Buying your next large vehicle won’t be as easy as it sounds especially when you have a lot of things to consider before buying one. While the van is the quintessential vehicle when it comes to living the van life and for business purposes, minivans and SUVs are not slacker themselves and are more capable in a lot of other areas. So, in the van vs. minivan vs. SUV battle, which one should you choose?
If you want to travel the country, carry around a lot of things, and even live on the road, a van should be the better choice for you. Meanwhile, minivans are great family options due to their practicality and passenger comfort. Finally, SUVs beat vans and minivans in performance and style by a long mile.
Choosing which large car to get really depends on your preferences and on the other purposes you are planning on using the vehicle. But, as long as you know the major differences, strengths, and weaknesses of vans, minivans, and SUVs, you will find that choosing and buying your next vehicle won’t take too much of your time because you already know what you are looking for.
PROS of Buying a Van
A van offers more freedom
The beauty of owning a van is that it allows you to live the van life in the sense that you get to have more freedom when you are in one. That means that you can basically do what you want with your van depending on your own personal preferences as you can use it as your personal space while you are traveling the country or even as your hangout spot when you are out with your friends.
You will feel right at home
Owning a van and living the van life can actually make you feel right at home in comparison to owning a minivan or an SUV. That’s because a lot of vans are made without seats, which allows you to place a bed and keep your things in the van to make it seem as close to home or even better than your actual home as possible. So, when you are going around anywhere around the country, your van makes you feel like you are still at home.
Rent, electricity, and water bills are all non-existent or at the minimum
If you own a van, you will actually be able to keep your rent and utility bills non-existent or at the minimum because you will be living and staying in your van most of the time. As such, you are essentially saving a lot of money this way but you will still have to spend money on electricity and water one way or another.
Vans are built to withstand strains
While vans might not seem powerful, they actually are. Most vans are designed to handle stresses and strains, which allows them to be quite useful whenever you need to tow something. As such, if you may end up towing another car or if you want to transport a camper or a caravan, a van is the perfect choice for you. They even come with large door mirrors that will allow you to tow cars and caravans without relying on your rear-view mirror.
They are built and designed for reliability
Vans are simply reliable vehicles that are not as prone to breaking down as sedans and other cars are. That’s why you can always rely on a van to deliver especially if you are looking to fetch your kids from a soccer game or if you literally have deliveries you have to meet in your transport and delivery business. And if you are living the van life, you will realize that your van will be more durable than most other kinds of vehicles.
You get to spend more time outdoors
For those who are using their vans to live the van life, a neat advantage of having a van is that it allows you to spend more time outdoors to appreciate nature. After all, you will most likely be spending time in parks and beaches rather than in cities when you are out there traveling the country in a van.
CONS of Buying a Van
They are expensive to buy, run, and insure
Probably the biggest downside, when you choose to buy a van, is that they are generally expensive. Depending on the brand and model, a van is usually costly and will most likely be more expensive to buy than a minivan due to how they are made to be larger and more spacious.
Moreover, the very fact that vans are large and come with bigger engines means that they are costlier to run and will eat up more fuel than smaller vehicles. This won’t sit in well for those who are on a budget when it comes to fuel expenses.
And due to how vans are designed and how they are often used for businesses and professions, they are also quite expensive to insure. The cost of van insurance will still depend on a lot of different factors but the general consensus is that vans are more expensive to insure than smaller vehicles.
Parking will be difficult to find
It is needless to say that vans are made and designed to be large vehicles. That means that you won’t be able to easily find parking space especially if you are planning to go to a place where parking is cramped and limited. The only upside to this is that vans do have sliding doors on the passenger side to make things easier for the passengers.
Visibility tends to be limited
The fact that vans are large and are made to have sides and backs that are solid means that visibility is reduced and will be limited in comparison to other vehicles. This means that they won’t be as safe as cars with better visibility. Meanwhile, some vans that are used for towing and delivering will have to sacrifice the use of their rear-view mirrors. Luckily, most vans are designed to have larger side mirrors to make it easier for the driver to see what’s behind him.
You will find a hard time finding places to shower and do your duty
In case you want to do your duty in the toilet or if you feel like you need to take a bath or spend time under the shower, you will find it difficult to do so if you own a van and you are living the van life mainly because you don’t have a bathroom or a toilet to begin with. As such, you will have to find the nearest gas station to use the toilet or find a place that allows you to take a shower for a price.
PROS of Buying a Minivan
The trunk space won’t disappoint you
Similar to a van but is smaller, the minivan is designed to have enough trunk or cargo space for you to carry a lot of things. So, if you are thinking of going on a camping trip or if you are carrying a lot of things for your hobby such as when you are planning on going surfing, a minivan won’t disappoint your need for trunk space.
