Introduction to Box Trucks
Box trucks provide affordable, versatile transportation for businesses of all sizes. These common vehicles are used for a wide variety of tasks, such as delivering products to customers, moving inventory between warehouses and retail stores, and bringing equipment to job sites.
Also called cube trucks, cube vans, or box vans, box trucks consist of a cab - the passenger compartment and engine - and a separate "box" for cargo. This two-piece construction differentiates them from cargo vans, which are more like passenger vans (with their one-piece construction.) They're part of the larger category of medium-duty trucks, along with flatbed trucks, refrigerated trucks, utility trucks, and more.
Medium-duty trucks don't fall into the same category as full-size tractor rigs. They're not as powerful, and the bed or cargo area is permanently attached, not interchangeable the way tractor trailers are.
Most box trucks fall into GVW (gross vehicle weight) rating classes 3 through 6 - up to 26,000 pounds. Some reach class 7, but these larger models require a commercial driver's license (CDL), which could be a drawback for some buyers. Most small businesses buy class 3 and 4 trucks.
This BuyerZone Box Trucks Buyer's Guide will help you prepare for a box truck purchase by giving you essential information, such as:
- Whether you should choose gasoline or diesel
- What features are most important
- How much can you expect to pay
When you're ready, BuyerZone can also help you connect with qualified truck sellerships in your area.
The first step in finding the best box truck is figuring out exactly what you plan on doing with it. Along these lines, there are two specific considerations to pay attention to.
Selecting the Right Truck
When buying a medium-duty truck, the most important questions relate to your business - not the trucks. Before you talk to a single seller, sit down and think through your needs and expectations.
- What will you be carrying? It doesn't get much more straightforward than this: what will your typical load be? What about your absolute maximum? These answers will determine what type of body, the size of the body, and the load rating you'll need.
- Where will you be carrying it? The primary factors to consider here are the total mileage you'll put on the vehicle and the type of driving you'll be doing. Your needs for long-distance highway driving will be much different than your needs for quick trips around a city or off-road hauling.
When gathering this information, you should make sure the truck you buy can meet your current needs as well as your projected growth. Depending on the use it gets, a new medium-duty truck can easily last 10 years or more if well maintained, so you'll want one that can grow with your business.
Gasoline vs. diesel trucks
One basic decision to make before buying a box truck is whether you want a gasoline or diesel engine. Note that this is really only an option at the lower end of the medium-duty truck range: class 3 trucks are fairly equally split between gas and diesel, and some smaller class 4 trucks are available with gas engines. At larger capacities, you'll find almost exclusively diesel trucks.
Diesel engines have more power at low RPMs, making it easier to start from a standstill with a heavy load. They also last longer than gasoline engines if properly maintained.
Gasoline engines are far less expensive to purchase. They're also quieter and tend to pollute less than diesels. However that advantage is diminishing with the improvements made in diesel technology.
Historically, diesel has been cheaper than gas, but soaring oil costs have raised prices on both fuels to the point where they're essentially equal in many parts of the country. Diesel engines get marginally better mileage than do gas engines, but the higher cost of oil changes and other routine maintenance can cancel that savings out.
If you're buying class 3 trucks for very low mileage operation, a gasoline truck can save you money. In most cases, though, a diesel is a better long-term investment for your business.
Four-wheel drive trucks
Most box trucks are two-wheel drive (2WD), since they rarely go off-road and 2WD provides better gas mileage. If you plan on doing regular off-road driving, though, four-wheel drive (4WD) is invaluable for getting around on low-traction surfaces like mud or loose gravel. Don't buy 4WD lightly: in addition to the gas mileage hit, you'll also pay a premium that can run up to several thousand dollars.
After establishing your intended use and settling on the type of engine you need to go along with it, it's time to pair those factors to a truck body type. There's a wide range to choose from depending on what you're hauling, as well as options that can further extend the truck's functionality.
Basic Types & Options
One of the significant differences between buying a car and buying a commercial truck is that commercial truck sellers should work with you to design exactly the truck you want. Give them the details on the types of loads you need to carry, typical trips, and what frustrates you about your current trucks if applicable, and look for a seller who can address these needs specifically.
