Prefer to listen to this guide?
Subscribe to the Buying Bigger Better Academy Podcast to take an audio version of this guide with you.
Commercial Box Trucks—The Modern Cargo Pack Mule
Whether being used to move furniture, food items, or shipped packages, box trucks are some of the most widely used commercial vehicles in the world. But what sets one box truck apart from the others when you’re looking to buy one for your business? In this guide, we’re going to break down:
- What a box truck is
- What makes them so popular
- How to determine the kind of box truck is right for your needs
- How to find high-quality commercial box trucks
A box truck—also sometimes called a box van, cube van, moving truck, or cube truck—is a commercial truck that contains both a driver’s cab compartment and a cargo area, all on one chassis. Box trucks range in size from just larger than a van or pickup with cargo boxes from 10 feet long to semi-truck-sized vehicles at or over 26 feet long. The most popular style are medium-sized—running between 14 and 24 feet long. Box trucks are popular for their maneuverability and ability to conveniently transport lighter-weight cargo—such as parcels, furniture, food items, supplies, and the like.
Box trucks are popular and widely used for several reasons.
Most box trucks under 26 feet in length or under a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds can be driven without a commercial driver's license (CDL). These days, most box trucks are equipped with intuitive automatic transmissions and can be driven on most roadways without issue—though drivers will want to take note of weight limitations, low-hanging bridges, garages, and common blindspots as they would need to with any larger vehicle.
Their lightweight and maneuverability in comparison to larger commercial trucks make them a popular choice for moving companies, landscapers, package delivery services, and beyond.
Box trucks are much more fuel efficient than their larger commercial semi-truck counterparts, allowing them to make deliveries all over a particular city or between cities without breaking the bank at the gas pump.
Whether you’re looking to set out as a box truck owner operator or your existing fleet could use some help, you’ll want to consider what you’ll need your next box truck to handle. Let’s take a quick look at the best box truck styles depending on the use case.
The size, weight, and quantity of cargo you will need to transport will largely determine the size, engine power, and load capacity of your box truck. A decent rule of thumb is to consider your maximum cargo load and select a box truck model that can handle just slightly more than that. The logic behind this selection strategy is that you will always have enough truck for the job but not more than you need so you don’t wind up with a box truck that is unmanageable and not fuel efficient.
There are several different types of box trucks. Each type is designed, built, and customized to meet the unique needs of the operator.
Standard or basic box trucks are the common medium-sized box trucks equipped with rear roll-up doors and a completely enclosed box. These are the trucks commonly used by moving companies or delivery services.
Utility box trucks work as mobile work stations for service personnel that not only require an array of tools and equipment but possibly even a small place to perform necessary work. These trucks may be outfitted with truck toolbox additions in the cargo area and other specialized features.
For items that need to remain cold or frozen—such as food or some medical supplies—refrigerated box trucks are outfitted with refrigeration units, commonly referred to as reefers, in their boxes to allow for careful climate control of the cargo.
Some landscaping crews prefer the use of box trucks over pickup service trucks for enclosed storage of necessary tools and equipment without an additional trailer. Some landscaping box trucks may be used along with a chipper to catch and transport landscaping debris.
Though they may not carry a “box,” flatbed box trucks are essentially standard box trucks without walls or a roof on the cargo area. Some are used to transport heavy equipment with the help of ramps while others may even be equipped with dump bodies.
You may be tempted to buy a much larger box truck than you think you’ll need to avoid ever being overwhelmed with a larger load. However, larger box trucks are not only more expensive up front, but less fuel efficient. On the other hand, you don’t want to buy a box truck that is too small or you may end up with loads that don’t fit in the cargo box or waste time and gas money on multiple trips. Carefully considering the dimensions of the amount of cargo you need to carry regularly will help you determine the “sweet spot” box truck box length for your needs.
Much like the length, the height of your cargo or its “stackability” is a factor to consider when shopping for your next box truck. Though true, also consider any height restrictions imposed by the locations this box truck will need to visit. Will this box truck need to go through lower underpasses, tunnels, warehouse doors, and the like? These areas may impact your decision to buy a taller or shorter box truck.
Box trucks also come in varieties with driver cabs either positioned high and behind an engine or lower and over the front axle. High cabs in which the driver sits behind the engine lend themselves to long-distance driving with greater driver comfort and enhanced visibility down the road due to the raised position. Low cab models tend to be those in which the driver sits over the front axle. Low cab box trucks allow for great maneuverability and street visibility—making them ideal for navigating city environments. While great as city delivery vehicles, lower cab box trucks tend to be less aerodynamic on highways with less driver leg room.
