A study of commercial van drivers in the UK by AXA Business Insurance highlights the drawbacks of van ownership as owners are called upon by others to borrow their vans for personal purposes.

The research showed that 81 percent of van drivers get asked to use their van to help out friends, family and other acquaintances, with one in 10 drivers saying this happens “all the time.” With many relenting to these appeals, nearly half of van drivers spend up to two hours every week using their van for non-commercial purposes.

But AXA warns there are a number of risks involved with helping out in this way, which could leave commercial van owners uninsured. Almost one-in-three van owners are unclear about whether they would be covered in these cases.

Overa a third (34 percent) of all requests to borrow a van related to helping a friend or relative move house, while 18 percent were to transport others' furniture. Many van insurances, including AXA's, are just that, insurance for the van, not its contents. So, damage or loss to the goods inside would not be covered.

A further 17 percent of requests for a bit of help were to assist someone else's small business transit needs which would not be covered by some insurers if deemed to be a part time/secondary occupation, particularly if there was any payment involved. Nearly one in four admitted to accepting payment for the use of their van.

    Payment for use of van

    Gasoline cost             28%
    None                      25%
    A favor in return         24%
    Direct financial          23%

Van owners also need to be aware that letting another driver use their van could be contravening the terms of their insurance. Even if the other driver has "driving other vehicles" cover on their private motor insurance, they should check with both their own insurer and the insurer of the van before jumping behind the wheel.

The survey revealed that van drivers face requests from a wide range of people:
    Person asking
    Immediate family          55%
    Close friends             53%
    Acquaintances             26%
    Extended family           21%

Despite this evidence of their selflessness, van drivers feel mixed emotions about being asked to use their vehicle:
    Response to being asked
    Happy to be useful        45%
    Taken for granted         26%
    Inconvenienced            17%

Darrell Sansom, managing director at AXA Business Insurance, commented: "Often owners of commercial vans are 'employed' by friends or family to help them move furniture or carry boxes, just because they're the cheap option. However, there are a number of reasons why both driver and 'mates' should be very careful before doing this. The results of a theft or accident if not properly insured will almost certainly outweigh the savings made."  

The survey was conducted by AXA Business Insurance to better understand potential customers of its commercial direct van insurance offering.