Types of medium-duty trucks
Basic box trucks - basic enclosed boxes with roll-up rear doors - are the most common type of medium-duty truck, but there are many other types of bodies to choose from:
- Refrigerated trucks - If you need to keep your cargo cold, you'll pay more up front and in operating costs for a refrigerated truck.
- Flatbed trucks - Good for carrying larger items as well as loading and unloading with cranes, flatbed trucks can include fixed or dump beds.
- Utility trucks - Designed for mobile maintenance and tradesmen, utility trucks are lined with bins and racks for storing tools, spare parts, and other equipment.
- Landscape trucks - Partially open, with space to store mowers, bins, blowers, weed whackers, and more, landscape trucks often include sloped ramps and fold-down sides for easy access.
Box trucks are generally measured by the length of their cargo area. The most common sizes are from 14' to 24'. Both smaller and larger vehicles can be found, but they're rare - larger trucks are much more expensive and harder to drive, and smaller trucks don't provide the capacity most businesses are looking for.
There are two significantly different cab configurations for these trucks:
- Conventional high cabs sit behind the engine, providing better long-distance visibility and comfort for extended highway driving.
- Low cab-forward designs put the cab over the front axle and in front of the engine, providing far better visibility and maneuverability in tight spaces. In these designs, the cab usually tilts forward to grant access to the engine.
Liftgates and other extras
Almost all box trucks have roll-up gates in the back - similar to garage doors. One option to consider is a liftgate, a powered platform that raises and lowers your cargo from the street to the back of the truck. If you'll be using your truck mainly at loading docks, you won't need one, but for on-street deliveries a liftgate is a huge time-saver.
Other extras in the cargo area can include translucent ceilings for light, electric lights, and rail systems along the walls that make it easy to secure cargo when necessary.
In the operator's cab, you have a range of familiar options to choose from. These include automatic or manual transmission, A/C, bucket seats, CD players, and other comfort and convenience options similar to those available in new cars. Some medium-duty truck models offer the choice of regular or crew cabs, which add an extra row of seating.
When evaluating the cost of these extras, keep in mind the amount of time your drivers will spend in the truck over its lifespan. A small additional expense now can mean increased comfort for your employees for years to come.
Choosing a Truck Seler
Most small businesses that buy a truck use it constantly. Whether it's used for service calls, deliveries, transporting equipment to job sites, or other purposes, a box truck earns its keep by helping you get work done reliably.
The flip side is that when a truck breaks down, your business is losing money. This means that in addition to choosing the right truck, you need to choose a sellership that will stand behind the vehicle and provide top-quality support when you need it.
A good first step toward getting that support is to buy from a commercial truck sellership, as opposed to a car sellership that sells some trucks on the side. Commercial truck sellerships are the better choice for several reasons:
- Greater selection - Car sellerships may have a truck or two on the lot, but they won't be able to match you to a range of box trucks.
- Better customization - Once they match you to the right model truck, commercial sellerships can create the exact body for your application.
- Specialized technicians - When your truck needs repairs, you'll want to entrust it to repair staffers with extensive experience working with medium-duty trucks.
- More responsive - When you do have problems, commercial sellerships understand how essential it is to solve them quickly.
Because you're building a relationship, not just making a one-time purchase, you should trust your instincts as you evaluate different sellers. You'll be working with the sellership for years to come, so if you don't feel that the employees are being honest with you, it's best to consider another source.
Look for a seller who takes a consultative approach: one who tries to match your requirements to a truck, as opposed to pushing a truck from their inventory no matter what your needs are. If the seller is trying to sell you something you don't need, they might not be the right match for you.
It's worth asking other businesses in your area where they get their trucks. Talk to your sellers, customers, and even your competitors - anyone who has a business truck similar to what you need. Ask them key questions about the truck and the sellership:
- How long have you had the truck? Where did you get it?
- Are you happy with it?
- How much customization did you have done?
- Do you feel like you got a good deal?
- Has the seller honored to the warranty?
- Are repairs handled quickly and thoroughly?
- Would you buy your next truck from them?
