The Exterior Length of a Cargo Van

One of the features making cargo vans increasingly popular to use as opposed to the traditional box vans, that they have a shorter overall length than most box vans.

Cargo van’s compact design enables them to carry a reasonable amount of freight without having the added hassles of an elongated length.

There are many brands and models of cargo van, but the most common are full size cargo vans with a total exterior length of about 22 feet. Box vans have to have an additional 9 feet for the cab and engine added to their advertised length of between 10’ to 26’.

The main difference in the designs of both these van types is that the cab and cargo area of a cargo van are one unit, whereas with a box van they are two separate units.

This allows the cargo van in most instances to have a Small Wheel Base (SWB) as opposed to a box van requiring a Long Wheel Base (LWB). The difference in the wheel bases also makes a difference to the vehicle’s handling and driving as well as the vehicle’s overall length.


A Van’s Shorter Wheel Base is more Manouverable

A shorter wheel base makes a van easier to maneuver especially through narrow streets or around obstacles. The smaller turning circle which an SWB van has is therefore more suitable for driving in inner city or residential areas.

The shorter distance between the wheels offers drivers a more “sporty” feel than LWB vans.


A Longer Wheel Base Van Has More Room for Freight

Obviously usually a Longer Wheel Base (LWB) van will allow you more space for freight.

Due to the axles being further apart, the timing between the front wheels and the rear wheels going over bumps will be longer than they would with a SWB.

As a LWB has a larger footprint, many people believe they afford a more stable drive than a SWB.


Choosing SWB or LWB

While both SWB and LWB both have their own distinct advantages, the choice only becomes relevant if the amount and weight of freight you require to transport offers both options.

If it does, then a SWB may be preferable to a LWB in city environments, but a LWB more suitable for long haul journeys.



A cargo van with its shorter length and SWB will usually be easier to park than a box van, but even so, it can be more difficult than with a regular car. This is due to both its length and all freight vehicles having a blind spot.

Blinds spots are areas behind a vehicle which the driver cannot see, due to them not being able to use a rear view mirror, only side mirrors. The longer the vehicle, the larger the blind spots will become while maneuvering especially reversing.

The longer the vehicle is, the harder it may also be to find a suitable sized parking space.

This can be a problem even for a full size cargo van as the average length of parking spaces in the US is 15’ to 20,’ and the length of the cargo van is 22’. Obviously, finding an appropriate parking space for a longer box van can be even harder, and finding a long enough space along a street side can be equally as challenging.


Sidemen for Long Vehicles

Due to their blind spots, parking can be particularly difficult for longer vehicles, and so often a sideman or other assistant is required.

Although cargo vans are not as long as many vans, an assistant is still advisable when parking.


Effective Length of a Cargo Van

A cargo van may not be as long as some other vans, but its compact design still allows it to hold a reasonable amount of freight.

This means that as they have sufficient cargo space for small sofas, queen sized beds, small wardrobes, and tables, they are increasingly being used for moving from apartment to apartment, or even between small houses.

With the capacity to hold many furniture items and yet being easier to drive and park, full size cargo vans are popular to rent from rental dealerships such as U-Haul.

With a side door and a rear door, a cargo van can be loaded with just the assistance of a friend.

Also as a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is not needed in most states to drive a cargo van, no specialist driver has to be hired.


Extra Care with Driving

Cargo vans may not be as long as many other types of van, but still, extra precautions should be taken while driving.

As the vans are usually longer and heavier than many other types of vehicles they need a longer distance to stop. This is known as the breaking distance and is a distance that should be kept between you and the vehicle in front of you.

This means that the extra care needed to drive a van means you should keep further behind the vehicle in front than you would if you were driving a car.

It may not only be the car in front that you have to stop for though, as it could be something coming onto the road and so therefore when driving a van you should maintain a slower speed.


High Winds Can Push a Box Van From the Sides

Cargo vans like box vans are covered and so unlike a pick-up truck, can give protection from the weather to their cargo.

However the design of any van, including a cargo van, makes them prone to strong wind conditions.

Strong winds striking the side of a van can move it sideways or even overturn it. This is especially the case if the van is empty, carrying no freight, or has a high roof.

Before setting off on any long journey, you should check weather forecasts along your intended route. If high winds are expected over any portion of the route, you should consider delaying your trip or finding an alternative, less windy route.



For a cargo van to be effective, it has to have a reasonable size cargo area which makes it longer than it would otherwise need to be. However the compact design combining cab and freight section ensures that it is no longer than absolutely necessary.

Most people find cargo vans easier to drive than larger box vans, but care should be taken as the sporty feel of driving a cargo van can be deceptive. It will often tempt the driver to drive faster than is safe for a freight vehicle.

Box vans on the other hand, feel stable but heavier and so usually deter a driver from having the urge to speed.

There is little doubt that driving a cargo van on busy streets is less stressful than trying to maneuver a larger van through traffic. It is also easier to park, making it ideal for residential areas.


Author: Kenneth Graham

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