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My handyman business vehicle

What is the Best Vehicle for a Handyman Business?

With this post I’d like to shed some light on what the best vehicle for a handyman business is.  More specifically, a one man handyman business.

There are three common options to choose from:  a van, a truck, or a truck and trailer.  I’ve heard several people say a van is hands down the best and others that wouldn’t drive anything but a pickup.  I’ve also heard of people using a small trailer to store their equipment.

Personally, I drive a 2006 Nissan Titan king cab equipped with a low profile AWS truck box in the back for extra storage.  I love this truck and it’s treated me very well.

If you are new the handyman business, the best vehicle for you is probably the one you already have.  Getting a new truck or van right off the bat will add a lot of additional financial stress that you just don’t need when your starting up.

I’ve even seen a handyman that drove a Honda Pilot.  I actually watched this guy rebuild an entire fence for my neighbor by taking small loads of wood with his Pilot.  Definitely not ideal, but it shows that you can make just about anything work if necessary.    Check out the image below if you don’t know what it looks like.

Orange Honda Element_opt

I remember when I first started my business, I was concerned on whether or not I’d be able to work out of my truck efficiently.  I started with a 2006 Nissan Titan king cab that was completely stock.  No toolboxes in the back or anything.  I would just throw whatever tools I needed for the job I was doing and head out.

Since then the only upgrade I’ve made is the addition of an UWS low profile toolbox.  I’ve considered adding a rack so I can carry longer lumber, but so far I’ve found this as a nice to have and not a need to have.

However, I’m still undecided.  What is the best overall vehicle?

Below I’ve written out the pros and cons of each type of vehicle to help shed some light.  Check it out and  Let me know what you think is best in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Truck, Van, or Truck with Trailer?

Pickup Truck

Advantages

  • Good gas mileage – at least compared to other options.
  • Looks good – Trucks look cool, vans don’t.
  • Good Ride – I like the way a truck drives better than a top heavy van and I drive a lot.
  • You can leave the chemicals in the back and not have to smell them while driving.
  • Can park in most home garages.
  • Versatility – you can haul just about anything you would need to as a handyman.
  • Easy to load lumber.
  • Easy to clean.
  • Can use as a personal vehicle as well.

Disadvantages

  • Tools and supplies are less accessible than a van.
  • Whatever is in the back is open to the elements.  If you live somewhere that rains all the time, this could really suck.
  • limited space for branding.
  • Any tools in the bed are susceptible to theft.

A pickup truck has a lot of advantages, but the lack of storage and access to tools and supplies is a serious downer.  Also, if you live somewhere that rains, driving a pickup would be pain in the ass.  You could get a camper shell to remedy this, but this will likely limit you in other ways.

Van

Advantages

  • Tons of Storage.
  • Better for organizing supplies and tools.
  • Excellent for branding/advertising.  Pretty much a driving billboard.
  • Easier access to tools.
  • Tool Security.
  • Keeps everything out of the elements.

Disadvantages

  • Can’t park in most home garages. (with ladder on roof)
  • Typically get bad gas mileage.
  • Not ideal for trips to the dump.
  • Limited room for lumber.
  • You are in the same air space as whatever chemicals you are carrying.

Clearly, a vans strength is in the amount of shit you can carry.  I well stocked van is pretty much a mini hardware store.  Everything has a place and you never have to stop and think about what tools you need before you go because they’re already loaded.  I can also see a van be extremely efficient during work because everything would be easier to access.

Truck and Trailer

Advantages

  • Workshop on wheels
  • Ability to stand up inside
  • Storage
  • Excellent for branding/advertising
  • Good for dump loads
  • Easily load lumber.
  • Can haul larger items.

Disadvantages

  • Maneuverability
  • Requires a place to store it.
  • Gas Mileage
  • Extra maintenance required.

A truck and trailer pretty much has it all, but it comes with the price of being difficult to maneuver.  When you are driving to 3 houses in one day, you have to park the it several times and access to a house isn’t always great.  This disadvantage alone makes me not even consider  pulling a trailer.

