Choosing a Truck Trailer

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Choosing a Truck Trailer

Information in this piece created in collaboration with Overdrive Magazine.

You may be wondering if owning a trailer is worth the investment and for many owner-operators, that answer is yes. It usually takes four years to earn back that investment even if you’re buying new equipment. From Overdrive’s research, most independent owner-operators and half of leased owner-operators already own their own trailer. Although owning a trailer is not a must for leased owner-operators as it is for independents, leased owner-operators can increase their earning potential significantly with the ownership of a trailer. In fact, leased owner-operators who own their own trailer gross about 6% more, or $10,000 annually, than those who don’t with more than half of that going to profit.

Some independents and even some leased owner operators own more than one trailer so they can haul van freight one day and flatbed freight the next. For some, trailer ownership brings a peace of mind because they know exactly how the trailer tires, brakes, and other equipment are being maintained. However, there are some who see this maintenance as another task on a long list of chores. 

Many fleets pay more to drivers who own their own trailers, but it can be tricky to determine if the additional cost of trailer ownership is worth it. For example, new dry vans cost about $30,000 and the maintenance, including tires and brakes, averages to about $1,500 per year. To see if it’s worth the additional cost, take the expected revenue with a trailer (making sure to factor in the additional cost of the trailer) and compare it to the expected revenue without your own trailer.

However, even if the expected revenue looks promising, keep in mind that owning your own trailer will affect your current freight arrangements. Company drop-and-hook  operations are on the rise and these freights are typically off-limit if you have own trailer. As long as you can stay busy without incurring too many out-of-route miles, adding a trailer to your operation can be beneficial.

How to Spec a Trailer

There are many things to consider when spec’ing out your trailer such as maintenance expenses, longevity, and handling ease. You won’t be able to realize low cost per mile if your trailer breaks down, is too expensive to maintain, or can’t handle your loads well. Knowing what you’re planning to transport, where you plan to work, and how long you plan to keep the trailer will help you balance the price with the maintenance costs. Let’s explore some of the factors that will help you choose the right trailer for your needs.

Know Your Application

It’s important to understand the application of your trailer. If you’re hauling heavy-footprint products such as paper rolls requires higher floor ratings. As another example, automotive racks require interior designs that protect the trailer from damage when you’re loading and unloading your vehicles. 

Another important consideration is loading cycle. Are you loading and unloading on a weekly basis or taking on multiple daily loads? Loading and unloading loads at a higher frequency will wear down your trailer faster.

Lastly, consider your trailer’s versatility, spec’ing the size, model, style and axle and suspension configuration so you can run the trailer in several states. For example, California is the only state that has an axle spacing law that requires a distance from the kingpin to the rear axle be 40 feet or less where other states require 43 feet or less. Spec’ing a sliding axle will give you and your trailer the versatility to meet standards in California as well as other states.

Minimize Maintenance

Your trailer won’t do you any good if it’s not driveable. Spec premium quality components such as long-life brake linings, wide brakes, long-life wheel ends and seals. Controlling corrosion will also help keep your trailer on the road longer. There are special coatings that protect trailer parts, and some manufacturers even offer galvanizing to protect door frames, hinges, and the entire subframe.

There are also trailer specs that eliminate wearable parts and minimize maintenance. For example, Hedrickson’s Intraax suspension integrates the axle into the beam with no wearable parts on the axle connections. In reefer trailers, a glass-reinforced thermoplastic liner can reduce maintenance expense and help the trailer maintain excess cooling capacity, which will reduce operating costs. Other premium products include puncture guard liners to protect the interior of the trailer against punctures, thermoplastic coating to suspensions and landing gear, and a rigid backing instead of a plywood liner.

Reduce Weight

Shaving off weight whenever possible is necessary to improve overall fuel efficiency and reducing your cost per mile. For every 300 pounds you eliminate, you gain 0.2% in fuel efficiency. The best way to reduce weight is by spec’ing aluminum in your trailer trailer. Not only does it save weight, aluminum is more corrosion-resistant than steel. Aluminum can be substituted for steel in crossmembers that support the floor of your trailer and are better than hardwood flooring.

Spec for Fuel Savings

Spec’ing your trailer to improve aerodynamics can further help increase your fuel-efficiency. Implementing aerodynamic components to both your tractor and trailer can benefit your bottom line tremendously. In fact, streamlining both your tractor and trailer can improve fuel efficiency 1 mile per gallon more. Spec’ing your trailer to make it more aerodynamic can help you save $10,000 or more in fuel cost per year which would help pay off your trailer.

Types of Truck Trailers

As to be expected, there are many types of truck trailers depending on the application. Provided below are some of the common options for truck trailers.

Flatbed Trailers

Flatbed trailers are some of the most common truck trailers you’ll find on the road. Flatbed trailers are open containers meaning your loads will be out in the open. Versatility is what makes flatbeds stand out. They can be utilized for different applications from steel coils to lumber. The fact they there are no enclosures gives shippers and drivers multiple options to load and unload such as from the back, from the sides, and even from up top using a crane.

Dry Vans

Dry vans, also known as enclosed trailers, are the most common trailer used in the trucking industry. By nature, it’s a weatherproof way to keep the freight in a dry environment. Dry vans vary in application from hauling electronics to food.


Refrigerated trailers, also known as reefer trailers, are insulated trailers with a cooling system. These are most commonly used for frozen items or perishables, but they’re also used in the pharmaceutical industry as well.

Gooseneck trailers

Looking at a picture of one, it’s easy to see why they’re called a gooseneck trailer. The way they’re designed makes it easy to haul freight that would otherwise extend beyond the maximum height limit. On top of helping with height clearance, the low deck also helps to improve stability because of the low center of gravity. There is also a version called the removable gooseneck trailer which allows for the ‘neck’ of the trailer be removed from the deck so loads can be easily removed.

Ready to Buy Your Truck Trailer?

Buying a trailer is a significant purchase but one that will pay off in the long run. If you’re looking to increase your cash flow to make your trailer purchase, look into TBS’s freight factoring services to get cash for your unpaid invoices. 

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