Higher Cab Box Truck Model—perfect for highway miles.
Lower Cab Box Truck Model—perfect for city deliveries.
The type of cargo you intend to haul will help you determine what kind of cargo box floor material to choose. Some box trucks come with a simple wood floor—which may be fine for hauling lightweight dry cargo. However, if you will need to carry heavier loads or anything that would potentially leak, a steel or aluminum box floor will be best for strength as well as cleanup. Aluminum is a great lightweight option—winning you fuel economy points—with relatively easy cleaning and maintenance. For heavy loads, steel box floors will be the preferred option.
Wood-floor box truck with swing-open doors and e-tracks.
Metal-floor reefer box truck.
Most box trucks employ a roll-up door that rolls up into the ceiling and does not impede loading or unloading at docks and other delivery locations. Smaller box trucks may not have the luxury of the height needed for roll-up doors—instead opting for swing-out doors. Swing-out doors are also good for quick load-ins and drop-offs.
Many larger box trucks may contain a roll-up rear door as well as a side door for easier access to cargo positioned near the middle or front of the cargo box and may also simplify some street loading and unloading scenarios. When choosing a box truck with a roll-up door or a swing-out door, consider which will be more efficient in the loading and unloading process.
Roll-open rear box truck doors.
Swing open rear doors along with a swing-open middle door for a medium sized box truck.
Due to the swaying and jostling of your box truck, cargo can shift, fall, and otherwise become damaged. Also, if you’re using a box truck for delivery purposes, being able to organize cargo where it can easily be discovered is important. There are several ways to secure and organize cargo—and some solutions can even do both!
E-tracks installed within the cargo box allow you to use cargo nets, ratchet straps, bungee cords, and other accessories to secure your cargo. Though you may also opt for shelves for managed stowing and organization of your cargo, your items will still need to be secured on said shelves.
Box truck with shelves for easier organization.
If you will be loading and unloading cargo from your box truck at a loading dock, the height of the cargo box may not be an issue. If you plan to move cargo on and off of your box truck in locations where no loading docks are present, however, you will need some way to move your cargo up and down from your box.
For full-box deliveries (meaning that you’re delivering the entire contents of the box, such as for a moving truck), a stow-away ramp may be preferred when no loading dock is available. However, if you need to deliver single items or loads at a time—such as a single pallet of goods or single pieces of furniture—a powered liftgate is ideal. Though a stow-away ramp may still work, a powered liftgate will save your drivers’ backs and take up much less space behind the truck while loading—which is especially important for loading and unloading while parked on city streets or parking lots where space is limited.
Box truck with roll-up door and loading ramp.
A retracted and stowed tuck-under liftgate for a box truck.
Just like it sounds, tuck-under liftgates for box trucks are designed to remain tucked away until you need them—stored in a folded state beneath the rear of the truck. Because tuck-under liftgates do not obstruct the rear of the box truck when not in use, they are especially useful for trucks that also utilize loading docks.
Extended tuck-under liftgate for a box truck.
Straightforward yet feature-rich, cantilever liftgates are very simple large platforms stored in an inclined position against the rear of the truck. These liftgates have a large single-piece platform capable of self-leveling for safe loading and unloading—even on uneven terrain.
Retracted cantilever liftgate on the back of a box truck.
Extended cantilever liftgate for box trucks for sale.
Much like cantilever liftgates, rail-lift gates are stowed over the back of a box truck when not in use—though most rail-lift gates are comprised of two panels that unfold for cargo loading. The storability of rail-lift gates is somewhere between tuck-under liftgates and cantilever liftgates—able to allow access to the rear door without being fully extended—while maintaining auto-leveling capabilities.
Retracted rail-lift gate for box truck.
Extended rail-lift gate for box truck.
When selecting a liftgate for your box truck, it is crucial to consider which style will best serve your operation’s loading style. If you’re primarily using box trucks to move cargo from one raised loading dock to another, you will not want a liftgate that interferes with this action.
It is also important to consider the weight ratings for each liftgate and compare them not only to the weight of each load of cargo but also to the equipment required to load or unload each load. For instance, the weight of any pallet jacks, dollies, or carts should be accounted for when using liftgates to load your box truck, as such equipment will accompany loads on your liftgates for cargo placement within the box.