One nice thing about having a trailer is that you can have it heavily branded with vinyl decals and leave your truck stock.  This way you can drive your truck on personal time without having “handyman services” written all over it.

Conclusion

 

For what I do, I think I’ll stick to a truck for my handyman business.  I believe it has the most advantages and doesn’t really limit the services that I offer.  When I’m hauling stain, epoxies, or other chemicals, I can throw it in the back and not have to inhale the fumes.  If I’m loading several sheets of plywood like I did last week, I can easily throw them in the back of the truck.  Storage for small tools and hardware is a bit of an issue and my truck tends to get pretty messy by the end of the day, but I’m pretty sure a van would get just as disorganized.

Of course, this is only my opinion.

What do you think?  Describe what you feel is the optimal setup for a handyman business in the comments below.

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  • Larry February 2, 2013

    Good article. I noticed from your picture that you have an extended cab truck. wouldn’t a crew cab (4 door) truck work better for this situation because you could put your tools in the back seat area and they would be locked up and out of the elements with the only sacrifice of loosing about a foot of bed space?

    • Big D February 2, 2013

      Hi Larry,

      Ya, that would probably work a little better. I still keep my tools in the back seat it just isn’t quite as easy to get to them. Unfortunately, this is the truck I had when I started out so that’s what I have to work with.

  • Wade Myers February 6, 2013

    I have a F350 and trailer and a Toyota 4Runner

    F350/Trailer – Why????
    Trailer is fully lettered – its a rolling billboard – this advertising tells people who I am and what I do. It also tells people that if its parked in your neighborhood your neighbor likes my work and hired me..you should too:)

    This set-up gets about the same gas mileage as a van but much more versatile.

    I have everything I need to do every service I offer with me. No running back to the shop(home) for that tool I didn’t thin I would need today. This saves time and time is money…end of story

    Toyota 4Runner – Why?

    I have the back built out into storage and have a second set of tools for any and every small job I can do. This is for traveling light when I know exactly what I will be doing.

    Better gas mileage – this allows me to be more competitive and extend my service area.

    I also use this vehicle for meeting clients and doing estimates.

    SUMMARY – in my opinion
    If you can afford both I would absolutely recommend it. This has made my business much more efficient.

    • Big D February 6, 2013

      Sounds like a pretty solid setup. I have definitely forgotten tools and had to go back and get them.

      I guess the only downside is that you need somewhere to store the extra vehicle and trailer. But if you have the space, it sounds like a really good setup.

      Thanks for the tip!

    • Brad Yarger November 21, 2016

      Will an 8′ folding ladder fit on the inside of a 4Runner? Assume the driver is alone and the rest of the vehicle is empty.

  • thomashill March 8, 2013

    Nice post on vehicles for handyman. I would say that a new handyman in this business should use vehicle that he already has and when once he is established he can buy a vehicle as per choice. In particular if you ask I would go with a van. As you said it has quite good storage capacity alongside it can be used for branding and advertising.

  • joey April 15, 2013

    What if the vehicle you currently own is a car? Do you think that it would be acceptable to start out with?

    • Big D April 15, 2013

      Hi Joey,

      If it were me, I’d save up and buy a truck or van before going legit with a handyman business. There are just too many jobs that require a truck or a van. That being said, I also wouldn’t start a handyman business with a Honda Pilot.

      Can you start a handyman business with a car? Yes. It’s just going to be more difficult. But, if you are truly motivated to make it work until you can buy something better, then go for it. You’ll never know until you try!

      Big D

    • Victor Caraveo October 10, 2016

      I started working with a Geo metro 3 cilynders… Funny facts on my way to Rocky Mountains i have to pull over to left the mountains bikes pass by… When a load this car with some tile and hardibacker on the roof i had to use ropes to close the doors because the weight frame go off square…. Now i own a old uhaul box truck to carry material which this I pull a 12ft trailer with all tools and I drive a Chevrolet uplander van daily… I live at the country so space is never a problem…

  • Art S June 27, 2013

    I am having this same question. I currently drive an 89 camry and it is OBVIOUSLY not ideal for a handyman business. Then again, my Dad has converted his 2002 Corolla into a fully functioning ‘work truck’. He hauls a folding ladder, and many tools necessary to get the job done. He lives way out from the city and has to commute to where most of the work is.

