Reefer Vs. Flatbed Vs. Dry Van

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Steve C.'s Comment
member avatar

Hi everyone,

I've narrowed down my options, and I am pretty sure at this point I am going to a company sponsored CDL program. I have it cut to just a few companies, and the main differences are really in what kind of trailer I could haul. I have looked around some, but I'd like to hear the honest truth from drivers about the pros and cons of each type. Here is a loose outline of what I have so far.

Reefer Pros Longer Hauls (typically) More regular freight (no 'offseason' for reefer) cons More Maintenance (cleaning) Second Gas Tank to fill Less Drop and Hook

Flatbed Pros Rarely have to back in Cons Can be slow seasons in freight More Labor securing loads

Dry Van Pros More Drop and Hook (I think?) cons Can't think of any, but sure some are out there.

Anyways, that is my basic list, I'm looking forward to hear what the pros have to add.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Old School's Comment
member avatar
Great Answer!

Steve, I pull a flat-bed, and while it's true that you don't have to back in to docks like the other forms of trailers, you still get plenty of backing exercise. You will almost always have to back into a parking spot at a truck stop, so that happens at least once a day. Quite often I will drop an empty flat-bed at a shipper and pick up one that's loaded (this is typically what people call a drop and hook). It seems that almost everywhere that I have this situation I'm having to do something like a 45 degree blind side back, so I'm just saying I don't know if that should be listed as a positive or not. I mean it is a definite positive, but I don't know if I'd be making my decision on what to haul based on that as a positive because you are still going to be backing that rig up quit often.

Another thing about these flat-beds is that typically they are set up with split axles instead of tandems (this just means that there is 102" between the two rear axles in most cases). These trailers are a little trickier to back up because you just can't get them to spin around in a tight radius like you can a set of tandems. If you try it you are going to tear up something, either the alignment of the axles, the tires, or the parking lot, and you just might tear up two out of the three. You have to do a few more pull ups to adjust the angle that you are backing up at with the split axles, and it's something that most schools don't show you because they mostly have tandem trailers at school.

I guess everything has it's own perspective, but you list the labor of securing the load as a con, where as I would list it as a positive. I really like the challenge of figuring out the math of how many chains and binders will successfully keep forty two thousand pounds of steel from sliding forward into the back of the cab when I have to slam on the brakes. It's not just more labor, it's also being cognizant of the physics involved and the understanding of the working load limits of the equipment you are dealing with. I enjoy laying out and stretching tight a beautiful set of tarps and get a sense of satisfaction while rolling down the highway looking in my mirrors and seeing them settled and secure without loose ends flapping around and declaring my lack of skills as a flat bedder to the other folks on the highway. I guess I'm kind of weird like that, but my heart rate picks up just a little when I see another flat-bedder who took the trouble to do a really nice job with his/her tarps. I like to see people who take a little pride in what they're doing, and in the trucking industry there's no other form of it so evident to others as that of the flat-bedder, his work is on display for all to see. Okay, I'm gonna just come out and confess it, I think a really nicely done tarping job is a beautiful thing to see.

I don't know about there being a slow season in flat-bed freight, there might be, but I'm a little new to this and maybe I just don't know about it yet, but for the most part my load planners have more loads than trucks to get them with which is one reason the rates for flat-bed freight stay consistently higher than the other forms of driving.

I know I probably veered off course from the type of information you may have been looking for, but hopefully you will find this response informative and helpful as far as flat-bedding is concerned. I guess I exposed my own quirks here as to why I ended up being a flat-bedder, but perhaps that will help others to see why they may like or dislike it.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Mthrsupior aka Julia Bals's Comment
member avatar
Great Answer!

Hey Steve,

I've been driving a dry van for about 7 months now, and I had to pull my first Reefer trailer last week. One of my fellow drivers who usually drives dry van had to pull the reefer for about a week, and he said that all his loads were live loads, and they all took at least 4-6 hours. I only had to pull it for the one load and I was unloaded quickly, so I can't say for sure; but a lot of that depends on which company you work for, and what types of customers they have. I felt like the fueling of the reefer tank wasn't difficult, but it did add time to my fuel stop, and then I had to wash it out.

