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Guide for Driving a Van First Time

Make light work of driving a van for the first time with our helpful guide and top tips

If you are driving a van for the first time, then you will no doubt want to know what to expect. Preparation is key, so we’re here to help. 

In this beginner's guide, we reveal our top tips for first-time van drivers and answer your most frequently asked questions. Read on to find out more… 

Are vans hard to drive?

So, how hard is it? Well, although it may feel a bit weird if you’re used to driving a car, it is essentially much the same in practice. Whether the van is manual or automatic, the steering wheel, gear stick (if needed) and foot pedals are where you’d expect them to be.   

Modern vans are becoming more and more car-like in the way they operate, so the overall driving experience feels a lot more manageable - which is ideal if you’re new to this. If you are nervous about driving a van, don't worry, it's normal for this to happen and you are not the only one. The main difference between a car and a van is size, so this is what you need to bear in mind when you initially drive one. 

driver driving a van for the first time

Top tips for first-time van drivers on the road

Here at Loads of Vans, we know a thing or two about how to drive vans. To help, our experts have shared their top tips for inexperienced van drivers: 

infographic - top tips for first time van drivers

Adjust the seat

Before anything - it’s time to get comfy! Whether or not you have a long journey ahead, you’ll want to travel in comfort, which will also help put you at ease during your drive. The driver’s seat in a van is adjustable so you can change the height, distance from the pedals and how much you wish to recline or sit upright too.  

Move the mirrors

Once you’ve adjusted the driver’s seat, you want to make sure your vision from the rear-view and wing mirrors isn’t impaired in any way. Adjust the wing mirrors so you have a clear line-of-sight on either side of the vehicle and if you have a rear-view mirror fitted, make sure you can see clearly out the back too. 

Get to grips with the controls

Before you head off on your initial journey, it’s a good idea to get accustomed to the controls. From indicators to windscreen wipers, play around with everything while you’re still stationary. You’ll also want to check where the climate controls are and how to use the infotainment system, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road at any time. 

Familiarise yourself with on-board features

Newer vans come equipped with plenty of driver-assist features for your safety. So nothing comes as a surprise when you’re on the road, take time to search through the on-board features. These may include lane assist and emergency braking systems, so getting clued up means no hidden surprises! 

Size up the van

Once you’ve got to grips with the interior, it’s time to size up the outside. From the height to the length to the width, vans can really vary in size and if you’re not used to driving a mid to large-sized vehicle, you’ll want to avoid any mishaps. 

Suss out what size parking spaces you can squeeze into and find out if the van will fit into a multi-storey car park before attempting to park in one. You’ll also need to bear in mind any low bridges before you head out and about and check that you can comfortably fit underneath. 

If you’re driving a long-wheelbase van, then manoeuvering will feel very different to a car due to the extra length at the rear. Reversing and three-point turns won’t be quite as simple to perform, so it’s worth practising before your first trip out. 

Know the speed limits

Did you know that driving a van comes with its own speed limit? Most vans have a lower speed limit than cars which tend to be weight-based. If you’re driving a vehicle with under two tonnes of weight, then chances are it will be classed as a car-derived van, so will have the same speed limits as cars. 

If you’re loaded with more than eight passenger seats (such as a minibus) then by UK law it is required to have a speed limiter fitted. The same goes for vehicles with over 3.5 tonnes of maximum weight, which will also be speed restricted by a fitted limiter. Familiarise yourself with the national speed limits for vans by checking our handy table below:

Type of van

Built-up urban areas

Single carriageways

Dual carriageways


Car-derived vans





Car-derived vans when towing





Minibuses less than 12 metres long





Minibuses more than 12  metres long 





Goods vehicles less than 7.5 tonnes





Goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes





Manage your cargo

Driving a van that’s empty compared to a van that has cargo in the back can feel quite different. For this reason, it’s a good idea to practise manoeuvring the van before heading out on a longer journey. 

It’s worth remembering the following:

  • WITH CARGO - The vehicle's suspension will become stiffer when loaded, so take extra care and slow right down over speed bumps and potholes
  • WITHOUT CARGO - Without any weight in the rear, a van will become springier to drive, so you’ll need to take extra care when approaching corners and making sharp turns

Never ever overload the van with too much weight as this can cause damage to the suspension and put extra pressure on the tyres. Always check the loading volume capacity and don’t exceed the weight.

