Although not the most glamorous of sights, most vans are more than capable of pulling a car and, in many cases, are more suitable than other vehicles. Many cargo vans are even better suited to towing a car than many SUV’s or minivans are.
To be able to tow a car, a vehicle must have adequate power and be within a manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity.
The towing capacity of a van can often be determined by looking at the sticker on the inside of the driver’s side door jamb. If not it can be found in the owner’s manual.
If you cannot find the on either of these, it will be available on the vehicle’s website but make sure you look up the relevant year and model for your particular van.
When looking at this information, you should not be confused by the terminologies or abbreviations, and so these are what the main ones mean:
GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) – This is the total weight limit approved by the manufacturer and includes the weight of the vehicle, fuel, passengers, or cargo but does not include any weight for items being towed such as trailers or cars.
GCWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Rating) – This is the GVWR plus any amount that can be towed. Meaning it is the combined maximum weights of both the vehicle towing and the vehicle or trailer being towed.
Weight of the Car to Be Towed
It is not necessary to know the GVWR of a car to be towed as it will more often than not be devoid of cargo or passengers. In this instance you will have to once again refer to the owner’s manual or the car’s website and look for either ‘Curb Weight’ or ‘Dry Weight.’
Although these two may seem the same, they do have a slight difference:
Curb Weight – This is the weight of the vehicle as determined by the manufacturer and so does not include any cargo, passengers, fuel, or operating fluids.
Dry Weight – The same as above but includes operational fluids, but still not fuel, passengers or cargo.
Other Weights to Know about the Van Doing the Towing
Before you can safely tow a car or anything else, as with any other vehicle used for towing, you should know other weights. These weights are the axle weights and the tongue weight.
GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating) – The axle weights are self-explanatory as they are the maximum weight that should be placed on each of the axles, front and rear. These weights should also be on the door jamb, but if not, they once again will be in the owner’s manual.
Tongue Weight – Although most of the weight of the car being towed will fall on the axles of the car, or the axles of the auto transport trailer, if you use one, 10% – 15% will still fall on the rear axle of the tow vehicle. This additional weight is called the tongue weight and so should be taken into consideration when calculating if your van is capable of towing the car you intend to tow.
Connecting the Car to the Van
Unlike trucks, most vans do not have a towing hook when purchased however this does not mean they are not suitable for towing.
You should not tie ropes or straps to the rear bumper of the van as the bumper is not designed for that purpose. If you intend to use straps or ropes, there is a mount located under the rear bumper of the van specifically for this purpose.
Although using straps may not add weight to the rear axle of the van, using straps or ropes is the least safe way for towing. It is far safer to use a towing dolly which can attach to the front axle of the car to be towed or an automotive transporter.
However, both of these will need to attach to a towing hook and add extra weight to the rear axle of the van doing the towing.
If you need to add a towing hook to your van, it is recommended to use a weight distribution hitch. This is an attachment that connects to the van close to the underside of the rear bumper and has a towing hook which extends out past the bumper.
The use of this type of hitch will allow the auto transporter or dolly to connect to the van. The hitch will also ensure that the weight of the car being towed is evenly spread between the two vehicles.
If the correct connection is made between the van and the car to be towed, the load will be evenly spread, which will help to limit swaying and make braking smoother.
How Much Cars Weigh
Obviously all types of cars have different weights depending on their size, make and type. You should therefore try to determine the exact weight of the car to be towed, but as a guide these are the approximate curb weights by average size:
Smart Car – 1,550 pounds
Compact Car – 2,919 pounds
Midsize Car – 3,361 pounds
Large Car – 3,882 pounds
Compact Truck or SUV – 3,590 pounds
How Much Weight Vans Can Tow
Once again, there are a large number of different sizes and types of vans, but cargo vans are among the smallest and so here are the average towing capacities for the different vans:
Compact Cargo Van – 2,760 pounds
Full Size Cargo Van – 5,500 pounds
Heavy Duty Cargo Van – 7,700 pounds
As you can see from the above, even a compact cargo van has the capacity to tow a smart car while full size cargo vans or heavy duty cargo vans are easily capable of towing any size car.
Interestingly, vans can tow different weights depending on whether they are minivans, passenger, or cargo vans. On average, cargo vans can pull the most.
Best Cargo Vans for Towing
Today cargo vans are being bought for a multitude of different purposes, but if you are considering getting one mainly for its towing capacity, here are some of the better for that purpose:
2022 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana
These two similar vehicles have continuously improved since their introduction in 1997, and one of the areas they have improved on is their towing capacities.
Today either one, in their minivan role, can tow 9,600 pounds but an even more impressive 10,000 pounds for their cargo van models.
2021 Ram ProMaster
Once again, these can be bought as either minivans or cargo vans, but while the minivan can tow 6,410 pounds, the towing capacity increases to 6,910 pounds in the cargo van version.
2021 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
This is the van with perhaps the biggest difference in towing capacity as a minivan or a cargo van. As a minivan the towing capacity is relatively low at 5,000 pounds, but as a cargo van, the towing capacity goes up to a very competitive 7,500 pounds.
2021 Ford Transit
The Ford Transit is popular as a minivan or as a cargo van, but whilst the minivan can tow 4,300 pounds, the cargo van has much more towing power with a capacity of 6,900 pounds.
2021 Mercedes-Benz Metris
With a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds this van may not be able to pull as much as some of the other cargo vans but can make up for that in its smaller size, price, and maneuverability.
As can be seen above, many vans are more than capable of towing even the largest of cars but it is always best to still check towing capacities of a van as well as the curb weight of a car to be towed.
As with any vehicle used for towing, before you use a cargo van to tow a car, you should first ensure that the brakes on the van are in full working order. Even with the brakes in good condition, it will still take the van further to stop when towing than it would on its own.
Therefore, you should always leave additional stopping distances between you and a car in front when towing a car behind you.
As the breaking distance required is always more when towing, it is always recommended that you also drive at slower speeds than you may when not towing.
Regardless of whether or not they come with or without a towing hook, most vans are capable of towing different capacities. It is usual though, that if a van comes in options as a minivan or cargo van, it will be the cargo van that offers more towing capacity.