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What type of licence do you need to drive a van?

You can drive most vans on a car licence, but there are exceptions. Here's everything you need to know...

Volkswagen van range

Whether you’re moving house, moving a relative or simply moving some junk to the tip, a van can be a real boon – but what some people don’t realise is that you can’t just drive any van on a normal car licence.

And given that being caught behind the wheel of a vehicle you’re not licensed for could lead to an on-the-spot fine or even a court summons – not to mention invalidating your insurance – it pays to be aware of what you’re allowed to drive. 

Which vans can I drive on a normal car licence?

Anyone with a full, B-category car licence can drive any van weighing up to 3500kg (3.5 tonnes) gross vehicle weight (GVW).

Drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 may also have a C1 categorisation on their licence, and this allows them to drive vans up to 7500kg (7.5 tonnes). This is often referred to as ‘grandfather rights’ – although you don’t need to be a grandparent to qualify.

If you’re uncertain as to when exactly you passed your test, just check the back of your driving licence. If it includes the C1 as well as the B, you’re permitted to drive vans weighing more than 3500kg.

But if you’re limited to category B only, then driving vans that weigh between 3500kg and 7500kg could leave you in hot water.

Toyota Proace City front right driving

What does Gross vehicle weight mean?

Gross vehicle weight (GVW) is the way vans and other commercial vehicles are categorised, and it refers to the maximum total weight of the van and its payload combined. 

You can use the GVW to work out how much weight you’re allowed to carry in the back of your van. Let’s say you have a GVW of 3500kg. If your van itself weighs 2500kg, that leaves you with a payload of 1000kg. Below that limit, you’re safe – but exceed that limit, and you’ll be breaking the law. 

Just to make matters a little more confusing, GVW is also known by a few other names. So if you see the terms maximum authorised mass (MAM), permissible maximum weight (PMW) or revenue weight, don’t worry – they all mean the same thing. 

Most of the vans you see on the road, from the plumber’s to the delivery driver’s, are below the all-important 3500kg gross vehicle weight (GVW). 

That includes medium vans like the Citroën Berlingo, Ford Transit Custom, and Vauxhall Vivaro. Most large vans – e.g. the Mercedes Sprinter, Renault Master and Volkswagen Crafter – are also below 3500kg GVW – however, you need to exercise caution here, because some of the heavier-duty versions of these vans can have a GVW of more than 3500kg, making them illegal to drive with a normal car licence.

To be able to drive these heavier-duty versions, you’d need to have a C1 category on your licence. If you got your driving licence after 1 January 1997, that means you’d need to pass an additional driving test. 

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline front

Where can I find my van's GVW?

The maximum amount a van is certified to carry (or tow) can be found on a van’s vehicle identification number (VIN) plate.This should show exactly how much you can carry, and where the load should be placed within the van.

As a guideline, most small vans – for example, the Toyota Proace City – will have a limit of less than 2.5 tonnes; meanwhile, mid-sized vans, like the Volkswagen Transporter, will vary from 2.6 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes. Large vans (such as the Ford Transit) will generally be limited to 3.5 tonnes or less, but as we’ve already discussed, some versions will have higher GVWs. 

You will usually also find the plated weights of the van recorded on a sticker or a small metal plate inside the door of the driver or passenger side of the vehicle. Occasionally they can be found under the bonnet.

The plate will typically list the GVW and the axle weights, which are the maximum weights that can be carried over both the front and rear axles. You should also find the maximum gross train weight (GTW), which is the maximum combined weight of a van and trailer, including the load in each.

Ford E-Transit front - Large Van of the Year

Can I tow a trailer with a van on a car licence?

There are a couple of rules to consider here. First, If you passed your driving test on or after 1 January 1997, you’re allowed to tow a trailer with a MAM of up to 3500kg behind a van with a GVW of up to 3500kg.

However, if you passed your car driving test before that date, grandfather rights will entitle you to drive a vehicle and trailer combination weighing up to 8250kg. If you’re unsure which rule applies to you, you can view your driving licence information on the Government website.

However much your driving licence allows you to tow, it’s also essential (and a legal requirement) that you don’t exceed your van’s GTW or its maximum towing mass (the maximum weight for a laden trailer). 

The MAM and axle weight(s) for the trailer itself should also be adhered to, and these are usually recorded on the trailer's VIN plate.

Are there any exceptions to the van licencing rules?

Electric vans are typically heavier because of their battery weight.

As a result, you’re allowed to drive an electric van with a GVW of up to 4250kg, as long as you complete at least five hours of training and are certified to do so. An example of a large electric van is the Ford E-Transit – a former What Car? Van of the Year.

Again, this doesn’t apply if you passed your driving test before January 1, 1997, because if that is the case, your grandfather rights will already allow you to drive a van or small truck of up to 7.5 tonnes, and tow a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8250kg.

Citroen Ami Cargo 2022 load bay

Checklist before you drive a van:

- Double check that your driving licence includes the category of vehicle that you want to drive. The B category licence will let you drive all vans weighing less than 3500kg. A C1 licence enables you to drive vans weighing up to 7500kg.

- Check the plated weights of the vehicle you’re intending to drive, and when loading it, take care not to exceed them.

- If you're planning to tow a trailer, make sure that you've loaded it according to its plated weights, as well as those of the van being used to pull it.

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