All vans including cargo vans are capable of pulling campers but of course the size of the camper a van can pull will depend on which van you have and how big it is. Vans designed to carry freight though are better suited to this task than vans designed to carry passengers
Although some people now use minivans to pull a camper, a minivan cannot pull as much weight as their cargo van equivalents.
In the past often sedans were used to pull campers, but today many people prefer to use trucks or SUVs. One of the reasons for this is that as trucks and SUVs became more popular, sedans stopped being made with the capability to tow heavy weights.
Campers do of course come in a great many different weights and sizes, and so if you own a van and want to tow a camper, you will want to know what size camper to get.
It is not so much the size of the camper, which is the concern, but rather how much the camper weighs and can you tow it without causing too much stress on your van.
All vehicles are given a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) by their manufacturer, but this is the total weight a vehicle must not exceed when fully loaded and does not apply to any weight towed.
The amount of weight a vehicle can tow is often placed either on the label in the door jam or in the Owner’s manual.
It is sometimes referred to as the GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating). If not then you will have to either go to the manufacturer’s website where it may be available, or you will have to work out how much your van can tow on your own.
Work Out How Much Your Van Can Tow
The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) is the maximum weight that can be placed on each axle, and so the GVWR is the total of the two GAWR for a van.
A trailer camper however has its own axle and so does not place its weight directly onto either of a van’s axles.
The camper’s tongue, which connects the camper to the towing vehicle, will however place additional weight on the rear axle of the van.
The additional weight of the camper’s tongue will have to be included as extra weight on the rear axle of your van but is only a percentage of the total weight of the camper, usually between 10% and 15% of the camper weight.
Obviously, you can get a more accurate figure as to how much your van can tow if you have the GCVWR. If so, you merely have to subtract the van’s GVWR from the GCVWR figure. Whenever you do this though remember to add the additional tongue weight to the rear axle of the towing vehicle so as to not exceed its maximum weight.
Cargo Vans vs. Passenger Vans for Towing
Often manufacturers give passenger vehicles and cargo vans the same name, so you can choose which type is best suited for your purposes. If you know you will be towing a camper though, on average, you will be able to tow an additional 500lbs if you opt for the cargo version rather than the passenger version.
Some examples of this are:
Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana – Towing capacity for the passenger version is 9,600lbs while the for the cargo version is 10,000lbs
Ram ProMaster – Towing capacity for the passenger version is 6,410lbs, but you can tow an additional 500lbs with cargo version
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – While the maximum towing capacity for a passenger version is 5,000lbs, a heavy duty cargo version can tow as much as 7,500lbs
Ford Transit – The towing capacity for the passenger version may only be 4,300lbs, but the cargo version is more competitive, with a maximum towing capacity of 6,900lbs
Pros and Cons of Towing a Camper with a Van
Pros of Towing a Camper with a Van
- Additional Seating – As cargo vans can be configured to add extra seating, they can hold the whole family plus their luggage without having to cluster up the camper.
- Towing Capacity – Many full size vans can tow more weight than most heavy duty SUVs, and even as much as half ton pick-up trucks.
- Vans are more versatile – The versatility of a van being able to adapt to carrying many different assortments of cargo or passengers means you will be able to take whatever you or the family need on their trip.
Cons of Towing a Camper with a Van
- Lack of Style – Although a van may not be the most stylish of towing vehicles in the camper park, at least you may be the best equipped with the space it provides.
- Height can be a problem when parking– As you travel the country you may want to leave the camper on site and take your towing vehicle into town, but remember vans may not fit in all underground parking facilities.
- Lower Gas Mileage – Vans are powerful towing vehicles and so may not get as many miles to the gallon as other, smaller towing vehicles may.
- No 4 Wheel Drive – Unlike many SUVs and pickup trucks, most cargo vans do not have 4 wheel drive and so may limit you on your choice of camping grounds.
Average GVWR for Different Types of Campers
Like vehicles, campers vary a lot in both style and size and also have their own Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.
There are also many different brands of camper, but most can be placed into one of the following categories:
Teardrop Camper Trailer – The average empty weight for these types of camper is 1,700lbs but can have a GVWR of as much as 4.000lbs
A Frame Camper – Although the empty weight for these may be similar to a teardrop camper, their GVWR is usually less averaging 3,600lbs
Pop-Up Campers – Although these types of campers have more weight when empty, averaging 2,300lbs their GVWR is similar to a teardrop camper at 4,000lbs
Small Travel Camper – With a higher empty weight averaging 2,800lbs, they also have a higher GVWR at 4,500lbs
Large Travel Trailers – Weighing on average 6,700lbs, they often have a GCWR of as much as 10,500lbs
Vans and Camper Combinations
As can be seen from the above figures, most compact cargo vans can tow some kind of camper, but many of the full size vans can tow most types of camper.
A Weight Distribution Hitch Spreads the Weight
If you need to add a towing hitch to your cargo van, it is best to use a weight distribution hitch and not a bumper hitch.
Most bumpers are marked with their towing capacity, but often this is limited to only 3,500lbs which would not be enough for many campers.
A weight distribution hitch however, spreads the weight of the tongue across the axles, making it not only more stable but also able to tow more weight.
Many camping enthusiasts do not know or forget that vans can tow things, therefore often opt to use a truck or SUV to tow their camper.
While there is no problem using one of these other vehicles, as long as they have enough towing power, they may often have to leave behind additional camping equipment they may have needed. Not only do vans offer the power to tow their camper, but also have enough space to carry all they may need on their camping trip.
As well as being able to tow campers, vans can also be adapted to carry additional passengers as well as their luggage, ensuring all the family travel together.
Perhaps one of the reasons why cargo vans are not so commonly used to tow campers is their versatility. As a cargo van can be converted to become a self-powered camper, perhaps many camping enthusiasts that own a van convert their van to a camper.
High roof cargo vans are ideally suited for conversion to campers as they already have standing room.
Cargo vans may not look as stylish as an SUV or even a passenger van, but they are more powerful than most. Due to their versatility cargo vans are increasingly being used for a wide variety of tasks but have perhaps been overlooked in the past as an effective towing vehicle.