Refrigerated Trailers

Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017

What New Truck Drivers Need To Know About Refrigerated Trailers:

Demand for refrigerated drivers is usually high, and drivers generally get paid better than for dry van.

A variation on the dry van , with a few differences. Basically a box trailer with a refrigeration unit installed on it. Can carry either dry goods or temperature-sensitive.

Used to transport temperature-sensitive or perishable goods, such as produce and meat. Normally delivering to grocery warehouses.

A large percentage of refrigerated loads will be OTR , hauling from the West Coast to the East Coast. And back again.

Recent FMCSA regulation changes may require drivers to have a tanker endorsement to transport liquids, depending on quantity.

About Pulling Refrigerated Trailers (Reefers):

Running dedicated refrigerated routes will generally not get drivers much home time. A lot of reefer companies will try to get drivers out to the West Coast as often as possible. Many loads will be coming from produce-rich California, and travel to the East Coast, keeping drivers out on the road longer.

Refrigerated freight also tends to have more multiple-stop loads. It could be several different pickups, or deliveries, or both. Drivers will usually get paid more for the extra pickups or stops, but it will generally take longer to get loaded and rolling..

Refrigeration systems are mounted on the front of the box trailers and are usually diesel-powered, though a shift toward battery-powered electric or hybrid systems is ongoing.

Pulling reefers will require drivers to constantly monitor the refrigeration unit for proper operation and correct temperatures. In the event of a mechanical failure of the refrigeration unit, quick action will be required of the driver to prevent spoilage.

Drivers, especially those working for smaller companies, may have to help unload their trailer. Larger companies tend to have contracts with "lumper services" Lumpers are professional freight handlers working for a third-party at the warehouses. They will do the unloading, and get paid on productivity. Typically, drivers will pay the lumpers, and be reimbursed by their company., eliminating the need for driver handling.

Wait times to get unloaded at grocery warehouses are notoriously long, and waits of 6-12 hours are not uncommon.

How Do Refrigerated Trailers Work?

Reefers are not designed to actually cool the product inside, but to maintain it while controlling humidity.

In some cases, especially during winter, reefer trailers will actually be used to prevent product from freezing during transport by setting the temperature higher than 32°, but still cool.

Refrigerated trailers are built with insulated walls made of steel, plastic, or some other non-porous material, and sealed very well to prevent heat from entering them, and keep the cool air inside where it belongs.

Historically, reefer units have been diesel-powered. Increasingly, emissions standards (especially in California) and rising fuel costs have led a push toward battery, electric, and hybrid refrigeration units.

The more modern, advanced, models are equipped with alarms that will notify the driver of current or future problems. They may also be equipped with tracking systems that automatically track times and temperatures for auditing purposes.

Changes To FMCSA Regulations Re-defining Tank Vehicles:

Recent changes in FMCSA regulations mean that drivers pulling liquid freight over 1,000 gallons, regardless of trailer type, hazardous or otherwise, will be required to have a tanker endorsement:

"Tank vehicle means any commercial motor vehicle that is designed to transport any liquid or gaseous materials within a tank or tanks having an individual rated capacity of more than 119 gallons and an aggregate rated capacity of 1,000 gallons or more that is either permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle or the chassis." Hauling more than 1,000 gallons of liquid, regardless of trailer type, will require a driver to have a tanker endorsement.

FMCSA Definition of Tanker Vehicle


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.


Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Commercial Motor Vehicle:

A commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle used in commerce to transport passengers or property with either:

  • A gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more
  • A gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more which includes a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds
  • CSA:

    Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA)

    The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle


    Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

    The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

    What Does The FMCSA Do?

    • Commercial Drivers' Licenses
    • Data and Analysis
    • Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement
    • Research and Technology
    • Safety Assistance
    • Support and Information Sharing


    Department Of Transportation

    A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

    State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


    Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

    The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

    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.


    A refrigerated trailer.


    Hours Of Service

    HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


    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.

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