Whether you are newly qualified or have been driving for a number of years, making the switch from car to van can be daunting. Aside from the physical differences such as size and lack of visibility through windows, it’s essential to check your paperwork and make sure you have all the legal requirements covered, too. These seven simple steps are a great way to get started.
1. Check your driver’s licence
Not every driver’s licence entitles you to drive a van, so look at your licence and make sure the size of van you’re looking at is included on it. If it’s not, you may need to take an additional test to qualify to drive it. Learn more about what kind of vehicles you can drive at the National Driver Licence Service (www.ndls.ie)
2. Purchase adequate insurance
You can not drive your van until you have insurance in place, and what you need will depend on what you plan to use it for. ‘Carriage of own goods’ insurance covers your tools and equipment in connection with your own business activities, whereas ‘hire and reward’ covers you for transporting goods that are not your own. Working with a reputable insurance broker will help you get the best van insurance rates available for your specific needs.
3. Note the measurements
In a car you don’t think twice about driving into car parks, through tunnels and down narrow lanes, but you could run into problems in a larger van especially when it comes to underground car parks. Find out the dimensions of your van before driving a van so you’re not caught out (use a sticky note fixed in an unobtrusive place on the dashboard as a reminder). Also, some vans don’t have rear windows which is a big adjustment, so knowing the length of the vehicle can help you manoeuvre.
4. Familiarise yourself with the controls
In the early days of van driving, simply negotiating the roads in a larger vehicle can be all-consuming, without having to scramble to find windscreen wipers or the hazard warning lights. Get behind the wheel and get acquainted with the position of the lights, wipers, and indicators. Also check if there are features you are unfamiliar with – such as a sixth gear or gear stick in the dashboard – and take a trial drive in a quiet location to get the hang of them. Limited visibility in a van means the side mirrors are even more important than in a car – ensure you know how to adjust them and that they are perfectly positioned for you. There’s no harm in looking over the manual – if yours is lost, many can be found online.
5. Know your limits!
The speed limits on our roads refer to cars, and in some cases are lower for vans. For example, trucks weighing over 3,500kg are limited to 90km/h on motorways, and vehicles that are towing are limited to 80km/h. Also, if you plan to drive your van in Northern Ireland, be aware that different speed limits apply on dual carriageways, depending on the size of the vehicle.
6. Take the necessary safety measures
It’s surprising how much longer a large, heavily-loaded van takes to come to a halt than a domestic car. Remember to make allowance for this and increase your braking distance accordingly, particularly in wet weather. Tall-sided vehicles behave differently in windy conditions, too, and are more likely to topple. Anything you transport should be positioned as low as possible and in the centre of the wheelbase to spread the load. Secure and lock the rear doors before you set off (this is also good practice to avoid theft).
7. Remember routine maintenance
As you start out driving vans, it’s good to get into the habit of regular checks and maintenance. Regularly check oil, water and windscreen washer levels, and replace when necessary. Keep an eye on tyre tread depth and overall condition.