Most drivers who have been behind the wheel for more than a few years have had the experience of driving somewhere familiar and having next to no recollection of the journey. We’re so used to it that it takes little conscious effort to negotiate the roads and even complex manoeuvres can blur into a haze of thoughts about what you’ll be having for dinner tonight.
That is, of course, until something changes.
Sliding into the cockpit of a different car is one thing, but climbing into the drivers seat of a van for the first time can be a very disconcerting experience.
We’ve spoken to many of our van hire customers over the years who tell us that it can feel very daunting, and so we’ve put together a handy guide of top tips for driving a van.
Before you hire a van it’s important to check that your insurance covers you. A quick call to your provider or check of your insurance documents should tell you this, but make sure you’re certain that you’re covered.
Vans, just like cars, have numerous adjustments you can set up to improve your driving position. Take your time to make these adjustments so that you’re comfortable and have the best view possible of the road and surrounding area. Seat height and forward position, steering wheel height and fore and aft adjustment, and also the mirrors all give you plenty of room to settle yourself in for a stress-free driving position.
The first thing to keep in mind is the extra length of the vehicle when you’re turning. In general giving yourself more time by slowing down, and taking the turn wider is going to help you acclimatise to the geometry of the larger vehicle.
When reversing a van it’s absolutely fine to ask somebody to help guide you, as there is no rear view mirror to assist. Many of our rental vans have parking sensors which makes this movement easier, but it’s still a good idea to have somebody there with eyes on how much further you have to go.
When you’re in a car, driving under a bridge isn’t usually something that makes you sit up and pay attention. All those funny numbers and arrows painted on the rim are of no concern and so you can safely ignore them. Not so when you’re in a van! You may not care about your rental van’s 0-60 time, but one stat you will want to know is what the height is so you can look out for bridges that are lower than this.
Most are fine, but some low bridges may not be able to take the larger vans such as the Luton Box Van, which has a nose cone above the cab.
Most people hire a van to carry something from point A to point B, not just because they fancy a more ‘experiential’ drive. When loading the vehicle it’s important to consider the weight of what is being carried, and also how it is distributed.
All vans are rated with the total load they can safely carry, as over loading can be dangerous and can put additional wear and strain on the vehicle. Loads need to be secured with appropriate straps so that nothing moves whilst in transit, which can cause sudden unevenness of the vehicle.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that a fully loaded van could take up to 2 additional metres of stopping distance at 30mph compared with the same van with no load.
This re-enforces the most important piece of advice when it comes to driving a van, which is to slow down and take your time. Vans can be surprisingly comfortable to drive, especially on straight uninterrupted roads such as motorways. But when you have to take corners, accelerate or brake, too much speed can cause a very uncomfortable ride and a much higher risk of accidents.