Consider where you will need to use your box truck the most. Some box trucks will be better suited for long-distance highway travel while other box trucks are better for the nimble maneuverability required for city driving.
There are pros and cons to both diesel trucks and gasoline box trucks. Gas trucks, by and large, are more affordable upfront and less expensive to keep running. They’re much more popular for those needing to transport lighter loads shorter distances. On the other hand, diesel box trucks are much more reliable and tend to have better fuel economy. Those who need to haul heavier loads further tend to prefer diesel box trucks for their needs.
As of the publication of this guide, electric-powered box trucks—also known as EV box trucks—are fairly uncommon or may even still be in a prototype phase. Only time and demand will tell if they become more popular and affordable. For now, most available EV box truck models are either cost-prohibitive or suffer from having a limited driving range.
Because smaller box trucks tend to be converted pickup trucks or vans, they may contain such original engines with few upgrades. Medium-to-large box trucks will have more robust commercial truck engine options. The difference will change whether you have a box truck you’re considering purchasing inspected by a commercial vehicle mechanic or someone with more experience in inspecting OTR (over the road) commercial trucks.
Any box truck engine should be closely inspected by a professional mechanic before purchase. They will be able to identify undue wear and whether the existing engine will be the most appropriate for your intended loads. They will also be able to provide a general idea of the engine’s lifespan and what regular maintenance measures will help extend that life.
Because they are intended to be driven by those without commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), most small-to-medium-sized box trucks for sale these days will be equipped with intuitive automatic transmissions.
You may find some medium-to-large box trucks with manual transmissions, but they are becoming increasingly rare. Though not as sought after, so you may be able to find an attractive deal on a truck with a manual transmission. Manual transmissions can indeed offer enhanced control and fuel efficiency for highway driving but they can also result in driver fatigue in the stop-and-go traffic of a city setting.
What will ultimately help you decide between an automatic versus a manual transmission will be your driver’s preference, comfort, and skill.
Though you can’t go wrong with buying a brand new box truck that fits your cargo-hauling needs, new box trucks—especially customized models—can be quite expensive. Fortunately, well-maintained used box trucks are fairly abundant and tend to be more affordable than new models.
Depending on the size, weight rating, and style of the box truck, new box trucks for sale can cost anywhere from around $25,000 to $180,000. Though still rare, electric-powered box trucks can cost upwards of $340,000. That being said, EV box trucks are still not common at the time of the publication of this guide.
On the lowest end, older used box truck models can be purchased for as low as $2,000 with newer used box trucks costing upwards of $80,000. An average reliable medium-sized used box truck will likely cost anywhere from $20,000 - $60,000—depending on the size, condition, mileage, and specialization.
Now that we’ve discussed what box truck types are available, you’re likely ready to begin looking at which such box trucks meet your preferred criteria. Armed with your box truck needs, it's time to compare them with box trucks for sale from dealers and private sellers.
“This box looks big enough to handle what I need to carry.”
Wait just a second there—size may not mean the truck is appropriately weight rated for your needs.
It is important to select a box truck in which the cargo box is compatible with the weight rating of the truck chassis. Unfortunately, some previous owners of box trucks may have modified or customized their box truck with an improper cargo box—typically one too big or too heavy for the truck chassis. While it may work fine for a while, carrying cargo loads beyond the weight rating of the truck or its chassis can put undue wear on truck components, resulting in premature equipment failure and expensive maintenance. When shopping for box trucks, compare the weight rating of the cargo box against the weight rating of the truck chassis. Just because a cargo box is large does not necessarily mean it can handle heavier cargo if the truck chassis isn’t rated for the weight.
Though you’ll always want to run the VIN of any box truck you’re considering purchasing as well as have it “lemon checked” by a trusted mechanic (definitely worth the $100-$300 that such inspections usually cost), there are a few different areas of a used box truck for sale that reveal how the truck was treated by past drivers. Knowing what red flags to look for can help you mark a few trucks off of your list.
“What is considered good mileage for a used box truck?”
For affordable used gasoline engine box trucks, acceptable mileage amounts range between 100,000 and 200,000 miles. Lower mileage trucks may be a bit more expensive—closer to newer models—and higher mileage box trucks will likely require additional maintenance.