I'm guessing that most of the time you can take it to a truck wash and they wash it out for you, but because I was returning it to one of the terminals, I was expected to use the wash bay and wash it out myself. No problem, but... The power hose I was using had a leak that hit the inside of my left ankle and drained into my shoe. (Did you know that waterproof shoes are only waterproof from the outside?)confused.gif So, after I was about 1/2 way done washing it out, the power hose turns off, and I have to climb out of the back of the trailer and go hit the button to turn the water back on. Okay, so I'm like knee-high to a grass hopper, so when I say "climb" out of the trailer, I really mean "climb", well as it turns out, there isn't really anyway to climb out of a soaking wet trailer without getting soaked. Needless to say... by the time I was finished washing out my trailer, I looked like a drowned rat, and felt like a raisin. shocked.png

So for me, with there being no extra pay for pulling reefers, but the added time and work of keeping it fueled, cleaned, and at the correct temperature, plus the increase in the number of live loads, which means more backing into tight docks, and generally increased wait times, it just didn't seem like something that I would enjoy doing, or would want to do on a regular basis. I'm sure if I was asked to pull one, that I would be able to adjust to the changes and it wouldn't be a big difference; but for now, I feel like I have enough to learn.

Just my experience. Hope that helps. smile.gif

Julia

Terminal:

A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Old School's Comment
member avatar
Great Answer!

Pat, I'll concede - you are right.

We get into all kinds of places. I recently went to one of those places where you back into the warehouse loading area, but the floor of the warehouse is level with the top of your trailer. You literally have about 1.5 inches on either side of your trailer's rub rails to back a 53' trailer in there. Just to make it more interesting, this particular plant had very little room in the lot so that you had to start your backing procedure at about 45 degrees to the opening. It was crazy - I had to do about 6 or 7 pull-ups just to get it lined up correctly. It was freezing cold and there were two of the guys that were going to load me standing by the door waiting to close it as soon as I could get in. I kept thinking these guys must be getting impatient with me taking so long to get this thing in the hole. Then when I get inside and the door is closed, they complimented me on the backing job. I laughed, I almost thought they were being sarcastic. Then they start telling me about how many drivers literally tear up their trailers trying to get in there. They also told me they were taking bets on how many of my running lights I would break getting it in there! Well, nobody lost their money because I pulled it off with only a small scratch on one of the lenses.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Larry E.'s Comment
member avatar

No pro here, but my experience has been there can be some significant waiting with dry van when it is not drop and hook , or your hook isn't ready. Also, my understanding is the flat bed guys and gals do a lot of backing depending on what they are hauling or where they are loading/unloading. Some of the inside docks don't leave a whole bunch of wiggle room and some of those delivery areas are tight, too. Going to find out first hand on the flat bed side shortly. smile.gif

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Steve C.'s Comment
member avatar

No pro here, but my experience has been there can be some significant waiting with dry van when it is not drop and hook , or your hook isn't ready. Also, my understanding is the flat bed guys and gals do a lot of backing depending on what they are hauling or where they are loading/unloading. Some of the inside docks don't leave a whole bunch of wiggle room and some of those delivery areas are tight, too. Going to find out first hand on the flat bed side shortly. smile.gif

Ha, well time to take that off the "pro" list

As an aside: I swear the formatting was better in my first post, I don't know what happened.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Old School's Comment
member avatar
Great Answer!

Steve, I pull a flat-bed, and while it's true that you don't have to back in to docks like the other forms of trailers, you still get plenty of backing exercise. You will almost always have to back into a parking spot at a truck stop, so that happens at least once a day. Quite often I will drop an empty flat-bed at a shipper and pick up one that's loaded (this is typically what people call a drop and hook). It seems that almost everywhere that I have this situation I'm having to do something like a 45 degree blind side back, so I'm just saying I don't know if that should be listed as a positive or not. I mean it is a definite positive, but I don't know if I'd be making my decision on what to haul based on that as a positive because you are still going to be backing that rig up quit often.

Another thing about these flat-beds is that typically they are set up with split axles instead of tandems (this just means that there is 102" between the two rear axles in most cases). These trailers are a little trickier to back up because you just can't get them to spin around in a tight radius like you can a set of tandems. If you try it you are going to tear up something, either the alignment of the axles, the tires, or the parking lot, and you just might tear up two out of the three. You have to do a few more pull ups to adjust the angle that you are backing up at with the split axles, and it's something that most schools don't show you because they mostly have tandem trailers at school.

I guess everything has it's own perspective, but you list the labor of securing the load as a con, where as I would list it as a positive. I really like the challenge of figuring out the math of how many chains and binders will successfully keep forty two thousand pounds of steel from sliding forward into the back of the cab when I have to slam on the brakes. It's not just more labor, it's also being cognizant of the physics involved and the understanding of the working load limits of the equipment you are dealing with. I enjoy laying out and stretching tight a beautiful set of tarps and get a sense of satisfaction while rolling down the highway looking in my mirrors and seeing them settled and secure without loose ends flapping around and declaring my lack of skills as a flat bedder to the other folks on the highway. I guess I'm kind of weird like that, but my heart rate picks up just a little when I see another flat-bedder who took the trouble to do a really nice job with his/her tarps. I like to see people who take a little pride in what they're doing, and in the trucking industry there's no other form of it so evident to others as that of the flat-bedder, his work is on display for all to see. Okay, I'm gonna just come out and confess it, I think a really nicely done tarping job is a beautiful thing to see.

