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The original van was a large covered wagon or the front of an army. Time has changed the definition to what it is now to only be a box vehicle.  See Word usage and etymology.
In English usage, it can be either specially designed cargo vehicle or based on a saloon or sedan, the latter type often including derivatives with open backs (such as pickup trucks). There are vans in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the classic van version of the tiny Mini to much larger vehicles such as cargo vans and other commercial transport vehicles. Vans run up to about 4 tons and are classified as Light or Medium Duty Trucks (North America) or Light Commercial Vehicles (Europe). Similar larger vehicles are lorries (full sized trucks), and are not known as vans.
Word usage and etymology
The word van has slightly different, but overlapping, meanings in different forms of English. While the word always now applies to boxy cargo vans, the most major differences in usage are found between the different English-speaking countries.
A full size van used for commercial purposes is also known as a van; however, a passenger vehicle with more than 7 or 8 seats is more likely to be called a minibus.
The British term people mover is also used in Australian English to describe a passenger van. The American usage of van to mean a cargo box trailer or semi-trailer is used rarely, if ever, in Australia.
In India, van is one of the most common modes of transport and is often used for commuting school children to and from schools as parents, especially working parents are too busy to themselves pick their children from school and when school buses are full and unable to accommodate other children.
Early Japanese vans include the Mazda Bongo and the Subaru 360 van. The Japanese also produced many vans based on the American flat nose model, but also mini-vans which for the American market have generally evolved to the long-wheelbase front wheel drive form factor pioneered by the Nissan Prairie and Mitsubishi Chariot. Microvans, vans that fulfill kei car regulations, are very popular for small business. The term is also used to describe full-fledged station wagons (passenger car front sheetmetal, back seats, windows all around) and even hatchbacks with a basic trim package intended for commercial use.
In British English, the word van refers only to goods carrying vehicles. A passenger carrying vehicle, that Americans would call a minivan is called a people-carrier or MPV, or multi-purpose vehicle, and larger passenger vehicles are called a minibus. The Telegraph newspaper introduced the idea of "White Van Man", a typical working class man or small business owner who would have a white Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, or similar panel van.
In the United States, a van can also refer to a box-shaped trailer or semi-trailer used to carry goods. In this case there is a differentiation between a "dry van", used to carry most goods, and a refrigerated van, or reefer, used for cold goods. A railway car used to carry baggage is also called a van.
A vehicle referred to as a full size van is usually a large, boxy vehicle that has a platform and powertrain similar to their light truck counterparts. These vans may be sold with the space behind the front seats empty for transporting of goods (cargo van), or furnished for passenger use by either the manufacturer (wagon) or another company for more personal comforts, such as entertainment systems (conversion van). Full-size vans often have a very short hood (bonnet), with the engine block moved to within the passenger cabin.
A cutaway van chassis is a variation of the full size van which was developed for use by many second stage manufacturers. Such a unit generally has a van front end, and driver controls in a cab body which extends only to a point aft of the driver and passenger seats, where the rest of the van body is cutoff (leading to the terminology "cutaway"). From that point aft, usually only the chassis frame rails and running gear extend to the rear when the unit is shipped as an "incomplete vehicle". A second stage manufacturer, commonly known as a bodybuilder, will complete the vehicle for uses such as recreational vehicles, small school buses, minibuses, type III ambulances, and delivery trucks. A large portion of cutaway van chassis are equipped with dual rear wheels. Some second stage manufacturers also add a third weight-bearing single wheel "tag axle" for larger minibus models.
The term van may also refer to a minivan. However, minivans are usually distinguished by their smaller size and traditionally front wheel drive powertrain, although many now are being equipped with four wheel drive. Minivans typically offer seven or eight passenger seating capacity (similar to the smallest full-sized vans), and better fuel economy than full-sized vans, at the expense of power, cargo space, and towing capacity. In addition, many new minivans have dual side sliding doors.
The precursor to American Vans would be the Sedan Deliveries of the 1930s to late-1950s. The first generation of American vans were the 1960s compact vans, which were patterned in size after the Volkswagen Bus. The Corvair-based entry even imitated the rear-mounted, air-cooled engine design. The Ford Falcon had a flat nose, with the engine mounted between and behind the front seats. The Dodge A100 had a similar layout and could accommodate a V8 engine. Chevrolet also switched to this layout. The Ford, Dodge, and Corvair vans were also produced as pickup trucks.