If the mileage of a box truck you’re looking at doesn’t quite match the condition of the rest of the truck—whether the mileage seems too low for the amount of visible wear or too high for a truck that appears to be in great condition—this should raise some red flags. You will want to bring up these inconsistencies with the seller or remove the truck from consideration.
Surprisingly, the cab of a box truck can sometimes give you an idea of the treatment of the vehicle over its working life. A worn steering wheel, torn seats, broken knobs, or other damage within the cab may denote rough treatment that goes beyond the driver’s area. If drivers didn’t take care of the cab, they may have also neglected or mistreated other aspects of the truck.
The floor of the truck’s cargo box shouldn’t be warped, dented, rusted, stained, or rotten. Wood floors will tell you quite a bit more than metal (whether steel or aluminum floors), but carefully inspect any cargo box floors for water damage from a past leak or improper cleaning. If a cargo floor seems to be freshly patched with boards or covered with industrial carpeting, this could denote hidden damage and should raise questions.
While most used box trucks will have a few dents here and there (they’re workhorses after all), keep a close look out for rust. This can appear on body panels, wheel wells, and on the box. Don’t forget to look on the roof of the box and the inside walls for signs of rust and possible leaks.
Some sellers may throw on a new set of tires—which can be great for resell. If they don’t, however, the tires can tell you quite a bit about the past treatment of the truck that goes beyond wear patterns. If tire treads are uneven, mismatched, or downright missing (such as bald tires), this can speak volumes about the frequency and quality of required maintenance—such as regular oil changes, fluid levels, and the like. At the very least, it should elicit some questions about the preventative maintenance schedule for the truck, if there was one.
You shouldn’t feel funny about looking under the hood of a used box truck you’re considering purchasing. Inspect the engine coolant reservoir—making sure the coolant isn’t brown or rust-colored, which can denote greater issues. Make sure to check oil levels along with a careful eye on the color and consistency of the oil on the stick. If the engine oil appears too dark, thick, or viscous (sticky), this could be a reason to ask some questions or pass on the vehicle to avoid greater issues. Make sure to have a professional mechanic inspect areas such as the heater core, brake fluids, exhaust systems, and the like.
Aside from the headlights, other vehicle lights may seem like added luxuries. They should still be checked for proper performance. Issues with lights may denote other electrical issues with vehicle components—such as inner rust from leaks or a potential liftgate malfunction.
While some sellers will offer to provide VIN lookup specifics for their inventory, VIN history should be independently verified through a third-party service. It is also crucial to make sure that the vehicle has a clear title with no liens and that it is owned by the seller. Liens on a box truck can complicate the sales process or may even forfeit proper ownership.
Ideally, the seller should have maintenance and service logs for the truck they are selling. Sellers who have kept careful records not only provide a good idea of the service history of the box truck but also about the meticulous nature of the seller.
There are a variety of questions you should ask the seller before considering a certain box truck.
“How many entities have owned this truck?”
The fewer the number of owners, the better of an idea of the truck use and maintenance history you’re likely to obtain.
“Has this box truck ever been used as a rental?”
Box trucks that were once used as rentals may still be decent vehicles. Still, because they were frequently driven by various inexperienced drivers, they may contain additional issues of which the owner may not even be aware.
“What is the main type of cargo this truck was used to haul?”
Asking what type of cargo was hauled in the truck allows you to compare it to the size and weight rating of the truck to determine how much wear-and-tear the truck may have. This may also help you determine if this matches your cargo intentions for the box truck.
“Was this truck used for long-distance hauling or short-distance delivery?”
Highway miles are much easier on the engine and other components of a box truck when compared with box trucks used in more stop-and-go city traffic or whose doors and liftgates were used many times a shift.
“What kind of customizations have been made to this truck?”
You should have an understanding of any aftermarket customizations that have been made to a box truck you’re considering purchasing. More than anything, this is to ensure that such add-ons or modifications are appropriate for the vehicle’s weight ratings and capabilities.
“Are there any other issues with this box truck of which you are aware that have not yet been mentioned or documented?”
It’s common for any used vehicle to have issues that the seller has not yet remedied, but has not mentioned due to them not impacting the immediate function of the vehicle. These can range from faulty doors to more serious mechanical issues. The seller may not be aware of any existing issues or they may bring up a few symptoms. These issues should not automatically disqualify the truck from consideration and the seller’s honesty should bode well for their trustworthiness. Either way, it never hurts to ask this question as it pays to know as much about the seller’s knowledge of the box truck as possible.
