Choosing the right trailer for your truck can mean the difference between profit and loss as well as staying in compliance with federal and state regulations. While much of the decision process sounds like common sense, the issue is far more complex than you might imagine. Indeed, you may want to work up total cost of ownership studies for various trailer configurations before making the ultimate purchase decision.
The process starts with matching your needs with the trailer’s functionality. What loads will you typically be hauling? What are the average lengths of your trips? You also need to determine the trailer’s size, based on the amount of cargo for an average haul. Take into consideration how much you will load and unload the trailer as well as the configurations of the loading docks that you use. Be sure to account for your company’s projected growth. Will you be hauling different cargo or have different needs in the future?
Flatbeds are best suited to bulk loads and stackable cargo such as steel coils, bar steel, pipes or anything that is more easily loaded from the side. Flatbeds also offer tremendous versatility, as long as the cargo doesn’t need to be protected from the elements. If you’re hauling heavier cargo like bulk steel, make sure the floor rating of the trailer is sufficient for the weight you will be hauling.
Excellent for any cargo that needs to be protected from the weather, both vans and reefers can hold the approximate same amount of cargo. However, reefers extend the functionality of a van to include any cargo that needs to be temperature controlled.
But that additional functionality comes at a price. A reefer will require more maintenance than a dry freight van, and will also have higher fuels costs due to the refrigeration unit on the trailer. If you will be cross-purposing a reefer for general cargo runs, make sure you don’t lose your profit margin on general cargo.
Intermodal containers are sea worthy and well suited for shipping international cargo overseas. They also offer the option of storing cargo on the ground until it needs to be shipped.
No matter what size or style of trailer you select, maintenance should always play a role in your decision. The average cost for overall truck maintenance is almost 15 cents per mile, according to the most recent “Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking” from the American Transportation Research Institute. So look for long life components on the trailer to help bring those costs down.
Check out brake linings for longer life or coatings that reduce corrosion. You also need to evaluate the overall construction of the trailer. Saving money in equipment costs upfront can lead to a loss of profitability further down the road. However, long life parts are also more expensive, which means a greater capital outlay upfront.
Using fuel effectively is also important. Look for lightweight materials that allow you to carry heavier loads. Those same materials will also help keep fuel costs down, especially on lighter loads and return trips. Likewise, aerodynamics and aerodynamic components on trailers are often a worthwhile investment, but be sure to do a little investigation. Aerodynamic technology seems to be changing and improving just about every year. And it can be a requirement in some states.
Which brings us to regulations. Government regulations, insurance and safety equipment should all play a role in your ultimate purchase decision.
If your business regularly crosses state boundaries, or even goes to every state in the lower 48 as well as Canada, make sure your trailer is up to spec in terms of its size, model, style, and axle and suspension configuration. California, as you might expect, has specs that are among the most stringent, including a requirement that refrigeration units on trailers pass emissions testing. The state also requires certain aerodynamic equipment, depending on the type and size of trailer.
A well-maintained trailer can offer 15 years or more of profitable service. But if it doesn’t match your business needs, it can be a business cost rather than a profit center. So take your time, do your homework, and work with a professional team that can help explain the cost/benefits of the kinds of trailers that are best suited to your cargo needs.
With more than 100 years of combined trailer expertise, the team at Transport Services can help you find an ideal trailer to match your needs. Transport Services also offers an extensive inventory in virtually every style of trailer in sizes from 28 to 53 feet. Call at 440-582-4900 or contact us to get started.