Both box trucks and cargo vans have their set of advantages/disadvantages, these are:
- Superior cargo capacity and payload
- Easier loading and unloading
- Additional advertising space
- Worse fuel economy
- Difficult to park and maneuver
- Easy to drive and park
- BFuel efficient
- Smaller storage area
- Less payload
- Lower roof
Box trucks are more suitable for long-distance transport (i.e. across town or state), while cargo vans are more geared towards in-town transport.
This means that choosing one over the other will depend on your business needs.
And to help you make the right choice, in this article, I will cover:
- An in-depth look at the pros and cons of box trucks and cargo vans
- What defines a cargo van and a box truck, including average prices
- The differences between them
- What to consider when choosing between a cargo van or a box truck
- The most popular models
Pros and Cons – A Detailed Look at Each
To make the right choice, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of each vehicle type:
Box Truck Pros
1. Superb Loading Capacity
Box trucks are tailor-made for transporting large and heavy objects such as boxes, furniture, and other appliances.
This is possible due to their flat sides, square shape, and sheer amount of space that helps a 26-feet box truck carry a payload of up to 10,000 pounds.
The maximum cargo capacity of a 26′ model is around 1,800 ft³, which is roughly 5 times more than what you can fit in a heavy-duty van.
Having a bigger cargo area means that you can transport stuff with fewer trips.
2. Effortless Loading and Unloading
Being able to quickly and easily load/unload can be a real deal-breaker if you’re transporting bulky items.
This is where a box truck’s rolling rear door comes into play by greatly simplifying the loading and unloading process.
This functionality is further amplified by the very tall and wide opening to the cargo area that makes fitting cumbersome and awkward-shaped objects a breeze.
3. Lots of Advertising Space
Box-shaped commercial vehicles offer heaps of exterior space that you can use for advertising purposes.
The large flat sides of a box van can serve as a blank canvas for displaying various ads.
Box Truck Cons
1. Poor Gas Milage
Box trucks are powered by very big engines, and they’re quite heavy as well, which has a negative impact on their fuel economy.
The average gas mileage of these commercial vehicles ranges between 8 and 14 MPG, while even diesel-powered models will struggle to achieve 20 MPG.
2. Rather Expensive
These machines are far from cheap as even used models tend to hold a steep price.
You can expect to spend at least $30k on a new small box truck, while larger 26′ versions can cost you up to $100k.
3. Difficult to Drive
Due to their size, box trucks are harder to drive and maneuver, especially around town.
Some models are as tall as 102”, which makes entering certain buildings and garages a real challenge.
They also won’t fit into tight parking spaces or areas, which can impact deliveries.
Cargo Van Pros
1. Great Handling and Driveability
Cargo vans drive and handle more like traditional vehicles as they respond to driver input in a similar way to cars.
They’re also more maneuverable, easier to park, and can fit into tighter spaces.
All of this is in contrast to the much more truck-like driving dynamics of a box van that requires some getting used to.
2. Superior Affordability
It’s no wonder that cargo vans are cheaper than box trucks due to being more compact, lighter and relying on smaller engines.
The price ranges for brand new cargo vans vary from $25k to around $45k, with diesel-powered units costing more.
Note that used models are also much more affordable than their boxy counterparts, despite the specifications and equipment levels.
3. Better MPG
A cargo van would typically offer better MPG than a box truck due to weighing less and having more economical engines.
Compact cargo vans such as the 2.0L gasoline Ford Transit Connect can easily achieve 24 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway.
Even larger models such as the Mercedes-Benz Metris can deliver 19 MPG (city) and 23 MPG (highway), which is still more economical than a box truck.
Cargo Van Cons
1. Smaller Storage Capacity
The more compact dimensions of a cargo van mean that it won’t carry as much load as a box van.
These vehicles can’t haul very large and awkwardly-shaped items, as the average cargo van has a cargo capacity of only 260 ft³.
As a result, transferring big loads using a cargo van would mean doing additional trips that you wouldn’t need to do with a box truck.
2. Less Payload Capacity
You won’t be able to haul really heavy items in a cargo van as the average model has a payload of around 3,700 pounds – much less than that of a box truck.
Even the legendary Ford Transit work van has a maximum payload capacity of 5,110 pounds.
3. Lower Roof
Although cargo vans come with various roof heights, they’re still far lower than the cargo area of most box trucks.
For example, the Ford Transit high roof version has arguably the highest roof among cargo vans at 81.5”, which is not even close to the 102” height of the average 26′ box truck.
What Defines Box Trucks and Cargo Vans
Here is the definition for each:
Box Truck Overview
A box truck is a two-piece commercial vehicle consisting of a cab with a separate box-shaped cargo area that’s attached to the frame.
They’re also known as box vans or cube vans due to their shape.
Most box trucks have an entirely separate loading area that is inaccessible from the cabin, although some models come with a cargo area that’s grafted to the cab, making for direct access.
There are two main types of box trucks, depending on where the engine is:
- Conventional – They have a distinctive “nose” since the engine is located in front of the steering wheel. Example: Freightliner M2.
