Why do we call them this?
This is not an official word, but one that every seems to agree refers to a van of SUV that has no windows behind the B-pillar. So, the rear area of this vehicle is enclosed and hidden from view.
I couldn’t find any history on the usage of “panel.” One can assume it’s because the sides are made of solid “panels” rather than windows.
Given the potential for hidden activity, there’s quite a bit of related discussion about the term “rape van.”
Why I Looked It Up
Doug DeMuro did a video on rare cars. Not valuable cars, but just weird car that are not common. One of them was the Chevy SS HHR Panel Van.
I got to wondering about the “panel” part. I thought maybe they were used to deliver panels? It just seemed like a word that everyone knows intuitively, but doesn’t seem to have any official source.