I don't know about there being a slow season in flat-bed freight, there might be, but I'm a little new to this and maybe I just don't know about it yet, but for the most part my load planners have more loads than trucks to get them with which is one reason the rates for flat-bed freight stay consistently higher than the other forms of driving.

I know I probably veered off course from the type of information you may have been looking for, but hopefully you will find this response informative and helpful as far as flat-bedding is concerned. I guess I exposed my own quirks here as to why I ended up being a flat-bedder, but perhaps that will help others to see why they may like or dislike it.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Drop And Hook:

Drop and hook means the driver will drop one trailer and hook to another one.

In order to speed up the pickup and delivery process a driver may be instructed to drop their empty trailer and hook to one that is already loaded, or drop their loaded trailer and hook to one that is already empty. That way the driver will not have to wait for a trailer to be loaded or unloaded.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Steve C.'s Comment
member avatar

Thanks Old School that was very informative.

To elaborate a little on what I was saying about securing the load, I listed the securing of the load as a con because time spent securing a load is time spent not driving. It does sound like a challenge, which is something I love, but what it boils down to is me wanting the type of truck I am most likely to succeed with. I am willing to buckle down and do the work, but I want a good chance of making this my life and eventually being one of the best. I still have a lot to learn (as you can tell by the naivety in my posts), but I am doing everything I can to make informed decisions every step of the way.

Thanks again

Fatsquatch 's Comment
member avatar

You listed cleaning out a reefer as a con, but really it's not that big a deal. Most big companies will pay to have the trailer washed out between loads, and virtually every truck wash in the country does trailer washouts, so finding a place to get it done isn't all that hard. It can be a painus in the anus sitting in line at a truck wash waiting to get it done, but it isn't exactly labor-intensive. And if the trailer isn't really bad enough to require a full washout, a quick 5 minutes with a push broom will get the pallet chunks and dust out. And when it's 90° out and you've just finished delivering a load that was kept at -10°, that 5 minutes in that nice cool box can be quite pleasant. smile.gif

Now if you want a *real* con to pulling a reefer, there's two things you'll occasionally have to do that are a real...um...female pooch. Priming and jumping the reefer unit itself. You'll go to pick up a trailer somewhere and find that the guy who dropped it didn't bother to fuel it, and now not only do you have to fill the tank, but you get the indescribable joy of spending the next 15+ minutes pumping this stupid little 3 inch knob back and forth to prime it to get it started, and then you have to keep pumping away for another 2 or 3 minutes to make sure it keeps running. Or you'll pick up a trailer with the unit shut off, and when you try to fire it up the battery's too flat to crank the motor over. So now you get to scuttle back and forth between the engine compartments of your truck and the reefer hooking up jumper cables and hoping the battery will jump and keep going after the jump.

Oh, and you'll have to do silly little things like add oil every once in a while, but that's not such a hassle. No worse than putting oil in the truck, really.

Also, fuelling reefers isn't so much of a much. If you never let it get below 1/2 a tank, it doesn't take more than an extra 2 or 3 minutes to top it off when you're filling the truck.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Old School's Comment
member avatar

Steve, the things you are asking are relevant questions and typically are on the minds of any new person entering the field. In fact this very subject comes up for discussion repeatedly. That's why I tried to be informative and detailed so that not only you but others who may stumble upon your thread will gain some more insight into the various driving forms. I didn't mean to imply that you were wrong to list it as a negative, just wanted you to see why others might see it as a positive. These are the things that help people decide on how they want to operate in this business. Depending on which side of the column you place the various attributes of the different driving disciplines may very well help you determine what works best for you.

And I should have pointed out that each of the different areas of driving that you mentioned have their down times, but it generally comes out as a wash in the end because the reefer driver, who generally waits longer to get loaded or unloaded also typically gets the longer mileage runs, so while he may be sitting all day one day waiting to be loaded he may be driving for two hard days straight just to reach his destination. So in three days time he has accomplished about 1200 miles. The dry van driver won't be waiting as long at the shippers and receivers, but his runs will be shorter so he will be making more stops and with each one he will have some delays so that after it's all said and done after three days he has typically accomplished 1200 miles also. Now I'm speaking in generalities here just to give you an overall picture of how this works, but when you average it all out over a years time, we've all driven around 100,000 miles give or take ten or twenty thousand depending on your level of experience and skill.

