Reefer vs Dry Van: Which Trucking Job Is Better?

Reefer vs dry van trucking jobs and trailers have many differences between one another. We’ll discuss how the equipment varies and determine which type of job is best f

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Jacob Lee
January 9, 2024
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The American Trucking Associations says reefer vs dry van trailers differ based on the cargo they carry. Refrigerated trailers carry temperature controlled goods, while dry vans carry standard products. Reefer trucking jobs pay more, but require more experience. Dry van jobs are better for rookies and are easier to perform. 

We’ll get into the differences between reefer vs dry van trailers and discuss which job is the best for truckers. 

Reefer vs dry van trailers are very similar. In this image, a semi hauls a reefer trailer on a highway

Dry Van vs Reefer Trailers: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between reefers and dry vans is temperature control. Refrigerated trailers come with cooling equipment that can reach specific temperatures, ranging from frozen to cool. Reefers also have insulated walls that maintain a cool environment for the cargo being carried inside. 

Dry van trailers, on the other hand, don’t have this specialized equipment or design. As a result, the interior of this equipment adjusts to the outside temperature. 

Weight and Dimensions of Reefers vs Dry Vans

Despite both looking roughly the same, reefer and dry vans have varying weights and dimensions. We’ve included data displaying the different tare and payload weights for each trailer.

Weight Capacities of Reefer and Dry Van Trailers

WeightReefer Dry Van
Tare Weight (weight of unloaded trailer)12,455 lbs13,880 lbs
Payload Capacity (amount of freight able to be carried)55,000 lbs45,000 lbs

Provided by Klinge and Strick

It should be noted that in addition to tare weight, refrigerated trailers have a reefer unit that weigh 2,000 pounds. This adds to the overall weight  due to the construction and technology needed for temperature control. 

Dry van and reefer trailers also have different lengths, heights, and widths. We’ve also included the dimensions for each one.

Dimensions of Reefer and Dry Van Trailers 

Dimension MeasurementsReeferDry Van
Length48–53 ft48–53 ft
Height13 ft, 6 in9 ft
Width8 ft, 1.5 in8 ft, 6 in

Provided by Klinge and Hale Trailer

While dimensions can vary between these two types of equipment, they’ll roughly be within these sizes. 

If you’re going to be a reefer driver, then read our article on refrigerated truck driver tips to learn what you can do to be more efficient on the road. 

Pros and Cons of Reefer Trailers

Reefer trailers, while essential for certain types of cargo, come with unique advantages and disadvantages. 

Pros of reefers include:

  • Temperature control
  • Insulation
  • Air circulation

The primary advantage of refrigerated trailers is the reefer unit. This piece of equipment is able to maintain specific temperatures. As a result, it guarantees the safe transport of perishable goods like food, flowers, and certain pharmaceuticals. 

Reefer trailers have insulated walls, floor, and roof. These construction features assist the refrigeration unit with maintaining the desired temperature. 

Hot and cold spots in a trailer are another concern during the transportation of temperature sensitive goods. Fortunately, reefer trailers typically have fans inside them, which help circulate air flow throughout the container. 

Disadvantages of reefer shipping include:

  • High operational costs
  • Limited availability and high demand
  • Longer loading/unloading times

Running a reefer trailer is more expensive than a dry van due to the costs associated with powering and maintaining the refrigeration unit. As a result, the costs for using this trailer to ship freight is more expensive. 

Reefers are also much less common than dry vans which makes it a  downside because perishable goods are always in demand. This means obtaining access to these trailers can be difficult. 

Loading dock etiquette is extremely important with perishable goods. Moving this type of cargo on and off a reefer trailer is challenging. These processes typically have to take place at refrigerated warehouses. Freight must also be handled carefully due to its fragility. 

Pros and Cons of Dry Van Trailers

Dry van shipping is a popular choice for many types of cargo, and there are several advantages. 