Like vans, minivans were made and designed to make the passengers feel comfortable. That’s why minivans have good legroom. This allows the passengers to feel comfortable enough to have more room to stretch their legs during a long road trip.
Minivans are some of the most practical vehicles around
Even though they are not the fastest and most powerful vehicles on the road, minivans are some of the most practical ones you can get your hands on. First things first, they are great for day to day needs because they are large enough to make you feel safe on the highway while spacious enough to carry your kids and grocery items. Second, minivans come with sliding doors that allow them to become more practical when it comes to your kids’ safety and when it comes to cramped and limited parking spaces. And third, carrying your luggage won’t be a problem when you have a minivan because you can easily take away the third row of seats to reveal more room for your stuff.
Efficiency is an advantage for these vehicles
Despite the size of a minivan, this vehicle is actually one of the more efficient ones that you can drive. Not only do they bring in a lot of value for your money (because they usually aren’t pretty expensive) but they are not that costly to run, maintain, and insure. Mile per mile, minivans are some of the most efficient vehicles on the road because they don’t eat up a ton of fuel and are quite affordable when it comes to maintenance costs. Of course, insurance on minivans is a lot cheaper in comparison to the larger van.
Great for long family trips
The minivan is the perfect vehicle to be in when you are on a long road trip not only because of how fuel-efficient it is but also because of how the passengers can stay comfortable in a spacious vehicle. You don’t have to worry about your passengers complaining about not having enough room during a long road trip due to how minivans simply are quite spacious for mid-sized families and groups.
Related Articles: How To Sleep a Small Family in a Minivan (4 Tips)
Minivans are really safe
Minivans are some of the safest car types to drive and is actually safer than a lot of other vehicles such as SUVs and crossovers. This is due in large part to how low a minivan’s center of gravity is, which allows them to have more stability on the road. The same low center of gravity also reduces the damage and impact felt by the passengers in case of a road collision.
Meanwhile, most minivans also come with enhanced safety features that drivers and passengers will really love. This includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision safety systems, lane assists, rear-view camera, and emergency brakes that all work well to make minivans safer than most other vehicle types. That’s why minivans are widely considered the perfect family vehicle.
CONS of Buying a Minivan
Minivans are more expensive than cars
Even though a minivan brings in a lot of value for the money you are paying for it, you have to really absorb the fact that they are more expensive than cars due to how larger they are. That’s why, if you have no need for a minivan especially if you don’t have a family or if you only have a small family, you probably shouldn’t get one.
Your kids will feel like they are a mile away
When you are driving in a minivan and the kids in the backseat don’t have a parent or an older person nearby, it will be difficult to reach them while you are driving. They will feel like they are a mile away especially if your kids are fighting or if one of them is having a tantrum. This will force you to find the nearest stop so that you can calm your kids during a trip.
Aesthetics will always be an issue
The truth is that minivans are the quintessential dad or mom cars because of how “uncool” they look. You will be hard-pressed to find a minivan that actually comes with the aesthetics that fit the lifestyle of someone who wants to look cool while driving. The style has never been a selling point when it comes to minivans but those who opt to buy them don’t really mind especially if they are buying them for their family.
You won’t enjoy the van life as much in a minivan
Owning a minivan is similar to owning a van except for the fact that you won’t have the same kind of room that a van has. On top of that, you will have to spend money to overhaul the entire passenger area of a minivan if you want to live the van life because minivans are made to have passenger seats included.
PROS of Buying a SUV
SUVs provide a lot of vertical space
While SUVs generally aren’t as spacious as vans and minivans are, they are made to offer the vertical space that taller and larger people need. In that case, if you are taller than the average person or if you just simply like the vertical room that an SUV provides, choosing an SUV should be a good move on your part.
They look great
Compared to vans and minivans, SUVs are far better in the looks department. An SUV is simply a lot more appealing in comparison to a lot of different vehicle types not only because they were made and designed to look good but also because their looks usually come with the commanding presence you just don’t get from vans and minivans. This works great for those who want to drive in style regardless of whether they may be single or have a family.
Size will be a safety advantage
If you have ever driven on a car or a hatchback on the freeway, you won’t feel as safe as you would in a larger car because you will always be at the bad end of a possible collision. In that case, an SUV will give you the safety advantage and feeling of security you need when you are out on the freeway knowing that, if you would end up in a collision, you would be at the safer end of the stick because you are the larger vehicle.
Power is a trait common in most SUVs
SUVs are made and designed to be powerful vehicles that will easily outperform vans and minivans any day of the week because they are made with larger and more powerful engines. On top of that, SUVs simply are made to be large and in-charge vehicles that come with the speed and power that allow them to perform well on the road. As such, being in an SUV can make you feel more powerful as opposed to being in a van or a minivan.
