Although not technically a truck, each cargo van is affected by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 8-class truck classification.
The FHWA categorizes most cargo vans as light and medium-duty commercial vehicles that fall within classes 1-3, depending on gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
For example, a Ford Transit Connect with 5,302 lb of maximum GVWR will be Class 1 truck, while a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with 12,125 lb GVWR will be put in Class 3.
However, cargo vans with a GVWR of 10,000 lb or more are subject to strict Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.
To show this, in this article, I’ll explain:
- The differences between a truck and a cargo van
- What the different types of trucks are
- How the truck classification system rates vans and trucks
- How vehicles such as cargo vans are classified as commercial vehicles.
The Main Differences Between Trucks and Cargo Vans
A cargo van is a vehicle with a body that completely encloses both driver and cargo, and a distinctive short hood design. While trucks are vehicles of varying size with either an open (e.g. pickups) or enclosed (e.g. straight trucks) cargo area.
Most vans and trucks can be considered non-passenger automobiles or work trucks (10,000 lb gross vehicle weight).
This is how the Code of Federal Regulations courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines CMVs (commercial motor vehicles).
Keep in mind that there are various types of trucks and pickup trucks are most similar to cargo vans in terms of classification.
And the other common structural and non-structural differences between trucks and cargo vans include:
1. Trucks Can Tow More Than Cargo Vans
Certain truck types like pickup trucks have superior towing capabilities compared to vans.
Most pickup trucks will be able to pull several thousand pounds more than even the strongest cargo van.
For example, the Ford Super Duty F-450 heavy-duty pickup behemoth has a towing capacity of up to 37,000 lb, while modern cargo vans will struggle to pull anything beyond 10,000 lb.
2. Cargo Vans Offer More Customization Options
Vans can be customized in a number of ways, both inside and outside, depending on one’s specific needs.
The exterior can be used for advertising, and the roof to attach items such as ladder rack While the interior can be organized through various shelves, cabinets, and other storage compartments to keep smaller objects in place.
These extensive customization options will be mission impossible for most types of trucks, especially pickups.
3. Trucks Have Additional Room for Passengers
As a general rule of thumb, you can carry more people in a truck than you’d in a cargo van.
Certain truck variants like the crew cab are excellent for passenger room due to having 5 to 6 seats, depending on the model.
Even larger trucks such as crew cab box trucks have much more space for passengers than cargo vans that might even struggle to carry 3 passengers.
4. Cargo Vans Have a More Car-Like Feel
A cargo van will always have a more car-like on-road behavior than most trucks, especially tractors and box trucks.
Vans have superior handling, smoother ride quality, and better maneuverability that even pickup trucks can’t compete with.
The small turning circle, higher driving position, and shorter hood of a cargo van make driving and parking the vehicle easier.
5. Open Bed Trucks can be Easier to Load/Unload
Trucks with open cargo area space include variations such as pickups, open semi-trailers, and stake trucks.
The open bed makes it easier to load and unload larger cargo (e.g. long pipes) as opposed to enclosed cargo areas.
Very heavy items that require a forklift to lift will also be much easier to load into a vehicle with an open cargo area.
Are All Cargo Vans Considered Commercial Vehicles?
Some cargo vans qualify as commercial motor vehicles, although most are usually registered as commercial vehicles anyway, even when not used for business purposes.
Although the specific laws may vary from state to state, you can play safe and register a cargo van as a commercial vehicle, even if it’s a small model e.g. the Ram ProMaster City.
For example, in New York State it’s normally correct for different types of trucks to be registered as commercial vehicles with the corresponding tags and plates.
But it should be noted that the Department of Motor vehicles may issue passenger plates as an exception for trucks weighing 6,000 lb r less that aren’t used for commercial reasons.
It’s a no-brainer that cargo vans owned by a business and used for transporting goods and equipment will always be registered as commercial vehicles.
However, a van can be registered with passenger plates if it is below the weight limit (e.g., 6,000 pounds) unless it’s regularly used for work.
In the United States, a vehicle is labeled “commercial” if it is registered to and its title is owned by a company.
Keep in mind that you might run into trouble if the police catch you transporting something with a cargo van that has passenger plates.
The US Definition for a Commercial Motor Vehicle
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), defines a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as a vehicle that meets some of the following criteria:
- Has a total weight of more than 10,001 lb (with or without towed units)
- Is used to transport hazardous material (flammable, radioactive, gas, poison, explosives etc)
- Has enough seats and/or is used to carry over 8 passengers for money
- Has enough seats and/or is used to carry more than 15 passengers, not for money
However, this federal designation is still somewhat flexible to adapt to state-specific definitions.
Also, you will need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to lawfully drive a commercial vehicle.
This particular driving license class is acquired after passing specific training and tests.
Some good examples of typical commercial vehicles are:
- Box trucks
Cargo Van and Truck Classifications Explained
Both cargo vans and trucks fall into what’s known as truck classification, even though vans aren’t actual trucks per se.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has structured vehicle weight classes and categories that are reflected by 8 weight classes and 3 gross vehicle weight rating categories.
Let’s now look at the details of the different truck classes as broadly grouped by the FHA in 3 GVWR categories:
1. Light-Duty Trucks (GVWR: <10,000 lb)
The first category covers vehicle classes 1 and 2 that include both commercial and non-commercial vehicles.
However, note that Class 2 has 2 sub-classes – 2A and 2B.
