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How to handle a hire van

Most people rarely need to hire a van, so taking to the cab of a van can be a strange and sometimes scary experience. But you shouldn’t worry about it; with just a few simple precautions, and a couple of minor adjustments to your driving style, you can enjoy a safe and successful trip.

Before you get in…

The most important thing is to get to know the dimensions of your van before you set off. This means learning the length, width and crucially the height of your van. Getting stuck under a car park height barrier will not impress the van hire company, and it is all too easy to catch the sides or the mirrors of your van if you don’t allow for the extra width in tight gaps.

Take a walk around your van and get a feel for the size before you get in. You’ll also want to make a note of which side the fuel filler cap is, so that you don’t get into difficulties at the petrol station.

Familiarise yourself with your hire van

Next, you need to familiarise yourself with the cab of your vehicle. You’ll notice that in some vans, there is no rear view mirror, and this can take a lot of getting used to. However, it is likely that you will have big wing mirrors and a high driving position that should give you a clear view.

You’ll also find things like the hand brake and gears are different to what you are used to. Many van handbrakes drop away to the floor when released, and many vans have dash mounted gear sticks and even a six-speed gearbox.

Before you set off, find all the essentials, including horn, wipers, screen washers, heaters and hazard warning lights. It is no use waiting until you need these things and struggling to find them as your screen mists up or a pedestrian walks in front of your van.

Test drive your hire van

Once you are confident with the size and layout of your van, give it a short test drive before you collect your load. Get used to the brakes, the steering and the weight of your van before you drive it loaded. You’ll find that you need to take corners a little slower and wider to allow for the height and length of your van. You’ll also find that your stopping distance is longer, even without the weight of a load.

Once you have picked up your load, do the same thing again, getting used to the handling of the weight and longer stopping distance.

Parking and loading your van

Parking a van you are not used to is not easy for anyone, so don’t be afraid to get help from your passengers, or to get out and take a look if you are in any doubt. Always park slowly, so that if you do misjudge it, the damage will be minimised.

Loading your van takes just as much time and care, but with a little common sense, you should have no problems. Remember to spread the load evenly, working from the cab end towards the back to keep the weight centralised. Always put the heaviest items on the bottom to keep the centre of gravity low and always secure tall items, because if it’s tall, it will fall.

Plan ahead

Many people try to save money on van rental by rushing the job in as short a time as possible, but this is just false economy. Rushing the job just leads to more accidents and more damage to your cargo, so take your time, plan your route and give yourself long enough to do the job calmly and carefully.

Make sure you have appropriate van hire insurance in place that will cover you for accidental damage to the van and third party claims. This is sometimes included within the hire fee, but you should check the terms and conditions and exclusions to ensure the policy meets your requirements.

No one likes to plan ahead for an accident, but it is worth checking the excess on your van hire insurance policy. This can often be much higher than on your car, so check if you can pay a little extra to reduce your excess if you do have a claim. Again, it is false economy to risk paying out hundreds of pounds to save just a few. If you do need to make a claim, you should also report this to your car/van insurance company for information purposes.

Finally, enjoy yourself

At the end of the day, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to hiring a van. Millions of people hire vans every year without incident, and most modern vans, such as the ubiquitous Transit, are actually great fun to drive.

Whatever your level of driving experience, whatever it is you are moving, if you follow the simple steps above you’re sure to have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Please note that Octagon Insurance does not currently offer van hire insurance.

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