You can use SUVs in almost any kind of terrain
Thanks to the fact that SUVs are made to be all-wheel vehicles with large and powerful engines, they can be driven in almost any kind of terrain. You can use your SUV off the road especially if you are planning on going on a camping trip. Even when the road might get muddy due to the rain, you will find that your SUV won’t end up struggling as much as vans, minivans, and sedans would.
SUVs are quite versatile
While minivans are most likely going to be family cars, SUVs can be used for a wide variety of purposes thanks to their power. You can use them for towing purposes or you can bring them on a camping trip in the woods thanks to their all-terrain driving system. And if you have a mid-sized family, an SUV will surely fit your needs.
CONS of Buying a SUV
Lack of room
As large as SUVs may be, they are not as spacious as vans or minivans are. You will find that SUVs don’t have the legroom that your passengers will need during a long ride. Another issue about space is the room you have for your cargo especially if you are planning on carrying a lot of stuff on your next family trip. On top of that, SUVs just aren’t the same as vans in terms of space especially if you want to live the van life while traveling the country in a cramped SUV.
Difficult to climb on for kids and older people
SUVs generally sit higher off the ground than vans and minivans. This can be a disadvantage for smaller kids and for older people who might have to struggle to climb onto the vehicle.
Due to how they are made to be more powerful than vans and minivans, SUVs are not only generally more expensive to buy but they are also more expensive to run and maintain. This means that you will end up shelling out more money for fuel expenses and for maintenance costs if you are keeping an SUV. While living the van life was supposed to minimize your expenses, an SUV will only make it more expensive for you to do so.
Driving one can be heavy and difficult
Due to the weight of an SUV, it might be a bit too cumbersome for you to be driving it in the city especially if you are not used to driving such a huge vehicle. This can be a problem if you are using an SUV that was meant to be driven like a truck instead of like a car because it won’t be easy to drive it in a city setting.
They aren’t environmentally friendly
Owing to the fact that SUVs are larger and more powerful vehicles, you will have a problem with their CO2 emissions and their fuel consumption. SUVs are not the friendliest vehicles in terms of what they can potentially do to the environment. As such, if you are looking to keep your carbon footprint down to a minimum, you might want to skip getting an SUV.
Differences between Van, Minivan, and SUV
A van is usually considered a type of vehicle intended to transport goods or people. It is usually a commercial vehicle that has a truck-based platform with a rear-wheel drive. Vans will most likely drive luck a truck.
Depending on the size, it can be smaller than a truck and bigger than a common car. Larger vans that have only front seats are mostly used for commercial purposes, i.e., the transport of equipment and goods. There are also some vans that come with three to four rows of seats for family purposes.
However, the more popular variants of vans are the ones that only have front seats not only because they are useful for businesses and professions but also because they can be used by those who may want to live the van lifestyle. Placing a bed and a few amenities in the cargo area makes living the van life possible.
A minivan is a size classification vehicle describing a high roof vehicle with a flexible interior. Minivans will look a lot like vans on the outside but they actually are smaller once you get inside. Unlike vans, which are mostly used for commercial purposes, the minivan is designed for families. As such, you might not be able to have the same kind of van life experience that you would with a minivan.
Minivans sit lower than a van and an SUV, so it’s easy to get in and out of it. Also, unlike SUVs, minivans have sliding doors that allow you to get in and out of the minivan easily. You can lower the seats into the minivan and adjust the interior as needed because it is more flexible than an SUV. Most minivans are much cheaper than SUVs, so they are perhaps the most affordable option.
The SUV is actually an acronym for a sport utility vehicle started by Jeep. SUV sits higher than a minivan; therefore, entering it can be difficult for children, the elderly, or people with disabilities. On the other hand, the SUV height allows for greater visibility than is the case in a minivan or outside.
Vans and minivans do not come with a four-wheel-drive, which is why an SUV is the best option if you plan to use the vehicle for trips on uneven terrains. The SUV is made for towing, hauling, and off-road performance. It usually has a big engine like a pickup truck.
Unlike vans and minivans, the SUV is a powerful vehicle that consumes a lot of fuel, so it is not the most economical and eco-friendly vehicle. Still, people like to use it because of its relatively high driving position. It is also prevalent in areas where there are large amounts of snow
Which is best for you?
Which vehicle is best for you will depend on many factors, but primarily on what you plan to use the vehicle for.
If you plan to use a cargo transfer vehicle and mostly for business purposes or if you have a really large family, the right solution will be a van. A van is a great solution if you have to constantly carry a lot of cargo or goods because it has the most cargo space.
The van is also the best choice for those who want to travel the entire country around while living in a vehicle because of how spacious it is and how much more durable and reliable vans are. While a van might end up costing more in terms of fuel compared to minivans, the hardiness and resiliency of a van will keep maintenance costs down to a minimum.
