Larger than cars and smaller than semi trucks, vans are a perfect solution for people who need to transport a lot of things but still want to use a relatively cheap and compact vehicle. Whether you’re renting a van or using your own, knowing some simple rules of the road will help keep you and everyone around you safe.
EditGetting Ready to Drive
- Adjust your seat and mirrors. Move your seat until you can reach the pedals comfortably while still seeing all your mirrors. Adjust your mirrors so that you can clearly view the adjacent roads and just a small amount of the van’s edge. Since they’re designed to hold cargo, many vans do not include a rear-view mirror, making your side mirrors more important.
- Some vans have extendable side mirrors designed for people carrying trailers. When using this feature, adjust the mirrors so that when the van and trailer are perfectly aligned, you can see a tiny bit of the trailer.
- Familiarize yourself with the dashboard. Unlike semi trucks, most modern vans have similar dashboards to cars. However, the gauges and icons may look or be arranged differently, so take some time to learn their design and placement. Keep an eye out for features specific to larger vehicles, like multiple gas tanks, or modern vehicles, like dashboard cameras.
- If you have trouble figuring out what different gauges or icons represent, consult your user manual.
- Load your cargo evenly and secure it with bungee cords. Many vans, especially cargo vans, are built to accommodate large packages and bulky furniture. When packing multiple items, distribute weight as evenly as possible between the front, rear, left, and right sides of the van. To keep items from shifting during transit, hold them in place with bungee cords strapped to the van’s interior hook holes.
- Stay under the weight limit. If you’re hauling cargo, make sure whatever you pack stays within your van’s hauling limit. This will prevent potential auto damage and ensure the van drives correctly. This number is typically listed in your van’s user manual. If you cannot find the number, search the van’s model online or contact the dealership you purchased or rented it from.
- Acquire van insurance or certification if necessary. If you are borrowing or renting a van, make sure you purchase temporary insurance for the time you intend to use it. Depending on your area and the size of the van, you may need to apply for local or state certification before legally driving the vehicle. To check if your area requires such certification, contact your local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Practice driving the van in empty parking lots and small streets. Vans can be difficult to adjust to, so take some time to practice your driving skills before actually heading out on the road. Empty parking lots and small, unoccupied streets are perfect places to test how the van accelerates, brakes, and turns without putting yourself and others in unnecessary danger.
- Drive with 2 hands firmly on the wheel. No matter what vehicle you’re using, it’s important to keep 2 hands on the wheel at all times. To give yourself maximum control, imagine that your steering wheel is a clock and keep your hands at the 9-o’clock and 3-o’clock positions. This is particularly important for vans because, if you don’t keep a firm grasp on the wheel, you could lose control of the vehicle and cause a rollover.
- Leave extra space between you and other vehicles. Vans are heavier and bulkier than normal cars, meaning they take longer to brake. To account for this, leave more space than normal between yourself and other cars. As a general rule, leave at least 4 seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you.
- To calculate how far behind a car you are, wait until the car passes a clear object or road marker. As soon as it does, count how many seconds it takes until you pass that same object.
- Obey van specific speed limits. Depending on the area and the exact size of the vehicle, your van may be subject to special speed restrictions different from the posted speed limit. In most cases, this will be per hour lower than the max for standard cars. To see if an area you’re traveling in enforces van-specific speed limits, contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles or search online for local driving regulations.
- Slow down more than normal when approaching turns. Vans are tall and narrow, which means they’re more prone to tipping over. Though not usually a problem on straight paths, this can make turning more precarious. To minimize the risk of tipping, slow down to around per hour before making sharp turns.
- Make wide turns. To avoid colliding with curbs, road signs, and other vehicles, make sure your van is positioned in the left or right-most lane, depending on which direction you need to turn. Make sure other vehicles are far enough away from the van that you won’t side sweep them when turning. Then, make your turn, waiting until you are far enough into the intersection that your vehicle’s back end won’t hit other cars.
- Check your mirrors before backing up or changing lanes. Before changing lanes or backing up, put on your blinkers to indicate your intentions. Then, check all your mirrors for other cars and pedestrians. If your cargo van has a clear back window, turn your head and look through it to make sure there are no cars in your blind spot.
- If necessary, get out of your van to check the surroundings before backing up.
- Be cautious before going under bridges and other low ledges. Though vans are not as large as semi trucks, they are significantly taller than normal cars, meaning they may not be able to go under bridges and ledges other vehicles can. Before going under a low ledge, check the clearance sign on top to see if your van is short enough to fit underneath. Do not go under ledges that are lower than your vehicle.
- Most major bridges are tall enough to accomodate semi trucks, so look out primarily for old, small-town bridges and clearance poles at places like gas stations and fast food restaurants.
- Park in large, open spots and designated areas. Vans are typically longer than standard cars and require more room to park. When pulling into traditional parking lots, look for areas on the side of the lot where you can parallel park, open areas with multiple spots you can occupy, or areas sectioned off for large vehicles. If none of these areas are available, use your best judgement and either park carefully, wait for an opening, or find another lot.
- Back into parking spots to make getting out easier. Whenever possible, you should back into parking spots instead of pulling into them. To do this, pull in front of the parking spot, brake, and put your car in reverse. Scan your mirrors to make sure the area is clear, then turn your wheel toward the spot and gently release your brake pedal. Slowly back your van into the parking spot, readjusting your vehicle as necessary.
- Place a spotter or traffic cone behind the vehicle to make backing up easier.
- Parallel park when normal spots aren’t available. Find a space large enough for your van and park next to the car in front of it. Then, put your van in reverse and release the brakes. When your side window is lined up with the car’s back bumper, turn your steering wheel toward the parking space and back into it. Once your car is at a 45-degree angle, turn your steering wheel away from the parking space and back up until you’re completely in the parking spot.
- Apply your parking brake. Vans are far larger and heavier than most vehicles, meaning they’re more prone to rolling while parked. To avoid this, make sure to apply your parking brake whenever you’re not inside the vehicle. Most parking brakes are controlled via a pedal below the steering wheel or a lever near the shift controls. If you have trouble finding the parking brake, consult the van’s user manual.
- To avoid damaging the vehicle, only apply the brake when the van is in park.
- Remember to release the parking brake before driving.
EditSources and Citations
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