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8 Best Cargo Work Vans (And Which to Avoid)

When you need a work van, be careful which one you choose.

Published November 17, 2018

With the latest innovations and newest technologies, choosing the best cargo work vans is tricky business. You want to make sure you have the space you need plus all the features you desire. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the eight best cargo vans on the market right now, and a couple you’ll want to avoid.

1. Mercedes Sprinter

work vansIf you’re in business, you know how crucial it is to make a great first impression. Sure, you want reliability and functionality out of your cargo van, but you also need to make a statement. That’s where the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter comes in.

It features a cavernous cargo hold plus utilizes a 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel engine. Of course, you’re going to pay more for this style and additional power. In addition, you get access to three body configurations total. The Worker van only comes in white and with rear-wheel drive, so there’s less customization than with the passenger van. With that said, it does have a 3,501-pound payload rating plus a 5,000-pound tow rating. This makes it simple to take your work trailer along as well.

The Worker is a great way to save money and still make a lasting impression. Of course, you could also upgrade to the regular Sprinter version if you needed more customization, but it’s going to cost you more.

2. Nissan NV

2018 Nissan NV - right side viewTalk about versatility! The Nissan NV comes in a range of models and is one of the best work vans around. You can choose from standard or high roofs plus pick a V6 or V8 engine. In the standard roof model, you gain access to 234 cubic feet of cargo space. If you upgrade to the high-roof configuration, that number jumps to 323 cubic feet.

The Nissan NV 1500 is equipped with a V6 engine and can tow 6,900 pounds. Plus, it features a payload capacity of over 2,700 pounds. That’s impressive in itself, but then take a look at the 3500. This has a V8 engine and tows up to 9.400 pounds. In addition, it can carry over 3,800 pounds of goods.

You would have to wonder if this cargo van has any downsides. Well, it does. For example, there aren’t many configurations like there are with some other options. In addition, the fuel economy isn’t spectacular. But, if you need one of the best commercial work vans, this won’t disappoint.

3. Chevrolet Express

2018 Chevrolet Express - right side viewDriving a full-size van is a great way for small business owners and contractors to maximize their potential. The Chevrolet Express continues to be a great option for anyone desiring on of the best work vans. It’s versatile, has class-leading towing numbers, and doesn’t cost as much as the other guys. With that said, the lower price does bring a few downsides you should consider.

Since the Express has been around since 1996, the automaker has performed very few updates and refreshes since then. That leaves the Express outdated in comparison to the rest of the work vans. They also don’t offer anything in the way of innovative safety or technology features.

Now, let’s look at the plus side to this cargo van. It’s available in both standard and extended wheelbases. There’s less cargo volume than some other vans, mainly because of the lower roof height, but most people won’t have trouble with space. It also features a powerful V8 engine, but that means you can expect slightly worse fuel economy. Overall, it’s one of the best work vans for people operating on a budget, but if you have money, you should invest in one of the other work vans instead.

4. Ford Transit

2018 Ford Transit - right side viewUnlike Chevy, Ford did make updates to the work van lineup. If you’ve ever driven in an E-Series, you’re in for a real treat. The Transit makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the future. It features a decent fuel economy, plenty of interior versatility, and it’s easy to use.

There are multiple roof heights, three engine options, plenty of equipment, and two wheelbases to fit your business needs. There’s even a decent handful of standard equipment available. The only downside is that the towing capacity is not up to par. The truth is, most people aren’t going to need to tow anything when they have all this cargo room, so it might not even be an issue for most consumers.

If you work in a snow climate, you might not appreciate the handling of the rear-wheel drive on the Transit. Instead, the Ram ProMaster with front-wheel drive might be a better option for you.

5. Dodge Ram ProMaster

2018 Ram ProMaster - right rear viewThe biggest difference with this compared to other work vans is that it features front-wheel drive instead of rear-wheel drive. This keeps the majority of its weight over the wheels for excellent stability, especially when driving in wintry and slippery conditions.

The front-wheel-drive layout also allows the load floor to remain low which offers an easy step-in height. On top of that, it features a high ceiling, so there’s plenty of cargo room. You can choose a 1500, 2500, or 3500 variety, so it’s completely configurable. The new ProMaster is powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. If you prefer, you can choose the 3.0-liter 4-cylinder EcoDiesel option instead with a six-speed manual transmission.

