Last Updated: 02/11/2016
Whether you’re borrowing it for the day or it’s a part of your new job, driving a van for the first time can be a daunting experience. No matter how much knowledge and skill you have driving a car, when you get behind the wheel of a van you may feel like a learner all over again.
It can be difficult driving a vehicle you’re not used to, especially if it’s much larger than your own car and the lack of space on the road, especially while parking can take some getting used to.
But while it can be a stressful experience, the fundamentals of driving are the same and with a bit of practice and the helpful tips in this guide, you’ll feel as comfortable driving a van as you would do in your own car.
Before Your Journey
If you don’t already own a van, it’s likely that you’re borrowing one for a specific reason. You might be transporting large items across the country or delivering something for work. Whatever the reason, it’s always worth speaking to the owner to get some helpful tips from an experienced van driver.
The first thing you need to do when borrowing or hiring a van is make sure you are properly insured to drive it. For too many people this is as an afterthought but it’s incredibly important to have the correct insurance, otherwise you could face an unlimited fine.
If you don’t want the hassle or expense of adjusting an existing policy, getting temporary van insurance is the ideal solution. It’s a separate policy so won’t affect either yours or the vehicle owners annual policy if you have to make a claim; any no claims discounts are also protected.
The process is simple, straightforward and you can be covered in minutes. It’s the easiest way to get comprehensive cover that protects everyone.
Once you’ve got the keys in your hand, it’s all about taking control of the vehicle, being calm and confident.
Safety Check and Adjustments
The first thing you should do before you even put the keys in the ignition is make sure the cabin is set up for you. Make sure that the driver’s seat is in the correct position and that you can reach the pedals comfortably.
Next you want to ensure all the mirrors are at the right angle for you to see as much as possible. At first you may be uneasy with the lack of a rear view mirror but you’ll soon adjust and find that the larger wing mirrors and high seating position help you spot any potential dangers on the road. Check that your mirrors give you a clear view of the road around you.
Make sure you familiarise yourself with the dashboard, speaking to the vehicles owner can be a big help. You don’t have to know what every single button does but you’ll want to know where the basic facilities like indicators and headlights are before you start driving.
While inspecting the cabin, you may find that the vans gearbox has an extra gear not found on most cars. The 6th gear, more commonly found in newer vans should be used while driving at high speeds on the motorway to save fuel.
Don’t be afraid to further adjust your mirrors after you set off. You’ll find that until you’re actually on the road you might not be able to get the best possible set up. Once you feel comfortable with your mirrors and seating position it’s time to for a little practice.
If you don’t feel comfortable with getting on mean streets straight away, it might be worth taking the van to a large car park or quiet area to practice. We’re sure you’ll get to grips with everything but if you don’t feel confident on main roads, you could be putting yourself or others at risk.
Once you feel ready, it’s to time to hit open road properly.
On The Road
From your high vantage point you’ll get a great view of the road ahead and around you and with power steering as standard on most modern vans, you shouldn’t have too many problems adjusting to life behind the wheel of a van. But while the actual driving skills required are essentially the same as driving a car, you’ll notice that because of its size and power, how a van reacts on the road can be very different.
A large van is usually slower to stop than a van so make sure you take extra care when braking. It’s also longer and wider than you’re probably used to and won’t be able to corner as smoothly. Naturally you’ll want to corner more gently than in a car, taking extra precautions to make sure you don’t hit something as you’re turning. This is where your larger wing mirrors are a life saver.
Parking a van properly is what separates the novices from the professionals. It’s size, weight and lack of visibility means that parking a van can be a real pain for beginners.
Once you’ve arrived at a parking space, make sure that the area you’re reversing into is clear. This can be made easier with the help of a passenger or even passing pedestrian. If they can guide you back into the space, it will make things a lot simpler.
If you find yourself on your own then your best bet is to take things as slow as possible. Keep checking your mirrors and if you need to and it’s safe to do so, get out of the van and check how much space there is. Even if you do end up nudging a bollard or another car, if you’re going slowly and being careful it’s unlikely you will do any serious damage.
It’s important to remember that some speed limits are lower for vans. The last thing you want is to get a speeding ticket because you didn’t know the rules. To make sure you don’t get caught out, here are the speed limits for vans:
Dual carriageways: 60mph
Single carriageways: 50mph
Built-up areas: 30mph
Whether you’re off picking up large pieces of furniture or transporting things for work, the more you use a van, the more comfortable you’ll be behind the wheel. Whatever you need the van for, being calm and confident on the road is the best way to ensure a smooth journey.
If you’re borrowing a van to move house, it’s worth checking out our handy guide on everything you need to know for a hassle free move!