Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

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

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

03 September 2019
Volkswagen van range

Driving most vans is pretty simple, so if you have a full, B category car license, you’re permitted to drive any van weighing up to 3.5 tonnes. But what does the weight of the van have to do with your ability to drive it?

Well, vans are split into different weight categories called gross vehicle weight (GVW). Most vans you see on the road, from the postman’s to the supermarket delivery driver’s, are all below 3.5 tonnes GVW.

The GVW is the kerb weight of the van plus the maximum permitted payload, giving you a total, or gross, figure of what the vehicle would weigh if it were full. So, with it fully loaded, it shouldn’t weigh more than the GVW.

The maximum weight of the van is known as a plated-weight and vans can be plated to any weight necessary if they meet the relevant checks. On the whole, most small vans will be less than 2.5 tonnes, mid-sized vans will vary from 2.6 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes and even large vans 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 or occasionally underneath the bonnet. In most instances they are recorded on a sticker or more traditionally a little metal plate – hence why they are called “plated” weights.

On the plate you will find the GVW, followed by a larger gross train weight or gross combination weight (GTW/GCW) number and finally much smaller individual axle weights for the front and rear. The axle weights are the legal limits for placing weight over that particular axle and should not be exceeded, and the 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 license, but 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 license. The +E entitlement allows you to move higher weight trailers.

While most vans are able to be driven on a regular car license, though, there are always exceptions, and some vans do have a GVW of more than 3.5 tonnes. These are the vans that you will not be able to drive on a standard B car license. Unless, that is, you qualify for ‘grandfather rights’.

You may have heard this term before but not understood it. It refers to those who have passed their B license test before 1 January 1997. It does not mean they have to be a grandfather (or grandmother). But it does, however give them a different set of entitlements.

Instead of being only permitted to drive a van up to 3.5-tonnes, those with grandfather rights are able to drive a van or small truck up to 7.5 tonnes and tow a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8250kg.

If you’re struggling to remember exactly when you passed your test, just check the back of your driving license. If it includes the C1 as well as the B, you’re permitted to drive vans weighing more than 3.5 tonnes.

In summary:

  • 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.
  • For large vans, check the plated weight of the vehicle by looking at the little plaque.
  • 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 license.

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