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Pros and Cons of Different Trailer Types

When shipping freight over-the-road, a shipper can choose from a variety of freight trailer types: dry van, flatbed, refrigerated and more. Each transportation mode has advantages and disadvantages to both the shipper and the carrier hauling the 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 various types of trailers with the three most commonly used being dry van trailer, flatbed trailer, and refrigerated trailer. Learning more about these main types of the trailer will help you better understand freight shipping and find a good option for you.

What are the pros and cons of trailer types for shippers?

Dry Van Trailer

Dry van trailers look like enclosed boxes and are made to move “dry” cargo. These trailers are the safest equipment for freight. However, if you move temperature-sensitive goods, you would prefer the refrigerated trailer or dry van.

Pros

  • Dry van trailers can be used for almost all types of freight. Therefore, if you are not shipping hazardous, oversized or perishable goods, a dry van trailer is a good option.
  • During the transit, your freight is secure and protected from bad weather, damage, and theft.
  • 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.

Cons

  • Dry van trailers are extremely in-demand, so it can be challenging to find the capacity you need for your freight.
  • These trailers cannot be used for moving perishables, flowers, fine art, and food.
  • Dry vans are commonly used for moving valuable goods like electronics, so these trucks can often be an object of theft.

Flatbed Trailer

Flatbeds are open trailers made for moving oversized freight like heavy machinery and large equipment. There are various types of flatbeds, but mostly it is a flat platform without cover and sides, attached to the truck where freight is loaded and fixed.

Pros

  • Flatbed trailers are easy to load, and the shipper is not responsible for fixing and securing the load to a platform.
  • If you deliver bulky loads or freight of irregular shapes, the flatbed is the best option for you.
  • There are different types of flatbeds, so you can find the right trailer adjusted to your shipping needs.

Cons

  • Transporting oversized loads requires special hauling and maneuvering skills, which often leads to high rates.
  • The requirement to secure loads properly, since poorly secured freight is a threat to the road accident.
  • On a flatbed trailer, the load is not protected from the external impact, so moving freight during bad weather conditions can affect the shipment in a negative way.
  • Hauling and securing oversized loads is extremely complicated during bad weather conditions.

Refrigerated Trailer

Refrigerated trucks look exactly like dry vans, but they have temperature regulation tools. These trailers can be adjusted to certain temperatures so your freight is kept under the needed conditions during the transit.

Pros

  • Refrigerated trucks are a perfect fit for food and beverage shippers, as well as for moving flowers and art pieces.
  • Refrigerated trucks can move both temperature-sensitive and “dry” freight, so you can combine different cargo types in one load if needed.
  • You can monitor the temperature inside.
  • Freight is protected from weather conditions, theft, spoilage, and damage.

Cons

  • When the trailer damage occurs or the cooling system breaks down, your products can be spoiled.
  • The loading and unloading process can take a long time.
  • If you don’t have access to tracking trailer conditions, you won’t know what’s happening to the shipment.

Outside of the three listed above, there are also other shipping options like multi-modal and less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping options. It is important to consider all options whenever you are making a decision on which trailer might be the best fit for your shipment.

What are the pros and cons of trailer types for carriers?

Dry Van Trailer

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • Sometimes, a driver has to 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 that can come from freight or through open doors, which limits 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 Trailer

Pros

  • 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 driver’s special skills is high, which often leads to high rates.

Cons

  • Transporting oversized loads requires special 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 on top of oversized loads to attach chains and straps can be dangerous.
  • Hauling and securing oversized loads is extremely complicated during bad weather conditions.

Refrigerated Trailer

Pros

  • 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 tend to haul long, coast-to-coast distances, which can mean more profit.
  • Freight is protected from weather conditions, theft, spoilage, and damage.

Cons

  • Refrigerated truck drivers have additional responsibilities like cleaning the trailer after every load, controlling 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 common.
  • Breakdowns lead to unavoidable product spoilage.

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Understanding Standard Pallet and Truck Dimensions in Freight Shipping

pallet and truck dimensionsUnderstanding the standard pallet and truck dimensions, namely trucks and vans, can make it easier when a customer has to select a transportation option to best fit their needs.

But with so many different options out there, it can get a little confusing from time to time. A better understanding of truck and pallet dimensions will better help you decide which service is right for you.

What are the types of trucks?

Dry Vans

Dry Van shipments are the most common form of freight transportation out there. Dry Vans typically move non-perishable food items, textiles and retail clothing, as well as various manufactured paper and plastic products.

Flatbeds

Flatbed Trucking has been a staple of PLS Logistics since the early ’90s. Typically used for transporting large amounts of industrial or oversized goods like sheet metal, construction equipment, and lumber, flatbed trucks come in several varieties, dependent on your needs.

Refrigerated (Reefers)

More commonly referred to as a reefer, refrigerated or climate-controlled shipping is the go-to option for the transportation of perishable food items like produce, meats, and dairy. Similar in appearance to standard dry vans, climate-controlled vans vary in capacity and size depending on the level of insulation and type of lining.

Need more info on Trailers? Check out our Trailer Equipment Guide. In it, you’ll find:

Why are pallets important? And how many pallets fit on a truck?

Truck capacity is usually determined by the number of pallets a truck can fit at once. Made up of wooden supports and three or four “stringers” or cross beams, shipping material by the pallet makes them easier to load and transport. A standard truck can handle around 40-45 pallets.

The two most common pallet sizes are:

  • 40 x 48
  • 42 x 42”

By breaking down large shipments into a standardized unit like a 40 x 48” pallet, it is much easier to keep tabs on large shipments all over the country.