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

A van can come in useful whether you are moving house, moving a relative or moving some junk to the tip – but do you have the correct licence to drive one?

While the chances are you are covered (anyone with a full, B category car licence can drive any van weighing up to 3500kg), it is critical that you don’t exceed that weight limit, otherwise it will invalidate your licence and, potentially, your insurance, as well as leaving you liable for spot fines and potentially a court summons.

Older drivers may also have a C1 categorisation on their licence, and this allows them to drive vans up to 7500kg.

Gross vehicle weight (GVW)

Most vans you see on the road, from the postman’s to the supermarket delivery driver’s, are all below the all-important 3500kg gross vehicle weight (GVW). That figure is also sometimes called the maximum authorised mass (MAM) or permissible maximum weight (PMW), or referred to by the DVLA as the revenue weight

Some examples of larger vans that are still below the 3.5-tonne limit are the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Renault Master and Volkswagen Crafter.

GVW defines the vans kerb weight plus the maximum permitted payload, fuel and passengers, giving you a total, or gross, figure of what the vehicle should weigh if it were full. 

However, it is always worth being certain, and if you are unsure then the easiest way to check your van's weight is to take it to a local weighbridge. While many of these are run as private businesses, their charges are very small compared to the potential fines. 

VW Caddy Load in Rear

Gross train weight or gross combination weight (GTW/GCW)

The gross train weight (GTW) is the combined weight of the van plus the weight of a trailer and any load in it.

Only trailers weighing up to 750kg can be towed by someone with a regular B licence, and the GTW of the vehicle and trailer must not exceed 3500kg.

If you want to tow a heavier trailer, you’ll need to take a test to gain a B+E category on your licence. The +E entitlement allows you to move heavier trailers.

Axle weights

These are typically listed for the front and rear of the van.

The axle weights are the legal limits for placing weight over that particular axle and should not be exceeded.

Renault Master load space

Van plated weight

The upper limits of what a van is certified to carry or tow can be found on a van’s plate, or VIN identification plate. It identifies exactly how much you can carry, and where the load can be placed.

As a guide, most small vans will have a limit of less than 2.5 tonnes (eg Toyota Proace City), mid-sized vans (eg Volkswagen Transporter) will vary from 2.6 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes and even large vans (eg Ford Transit) will generally all be 3.5 tonnes or less. 

You will often find the plated weights of the van inside the door of the driver or passenger side of the vehicle. Occasionally they can be found underneath the bonnet.

Typically, the plated weight is recorded on a sticker or small metal plate – that's why they are called “plated” weights.

The plate will typically list the GVW, GTW, and the maximum axle loads for the front and rear.

Ford E-transit side

Exceptions to the rules

Electric vans are typically heavier because of their battery weight.

As a result, you can drive an electric van with a GVW of 4250kg so 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.

The only exception to this is if you passed your driving test before January 1, 1997; if that is the case, you can drive a van or small truck up to 7.5 tonnes and tow a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8250kg. These are referred to as ‘grandfather rights’ – although you don’t need to be a grandfather (or grandmother) 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 3.5 tonnes.

Citroen Ami Cargo 2022 load bay

Checklist - before you drive a van:

    • Check what license you have by looking at the categories on the back of your driving license. The B category license will let you drive all vans below 3.5 tonnes. A C1 license enables you to drive vans up to 7.5 tonnes.

    • Check the plated weight of the vehicle by looking at the plaque to get all the information you need.

    • If you want to tow a trailer it must have a maximum authorised mass of less than 750kg, otherwise you’ll need a B+E category on your driving licence.

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