In addition to inspecting the VIN of any commercial vehicle you intend to purchase to have proper knowledge of the truck’s accident history, you’re also strongly advised to have any box truck you intend to purchase “lemon checked”—or carefully inspected by an unbiased professional mechanic before purchase. Preferably, this mechanic should have experience in and/or specialize in such commercial vehicles to offer an informed assessment. Yes, this inspection may cost you a few hundred dollars, but it will be money well-spent to help you avoid costly repairs or simply help you feel that you’re purchasing a quality truck.
If a previous owner is opposed to allowing you to have the truck inspected, just walk away. They may change their mind or you may have just dodged a bullet.
In addition to a general inspection, it won’t hurt to ask the mechanic:
- “Are the engine, body, transmission, suspension, chassis, and box the most appropriate for my intended cargo and load weights?”
- “What would be required to remedy any issues that you’ve found?”
- “What regular maintenance would you recommend?”
- “Would you purchase the truck for the listed price if you were in my shoes?”
- “How much do you think is a reasonable price?”
The details of the mechanic’s assessment will not only help you consider if the box truck for sale is worth purchasing but may also help you negotiate a competitive price.
Long Distance Box Truck Inspections
If you’re interested in a box truck for sale further away from your location, look up experienced and trustworthy mechanics in the area to hire for the inspection. It’s best if the mechanic does business with you only without seller interference to keep the inspection unbiased.
When the time comes to find a new or used truck to buy, there are various sources.
- Commercial truck dealerships will have various models of new and used box trucks available.
- Many delivery and shipping companies sell their past fleet box truck vehicles.
- Private sellers may opt to sell past box trucks when upgrading instead of trading them in.
- Commercial truck rental companies are some of the most prevalent sellers of their past rental box trucks.
Most searches of “used box trucks for sale” will result in being directed to a truck rental company selling used rental box trucks from their past rental inventory—which are typically put up for sale after around 90,000-100,000 miles. There are many advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding to buy a rented box truck.
- Savings. Truck rental companies can provide substantial savings (often below going rates) on their used rental box truck vehicles as well as detailed service documentation—such as oil change records, tire maintenance, and the like.
- Maintenance. Depending on the diligence of the rental company, many of these box trucks may be in exceptional working condition and offer years of hassle-free performance.
- Inexperienced Operators. Even though rental vehicles are typically owned and maintained by a single entity, they are driven by potentially hundreds of different drivers—many of whom are inexperienced in operating such vehicles or unaware of weight rating limitations. It is not known how careless such inexperienced drivers had been with these trucks.
Truck auctions can be a great place for equipment deals but there are a few factors to consider.
- Savings. Because truck auctions are where some dealers find their trucks, you may find some incredible deals on box trucks that delivery and rental companies are looking to offload.
- Streamlined Purchase Process. Auctions are also a great means of facilitating a quick vehicle purchase process. This can be handy if you’re looking to get a fleet on the road quickly.
- Warranties. And while they can seem a little bit risky because you’re not usually able to get any trucks professionally inspected before purchasing them, some sellers offer warranties to help offset risk on your part.
- Overpaying. Just as you can find great deals at an auction, some people may end up overpaying—either due to the lack of comparative research or getting caught up in the competitive momentum of the bidding process.
- Associated Fees. Many auctions have fees associated with the auction process that some fail to consider.
- Transport. If you’re bidding on box trucks further from home, getting said box trucks back home can get expensive if not properly coordinated.
- Questionable Vehicle Condition. The most obvious disadvantage of buying from an auction is the questionable condition of the trucks due to a lack of third-party inspection.
One of the most popular and effective means of locating box trucks for sale is through an equipment listing service. Sellers from various locations—from dealerships to fleet companies and private sellers—can all submit listings for box trucks for sale. These listings include a variety of images, truck specifications, and the like. Using a listing service’s website, truck buyers can filter search parameters to show only the box trucks that meet their specific preferences and needs.
Armed with this box truck buying guide and an understanding of what kind of box truck will serve you best, you’re invited to begin your search with My Little Salesman. Since 1958, My Little Salesman has connected box truck buyers like you with the heavy-duty tools and equipment they need to thrive. To find your next box truck today, look through our Box Truck Listings. Use the search filtering tools to simplify your shopping process to show only box trucks that meet your standards and budget.