Van smart: the basics for driving a van

Van smart: the basics for driving a van

A van is a light goods vehicle that can weigh up to 3.5 tonnes.

This includes car-type vans (otherwise known as ‘car-derived’ vans). These are vehicles which:

  • are based on a car design, like a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Astra
  • weigh no more than 2 tonnes when loaded

Knowing the size of your van and any extra load or fittings will let you:

  • manoeuvre it within confined spaces
  • drive under height restricted bridges and car park entrances

You can find this information in your vehicle handbook or on the manufacturer’s website.

Check what vehicles you can drive and see  which vehicle categories you can drive,  using the online driving licence tool. You can also view any restrictions you need to know about.

All vans up to 3.5 tonnes can be driven with a standard car driving licence. You may need to take extra tests before you can drive or tow certain vehicles types, including 7.5 tonne vans, if you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997.

Vehicle tax

Your van must be taxed if you're driving it on public roads.

Check when your van's tax and MOT run out. You can renew your tax up to 1 month before it expires.


The MOT makes sure that your van meets minimum road safety and environmental standards.

Your van needs an MOT every year when it reaches 3 years old. Check when your MOT is due and look up its past MOT history.

For the MOT, your van will be classed as either:

  • class 7 – a goods vehicle over 3 tonnes, up to and including 3.5 tonnes (DGW).

You can find out the maximum charge for this test from the MOT fees table


You must have insurance to drive a van .

Check the level of cover you need and remember to tell your insurance company whether your van is for social or business purposes, as this will affect your policy.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to your employees. This includes activities while driving for work. You’re responsible for making sure:

  • the vehicle is safe to drive
  • your drivers are suitably trained, aware of road traffic law, and follow the Highway Code

The Health and Safety at Work Act outlines your responsibilities to their health and safety, and the Management of Health & Safety Regulations 1999 requires you assess the risks to your employees and others who may be affected by your activities. Your company could be liable if an employee is killed or injured during their working hours.

Keeping your van maintained will help to keep it roadworthy, saving you time and money. The walkaround checklist shows simple checks you can do yourself. Watch a demonstration of an exterior walkaround check being completed below.

It's also important to make sure the interior of your van is kept in good working order. A routine check will highlight any potential problem areas.

Make sure you and your goods arrive safely at your destination. Some vans don’t have a bulkhead and in the event of an accident, the contents of your cargo area could end up in the cab.

Load your goods evenly throughout the cargo area, with the heaviest items at the bottom, and do not overload the individual axles. Use appropriate restraints to secure your load - like netting and straps, and make sure you don’t go over your van’s Design Gross Weight.

When you stop to unload your van, be aware of the parking restrictions in operation.

Yellow vertical lines on the kerb show where you’re not allowed to load, or if any restrictions apply. If there are restrictions, these will be displayed on a plated sign.

Some roads have loading bay facilities. These will be shown as a white box marked ‘loading’ and a plated sign to give details of any specific restrictions.

Consider the safety and lighting of your chosen parking location.

Remember to remove all valuable and personal items, and secure your vehicle by locking doors and windows.

Check your driving licence to make sure you have the necessary permissions, if you want to tow a trailer.

If your combined vehicle and trailer weight (otherwise known as the Gross Train Weight) is above 3.5 tonnes, you’ll need to follow EU rules - but there are a number of exemptions. These rules will affect the number of hours you can drive and require you to record your hours using a tachograph.

You must have a goods vehicle operator’s licence if your van and trailer combination is either:

  • above 3.5 tonnes
  • the total weight (without you and your load) is heavier than 1.525 tonnes.

However, if the weight of your trailer without its load is less than 1.020 tonnes and you only carry your own goods, you won’t need an operator’s licence.

Towing a trailer will also reduce the speed you’re allowed to travel at.