Trailers Types: An Ultimate Guide

Choosing the suitable shipping mode and equipment type may be challenging even for experienced shippers. Knowing the main trailer types and specifications can help determine the best way to move their freight. There are numerous trailers, each specially designed to meet different shipping demands. To better understand equipment options, learn more about the primary and most used trailer types in our ultimate guide:

Dry Van Trailers

Dry vans are closed-box trailers without temperature control. They move the most significant amount of the world’s cargo. These fully enclosed trailers have doors on the back, so shippers can only load them from the rear. Most have wooden floors for securing with nails and blocking.  

Enclosed Box Dry Van Trailer

Dry Van Trailers Dimensions:

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

●    Shippers can only load and unload them from the rear with a forklift.

●    Dock required for loading and unloading.

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

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

Refrigerated Trailers

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

Refrigerated Trailer

Refrigerated Trailers 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

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

Flatbed Trailers

The flatbed trailer is an open deck equipment with no sides and no roof, mainly used for transporting industrial commodities. These trailers are versatile, making them a common asset for carriers. It is a basic trailer with no sides or roof, providing quick and easy loading and unloading. Typical 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, shippers often use ‘flatbed’ as a general term for a few different types of open deck equipment.

Flatbed Trailers Dimensions

  • Usually, a flatbed trailer is 48-53 ft in length
  • Shippers can load them 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 Trailers 

Step Deck trailer, or Drop Deck trailer, is an open type of trailer with two deck levels: an upper deck and a 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 are also safer for forklift pickup since they are closer to the ground. Shippers can lower the main deck of a step deck to adjust the center of gravity and allow them to haul the higher material.

Step Deck Trailers Dimensions  

  • The main (bottom) deck is usually 2.5-3 feet off the ground (vs. standard 4ft on a flatbed)
  • ‘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
  • Specific 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, allowing to haul a higher material 1-1.5ft off the ground.

Double Drop Trailers Dimensions:

●    Usually 28-29ft on the main deck

●    The main deck (in the middle) is usually called 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 trailers

Hotshot is a trucking term that usually refers to moving an expedited load over a short transit time. Sometimes, shippers use hotshots to move cargo dedicated to a single customer to remote or hardly accessible areas.


●    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 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. Shippers often combine their LTL shipments with other loads. This shipping type is the best option for shipments that weigh less than 15,000 pounds.

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


●   Shippers should palletize, bundle, or crate their LTL loads to handle them with a forklift

●    You can only transport LTL shipments in van trailers

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

●    Carriers can transfer LTL freight to different trucks several times between the 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 freight that exceeds regular freight weight and dimension limits. A load must be indivisible in most states to qualify for overweight/over-dimensional permits. Inseparable means that this load should be a single piece that shippers can’t divide into two legal loads. Any oversize cargo will require permits.

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

Hazmat Load Dimensions

●    Max legal weight limit for a hazmat load is 80,000Ibs

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

●    Legal height of any vehicle and its cargo is 102 inches

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