7 ways that driving a van is different to a car

Amelia Scholey, Brand and Creative Manager, Thursday, 21 May 2020
Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Is driving a van really that different to driving a car? The answer is yes. Not drastically so, but there are different restrictions that come with driving a van. Before trying to finance a van, make sure you are able to drive one and that you know the differences between driving a van and a car.

1. How to check if you can drive a van

If you hold a standard full driving licence then you can drive a van up to 3,500kg. Although the average van will weigh less than this, you need to consider what you will mostly be carrying in the van and whether this will take the overall weight over this. You shouldn’t have an issue however, as a Ford Transit van for example only weighs 2,600kg.

You can head to the gov.uk website to view your driving licence information to check what type of vehicles you can drive on your licence.

If you passed your driving test after the 1 January 1997 then you may need to take extra tests before you can:

  • Drive vehicles weighing between 3,500kg and 7,500kg
  • Tow a trailer with your van

Again, most vans will not weigh between 3,500kg and 7,500kg, but always check before you purchase one. Check the Government guidance if you need to add categories to your driving licence.

2. Van tax, MOT and insurance

Although very similar to a car, it’s important to clarify exactly what tax, MOT and insurance means for you when driving a van.

You must have vehicle tax on any vehicle you drive on public roads in the UK. This includes all vans.

A MOT for a van should take place every year, once the van reaches 3 years old. You can check on gov.uk for history of MOT’s on your vehicle or ask for a reminder of when your next MOT is due.

For an MOT a van will be classed in one of two categories:

  • Class 4 – up to 3,000kg in design gross weight. This includes car-type vans.
  • Class 7 – if the van is over 3,000kg and up to 3,500kg in design gross weight.

This MOT fees table, will show you the absolute maximum you should be charged. Make sure to take a look at this before agreeing a price with your local garage.

MOT’s are not only important for your safety, but also to ensure the van you are driving is operating as well as possible. Most importantly, if you do not get a MOT, the government could fine you up to £1,000.

As with any vehicle in the UK, it is illegal to drive without valid insurance. Therefore, you MUST have vehicle insurance to drive a van. Insurance will differ for vans depending on whether you are using it for social or business use. Make sure you buy the right type of van insurance with this in mind.

3. Speed limits

Before jumping into your new van, you need to know that vans have different speed limits to cars. Depending on what type of van you drive, these speed limits also differ. Below is a table showing what speeds you can drive in different types of vans on different roads in the UK only:

Type of van Built up area Single carriageway Dual carriageway Motorway
Van 30mph 50mph 60mph 70mph
Car-type van 30mph 60mph 70mph 70mph
Van and trailer 30mph 50mph 60mph 60mph

If you are unsure of what type of road you are on, then the 30mph limit usually applies to all traffic on any road with street lightening, unless stated otherwise. It’s important not to speed for the safety of yourself and others. If you are caught speeding then you could be fined up to £1,000 or £2,500 on motorways, and also receive between 3-6 penalty points on your licence. It’s really not worth it!

4. Weight limits of a van

The weight limit of your vehicle, is not something you ever really consider when driving a car. However for a van it’s extremely important to consider. Every van has a maximum it’s allowed to weigh, this is called design gross weight. You will be able to find this on your van’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate, which is often found on the inside of the driver’s door. If you can’t find it, then check the vehicle’s handbook.

The term ‘design gross weight’ is the weight of the entire vehicle and needs to include the weight of:

  • The van
  • Driver and any passengers
  • Fuel
  • Load (anything you are transporting, to include tools or materials)

If you are concerned your van is too heavy, then we would advise to find a local weighbridge and check it. 

If you are caught to be driving with an overloaded van, then you could be summoned to court or fined up to £300.

weight limits

5. Securing your load

It might seem obvious but you need to make sure whenever you travel in your van, that the load you are transporting is secured. In the event of an accident the contents of your van could end up in the cab at the front with you. This could end up causing unnecessary injuries to you and others.

We would always recommend loading whatever you have in the cargo area evenly. With the heaviest items at the bottom. It’s also important to use appropriate restraints to stop the cargo moving about, such as netting and straps.

6. Parking

If you are looking to find a parking spot to load, then look for yellow vertical lines on the kerb. If you see 2 vertical lines, then this means no loading at any time. If you see one vertical line, there will be certain restrictions that apply that can be found on a sign nearby.

Some roads where loading happens frequently will have specific loading bays. These will be shown by a sign nearby marked with ‘loading’. Any specific restrictions will also be mentioned on the sign.

Van parking

7. Van Maintenance

Van maintenance can be very different to looking after a car and we’ve got lots of information that can help you look after your van and keep your van safe.

You can find a walk around checklist on gov.uk to help you with your daily walk around of your van.

Amelia Scholey, Brand and Creative Manager
Bringing you information on how to look after your vehicle, save money and enjoy your life on the road.