You've really got to look at it from the standpoint of what interests you and which one you think you would enjoy the most. Don't try to figure out who gets the most miles so you can make the most money. Figure out what you're going to enjoy doing, because if you enjoy it you're going to excel at it much easier than you would at something that's not enjoyable to you. The folks that enjoy their work and show a little pride in what they are doing are the one's that end up making good money at it because they excel at what they are doing. That's why I pointed out my personal interests in laying out a nice tarp job to you. This is the stuff that allows me to lay my head down at night in a peaceful bed, and causes me to wake in the morning eager to conquer the challenges of the new day ahead.

Keep at it, you'll get it figured out soon enough, and we'll be happy if we have helped you take one more step in the right direction.

Shipper:

The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Steve C.'s Comment
member avatar

You listed cleaning out a reefer as a con, but really it's not that big a deal. Most big companies will pay to have the trailer washed out between loads, and virtually every truck wash in the country does trailer washouts, so finding a place to get it done isn't all that hard. It can be a painus in the anus sitting in line at a truck wash waiting to get it done, but it isn't exactly labor-intensive. And if the trailer isn't really bad enough to require a full washout, a quick 5 minutes with a push broom will get the pallet chunks and dust out. And when it's 90° out and you've just finished delivering a load that was kept at -10°, that 5 minutes in that nice cool box can be quite pleasant. smile.gif

Now if you want a *real* con to pulling a reefer, there's two things you'll occasionally have to do that are a real...um...female pooch. Priming and jumping the reefer unit itself. You'll go to pick up a trailer somewhere and find that the guy who dropped it didn't bother to fuel it, and now not only do you have to fill the tank, but you get the indescribable joy of spending the next 15+ minutes pumping this stupid little 3 inch knob back and forth to prime it to get it started, and then you have to keep pumping away for another 2 or 3 minutes to make sure it keeps running. Or you'll pick up a trailer with the unit shut off, and when you try to fire it up the battery's too flat to crank the motor over. So now you get to scuttle back and forth between the engine compartments of your truck and the reefer hooking up jumper cables and hoping the battery will jump and keep going after the jump.

Oh, and you'll have to do silly little things like add oil every once in a while, but that's not such a hassle. No worse than putting oil in the truck, really.

Also, fuelling reefers isn't so much of a much. If you never let it get below 1/2 a tank, it doesn't take more than an extra 2 or 3 minutes to top it off when you're filling the truck.

For Some Reason I was under the impression that the driver had to go through the cleaning him or herself and it would take a bit longer than with a dryvan. I guess I was mistaken and I am glad to be corrected and better informed. Thank you.

You've really got to look at it from the standpoint of what interests you and which one you think you would enjoy the most. Don't try to figure out who gets the most miles so you can make the most money. Figure out what you're going to enjoy doing, because if you enjoy it you're going to excel at it much easier than you would at something that's not enjoyable to you. The folks that enjoy their work and show a little pride in what they are doing are the one's that end up making good money at it because they excel at what they are doing. That's why I pointed out my personal interests in laying out a nice tarp job to you. This is the stuff that allows me to lay my head down at night in a peaceful bed, and causes me to wake in the morning eager to conquer the challenges of the new day ahead.

This is probably the most useful piece of advice I have received (especially the part in bold) in regards to trucking or life in general. Thank you so much for this, it is a great way to look at it.

Dryvan:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Brett Aquila's Comment
member avatar

We have a series of articles about finding the right truck driving job. Go check those out. Scroll down the page a bit and you'll see an 8-part series I wrote comparing the different types of freight and different size companies. You'll get some great insights into the differences in job duties and lifestyle.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
TailGunner (Ken M)'s Comment
member avatar

One thing on the backing a flatbed, if you pull the same trailer all the time (no drop & hook), you will get to back in quite a lot. Sometimes you can go a couple weeks without backing in at a customer, then sometimes you'll do it everyday for a week or more. But to me there are a lot more pro's and less con's with driving a flatbed than there are pro's for driving a dry van or reefer. Like waiting forever at customers. Like not getting blown over by the wind. Like being able to see over your trailer when backing in a tight spot. Like looking really cool going down the road with nice tight tarps, and obsessively symmetric bungees holding them in place. I'm not trying to sound biased or anything, can you tell? And living in Detroit, you have a couple excellent choices of flatbed companies that will get you home almost every weekend if you want.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

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