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Two Vans

Hi everyone, I'm new here. I was wondering if anybody here runs a two vehicle set up as an individual contractor? I am an arborist and grounds maintenance contractor, currently working from a Toyota Hilux. I bring in sub-contractors on larger jobs and when undertaking tree services. I do a lot of works off-road and often tow chippers, hired trailers, so the 4x4 serves its purpose in one respect and has a great towing capacity but I've recently diversified by taking on more regular grounds maintenance contracts and finding the Hilux inadequate for larger maintenance works where I need to load my mowers, and larger equipment for the job. It can also be quite worrying to leave kit unattended when on site as the rear of the pick up is quite easy to break into. (When used for tree works generally all kit is removed from the truck on site and moved to the workspace).

I have been considering picking up a Ford transit or similar for the grounds maintenance rounds to use 2-3 days per week and have also toyed with the idea of picking up a box van trailer as an alternate (if running the one vehicle is preferable).

When I asked my accountant about purchasing a second vehicle they suggested I should opt for the trailer and it's left me a bit unsure as to whether I am allowed to run/off-set two vehicles? (I'm not sure if they have recommended this from a financial advice point of view or whether running two vehicles as an individual is not allowed). I can't really see any issues since both will be used for their own specialised purposes. 

In view of the above; is anybody running two vehicles and also has anybody experience with a box van trailer? The box van trailers are reasonably expensive which is why I'm back to considering the 2nd vehicle. The pro's and con's I guess are the ongoing maintenance costs/or lack of, with the trailer versus fueling, insuring, servicing and mot'ing the 2nd vehicle (assuming this is why I was formerly advised to go down the trailer route). I just want to make sure that I go for the best option as it's quite a pricey decision and would love to hear your thoughts or experiences with either. 

Thank you 

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  • Jake,we're in a very similar line of work as yourself.  We run an Isuzu with arborist body that tows a chipper and is used mainly for tree work and a lwb Ducato for grounds maintenance.  Security of kit is an issue for us, hence the van. Box trailers aren't secure. We don't like the inconvenience of trailers as some sites access is tight. So for us van every time. Yes higher initial outlay but higher value on disposal. From an accountancy aspect it and running costs are deductible and can be totally written off in the first year. We always buy new or nearly new to take advantage of manufacturers warranty and only keep for 3 years. We put the vat down as the deposit and have the balance on HP over 5 years, swap at 3 years and there's usually enough equity and value in the vehicle to clear the balance of the HP with enough left over to use as the deposit on a new vehicle. We've used this system for many years and it works for us, also has the benefit of minimising maintenance costs, anything major is under warranty so all we pay for maintenance is one or two services and a couple of tyres, obviously it helps if you're vat registered as the deposit is reclaimable. Hope that helps. 

    • Thank you for your reply Peter! You have raised a few points that I've been taking into consideration actually such as site access; this can be an issue when hitched to a trailer as majority of the time there is restrictive space for maneuvering. So a lot of the time the rig would have to be parked out front, which adds to the security risks. When working around the back of the property this would be out of my sight, but exposed to passers by, who may observe me moving kit to and from. From a grounds maintenance perspective most of my sites are residential blocks contracted through property management agencies so they are typically quite busy with people coming to and fro, so on occasions i do secure a space inside i will have to be considerate of blocking people in/out. I have also undertaken a couple of public open spaces where the 4x4 comes in handy and diversifies between being solely for Arb use and fits into the Grounds Maintenance scope of works. This adds to my desire to keep this vehicle and add another van or trailer to it, rather than changing from truck to van altogether, as there are a lot of occasions where I couldn't do without it. I love the system you have mentioned of trading in approximately every 3 years and if I do go down the van route this is definitely something I will consider doing too. I've also been weighing up the pro's / con's of going for a newer van versus older. Taking into account initial outlay, ongoing maintenance and the likes of. Originally the second van idea came about because after making enquiries about a potential 'box van' trailer the price range was between 5 - 7.5K and so it seemed as though at this point I might as well get a van. The benefit of the 'box van' trailer is the lack of ongoing expenses. But the van option seems more convenient for all of the reasons mentioned. I should add, I was considering the box van trailer over a traditional caged trailer due to the assumption it would be more secure enclosed. But having doubts after reading counter comments about the security. On the van front going newer and running your system may outweigh picking up an older model as I originally considered when taking into account ongoing maintenance costs.

      I'm kind of yo-yo'ing back and forth between options, there's a lot to consider and I'm trying to take into account each of your comments and experiences to make a decision. Its really helpful to receive insight from each of you that are active in the field and finding what works for you, so thank you for taking the time.  

      • Jake, like you we also maintain multi occupancy  sites and parking and maneuvering is an issue, a trailer wouldn't work for us. Our lwb Ducato will fit a honda hrx sideways on by the bulkhead, a mid mounted 48 deck ride on in the middle and another 21 inch sideways behind that. It's shelved to hold,hedgecutters,blower, strimmers and hand tools. Loading ramps are secured on top of the ply boxed in wheel arches on their side. Think you'd struggle to get all that in a box trailer?

        I don't know what your accountants problem is with another vehicle it's deductible. 

        A word of warning on used vans, you could be lucky but when we ran used they cost us lots in repairs never mind the downtime when off the road. They are now loaded with so much technology such as NOX and LAMDA sensors along with an ECU they are a bill waiting to happen. It was a stretch to buy the first even on HP we used a credit card with a 2 year interest free period to pay the deposit and paid it off over the 2 years. Once you've bought the first and swap every 3 years as we do it's affordable. 

