Car Buying

Buying a Cargo Van: What Should You Consider?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

You might think buying a cargo van is easy. After all, they all look relatively similar, carry big loads, and cost roughly the same. But not so fast: As surprising as it may seem, there are some serious differences between cargo vans -- so we've listed a few crucial factors you might want to consider before signing the papers on a cargo hauler for your business or organization.

What Are You Transporting?

First things first: You'll need to know what you plan to transport before you buy a cargo van. Cargo vans, despite their relatively similar appearance, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are short vans for drivers in the city, and long-wheelbase vans for those who need to carry longer objects. There are big vans, medium-sized vans and large vans. And there are vans with low roofs, normal roofs and tall roofs, and each is designed to accommodate various sizes of objects.

If possible, you may even want to take some of the larger objects you normally transport with you to the test drive. This will allow you to see how easily they fit in the van you're considering, how easy it is to load and unload them, and whether they even fit inside at all.

Doors Galore

Doors are another thing you may not have considered during the van-buying process. Some cargo vans have dual side doors, which means that there is one door on each side of the van. Others have doors that only open up on one side. Meanwhile, some vans have Dutch doors in back that are hinged on the side, giving you full access to the cargo area, while others have a more complicated -- and temperamental -- rear lift gate that's similar to an SUV or a minivan, and can hinder loading and unloading.

Once again, you'll want to test out the doors to find out exactly how easy it is to load goods into your van of choice. If it's troublesome to get your usual items inside the van you want, then you may have to consider another model.

Powertrain and Features

Although windowless vans all look the same to casual observers, they're usually sold with a wide range of powertrain options. City-friendly vans, such as the RAM ProMaster City, Nissan NV200 and Ford Transit Connect, usually offer smaller powertrains for increased gas mileage, but this means that they can't haul as much as their larger rivals. Those larger vans -- such as the Ford Transit, Chevrolet Express, Nissan NV and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter -- offer more power and more capabilities. The engine you choose will likely depend on what you have to transport and how frugal you want to be.

Another factor you'll have to consider when buying a van is equipment. Of course, you don't need your van to have a leather-lined cabin and the latest in high-tech gadgets. You may, however, want to consider items such as a navigation system if your work takes you to unfamiliar areas, or a backup camera because there isn't much visibility in most slab-sided work vans. You also may want your van to include a few luxuries, since most drivers end up spending all day in their work vans.

Our Take

Believe it or not, buying a cargo van can be a surprisingly complicated process -- but if you follow our guidance, consider your cargo, and think about items such as doors, powertrains and equipment, you should have no trouble narrowing down your van decision to the right model.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Cargo Van: What Should You Consider? - Autotrader