First Time Van Drivers: What You Need to Know?

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First Time Van Drivers: What You Need to Know?

Last updated on: June 3, 2024

Starting to drive a van for the first time can be a bit daunting, can’t it? It’s bigger, it’s bulkier, and it’s definitely a different kettle of fish from your usual car! You’ve got more space to manage, a higher seating position and probably a different view of the road.

But no worries!

We’re here to help you get to grips with your new wheels. This guide is packed with everything you need to know to drive your van with confidence and safety.

So let’s get started!

Car Vs. Van Driving: Differences to Consider

We’re all aware that driving a van isn’t quite the same as driving a car, right?

But what’s the real difference?

Let’s take a closer look.

Size and Weight

van on the road

The size and weight of your van isn’t just an interesting fact – it fundamentally changes your driving experience. These big lads are heavier and larger than regular cars, which means ‘go slow’ should be your new mantra.


They’ll need more time to bring your van to a stop.


Expect to take a few extra minutes to get that perfect spot.

Those twists and turns in the road that you usually zip through?

They’ll require more patience and precision when you’re at the helm of a van. 

So, remember: while a van gives you more room to haul stuff, it also demands more time and space from you on the road.

Keep calm, keep patient, and you’ll soon find your rhythm for van driving.

Visibility & Blind Spots

side mirror of van

While it’s true that vans offer a higher seating position, lending you a better overall view of the road, there are still a few challenges to consider. 

In a car, you rely on the rear-view mirror a lot. In many vans, particularly those without rear windows, you’ll find yourself relying heavily on your side mirrors. This change in perspective can initially be disconcerting, especially during reversing or parallel parking where visibility is limited.

It’s essential, therefore, to take extra caution and to become adept at using your mirrors effectively. If visibility continues to be a concern, you might consider investing in gadgets like rear-view cameras and sensors. These devices can significantly enhance your view, helping you navigate those tricky parking spots with ease and confidence. 

Safe van driving is about adapting to these changes and making the most of the tools at your disposal.

Handling Your Van

handling a van

Vans, especially when loaded, require a little extra care while driving. Their height and size make them more prone to tipping over if you take a sharp turn too fast. Van’s centre of gravity is higher than that of a car, and this can make it a bit wobbly on bends if you’re not careful.

And it’s not just about the turns; vans have a longer turning radius than regular cars too. This means you’ll need more space to swing around corners or roundabouts.

So, when you’re driving a loaded van, remember to slow down a bit, give yourself plenty of space, and take those turns gently.

It might take a little longer to get where you’re going, but you’ll get there safe and sound.

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Some Tips for Safe Van Driving

Let’s move on to something that every van driver should keep in mind – safety!

Here are some essential tips to keep you and your passengers safe while on the road:

Adjusting Your Seat and Mirrors

driving a van

Switching from a car to a van can feel quite different. One of the first things you’ll notice is the different sitting position, a bit higher off the ground.

So the first thing you need to do is adjust your seat. Make sure you can comfortably reach the pedals and have a good view of the road.

Now, about those mirrors.

Vans are designed for lugging stuff around, which means your rear-view mirror might not be as useful as in a car.

You’ll rely more on your side mirrors to see what’s going on behind you.

So, make sure you adjust them to get the widest view possible. This will help you keep an eye on other road users and make reversing a bit easier.

Loading and Securing Your Cargo

loading cargo in van

The way you fill your van can really impact how it behaves on the road. So, it’s a top priority to load your cargo evenly. This means spreading the weight across the width of the van, not just lumping it all in the middle or at one end. 

An uneven load can make the van harder to control, especially if you need to swerve or brake suddenly.

After you’ve got your load distributed nicely, don’t forget to secure it. Use straps, ropes, or bungee cords to keep everything in place. 

This way, even if you hit a pothole or take a corner a bit too fast, your cargo won’t shift around and upset the balance of the van.

It’s a simple step, but it can make a big difference to your driving.

Stay Under the Weight Limit

weight limit sign

Every van has a maximum load it can carry. It’s not just a suggestion, it’s a legal requirement. Overloading your van isn’t only dangerous, it can also land you a hefty fine.