    But I digress. Along with the Camry, my wife drives an 06 Odyssey, and that make for a very sutiable ‘work truck’. But it is her baby, so I have to be SUPER careful when hauling lumber/trash (double layer tarps everywhere makes for longer loading/unloading times). I am thinking I will shoot for a truck and add a trailer if necessary.

    Thanks for blogging, it has helped me get my business off the ground (like 2 inches so far, but baby steps right?)

    • Big D June 27, 2013

      Art,

      Hey man, getting started is further than most get! I like how you are making what you have work until you can get up and running with a truck.

    • The Maintenance Man June 1, 2016

      An older Chevy or ford makes a fine work truck they can be bought for under 1000 I still have an 89 ford and a 88 Chevy both have 8 ft beds and if your a handyman they stay going

  • William September 17, 2013

    I started with a 1996 olds. Then that got totaled, so I have a Honda Odessy with removable racks fpr the top (which I hang by the clothes hangers near the doors in the back. It is nice also to have 4 seats when needed and 2 when needed without clearing out the back. BUT nearing 200,000 mi and I am having a mystery problem and may have to replace it with somethig else. My father in law gave me a rusted, wheeless trailer frame that I redid and built up it is good fro taking big stuff. but I don’t want to strain the van too much so I only bring it when necessary. If I have to trade off, for pricing reasons I think I will have to go witha truck and my trailer

    • Alex September 11, 2016

      Thanks so much for the insightful post. After reading all the comments it has really helped me to decide on the best Van for me!

  • Ben J October 13, 2013

    Good Stuff!

    Many years ago was in the process of getting on my feet. At that time I gave someone a deal on some jobs at her home , and she sold me a well cared for old sedan for $75.00. I remembered when a butcher in Europe
    rescued my stranded ass. He graciously drove me to safety in his old diesel
    Mercedes which he used for work and had removed the back seat. The blood from the day’s work had dried, I piled right on in.
    So… I Sawzalled My sedan wheel wells, rear bulkhead and bench.
    It “got her done” until I was able to get a van.
    It takes what it takes !

    • Dan Perry October 13, 2013

      In true handyman fashion! Nice work.

  • Sean November 8, 2013

    Hey Dan,

    Recently, I was in a pretty bad accident, totaling my beloved ’06 F150. But because it had over 200,000 miles, I didn’t get much from the insurance. And I wasn’t having much luck finding a decent truck in my price range. Then, I came across great deal on an Ford Expedition that I couldn’t pass up. I knew an SUV is NOT an ideal work truck, but I figured I could buy it, fix it up a bit, and sell it for a profit when I got back on my feet and was able take bigger jobs again.
    However, it turns out that I really like my Expedition, and I haven’t had too much trouble hauling my gear. In fact, I was somehow able to fit a couple of large toolboxes and eight foot ladder in the back, all while hauling 4 sheets of 4×8 drywall strapped to the roof rack. But again, NOT ideal.
    Then the time came to buy a more suitable vehicle, I was conflicted over whether I would get a truck, or simply buy a trailer for the Expedition. Ultimately, I decided to keep the SUV and get used van, and it has been the single best decision I have made for my business.
    In only 6 weeks I have almost made back the price of the van by leads generated from people seeing the vehicle. I still can’t believe how many new customers say, “I got this number from one of your vans.” The storage space is great and it actually just fits in the garage, without ladders on top. And I did have to trim down the corners of the roof rack slightly to fit under the door.
    But the greatest benefit was one I hadn’t anticipated. I have a good friend who I used as a helper on some of my bigger projects. But now with two vehicles I have been able to send him on some simpler jobs, while I go do an estimate or a more complicated job. Since I charge 50-60/hr, and I pay my helper 20/hr, there’s 40/hr in my pocket. And all I have to do is provide the equipment, vehicle, and the customer. Now, this is still in the experimental phase. I’ve only sent him out on a few calls, but so far nothing but compliments from my customers.
    So, not only do I now have a second great work vehicle, but I have increased my sales and expanded my capabilities. Since I was 16, I have always had a pickup truck; but now, I am officially on the van bandwagon.

