Choose the right trailer for your freight and save money for your business by learning about the different types of trailers based on load capacity and purpose.
Trucks are the most commonly used means of transporting freight. Today, more than 80% of the total inland freight volume is transported by trucks. Inland fright transport not just makes transportation less costly but it creates millions of jobs in the process.
Trucks require trailers to carry the load. Trailers are the extra carrier vehicles you must have seen attached to the truck while driving on the highway. There are many types of trailers, each having a different load capacity and a different purpose.
A trailer has wheels but no engine which means that it has to be attached to a vehicle that has an engine to be functional. The right trailer can be selected depending upon the type of load to be carried. For example, if you have to transport any load that needs to be protected from sunlight, a closed trailer would be suitable for you. Similarly, if you have to transport load that is already enclosed in a container, a flatbed trailer would work great for you. Each type of trailer has a different use.
You wouldn’t want to invest on a more expensive type of trailer when your load can be transported through a less expensive type of trailer. The detailed article would greatly help you in choosing the right trailer for your freight.
Table of Contents
- 1. Flatbed Trailers
- 2. Dry Vans or Enclosed Trailers
- 3. Refrigerated Trailers
- 4. Lowboy Trailers
- 5. Step Deck Trailers
- 6. Extendable Flatbed Trailers
- 7. Stretch Single Drop Deck Trailers
- 8. Removable Gooseneck Trailer (RGN)
- 9. Specialty Trailers
- 10. Side-kit Trailers
- 11. Extendable Double Drop Trailers
- 12. Stretch RGN Trailers
- 13. Conestoga Trailer
- 14. Power-Only Trailers
- 15. Multi-Car Trailer
Related: 10 Lightweight Travel Trailers (Under 2,000 Pounds) | 7 Awesome DIY Teardrop Trailer Projects (Access to Full Instructions) | 12 Different Types of RV Trailers (Towable) | 7 of the Best Small Travel Trailers
1. Flatbed Trailers
Flatbed trailers are the most commonly used type of trailers. They are highly versatile and that is the reason why they are extremely common. Flatbed trailers can be used for the transportation of almost everything from steel coils to lumber.
Flatbed trailers are open from all sides and do not have a box that covers the load being shipped. As a result, it is extremely easy to load and off-load. The load can be picked up by a crane from the top or picked up by fork lifter from the sides.
The maximum weight that can be loaded on a flatbed trailer is 48,000 pounds. The length of a flatbed trailer varies. It comes in different sizes including the following: 24 feet, 40 feet, 45 feet, 48 feet, and 53 feet, the most common being the 48 feet flatbed trailer. The maximum width that is legally allowed is 8.5 feet and the maximum allowed height of the load is 8.5 feet. The flatbed is usually at a height of 60 inches from the ground.
Since there is no container to keep the material being transferred adequately covered, the material has to be covered by tarp. You cannot just drape tarp over the load. Covering a flatbed trailer with a tarp can be tricky. There are certain things to consider, mainly the material of the tarp and the correct safety precautions.
Covering Flatbed Trailer with a Tarp
Before moving on to the correct way of covering the flatbed trailer with a tarp, let’s have a look at the types of tarps used for this purpose:
Steel Truck Tarp
Steel tarps are used when the loads include steel freight such as steel coils. In such circumstances, the tarp has to be of high-quality, heavy duty, and cost-friendly. They are the best type of tarps to be used. This is especially true when the material being carried is crafted and needs extra protection.
Steel truck tarps are usually 24 feet long and 12 feet wide. Steel truck tarps that are 8 feet wide are also available. These tarps have a 2 to 3 feet drop on either side. Such steel truck tarps are suitable for loads that include rebar and sheet steel. They cover the topside of the material and protect it from rain and dirt.
Lumber tarps are ideal for loads that include lumber wall board, trim molding, etc. They protect the load from dust and rain. They hang 7 feet on each side.
There are two types of lumber tarps; lumber tarp with a flat at front end and lumber tarp with a boxed end. The first type is suitable to protect the material from dust and dirt and prevent parachuting when the wind gets underneath the covering. The later has a boxed end with the sewn flap sides at the front. This is suitable for trailers that routinely transport the same kind of loads.
Glass-clear tarps are suitable for trailers that carry materials that need to be protected from dirt, dust, rain, and slime. These are made with fishnet knitted or thick weaved material.
Smoke tarps for trailers are rectangular in shape and smaller in size as compared to the rest of the types of tarps. They protect the load from the front side, from the exhaust produced by the truck. They are suitable for smaller loads that include PVC or steel.