So, how can you avoid it?

First up, you need to know your van’s weight limit. You can usually find this in the owner’s manual.

Remember, this limit includes not just your cargo, but also the van’s fuel, you and any passengers. So, be sure to factor all of that in when you’re loading up.

Staying under the weight limit isn’t hard; it’s just a matter of planning and being mindful of how much you’re packing in.

It’ll keep you, your cargo, and everyone else on the road a lot safer.

Mind Your Speed Limit

speed limit sign

While we’re on the topic of safety, let’s talk about how fast you should be driving your van. The speed limit might seem like just another rule, but it’s there for a reason – to keep everyone safe.

For vans, speed limits typically differ from those for cars.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Built-up areas: The limit is 30mph, the same as cars. This includes residential areas, city centres, and other highly populated zones where pedestrian activity is high.
  • Single carriageways: On these roads, the speed limit for vans is 50mph, which is 10mph less than cars. This is because of the narrow, often winding nature of these roads, which can make high speeds particularly dangerous.
  • Dual carriageways: The limit goes up to 60mph for vans, again, 10mph less than cars. The extra lane helps, but the larger size of your van means you still need to exercise caution.
  • Motorways: Unlike other areas, on motorways, the speed limit for vans is the same as for cars, 70mph. However, remember that this is a maximum, not a target. Always adjust your speed to the conditions, your load, and the flow of traffic.

These are the standard limits, but they can be lower in certain areas, so always keep an eye out for signs.

Securing Your Van Against Theft

van theft

Though our beloved vans are sturdy workhorses, they can sometimes be a target for thieves. It’s therefore crucial to ensure that your van is as secure as possible.

Here are a few simple yet effective steps you can take to deter potential intruders and prevent vehicle theft.

  1. Always lock your van: It might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating. Always lock your van when it’s unattended, ensuring that all windows are fully closed. Even leaving your van unattended momentarily can provide the perfect opportunity for a thief.
  2. Don’t advertise what’s inside: Be mindful about not revealing what might be inside your van. Leaving equipment or other valuable items on display can make your van an appealing target.
  3. Keep valuables out of sight: In addition to not advertising what’s inside, don’t leave behind valuables or any signs of them. If you’ve got expensive equipment, tools or personal items, it’s best to take them with you or stash them away securely out of sight.
  4. Do not leave your vehicle registration document inside: A common mistake is leaving the vehicle registration document or V5C logbook in the van. This can make it significantly easier for a thief to sell your vehicle if they steal it. Keep it in a safe place at home.
  5. Choose your parking spot wisely: Try to park in well-lit areas or in sight of CCTV cameras. A thief is far less likely to target a van that’s parked in a high-visibility area.

While these steps can’t guarantee your van will never be targeted, they will significantly reduce the likelihood.

Installing an Anti-Theft System

For added security, you may want to consider installing an anti-theft system in your van. These systems vary in complexity and features, but some popular options include:



This system prevents the engine from starting unless it recognises a specific key or code. It’s a simple but effective way to deter thieves. There are also more advanced immobilisers that can disable the starter motor, fuel pump or ignition system if someone tries to tamper with them.

Tracking device

tracking gps

These devices use GPS technology to track your vehicle in case of theft. They can be useful for recovering stolen vehicles and often come with additional features such as remote disabling and geofencing.

Alarm system

do not touch sign

Loud and attention-grabbing, an alarm system can scare off potential thieves. Look for systems that have a variety of sensors, such as motion detection or door opening, for maximum protection.

It’s important to research and choose an anti-theft system that best fits your needs and budget. Additionally, make sure to properly install and maintain the system for it to be effective.

Some Additional Security Measures

Apart from the measures outlined above, investing in robust locking mechanisms can greatly enhance your van’s security.

Here’s a list of some effective types of locks:


Deadlocks operate independently of your van’s existing locking system, providing an extra layer of security. A physical key is required to both lock and unlock these, making them a deterrent for potential thieves.

