Driving a Van on a Car License: Here’s What You Should Know

Federal laws permit you to drive vans with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of not more than 26,001 pounds, or carry less than 11 passengers with your regular car driving license. However, the above regulation may vary from state to state.

Some states allow drivers to drive 15-passenger vans such as the Chevrolet Express 3500 or similar models with just an up-to-date US driver’s license. However, you must have an up-to-date commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive a van with a passenger seating of more than 15 passengers.

I don’t recommend driving vans if you lack experience driving loaded and unloaded vans.

Below are some reasons why you shouldn’t.

Vans Classified as Commercial Vehicles

It’s a federal requirement that all drivers of commercial vehicles have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). It is a case of a misdemeanor or a criminal offense to drive without a CDL for any commercial vehicle.

You might need a CDL if your van is a commercial vehicle. Listed below are some ways a van is a commercial vehicle.

  • Vans that carry more than 15 passengers
  • Vans that transport business goods or for money-making ventures
  • Vans that belong to a corporation or company
  • Exceeds a weight rating of 26,001 pounds
  • Vans that transport hazardous materials. According to the Secretary of Transportation, flammable, corrosive, oxidizing, toxic, pathogenic, or radioactive materials are dangerous.


It’s Dangerous Driving a Van Without Experience

While the fundamentals of driving a van are much similar to driving a car, there are essential considerations that you need to understand. As a result, you may find that your car license isn’t the only requirement that you must possess to ensure your safety.

Vans have much wider axles, more extended chassis, might not have a rearview mirror, and have a higher center of gravity than cars. 

You may be thinking that defensive driving and road awareness is sufficient to enable a smooth transition to a van, but they’re not.

Here is why.

  • Vans are typically 3-5 feet longer than most cars.

The increase in chassis length affects your turning, merging lanes, or even parking.

You’ll cause traffic disruptions or accidents if you’re not accustomed to driving vans.

  • Vans are taller with a higher center of gravity

Most vans range from 6 feet to 9 feet high, while most cars are under 6 feet. In effect, vans have a higher center of gravity and maybe a higher ground clearance than most cars.

And the center of gravity is even higher when the van is loaded with cargo. It would help if you drove your van slower than you would a car.

  • Vans have a higher chance of rolling over than standard cars.

A study done by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that loaded vans approaching their GVWR are three times more likely to roll over than less loaded vans or cars.

  • Improperly inflated tires are more dangerous in vans than cars.

If you have a habit of driving your car on improperly inflated tires, you should stop it with vans. Of course, it shouldn’t be done with cars either.

Vans are heavier, and hence an improperly inflated tire increases the risk of a tire blowout.

  • You need longer braking distances with a van.

Since cars usually have a much smaller load-carrying capacity, the impact of load size on their braking is somehow trivial.

However, vans can carry cargo almost equivalent to their curb weight. And, similar to trucks, such variation in a van’s gross weight will impact its braking distances. 

  • Spread the weight of cargo in the van evenly.

Vans are more susceptible to instabilities caused by crosswinds more than cars due to their shape and loading capacity.

You should distribute your cargo evenly for a van to avoid rolling over due to a shift in the van’s center of gravity if the load shifts.


Skills You’ll Need to Drive a Van

Modern vans are very similar to vans but have specific differences that may slightly force you to alter your driving technique. You’ll find most van controls to be very similar to car controls, especially if they’re from the same manufacturer.

You don’t require extra training to drive a van if you’re an experienced car driver. And by experience, I mean a two-years-or-more driving experience.

If you aren’t experienced, here are some skills to help you out with your van.

  • A van’s driving position is more upright, the bonnet is smaller, the rearview mirror might not exist, and the side mirrors are more significant than those of a car.

You might be higher than most cars; as such, you’ll have to sit upright as this enables you to view the road better. You will also be able to act faster in the case of an emergency.

