Long-wheelbase vans: what they are, when you might need one

  • Full guide to long-wheelbase panel vans, covering all the pros and cons
  • Find out about LWB licences, payloads, tax and other costs
  • How to choose the right long-wheelbase van for your business

If you’re looking for a long-wheelbase van, the chances are you want a large van because you’ve got a lot of stuff to shift. But there’s more to moving mass than just the sheer size of the vehicle, so join us as we run you through the pros and cons of different wheelbase lengths, the kinds of challenges you might face, and even the licence, tax and regulation issues.

While most of those shouldn’t really need to cause you any concern, it may turn out that your business doesn’t need a long-wheelbase van at all. Hopefully once you’ve finished reading this page you’ll be armed with all the info you need to make the right decision.

What is a long-wheelbase van?

The term wheelbase refers to the distance between the centre point of the front and rear wheels (or axles). A long-wheelbase van is one that has a longer distance between these two points than the ordinary – or short-wheelbase – version.

Long-wheelbase vans - Renault Master

The two terms are often abbreviated to LWB for long-wheelbase van and SWB for short-wheelbase van, making it easy to identify different van models in brochures and for sale adverts. Other common identifying terms are L1 and L2, though this can also refer to the length of the van’s body (more on this below).

Usually when people think of a long-wheelbase or LWB van, however, they’re thinking of something particularly big – such as so-called ‘jumbo’ versions of the Ford Transit, which have both a long-wheelbase and a particularly big body.

Are there long-wheelbase versions of every van?

There are long-wheelbase versions of almost every category of panel van, though not quite every model.

Small vans, such as the Ford Transit Connect and Citroen Berlingo, are available in short- and long-wheelbase panel van variants – though often the LWB versions of this size of vehicle are known as maxi vans, examples being the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi and Renault Kangoo Maxi.

Long-wheelbase vans - Ford Transit and Ford Transit Custom

Popular long-wheelbase versions of medium vans include the Ford Transit Custom L2 and the Vauxhall Vivaro L2. Though if you’re looking for a lengthy load area from a medium-size panel van, the Renault Trafic LWB is a great place to start, as it has a particularly generous cargo area for its size.

As for large vans, such as the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Peugeot Boxer and Renault Master, all of these are available in at least two wheelbase lengths, with the largest long-wheelbase panel vans being found among this category.

Are there vans with more than two wheelbase sizes?

Yes. Quite a few large panel vans have more than two wheelbase sizes, necessary because of the supersize bodywork that they can be equipped with. For the same reason you'll find there are multiple body lengths, often referred to by L numbers that confusingly don't start at L1...

You’ll often find the very biggest models described as super-long vans or extra-long vans – or as in the case of the extra-long Ford Transit, jumbo vans.

Don’t assume these are the best choice if you’ve got heavy goods to shift, though.

Long-wheelbase van payload ratings

The thing about going for a long-wheelbase van is that you’ll usually – though not always – find that their payload ratings are lower than on short-wheelbase versions of the same model.

Because the van itself is bigger, it weighs more before you’ve loaded anything into it. So if the maximum authorised mass (MAM – more on this below) is the same on both, the smaller van will actually have a higher payload rating.

Whether this matters comes down to what you’re carrying. If it’s bulky but not particularly heavy you obviously want the biggest van possible. But if weight is a factor you may want to think carefully before ticking the LWB option.

Here are some examples of what we mean, showing the payload comparison and the difference in load space (volume) between SWB and LWB versions of the same van:


 Standard size  Long-wheelbase   Difference
 Ford Transit  L2 H3 RWD  L4 H3 RWD  
 Wheelbase  3,300mm  3,750mm  450mm
 Overall length  5,531mm  6,704mm  1,173mm
 Payload  1,277-1,342kg  1,110-1,176kg  117-166kg
 Load volume  10.7 cubic metres   15.1 cubic metres  4.4 cu m 
       
 VW Transporter   T32 110hp SWB   T32 110hp LWB  
 Wheelbase  3,000mm  3,400mm   400mm 
 Overall length  4,904mm  5,304mm  400mm
 Payload  1,304kg  1,240kg  64kg
 Load volume  5.8 cubic metres  6.7 cubic metres  0.9 cu m 
       
 Renault Kangoo   Standard (MWB)   Maxi (LWB)  
 Wheelbase  2,697mm  3,081  384mm
 Overall length  4,282  4,666  384mm
 Payload  656-786kg  779-794kg  8-123kg
 Load volume  3.6 cubic metres  4.6 cubic metres  1.0 cu m

 

Note that the Kangoo Maxi is an example of a small van that has a higher payload in its long-wheelbase version. This is due to a 220kg increase in the Maxi model's gross vehicle weight. Also note that the standard Kangoo is described as MWB, meaning medium-wheelbase; this is because in other parts of the world an even shorter model is also sold.