Slam Locks

These locks provide peace of mind by automatically locking the van door immediately after it’s shut. This feature is particularly useful if you’re frequently loading and unloading and may forget to manually lock the door.

Hook Locks

Hook locks are incredible deterrents against attacks. The hook-shaped lock catches onto a loop installed on the door, making it difficult for thieves to pry open.

Steering Wheel Locks

A visible deterrent, steering wheel locks make it impossible for thieves to steer the van, thus effectively preventing theft.

Anti-drill Guards and Door Handle Protectors

These devices are designed to protect your van’s vulnerable areas from lock-picking and drilling attempts, further enhancing your van’s security.

Implementing these additional security measures will further reduce the risk of van theft.

Driving Licence Requirements for Different Sizes of Vans

driving licence uk

In the UK, if you hold a full driving licence, you are permitted to operate a van as long as it doesn’t exceed a weight of 3,500kg, or 3.5 tonnes.

This encompasses a variety of popular models such as:

  • Ford Transit
  • Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
  • Nissan NV400

It’s important to note that there is no specific licence for vans; however, the weight limits must be adhered to.

If there’s any uncertainty over the weight of your van, it’s advised to have it checked at a local weighbridge.

If your van exceeds the 3.5-tonne limit and you obtained your driving licence after 1 January 1997, additional tests may be required before you can operate vehicles weighing between 3,500kg and 7,500kg or tow a trailer with your van.

Otherwise, you’ll have to apply for provisional entitlement to drive C1 category vehicles, followed by passing a C1 driving test. This is a specific driving test for heavier commercial vehicles.

For more information, you can check the official GOV UK website.

Expenses and Tax Associated with Vans

tax calculations

When we think about owning a van, we often focus on the initial price tag. But that’s just the start of the story.

There’s a whole lot more to consider: the cost of running the van, tax, insurance, fuel, and regular maintenance.

So let’s break down the various expenses and taxes associated with owning a van so you can budget accordingly.

Vehicle Excise Duty (VED)

Vehicle Excise Duty, or VED, is a tax applied to every vehicle on the road. It’s important to note that how much you pay doesn’t solely depend on the fact that you own a van. 

Instead, the VED is calculated based on your van’s weight and CO2 emissions, which can potentially make it more expensive than a car. 

Specifically, if your van was registered on or after 1 March 2001, and it weighs no more than 3,500kg, you’ll be looking at a standard VED rate of £320 per year.

Therefore, when budgeting for your van expenses, be sure to factor in the annual VED cost.

Benefit in Kind (BIK) Tax

If you’re lucky enough to have a company van for your private use, there’s another cost you need to consider – the Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax. This tax is like a fee for the perks you get from your job, like your van.

It’s based on a couple of things: how much your van is worth, how much CO2 it pumps out, and what tax rate you usually pay.

For the 2023/2024 tax year, the BIK rate for vans is set at £3,960. Make sure you keep this in mind when you’re working out the total cost of having a van.

ULEZ Charges

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charge is another expense to keep in mind if your van does not meet the ULEZ standards. Specifically, if your van weighs up to 3.5 tonnes and doesn’t meet these standards, you’re looking at a daily charge of £12.50. 

However, for vans that exceed this weight, the daily charge is significantly higher at £100. 

To avoid any surprises, you can quickly check your van’s compliance using our handy ULEZ check tool. 

If your van doesn’t pass the check, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. You can consider selling it to us with our We buy vans for cash service, offering a hassle-free way to switch to a more emission-friendly vehicle.

Insurance Cost

One more thing to think about when you own a van is the insurance cost. More often than not, van insurance can be a bit pricier compared to car insurance. This is because vans are bigger in size and often used for commercial purposes, making them more prone to accidents.

On average, the insurance cost for vans is around £1,300 per year.

Plus, vans often carry costly equipment or goods, which could increase the risk of theft.

So, remember to shop around for the best insurance rate to help keep your costs down.