  • Secondly, just like trucks, vans are low revving high torque vehicles. You shouldn’t expect to drive at neck-breaking speeds on the highway.

Instead, your focus should be on the right gearing to smoothly enable you and your cargo up the slope.

It is especially the case when a van is fully loaded and is approaching the GVWR.

  • Vans accelerate fast from a stop but not as fast as a car. You must understand this as it changes your driving perspective.

Don’t expect to accelerate fast with the pack at a red light stop, as it won’t happen.

  • Also, if you’re at an intersection and another vehicle is approaching you, it is much safer to factor in your van’s speed to determine if you’ll make it through.
  • Avoid overloading your van. You can quickly tell an overloaded van by comparing your cargo weight with the van’s GVWR.

Another simple thing to do is check if the wheel arches are covering the back wheels. Overloading damages your van’s suspension, increases its braking distances, wears out the wheels faster, and is difficult to control.


Parking Your Van

Parking your van is slightly different from parking your car. It is especially the case if your van is loaded and you can’t use the rearview mirror.

If you find yourself in such a situation, here are a few tips you can follow.

  • Be very aware of your parking spot, whether it’s a garage, a bay, or parallel parking on the street. If you’re new to driving vans, you might need a third eye to direct you while reversing.
  • Vans have out swung back doors for more effortless loading and unloading. Always consider this and leave a meter or more of garage space behind your vehicle while reverse parking.


Driving a Van as a Foreign National

You’re required to have a valid driver’s license from your country of origin to drive on American roads. Other states may require you to have an up-to-date International Driving Permit (IDP).

Always check on the particular state, especially if you’re moving your van across state borders.

Your country of origin only issues IDPs, and you won’t get one once you’re in the US.

Also, some car rental companies require you to have an IDP in addition to your driver’s license before they can rent a van to you.

Inquire from your state’s motor vehicle department to determine their driving requirements before getting on the road.


Minimum Legal Age to Rent a Van

The minimum legal age to rent a van in the US and Canada is 21 years.

However, it is much lower in New York and Michigan, where you can rent any vehicle as long as you’re 18 years of age and above.


Renting a Van While Under 25 Years of Age

As an individual below 25 years of age, you’re subject to slightly restrictive regulations on van rentals.

In most states, drivers under 25 years of age are legally considered adults but are still underage, according to van rental companies. Therefore, you will be subject to an additional fee commonly referred to as Young Driver Fee or Underage Driver’s Fee.

Van rental companies apply a Young Driver Fee since drivers under the age of 25 are statistically more prone to accidents that result from recklessness.

The fee is a security that compensates the company for the additional risk of renting a car to a young driver.


Exceptions to the Young Driver Fee

It is rarely the case that an 18-year-old owns a large van, and therefore, most under 25-year-olds prefer to rent one. If you’re planning on doing so, here are a few exceptions to the Young Driver Fee that you ought to know


Exception 1: If you’re a United States Government Employee/ Military Personnel

The catch with the above exception is that you must:

  • Have official orders that permit you to drive a van
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Have an excellent disciplinary record
  • Have a satisfactory medical record


Exception 2: If you’re in Michigan/ New York

These states permit anyone above 18 years of age to rent a van.

However, for New York, you’ll still have to pay a Young Renter Fee of $57 per day if you’re 18 to 20 years of age. A lesser fee of $20 per day applies to any driver between 21 and 24 years of age.



To some, maybe you included, a van is more of a car than a truck. A misleading generalization which is a lie.

You then end up assuming that the same level of road driving experience you’ve gained from your car-driving years is sufficient. However, it is not the case.

Vans are much more powerful, slower, wider, and longer than most cars. The changes in structure, loading, and engine capacity means that vans respond differently to controls than cars.

And adjusting your driving technique to suit your van takes time. Don’t be in a rush to jump into driving a van if you haven’t had proper training or experience.

Also, to drive a van with your driver’s license, ensure that it’s within the state’s legal boundaries concerning its weight and commercial use.