6. Mercedes Metris

2018 Mercedes-Benz Metris - right side viewIf you like the look of a Sprinter, but don’t need quite so much space, the Metris might be for you. It’s the only van currently that’s sized between the small vans and the large work vans. Sure, the Sprinter offers lots of space, but it doesn’t have the maneuverability that the smaller Metris does. This makes driving in cities much easier.

The functional interior is no-nonsense. The cargo configuration is available with various rear door configurations and wheelbases. It also comes with interior panels, tie-downs, plus an upfitter package. This is designed to stand up to the transportation demands. Considering it’s a Mercedes, you also have the ability to add-on plenty of upscale features.

Sure, the Mercedes Metris isn’t going to fit the budget of all companies, especially if your bottom line is most important. But, if you want to stand out in a crowd and look like the leader in your game, you simply can’t go wrong.

7. Chevrolet City Express

2018 Chevrolet City Express - driver side viewIf you need one of the compact work vans, you will love the Chevy City Express. It’s geared toward small business and fleet operators that don’t need the space of a full-size work van. Instead, this option features cost-effectiveness and complete maneuverability. Don’t let its smaller size fool you; there’s still plenty of interior space with 122.7 cubic feet of open room. Plus, it has a 1,500-pound load capacity.

This van also comes with cargo tie-down points and rear doors which open up 180 degrees. This makes it simple to pull right up to a loading dock. In the center console, you have room for files, so all your paperwork is where you need it. If you need an area to work, the passenger seat folds forward which reveals a handy plastic panel to set your laptop.

The City Express is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 131 horsepower. This is on the low side but drastically helps with the fuel economy. As of 2018, Chevrolet also discontinued this model, so you won’t be able to purchase a new one starting in 2019.

8. Ram ProMaster City

2018 Ram ProMaster City - right rear viewHere’s another versatile compact work van option for you to consider. The ProMaster City doesn’t give you the space to stand upright inside like the full-size van does, but it’s still practical. The two-passenger cargo van is spacious with a maximum cargo volume of 131.7 cubic feet. It also features a payload rating of 1,885 pounds, which is great considering its size.

All of these work vans come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 178 horsepower. That allows it to have a respectable fuel economy and acceleration. It does have a narrow, tall profile, so you’ll want to be careful during turns. In addition, it doesn’t offer as many safety features as some other choices.

Avoid These Work Vans

After looking through the best work vans, we found a few you won’t want to drive. Stay clear of these whenever possible.

1. Ford Transit Connect

Ford Transit Connect - right side viewIn talking about the best work vans, we’ve already told you about the Ford Transit, but we can’t recommend the Connect variety for several reasons. While this offers plenty of space for a smaller cargo van, it’s just not what most people are looking for.

For many commercial contractors, there’s not going to be enough hauling capability with this smaller version. With that said, it would be a good work van for a delivery service or flower shop. There are fewer features with this model and not as much customization. If you’re just getting your business started, then you might need to go with this low-cost option, but otherwise we recommend avoiding it altogether.

2. Used Ford E-Series

2003 Ford E-Series - left front viewThe E-Series is a legendary work van, but it’s been plagued with troubles. First, they tend to have a rough engine and misfires during acceleration. This is caused by the ignition coils that crack and allow arcing to occur. Fixing this can cost you a couple of hundred dollars.

You may also notice some engine oil leakage from the cylinder heads. If this occurs, you’ll be forced to replace the head gasket. The average cost for this is between $1,000 and $1,500. In addition, as you head over bumps, you’ll hear rattling in the front end. Many times, this leads to the replacement of the ball joints. Replacing one might run you about $250.

Even still, some users find that the coolant leaks from the heater core. That’s because it’s prone to corrosion. This fix costs another couple hundred dollars. All in all, you might end up with a lot of repairs when you purchase one of these work vans.

3. GMC Savana Cargo

2011 GMC Savana 3500 - right side viewWhile the Savana shares a platform with the Chevy Express, many people have had issues with the older generation. There were numerous defects on the first generation (1996-2002). Many of these are covered by recalls including the brake rotors that prematurely crack. Other than that, there are also vans which have separating power steering cooler hoses that might lead to engine-related hazards. In addition, some first-generation Savanas have a hydraulic pump driveshaft defect which forces drivers to increase their steering effort.

