A cargo van can tow a number of different large and heavy vehicles such as a:
- Boat (e.g. pontoon, wake or fishing boats)
- Trailer (e.g. auto transport or tow dolly)
Cargo vans can tow a maximum total weight of up to 10,000 lbs (including the trailer).
The towing capacity of a cargo van is determined by its engine, drivetrain, axle loading, brakes, suspension and tires.
It’s important to note that the overall weight of the loaded cargo van and vehicle that you’re towing shouldn’t exceed the maximum GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of the van.
However, work vans are not the most optimal towing vehicle type as heavy-duty pickup trucks can pull much heavier objects.
And to show you how cargo vans fare in the towing department, in this article I’ll also cover the following topics:
- Cargo vans with the highest towing capacity
- Pros and cons of towing with a cargo vanType of things that you can tow with a cargo van and how much they weight
- Practical tips for towing with a cargo van
- How to increase the towing capacity of a cargo van
- Other vehicles that can tow more than cargo vans
Weight and Type of Things to Tow with a Cargo Van
Below you’ll find the most common things that you can tow with a cargo van, how much they weigh and which vans are strong enough to pull them:
1. RVs (e.g. Camper)
- Average weight – 5,200 pounds (empty)
- Popular cargo vans that can tow even the heaviest caravans – Chevrolet Express 3500, Nissan NV3500 HD
Campers (a.k.a. caravans or travel trailers) are very popular for towing because they’re made for this, and they aren’t that heavy, meaning that cargo vans can pull most of them without a problem.
Here are some popular campers with their corresponding weight and size for your reference:
- 10RK Hummingbird – 1,545 pounds (empty weight), 13 feet long
- 17RK Hummingbird – 2,980 pounds (empty weight), 19 feet 10 inches long
- Sport 22FB – 3,634 pounds (with batteries and LPs), 22 feet long
- International Serenity 23CB – 4,761 pounds (with batteries and LPs), 23 feet long
- 24MBH White Hawk – 5,625 pounds (empty weight), 29 feet 2 inches long
- Airstream Land Yacht – 6,586 pounds (with batteries and LPs), 28 feet long
- 32BHS White Hawk – 7,757 pounds (empty weight), 37 feet 10 inches
However, it’s unlikely that the RV that you’ll be towing will be empty, and these are examples of how much weight some common items might add:
- Water – One gallon of water weighs roughly 8.3 pounds, and you can easily add 400 pounds of extra weight by stacking on water gallons
- Propane tank – You’ll probably carry one so expect to add between 30-40 pounds of additional weight
- Passengers – Consider how much extra weight you might be carrying if, for example, you’re traveling with several 150-pound individuals
- Food – Unless you and those with you are on a strict diet, one person can easily consume a few pounds of food per day
- Miscellaneous items – Other items like a floor jack will add around 35 pounds to the overall weight
Remember that although total weight is really important as you don’t want to exceed your cargo van’s GVWR value, weight distribution is just as important.
2. Trailers (e.g. Tow Dolly)
- Average weight – 1,000 pounds (empty)
- Popular cargo vans that can tow heavy trailers – Chevrolet Express 3500, Nissan NV3500 HD, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD/4500, Ford Transit 350
There are various types of trailers out there, each designed to carry specific vehicles such as motorcycles, boats and cars.
You have to consider the extra weight of the thing that you’ll tow using the trailer as the average motorcycle weighs around 400 lbs.Here’s a trailer weight chart that includes the average weight of each trailer type, including the corresponding weight range:
- Canoe/Kayak trailer – 200 lbs average empty weight, 100-400 lbs empty weight range
- Jet Ski trailer – 300 lbs average empty weight, 100-500 lbs empty weight range
- Motorcycle trailer – 500 lbs average empty weight, 300-800 lbs empty weight range
- Fishing boat trailer – 600 lbs average empty weight, 200-1,100 lbs empty weight range
- Tow dolly trailer – 600 lbs average empty weight, 400-800 lbs empty weight range
- Small open utility trailer – 700 lbs average empty weight, 300-1,100 lbs empty weight range
- Car trailer – 1,900 lbs average empty weight, 1,500-2,800 lbs empty weight range
- Large boat trailer – 2,200 lbs average empty weight, 1,100-4,400 lbs empty weight range
- Large flatbed trailer – 3,000 lbs average empty weight, 500-7,700 lbs empty weight range
- Gooseneck flatbed trailer – 7,200 lbs average empty weight, 4,700-10,400 lbs empty weight range
However, note that these are the empty or dry weight ranges of the specific trailers.