On the other hand, if you will mostly use the vehicle for commercial purposes to carry smaller quantities of goods, consider taking a minivan. The minivan is smaller and drives like a car, making it more practical and allowing you to navigate the city more easily. Even though the minivan is perfect for family road trips, it won’t give you the same kind of van life experience as that an actual full-sized van would.
The minivan is an ideal vehicle for families that can be used for city driving but also travel. The minivans are not designed for rough terrains but a pleasant ride during which they will provide everything you need. Minivans provide flexibility because you can reduce the number of seats at any time and thus free up more sea cargo space.
An SUV is an option for those who want a luxury cabin with enough cargo space for travel, sports, or outdoor activities. It is intended for rough and uneven terrains, so it is a good option for all adventurers and for those who are often spending time outdoors. However, even though an SUV is better for outdoor terrains, it is not advisable for you to use an SUV to live the van life particularly because of how SUVs are not as spacious as vans are and are quite expensive to buy, drive, and maintain overall.
With that said and done, the choice really is up to your own personal preferences and purposes. After all, each of these three types of vehicles specializes in its own niche markets. It is now up to you to decide which of them best suits what you need from a large vehicle. However, if you intend on living the van life, nothing beats a good old van even as minivans and SUVs each have their own unique selling points.
Best Van Overall – Volkswagen Crafter
The best van overall is the Volkswagen Crafter. This van is designed to allow you to do the job you have to do very easily while also allowing you to have enough space to travel the country to live the van life.
It gives you versatility and comfort with many custom options to make the van perfectly suited for business and leisurely purposes. It has four sliding doors, loads of safety technology, and economical engines that allow you to do business with savings.
Best Van Budget Pick – Ford Transit Connect
Ford Transit Connect is one of the budget vans that you can find on the market today for under $10,000. This Ford van is one of the best cheap work vans that you can use to do business in the city or to travel the country in a van due to how it has a lot of cargo space, considering its size. This van is considered a smaller van, but that is why it is great for city driving and overall van life.
Best Minivan Overall – The Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey stands out as the best minivan overall. This minivan combines modern design with the needs of the family while bringing a combination of comfort and a sporty interior. The cabin is decorated in a way that exudes luxury with two-row seats that provide you with comfort.
In the cabin, you get a HondaVac to clean the minivan whenever needed easily. It has the latest technology that will entertain your passengers and a Wi-Fi Hotspot, which shows how Honda keeps up with the times. The biggest advantage for families is CabinWatch and CabinTalk, which allows you to see children at all times and address them while driving through speakers or headphones.
Best Minivan Budget Pick – Kia Sedona
While not that cheap, the Kia Sedona is one of the best minivans with a lower price that will absolutely justify its price. This minivan gives you a smooth ride and has generous standard equipment. It has a very comfortable first and second row, but the second row is non-removable. And to keep all passengers entertained, it has an entertainment system that easily connects to a mobile device.
Best SUV Overall – Land Rover Defender
According to Motortrend estimates, the best SUV of the Year is Land Rover Defender. This powerful vehicle is equipped with the strongest materials but still retains an elegant look. Like other SUVs, this one is made to overcome extreme terrain. You can easily drive it on the city streets and take it to forests, deserts, and other demanding terrains.
Besides having top features designed for demanding driving, this vehicle comes with high tech equipment that will delight you. Its interior is very luxurious and provides you with all the necessary comfort while at the same time giving you enough space for all your goods in the cargo space. The starting price of this beast is $47,450.
Best SUV Budget Pick – 2021 Kia Soul
While it’s hard to make a final decision on which is the best SUV budget pick, among the many good SUVs, the 2021 Kia Soul stands out as one of the best SUV budget picks. This SUV has a specific design that is sure to attract everyone’s attention. The interior of this vehicle is actually a spacious cabin.
This SUV is not as big as the Land Rover Defender, but it remains ample space and luxury for all SUV fans. This car is equipped with its latest technology that will allow you to enjoy a luxurious ride in this great subcompact SUV. The 2021 Kia Soul price starts from $17,490, which is an amazing deal for the features it has.
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Here are some of my favorite van build tools:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you build your own campervan. Here are some tools that I use daily while living on the road that made my life easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Electricity: When I first started my van life journey, I was using the Renogy 200W RV Kit, and I’ve recently upgraded my setup to the Renogy 400W RV Kit. I’m fully autonomous regarding power now, thanks to this upgrade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose this option from the beginning.
Quick Fixes: Whenever I need to fix something inside my van, I use my multitool from Victorinox. It’s compact and comes with a leather pouch that lets you store it wherever you want. Whenever I need more tools, I get my Cartmann toolset out.
Power tools: If you’re converting a van, you’ll need some serious tools for the building process. I can assure you, good power tools can make a huge difference. You’ll save time and avoid a lot of frustration while having some professional-looking final results. I personally went big with the full combo set from Dewalt.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van build, check out this resource that I made for you!