>> Best large vans for payload

>> Best medium vans for payload

>> Best small vans for payload

Long-wheelbase van gross vehicle weight

The maximum authorised mass – also known as gross vehicle weight (GVW), gross vehicle mass (GVM) and a host of other terms designed to confuse while actually all meaning the same thing – is the total legally allowed weight of the van and everything inside it. Including not just the goods, but the people.

When it comes to small and medium vans, this can be flexed a bit by the manufacturer – so a LWB medium van might be given a higher MAM than a SWB version, in order to maintain the same payload rating.

Long-wheelbase vans - Renault Kangoo Maxi

This isn’t quite as straightforward for large vans. You’ll notice that the vast majority of them have a gross vehicle weight of 3,500kg – this is because 3,500kg is now the highest gross vehicle weight you’re allowed to drive on a regular car driving licence.

There are large vans with higher (and lower) gross vehicle weights; the most extreme example being the Iveco Daily, which goes up to 7,000kg, though nearly every manufacturer offers at least some kind of increased GVW variants. One of the newest is the Ford Transit 5.0-tonne (5,000kg).

If you passed your test before 1 January 1997, you can drive these heavy-hauling vans no problem. But if you passed after this date then you need a different kind of licence.

The only exception to this is for alternative-fuel vehicles such as large electric vans, which have a special exemption allowing up to 4,250kg GVW on a standard driving licence no matter when you passed the test.

What driving licence do I need for a long-wheelbase van?

As long as the maximum authorised mass / gross vehicle weight isn’t higher than 3,500kg – or 3.5-tonnes, as it’s sometimes written as – you can drive any long-wheelbase van on a regular UK car driving licence. This is officially known as a Category B licence.

If the van in question has a MAM than 3,500kg, you need what’s known as a Category C1 licence, a goods vehicle licence covering vans and other commercial vehicles with a MAM from 3,500kg to 7,500kg.

Long-wheelbase campervans - Ford Transit Trail LWB

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997 you were automatically granted a C1 licence, but if you passed after this date you will need to apply for a C1 provisional licence, then take a theory and practical test in order to get one.

The minimum age is 18, and there’s a higher medical standard to meet as well. You can find about more on the UK driving licence categories website.

If you drive a C1 licence vehicle professionally – so for business or work purposes – you also need a Driver CPC Qualification, the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence.

I want to hire a long-wheelbase van

Whether you need to complete a one-off journey – to collect something or perhaps to move house – or need a longer-term loan in order to support your business, there are plenty of firms around that will allow you to hire or lease a long-wheelbase van.

As we’ve explained above, as long as the MAM isn’t over 3,500kg you won’t need any special driving licence to do this.

Long-wheelbase campervans - VW Transporter LWB

Prices vary, so the best advice is – as always – to shop around.

A business lease on a long-wheelbase van may prove very cost-effective versus other forms of finance, but keep in mind that you won’t have the option to own the vehicle at the end of the contract – and that damage charges can get expensive upon the van’s return if you aren’t reasonably careful.

Long-wheelbase van problems

Aside from the potential payload issue we’ve covered above, if you’re trying to decide between a short-wheelbase van and a long-wheelbase van, you also need to think about the obvious issue: size.

If you’ve always got big goods to shift, you may not have a choice. But consider, the larger the van, the more difficult it will be to park, and it will be trickier to move around in tight spaces and corners.

If you’re looking at a large van – like the Transit or Sprinter – you’re probably well-prepared for this. But if you’re planning on buying a medium van like the VW Transporter, then you may be expecting to access ordinary car parks, something that won’t always be as easy in an LWB model compared with the SWB version.

This will be less of an issue for small vans, which should be easy to manoeuvre whether you go for the standard or maxi model.

Long-wheelbase campervans

Medium vans are often used as the basis for campervan conversions, and here also you need to carefully consider the advantages of space that a long-wheelbase model will bring compared with the disadvantages of it not being so easy to park.

This probably explains why only Ford makes a medium-sized, factory-backed campervan with a long-wheelbase campervan, the L2 version of the Transit Custom Nugget. The rival Volkswagen California and Mercedes Marco Polo only come as short-wheelbase vans.

Long-wheelbase campervans - VW Grand California 600 and 680

It’s a similar issue with campervan and motorhome conversions on larger vans, though here you also run into a maximum authorised mass issue, which may mean you end up needing a different driving licence for a large LWB camper. Volkswagen, for example, offers higher gross vehicle weight versions of the Grand California that require a C1 licence classification.

Long-wheelbase van tax costs

Under the current fixed-rate taxation levels for light good vehicles (up to 3,500kg MAM), all vans cost exactly the same in road tax (VED) and company van tax (benefit-in-kind / BIK).

So there is no tax penalty for going for a bigger model unless it’s over the 3,500kg threshold. You can read more about this in our easy-to-follow van tax guide.

Also read:

>> Best large vans

>> Best electric vans

>> Motorhome buyers guide