    Thanks for everything you do, Dan.

    • Dan Perry November 9, 2013

      Hey Sean,

      Thanks for sharing that extremely helpful story. I love how you turned a bad situation into a learning experience that allowed you to grow as a business. There is a lot to be learned from that story. Not only does that make me want a van, but it makes me want to hire a helper!

      Dan

  • Sean March 28, 2014

    What do you think about a pick up with a utility bed? You get the outside hauling ability that a pick up can provide and still have compartments to keep all tools organized. Well it is what I would like to get, though currently using an Durango which doubles as the family car. So until I can afford a truck, unfortunately I am stuck taking tools out and replacing car seats.

    • Dan Perry March 30, 2014

      It really depends on the type of jobs you do. It’s good that you are starting with what you have and after you get a lot of experience you’ll know exactly what you need.

  • Lloyd April 17, 2014

    Believe it or not. I perform about 30 jobs a month out of my Toyota Prius. (I know.. just dong this part time so I can make ends meet) The car cost me $18k new and I can even carry sticks of PVC,conduit..etc. I am too old to do fence building so I mostly due plumbing, electrical, and general stuff (like TV install, door locks..etc) . I get 48 mpg on average and I still get to claim the full mileage deduction on taxes. Didn’t buy the vehicle to save the environment, but I am saving my wallet. Plus when I show up for bids people actually think it is ok even in a Republican city (smile)

    • Dan Perry April 17, 2014

      That’s a true handyman right there. Making due with what you’ve got and it sounds like you’re doing pretty well with it, too.

  • James Mason June 11, 2014

    Truck all the way for me mate!

  • Ken February 3, 2015

    I currently have a truck and plan
    To get a enclosed trailer. I am also looking at getting a good gas millage station wagon. I feel more than anything the condition of you vehical will delegate whether your a. Competent handyman, or not. In other words don’t drive an old rust bucket.

  • J February 4, 2015

    Maybe I’m not very ambitious about expanding my side jobs into a full fledged business, but I too have been working with “what I have” for several years. For sheer gas mileage, I use a 1st gen. Honda Insight! It fits 8 ft lumber and has a surprisingly versatile hatch area. Not ideal, but I can fit a full tool box, small vacuum, hammer drill, extension cord, parts and drop cloth, plus a little giant behind the passenger seat. 90% of my driving is to a real job which supplies me with the proper vehicles. It just wouldn’t make sense for me to buy something newer when most of my side jobs are for friends and family.

  • Jason April 16, 2015

    I’ve worked out of a Ford E350 with a 10 ft. cargo box and refuse to use anything else. It’s manoeuvrable and I can stand up inside to access my tools. I’ve towed dump trailers and flat-beds. Only downside is I get 11 mpg.

    • The Maintenance Man June 1, 2016

      I’ve got a 2011 E-250 with a 5.4 and I’m getting almost 18 mpg it has been my businesses most profitable and most helpful thing I can put 10 foot in back and a ton on top and it’s a billboard and it can literally pull anything best thing for a true handyman is a E series van

  • Justin July 18, 2015

    Hey Dan,
    First off, I love your blog and it has been very helpful. I have a truck and trailer right now but as I am having to find a new place to live it is extremely difficult in the area I am in to find a spot to park/store a trailer. I don’t know if a trailer really is necessary to run a handyman business but there have been occasions where I could do jobs because of the trailer. What are your recommendations and thoughts? As I continue to look for a place to live I’m feeling like I’m going to have to sell it as I have no where to store or park it. I’m worried about not having it anymore as I just started doing this for work.

    • Dan Perry July 20, 2015

      Hey Justin,

      I’ve never had a trailer and have done just fine without. But, I likely offer different services than you. Here’s a good way to make the decision. Go through all of your jobs you’ve done so far and see which ones absolutely required a trailer. Is this a large percentage of jobs or just a few here and there? This should give you some clarity on whether or not you really NEED the trailer or if it’s just a nice-to-have.

