How Hard a Cargo Van Is to Drive

If you’ve been driving a car for a while but never drove a cargo van, it can be tricky. Basic driving maneuvers like braking, accelerating and turning all need to be reconsidered as the vehicle is longer and heavier.

Although it can be tricky the first time, it isn’t hard.

You just need to pay extra attention.

Driving a cargo van will not be hard if you follow these 8 simple steps.

  1. Load your cargo van correctly
  2. Adjust the seat and mirrors
  3. Always hold the steering wheel at 9 and 3
  4. Put your cargo van in the correct gear
  5. Keep at least a 4-second following distance
  6. Be observant when driving your cargo van
  7. Double-check the height of any bridges or tunnels
  8. Only park your cargo van in loading zones

Driving A Cargo Van Vs. Driving A Car

Driving a van is different from driving a car since you have to account for a longer vehicle. Depending on how many items you’re transporting, the weight of your van will be much heavier, which impacts how you drive.

For example, if you’re driving a fully-loaded cargo van, then you’ll need to brake earlier because it’ll take more time for your van to slow down. The brake pads on your cargo van will need to work harder since the car is heavier.

If you were to brake at the time you usually do, you might not slow down in time, and you’ll hit the car in front of you. This is just one example of how you must change your driving style when driving a cargo van.

Depending on how tall your cargo van is, you’ll also need to avoid areas with low tunnels, bridges, and underground parking. Not following this rule will have devastating consequences.


The 8 Simple Steps to Make Driving a Cargo Van Easy

If you can already drive a car, then you’re halfway there. The other half is just adjusting your driving style, being careful, and loading your cargo van properly. 


1: Load Your Cargo Van Correctly

Before you step foot behind the wheel, the first step to ensure a safe and stress-free trip is to load your cargo van properly.

First, load the weight as evenly as possible. This makes driving a cargo van easier since it’s balanced. If it isn’t and you make a sharp turn, then your van might tilt on its side. 

Second, always strap everything in place. Use straps, buckles, and ropes so that the shipment isn’t moving all over the place as you’re making turns. If it’s not secure, the shipment can get damaged and distract you while driving which leads to accidents.

Last, never load more weight than what your cargo van can take. It’ll typically show the maximum weight on one of the windows or panels, but if it doesn’t, check your owner’s manual. If your owner’s manual doesn’t say, simply search for the answer online.

Most cargo van owners would rather make one trip instead of two, but stuffing your cargo van isn’t worth it. Yeah, you might save some money on fuel, but you’ll damage the mechanical systems in your van since it isn’t meant to take that heavy load. 


2. Adjust The Seat And Mirrors

Once you’ve loaded your cargo van, it’s time to adjust the seat and mirrors. This is important since it gives you complete control of your cargo van. This might not be as important when driving a car because it’s smaller, but cargo vans are large and when loaded up you cannot see out of the back window.

Ensure that you can fully depress the brake pedal. If you’re driving a manual transmission cargo van, press the clutch in all the way. If you can do this comfortably, then the seat is close enough.


3. Grip Your Steering Wheel At 9 And 3

In older driving schools, students were told to keep their hands at 10 and 2. However, this is dangerous.

When an airbag is released, and your hands are at 10 and 2, it can break your thumbs. What makes this worse is if you’re wearing a watch. The force generated by the airbags will shoot your forearms back, and if your watch hits your head, then it’ll cause life-threatening injuries. However, if your hands are at 9 and 3, there’s nothing between your head and airbag.

9 and 3 also gives you the most control over your cargo van. This is important if you’re transporting heavy loads.


4. Put Your Cargo Van Into Gear

If your cargo van has an automatic transmission, then slap that gear stick into D, and you’ll be on your way. However, if you own a manual transmission, getting your cargo van moving can be a little bit tricky.

First, you’ll need to press your clutch pedal all the way to the floor. Next, move the stick shifter into gear one. Hit the gas pedal just enough for around 1500 RPM. Last, let your foot off the clutch slowly, and you’ll be moving.

Driving stick is a bit tricky, so if your cargo van has a stick shift, get a few lessons. After a couple of hours, you’ll get the hang of it.


5. Keep A 5 Second Following Distance

When driving a car, you can get away with keeping a following distance of fewer than 5 seconds between you and the vehicle in front. But if you’re transporting goods with your cargo van, your vehicle is significantly heavier due to the extra load, and it takes longer for your van to stop.

Remember, when it comes to following distances, more is better.

This is one of the main differences between driving a cargo van and a car. Most new drivers think that their usual following distance is okay and find out the hard way that it takes longer to come to a complete stop.

You want to keep a big following distance if you’re transporting fragile goods. Slamming on the brakes can damage your inventory. Instead, gently depress the brake pedal and slowly release it when coming to a stop. 

This can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of fragile goods.


6. Be Observant

When driving a cargo van, it’s essential to be more observant than usual. You’re controlling a vehicle that’s longer, taller, and heavier than your car. That’s why observing the environment around you and predicting what will happen is even more important.

This allows you to hit the brake pedal sooner, which prevents accidents and damage to your goods.


7. Always Check The Height Of Bridges Compared To Your Van

When driving a car, you don’t have to worry about not fitting under a tunnel or bridge. But depending on how tall your cargo van is, you need to plan your trip beforehand and avoid roads where you can’t fit through.

If you don’t know how high your vehicle is, check your owner’s manual. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, look online.


8. Park In Loading Zones

Most cargo vans are longer than standard cars and require more space to park. This makes it a hassle to park in normal parking lots. However, loading zones tend to be more spacious so you can park your vehicle comfortably and unload the goods without bumping other cars.

Also, don’t forget to use your emergency brake when you’re parked. Cargo vans are prone to rolling, especially if it’s a manual transmission. It’s also heavier than standard cars, so it moves easier.

Some cargo vans have the emergency brake next to the gear stick, while others are under the steering wheel. Once you start moving again, turn it off, since you’ll avoid damage to your emergency brake cable.


3 Tips To Easily Drive A Cargo Van For The First Time

If you’re used to driving a car and first climb behind the wheel of a cargo van, it can be tricky. You must account for a few extra meters when driving, and your vehicle is heavier. But with a few simple tips, you’ll be on your way in no time.


Plan Your Trip

The last thing you want is to look for the place where you’re going. This can distract you and lead to unnecessary accidents. But the solution is easy. Plan out your trip. You can type in the address on your phone, and it’ll direct you via voice navigation.

Another benefit of planning out your trip is that you’ll avoid roads where your cargo van can’t fit through. For example, a tunnel or bridge. Nobody wants to be stuck halfway under a tunnel.


Slower Down In Bad Weather

When it’s raining, your tires struggle to grip the surface of the road, and this makes it more likely for you to lose control of your van. If it gives you peace of mind, opt for high-quality wet tires.

However, the best tip for driving in bad weather is slowing down and increasing your following distance. This gives you more time to react to situations.


Rest On Longer Trips

Coffee and energy drinks can only bring you so far. If you’re transporting goods over long distances, then stop for a few hours and rest. Research shows that driving with little sleep is just as bad as driving drunk.

So if you’re feeling tired, go sleep for a few hours and hit the road feeling fresh.