Smith. “You’ll put down a deposit, and the van is then sent to the sleeper company for conversion. You don’t begin making payments until the van is completed because the bank is financing the combined van and sleeper.”

What is the typical deposit should you expect to put down?

Smith says that it depends on the dealer but it typically ranges from 5 to 10 percent, which would eventually be applied as a down payment toward financing the completed van.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a lower risk way to test drive the life as an expedite owner-operator, a van might be the right vehicle for you.