If you’re thinking of buying or hiring a van, then you’ll be pleased to know, if you have a standard driving licence, you should already be able to drive many types of vans.
But the rules on exactly what you can drive do vary, depending on when you passed your driving test and the size of the van.
Check your licence
Your licence should list the categories of vehicle you’re allowed to drive - see the letters on the front of your plastic photocard licence, at the very bottom. The codes you might see include:
AM - Moped
A1 - Small motorcycle
A2 - Medium motorcycle
A - Full motorcycle
B1 - Four wheeled light vehicle
B - Car
C1 - Medium sized vehicle
C - Large goods vehicle
D1 - Minibus
D - Bus
BE - Car with trailer
C1E - Medium sized vehicle with trailer
CE - Large goods vehicle with trailer
D1E - Minibus with trailer
DE - Bus with trailer
p - Moped (50cc)
q - Moped (25km/h)
So, where do vans fit in? Most slot into category B. But it’s not that straightforward, as the size of van you can drive depends on when you passed your test.
If you passed your test before 1 January 1997
Check the back of your driving licence to see when you passed your test. If you passed your regular driving test before 1 January 1997 and it includes a C1 code, then you’re entitled to drive a van and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).
MAM is how much the vehicle would weigh on a weighbridge - which are like giant drive-on scales for large vehicles. So that would include the vehicle itself, as well as anything inside it, including passengers and fuel.
This means you could drive a 7.5 tonne van with a 750 kg trailer. This is a very big weight and means you can drive all sorts of vans, and even a vehicle as big as a box van, which despite the name looks more like a lorry.
If you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997
If you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997, then you don’t have quite as much leeway.
But you can still drive a van up to 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) MAM with up to 8 passenger seats (with a trailer up to 750kg).
This means you can drive most vans that you would see on the road, even those that look quite large. You could, for example, drive a popular van like a Ford Transit, Mercedes Vito or Volkswagen Transporter. You could also drive a Luton van - the big, boxy, almost lorry-like vans - provided its MAM is 3.5 tonnes or under.
If you passed your test after 1 January 1997, you’ll need a C1 licence to drive any vehicle with an MAM in excess of 3.5t. This involves taking three theory tests and a practical driving test.
There is one exception to the rules – which is electric vans. Category B licence holders in general are allowed to drive electric vans of up to 4,250 kg. The extra weight allowance is to account for these vehicles’ heavy batteries.
Prepare yourself for a different driving experience
Even if you are permitted to drive a large van, it’s good to bear in mind that it might take some getting used to, especially with the bulk of a Luton van.
When you do first get behind the wheel of a van, it’s a good idea to take your time at first to get a feel for its proportions and visibility. Inevitably, you’ll want to take extra care cornering, reversing and driving in busy areas. Also, do bear in mind that some types of van have lower speed limits, so make sure you’re not caught unawares.
It shouldn’t take too long to get used to it and enjoy the new driving experience and versatility a van can offer.
Go to Solved to read more about driving, the rules of the road and road safety.