When shipping freight over-the-road (OTR), shippers can choose from various freight trailer types: dry van, flatbed, refrigerated, and more. Each transportation mode has advantages and disadvantages for all shippers and carriers hauling freight. Depending on your shipping needs and freight type, you should consider a few options before deciding which one will work best for you.
There are several types of trailers, with the three most used being dry van trailers, flatbed trailers, and refrigerated trailers, also known as reefer trailers. Learning more about these main types of trailers will help you better understand freight shipping and find the best option for you.
What are the pros and cons of trailer types for shippers?
Dry Van Trailer
Dry van trailers look like enclosed boxes made to move “dry” cargo. The sizes of the dry van trailers vary, but the most common are the 48 and 53-foot trailers on the road. These trailers are the safest equipment for the freight and can hold up to 45,000 lbs. (about twice the weight of a school bus). Besides being the safest, dry van trailers are also the most common truck used in transportation.
- Dry van trailers can transport most types of freight. Therefore, a dry van trailer is an excellent option if you are not shipping hazardous, oversized, or perishable goods.
- Your freight is secure and protected from severe weather, damage, and theft during transit.
- Many dry van trucking companies provide regional and short hauls in addition to long hauls, so you have flexibility in scheduling your shipments and choosing routes.
- A dry van is efficient. The trailer can consolidate a range of materials into one shipment.
- Dry van trailers are in high demand, so finding the capacity, you need for your freight can be challenging.
- These trailers can’t transport perishables, flowers, fine art, or food.
- The most common use for dry vans is moving valuable goods like electronics, so these trucks can often be an object of theft.
- These trailers have a smaller capacity due to the different lengths, weight, and height requirements.
Flatbeds are open trailers for moving oversized freight like heavy machinery and large equipment. There are several types of flatbeds; however, they are all primarily flat platforms without cover and sides attached to the truck where cargo is loaded and fixed. You can pack your goods from different angles, the trailer’s top, side, and rear. There are many options for flatbed trailers, but some of the most common types are the standard flatbed, step deck, or double drop.
- Flatbed trailers are easy to load, and the shipper is not responsible for fixing and securing the load to a platform.
- The flatbed is the best option for you if you deliver bulky loads or freight of irregular shapes.
- They provide much easier upkeep due to the open deck of the flatbed. Due to the openness, there is also no need to repair any walls or roofs.
- Transporting oversized loads requires specific hauling and maneuvering skills, leading to high rates.
- The requirement is to secure loads properly since poorly connected freight is a threat to a road accident.
- Flatbed trailers expose loads to the elements, so moving freight during severe weather conditions can negatively affect the shipment.
- Stricter regulations come with using the flatbed trailer. Failure to comply with the rules could lead to fines and a license suspension.
Refrigerated trucks look like dry vans but have temperature regulation tools. These trailers have climate control to accommodate certain temperatures, so your freight remains in the required temperature range during transit. In addition, the temperatures in a refrigerated trailer never increase or decrease, so your shipped items will stay at the same temperature you choose for the entire time.
- Refrigerated trucks are perfect for food and beverage shippers, moving flowers, and art pieces.
- Refrigerated trucks can move temperature-sensitive and “dry” freight, so you can combine different cargo types in one load if needed.
- The pick-up and delivery are more straightforward than other methods of transportation. Different grocery stores have organized and well-run loading docks, making the process less stressful.
- The trailer protects the freight from weather conditions, theft, spoilage, and damage.
- Products can spoil when trailer damage occurs, or the cooling system breaks down.
- The loading process can take a long time due to pre-cooling requirements. The unloading process can also be a time consumer.
- If you don’t have access to tracking trailer conditions, you won’t know what’s happening to the shipment.
- Spoiled freight. A breakdown in the temperature window can cost money, but grocery stores and businesses will not accept items that are not the correct temperature or sour.
What are the pros and cons of trailer types for carriers?
Dry Van Trailer
- Dry van trailers are versatile and used for all kinds of freight, ranging from non-perishable food to building materials.
- Cargo is secure and protected from bad weather, damage, and theft, so you don’t need to use straps, chains, or another cover.
- “Drop and Hook” (drop an empty trailer, hook up to a loaded one) – load mode will save drivers time and effort and allow them to spend less time unloading and loading.
- Many dry van trucking companies provide regional and short hauls in addition to long hauls.
- Sometimes, a driver must help handle freight during the unloading process.
- Waiting at the dock for load/unload will consume a carrier’s time and money.
- Hardwood floors in most dry van trailers are vulnerable to moisture from freight or open doors, limiting the trailer’s life span.
- Dry van drivers earn, on average, 20% less pay per hour compared to flatbed drivers, so turnover is high.
- Flatbed drivers earn more per mile than most other trailer types, which helps driver turnover.
- There are many opportunities for pick-up and delivery each week.
- Flatbed drivers don’t need to back into docks and unload the freight.
- The demand for flatbed drivers’ unique skills is high, often leading to high rates.
- Transporting oversized loads requires particular hauling and maneuvering skills.
- The flatbed driver has a responsibility to secure loads properly. Poorly secured freight is a threat to the driver and other motorists.
- Climbing over oversized loads to attach chains and straps can be dangerous.
- Hauling and securing oversized loads is extremely complicated during severe weather conditions.
- There is always a demand for fresh products and a refrigerated truck to transport them.
- Reefer trailers can easily haul both refrigerated and dry goods.
- Refrigerated trailers haul long, coast-to-coast distances, which can mean more profit.
- Freight gets protected from weather conditions, theft, spoilage, and damage.
- Refrigerated truck drivers have additional responsibilities like cleaning the trailer after every load, controlling the thermometer and cooling equipment, and filling the second gas tank with fuel.
- There’s constant noise from the motor.
- Long wait time on shipping docks for loading or unloading is typical.
- Breakdowns lead to unavoidable product spoilage.
PLS Logistics and our Carrier Network
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It’s essential to consider all possibilities whenever you decide which trailer might be the best fit for your shipment. PLS Logistics supports all trailer types with a network of over 55,000 carriers, making us the number one flatbed 3PL in the country.
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