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Driving A Van For The First Time

If it's your first time driving a van, then you may find the size and feel of a van a little intimidating at first, especially if you are hiring a large van, such as a Luton or a long wheelbase van.

Modern vans are fairly easy to drive - most current models have small steering wheels, good power steering and dashboard-mounted gear sticks like those found in many cars.

Despite these improvements, there are still a few differences you will need to remember when driving a van for the first time. Follow the simple steps in our Driving A Van For The First Time guide:

Van Speed Limits

Van speed limits

Van speed limits are lower than car speed limits:

  • Motorways: 70mph
  • Dual carriageways: 60mph
  • Single carriageways: 50mph
  • Built-up areas: 30mph


The police do enforce these lower limits and they apply to virtually all vans except for car-derived vans with a maximum gross weight of under 2 tonnes - e.g. Vauxhall Corsa & Astra vans, Ford Fiesta Van, Renault Clio van. Car speed limits apply to these models.

Van Size Restrictions

  • Height: Most vans are at least 2m high and will not go under most car park height barriers.
  • Make sure you know the height of your van and keep an eye out for height restrictions.
  • Width: Watch out for 6' 6" width restrictions. Luton vans will not fit through and many panel vans will not either - and if they do, it will be very, very tight.
  • Avoid these width restrictions wherever possible.


Your rental van may have a sticker on the dashboard stating its overall height - take note of this and keep an eye open for height restrictions of any kind.

Rental companies normally hold you, the driver, responsible for any roof damage and exclude it from their insurance cover.


Most vans have no central rear-view mirror and no rear windows. Make sure your wing mirrors are adjusted before you set off, or you won't be able to see anything behind you.

Van wing mirrors are usually larger and more useful than car wing mirrors. However, when driving a van you will depend on your mirrors much more to see what's happening around you than you do in a car.


Mirrors are a van driver's friend - use them a lot!

Some van mirrors have separate blind spot mirrors (e.g. Ford Transit). These are very useful.

Driving A Van

Modern van engines are pretty powerful and they all have power steering and car-style gearboxes too - so the actual driving shouldn't present any problems. However, always remember that a van, especially if it's loaded, is:

  • Slower to stop
  • Longer & wider
  • Heavier
  • Less stable when cornering

...than a car. Take it easy, look further ahead than usual and try to brake and corner more gently than you would in a car.


Don't try to drive your van like a car - take it easy and plan ahead.

Remember that your load may shift and be damaged if you drive too fast - think of your load.

Know Your Vehicle Controls

Make sure you familiarise yourself with the controls on your van before you start driving it for the first time. At the very least, you should know how to switch the indicators, headlights and windscreen wipers on and off.

You should also familiarise yourself with the gearbox. Does it have five or six forward gears? Using sixth on long motorway runs will save you fuel and cut down on noise.


Make sure you are familiar with the controls

Lights, windscreen wipers and gears.

Parking a Van

Parking a van, especially a big one, can seem a bit intimidating at first.

To start with, you will probably have no rear-view mirror and no rear windows. This means that to see behind you, you need to use your wing mirrors, stick your head out of the window or have someone help guide you backwards.

However, it isn't that hard, really.

The trick is simply to take it easy.

It really is a case of slow and steady wins the day. If you're going slow enough then you shouldn't do much damage even if you do have a minor bump!

Don't be ashamed to get out and look or to have someone else see you back, especially if it's dark or raining - both of which make it much harder to see in your wing mirrors.


Your mirrors will help you see any obstructions down either side of the van and your position against the kerb.

Don't be afraid to get out and look if you are unsure of what is directly behind you.

Parking a van

Van Rear Overhang - Warning

If your van has a long rear overhang (the part of the van body that sticks out behind the rear wheels), you need to watch out for when it swings around on very tight, low speed turns.

The most common time for problems is during parking manoeuvres. If you have parked close alongside a wall or bollard, for example, you will need to pull forward and turn gently to move away. If you put full lock on from a standing start, you will probably hit the wall with the rear end of the van when it swings round.


If you are parked against a wall or bollard, don't put full steering lock on from a standing start move forwards first.