A cargo van can be used to tow a car by using tow straps, a tow dolly, or auto transport.
Some cargo vans offer a towing capacity of up to 10,000 lbs.
They can pull larger objects like cars due to having the size, robust chassis, suitable configuration, adequate rear axle ratio, and powerful engines.
Although towing isn’t the biggest strength of cargo vans, they can still save the day when you need to haul a smaller vehicle such as a car.
However, trucks (especially heavy-duty models) can pull much heavier things, so they might be your best bet if your main priority is outright towing capacity.
And in this article, I’ll let you know how towing a car with a cargo van works, what models provide the highest towing capacity, and how trucks compare to cargo vans for towing cars!
Cargo Vans Aren’t the Ideal Vehicles for Towing
Although cargo vans can haul a lot of weight, there are other vehicles (such as trucks) with superior towing capabilities.
Some of the most popular heavy-duty trucks are capable of towing up to a whopping 35,100 pounds of weight.
In comparison, the most towing-friendly cargo vans have a much lower maximum towing limit of 10,000 pounds.
The reason for this difference is that trucks tend to have more powerful engines and structure that is more geared towards hauling very heavy loads.
However, note that the average weight of larger cars like the Subaru Ascent is around 4,400 pounds.
Even a luxury sedan like the Rolls-Royce Phantom doesn’t weigh more than roughly 6,000 pounds.
Thus, a cargo van can definitely get the job done when your main goal is to tow a car.
How to Tow a Car with a Cargo Van?
These are the 3 methods available for towing your car with a cargo van:
- Tow straps
- Tow dolly
- Auto transport trailer
Some of these methods, such as the tow dolly and auto transport, are simply better and safer.
And here’s how to use each:
1. Using towing straps or cables
These towing items can be typically found in automotive stores and gas stations.
But before you begin, ensure that the straps or cables are rated for the car that you’ll be pulling.
Even better, opt for heavy-duty versions for improved safety during towing.
How to tow a car with tow straps or cables:
- Attach one end of the strap/cable to the mount located under the rear bumper of the cargo van
Note: Don’t attach the tow hook to the rear bumper itself – check the owner’s manual if you can’t find the attachment point.
- Attach the other end of the strap/cable to the front mount located at the front of the car
Note: The front towing attachment point is hidden under a plastic cap on some vehicles. Resort to the user manual if you can’t find it and don’t attach the strap to the front bumper.
- Make sure that the strap or cable is not twisted (if it’s twisted, detach it and attach it again once it’s straightened out)
- The drivers of the cargo van and the car should now get behind the wheel of each vehicle.
- Begin accelerating the cargo van very slowly and don’t brake or accelerate abruptly
Nonetheless, using a tow strap or cable is the least safe method for towing a car, and I’d advise against it.
Straps and cables are susceptible to sudden tear, especially if they’re not strong enough for the car that you’re towing.
You also have to check if you’re not violating the law in your particular state since pulling a vehicle with tow straps is typically only allowed for short distances.
2. Pulling a car with a tow dolly
The tow dolly is perhaps the most common and among the safest options for towing a car with a cargo van.
This particular method is ideal for front-wheel-drive cars because only the front wheels are secured to the dolly.
Towing a front-wheel-drive car with a tow dolly also means that you won’t have to disconnect the driveshaft as opposed to rear-wheel or 4×4 cars.
How to use a tow dolly for towing your car:
- Connect the tow dolly coupler to the hitch ball of the cargo van
- Tighten up the coupler with your hands
Note: Check if the dolly is attached tightly enough by driving forward for a few feet
- Attach the safety chains of the dolly to the cargo van
- Align the front of the car with both the cargo van and dolly
Note: If your car is dead, you can just reverse the cargo van to the front of the car.
- Get the car’s front wheels on the dolly ramp (either by driving or pushing it)
- Strap the car’s wheels using the dolly’s tire straps
- Tighten the straps firmly using the ratchet mechanism
- Connect the security chains around the car’s body
- Put the car in neutral gear and disengage the parking brake
Although very safe, the tow dolly method still lags behind auto transport towing that tows the whole car on a separate trailer.
Lastly, tow dollies are more suitable for shorter distance towing since one part of the car is still connected to the road i.e., the rear wheels.
3. Towing the entire car on an auto transport trailer
This is probably the safest way to use when towing your car with a cargo van.
The auto transport trailer is suitable for many different car configurations, especially all-wheel and rear-wheel-drive models.
There’s no need to remove the driveshaft because you basically tow the entire vehicle on top of a trailer.
