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UK van driving licences explained

The categories on your driving licence can be confusing, especially as the rules vary depending on when you passed your driving test.

But regardless of when you got your licence, you should be able to drive a number of the most popular vans without having to get a dedicated van licence.

A line of different vans

What vans can I drive with a standard licence?

What vans you can drive on a car licence depends on when you passed your driving test. The rules tend to be more generous if you passed your test before 1997.

Your licence should list the categories of vehicle you’re allowed to drive. Category B means you’ve passed your car driving test.


Do different types of van need different licences?

The heavier the vehicle you want to drive, the more likely it is you have to upgrade your licence. You also have to take into account the date you passed your test.

If you passed your car driving test before 1997, you generally have a C1 entitlement on your licence.

This means you’re already entitled to drive 7.5 tonne vans without taking another test. But only if you’re not doing it for a living.

Passed your test in 1997 or later? Then you need to take another test to get a van licence if you want to drive anything over 3.5 tonnes.


Category B1 licence 

A category B1 licence allows you to drive four-wheeled vehicles weighing up to 400kg (or 550kg if it’s a vehicle designed for carrying goods).

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997 you’re likely to be entitled to drive a van and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).

This means you could drive a 7.5 tonne van with a 750 kg trailer.

MAM is how much the vehicle would weigh on a weighbridge. So it includes:

  • The vehicle weight

  • You

  • Any passengers

  • Your luggage or cargo

  • Petrol and oil

You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750 kg.


If you passed your test on or after 1 January 1997, you could drive vehicles up to 3,500 kg MAM. The vehicle can seat up to eight passenger seats. It can also have a trailer with a maximum weight of 750 kg.

So long as the MAM of the vehicle and trailer is not more than 3,500 kg you could also tow heavier trailers.

Cat B licence holders in general can also drive electric vans of up to 4,250 kg.

Electric vans are generally heavier than diesels because of the weight of the battery.


How to get a B1 licence

You get a category B1 licence automatically when you pass your driving test. 


Category C1 licence

The C1 licence enables you to drive medium and larger sized vehicles.

Before 2013, drivers who were qualified to drive heavier vehicles had a separate licence displaying this information.

They’re now included on the licence with the following codes. Don’t forget to take your CPC with you if you’re driving for work though. 

Category Entitlement
Vehicles between 3,500kg and 7,500 kg MAM with a trailer up to 750 kg
C1 vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg. The combined MAM cant’ exceed 12,000 kg
Vehicles over 3,500 kg with a trailer up to 750 kg"
Category C vehicles with a trailer over 750 kg

How to get a C1 licence

To get a C1 licence you need to have a B licence and be 18 or over.

You also need to complete a medical assessment to ensure you don’t  have any medical conditions or vision problems that could affect your driving. At this stage you can then apply for a provisional C1 licence.

To get your full C1 licence you then need to pass three theory tests and a practical test. 


What is a 3.5 tonne van?

A 3.5 tonne van is one that’s allowed to weigh up to 3.5 tonnes when fully laden. The gross vehicle weight (GVW) should be on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate.

The GVW should include the weight of the van plus the weight of the driver, any passengers and the payload.

The payload is how much you can put in the van without it being overloaded. As well as being dangerous, overloading a van could lead to a fine.

You can work out the payload by taking the GVW minus the kerb weight. The kerb weight is how much the vehicle alone weighs.

So a 3.5 tonne van with a kerb weight of 1.8 tonnes would have a payload of 1.7 tonnes. But then you need to subtract the weight of the driver, passengers and so on.

To give you an idea what vans you could drive on a car licence, typical 3.5 tonne vans include:

  • Ford Transit

  • Peugeot Boxer

  • Fiat Ducato

  • Renault Master

  • Vauxhall Movano

  • Citroen Relay

When you’re looking for van insurance, make sure your policy covers the type of van you plan on driving.

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What licence do I need to drive a HGV?

If you want to drive vehicles heavier than those allowed by your existing licence then you need to get a HGV licence.

This is known as the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) test.

Say you passed your test after 1997 and wanted to drive a 7.5 tonne van. You first need to get a provisional category C1 licence.

Then you need to do the CPC. For this you generally need to be 18 and already have a full category B licence.

The CPC comes in four parts. If you want to drive for a living you need to take all of them.

If you’re not going to get paid for driving, then you only need to take the theory and practical parts of the CPC.

If you passed your test before 1997 your licence should let you drive a 7.5 tonne van.

But if you want to drive one for a living you still need to get a CPC. 


Minibus, bus and coach licence categories

If you want to drive a minibus, bus or coach for a living, you might need to take a specific test. Once you’ve passed, you get one of the following codes on your licence:

Category Entitlement
No more than 16 passenger seats, with a maximum length of 8 metres. Can pull a trailer of up to 750 kg
Any D1 vehicle with a trailer over 750 kg MAM. Combined MAM of vehicle and trailer can’t exceed 12,000 kg
Any bus with more than eight passenger seats, with a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM
Any category D vehicle with trailer weighing more than 750 kg MAM

Are there any restrictions when driving a minibus?

You might be able to drive a minibus with up to 16 passenger seats on a standard licence - if you passed your test before 1997. And that’s also if you don’t get paid for driving the minibus, for example if you’re a volunteer driver for a charity.

If you want to drive a minibus for a living, you might need to get your passenger carrying vehicle (PCV) D1 licence.

You might also need a public service vehicle (PSV) operator licence.

If you’re thinking of taking the minibus abroad, it’s worth checking the rules in the country you’re planning on visiting.


Charging for minibus running costs

If you need to charge for just the running costs of a minibus you could get a permit from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Then you could charge running costs provided:

  • The vehicle can carry between nine  and 16 passengers

  • You’re driving it for a voluntary organisation that benefits the community - for example an educational, religious or sports organisation

  • The minibus service is only available for members of that organisation - not to the general public.


What driving licence do I need for an ice-cream van?

There isn’t a specific ice cream van driving licence category.

If the van is the typical style ice cream van you need to see how heavy it would be with the freezer and all the frozen goodies on board. And you, of course.

If the MAM is less than 3.5 tonnes you could be fine on a category B licence. This would apply to burger vans, coffee vans and general catering vans as well.

But the driving licence is just the start – you might also need things like a street trading licence and public liability insurance.

Those with ice cream vans might also need to be aware of the rules on when and where you can use your chimes.

If your catering outlet is a trailer that’s towed to your pitch, things get more complicated. The GOV.UK site has the basics on towing.


Van driving in Northern Ireland

Requirements could vary in Northern Ireland so it’s best to have a look on the nidirect site to get the most up-to-date information.


Lower speed limits for vans

Something worth noting before you set off in your van is that speed limits for vans tend to be lower than those for cars.

For single carriageways the limit for vans is 50 mph - not 60 mph - and for dual carriageways it’s 60 mph, not 70 mph.

If you’re towing a trailer behind your van you’re limited to 60 mph on motorways as well.

And make sure you know how much clearance your van needs, as certain low bridges regularly trap vans - especially hire vans.