When I drive on the interstate, I’m almost perpetually angry about all the semi-trucks on it. Trucks with 52’ trailers, trucks with giant excavation equipment on them – it really doesn’t matter. There’s always some sort of truck driving slow in the far left lane, making me upset.
Finding the Right Type of Semi-truck Trailer
While all trucks driving in the left lane are always infuriating, they’re not all the same. Some trucks look similar, but the loads they’re pulling might be completely different. That’s because the interstate boasts all sorts of trucks moving all sorts of stuff basically everywhere in the country.
What does that mean for you? It means you’re probably not completely accurate in your road rage when you call every single truck a tractor-trailer. Turns out, different trucks tow different stuff, and they have all sorts of different trailers to accommodate the huge variety of products we ship everywhere. If you’re in charge of shipping some of those things, you’ll want to make sure you have the right truck for your load and the right trucking software to measure telematics data. Otherwise, your shipment might deliver a few tons of spoiled tomatoes because you left them sitting in the hot Florida sun in a regular trailer without refrigeration.
Different Types of Semi-truck Trailers and Their Uses
These are the different types of trucks on the road, what they’re good for, why you’d use one, and what limitations each has.
1. Van or Dry Van Trailer
Vans are what you probably think of when you think of a semi-truck. Vans are usually a 48’ or 53’ trailer pulled by a truck. By far the most common type of large trucks on the road, vans are the go-to trucks for practically everything. Most products that move from one warehouse to another will go on a van.
2. Flatbed Trailer
Flatbeds are perfect for things that are hearty, robust, and won’t get hurt in a little bit of weather. Oftentimes, flatbeds deliver building materials to construction zones because the cargo can be easily lifted up and off either side of the trailer. If you’re wondering what a flatbed is, it’s basically just a long, flat trailer, where cargo is ratcheted down on top.
3. Lowboy Trailer
Lowboys are like flatbeds, except the middle of the trailer dips down for extra height clearance. Lowboys are used to transport cargo that’s especially tall. The extra space from the middle dip helps give extra clearance on stuff like excavators, boats, and other industrial equipment with XL dimensions.
4. Reefer Trailer
By far my favorite name for a truck, reefer stands for refrigerated trailer, not that phase I went through in college. From heads of lettuce to artisanal kombucha, anything that has to stay cold needs a reefer. The way to spot a reefer is the large refrigeration unit in the front of the trailer.
5. Box Truck
Box trucks aren’t full-fledged semi-trucks. They’re more like the moving trucks you’d rent from Penske or U-Haul. Box trucks are smaller than a full-sized van. The biggest benefit of a box truck is that it fits where a regular 53-footer can’t. Most residential deliveries require a box truck.
6. Tanker Trailer
Tankers carry all sorts of liquid goodness. From milk to gas, tankers carry stuff that usually goes in a bottle. Fun fact: they’re also some of the most difficult types of trucks to book!
Additional Styles of Trucks and Trailers
1. Team Truck
Some trucks have an extra space behind the driver’s seat where people can sleep. Team trucks have a team of two drivers that take turns driving and sleeping. Team drivers can get a load from California to New York in two days – a trip that usually takes 5 or more! Team drivers move things across the country with a quickness only exceeded by an airplane – at a much lower cost.
2. Courier Van
Express deliveries for small loads might use a sprinter van or other smaller automobile via courier. They look sort of like a plumber van, but they move freight instead. If you just have a couple boxes that need to be delivered same-day across town, a courier could be your best bet. Typically, couriers only do deliveries in nearby areas.
3. Power Only Truck
Are you one of those weird people with a spare trailer full of stuff to move, but you don’t have a truck? Me neither, but if you were, you’d be looking for a power-only shipment. Folks that own a truck can pull up to your trailer, hook it up, tow the trailer where it needs to go, and unhook the trailer when they get there. Power only means you’re just paying someone for their engine to get your trailer somewhere.
4. Lift Gate
What happens when you need to deliver freight to a place that doesn’t have a loading dock? Easy, you need a lift gate. Lift gates are little elevators that fold underneath the back of a trailer to help get things from the trailer floor to the ground. Lift gates come on box trucks and some 53’ trailers, but you have to ask for them.
How to Know Which Type of Trailer to Use
There you have it! You’re now armed with the information to book the exact kind of truck your load needs. Are you shipping one box across town? Use a courier. Are you needing to get 20 pallets of Tickle Me Elmo’s from Seattle to New York in two days for Christmas? Get a van team.
The type of truck you need mostly depends on what kind of freight you’re shipping and where it’s going. Even if you don’t ship stuff, at least now you know exactly how to hurl insults at the truck driving 10 MPH under the speed limit in the left lane in front of you!
Now get out of my way, you no good reefer!
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