3. Cars (with a Tow Strap or Tow Chain)
- Average weight – 2,871
- Popular cargo vans that can tow even large cars – Chevrolet Express 3500, Nissan NV3500 HD, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD/4500, Ford Transit 350, RAM ProMaster
Although cars are usually towed on a trailer, using a towing strap or a towing chain is another popular option. However, it’s more suitable to use this method just for shorter-distance towing as it requires another person to maneuver and hit the brakes of the towed vehicle.
Most cars aren’t really heavy though, and your cargo van will most likely be able to pull a car without a problem.
This is the average weight of most car types with some models as examples:
- Smart cars (e.g. Smart) – 2,072 lbs
- Sub compact cars (e.g. Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit) – 2,505 lbs
- Compact cars (e.g. Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta, Honda Civic) – 2,919 lbs
- Midsize cars (e.g. Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Honda Accord) – 3,361 lbs
- Large cars (e.g. Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon) – 3,882 lbs
It’s worth noting that you should always replace a tow strap that’s frayed to not risk it breaking while towing a car.
The Cargo Vans with the Best Towing Capacity
Some cargo vans are especially good when it comes to towing, and these are the models with the best towing capacity on the market:
1. Chevrolet Express 3500
Maximum towing capacity – 10,000 lbs
The Chevy Express 3500 is tough, powerful and it has a stunning maximum towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, which is more than what some pickup trucks offer.
Power comes from the massive 6.6-liter V8 gasoline unit that’s paired to a six-speed heavy-duty automatic transmission for optimal pulling performance.
The Express also comes with up to 284.4 cu. ft. of cargo space available and great payload capabilities.
2. Nissan NV3500 HD
Maximum towing capacity – 9,400 lbs
Nissan’s boxy and huge NV3500 HD comes only in a high-roof body style and exceptional towing capabilities.
The heavy-duty design lets you pull up to 9.4k pounds with the help of the big 5.6-liter V8 engine.
Apart from the towing figures and practical square shape, the NV offers up to 323.1 cu. ft. of loading space.
3. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500XD/4500
Maximum towing capacity – 7,500 lbs
Mercedes-Benz is known for manufacturing premium vehicles with great attention to detail and overall quality, the Sprinter is no exception.
However, it’s the Sprinter 3500XD and 4500 workhorses that can pull heavy objects of up to 7.5k pounds.
This cargo van’s loading area also holds up to 533 cu. ft. and there’s even an optional 4×4 system, which should definitely help with towing.
4. Ford Transit 350
Maximum towing capacity – 6,900 lbs
The Ford Transit is a real legend among cargo vans that typically impresses vast cargo space and class-leading roof height.
However, it also shines when towing, mainly due to the brilliant 3.5L EcoBoost V6 gasoline engine.
Moreover, there are multiple wheelbases, body lengths, and roof height options to choose from.
5. RAM ProMaster
Maximum towing capacity – 5,100 lbs
The RAM ProMaster is a great all-rounder with a pretty good maximum towing capacity of 5.1k pounds.
It has a very tight turning circle of only 40.7 feet, which is truly helpful when making turns while towing.
The ProMaster’s towing prowess also comes from the smooth 3.6-liter V6 powerplant.
