Cargo Van Weight Limits

There are many different cargo vans as they are made by different manufacturers and most manufacturers make them in an assortment of sizes. This means that the weight limit for each size and brand of cargo van may be different.

Most of the different cargo vans however will fall into one of three groups, all of which have similar weight limits and those are:

  • Compact Cargo Vans with a payload of up to 1,480lbs
  • Regular Cargo Van with a payload of up to 3,700lbs
  • Heavy Duty Cargo Vans with a payload of up to 4,080lbs

Examples of Weight Limits

Your decision on which cargo van to buy will probably depend on price, capacity but more often than not it is the amount of weight it can carry (payload). Here are some examples of how these three factors can vary:

Nissan NV200

•            Price – $22,300

•            Capacity – 122.7 cubic feet

•            Payload – 1,480 pounds


Mercedes Metris Van

•            Price – $31,200

•            Capacity – 199 cubic feet

•            Payload – 2,500 pounds


Ford Transit Van

•            Price – $33,135

•            Capacity – 487.3 cubic feet

•            Payload – 4,650 pounds


Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van

•            Price – $33,790

•            Capacity – 568 cubic feet

•            Payload – 6,735 pounds

As you can see the three main factors can differ widely.

Of course there are other factors that you may want consider such as make or mileage per gallon and these too also vary.


Different Sizes of Cargo Van

It is not always the amount of payload that a cargo van has, which is the most important factor as the size of the cargo area is sometimes more important.

This is because not all types of cargo are particularly heavy but maybe large in size.

For this reason, some manufacturers of cargo vans make further options such as High Roof Cargo Vans or Heavy Duty XL Cargo Vans.

As their names imply, these cargo vans offer more space in the cargo areas, but this does not always mean their payload capacity is increased. In these instances, it is the larger area the van offers to stow its relevant payload.


Payload vs. Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (GVWR)

Payload refers to the amount of weight that can be added to the existing weight of a van.

The GVWR represents the combined weight of the van plus its payload.

In the United States, most regulations are in respect to the GVWR as opposed to the payload of a vehicle.

For instance, any vehicle with a GVWR of more than 10,000lbs is required to follow FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations).

These regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations can be enforced by the Department of Transport (DOT).

The main points in these regulations that may be most relevant to you are:

  • Driver must be 21 years of age or older
  • The driver must be in possession of a DOT Medical Examiner certificate
  • Your vehicle must display a USDOT number
  • Inspections must be carried out on the vehicle, both pre and post trips
  • Proper maintenance records must be kept for the vehicle and include details of an annual inspection
  • Accident reports must also be maintained

It is therefore important to know not only how much weight your cargo van can carry but also the gross weight of the van if fully loaded.

Whilst most cargo vans will not fall into the category affected by these regulations, there are exceptions such as a Ford Transit or a Mercedes-Benz Freightliner Sprinter.


State Regulations

While all States are required to comply with Federal laws regarding vehicles and their weights, each State may impose its own penalties for different infractions, for instance:

Texas – Fines of between $100 and $10,000 can be given to drivers of overweight vans if a first offence. Subsequent fines may be doubled if they repeat the violation within a year.

Connecticut – If an overweight van is involved in an accident which results in death, criminal charges may be brought against the driver of the overweight van.


Renting a Cargo Van

As driving an overweight cargo van is illegal and can be very costly it is obviously important that when you buy one you buy one which is appropriate and large enough for your needs. This equally applies if you intend to rent a cargo van for a specific purpose.

Renting a larger cargo van may be more costly, but it may not be as costly as overloading a smaller van.

Some rental companies may offer a variety of cargo vans to rent, but each should show you both the GVWR and the payload of the cargo vans available to rent.

U-Haul often only offers one size of cargo van to rent but advertise its weights and dimensions as:

  • Empty weight: 4,667 lbs.
  • Payload 3,880 lbs.
  • GVWR 8,550 lbs.
  • Inside dimensions: 9’6″ x 5’7″ x 4’8″ (L x W x H)
  • 245 cu. ft. volume

This means that if you rent one of these vans, you will have a minimum of regulations to worry about regardless of the States you intend to drive through.


Weight Distribution

If you are loading a cargo van, especially if you are loading it to its maximum payload, it is not just the total weight you must be concerned with. For the sake of safety, you will also want to ensure that the load is distributed correctly.

The correct loading of a cargo van means ensuring the load, especially weight, is well distributed. This means that you will have to notice each of the maximum axle weights and ensure you do not exceed either.

Also for safety, you will want to start loading from the front to not pack the load too close to the rear door in case it inadvertently opens. You will also want to ensure that where necessary, any items are secured, so they do not move around the cargo area causing damage.

There is access to the cargo area from the driver’s seat in a cargo van. This means a loose item of freight could easily distract or even make contact with the driver causing an unnecessary accident.

For this reason, it is always best to make a barrier between the cargo and the driver. This barrier can be a net that can easily be removed to access the cargo area when the van is motionless.


Versatility of a Cargo Van

Cargo vans are very versatile as they are relatively easy to customize to your own particular needs. It is for this reason that cargo vans have become very popular with small businesses. However, a cargo van is not really designed to carry exceptionally heavy weights so many larger businesses, although they may own cargo vans, will often also have box vans that are more suitable for heavier loads.

The weight limits for cargo vans are usually ample for most personal uses such as touring or camping and are also adequate for many small businesses such as contractors or caterers. Cargo vans are also being increasingly used to move small apartment contents as they can hold appliances, beds, or couches, none of which are particularly heavy.



Although cargo vans cannot carry as much weight or bulk as many box vans, they are still becoming increasingly popular.

The reasons for this are firstly they have a compact design making them easier to drive than larger vans. They have actually been compared to driving a large SUV and many people have experience driving vehicles that respond similarly.

Another reason why cargo vans are becoming popular is that there are no special license requirements to drive one, except for an ordinary driver’s license.

Lastly, due to them having a side door, rear door, and access to the cargo area from the cab, they are easy to load and unload. Easy access by the driver means that they are ideal for deliveries that have multiple drop-offs, affording the deliveries to be a one person operation.

If you are renting a cargo van for any reason you will obviously be limited to the types of cargo van the rental company has to offer. If however you are thinking of buying a cargo van you will have many options from which to choose.

Regardless of the size cargo van you decide on care must be taken not to overload either the payload amount or the individual axle weights.

In some States the GVWR of your van could automatically class it as a commercial vehicle and thereby make it subject to extra regulations than a private vehicle.

Author: Kenneth Graham

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