Wheels and Deals

Vans, Wilder

Almost as easy as furnishing a warehouse or office, customizing the interior of a van is simply a matter of selecting adjustable shelves, bins, drawers, workbenches, cabinets and more. The choices in 2006 include wood, metal or plastic racks; cargo organizers; overhead and removable bins; ladder racks and panels; and special seating configurations.

Many basic equipment packages are free for qualified buyers, such as racks and bins in the Ford E-Series, and a storage bin system in GMC's Savana. Under GM's Commercial Business Choice Program, bin packages and ladder racks are complimentary. Ford's Commercial Connection Program supplies a no-charge package that includes a full partition, shelf units and drawers. Other programs provide protective, padded wall and ceiling paneling, and there are packages specifically designed for electrical contractors, delivery drivers and others.

If your van is used as an on-site workshop, you can order built-in shelves and storage lockers with outside drop-down doors, which can be propped open with support rods for easy access from the outside.

Need your van fitted with custom partitions, windowless side panels or a rear door? GM's fleet and commercial program has advice on matching up specific furnishings and vehicles. Ford's catalog of steel shelving, drawers and cabinets includes a safety partition that allows access to the back cargo area from the driver's compartment. If your freight requires extra height, you can get a higher ceiling in Dodge's Sprinter. Dodge Caravan's dual sliding doors offer a variety of glass and panel configurations for utility and visibility. If you don't need swing-out doors on GMC's Savana conversion van, you can opt for the 60/40-split left-hand, side-hinged doors for flexible loading.

While it is more convenient to order upfits when buying your new vehicle, some entrepreneurs find that their needs change as their businesses expand, and they need to add upfits later. In addition to your local dealer, several independent aftermarket companies can handle the modifications. Look for websites such as www.adriansteel.com and www.inlad.com, which are suppliers to Dodge, Ford and GM. If you need tools and equipment instead of upfits, GM's business fleet and commercial customers are offered a $500 gift card from Lowe's Home Improvement, or up to $1,000 off the vehicle's purchase or lease price under the Business Choice plan.

Play It Safe
Keeping vehicles on the road and in good working order so your business doesn't suffer can depend on the kind of warranty and service program your vehicles carry. Study the fine print in warranty and service policies when buying or leasing your new or used business vehicles. Standard warranties and service contracts cover most major components, such as the engine, transmission, steering, suspension and electrical systems. Emissions are usually covered for five years or 50,000 miles. Rust and corrosion can be a concern: Toyota's warranties cover corrosion perforations for 60 months with unlimited mileage.

New vehicle warranty periods remain, on average, the same for 2006 as they were in 2005, except for hybrids. With the introduction of gasoline/electric models, most companies carry longer warranties on their hybrid components. Ford's Escape Hybrid has a standard warranty for three years or 36,000 miles bumper to bumper, plus a warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles on its nickel-metal-hydride battery. GM's Duramax diesel engine is covered for five years or 100,000 miles, and many Chrysler and Dodge light trucks are covered for seven years or 70,000 miles. The Mitsubishi Raider pickup is backed by a five-year or 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Fleet vehicles have exceptionally comprehensive warranties. GM's Limited Warranty protects the entire vehicle, including tires, for a period of three years or 36,000 miles. There is no deductible for repairs, and the contract also covers sheet-metal corrosion for six years or 100,000 miles as well as towing costs.

If your warranty runs out and you plan to keep your vehicles, you can buy an extended warranty to pick up coverage when the original warranty expires. This is particularly important if your certified pre-owned vehicles' first-owner warranty is not transferable, or the first warranty is about to lapse. When buying an extended warranty, check for deductibles, which can be budget-busters, and be aware that the price is negotiable. Ask if you must pay for repairs upfront and wait for reimbursement, even if the vehicles are covered by a warranty.

Not all dealers provide warranties backed by the manufacturer, but if you own a Ford truck, for example, you can request Ford's Extended Service Plan rather than sign up for an aftermarket contract that a dealer may prefer.

Extended warranties are also sold by independent companies, such as www.warrantydirect.com, and are great for comparing quotes. While bypassing your local dealer can be risky if you want to be guaranteed genuine factory replacement parts, some extended warranties can be contracted for the length of time and mileage you specify. But make sure they can be honored at your brand's dealerships nationwide.

Unless your vehicles are covered by fleet programs, a service contract may suit your needs better than an extended warranty. Service contracts can be purchased anytime, not only when you buy the vehicle, although they may not be factory-backed like extended warranties usually are. Some of the least expensive service contracts are offered by insurance companies, but again, read the fine print and know what the deductibles are.

Dodge has a Business Link priority service program for small businesses that provides extended-hours repairs, free loaners and no enrollment fee, even if you don't buy a vehicle. Nissan's programs include a choice of bronze, silver or gold coverage that provides service and preventive maintenance every three or six months, and three plans for certified pre-owned vehicles.

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This article was originally published in the December 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wheels and Deals.

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