Now that you know the types of tarps, you would know which tarp is suitable for the load you are transporting on your trailer. You can’t risk the tarp blowing away or dislodging during the transportation, can you? Definitely not! Here is how you should tarp your trailer properly.
- Organize the load properly because if that is not done, the load may tear or damage the tarp that would result in having to bear unnecessary costs.
- Choose the right tarp type to suit the type of load you are carrying.
- Tarps are usually heavy (about 80 pounds). Therefore, you might need a forklift to transfer the tarp on top of the load.
- Use a ladder to climb on the top of the load.
- Unroll the tarp facing forward till the load is covered end-to-end. Secure the tarp to the bed of the trailer using the D rings on tarps.
This way, you can transport any load on your flatbed trailer safely!
2. Dry Vans or Enclosed Trailers
As the name indicates, an enclosed trailer is the one that has a container to enclose the load. It is like a flatbed trailer, with a box to contain the material being transported. They can be used to transport almost everything ranging from tools to band equipment. Like flatbed trailers, they are also very common.
Enclosed trailers are quite affordable as compared to some other types of trailers. Moreover, they provide added security to the material being transported. They keep the contents enclosed in a container, and protect it from weather elements and from any other security threats. Moreover, you don’t even have to worry about additional costs of tarps.
The best thing about these types of trailers is that you can enhance the usable space by making shelves and storage cabinets within the enclosed container. Enclosed containers are one of the best types of trailers that you can invest in.
The weight limit of an enclosed trailer is 42,000 pounds to 45,000 pounds. They are 48 to 53 feet long. Some dry vans can be loaded from the front while some types can be loaded from the sides.
3. Refrigerated Trailers
Sometimes, the material to be transferred has to be kept in cool temperatures. These items include frozen foods, ice creams, or pharmaceuticals. These products cannot be exposed to warmer temperatures. This is where refrigerated trailers or reefers come in the picture. They are like dry vans or enclosed trailers in appearance, only with proper insulation and a cooling system inside to maintain the temperature.
The major components of a reefer are a compressor, condenser, and an evaporator. The entire system is enclosed within the enclosed container.
The weight limit for these types of trailers is similar to that of a dry van. However, their legal width and height are different. The maximum legal width is 8.2 feet and maximum legal height is 8 feet.
4. Lowboy Trailers
Lowboy trailers are also known as low-bed, low loader, float, or double-drop trailers. It is a semi-trailer having a drop deck. It has two drops in the deck, one right behind the gooseneck and the second one is present just before the wheels. As a result, these types of trailers sit very close to the ground. The drop allows the shipping of very huge items like heavy duty construction equipment that is usually heavier than the maximum weight limit of other types of trailers.
They are used to haul machinery and equipment like bulldozers, excavators, and other construction equipment. Their maximum legal height in width is greater than the other types of trailers. The weight limit for lowboy trailer with two axles is 40,000 pounds. The weight limit can be increased to as much as 80,000 pounds (the number of axles required will vary accordingly). The maximum height of loads that it can carry is 14 feet. However, you would need additional permits from the authorities before carrying such heavy and oversized loads on a lowboy trailer.
5. Step Deck Trailers
Step deck trailers are quite similar to flatbed trailers. The only difference between the two is the maximum legal height. Flatbed trailers are about 60 inches above the ground, whereas, step deck trailers are even closer to the ground that provides a little margin for carrying loads taller than 8 feet as in the flatbed trailer. They are used to transport loads that cannot be transported via flatbed trailer, mainly because of the height.
They are open trailers having two deck levels, an upper and a lower level. They have ramps for unloading. Moreover, they are safer for unloading by a forklift because they are closer to the ground.
6. Extendable Flatbed Trailers
Extendable flatbed trailers are flatbed trailers that can be extended. They are exactly like flatbed trailers; the only difference is that their length is not fixed. A 43 feet long flatbed can be extended to up to 80 feet long. Just like flatbed trailers, they are open trailers, without any walls or roof (no container). They allow the shipment of larger loads that are too large to be shipped through a regular flatbed trailer.
When the trailer bed has to be extended, the pin joining the two sections is released and brakes of the truck are applied which send the extendable portion of the trailer bed to extend.
7. Stretch Single Drop Deck Trailers
As the name indicates, the stretch single drop deck trailers are similar to step deck trailers, with an extendable bed. They are especially for the loads that are too big for a regular step deck trailer. They not only allow the transport of much longer loads but they also provide additional support. The lower deck can extend as much as 76 feet (48 to 76 feet). The front deck is about 9.6 feet in length. The maximum load width is 8.6 feet, the maximum load height us 11.4 feet, and the maximum weight limit for stretch single drop deck trailer is 44,000 pounds.