  • i run a ford transit and an iszzu pick up.

    • Have been considering the Ford Transit if I do go down the second van route. Whenever I raise the suggestion of a second vehicle to my accountant, they always seem to be quite adamant in pushing for the trailer option and so I have been confused as to whether as an individual; running two vehicles is allowed. Even though both would be used for their individual specialised tasks and in my opinion would result in greater efficiency and generate increased revenue as a business as a result of this. Couldn't find any information online for or against. I can't see how it differs to having two mowers or two chainsaws which you can only use one at a time, but incur all of the running/maintenance costs for both. 

  • Do you not have a canopy/hard top on the Hilux? These are just as secure as a van, taking into account that some vans are very easy to break into as demonstrated on YouTube.

    I too have a Hilux. [I too use sub-contractors] I am all grounds maintenance, which means a great deal of mowing. All my hand tools [strimmers/hedge cutters/chain saw/ hand mower/steps/tool boxes/spares/consumables/fuel cans] are all safely locked away in the tub/canopy of the Hilux. I find that it all fits in no problem. I tow a trailer for my two ride on mowers. I don’t use my hand mower all that much, I only have six jobs where it is used [almost all my work is larger scale ride on jobs], so I don’t need to be lifting it in and out very much.

    If you are doing a lot of hand mowing then the Hilux has a high loading level. But you could use ramps. I personally don’t find lifting the mower in and out all that problematic. It depends how heavy you mower is of course.

    Realistically, how cost effective would the purchase of a second vehicle with all the running costs be? A trailer or a box trailer would be a far cheaper option.

    • Thank you for your reply Vic! I do have a canopy on the Hilux although it is windowed and so the contents are pretty much exposed and easily stealable. I've considered chaining everything down on the interior to add an extra layer of security. Although, one of the main issues I'm finding is inability to fit all of the grounds maintenance kit within this canopy. [EDIT: I should add my Hilux is a double cab, so space in back is limited by this too] I use a ride-on occasionally for my larger sites; where i borrow a drop side trailer, but the bulk of the sites I've taken on require push mowers. As I'm progressing into machines such as the Honda Pro range and Stihl Mulcher mowers I'm finding a lot of these would be reasonably heavy to lift in and out all day, with the high loading level and have long handles that are bolted so aren't quickly adjustable to fold down between jobs. Also I was advised by my dealer that constant adjustment of the handles leads to wear and tear of the wiring so wanted to try and find a solution that is more sustainable long term. Although I agree in the vulnerabilities of vans being broken into just as easily as anything else, per the youtube clips and hearing contractors experiences out and about. I think with a van being more compact versus truck and trailer combination it can be kept in eye sight more of the time and un-sign written its not as likely to attract unwanted attention when in transit as the contents could be anything. Though it's mainly about convenience, with the van option it is more of a one stop shop and everything can be concealed within the single unit. 

      It all comes down to cost effectivity ultimately, as you have mentioned. The ideal factor of the trailer solution is the one time payment and lack of ongoing running costs compared to the additional van with all of the servicing, taxiing, insuring, mot'ing and potential repairs. The main issue with the trailer is hearing so many horror stories about them being targeted, along with some of the maneuverability issues. Also that my recent enquiries found the trailer cost for one fully enclosed and 'suitable' to be like-for-like a van to be equivalent lay out to actually getting a van. Excluding the ongoing costs. 

      It's an interesting debate and each of your comments are really helping me note some of the pro's and con's and highlighting things that I hadn't taken into consideration originally, so I really appreciate you taking the time to provide your feedback. 

      • My Hilux is also a double cab. It works perfectly for me for a number of reasons.

         I never take waste away from anywhere, ever. I am not that kind of contractor. All mowing jobs [apart from the very few small hand mowing jobs] are mulched, so there is never any grass clippings to remove from site. Hedge clippings are just mulched to near invisibility with the ride on [Stiga 740 & John Deere Z535m] and then blown back under the hedge. On the few smaller jobs all hedge clippings would go in the clients own green bin. So I just do not need the van capacity to carry waste.

        I don’t do garden clearances.

        The Hilux is a much nicer place to be. A much nicer driving experience.

        I have had my Efco mulch/collect with a Honda engine since 2005. I fold the handles down. It’s still on all of its original wiring and cables. So folding down the handles has caused no issues whatsoever.

        We all work differently with varying types of work and it is not a one size fits all. But for me at least I would never even contemplate having a van. It’s just not me.

        As for security it largely depends where you live. I live in a very low crime area. I recently had a conversation with a local police officer who said that this area is like paradise when compared to some parts. Knife and gun crime are unheard of here.

        I have only ever in my life [I am 57] and over nine Hiluxes since 2008 ]Defenders before that], all with canopies, had one attempted break in. This happened in the middle of the night. The perpetrator snapped the tailgate handle off, but the canopy remained locked. So as far as my experience goes, they are pretty secure vehicles.

  • PRO

    Sounds like you have te opportunity and want to expand your business. If you take on the second vehicle, you may find yourself taking on another person in due course and then not have to subcontract work which you could take yourself; while you can tackle bigger jobs together, you would be able to attend smaller jobs individually in your respective vehicles.


  • PRO

    To be honest, we have never found the pick-up route satisfactory. You need maximum flexibility, security, and weather protection. We have always used medium wheelbase vans - boxer - Movano - Crafter - Sprinter size depending on budget. 

    With a trailer, you may be limited when it comes to tipping your green waste. Our local tips will not allow them. Keep it simple - stick to a box van.

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