Driving a van for the first time is always a different experience for everyone. Handling a van is quite different when compared to other vehicle types like a sports car or midsize sedan. Vans are taller, longer, and have different sightlines than other average vehicles.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of purchasing one or reserving a van rental. If anything, modern vans are quite simple and easy to drive since they are endowed with similar features that you would find in many cars—small steering wheels, excellent power steering, and dash-mounted gear sticks among other features. So you just need to understand a few tips about how to drive a van before you climb behind the wheel.
Most vans lack rear and central-view mirrors. Instead, they have large wing mirrors that are more useful than normal car wing mirrors. When driving a van, therefore, you will depend on the wing mirrors to see what’s happening around and behind you than you do in a car. Accordingly, ensure that your wing mirrors are correctly adjusted before you set off.
Master Your Controls
Before you drive a van for the first time, familiarise yourself with a few controls of the van. At the very least, know where indicators, hazards, headlights and wipers are. Check the gears—usually placed on the left just off the dashboard and adjacent to the steering wheel. Some modern vans may have a sixth gear. Utilising the sixth gear on long motorway runs will save you extra diesel and cut down on the van’s noise. Again, get used to the brakes; they are designed to handle full load and can be a bit sharp and over responsive if your van is empty.
Current van engines, power steering, and gearboxes are pretty powerful. Accordingly, driving shouldn’t present any challenges. However, you have to be cautious when the van is loaded. When loaded, the van will be longer and wider, heavier, slower to stop, and less stable when negotiating corners. So stay calm, brake and corner gently, and look further than usual.
Parking your Van
Parking is perhaps the van’s only genuine intimidating aspect. As aforementioned, you won’t have rear-view or rear windows. To see your rear, you will need to use your wing mirrors or just stick your head out of the window (this works perfect!). You can also get your co-driver to jump out and give you direction. Just take it easy. Remember, it is not only tricky because of the parking manoeuvres; your braking distance is also longer than a normal car anyway.
Driving a van for the first time can be easy, simple, and safe, as long as you are aware that a van has unique features and should be handled differently compared to an average car.