8. Removable Gooseneck Trailer (RGN)
When you have to move massive loads, it can be difficult and cumbersome. Considering the additional permits required for larger and heavier loads, it can actually get stressful. Moreover, the larger and bigger the load, the more technical its transportation gets. This is where RGN trailers become a savior.
With RGN trailers, the loads are held closer to the ground that allows you to carry taller objects. You don’t have to worry about height permits with RGN trailers.
A gooseneck trailer is also known as the double lowboy or double drop trailer. It is an ideal trailer when you have to move large equipment. The RGN trailer has a drop in the middle which provides a margin for taller objects. You can place the taller objects in the dropped region and use the raised beds for equipment that isn’t too tall. The dropped region is known as the well, which is 29 feet long. Because the well is closer to the ground, you can place an object as tall as 12 feet without violating any rules and regulations about maximum height that a trailer can carry.
This is not the only benefit of a gooseneck trailer. The gooseneck or the front end of the trailer is detachable. Detaching the front end of the gooseneck trailer allows heavy equipment like a bulldozer to drive directly onto the trailer. Once it is in place, the detached portion of the trailer is reattached. This feature makes loading and unloading quite convenient and quick.
9. Specialty Trailers
Specialty trailers are built for specific purposes. They are built to specifications and are not available otherwise. The way in which the specialty trailer is built depends on the purpose, for example, a specialty trailer for moving massive quantities of liquid will be different while a specialty trailer built for medical or food services would be entirely different. These trailers require a special permit and the driver has to have a special license that allows him to tow the load. The weight limit for specialty trailers can be as much as 200,000 pounds.
There are many types of specialty trailers. Some of them have been listed below.
Trailers for Transport of Hazardous Materials
You may have seen huge trailers that carry petrol, diesel, oil, and other hazardous and/ or flammable materials. These trailers that transport massive quantities of liquids are not the usual rectangular ones, instead they are cylindrical in shape. The same trailers are used to deliver chemicals to industries as well. These are specialty trailers that have been designed with a purpose of transporting certain liquids.
These trailers need additional permits. Moreover, the cost to transport freight is also higher for them. There is no way you can find a way around strict regulations associated to these trailers as the risk of injury, damage, and spillage is huge.
Medical trailers include mobile clinics that allow companies to provide medical services and equipment to the people on-site. Medical trailers are equipped with the basic medical equipment that can cater to basic medical situations and emergencies. Moreover, medical trailers are also common in health camps. Blood banks are often seen in mobile trailers. These are enclosed containers, accommodating all facilities and services within. Like all specialty trailers, they need special permits and license to operate.
Event Marketing Trailers or Display Trailers
Event marketing trailers are also called display trailers. They allow the companies to display their advertisements on mobile trailers so that the message can be delivered to masses. Display trailers attract more customers. With on-site promotions, demonstrations, and sales, more and more customers will get to know about the company and its products. Event marketing using specialty trailers is getting quite common nowadays since it is one of the most efficient marketing techniques.
Food Services Trailers
Food services trailers are enclosed trailers that accommodate entire kitchens within. They provide food services to the people on-the-go. They can be seen at conferences, food carnivals festivals, catering conferences, etc. They are a new trend where many food chains are opening up branches in enclosed mobile trailers so that they can reach more customers.
Many businesses believe that if customers aren’t coming to them, they should go to the customers. This has given rise to a new concept that is, vending trailers. These enclose trailers are more like mini-outlets of vendors that are on-the-go. This enables the businesses to reach more customers and sell their products to people without the need of the customers to come all the way to the main outlets.
Regardless of the purpose a specialty trailer is being used for, a special permit and a license is necessary. The regulations are the strictest for the trailers that are used to transport hazardous materials as compared to the specialty trailers that are being used for commercial purposes.
10. Side-kit Trailers
To help you get a clearer picture of a side-kit trailer, we would want you to imagine a flatbed trailer, with removable sides and a tent like top covering. That is a side-kit trailer for you.
Side-kit trailers are used to transport material that does not need to be packed in containers or for materials that cannot be packed. For example, granular material like powders, crops, coal, gravel, etc that is so irregular in shape that it can’t be contained in an enclosed container or a crate. They are specifically useful for material like crops that need to be protected from moisture and dirt during transport.