Pros and Cons of Towing with a Cargo Van
Towing a trailer or a vehicle with a cargo van has its unique set of advantages and disadvantages, such as:
The Pros of Towing with a Cargo Van
1. Very Decent Towing Capacity for its Class
The most robust and heavy-duty cargo vans can pull up to a maximum of 10,000 pounds, which is quite impressive for this vehicle type.
This means that you can safely tow large SUVs, big sedans, RVs, and even certain boat types like fishing boats.
Although a heavy-duty truck will have a towing capacity that’s roughly 3 times more than a heavy-duty full-size van , a work van can still hold its own against most half-ton trucks.
2. More Affordable than the Typical Towing Vehicles
Generally, a cargo van with the maximum towing capacity available will usually be a few thousand bucks cheaper than a pickup truck or SUV of similar towing specifications.
However, the exact difference in price between these vehicles can vary greatly, depending on the model year, brand, and equipment level.
You can even opt for a used work van if you want to spend less initially.
3. Loading Space that Complements the Towing Capacity
If you need vast cargo space on top of being able to tow your car, then look no further than a cargo van.
The primary strength of cargo vans is their enormous loading area that goes up to 536.4 cu. ft. on the biggest, high-roof, and long-wheelbase models.
This means that you have plenty of free space to fill while towing as you can fit various large items into a cargo van’s back such as a:
- Large mattress (folded) (e.g. King size mattress)
- Smaller wardrobes and tables
- Dryers, dressers and washers
This is especially useful if you’re moving to a different place and you need lots of loading capacity on top of being able to tow your other vehicle.
The Cons of Towing with a Cargo Van
1. Can’t Tow Really Heavy Objects
Work vans can do a great job at pulling things weighing up to 10k lbs, but they won’t help you if you need to tow very heavy objects.
Pulling massive amounts of weight is in the territory of trucks due to their robust design and very powerful engines.
Note that some heavy-duty pickup trucks can tow enormous weights of up to 35,000 pounds.
2. All-Wheel-Drive Models are Rare
A 4×4 drivetrain can help you tow more, but this is only an added extra on some cargo vans, while most don’t even have 4×4 as an option.
Most cargo vans rely on rear-wheel drive, which can be a big problem if you plan on towing in snowy conditions.
While pickup trucks usually come in an all-wheel-drive guise, especially the sturdy heavy-duty models.
What You Need to Know When Towing a Cargo Van
1. Ensure that You Don’t Exceed the Weight Limits
Before you even begin towing, check the owner’s manual of your cargo van to see what the maximum towing capacity and GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) are.
The maximum towing capacity lets you know how much weight your work van can safely pull, while the GVWR is the maximum combined weight of your vehicle and the object that you’re towing.
Exceeding your cargo van’s towing capacity and/or GVWR can be rather dangerous as it can result in:
- Reduced braking performance
- Poor handling
- Serious damage to the drivetrain, suspension, and engine
Keep in mind that the different versions of the same models might have different towing and GVWR ratings due to varying engines, wheelbase lengths, and drivetrains.
2. Consider the Hitch Type and Specs
Different hitch types can handle different weights, so always check the maximum trailer and tongue weight that’s labeled on your van’s hitch to ensure that you don’t exceed these limits.
Resort to the user manual or consult your local dealer if your hitch isn’t labeled with the corresponding ratings.
It’s crucial to ensure that the tow hitch ball matches the size of the coupler on the trailer.
Also, unless your cargo van has a factory-installed hitch, you’ll have to carefully pick the right hitch type for your vehicle.
Get in touch with your local trailer rental company, and one of their professionals should be able to point you to a hitch that’s compatible with your van and your needs.
The typical hitch ball usually comes in 3 different sizes:
And here’s a pro tip – attach the trailer hitches to the vehicle’s frame instead of the bumper.
3. Distribute the Weight on the Trailer Evenly
Ensuring that the load on the trailer is properly and evenly distributed is essential for optimal safety while towing.
You need to place around 60% of the cargo over the front half of the trailer and aim to achieve proper tongue weight, which is roughly 10% to 15% of the overall weight of the loaded trailer.