The standard or full size vans appeared with Ford's innovation of moving the engine forward under a short hood and using pickup truck components and taillights. The engine cockpit housing is often called a dog house. Over time, they evolved longer noses and sleeker shapes. The Dodge Sportsman was available with an extension to the rear of its long wheelbase model to create a 15 passenger van. Vehicles have been sold as both cargo and passenger models to the general public, as well as in cutaway van chassis versions for second stage manufacturers to make box vans, ambulances, campers, and other vehicles. Second stage manufacturers also modify the original manufacturer's body to create custom vans for the general public.
In the 1970s, songs like "Chevy Van", written and performed by Sammy Johns, and nicknames like "sin bin" or "screw canoe" became part of the culture as owners transformed them into rolling bedrooms and lounges. Conversion vans became a large market with plusher accommodations than factory seats.
Dodge ended production of their full-size vans in June 2002 (as 2003 models), and replaced it with the German originated Dodge Sprinter, which is based on a narrower, more fuel-efficient European design pattern with a 150 hp (110 kW) diesel turbo I5. Typical versions of the Sprinter are taller than other unmodified vans (tall enough to stand in), with a more slanted (aerodynamic) profile in front. They have been adopted primarily for delivery and lightweight Class-C van cab motor home applications.
In urban areas of the United States full-size vans have been used as commuter vans since 1971, when Dodge introduced a van that could transport up to 15 passengers. Commuter vans are used as an alternative to carpooling and other ride sharing arrangements.
Many mobile businesses use a van to carry almost their entire business to various places where they work. For instance, there are those who come to homes or places of business to perform services or to install or repair appliances. Vans are also used to shuttle people and their luggage between hotels and airports, to transport commuters between parking lots and their places of work, and along established routes as minibuses. Vans are also used to transport elderly and mobility-impaired worshipers to and from church services or to transport youth groups for outings to amusement parks, picnics, and visiting other churches. Vans are also used by schools to drive sports teams to intermural games. Vans have been used by touring music groups to haul equipment and people to music venues around the country; for example, the Portland band AgesandAges converted a 12-seat passenger van into a 15-seater to take the seven-member singing group on tour around the United States.
Another type of van, peculiar to North America, is the step van, so-called because of the ease with which one can step in and out of it. Widely used by delivery services, courier companies and the parcel division of the US Postal Service and Canada Post, they are often seen driven with the door open, especially in big cities. Step vans have more boxy shapes and higher rooftops than other vans, and are rarely employed for carrying passengers.
The van body is taller than the cab and bed of the pickup that uses the same style frame and powertrain resulting in the basic van having a higher center of gravity than a similarly loaded pickup from which it is derived. The suspension is also higher because of the design weight capacity for 15 passengers of between 150 lb (68 kg) and 200 lb (91 kg), thus a vehicle may be over one ton of passengers alone. The seats in the passenger version raise the load, passengers, above the floor, further raising the center of gravity (and often shifting it rearward). The bench seats allow passengers to slide if safety belts are not used. In the United States it is common for only the front seat passengers to use their safety belts, perhaps because belted passengers feel they can still lean and shift a large amount. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that belted passengers are about four times more likely to survive in rollover crashes.
Safety can be greatly improved by understanding the unique characteristics of 12- and 15-passenger vans and by following a special set of guidelines developed for drivers, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A summary of this information is available at "Reducing The Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans". Among other things, this document advises that carrying 10 or fewer passengers (preferably towards the front of the van) greatly reduces the risk of rollover crashes, and it suggests that repeated operation by the same drivers tends to increase their ability to handle these vehicles more safely over time.
Tire pressure for 12- and 15-passenger vans is a critical safety concern that is often overlooked, as these vans are designed to have a higher pressure in the rear tires in order to carry the heavier load safely. Vehicle manufacturers tire pressure requirements can be found on the vehicle information label, usually located in the door jamb of the drivers side door. Under-inflated tires can overheat when driven at speed and under heavy loads, causing tire failure and leading to a roll-over.
Car rental companies have also started adding stickers to warn renters about the difference in handling while compared to standard cars. Items should not be added to a roof rack of an already top-heavy vehicle.
Many vans are fitted with cargo barriers behind the front seats (or rear seats, if fitted) to prevent injuries caused by unsecured cargo in the event of sudden deceleration, collision or a rollover. Cargo barriers in vans are sometimes fitted with doors permitting the driver to pass through to the cargo compartment of the vehicle.
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- Websters Modern Dictionary, copyright 1899,& 1918
- Websters Modern Dictionary, copyright 1899,& 1918
- Jarman, Casey (4 May 2011). "Best New Band 2011: The 10 local acts Portland’s music insiders are talking about (and listening to)". Willamette Week. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- "Passenger Van Safety". nhtsa.dot.gov. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- "15-Passenger Van Safety Whitepaper". brightfleet.com. September 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014.