A Van Is Not a Car, This Is What You Need to Know

Although in many States you can drive a van with just a regular car driver’s license, there are many differences between them. Although vans can be used to transport people like a car, they can also be used to transport freight and are larger than cars.  

In instances where a van is used to carry passengers and is referred to as a minivan, it can accommodate more passengers than most regular cars. In instances where a van is designed to carry freight, it will just have seats in the cab, leaving the remainder of the vehicle for freight.  

A van also differs from a truck as although both may be designed to carry freight, with a van you can access the freight section directly from the driver’s seat. A truck on the other hand, has a freight section separate from the cab meaning the driver has to exit the cab to access the freight compartment. 

A van also differs from SUVs and pick-ups, even though in some cases they are similar in size. An SUV is basically a large car whose trunk is as high as the passenger section. A pick-up is of course referred to as a truck because unlike a van, the driver needs to get out of the vehicle to load or unload the freight section. 


License Needed to Drive a Van 

As far as Federal regulations are concerned, a regular driver’s license is all that is needed to legally drive any vehicle with a weight up to 26,000lbs;  however most States require a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). While some states may require a CDL to drive a van that is used for commercial purposes, other States may assume all vans are used for those purposes. There are relatively few States which allow a van to be driven for any purpose without a CDL. 

Changes to Federal regulations concerning the need for a CDL are well publicized throughout the United States. Changes to individual State regulations for CDLs will be a lot less publicized, especially outside of that particular State. It is therefore essential if you are planning to drive a van in a State other than your own, that you check the current regulations for every state you intend to visit. 


Some States Require Vans to Stop at Weigh Stations 

There are many weigh stations situated throughout the United States, and whilst cars may rarely be required to stop at them, often vans are required to. The need for vans to stop at weigh stations varies from State to State, and once again, these regulations may change without too much publicity outside of each individual State.  

Currently these are the States which require vans to stop at weigh stations if they meet these criteria: 

  • Alaska – If your van weighs more than 10,000lbs 
  • Arizona – If your van weighs more than 10,000lbs 
  • Arkansas – If your van or van plus trailer weighs more than 10,000lbs 
  • California – All rental vans such as U-Haul must stop 
  • Colorado – You must stop if your van weighs more than 26,000lbs 
  • Florida – If your van weighs more than 10,000lbs or it is carrying agricultural products 
  • Georgia – If the combined weight of your van or van plus trailer exceeds 10,000lbs 
  • Hawaii – If your van exceeds 10,000lbs 
  • Indiana – If the weight of your van exceeds 10,000lbs you must stop 
  • Iowa – Vans weighing more than 10,000lbs must stop 
  • Kansas – If your van is registered as a commercial vehicle it must stop 
  • Minnesota – Your van must stop if it weighs more than 10,000lbs 
  • Montana – If your van weighs more than 8,000lbs or is carrying agricultural products it must stop 
  • Nebraska – Any van weighing more than 1 ton must stop 
  • New Jersey – Any van weighing more than 10,000lbs must stop to be weighed 
  • New Mexico – You only have to stop your van at a weigh station if it weighs more than 26,000lbs 
  • North Dakota – You must stop your van if it weighs more than  10,000lbs unless it is purely being used for recreational purposes 
  • Ohio – If your van is registered as a commercial vehicle and weighs more than 10,000lbs it must stop 
  • Oregon – You must stop your van if it or it plus a trailer exceeds 26,000lbs 
  • Pennsylvania – If your van is towing a heavy trailer or is carrying agricultural products it must stop 
  • South Carolina – Although you do not automatically have to stop law enforcement officers may order you too if they suspect your van is unsafe 
  • South Dakota – If your van weighs more than 8,000lbs 
  • Virginia – You must stop if your van weighs more than 7,500lbs 
  • Washington – You must stop at a weigh station if your van weighs more than 10,000lbs 
  • Wisconsin – Any vehicle which weighs more than 10,000lbs must stop 
  • Wyoming – Police randomly signal for vehicles to stop but unless directed otherwise you do not have to stop your van 

As these regulations are subject to change without too much countrywide notification, you should always check before taking interstate road trips in your van. 


A Van Requires Different Insurance from a Car 

A van cannot be covered by a regular car insurance policy, it has to either have van insurance or commercial vehicle insurance. Although van and commercial vehicle insurance are similar, it is worth shopping around as they may differ slightly depending on the size of the van.  

Regular car insurance does not cover a van, as vans are often used for commercial purposes as well as private use. Even if your van is a camper and so not designed for commercial work, it will still need its own specific insurance. 


Driving a Van Compared to Driving a Car 

If you are familiar with driving cars but have not driven a van before, here are some things you should consider: 

Size – There are large cars, and there are small vans, but in general terms, vans are larger and heavier than cars, especially when loaded. This means that a van’s braking distance is further than a car’s. To allow for this, you should drive a van slower than you would a car.  

Mirrors – All cars have wing mirrors plus an inside mirror in front of the driver. Van’s however, due to many not having rear windows, do not always have the inside mirror, only wing mirrors. Usually the wing mirrors are bigger than those on a car to allow for better views to the rear, but even the largest wing mirror cannot fully replace the inside mirror, especially when reversing. 

Wind – Owing to their design, cars are rarely affected by side winds; however this is not the case with vans. A van’s body is higher than that of a car, so a van can be affected by side winds, especially if the van is empty. This is yet another reason why you should drive your van slower than you would a car, especially in bad weather conditions. 

Reversing – Not only does the lack of an inside mirror make reversing a van trickier than reversing a car, but its extra length and width can also add to the tricky situation. Professionals will often use another person to guide them when reversing, and this is also recommended for you even if you are only using your van for personal use. When you first get behind the wheel of a van, you should perhaps find a safe place to practice your reversing so you are more prepared if you find yourself in a tight spot for parking later. 



Vans, especially cargo vans, are becoming increasingly popular, not just with businesses but also as personal family transport. The reason for this is that a van can easily be adapted to serve several different purposes: 

  • Passenger room for friends as well as family 
  • Converted to a camper for family road trips 
  • A van’s freight space can be used in helping to move apartments without the need to hire a removal truck 
  • It can be used for a small business during the week and as a family vehicle at weekends and holidays 

While vans may be useful, it is important to ensure that they are insured correctly and that your driving license is appropriate for driving it. Thousands of vans are incorrectly insured each year which could lead to problems if you are involved in an accident. Also many drivers receive fines for driving a van without the correct license.  

It is not just sufficient to learn of the regulations regarding driving a van in your State but also important to learn the regulations in other States you may drive through. There is little doubt that owning or renting a van can be beneficial in many situations but being able to drive it legally and safely with the appropriate insurance should always be your first priority. 

Author: Kenneth Graham

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