Understanding Trailer Types
We thought it would be nice to take a break from all of the talk of ELDs and the ELD mandate in trucking news, and examine the variety and uniqueness of the different types of trailers used in the trucking industry. While some trailers only have one specific use, others are quite versatile and can be used for almost anything.
Can you guess just how many types of trailers there are?
The Trailers You Already Know
When you’re commuting to work or on a family vacation, there is a high probability you use the highway to get where you’re going. Have you noticed that you share the highways with a huge number of transport trucks? Most people, truckers or not, can identify some basic truck trailers and what they are used for. Some easily identifiable trailers are:
- Dry Van
- Container chassis
No doubt these probably sound familiar to you. You can also probably easily guess what type of material they are made to haul. Some of them have even been featured in movies or reality TV trucking shows. In comparison, how much do you know about flatbed trucking? Can you guess how many types of flatbed trailers there are?
As a Canadian flatbed trucking company, we appreciate how a variety of trailers can help to speed up the loading and unloading process, and how they are unique to certain types of freight. We want to expand your knowledge of the various types of flatbed trailers and show you how each one can be used.
This trailer length is typically 48′, 53′ or 60′ long and 8’6″ wide. It can accommodate weights up to 48,000 lbs, 65,000 lbs or 96,000 lbs respectively. As the trailer deck sits about 4’8″ off the ground, this creates some interesting difficulties when transporting any shipments that are over 8’6″ high.
Usually referred to as ‘stretch trailers’ or ‘trombone trailers’, these trailers are excellent when freight is just too long for a standard flatbed trailer. These trailers can legally carry over-length shipments from 48′ – 80′ long, but have a lower max weight rating of 45,000 lbs.
Commonly referred to as a ‘Drop Deck’, this trailer has two deck levels. The overall length of this trailer is similar to a flatbed, yet there are now two portions of deck space. The ‘upper deck’, sits above the tractor unit and is 10′ to 13′ long. Once it clears the tractor’s rear portion of the frame it drops down to the ‘lower deck’, which has a length of 38′ to 40′, but is now only 3’3″ from the ground instead of the 4’8″ of a standard flatbed.
These trailers are a great substitute if the cargo is unusually tall. The step deck trailer can still be loaded from any side except now it can accommodate a cargo height of around 10′.
This style of trailer is basically just two trailers linked together by a secondary fifth wheel. B-Trains can be found in many configurations, including flatbed, step deck, dry van, reefer, and bulk style trailers. The total length of a typical B-Train is 60′, which makes it great for hauling a large amount of freight. While these trailers appear to be fairly basic, they do allow for a tighter turning radius than a standard trailer. This design also makes it easy for the two trailers to be broken up and then delivered by smaller trucks to their final destinations. However, the secondary fifth wheel coupling at the end of the first trailer brings difficulties in its maneuverability, requiring the driver to have added skill when backing up.
Stretch Single-Drop Deck
While very similar to the traditional single-drop deck, this trailer has a unique ability. When a load may over-hang too much on a standard trailer, this deck can extend in order to legally carry the freight. Along with the added benefit of being a drop deck, it can also accommodate heights up to 10′. This stretch feature can also be found in a variety of other deck and trailer styles. As the photo (above) shows, sometimes a load can still be too long for an extendable trailer. If this is the case, an extension trailer can be used for the extra length.
When the height of certain shipments gets too tall even for a step deck, a lowboy trailer will need to be called into action. A more official name for these might be ‘double drop’ trailer, due to its resemblance to a more severe step deck. These trailers are wonderful for oversized freight. With a top deck only 18″ off the ground, these trailers can accommodate a cargo height up to 11’6″.
RGN (Removable Gooseneck)
A gooseneck trailer has great versatility. Aside from being useful for tall and long loads, these trailers can easily tackle large machinery. The front of this trailer is detachable, which allows the trailer to be dropped on the ground. Once on the ground, the front of the trailer now makes it a ramp, so any large machinery can be driven directly onto the deck.
These trailers can be anywhere from a 3 axle to 20 axle design. This makes it possible for some types of these trailers to transport amazing payloads – up to 150,000 lbs.
Occasionally freight will require protection from the elements, however due to size concerns and any loading or unloading requirements, a typical dry van or container just won’t do. This is when a Conestoga trailer will be called into action.
These flatbeds use a tarp-on-frame style of protection, where the tarp slides along the deck on a rail, creating a solid, protective wall down the trailer. This helps speed up the tarping procedure and prevents any damage that could otherwise be caused by a tarp rubbing against expensive freight.
There is a potential down side to these trailers. While this deck can still handle weights similar to a typical flat deck, it can sometimes face constraints such as a load being too wide or tall, rendering the tarp-on-frame system useless.
These decks are very unique in appearance. With a deck height of 12″ and only 4″ of ground clearance, there’s no doubt why these trailers are considered ‘mini’. Their sleek, low profile design allows the trailer and any freight to easily meet most bridge clearances. But don’t let their “mini”mal appearance fool you. These decks come with an impressive GVW of 40 – 50 tonnes, while still having a total length of 48′.
Specialized (e.g. Double goose neck)
You will know when you see a double gooseneck. Most likely because you will be cleared off the road to let it pass by. These trailers are awesome to watch in action. Most of these specialized trailers are built for extremely large freight. With an almost unheard of 150 Ton capacity, there is not much these guys can’t handle.
As you can probably guess, these trailers are designed for a very particular use and are usually built upon specific requests. They are definitely among the most expensive trailers out there.
Side-Kit or Rack-N-Tarp
While these are typically sold as kits, they can be a great addition to a variety of flat decks. They are a great help for safely covering any freight from weather or road damage. Many of these kits are commonly used when transporting freight that cannot be crated or packaged.
Not only are these kits lightweight, but once installed they can save the driver lots of time that would otherwise be spent on covering the freight in tarps. It creates a water-tight environment thus protecting the valuable freight inside from exposure to the elements.
China Top/Curtain Sider
At first glance these may look similar to a Conestoga trailer. But they are quite different. In this design, the top of the trailer is solid, and some even have a regular door on the rear. It is the sides of this trailer that make the difference. Each wall is actually a tarp material that can creates a curtain that can be securely fastened to the frame of the deck, creating a load bearing wall.
These trailers can be loaded or unloaded easily from the sides, as only one curtain at a time can be unfastened if needed. If a driver is making multiple short trips in one day, both curtains can fastened open. As no support posts are required, any loading can be done in a timely fashion.
We at T&P Trucking offer a variety of services and routes, including services that utilize some of the specialized trailers mentioned in this article, and we give every shipment the attention and protection it needs to deliver your freight safely from manufacturing to customer.
Today, T&P Trucking depends solely on its 26 Owner Operators and 13 employees to provide the safe and reliable service that our customers have come to depend on. Besides utilizing our own equipment, we are constantly networking with hundreds of other partner carriers to boost our availability and dependability.
Were there any other trailers you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.