- Cabover – These trucks don’t have a bonnet and a “nose” as the engine sits underneath the front seats. Example: Isuzu NPR and Mitsubishi F series.
Box trucks are categorized as medium-duty commercial vehicles, and they come in varying sizes that range from smaller 10-feet long models to massive box trucks that are close to 30 feet in length.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, box trucks fall into the following weight classes as part of the truck classification, depending on their GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating):
- Class 3: 10,001 lb to 14,000 lb
- Class 4: 14,001 lb to 16,000 lb
- Class 5: 16,001 lb to 19,000 lb
- Class 6: 19,501 lb to 26,000 lb
Box trucks are limited to class 6 because driving heavier vehicles (i.e. over 26,000 pounds in overall weight) requires a Class-A CDL (commercial driver’s license) as per FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) regulations.
Price-wise, a brand new box truck can be rather expensive depending on commercial vehicle class:
- $30,000: smaller Class 3 truck
- $35,000-$50,000: medium-sized Class 4 version
- $40,000-$75,000: larger Class 5 models
- $50,000-$100,000: big Class 6 truck
Typically, box trucks are used by businesses such as professional moving services and truck companies.
Cargo Van Overview
A cargo van is a one-piece vehicle that looks quite similar to passenger vans as both have a sliding side door and two rear doors.
However, cargo vans have empty cargo space instead of seats at the back, and most of them don’t have windows in the rear cargo area.
Some cargo vans even offer direct access to the load section from the cabin, depending on the model and modifications.
Most of these work vans are labeled light-duty vehicles, although some of the larger models fall into the medium-duty category, while the particular weight class might vary from 1 through 3:
- Class 1: up to 6,000 lb
- Class 2: 6,001 lb to 10,000 lb
- Class 3: 10,001 lb to 14,000 lb
As a result, driving a cargo van doesn’t require any special driving license.
The price of a new cargo van is comparable to a car as you can expect to spend anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000, depending on the brand, size, and equipment.
Note that diesel-powered versions are always more expensive than their gasoline equivalents.
Due to their shape, size and capabilities, these vehicles are often used by courier and delivery services, as well as general contractors such as plumbers and electricians.
Main Differences Between Box Trucks and Cargo Vans
These are the three primary differences between the two commercial vehicle types:
1. Construction and Design
The most notable difference between a box truck and a cargo van is their design.
Box trucks utilize a two-piece construction where the cab and the cargo are usually completely separated, while cargo vans have a one-piece design, in which the cab and cargo area are attached.
Cargo vans have a “nose” because the engine is mounted in front of the steering wheel, which is not the case with cabover box trucks.
A cabover truck is a box truck variation that doesn’t have a “nose” at the front since the engine is located underneath the front seats.
Also, some cargo vans have windows in the load area, while box trucks are windowless at the back.
2. Size and Weight
Cargo vans are much more compact and smaller than box trucks in both exterior and interior dimensions.
For example, a typical high roof cargo van model will be76-inch high, 55-inch wide and have a143-inch interior length.
While some of the largest box trucks are 102-inch tall, 102-inch wide and 26-feet long.
Box trucks are also much heavier, with an average empty weight of 10,000 lb, as opposed to roughly 4,000 lb empty weight for the average cargo van.
The larger body of the box truck allows for an additional passenger seat at the front as most have 3 seats, while cargo vans usually have only 2.
3. Engine and Fuel Efficiency
Box trucks come with much bigger and more powerful engines than cargo vans to help them haul massive payloads.
For example, the Ford E-Series box truck model relies on huge V10 and V8 engines, while the Ford Transit cargo van comes with a smaller 3.5-liter V6.
The larger engine displacement and extra power of these box-shaped vehicles also mean they’re less fuel-efficient.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Box Truck or Cargo Van
Choosing between a box truck or a cargo van depends on which vehicle type suits your needs better.
Here are the main factors to find which one is the right commercial vehicle for you:
1. Size and Weight of the Cargo
Consider how large and heavy the items you’ll be hauling will be, as there’s a world of difference between transporting plastic cups or heavy stone.
Box trucks have superior cargo capacity and payload. If you need to transport very tall pieces of furniture and multiple really heavy stuff like refrigerators or washers, then a box truck would make more sense.
But if you’re going to haul smaller objects then a cargo van will do more than a competent job.
2. The Type of Trade You Are In
The scale and type of your business are other crucial factors to take into account when choosing between the two.
If you own a truck company or have a large-scale professional moving service, then opting for a box truck would be a no-brainer.
But if the vehicle will be used by an electrician, plumber or HVAC technician, then the more compact work can probably be a better idea.
3. The Skills of the Driver
Think about the driver skills of the person that’ll be behind the wheel of the vehicle.
Driving a box truck requires more effort as these vehicles are less maneuverable and harder to park.
A cargo van can be the better option due to its car-like handling and maneuverability, especially if the driver isn’t experienced in driving commercial vehicles.
4. Long-Distance or Local Transport
Consider the distance that the vehicle will have to cover when hauling cargo.
If you’ll do a lot of long-distance hauling a box truck might work better as it should be able to transport everything in a single trip.
