What Is a Box Truck?

Modern trucks are constantly evolving. Box trucks don't have to.

box truck
Box Truck Image Provided by the FBI.

All trucks are not created equal. Light trucks like pickups and SUVs are seeing massive gains in popularity for people craving a dose of utility in their daily driver, and they’re evolving to be more luxurious and powerful than ever. Microvans, also called work trucks, are the new favorite of businesses that need to dart their way through urban traffic while spending as little as possible on gas. Full-size vans are making a comeback with businesses, thanks to more fuel-efficient engines and the new European-style high storage roof.  One type of truck, however, remains the old standby of the truck world and isn’t slated to change anytime soon. It doesn’t have to. When versatility and massive storage count, there’s no alternative--you need a box truck.

What Is a Box Truck?

Ever seen a moving truck? That’s a box truck. How about an ambulance in the United States? That’s a box truck, too. Have you ever ridden in a shuttle bus? Shuttle busses, essentially, are also box trucks. The box on a shuttle bus has windows and seats. A Box truck is a very simple creature. You start with what’s called a chassis cab, basically everything from the front bumper to the cabin of a pickup truck. Where the bed of the pickup truck should be, there’s nothing but the frame. Mount a box on that frame and voila! You’ve just created a box truck.

Some box trucks, like a shuttle bus, allow you to get to the cab from the cargo area (the driver is sitting in the cab). To make moving between the cab and cargo area possible, the cargo box has actually been grafted onto the cab. Simpler designs, like common moving trucks, feature a box that’s simply been attached to the frame and not melded into the cab, meaning you have to get out of the truck to get into the cabin area.

Box Truck Rental Tips

For ease of use, most common box trucks dedicated to hauling cargo feature a roll-up rear door, similar to a garage door. Box sizes for these trucks typically range from a modest 10 feet, good for around 400 cu. ft. of storage to as large as 26 feet, providing around 1,600 cu. ft. of space. If you’re renting a box truck, check out the following factors:

  • How easy is it to access the cargo box? Is it low enough to avoid straining yourself to lift heavy items and put them inside? If it’s taller than you’d like, is there an integrated ramp that pulls out so you can walk up into the cargo box? If there isn’t a ramp, consider buying or borrowing one to save yourself some pain.
  • Rental fleets can vary dramatically, even by location. Perform some quick checks to make sure the truck you’re driving is safe and won’t end up injuring you or your wallet.
    • Use a quarter to inspect the tire tread depth. If you insert the quarter with George Washington standing up and his nose isn’t covered by rubber, the tires are worn and you’ll experience poorer performance in bad weather—particularly stopping on wet roads. For a bare minimum tread test, do the same thing with a penny. If Abe’s nose isn’t covered, request another truck with better tires. It’s not worth the risk.
    • Start the truck and check what’s coming out of the exhaust. Dark smoke when starting is okay, particularly if it’s powered by a diesel engine. Bluish-white smoke is absolutely not, indicating the engine has seen better days and could have a serious gasket issue. Get another truck or just walk away.
    • Do a quick test drive around the parking lot. The steering probably isn’t going to feel as precise as your personal vehicle, but is it good enough? Bad alignments and worn steering boxes can make driving challenging—especially when you’re not used to its dimensions and scratching it up is a really expensive proposition. Do the brakes feel firm and responsive? Push the brakes to the floor three times rapidly while coasting around. Do they feel weak by the third push? They’ll be far more challenged when you’ve loaded the truck, so request a different one if that’s the case.
  • Ask a representative what you can expect for fuel economy. Unlike the modern marvels found in vans, pickups and work trucks, box truck engines in rental fleets tend to be older and thirstier…make sure you’re comfortable with the potential fuel cost.

If you didn’t know what exactly a box truck is, you’re not alone. In 2002, Washington D.C. was in a panic as law enforcement hunted for a sniper who was attacking random people. The sniper was believed to be operating out of a white box truck, but conflicting reports were being sent to authorities of the sniper’s whereabouts. People were confusing box truck with cargo vans. Now you know the difference.

Edited by Jonathan Gromer