Aside from these expenses, you’ll also have to budget for fuel, maintenance, and repairs. But there’s some good news if you’re self-employed – you can claim allowable business expenses for things like vehicle insurance

  • Repairs
  • Servicing
  • Fuel
  • Parking
  • Hire charges
  • Vehicle licence fees
  • Breakdown cover
  • Business trip expenses

However, you can’t claim for non-business driving or travel costs, fines, or travel between home and work. Just remember to keep all receipts and records for these expenses, as you’ll need them for your tax return.

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Choosing the Right Van Insurance Policy

Securing appropriate van insurance is a legal obligation in the UK, whether you’re operating your van for personal or business reasons. The bare minimum cover you are required to have is ‘third party only’, which indemnifies you against damages or injuries you inflict on other people or their property. However, it’s commonplace for individuals to opt for a more inclusive policy that protects their own van against theft, fire, and accidental damage.

The cost of your van insurance can be influenced by a variety of factors:

  1. Your Age and Driving Experience: Younger and less experienced drivers often face higher premiums due to the perceived risk.
  2. The Type and Value of Your Van: Higher value or performance-oriented vans may attract steeper insurance costs.
  3. The Purpose of Your Van: The intended use of your van, whether for personal or business, can significantly affect your insurance premium.
  4. Your Residential Location: Living in an area with a high crime rate or dense traffic can increase your insurance costs.
  5. Your Claims History: If you have a history of making insurance claims, insurers may view you as a higher risk and adjust your premiums accordingly.

Fortunately, there are ways to ensure you obtain the most affordable van insurance. An effective method is to compare quotes from various insurers — comparison websites, like GoCompare, MoneySuperMarket, and Compare the Market, can simplify this process.

Tips to Secure Affordable Van Insurance

  1. Right Level of Cover: If your van is for personal use, a ‘third party only’ or ‘third party, fire and theft’ policy could cut costs.
  2. Voluntary Excess: Increasing your voluntary excess — the amount you contribute towards a claim before your insurer pays — can lower your premium.
  3. Shop Around: Don’t settle for the first quote you receive. Compare quotes from different insurers to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
  4. Bundling Insurance Policies: Bundling your van insurance with other insurance policies, such as home or car insurance, can often lead to discounts.

Remember, finding the perfect balance between cost and coverage is the key to choosing the right van insurance policy. It’s essential to understand what you need from your insurance and ensure that your policy covers those needs adequately.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is it Hard to Drive a Van for the First Time?

Not at all! Driving a van for the first time might feel a bit different if you’re used to a small car, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. The main differences are the size, handling, and turning radius. Just take it slow and steady, and you’ll be fine.

On the other hand, vans have a high seating position which gives you a great view of the road. The key is to take your time, particularly when parking or navigating tight spaces. Before you know it, you’ll be manoeuvring your van like a pro!

Can I Drive a Van with a Normal Licence in the UK?

Absolutely! If you hold a standard driving licence in the UK, you are allowed to drive a van up to 3,500kg. That covers a lot of vans, so you should have no problems there. You don’t need a special type of licence or extra qualifications.

How Do You Reverse a Van?

Reversing a van can indeed seem a bit tricky at first, especially given the size of the vehicle and the limited rear view. But with a few tips, you’ll get the hang of it!

The most important thing to remember is to take it slow. There’s no rush. Being patient can help you avoid any bumps or scratches.

Remember, you’re controlling a larger vehicle, so every movement should be deliberate and controlled. 

If possible, have someone outside the van to guide you, indicating when to stop or adjust your direction. They can provide that extra pair of eyes at the back, making the process less stressful.

If you have a mate around who can guide you from behind, that’s brilliant – two pairs of eyes are always better than one. If you often have to park in tricky spots or tight spaces, you might want to invest in a rear camera. 

It can give you a clear view of what’s behind you and make the whole reversing process a lot smoother.

Remember, every driver starts somewhere and with a bit of practice, you’ll soon be reversing your van like a pro!

Final Words

We hope these tips will help you get accustomed to driving a van and make your journeys safer and more comfortable.

Remember, being confident and knowledgeable about your vehicle is the key to good van driving.

So, keep practising, be alert on the road, and always put safety first. With these guidelines in mind, you’ll soon become a pro at handling your trusty van!

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