That’s not all the first generation had issues with. You’ll also face a crankshaft position sensor failure, and/or failure with the fuel injectors, fuel pressure regulator or fuel pump.

If you think purchasing a second generation (2003 –present) is going to be any better, think again. They’ve had several defects as well, including a prematurely eroding rear license plate lamp socket, seat belts that don’t latch properly, loose nuts in the steering linkage, plus a missing wheel bearing assembly retaining nut. You might even face a powertrain control module failure or cases when the engine simply won’t start.

While the GMC Savana is one of the largest out of all the work vans, it’s simply outdated. If you had to purchase one, make sure it’s the second generation where at least some of the issues have been resolved. Make sure you also check for recalls and get any repairs done that are needed.

Choosing the Best Work Vans – Buying Guide

If you want to find the best work vans, you’ll have to know what you’re looking for. We’ve put together a few considerations when searching out your work van fleet. This will help you to decide what works best for your needs.

Size

One of the main considerations for your work van purchase is the size. You’ll find numerous sizes on all the work vans, so you’ll have to choose what works best for your industry. Interior size is crucial. Full-size vans offer up to 550 cubic feet of interior space, but not everyone needs that much.

Interior space does cost more money. The more area you have, the more you can expect to pay for your work vans.

Cost

That brings us to the value of cargo vans. You can get away with purchasing one of the cheaper options new for just over $20k. Then, this price dramatically jumps the higher up you go on the scale. Once you customize and upfit it with your accessories, you could spend a good amount of cash. You’ll have to figure out your budget before you begin shopping that way you know what you have to work with.

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage should be a big deal to any business owner because it’s your money going down the drain. The smaller vans tend to be more fuel-efficient. Of course, anything with a V8 engine is going to guzzle the gas. The only exception is the Sprinter with its turbodiesel. Despite being a larger van, the fuel economy is slightly improved with the 2.1-liter engine inside.

Payload

If you need to carry substantial loads then this is something worth considering. Sprinters hold up to 5,500 pounds while the Transit Connect only holds 1,600 pounds. That’s a big difference, so purchase the work van that will hold your gear.

Maneuverability

If you spend any time driving through cities, you’ll want to seriously consider the maneuverability of your van. Look at the turning circle statistics to see how quickly you’ll be able to make a U-turn. You’ll also need the flexibility to get into a parking spot or turn when there are lots of pedestrians all around you.

If maneuverability is something you need, then we recommend taking an extended test drive. Some dealerships might even let you take the van for a day to try it out. Make sure you travel down streets you’ll be visiting while working and see if you have the visibility and maneuverability you desire.

Equipment

Don’t automatically go with the cheapest work van you can find. You might miss out some features you desire to have. Base models tend to lack any decent audio system, keyless entry, and power accessories. While you might think power mirrors are just a luxury, you won’t be able to easily reach across and adjust them when needed.

Think about the difficulty of backing into a parking spot when you can’t see behind you properly. That’s why we also recommend advanced systems such as park-assist or backup cameras. These are all going to cost more upfront, but save you and your drivers from doing property damage later on.

Cargo Dimensions

Aside from just the cubic foot measurement of the cargo hold, you’re going to want to know the interior dimensions of your van. That’s why we recommend taking a tape measure with you while you shop for work vans. How long is the cargo space? How tall does the roof actually go? When you open the doors, how wide do they go? These are all things you should measure for yourself.

Sure, you can get most of the answers on the manufacturer’s website, but it’s often easier to see it and understand it personally. You’ll have the best idea of what you need from your fleet of work vans, so you’ll know if it works for you or not.

Final Thoughts

With so many work vans on the market today, you might find yourself having a hard time picking the right model for your business. Take everything into consideration and read reviews online before making a leap. The last thing you need is a fleet full of mechanical headaches and vans that don’t function the way you need them to.

Our top pick for a full-size work van would be the Mercedes Sprinter, but not everyone can afford this option. If you need something less expensive, but still versatile, then the Nissan NV would be our second pick.

Thankfully, modern technology continues to make work vans safer and offers many creature comforts as well. Who knows; you might even enjoy driving your work van around each day!

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Brian Jones
About Brian Jones

I am an ASE Certified Master Tech, but spend more time with my awesome family now than I do on cars. In my spare time, you'll still find me playing with tools, cars and many other "manly" gadgets.

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