Enclosed trailers make loading and unloading quite difficult, especially if the objects are very heavy. With side-kit trailers, the removable sides make unloading easier with the help of forklifts. Because the sides can be detached throughout the length of the trailer bed, arranging the large, heavy-weight objects becomes convenient.
The length of side-kit trailers is variable. They can 48 to 53 feet long. The width is usually 8.6 feet but because the removable sides tale up about an inch o0f space on each side, the available width is 8.4 feet. The maximum weight capacity of these trailers is 42,000 to 45,000 pounds.
As far as the side kits are concerned, they range from plywood to fiberglass. Moreover, you can opt to have a tarp covering as a roof over the material. this would protect the cargo from all elements. They are highly versatile trailers and their low operating cost makes them one of the most commonly used types of trailers.
11. Extendable Double Drop Trailers
Extendable double drop trailers are meant to haul loads that are unusually long and cannot be transported via the regular double drop trailers. The middle section of the stepped deck can be extended to increase the trailer bed area that can then accommodate unusually long equipment.
It is adaptable to non-standard needs. The height and the length of the stepped deck can be adjusted, allowing the transport of loads of various dimensions in one load. These trailers allow the transport of taller and shorter loads both, with the taller ones adjusted on the lower deck while the shorter ones on the upper deck.
The maximum weight limit of extendable double drop trailers is 40,000 pounds. The maximum length that the trailer can extend to is 29 to 50 feet, the maximum width is 8.5 feet, and the legal freight height is 11.6 feet which are significantly greater than the maximum freight height of other commonly used trailers.
12. Stretch RGN Trailers
When you have to transport loads that are excessively heavy and tall, a stretch removable gooseneck trailer is what you should consider. They are used when the standard RGN trailer is not good enough to transport a certain load. The main deck of a stretch RGN trailer can be extended from 29 to 65 feet.
The regular RGN trailers have a weight capacity of 42,000 pounds whereas the stretch RGN trailers can carry loads of up to 150,000 pounds. The maximum width is just like any other type of trailer that is 8.5 feet. The maximum height that it can carry is 11.6 feet which is much greater than what other trailers can carry.
There are certain features of a stretch RGN trailer that make it as great as it is. Apart from an extendable deck, you can add extra axels to balance the heavy loads that you will be carrying. Moreover, the removable or detachable goosenecks make loading and unloading of heavy equipment easier. If you want to load heavy equipment like an excavator, all you will need to do is detach the gooseneck, drive the excavator up the deck and then re-attach the gooseneck. The unloading will be done in a similar fashion.
13. Conestoga Trailer
Dry van trailers or enclosed trailers are by far the most popular and the most commonly used trailers for the transport of cargo that needs to be protected from elements. However, one major drawback of these trailers is the loading and unloading from the front end.
If you are looking for a trailer that offers easy loading and unloading like that of a flatbed trailer and protection as good as a dry van trailer, then Conestoga trailers are what you should e looking at. They are typical flatbed trailers with a rolling tarp-on-frame system. A protective tarp is loaded on a moving frame that is attached on the sides of the flatbed, giving it an appearance of a dry van trailer.
The only difference is that the entire frame with tarp (making sides and roof) can be moved to expose the flatbed trailer. Once the tarp-on-frame is rolled over, the cargo can be loaded or unloaded from any of the sides with the help of forklift or from the top using a crane. While the trailer is loaded, the tarp-on-frame provides the protection from wind, dust, dirt, and rain.
14. Power-Only Trailers
When there is a need to transport an entire trailer from one location to the other, power-only trailers are used. These are the trailers that are used for towing other trailers. If you need to get a trailer moved from one location to the other, you don’t need to buy a tractor or a truck to be able to do so. All you need is a power only trailer that will attach your trailer to its tail and tow it to whatever your desired location is.
15. Multi-Car Trailer
Multi-car trailers could have been included under the specialty trailers but there is a reason why we decided to list them separately. The concept of specialty trailers is still growing but multi-car trailers have been very common for many years now. These are the trailers that are used to transport multiple cars (from to 8) from one location to the other. They are two types of multi-car trailers; single Decker and double Decker trailers. If the number of car is as many as 8, a double Decker trailer is used.
Since overpass height limits are usually 11.6 feet, multi-car trailers generally cannot pass through. The vehicles are secured to ensure that they do not get loose while being hauled.
Now that you know all about the different types of trailers, it would be a lot easier for you to decide which one would suit your needs. Trailers are a major investment and one should consider the type of freight they need to transfer before settling on a particular type of trailer. In-land freight transportation with the help of trailers is still one of the most affordable options compared to air-freight and a much faster alternative than sea-freight.