Types of Trailers: An Ultimate Guide


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Types of Trailers: An Ultimate Guide
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Choosing the right shipping mode and equipment type may be challenging even for experienced shippers. Knowing the main trailer types and their specifications can help you determine the best one to move their freight. There are numerous types of trailers, each of which is specially designed to meet different shipping demands. To better understand equipment options, learn more about the main and most used trailer types in our ultimate guide:

Dry Van Trailers

Dry van trailers are closed box trailers without temperature control. The largest amount of the world’s cargo is moved by dry vans. These trailers are fully enclosed and have doors on the back, so they can only be loaded from the rear. Most have wooden floors for securing with nails and blocking.  

Enclosed Box Dry Van Trailer

Dry Van Trailer Dimensions:

Usually, a dry van trailer is 53ft in length, but in some cases, it can be 48ft.

●    Can only be loaded and unloaded from the rear with a forklift

●    Dock required for loading and unloading

●    The deck van height is 4 ft. from the ground

●    The maximum haul weight is 45,000lbs, but dry van carriers prefer to limit weight to 43,000lbs

Refrigerated Trailers

Refrigerated trailers or reefer trailers have a refrigeration unit that can be set to an exact temperature range. Food, beverages, flowers, or fine art are the most common commodities shipped with reefers. Refrigerated trailers have metal corrugated floors so loads cannot be nailed to the floors. Moving freight with the refrigerated truck is not an option if the load requires blocking and bracing.

Refrigerated Trailer

Refrigerated Trailer Dimensions

Usually, a refrigerated trailer is 53ft in length, but in some cases, it can be 48ft.

●    Can only be loaded and unloaded from the rear with a forklift

●    Dock required for loading and unloading

●    The deck van height is 4 ft. from the ground

●    The maximum haul weight is 43,000lbs, but dry van carriers prefer to stick around up to 40,000

Flatbed Trailers

The flatbed trailer is a type of open deck equipment with no sides and no roof, mainly used for transporting industrial commodities. The flatbed trailer is very versatile, making them a common asset for carriers. It is a basic form trailer, with no sides or roof, providing quick and easy loading and unloading. Common uses include heavy loads that are not perishable, delicate, or vulnerable to precipitation – since there is no cover to protect the freight. Open deck equipment is the most flexible with loading/unloading. Most commonly used for moving industrial commodities (e.g. steel coils, plates, etc.). In practice, ‘flatbed’ is often used as a general term for a few different types of open deck equipment.

Flatbed Trailer

Flatbed Trailer Dimensions

  • Usually, a flatbed trailer is 48-53 ft in length
  • Can be loaded from any direction (overhead crane, forklift side, forklift rear)
  • The standard dock height is 4 ft. off the ground
  • Loads often require tarps

Step Deck Trailer  

Step Deck trailer, or Drop Deck trailer, is an open type of trailer with two deck levels: upper deck and lower deck that drops down after clearing the tractor unit. Generally, step deck trailers can haul taller loads than Flatbed trailers and often have ramps for unloading. They also tend to be safer for forklift pickup, due to the fact that they are closer to the ground. The main deck of a step-deck is lowered to adjust the center of gravity and allow for a higher material to be hauled.

Single-Drop Step Deck


Step Deck Trailer Dimensions  

  • The main (bottom) deck is usually 2.5-3 feet off the ground (vs standard 4ft on a flatbed)
  • The ‘step’, or top deck, is usually 4ft off the ground
  • The usual length is 53ft
  • Can only be loaded/unloaded from the top or side
  • Load levelers can be used to even out the lower deck with the top
  • Certain loads can’t be loaded onto step-decks even with load levelers

Double Drop Trailers

Lowers the center of gravity even lower than a step-deck to allow for a higher material to be hauled 1-1.5ft off the ground.

Double Drop Deck Trailer

Double Drop Trailer Dimensions:

●    Usually 28-29ft on the main deck

●    The main deck (in the middle) is usually referred to as the ‘well’

●    Can only be loaded from the top or side and cannot be loaded from the rear

●    The best option for oversized freight over 10ft  


HotShot is a trucking term that usually refers to moving an expedited load over a short transit time, sometimes to remote or hardly accessible areas and is dedicated to a single customer.


●    Pick-up trucks with 20-40 trailers that can carry up to 18,000lbs of material

●    Used for hauling smaller/partial loads

●    Often used to deliver freight to the hard-to-access areas/job site (in the mountains; sharp turns that won’t allow for a regular truck to pass, etc.)

●    Typically look like flatbeds/step deck

Less-than-Truckload (LTL) Trucking  

Less-than-truckload or LTL shipping is a transportation mode where freight shipments do not require the entire space in a truck’s trailer and are often combined with other shipments. LTL shipping is the best option for shipments that weigh less than 15,000 pounds.

LTL shipping allows multiple shippers to share space on the same truck. Since you’re sharing the truck’s space with multiple shippers, there is a higher risk of damaged goods. With LTL, your freight is usually loaded and unloaded multiple times before arriving at its destination. Due to the concept of space sharing, LTL often lets shippers save costs on transportation and be more flexible with their shipping.


●    LTL loads should be enerally palletized, bundled, or crated  to be handled with a forklift

●    LTL is only transported in van trailers

●    LTL shipment weight ranges from 151 to 20,00lbs

●    LTL freight is being transferred to different trucks several times between origin & destination

If a shipment you are about is more than 6 pallets or over 6,000lbs, it might be eligible for a volume quote. Volume quotes are usually cheaper than regular LTL rates.

Oversized & Hazmat Loads

Oversized freight is the freight that exceeds regular freight weight and dimension limits. In most states, a load must be indivisible to qualify for overweight/over-dimensional permits. Indivisible means it should be a single piece that cannot be divided into two legal loads. Any oversize load will require permits.

Hazmat stands for hazardous freight, which means you are transporting dangerous supplies or materials that require special handling and increased safety regulations.

Hazmat Load Dimensions

●    Max legal weigh limit for a hazmat loadis 80,000Ibs

●    Max legal Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is 13ft 6 inches

●    Max legal height of any vehicle and its cargo is 102 inches

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