Whereas a cargo van will shine in local, in-town hauling where its driveability and fuel economy give it the edge.
Your budget might eventually tip the scales in favor of the more affordable vehicle type of the two – the cargo van.
Brand new cargo vans cost between roughly $25,000-$45,000, which is within the price range of most small-to-medium Class 3 and 4 box trucks.
Thus, a smaller 12′ box truck can be more expensive than a well-equipped cargo van that offers similar cargo capacity and possibly even a higher payload.
The Most Popular Cargo Vans and Box Trucks
Once you’ve singled out the right vehicle type for your needs, consider the most popular models before making your final pick:
Most Popular Box Trucks
1. Isuzu N-Series
- Class: 3, 4
- GVWR: 12,000-16,000 lb
- Engines: 6.0L gas and 5.2L diesel
Isuzu trucks are known for their durability and reliability, with the N-Series and NPR, in particular, being their most popular models.
The NPR comes in 4 wheelbase options (from 109” to 176”), several truck bodies (from 10′ to 20′) and 2 configurations (standard and crew cab).
2. Hino 155
- Class: 4
- GVWR: 14,500 lb
- Engines: 5.oL diesel
The 155 is Hino’s best-selling vehicle in the delivery truck segment, and it’s known for being a sturdy Japanese-built medium duty-box truck.
It comes with plenty of wheelbase options (from 114” to 214”) and 2 cab options (single or double cab).
3. Mitsubishi Fuso F160
- Class: 4
- GVWR: 15,995 lb
- Engines: 3.oL diesel
Mitsubishi’s Fuso is a popular box truck line in the US, especially the highly-regarded workhorse known as the Fuso F160.
The F160 is available in 5 wheelbase versions (from 110.2” to 187.0”), and there are 2 cab configurations – regular (single) and crew, which accommodate up to 7 persons.
4. Freightliner M2 106
- Class: 6-8
- GVWR: 19,501-66,000 lb
- Engines: 5.1L, 6.7L, 7.7L and 8.9L diesel
The huge US-born Freightliner M2 106 is designed to tackle very heavy loads thanks to its massive size and big engines.
This tough box truck can haul up to a whopping 66,000 pounds, although you’ll need a special commercial driving license if you want to drive a vehicle that has a total weight of over 26,000 pounds.
5. Chevrolet LCF
- Class: 3-5
- GVWR: 12,000-19,500 lb
- Engines: 6.6L gasoline and 5.2L diesel
The Chevrolet LFC (Low Cab Forward) is a common sight on US roads, with the models from 3500 to 5500XD being the most popular ones.
There are various wheelbase options on offer (from 109” to 212”) and 2 cab specs – regular and crew cab.
Most Popular Cargo Vans
1. Ford Transit
- Class: 3
- GVWR: 10,360 lb
- Engines: 3.5L gasoline
The Ford Transit is one of the best-selling vans in America and is usually considered as one of the best in its class.
This work van comes in various shapes and sizes including 2 wheelbases, 3 roof heights and 3 body lengths.
2. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
- Class: 2
- GVWR: 8,550 lb
- Engines: 2.0L gasoline and 3.5L diesel
The Mercedes Sprinter offers functionality and practicality, all wrapped in a premium package.
Apart from being a popular and very capable workhorse, this vehicle can be ordered with fancy tech gadgets such as a 360° camera and blind-spot assist mirror.
3. RAM ProMaster
- Class: 2
- GVWR: 8,550-9,350 lb
- Engines: 3.6L gasoline
RAM’s popular cargo van is among the models with the widest cargo area and lowest load floor, making it quite practical.
This great allrounder also comes in 3 body length options – 136”, 159” and 159” extended.
4. Chevrolet Express
- Class: 2
- GVWR: 9,990 lb
- Engines: 4.3L gas, 6.6L gas and 2.8L diesel
Chevy’s Express is another highly popular work van that’s mechanically identical to the GMC Savanna.
The Express has 3 powerful engine choices that give it a superb almost-10k GVWR rating, although a low roof size is the only roof size that you can opt for.
5. Nissan NV2500
- Class: 2
- GVWR: 9,100 lb
- Engines: 5.6L gasoline
The Nissan NV2500 comes with a powerful V8 gasoline unit, plenty of practicality and a very box truck-like square shape.
This big cargo van also has a high roof version that boasts a truly impressive interior height of 105”.
Box trucks and cargo vans are commercial vehicles that usually fall under vehicle weight classes 2-6.
Both vehicle types are designed to haul large items, although box trucks excel at long-distance transport, while cargo vans are better at in-town hauling.
There are other notable differences between trucks and vans, such as length, shape, and bonnet/nose (or lack of in the case of cabover box trucks).
However, they’re also somewhat similar, which can make picking one over the other rather tricky.
It’s hard to say which of the two commercial vehicle types is better as it depends on your needs.
For example, you might need a compact commercial vehicle that’s easy to park or something massive that can haul very heavy items.
Consider why and where you’ll be using the vehicle to find whether a box truck or a cargo van will best suit you and/or your business.