Is a Cargo Van a Straight Truck? The Full Answer

There are several different types of vehicle which can be used to transport various types of freight. It is therefore important you buy or hire the correct type of vehicle for your specific use.

Among your choices will be straight trucks and cargo vans.They are not the same and both have their own pros and cons depending on what you intend to move.

A straight truck has a single frame extending to both the front and rear axles and a rectangular cargo container attached to the frame. The container will have a rear door similar to a garage door.

A cargo van is smaller with doors on the side and rear plus access to the cargo section via the cab.


Main Differences between a Straight Truck and a Cargo Van

Obviously the size is a big factor as a straight truck can carry far bigger loads. Being bigger though has its drawbacks as it is more awkward to park and negotiate narrow streets.

Also being smaller and less powerful means that a cargo van is far more efficient when it comes to fuel usage. A cargo van’s smaller size and compact design allows it to be easily parked in almost any location and its maneuverability is similar to a large SUV, meaning it is easier to drive.

In most States it is not necessary to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to drive a cargo van. This means that a small business which only uses cargo vans does not necessarily have to hire professional drivers as the owner can do his own driving without a special license.

Many small businesses which use cargo vans can customize their van to better organize their unique loads. This is particularly beneficial for caters, florists and many other types of small business.

While a cargo van may be small customizations can include clamps to ladders the on the sides or roof racks to increase the size of the load. Therefore the only real disadvantage of using a cargo van for moving freight is its limited payload.

A straight truck can also be called a box van or a cube van.

There are four main types of vehicle used for transporting freight and they are Tractor Trailer, Truck, Cargo Van and Pick-Up.

  • Straight truck: Often referred to as a box truck, comprises of one frame so the engine cannot be separated from the cargo section.
  • Cargo van: Also has one frame, but the cargo section is accessible directly from the cab.
  • Pick-ups: Also often used for transporting freight, but as their cargo is carried in their open back, the freight is exposed to the weather and offers little security.
  • Tractor trailer: As its name suggests, is a vehicle made up of two parts. The tractor has the engine and can attach and detach from trailers to tow or park them.


Straight Truck

These are perhaps the most commonly used vehicle for transportating freight. Although they cannot carry as much load as a tractor-trailer they can transport loads of up to 33,000lbs and up to 14 feet tall.

A straight truck has a rolling door similar to some garage doors, making for easy loading even with mechanical devices such as forklifts. Unlike the tractor trailer, though, the freight section cannot be detached for loading and unloading, usually requiring the driver or a conductor to be present for both.


Cargo Van

Cargo vans carry the smallest loads with only a payload capacity of up to 4,000lbs. While cargo vans cannot handle the larger and heavier loads, they do have several advantages over the other types of freight vehicles when transporting smaller loads.

As well as having a side door and a rear door, a cargo van allows access to the cargo area directly from the driver’s seat. This can allow for more precise loading plus, in some circumstances, negate the need for the driver to leave the vehicle during times of bad weather.

A cargo van is compact and easy to drive. This means that it can more easily negotiate tight parking situations. This combined with its easy loading and unloading, can save precious time during multiple delivery locations.


Pick-Up Truck

Pick-ups are often used to transportating small loads, and some of the larger, more robust pick-ups may even be able to carry larger loads than a small cargo van.

However due to their open cargo areas, they do not offer the same level of protection and security a cargo van offers.

Although ropes or canvasses can be used to more secure and protect a pick-up’s load, on longer journeys stops have to be made to check on the tightness and integrity of those.

There is no doubt however that with their open freight section, pick-ups are often easier to load and unload but once again the driver will have to exit the cab to do so.


Tractor Trailer

This type of vehicle is also sometimes referred to as a ‘big rig,’ ‘semi’ or ‘18 wheeler’. Although the term 18 wheeler is often used, the trailer has no front wheels or axle. Instead of front wheels, the front of the trailer is held up by a ‘dolly’ that attaches to the tractor.

These types of vehicles are used for large or heavy loads as they can transport loads of up to 80,000lbs and are up to 13 feet high. When large loads are required to be moved, these are popular as the trailers can be loaded and off loaded without the need for the tractor or driver to be present.


Popularity of Different Types of Trucks and Vans

Large businesses will often own and use a variety of different vehicles to carry out their dedicated tasks. They will also often have a director to allocate what type of vehicle or truck should be used for each task.

Smaller businesses on the other hand, may only own a couple of vehicles, and the type of vehicle will usually depend on what business they are in. Often a small business will have a minimal number of vehicles and rely on hiring a different type if an occasion arises.

This is the reason why vehicle rental firms such as U-Haul have various types of vehicles available for hire. It is also why a smaller business may hire a driver qualified to drive larger commercial vehicles even if they do not actually own one.

Many smaller businesses today are using cargo vans if their type of business permits it. One of the reasons for this is that a commercial driver’s license is not always necessary to drive one. Also another reason is that a cargo van is very versatile and so can be used as a personal vehicle at weekends and a commercial vehicle during the week.



While straight trucks and cargo vans are both popular to buy or rent, cargo vans are becoming increasingly popular. Perhaps the main reason is their easy maneuverability and their better fuel costs.

Cargo vans are also becoming increasingly popular for moving home purposes. Many people are surprised that although a cargo van is smaller than a straight truck, it can still hold mattresses, couches and appliances. Its maneuverability and ease of parking also mean that two short runs with a cargo van can be as quick and cheap as one full load with a straight truck.

Obviously there are still larger or heavier loads which only a straight truck can handle, but in these instances, you will have to ensure the driver has a valid CDL. Straight trucks come in a wide variety of sizes, and so only the smaller ones are likely to be affected by the growing popularity of cargo trucks.

The easy maneuverability of a cargo van makes it ideal for multiple deliveries of small consignments such as mail, meals, and groceries. It has also become increasingly popular with window cleaners, plumbers, and contractors as they can easily carry their tools and even be customized providing a crew cab for additional workers.

A cargo van’s unique ability to double as a business vehicle during the week and a family’s personal vehicle at weekends also adds to its popularity. For example,  as a personal vehicle, a cargo van can also be customized to be a camper van, and due to its solid sides is easy to convert than a passenger van.

Author: Kenneth Graham

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