What is a dual-purpose vehicle?

A dual-purpose vehicle is defined by the UK government as ‘a vehicle constructed or adapted for the carriage of both passengers and goods.’ The rules also state that the vehicle’s unladen weight must be no more than 2,040kg. That’s the weight of the vehicle without passengers, cargo or fuel.

There are further stipulations. To fall into the dual-purpose category, vehicles must also have either four-wheel drive or a permanent rigid roof, at least one row of seats behind the driver and both side and rear windows. Manufacturers also need to meet a specific ratio of the passenger to cargo space. You can view the full category description on the government’s official legislative website.

The manufacturing regulations for dual-purpose vehicles are very broad – and that means there’s a wide range of vehicles which fall into the category, including pick-up trucks, commercial 4x4s and double-cab vans. However, there are heavier-duty vehicle categories above dual-purpose (such as 3.5-tonne vans and 3.05-tonne motorhomes), each with its own set of stringent regulations.

The second hand cars for sale market is chock-full of commercial and converted vehicles – and learning all the regulations for each model is a challenging task. If you’re shopping, make sure you check the category your commercial vehicle occupies before you buy, as it will dictate how fast you can drive it and how much cargo you can carry. Failure to stick to these limits could result in a fine.

Should you decide to buy a new dual-purpose vehicle, there are also a range of affordable options. If you don’t have the cash to put down straight away, one of these is opting for finance deals where a deposit can be paid and the cost can be spread over months or years. This investment means you won’t need to keep going into the garage to sort out a shoddy second-hand vehicle, a fact that becomes key especially when it is used for commercial purposes. Time in the garage can definitely hit your pocket so think carefully before buying.

Before setting off (especially if you’re planning to use your dual-purpose vehicle for hauling lots of cargo) check the maximum authorised mass of your vehicle. This will be listed in your owner’s manual and is often displayed on a plate fixed to the inside of the driver’s door jam. The figure refers to the total legal weight of the vehicle, fully laden with people and cargo.

Speed limits for dual-purpose vehicles

Car-derived vans and dual-purpose vehicles are light commercial vehicles which are allowed to travel as quickly as passenger cars. Generally speaking, that means you can travel a maximum of 30mph in towns and cities, 60mph on single carriageways and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

However, heavier commercial vehicles like 3.5-tonne vans can only travel at a maximum of 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways. Heavier duty 7.5-tonne goods vehicles are only allowed to travel a maximum of 56mph on dual carriageways and motorways.

Our main point here is that something which looks like a dual-purpose vehicle to the casual observer could fall into the weight category above. Some high-spec pick-ups (like flagship versions of the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux) weigh more than 2,040kg, which pushes them outside the bounds of the dual-purpose category and restricts them to the same speed as vans. 

So, if you were to drive one at 60mph on an A-road, you could get fined. Another important point to bear in mind here is that two-wheel drive single-cab pick-ups don’t qualify for the dual-purpose category and are always restricted to the same speed as vans.

How to avoid getting caught speeding in a van or pick-up

If you’re unsure about whether you’re driving a dual-purpose vehicle or a heavier-duty van, always err on the side of caution. Stick to the van speed limits until you know for certain whether your vehicle qualifies for the dual-purpose category. Then you can speed up to the faster limits.

Our biggest piece of advice is to get informed and pay attention. Learn the maximum permissible speeds for your vehicle (put a post-it note on the inside of your sun visor if that helps) and watch out for changes in the speed limit. You can find out which commercial vehicle category your workhorse falls into by checking your V5C logbook.

Cruise control helps, too. It takes human error out of the equation by fixing your vehicle’s speed at a set constant. This is particularly helpful on sections of the motorway that are covered by average speed cameras. If you’ve got a modern van or pick-up, it should also have some form of radar assistance, which means it’ll automatically slow down if the vehicle ahead brakes.

Don’t rely on dashboard sat-nav speed limit displays. Front facing camera systems on modern vans can pick up road signs from neighbouring minor roads and display an incorrect speed limit on the dashboard, while sat-nav speed limits are often out of date. They also don’t reflect the true limits for heavier commercial vehicles.


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