      If you do need the trailer, you could always consider renting a parking space at a storage facility close to where you live.

  • Doug August 27, 2015

    Well after reading the comments posted here I am not so leery of stepping out with my Jeep Wrangler and PT Cruiser. I think picking up a trailer will be the way to go starting out. The only dilemma I’m facing now is do I get an open trailer with adjustable or higher side walls or an enclosed trailer.

  • Kelly Corona December 1, 2015

    Hi! My husband has just started a handyman business and like you, his tools are just thrown all over the back of his SUV. I want to get him some sort of tool box or organizer that he can keep in the back part of his SUV for Christmas but I have NO idea what I’m looking for. I looked up the UWS low profile toolbox that you have but that seems like it’s more for the bed of a pickup truck. He does have a carseat in the car for our son (he takes him to preschool every day) so it would have to be something that would fit in just the back part of his Chevy Equinox. Anyone have any suggestions to help him be more organized?

    • Bruce February 9, 2016

      Hi Kelly
      I thought I would dive in and tackle this one for you. I run a new handyman service in Naperville, Illinois.
      I find myself in a similar situation to yours. My current vehicle, a 2012 ford Edge also has to pull double duty, the Ford edge is pretty comparable to your Chevy Equinox in terms of size etc. I have three kids and a spouse who all need ferrying around during the week as well. I am not yet in a position to afford a dedicated Handyman vehicle, so I had to get creative. I went to crate and barrel and purchased two large ABS plastic drawers which are the same length as the trunk area with the seats up in their normal position. I then fabricated a platform out of 3/4″ plywood to create a new raised trunk area with drawers underneath ( I carpeted the plywood platform with marine carpet in black) the whole set up cost about $200 to make and works great.I stacked milk crates on top for extra storage. hope this helps just shoot me an email if you would like pictures for further clarification.
      Cheers
      Bruce

  • Charles April 13, 2016

    Dan,

    I do not currently own a vehicle because my job provides me with one. I am looking at vehicles for my handyman side hustle (launching soon). How often do you find the need for a larger truck? I am looking at inexpensive smaller pickup trucks. Typically the smaller trucks have less maintenance and less fuel expenses. The smaller trucks can accomplish most jobs, but I don’t know if getting a larger truck justifies the expense.What are your thoughts on this?

    • Dan Perry April 14, 2016

      What do you mean by larger and smaller truck? I would say if you are going the truck route that an F-150 size truck is just about right. Just shoot for a longer bed.

      • Charles K April 21, 2016

        I was looking at used Toyota Tacoma’s due to their fuel efficiency and reliability. I was also considering the Chevy Colorado in terms of a smaller trucks. My budget is limited to 10,000 or less. I have owned larger trucks in the past and found that they are more expensive to maintain man many of the American brand full size trucks do not fair well at higher mileage (I have multiple problems at 80k plus). However, my concern is that I may be limiting myself In terms of towing capacity / hauling ability. How often do experienced handymen find themselves needing that full size truck bed ? I have been renovating my house for the past several moths and found that I only needed a large truck maybe 3 or 4 times for hauling drywall or sheets of plywood.

  • The Maintenance Man June 1, 2016

    I have a thriving business in Sioux Falls sd and I worked out of my 89 f-150 for a long time I hated loading and unloading and when it finally died I bought a 2011 E-250 ford van totally set up I absolutely love it it is however a commercial truck and I can’t just drive it around but that’s it’s only disadvantage I have everything I need all the time and it can pull anything I need and I have uniforms and just look professional I’ve gotten a lot of business on that alone

  • The Maintenance Man June 1, 2016

    Also reading these comments I am a licensed contractor I do so big jobs and need what I have if your smaller and do lots of small things and travel a lot a good pickup has worked just fine but I do just about everything and have a lot of tools and require a van and a big one if you just do a little of this and a little of that a good pickup with a locking tool box is optimal

  • John S June 8, 2016

    Wow, you guys all get to start with your own vehicles. I’m trying to start with a rented van until I find out if this is going to work for me. One big issue is finding one that is not marked with the renters information and where do you put the ladder.