Also, make sure you evenly distribute the weight as it should be centered between the left and right sides.
If you notice any signs of your trailer swaying or fishtailing, then take your foot off the gas to make it stop.
If your tailer is still swaying after that, then double-check that trailer load is properly distributed.
4. Properly Inflate the Cargo Van and Trailer Tires
I strongly recommend checking the tire pressure on both your cargo van and the trailer or vehicle that you’ll be pulling.
Overly-inflated or underinflated tires can have a negative impact on handling, fuel consumption, and engine performance.
Moreover, underinflated tires may even contribute to a tire blowout.
Always go with the official recommended tire pressure figures that you can find on the driver’s doorjamb or user manual.
Make sure to check the speed ratings of the tires of the van and trailer, and the condition of the wheel bearings.
Also, the wheel lug nuts of your work van and the trailer need to be adequately tightened to a specific torque number. Consult a tire repair shop if unsure how to tighten them or what the specific torque is.
And don’t forget to get at least one spare tire for the trailer, assuming that you already have one spare tire for your van.
5. Check the Condition of the Braking System
Pulling heavy loads puts much more strain on your van’s brakes, which means that they have to be in perfect condition when towing.
Check the brake fluid level and the condition of the brake pads, and if they’re worn out, replace them immediately.
Also, make sure to check the brakes of your trailer if it has any sort of braking system installed.
Larger trailers meant for transporting heavier objects are equipped with electric or hydraulic surge brakes that also incorporate an emergency cable.
This emergency cable is a safety precaution part of a trailer’s braking system as it automatically engages the trailer brakes if the trailer accidentally disconnects from the hitch.
Carefully inspect this cable and make sure that it’s properly connected to your cargo van.
Ideally, you’d want a qualified mechanic to inspect the braking system of all involved vehicles , and to adjust and replace any worn-out parts if needed.
6. Inspect and Properly Connect the Trailer Lights
Before you hit the road, make sure that the trailer’s electrical system is properly connected to the van.
Connect the wires so they’re loose enough you can make turns without worrying about them disconnecting, while also being tight enough that they don’t drag on the road.
This might require some patience, testing, and perhaps the help of another person to get right, but it’s essential as you don’t want to risk losing your taillights while making a turn during the night.
You’ll need a buddy to help you out anyway when making sure that trailer lights work by performing a visual test on the:
- Turn signals
- Running lights
- Hazard lights
Begin towing only when all of the trailer lights work in conjunction with the cargo van’s lights.
Also, don’t forget to disconnect the trailer’s wiring when launching a boat so that you don’t risk electrical issues from submerging the wires.
7. Use Safety Chains as an Extra Precaution
Adequate preparation for towing safely will always include using safety chains when hooking up a trailer.
Safety chains are used to form a sort of cradle where the trailer tongue falls (instead of falling on the road) if the trailer disconnects from the cargo van.
Remember to always cross the safety chains when attaching them, instead of running them straight.
There should be enough slack to support any sharp turns, although not too much that they start dragging on the road.
8. Adjust the Mirrors or Get Tow Mirrors
You need to properly adjust your van’s mirrors so that you can clearly see the end of the trailer or vehicle that you’re towing.
Alternatively, you can opt for tow mirrors to help with that blind spot and improve rear visibility when reversing.
However, you can scratch the idea of getting tow mirrors if your cargo van is equipped with modern tech such as blind-spot monitoring that warns you of oncoming vehicles in your blind spot.
9. You’ll Need a Longer Stopping Distance
Towing heavy objects generates much more momentum than normal, which drastically increases your cargo van’s time and distance when stopping.
As a result, you should forget about tailgating and pay closer attention to road conditions further ahead than you usually would.
Begin braking as soon as the vehicle in front of you does, and don’t rely on deceleration alone, especially if you’re driving on the highway.
10. Perform Wider Turns at Corners
Realize that the trailer or vehicle you’re towing makes cornering much more tricky than normal due to the specific turning pattern of towed vehicles.
