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Insider tips: how to drive a van

Everything you need to know about driving a van, including hidden perks and tips from insiders...

Volkswagen Transporter side profile

If you’ve never done it before, you’ll likely have lots to learn about driving a van. What kind of licence do you need? Are there any restrictions to be aware of? What are the running costs like?

If the number of questions feels daunting, don’t panic. We’ve put together this list of insider tips to bring you up to speed on how to drive a van.

Get the right paperwork

First thing’s first: are you allowed to drive a van? If you have a standard UK driving licence, you can drive any van up to a maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 3500kg, which includes the mass of the van itself, its passengers, fuel and any cargo on board.

If you need to drive anything heavier (up to 7500kg) or tow a trailer with your van, you may need to take extra tests if you got your licence after 1 January 1997. Be sure to read the official guidelines thoroughly: you can be hit with penalty points and fined up to £1000 for driving a van without the correct licence.

Van insurance works the same way as car insurance, with your age, location and the size of the engine all dictating the price of your quote. But if you’re using your van for business and need to store tools and equipment in it, you’ll need more expensive commercial cover to protect your kit.

Just like cars, vans need to be taxed every year, and you’ll also need to book it in for an annual MOT if it’s more than three years old.

MOT garage sign

Keep track of your weight

Your van’s weight, that is. Manufacturers quote a maximum payload for their vans, and you should stick to this so you stay on the right side of the law.

To save having to do complicated maths before every journey, weigh all of the gear and goods that are stored permanently in your van, noting down the numbers so you can refer to them quickly. Should you pick up an extra passenger or additional cargo, it’ll be easy to work out how much more stuff you can safely carry.

If you’re still not certain, visit a local weighbridge to get an accurate reading.

Once you’re on the road, remember that the extra weight can drastically change how your van behaves: stopping distances will increase, while corners will need to be navigated at lower speeds. Make sure goods are loaded evenly in the payload area and that everything is securely tied down.

Know your dimensions

If you come across a low bridge or a height-restricted car park, it really pays to know how tall your van is. Remembering this off by heart could stop you from having a nasty accident and doing damage to your roof.

The same goes for your van’s breadth and length should you encounter width restrictors or tight parking bays.

Multistorey car park

Watch your speed

Vans must adhere to slightly different speed limits to cars in the UK. On single carriageways vans must not exceed 50mph, while on dual carriageways a speed limit of 60mph is imposed.

But in built-up areas and on motorways, the standard limits of 30mph and 70mph still apply.

Are there any exceptions to these rules? Well, sort of: if your vehicle is classed as a Car-Derived Van (CDV, such as the Renault Zoe van) then normal speed limits apply. These only have a GVW up to two tonnes, however.

Renault Zoe Van front action

Keep an eye on running costs

Just because vans are bigger than cars doesn’t mean that running costs will spiral. The Ford Transit Custom can do well over 40mpg with its 2.0-litre diesel engine, although this figure will vary in the real world depending on how much weight you carry around.

As is the case with electric cars, the best electric vans will reduce your fuel bills to just a handful of pence per mile.

One thing to be wary of is AdBlue: this is the liquid that needs to be added manually to some diesel-engined vans in order for them to meet the latest emissions standards. It’s sold by the bottle at most garages, although some forecourts will sell it cheaper at HGV-focused pumps.

Mercedes says the AdBlue tank on its large-panel Sprinter will need to be refilled every 3,000 miles or so. Just like the fuel tank, you’ll get a readout on the dashboard telling you how much is left.

What is AdBlue and does your diesel car need it?

Reap the rewards

There are those who believe driving a van is vastly superior to driving a car. Not only does their practicality put your average SUV to shame, but they’re also designed to be driven all day long, with upright seating positions making them comfortable on long journeys. Extra-wide mirrors give a clear view of what’s behind you, too.

There is a catch, though: owning a van will make you the most useful member of your family, meaning you’ll almost certainly get asked to help relatives move house. You can’t have it all…

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