Common Types of Trailers Using in The Trucking Industry

Posted On 19th April 2018

In the United States, there is a big division between vans and flatbeds.

Van Trailers

A van trailer is simply a covered trailer – you see it often on the road. Here is a picture of a standard van trailer being hauled by a tractor:

Standard van measurements do vary – so “standard” is a bit of a misnomer.

Refrigerated Vans

There are also refrigerated (van reefer) vans, which have the refrigerated unit attached outside. These vans are using by the frozen LTL carriers. The inside measurements are smaller, even in the “space saver reefer”. There is less head room and a bit less length – so you can’t pack as much in a refrigerated van vs. a regular dry van.

Reefer vs Dry Van

There are two types of shipping containers - reefer and dry van. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, so it's important to choose the right one for your business.

Reefer containers are temperature-controlled, meaning that they can keep your products at a consistent temperature during transport. This is ideal for perishable goods or items that need to be kept at a specific temperature. However, reefer containers are more expensive than dry van containers and require more maintenance.

Dry van containers are not temperature-controlled, but they are cheaper and easier to maintain. If you're shipping non-perishable goods or items that don't need to be kept at a specific temperature, dry van is the better option.

So, which type of container is right for your business? It depends on your specific needs. If you're shipping perishable goods or items that need to be kept at a specific temperature, reefer is the way to go. If you're shipping non-perishable goods or items that don't need a specific temperature, dry van is the better option.

What is a Dry Van Truck?

The 53 dry van is a versatile and secure way to move freight. It accommodates more pallets, or more freight in general, than the old 48’ vans which have become obsolete. A forklift can drive onto them and they are high enough to double stack skids. They can be enhanced by E-Track Tie Down Strapping system to keep cargo in place and Lock Bars to prevent cargo from sliding.

One disadvantage of a dry van is that it has less capacity than a moving van, which has a dip after the wheels, where you can load more cargo. The extra dip does make the van heavier but moving van cargo is generally lighter than other freight, so the extra space is still an advantage. But, the moving van does require hand packing, since a forklift cannot drive all the way in.

Logistical Trailers

A Logistical trailer is a specialty van that allows for freight to be loaded on a bracket that runs across the width of the truck, like a shelf. Skids or crates can be double stacked, with the weight of the top one supported by the bracket, not by the freight below.

There are also moveable floor vans – very expensive – that automatically shift freight forward. This can work with pallets and bulk commodities like wood chips.

Straight Trucks

Straight trucks – usually 20’ to 32’ long - vary by inside width, height and door heights and are typically used for local or express shipments, or to locations that are hard to reach with a big truck. They are also called “hotshots” because they are on “hot loads” that are small but important and time sensitive. Unfortunately, such express truckers do not discount their prices much. Their equipment is less expensive, but the extra labor required by dispatch and the drivers increases their operating costs, and they deadhead empty more often than a standard van does.

Flatbed Trailers

Flatbeds are trailers with no walls (or top obviously), open to the air. Specialty flatbeds such as lowboys, drop decks or step decks are often used to for extra wide or heavy loads that might even require special permitting from highway authorities.

Some flatbeds can be stretched, some have lower decks so they can load tall freight, and some can slide the wheel bases for safer weight distribution.

Flatbeds can be tailored to carry specific types of heavy or extra-large cargo, and the cargo can be offloaded by a crane or forklifts from the sides.

On the lowboy or Removable Gooseneck trailer (RGN), the front of the trailer can detach to allow heavy equipment to drive or roll-off.


55-ton RGN lowboy

Such specialty flatbeds can carry all kinds of huge “project cargo” that will not fit inside a van or on a normal flatbed, or under highway bridges. Cargo examples include bridge spans, windmill blades, tanks and pipes. The normal deck on a standard flatbed is 48” high, while the lowboy decks can be as low as 22”.

Also note that you can cover flatbed loads with a tarp. Drivers rightfully want to charge extra money for that tarp covering since it is very labor intensive and must be done correctly. The tarp must be secured in place well to keep the freight dry and to keep the tarp from blowing off during the trip. Many flatbed drivers are super experienced, but as the shipper you should check every tie down and inspect tightness all around the cargo to be sure the load is secure. It is a shipper’s legal responsibility to be sure the cargo has been safely stowed, per many court cases.

Dry Van vs Flatbed

There are two main types of trailers that you will see on the road: dry van trailers and flatbed trailers. Each has its own unique set of features and benefits that make it well-suited for different types of loads. Here's a quick overview of the key differences between these two types of trailers.

Dry van trailers are the most common type of trailer used for general freight shipments. They are enclosed trailers with solid walls and a door at one end. Dry van trailers can be loaded and unloaded from either side, making them very versatile. The main advantage of dry van trailers is that they protect your cargo from the elements and potential damage.

Flatbed trailers, on the other hand, are open-sided trailers with a flat floor. They are typically used for larger, heavier shipments that need to be loaded from the side or the top. Flatbed trailers offer more flexibility in terms of loading and unloading, but they do not provide the same level of protection for your cargo.

Now that you know the key differences between these two types of trailers, you can decide which one is right for your shipping needs. If you need to ship large or heavy items, a flatbed trailer may be the best option. However, if you need to protect your shipment from the elements, a dry van trailer is probably a better choice.

Depending what your needs are, can make sure you have the right equipment for the job.