From the December 2002 issue of Entrepreneur
Whether you're buying your first vehicle for your business or you've got your own fleet, our guide can help you find, purchase and maintain your business vehicles.

Equipping your business with commercial vehicles is one of the more exciting and serious commitments you will undertake. It can also be one of the biggest headaches a company can face. How do you decide on the type and number of commercial vehicles? Should you choose vans, trucks, sport utility vehicles or rugged, super-duty, cab-only cutaways? With 58 different current SUV models on the market, and that number expected to increase to 85 by 2004, are SUVs more suitable for your transportation needs as well as your financial status? Fortunately, the selection of trucks available today is almost limitless, with compact, midsized and full-sized pickups offering a wide range of towing power, engine performance, cargo room and comfort. Prices are equally varied.

Versatility and customization have become hallmarks of today's commercial vehicles. Pickup truck beds can be extended, vans have power liftgates, and SUV seats fold down or are removable. Individual businesses can configure interiors by ordering models with additional shelves, steel storage bins or partitions to suit their needs. Truck interiors are far more driver-friendly than they used to be, with air-ride seats, adjustable pedals, improved dashboard ergonomics and four-wheel steering for greater maneuverability. An added bonus: Most redesigned interiors have resulted in increased cargo space.

Engine choices offer more sizes and greater horsepower than ever to increase acceleration and haul heavy loads. Coming up, too, are hybrid gas and electric engines transitioning from passenger cars to trucks. In the next few years, Chrysler's flexible fuel minivans, Ford's Escape and Explorer hybrids and GMC's Parallel Hybrid Sierra will be on the horizon. The IRS allows a $2,000 per-vehicle deduction for consumers who buy hybrid vehicles.

Ford, whose V8 turbo diesel-engine F-250 and F-350 full-sized trucks are among the bestsellers in their category, predicts diesels will become more popular and is planning to equip several of its future models with diesel technology. Toyota is building a commercial fuel-cell vehicle in 2003, and Dodge's heavy-duty Ram pickup has been remade from stem to stern with a new HEMI Magnum V8 engine.

For bargain-hunters, Nissan's compact pickup Frontier has the only crew cab with a long bed, and if you're looking for luxury, Cadillac's Escalade EXT provides the combination of an SUV with a truck bed that fits into the new "sport utility truck" category. Service and delivery businesses rely mostly on vans such as Honda's Odyssey, the largest minivan on the market with the most powerful engine, which tops the charts for its enduring quality and good value. Dodge's Caravan minivan has power sliding side doors and liftgate, and a sunroof has been added to 2003 models. Isuzu, which partners with GM on commercial trucks, offers some great options for the budget-conscious, while the Lincoln Navigator and Chevrolet's new multifunction Avalanche sport utility truck are both at the high end of the scale.

With SUVs providing almost as much room as vans when the back seats stay at home, you may decide to switch this year, especially if you need towing power. An SUV can usually haul more payload than a minivan, plus it can serve employees as a family recreational vehicle on weekends if your leasing contract permits. However, if sliding side doors are important for loading, look for a van with power doors.