How to drive a van - top tips for beginners

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Driving a van
Mirrors, size and height
Blind spots
Controls and brakes
Driving in the wind
Van insurance

Driving a van for the first time can be a bit daunting… but it’s not that tricky once you’ve got used to things.

If you’re really nervous, it’s best to take things slow, and spend plenty of time getting used to the van’s size, controls, and mirrors.

You can always take a friend along with you if you’re just borrowing a van for the day. Having someone else on board who can jump out to help you with things like parking might make things less stressful.

Whether you’re renting a van for a quick job or buying one for work – here are our top tips for driving one safely 👇

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Van mirrors, size and height

The three main things you’ll need to get used to when driving a van are:

Its lack of a rear view mirror You’ll have two much bigger wing mirrors to make up for this. Spend some time getting used to the visibility these give you. And don’t panic if you keep looking to where a rear view mirror would be in a car by reflex. You’ll soon get used to relying on the wing mirrors instead. Lots of modern vans have rear view cameras for reversing, too.

How high up you feel compared to in a car This can feel a bit odd at first but you might end up preferring it as it gives you an advantage you don’t have in a lower-down car. Spend some time driving around quiet roads to get used to the new vantage point if you need to.

The fact you’re driving a pretty big vehicle Some people get nervous about driving a much bigger vehicle than they’re used to. But once you’ve got your seating and wing mirrors adjusted so you feel comfortable and have good visibility, you’ll realise it’s not that big a deal.

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Van blind spots

It’s a good idea to get used to where your blind spots are when driving any new vehicle – but especially when it’s much bigger than what you’re used to.

Get someone to walk around the van while you sit in the driver’s seat to your blind spots before you set off anywhere.

Van controls and brakes

When you’re driving a van for the first time, it’s a good idea to get familiar with all of its controls before you set off.

From its infotainment screen to its indicators, air con and lights – getting to know where everything is means you won’t have to fumble around with controls mid-drive.

PS: braking in a van can feel different when it’s full to when it’s loaded. They might feel sharper and more responsive when the van’s empty compared with when it’s full.

Vans can feel strange to drive at first but our top tips will help you feel comfortable
Vans can feel strange to drive at first but our top tips will help you feel comfortabl

Taking corners in the van

If you’re driving a bigger van, make sure to take corners more slowly than if you were in a car. You’ll also need to manoeuvre in a wider position around corners.

If the van is unloaded, you’ll need to take extra care not to take corners too fast. This is because the van’s suspension will be springier than if it was loaded, so it might topple if you whizz around a corner at too high a speed.

Loading a van

Make sure heavy items are on the bottom, and tied down. If you don’t do this, they can slide around, potentially damaging other goods or destabilising the van.

Putting heavy items on the bottom can also help keep the van planted to the road, so it’ll feel steadier to drive.

Don’t forget you’ll need to display a sticker on the outside of your van if you’re carrying any dangerous goods – like corrosive chemicals, for example. 🧪

Rules and regulations for driving a van 🤔
Everything you need to know from licences to speed limits. Find out more.

Driving a van in windy weather

You might feel the wind more when you’re driving a van, especially if it’s unloaded. This is because its centre of gravity is higher for a van than a car, which is lower to the ground.

If you find yourself driving an unloaded van in very windy weather, slow down, keep your eyes on the road, and make sure you leave plenty of distance between you and other vehicles.

(PS - we've also got some tips on driving a car in windy weather!)

Driving a loaded van and an unloaded van

We’ve mentioned a few times already through this article that there are some differences between driving an unloaded van and a loaded van. A couple of things to be aware of are:

  • Suspension is more springy in unloaded vans, because they’re lighter
  • Taking corners too fast in an unloaded van (if it’s a big one) can be dangerous because the van might topple over
  • Suspension is stiffer in loaded vans, because they’re more weighed down. This means you’ll hit potholes and rough patches of road harder, which could damage the van’s tires
Van insurance can be a little more complicated than car insurance but our explainer should help you get your head around things
Van insurance can be a little more complicated than car insurance but our explainer should help you get your head around things

Van insurance

There are two main types of van insurance: commercial and personal. But there are a few different classifications of commercial van insurance, which describe what you use the van for:

  • Carriage of own goods – if you use the van to carry materials or tools for work (this doesn’t automatically cover the contents of your van)
  • Carriage of goods for hire – if you use the van for deliveries (for example, deliveries for a platform like Amazon)
  • Haulage – if you use the van for fewer, bigger deliveries over longer distances

If you’re just getting a van for a few days or weeks, you can get temporary van insurance. Cuvva’s temporary van insurance covers you for anywhere from a day to 28 days. It’s fully comprehensive and covers you for the ‘carriage of own goods’ commercial classification. Simple.

Whatever you're after, it only takes a few minutes to get a quote.

Updated on 3rd April 2023