When making a turn, the wheels of the trailer or towed vehicle end up closer to the inside of a turn than your van’s wheels, calling for a wider berth when cornering.
If you don’t make a wider turn while towing, you risk curbing a wheel or, even worse, tire blowout.
11. Plan Your Towing Route in Advance
There are country roads withcertain vehicle width, weight and height limits, while other roads don’t allow trailers at all.
So make it a habit to plan your route in advance when towing with your work van.
Otherwise, you risk backtracking to look for a suitable route if you end up on the wrong road.
12. Practice What it’s Like to Drive with a Trailer
Practice makes perfect, so always do some short-distance driving before taking off with a trailer to get a better feel of what it’s like to have a trailer attached to your van.
Perform some brief accelerating and decelerating, making turns, braking, and reversing.
This is paramount if you have no experience driving with a trailer behind you, as it’s totally different.
How to Increase the Towing Capacity of a Cargo van
Here are some neat upgrades that can help your cargo van tow a bit more than usual, although note that you’ll be putting extra strain on certain parts, and some methods even involve re-engineering:
1. Upgrade the Braking System Components
Forget about upgrading your cargo van’s towing capacity unless its braking system can cope with all the added weight.
Although having superior brakes won’t outright increase your vehicle’s towing capacity, it’ll help indirectly by improving the vehicle’s stopping capabilities.
Towing a heavier trailer and/or car will be a real disaster if your work van’s brakes can’t come with the extra weight.
That’s why it’s vital to upgrade your van’s original brake rotors and pads with superior ones of higher quality.
You can also upgrade the trailer’s braking system if you have one to ensure that the brakes of the van and the trailer are properly calibrated.
The last thing you want is a trailer that pushes your cargo van forward when braking, instead of assisting in stopping.
2. Replace Stock Axles with Heavy Duty Ones
The stock axles of your vehicle can be a very limiting factor when it comes to upgrading hauling capacity.
Towing additional weight that surpasses the GVWR of your cargo van can destroy its stock axles, which makes upgrading to heavy-duty ones a must.
Keep in mind that the differential has to be replaced as well to match the specifications of the heavy-duty axles.
So it’s best to let a qualified mechanic replace the axles and differential for your safety and everyone else’s.
3. Have a Programmer Tweak the Vehicle’s Computer
Every modern cargo van has an ECU (engine control unit) or also known as ECM (engine control module) that acts as the brain of the engine management system.
The ECU or ECM controls various engine-related aspects such as the fuel mixture, emissions, and ignition, which impacts the overall power and performance of your van’s engine.
This is where a vehicle programmer comes into play as they can adjust and improve the original factory settings of the cargo van’s computer.
Generally, a vehicle programmer will tweak specific settings such as the air-to-fuel ratio to get more horsepower and torque out of the engine.
And if done sensibly, a re-program of your van’s computer won’t put too much extra strain on the engine, but it’ll provide extra power and torque that will help you to tow heavier loads. Make sure you only use someone who is properly qualified and experienced to do this,
4. Get a Bigger and Stronger Hitch
The stock hitch that your van has might not be strong enough i.e. it can have a low weight limit so that it doesn’t break while towing.
There are different hitch classes with varying GTW (gross trailer weight), which is the actual weight of a fully-loaded trailer:
- Class 1 – Up to 2,000 lbs
- Class 2 – Up to 3,500 lbs
- Class 3 – Up to 8,000 lbs
- Class 4 – Up to 10,000 lbs
- Class 5 (extra duty) – 16,000-17,000 lbs
- Class 5 (commercial duty) – 18,000-20,000 lbs
But since cargo vans can tow loads up to a maximum of 10,000 lbs, your best bet would be to upgrade to a class 4 hitch if you want to pull heavier objects.
Note that a lot of class 3 and 4 hitches are compatible with a weight-distribution hitch that gives you some extra control and load capacity.