This is especially important to remember if you’re driving a delivery van for the first time. So, if you're asking yourself 'Is it hard to drive a delivery van?', we can tell you that depending on the size, a delivery van shouldn’t be any harder to drive, the main difference will be the on-board weight.

van driver managing cargo and loading a van    

What do you check before starting your journey?

Before heading out on any journey, it’s important to do a daily walkaround check to ensure it’s roadworthy and safe to drive. To give you an idea of what to look for, we’ve listed some of the most useful parts to check:

  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Horn
  • Lights
  • Mirrors
  • Windows
  • Seatbelts
  • Washers and wipers
  • Fluids and oil
  • Tyres
  • Tow bar fitting (if applicable)

A simple look around and taking a few minutes to check the exterior and on-board essentials could save you valuable time if you notice a fault. The DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency) provides guidance for a van driver’s daily walkaround check which applies to motorists in England, Scotland and Wales. 

things to check before driving a van

Can you drive vans on a normal licence?

As long as you have a standard UK driving licence, you are permitted to drive a van which is up to 3,500kg in weight (3.5 tonnes). If you wish to drive a much larger vehicle weighing between 3,500kg and 7,500kg, it may be necessary for you to take an extra driving test if you passed after the 1st January 1997. Read our Guide here about van licences.

If you’ve not driven for a while, it is a good idea to freshen up your skills by taking some van driving lessons. An instructor will be on-hand to help you navigate turning corners in a van, help you when reversing by giving you valuable 'reversing a van' tips that are applicable in different driving scenarios, or provide tips for driving a long-wheelbase van.

What is the responsibility of a van driver?

Being in charge of any vehicle comes with its responsibilities, so as a van driver, it’s equally important to stay safe on the roads. If you’re new to vans, it’s worth refamiliarising yourself with the following:

  • To be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times
  • To not become distracted and take your eyes off the road
  • To pull over and take time to rest if you feel tired
  • To plan ahead - especially on journeys you aren’t familiar with
  • To never drive under the influence of drink or drugs
  • To be courteous and considerate to other drivers
  • To drive within the parameters of the van’s size and weight (Van sizes explained here)
  • To respect the speed limits of the size of the van you’re driving

responsibilities for first time van drivers - infographic

Driving a van for the first time FAQs

We hope our guide and driving tips shared in this article have helped you feel more confident about getting behind the wheel. If there are any other questions you may have, then take a look at our FAQs below…  

Is driving vans much different from cars?

The principle of driving a van is much the same as a car. All the main controls are in the same place, the key difference is the size. If you drive a small-sized van, the experience is almost identical to driving a van. 

Is it easy to drive a large van?

Driving a large-sized van can feel daunting initially and may take some getting used to. The main difference is the overall size of the vehicle, which will be wider, higher and longer than what you may be used to. You know what they say, practice makes perfect! 

Do you have to drive slower in a van?

Yes. Vans have slower speed limits than cars (or car-derived vans) especially when towing a trailer (Van towing guide here). Remember that a 30mph speed limit is applicable to ALL vehicles on roads with street lighting. Depending on the route, your loaded van may be restricted to travelling at a max speed of 50mph on a single carriageway, 60mph on a dual carriageway, and if towing a trailer, at 60mph on a motorway.   

How do you drive a van without a rearview mirror?

Usually, vans don’t have a rearview mirror, so it’s important to be extra careful of your surroundings. Because of this, the wing mirrors will be much larger than on a car to give you a better all-round perspective. 

How do you check the blind spots on a van?

Without having a rearview mirror, it is the wing mirrors that prove essential to check blind spots. Make sure these are adjusted so you can see as much of the road behind you as possible. Always double-check that you can move into another lane by physically turning your head to look over your shoulder too. 

how to check the blindspot of a van

Vans for first-time drivers at Loads of Vans

Discover the right van for the job and the ideal van for first-time drivers here at our Loads of Vans dealership. We’re based in North Cheam, Sutton, on the outskirts of London where we supply the highest quality new, nearly new and approved used vans from the biggest and best manufacturers. 

With over 300 models to choose from, we’re confident that we can provide you with the ideal vehicle if you’re new to driving a van. Whether you’re looking for a manual, automatic or electric vehicle, our stock boasts a range of small, medium and large vans as well as pick-up trucks too. 

Get in touch to see how we can match you with your ideal driving partner today! Make sure you visit our 'News' section and read our posts where we share more useful guides and tips that may be useful for you and your business.     

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