These include:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Versatility and availability
  • Easy to load and unload

Dry vans are generally more economical to operate than reefers. This is due to their lower maintenance costs, as they lack the complex refrigeration systems found on reefers. The absence of refrigeration units also means lower fuel costs, making dry vans a budget-friendly option for many shippers.

Dry vans are also suitable for a wide range of goods, particularly those not sensitive to temperature changes such as:

  • Furniture
  • Packaged goods
  • Most types of machinery

There’s typically plenty of availability for dry van trailers, as they’re the most common ones used. This benefit also helps make them a cheap option to transport freight. Unlike reefers, dry vans are also much easier to load/unload and require less equipment.

Downsides of dry van transport include:

  • No temperature control
  • No insulation
  • More susceptible to damage 

Dry van trailers don’t have a reefer unit, which means there’s nothing maintaining the temperature for the cargo inside. These pieces of equipment also lack the insulation materials that refrigerated ones have. 

Another downside of this equipment is its susceptibility to damage. Dry vans usually have wooden floors, which can wear down over time. 

An empty reefer trailer

Reefer Vs Dry Van Rates

As we’ve already briefly mentioned, reefer vs dry van rates are drastically different from one another. To show this, consider the varying costs per-mile to transport cargo with each type of trailer.

Reefer and Dry Van Rates

RegionReefer Rates (per mile)Dry Van (per mile)
West$2.52$2.14
Midwest$2.84$2.35
Southwest$2.40$2.01
Southeast$2.22$1.98
Northeast$2.16  $1.92

Provided by DAT Freight & Analytics

It should be noted the rates for each region are averages. Therefore, exact prices can vary based on the trucking company and specific locations where the services are acquired. Rates may also fluctuate, but reefer transport will always be more expensive than dry van shipping.  

Reefer or Dry Van: Which Trucking Job Is Best?

Dry van transport is a great option for truck drivers that are new to the industry or for those that want to have an easier loading/unloading experience. Many truck drivers start out by moving dry van freight and eventually go on to transporting other types of cargo once they get more experience. 

Unloading and loading these trailers is much easier. This is very beneficial for new truckers or for those that don’t want the hassle of handling other types of freight. 

Drivers that have experience in the transportation industry and want to make more money should try obtaining a reefer trucking job. Most refrigerated shipping companies won’t hire a reefer trucker unless they have at least one year of experience. 

Handling the types of cargo that travel in these trailers takes considerably more effort. Operating the reefer unit to ensure the correct temperature is maintained requires training and constant vigilance. As a result, refrigerated trucking companies want more experienced personnel to handle these jobs. 

Fortunately, these types of jobs pay exponentially more than dry van transport. This is important for truckers that are trying to move up and improve their careers in the transportation industry.  

If you want to learn how much being a truck driver pays, then check out our article to learn more. 

Semi truck hauling reefer trailers on a major highway

Can You Use A Reefer As A Dry Van?

Reefer trailers can be used as dry vans. While this isn’t ideal, it’s definitely an option truck drivers can explore if they wish. Reefers are designed primarily for temperature-sensitive products, but they are adaptable and can be used to transport dry goods that don’t require a cool environment.

For instance, a reefer can be used as a dry van for something that requires insulation, but not necessarily strict temperature control.

When carrying a mixed load, it’s essential to ensure the items being transported aren’t sensitive to colder temperatures. If the products aren’t sensitive to the cold, truckers will be able to carry mixed shipments of perishable and non-perishable items. 

Start Moving Reefer Freight By Filling Out Your ABCO Application

At ABCO, we pride ourselves on our expertise in reefer logistics. However, we can’t provide the services we offer without the help of our talented pool of drivers. Because our truckers are the most valuable asset of our business, we make sure they’re given the care they deserve.

For one, ABCO drivers are paid competitive wages. Our benefits packages are very comprehensive, as we offer 401K, dental, medical, and vision insurance. When you need to take some time off, schedule some free resort time at one of our locations around the country. 

Fill out your ABCO job application today to start working for a company that values you. Our team members can be reached at (866) 980-2710 if you require more information about our job opportunities.

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