  • Ralph July 30, 2016

    Nice write up as I am looking to upgrade my car to a truck or van. I am not a Van person but as an electrician I worry about theft and moisture. I guess the backseat of a pickup or a lockbox in the bed would take care of that.

    A negative under the truck you can add is that you would have to unload any extra tools every time you come home from work.

    A positive for a truck is that you can plow snow which in turn can generate some cash to make up for some costs throughout the year.

  • jim farwig August 4, 2016

    Big D, It’s good to see someone take the time to help other people out.
    I have a small Commercial construction company and work out of a Dodge Grand caravan with the rear seats removed and I built a 8″ high platform that has 4 24″ deep drawers (1 on ea side and 2 in the back. I can store and haul all my tools, have them secure and weather proof and the comfort of driving a car/van. I am on my third one and this setup really works well for me.

  • jim farwig August 4, 2016

    PS I can carry 8′ plywood by moving the front seats forward and still able to close the back door. 🙂

  • Peter August 9, 2016

    Dan,

    I’m thinking about starting a small handyman/construction business. My problem is that I have a Mazda 3. I barely was able to haul some 10ft pieces of drip edge, running it from the trunk all the way to the front windshield. I am also currently working for a contractor doing anything from framing to painting. I have been using my Mazda for all of these jobs and I am seriously considering an upgrade. Is this premature? I read how there was a guy on this thread who used an ’89 corolla…any thoughts?

    • Dan Perry August 9, 2016

      I think that comes down to how dedicated you are to grow a handyman business. If you are serious about it, then I’d say upgrade. But if you are just testing the waters to see if you like it or not, then you might wait.

  • Matt August 26, 2016

    Hey guys. I’m a young guy that has started and lost and went back up to getting on the top. Right now I have a ford ranger super cab with a topper that I keep basic tools for working on the job site. A 5×8 enclosed trailer with just about anything you need for simple jobs such as basic carpentry, electric, and plumbing even a little of some underground work. Then I also have a flat bed utility trailer that’s a 5×8. And then a few places where I keep the big stuff like pumps generators and even another trailer with some lawn maintenance equipment. Now I’m not here to gloat and only to learn about how to make everything that I have more efficient and smarter. I really want to expand at night since I do day work as an assistant superintendent in construction for GC work. I want to find out ways to make my truck and trailers work more efficiently for me. I had experience at being in basic street medicine and also simple rescue so I know how important tools are and having them. Hope to hear some good ideas thanks.

  • Mike September 24, 2016

    Dan,

    I’m just starting out after retiring from the police department in Las Vegas and I found you on iTunes. I love your podcasts. You inspired me so much, I spent the day building a website with WordPress and I just checked in for your opinion on truck or van. Thanks for all the great information.

  • Derrick November 15, 2016

    Dan,
    I went the F-150 pickup route for many years while doing construction, maintenance and doing side jobs for myself. I had the extra wide extra deep toolbox behind the cab and 2 large plastic boxes behind that with a smaller plastic box just inside the tailgate. I also invested in a ladder rack. That setup was great but always was afraid I would park in a large parking lot only to come back from shopping to find all these nicely stocked tools bins gone. I often needed to remove this or that for hauling say plywood or something so nothing was secured permanently.
    Well I finally decided to go with a full size van and lucky me there was a promotion where businesses got a bin package with the cargo van included. I also forked out some extra funds for a ladder rack. Having a place for everything and knowing it isn’t at the bottom of 20 tools is great. I do have boxes that contain small parts, misc screws, nails and such. I also purchased a mechanics 5 drawer tool box and mounted it behind the wall partition behind the seats. Now I have an empty bag I place tools from the tool box for each stop as needed and when done with the job put the tools back in their proper place. Makes for great organization. Tools stay in better condition as they don’t get thrown in the mix with everything else. The one downside is limited space for building materials.
    I have a open trailer for hauling trash and materials if needed. Normally if it is more than I can get on my rack, I try to have it delivered or use the trailer of course.
    My vote would go with the van, trailer and deliver service when possible for larger projects.

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