5. Opt for a Bigger Radiator
Your work van’s radiator is responsible for maintaining a normal engine and transmission temperature by cooling them down.
Since the engine works harder when towing, temperatures under the hood can rise and potentially lead to overheating problems.
One way to compensate for the extra heat generated by the engine and transmission is by replacing the original radiator with a larger one to keep things cool.
Using high-end engine and transmission lubricants, as well as replacing the transmission fluid can also help.
6. Upgrade the Suspension Components
The suspension of your work van is responsible for carrying most of the weight that you’re towing, and weaker suspension will lead to uneven weight distribution.
If you want superior hauling capabilities and improved, more even weight distribution across all axles, you can try upgrading the suspension system.
Opting for stronger, heavy-duty suspension components can help shift more weight toward the front side of the van, which results in improved handling and ride quality.
In fact, going for an upgrade such as an air suspension system can greatly improve the ride and overall comfort of your cargo van.
7. Upgrade the Air Intake and Exhaust Systems
Upgrading your stock air intake and exhaust systems can give you a bit more power and torque to haul heavier loads.
For example, replacing your original air filter with quality, high-performance version can increase the performance of your work van’s engine by helping it breathe better.
You can also improve your vehicle’s exhaust system by opting for dual exhausts with an “H” pipe placed before the converters, which helps control back pressure and boost engine power.
8. Modify the Chassis and Frame
The frame and chassis of your cargo van are put to a lot of additional stress by towing more than the official limit.
But you can tweak and modify parts of the chassis and frame to make them stronger and more robust to accommodate the extra load weight.
However, note that such modifications are only applicable to the body-on-frame type of cargo vans as unibody types won’t cut it.
These upgrades are more complex and will definitely require the help of a qualified and experienced mechanic who can tell you which chassis and frame components can be tweaked and improved.
Other Vehicles that Can Tow More than Cargo Vans
Although work vans do a very competent job when it comes to towing, there are other vehicles such as trucks that can simply tow more, much more.
And here are the trucks with the most towing capacity:
1. Ford F-450 Super Duty Diesel
- Maximum towing capacity – 37,000 lbs
Ford has a long history in the heavy-duty pickup truck market, especially when it comes to towing.
And the big F-450 super duty model manages to sustain Ford’s traditions in this segment with the help of the humongous 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel powerplant that puts out class-leading 1,050 lb-ft of torque.
These numbers clearly make the Ford F-450 a real towing powerhouse with an engine that outmuscles its close rivals by at least 50 lb-ft of torque.
2. Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD
- Maximum towing capacity – 35,500 lbs
Towing massive loads isn’t a problem for Chevrolet’s popular Silverado in its 3500HD guise.
This heavy-duty pickup truck is powered by the large 6.6-liter Duramax diesel unit that produces 910 lb-ft of torque that gives it the edge over the Ram 3500 for sheer towing.
It’s worth noting that the Chevy Silverado is mechanically identical to the GMC Sierra, although the Sierra has an advantage in the transmission department thanks to a 10-speed auto.
3. Ram 3500 Diesel
- Maximum towing capacity – 35,100 lbs
Ram’s 3500 pickup truck is among the top models in its class, while the diesel version makes towing really big and heavy things look easy.
The diesel variant is powered by the mighty 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel unit that produces the mindblowing 1,000 lb-ft of torque, which helps it pull up to 35,100 pounds.
This heavy-duty beast is also available with the only load-leveling air suspension among its rivals, which can help both with the ride comfort and towing capabilities.
Although cargo vans are primarily oriented towards offering lots of cargo space and payload, they can still do a great job at towing.
You can tow different heavy objects with a cargo van ranging from cars to RVs and even fishing boats.
The most powerful heavy-duty work vans come with a maximum towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds, which is more than some pickup trucks.
However, cargo vans are far from the best vehicles for outright towing as some pickup truck models can tow several times more.
In fact, some of the biggest heavy-duty pickup trucks out there can tow up to a whopping 37,000 pounds.