How to tow a car using auto transport:
- Park the cargo van and auto transport trailer in line with each other.
- Grab the trailer tongue’s handle and use it to place the tongue onto the hitch ball of the cargo van.
Note: Ensure that the coupler hand wheel is tight and that the ball clamp is just below the coupler enclosing the ball.
- Grab the safety chains and cross them in a left-to-right pattern
- Secure the safety chains to the hitch of the cargo van hitches using the rubber retainers and S-hooks.
Note: The chains shouldn’t be dragging on the ground, and the emergency brake chain needs to be routed shorter than the safety chains.
- Connect the trailer’s wiring to the cargo van’s electrical sockets.
- Release the 2 straps at the trailer’s rear from the ratchet spool by pulling the release lever, while raising the handle until it locks.
- Pull the straps upward and lay them flat on the deck.
- Release the 2 latches on the driver-side fender and bring them down.
- Free the latches of the ramps and pull them out completely.
- Align the front of the car with the auto transport.
- Drive or push the car slowly up the ramps until all 4 tires are against the stops.
- Engage the parking brake and put the transmission in park.
- Raise and secure the fender using the latches.
- Retract the ramps.
- Align the ratchets with the front wheels.
- Put the straps up and over the tires to secure the car.
- Route the other part of the straps through the slot on the ratchets spool.
Note: At least 6” of the strap has to pass through the spool
- Tighten the ratchet using the handle.
- Fasten the security chains to the frame or other strong structural member of the car.
- Do a quick visual check that everything is in place and slowly drive away.
The auto transport method is the safest one for towing a car, although it’s more complex and time-consuming.
But it might be your only option if the car that you’d be towing has broken down and/or has a rear-wheel or 4×4 drivetrain.
The Cargo Vans Offering the Most Towing Capacity
Cargo vans aren’t made equal when it comes to maximum towing capacity, and these are the models that can pull the most weight:
1. Chevrolet Express 3500 (10,000 lbs)
The Chevy Express 3500 is cargo van king when it comes to maximum trailering weight.
You can tow up to 10k lbs thanks to the humongous 6.6-liter V8 engine that produces a whopping 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque and mated to a 6-speed heavy-duty auto transmission.
This cargo van also offers a generous maximum payload capacity of 4,280 lbs with two wheelbase-length options available.
I also have to point out that the Chevrolet Express is mechanically the same cargo van as the GMC Savana – they just have different badges.
2. Nissan NV3500 HD (9,400 lbs)
The Nissan NV3500 heavy-duty model is among the largest cargo vans out there.
This version is only available with a high roof totaling 76.9 inches high, and a maximum total cargo capacity of 321 cubic feet.
But these figures aren’t class-leading in any way.
Where the NV3500 HD truly shines is the maximum towing capacity of 9,400 lbs.
Towing heavy objects is possible thanks to its massive 5.6-liter V8 powerhouse that produces 375 horsepower.
3. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD/4500 (7,500 lbs)
MB’s Sprinter provides superb towing capabilities hidden behind the prestigious badge.
The Sprinter lets you pull up to 7,500 lbs in either the 3500XD or 4500 trim levels.
This is the most expensive and only premium cargo van on this list that also offers class-leading interior height in the high roof version (87.8”).
Additionally, there’s a maximum payload capacity of 6,735 lbs (for the 4500 version) and a long list of available safety features.
4. Ford Transit 350 (6,900 lbs)
Although the Ford Transit has never been about offering the highest towing capacity, it still offers very generous figures (6,900 lbs).
This maximum towing weight is available for the rear-wheel-drive, short wheelbase, and low roof version powered by the modern 3.5L EcoBoost V6 gasoline powerplant.
The six-liter engine also offers an impressive 4,590-pound maximum payload, while high-roof versions provide 81.5 inches of interior height.
5. RAM ProMaster (5,100 lbs)
RAM’s cargo van model is another competent hauler with a decent towing capacity of 5,100 lbs.
These towing capabilities are available for the 3.6-liter V6 engine producing 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
However, the ProMaster compensates for the lesser towing capacity by offering 4,420 pounds of max payload capacity and a 463 cubic feet cargo space in the high roof version.
The RAM ProMaster also has a pretty tight turning circle (40.7-ft), which can be useful when towing.
Cargo vans are more than capable of towing large and heavy objects like cars with some models offering a maximum towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds.
The big engines, sheer size and construction of these vehicles are among the primary reasons for their very respectable towing capabilities.
Although cargo vans don’t have the best towing capacity when compared to other vehicles, they’re still competent enough to haul cars.
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