Redwood Blog

Can Reefer Trailers Carry Dry Freight? You Bet

Many shippers of dry freight don’t even think about using reefer trailers. Big mistake. Shippers can save 6%–17% on their freight shipments if freight is moving to busy produce-shipping markets.

Reefer trailers are a good alternative to dry van

Here’s why: produce has to ship in refrigerated trailers, so during high picking seasons competition for reefer capacity in these markets is sky high—and so are carrier prices.

Refrigerated carriers are so anxious to get their equipment to these lucrative markets that they negotiate aggressive rates on the inbound lanes. If you’re shipping dry freight to produce growing markets at the right time, that’s your opportunity to save big. Your freight brokers, if they’re diligent, should be tracking growing seasons and alerting you to these cost-saving opportunities.

Other Benefits to Using Reefer Trailers for Dry Freight

Active Trailer Population in the U.S.

Dry Van - 1,675,000
Reefer - 375,000
Specialty (flatbed, tanker, etc.) - 925,000
TOTAL - 2,975,000

Increase Capacity

According to ACT Research, there are about 2,975,000 commercial trailers in use in the U.S., including 375,000 reefer trailers. If you begin using reefers in addition to dry vans, your available capacity just went up close to 25%.

Improve Service Levels

According to James Kuntz, who works with shippers of temperature-controlled freight for freight broker Redwood Logistics, “Drivers going into these markets are highly motivated and as a result their quality of service is exceptional. Drivers want to get to these high-profit markets as fast as possible.”

Reefer Trailers: What You Need to Know

There are differences between dry and reefer trailers that will impact loading:

  • • The extra weight of the air conditioner will reduce carrying capacity slightly to an average of 42,500 lbs for reefers.
  • • Insulation reduces space by an average of 3 inches on the top and the sides, so the exact same loading configuration used in dry vans may not work.
  • • Floor loaded products, like paper rolls, won’t work for reefers because the ridged metal floors may cause indentations on the product.

For the most part, if products are palletized they can travel on a reefer.

Being flexible will definitely increase cost saving opportunities. For example, to save 13% on a shipment, your broker explains that you would need to change your typical loading approach. Instead of loading one dry van with double-stacked pallets, you could ship single-stacked in two reefer units and still save.

You don’t want your broker to be a glorified order taker. You want to give them the freedom to be creative and proactive in getting you the best deals possible.

Barriers to Using Refrigerated Trailers

One reason you see empty reefers moving into produce shipping markets is that many dry freight shippers simply won’t use reefers. But many of their beliefs are not fact-based. Common concerns:

My freight will absorb excess moisture in the van.

Actually, the trailer’s A/C unit can be used as a heater to completely dry out the trailer between runs.

Odors will transfer.

Reefer drivers are trained to properly clean out their trailer after each use, eliminating the risk of odor transfer.

What if I get negative reaction from customers?

Some shippers feel the end customer might think it’s odd for dry freight to show up in a reefer. “Actually,” says Redwood’s Kuntz, “we’ve found that customers, especially retailers, appreciate any efforts suppliers take to control costs.”