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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

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), and is referred to by the DVLA as the revenue weight.

VW Caddy Load in Rear

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 comprises the van's kerb weight plus the maximum permitted payload, fuel and passengers, giving you a total, or gross, figure of what the vehicle is allowed to weigh.

However, it's 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. 

Axle weights

These are typically listed for the front and rear of the van. The axle weight for a given axle 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 vehicle identification number (VIN) plate. It shows 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 be limited to 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 and the axle weights, as well as the gross train weight (GTW), which is the maximum combined weight of a van and trailer, including the load in each.

Ford E-transit side

Towing a trailer

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.

The legislation permitting this came into force on 16 December 2021, and should cover you even if your current physical driving licence was issued before then, and doesn’t reflect the change.

If you passed your car driving test before 1 January 1997, you're usually entitled 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 that you don’t exceed your van’s GTW or its maximum towing mass (the maximum weight for a laden trailer) – these can often be found on a van’s VIN plate, and should be listed in its logbook.

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

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 of 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:

- Ensure 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 3.5 tonnes. A C1 licence enables you to drive vans weighing up to 7.5 tonnes.

- Check the plated weights of the vehicle, and when loading it take care not to exceed them.

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

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