GVWR figures for light-duty trucks range from 0 all the way up to 10,000 lb:
- Class 1: <6,000 lb
- Class 2: From 6,001 to 10,000 lb
Class 2A: 6,001 to 8,500 lb
Class 2B: 8,501 to 10,000 lb
Some examples of light-duty trucks that fall under this category are:
- Cargo vans
- Step vans
- Full-size pickups
2. Medium-Duty Trucks (GVWR: 10,001-26,000 lb)
The second category involves medium-duty trucks, and it covers four classes – from 3 to 6.
Most of the vehicles in this category are commercial-oriented as they’re typically used for shipping goods and services.
GVWR-wise, ratings start from 10,001 for class 3 and go all the way up to 26,000 for class 6:
- Class 3: From 10,0001 to 14,000 lb
- Class 4: From 14,001 to 16,000 lb
- Class 5: From 16,001 to 19,500 lb
- Class 6: From 19,501 to 26,000 lb
Common medium-duty truck examples include:
- Box trucks
- City deliveries
- Rack Trucks
- Large Walk-Ins
- School buses
- Bucket trucks
- Heavy-duty pickups
- Cargo vans (only a handful of models have GVWR above 10k lb)
3. Heavy-Duty Trucks (GVWR: >26,001 lb)
The last category is reserved for big and heavy commercial vehicles.
Here the last two classes (7 and 8) consist of really massive trucks that usually have 3 or more axles.
The GVWR in this category ranges from 26,001 to more than 33,001 lb:
- Class 7: From 26,0001 to 33,000 lb
- Class 8: >33,001 lb
It’s worth mentioning that class 8 trucks still have a weight limit, despite the seemingly open-ended maximum amount.
The particular weight limit is specifically calculated for very large trucks, based on the Federal Bridge Gross Weight Formula.
For instance, an 18-wheel truck could be heavier than 80,000 lb, and that could be a problem for some bridges, which is why the formula is used.
The list of typical heavy-duty trucks includes:
- Truck tractors
- Cement trucks
- City transit buses
- Furniture trucks
- Sleeper trucks
- Dump trucks
- Refuse trucks
The Most Common Types of Trucks
Trucks are separated into different types to serve a specific purpose.
And these are the most common truck types that you can come across (note that I haven’t included vans as they’re not trucks in the truest sense):
The pickup truck is a very common sight on US roads due to its practicality and efficiency.
These small trucks can be categorized as either light or medium-duty, and they’re generally used for hauling heavy objects or towing cars, trailers etc.
Pickup trucks have several cab variations such as:
- Regular cab: 2 doors, 1 row of seating
- Double cab: 2-4 doors, 2 rows of seating (rear doors could be suicide doors)
- Crew cab: 4 doors, 2 rows of seating (doors are full-sized and front and rear doors open in the same direction)
2. Semi-Trailer Trucks
Semi-trailer trucks (a.k.a. 18-wheelers and big rigs) are used to transport really big and heavy things such as shipments, supplies, or furniture over long distances.
These big rigs can carry 40,000+ pounds of cargo, and they are around 35-40 feet long on average.
Also, these trucks rely on robust construction that involves a drawbar that pulls the front and rear axles to support the vehicle and cargo weight.
3. Box Trucks
A box truck is a chassis cab truck with an enclosed box-shaped cargo area.
One unique feature that some of these trucks have is a door that connects the cabin to the loading area.
Another distinctive feature of box trucks is the most of them have a rear door that rolls up like garage doors.
Size-wise, these trucks are typically up to 26-feet long and can haul up to 33,000 pounds of cargo.
Box trucks are also known as bob trucks, box vans, cube trucks, and cube vans.
4. Refuse Trucks
A refuse truck is a specific type of truck designed to pick up trash and carry it to solid waste treatment facilities (e.g. landfills, treatment facilities, and recycling centers.
Most standard refuse trucks have a garbage capacity of around 30,000 pounds.
In the US these vehicles are also known as garbage trucks, rubbish trucks, and trash trucks.
5. Flatbed Trucks
As the name suggests, this kind of truck has an open, flat truck bed without any sides or roof.
Flatbed trucks can either be articulated (e.g. tractor unit attached to a semi-trailer) or rigid.
The idea behind the flatbed design is for loading and hauling heavy loads that aren’t weather-sensitive.
Flatbed trucks in the US are usually around 50 feet long and roughly 100 inches wide, with a freight weight of up to 48,000 lb.
6. Dump Truck
This truck type is also referred to as tipper truck or dumper truck, and it’s used to transport construction materials such as sand, coal, gravel, and dirt.
Dump trucks typically have open-box beds that are controlled via hydraulic rams to dump the contents of the bed on the ground behind the truck.
There are many dump truck variations suited to the different needs in construction and common types include:
- Transfer dump
- Side dump
- Roll-of dump
- Truck and pup
7. Cement Mixer Trucks
These types of trucks carry a large concrete mixer device that looks like a huge drum.
This device combines cement, sand, and water to form the concrete that’s used in construction.
Cement trucks are typically used to transport and keep cement in its liquid form (due to the constant motion in the drum) between building sites.
These mobile cement mixers can carry around 40,000 lb of concrete.
Cargo vans can be considered trucks due to falling under the federal truck classification system.
Some cargo van models are even labeled as class 3 medium-duty vehicles due to having a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 12,000 pounds.
However, cargo vans are technically different from trucks as they have several key structural differences.
They are also normally registered as commercial vehicles due to primarily being used for work-related tasks.