Refrigerated Trucks: All You Should Know


Shipping freight is a complex task, but shipping temperature sensitive freight is even more challenging. Refrigerated trucks make transit possible for many perishable goods such as food, medicine, plants, perfume, chemicals, electronics, and more.

Refrigerated shipping is a vital part of the logistics industry and can help companies like grocery stores and pharmacies ship goods in and out of their stores. In fact, 90% of the food you eat was brought to your table in a refrigerated truck, or “reefer”. There are about 500,000 operating reefers in the United States working to ensure everyone gets the perishable goods they need. While the use of refrigerated trucks is second nature in today’s supply chain industry, they are a relatively new invention that forever changed the logistics industry.

The History of Reefers

In 1939, an American inventor, Fred Jones, developed the first automated cooling system designed for shipping trailers. Fred Jones was a successful engineer with patents on numerous inventions from X-ray and sound system technology to the automated ticket-dispensing machine for movie theaters. However, Jones’ most influential innovation is without a doubt the refrigerated trailer. The invention of the reefer was especially influential during World War 2 for shipping supplies and blood donations to soldiers.

Could you imagine only having access to food produced/grown within a 50-mile radius from where you live? Prior to the 1930s, perishables could only travel about 50 miles before going bad. Fred Jones completely reinvented the way that people access food and medicine.

What is a Refrigerated Truck?

Refrigerated trucks, also known as reefer trailers, are an insulated freight shipment method for perishables and temperature sensitive products. Most reefer trailers are 53-foot-long attachments to semi-trucks and are powered by diesel engines. The cooling system in each unit contains a compressor, condenser, and evaporator that work hard to ensure cold temperatures. Refrigerated trailers also include air delivery chutes to help circulate the cold air.

Three Types of Reefers

Refrigerated trailers

Refrigerated trailers have a refrigerator and a freezer that can maintain temperatures between –20 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cryogenic reefers

Cryogenic reefers are not very common and are mostly used to transport medical and technical supplies that require extremely cold temperatures. These trailers can maintain temperatures between 32 degrees and –230 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heated trucks

This type is used to carry any product that requires warm temperatures from chemicals to sweet potatoes.

What Should I Know About Refrigerated Shipping?

It’s More Expensive

You will have to pay more to shiploads that require refrigeration, compared to regular dry van loads. Reefer units require additional fuel to operate and keep the temperature, which is what affects the rate. The cooling units also make the trailer heavier. As of January 2021, the average national dry van rate is $3.08 per mile whereas the rate for reefers is $3.53. To check out trends on national freight rates, click here.

In addition, the fixed costs that go into using a reefer are greater than dry vans. Refrigeration systems work hard and typically burn out after 3-5 years of trucking, so refrigerated trailers must be replaced often.

High Demand

Every single product and service on the market has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many products experienced less demand as the world went into lock down, but food and medicine sales grew. Perishable products experiencing an increase in demand meant an increase in demand for refrigerated trailers. With high demand and low capacity, prices continue to rise for refrigerated shipping.

Capacity is especially crucial during produce shipping season in the US. Produce shipping season starts at the beginning of April and runs through the end of July. During this time of year, expect higher reefer rates. For more information on produce shipping season, see this eBook created by PLS for tips to save you time and money.

It Requires Accuracy and Efficency

By default, accurate and extensive info is required for all loads to avoid issues. It is especially crucial with reefer loads. Always make sure you know the exact temperature required for your shipment, and make sure it is clearly communicated to the carrier. Consider pre-cooling the reefer before the loading process to ensure temperature is cold when the freight is loaded.

Be ready to load and unload your freight quickly and efficiently to make sure it goes straight from a temperature-controlled trailer into a temperature-controlled warehouse or storage. In the summer, when temperatures are up in the 100’s, even a short exposure to the heat might ruin the product.

Track Your Shipments

Tracking your refrigerated shipment can help prevent mishaps during the shipment’s journey. Shipment tracking can help prevent any surprises if a delay were to occur and can keep you updated on the shipment. If your items require specialized shipping services, like refrigerated pharmaceuticals, you can look into a specialized freight service to properly accommodate your shipment.

Have a Back-up Plan

It is always a good idea to have a back-up plan in place if something goes wrong and goods are spoiled or damaged. Working with a third-party logistics provider can help give shippers a “peace-of-mind” when shipping and properly manage and ship refrigerated goods efficiently.

If you are a company that frequently ships produce or perishable goods, refrigerated shipping is a great option. Need to book a refrigerated shipment today? Get Freight Quote!


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