- If you could change one thing about this sellership, what would it be?
You can also ask the sellerships you're investigating for a list of references and ask the same questions. Of course, you'll be connected to some of their most satisfied customers, but you can still learn the sellers' relative strengths and weaknesses.
Most large purchases have aspects that are negotiable, and box trucks are no exception. Review these cost averages compiled from a variety of BuyerZone customers and leading national sellers.
Box Trucks Pricing
Medium-duty truck pricing is enormously varied, since the segment ranges from very basic 14' box trucks to 26' refrigerated trucks loaded with extras.
Keep in mind that the price ranges in this section are very general guidelines: prices vary according to the size of the truck, the options you select, seller inventories, and your location, so all pricing examples are only approximate. Take a look at detailed box truck prices reported by other BuyerZone users.
Light-duty class 2 trucks can go for $25,000 to $35,000, but most commercial sellers start with class 3 trucks. You'll find it hard to get a new class 3 truck for under $30,000, although it's possible; more typical are prices of $32,000 to $45,000. Pricing for new class 4 trucks runs from $34,000 to $50,000 and higher if you really load them up with extras. Class 5 trucks range from $40,000 to $70,000 and class 6 from $50,000 to $85,000.
Refrigerated trucks carry a steep premium - $10,000 or more above the base cost. Other bed options may add $1,000 to $5,000, and highly customized configurations can cost much more.
Used box truck pricing
If your truck is going to be an essential part of your daily activities, it makes sense to buy new. However, if the truck is going to be less central to your business, buying used is often a smart way to save money.
This brings up the element of "buyer beware" when buying any used vehicle. Only buy from a seller who offers at least some warranty to make sure you don't waste money on a lemon. Because of the longevity benefits, diesel trucks are often a better choice if you're buying an older vehicle, but if they haven't been properly maintained, they can be a disaster waiting to happen.
Used medium-duty truck pricing spans a huge range, just like used car pricing. A year-old 16' truck with only a few thousand miles on it may go for $35,000 instead of its $40,000 new price. But if you buy that same truck when it's four to five years old, with 50,000 or 100,000 miles on it, you could get it for $12,000 to $20,000.
Older trucks go for even less - you could find a 10-year-old truck that still runs for as little as $5,000, but you probably wouldn't want to count on it. In general, you won't find these types of prices at sellerships - you'll find them in classified ads and online sales.
Know how you'll be paying for your truck before your start shopping: if you're like most small businesses, you'll want to finance your vehicle over several years. Be sure to ask each sellership what financing options they can provide, but consider other options as well. At a minimum, check with your business bank to see what terms it can offer on a new vehicle loan.
In addition to reducing the up-front cost of a new truck, financing your truck over three or five years can help you think more about the longer-term benefits of different models and options, and less about the bottom-line cost. For example, $1,500 may seem like a lot for a cabin upgrade, but when you look at it as $25 per month over five years, it's a small price to pay for the comfort and safety of your employees.
Box Truck Buying Tips
Once you've narrowed your choices down to a couple of truck models and dealerships, take some very thorough test drives. Take full advantage of your chances to test out different trucks. A spin around the block won't give you the information you really need. Take the truck out on a typical route, at the usual time, to see how it handles in the traffic and conditions that you'll face in everyday use.
Some commercial dealerships even let you take a truck out for a demo, allowing you to load and unload it at your location with your equipment to get an accurate sense of how well suited it is for your business. Even if you can't do a full demo, take the time to load and unload some sample cargo to test the storage space, liftgate, and access.
Here are a few additional tips on buying medium-duty trucks:
- Plan for the max. When deciding on the total weight capacity, make sure you base your decision on the maximum weight you'll carry - not the average. Loading a truck beyond its rated capacity is a quick route to breakdowns and premature wear.
- Efficiency add-ons. Frequent ins and outs? If your drivers make many stops over the course of a day, look for features that make getting in and out of the cab easier: low steps, wide door openings, and well-placed grab handles.
- Extended warranties. Not everyone drives as carefully as you do. Keep in mind the employees who will be driving your business truck. Are their driving habits up to your standards? A better warranty can protect your investment.