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7 freight truck types & what they haul

Nearly every industry relies on freight trucks to transport goods, but not every type of cargo can be transported in the same way. Luckily, different types of freight trucks meet different industry needs to move goods around the country as well as the world. 

Semi trailers, flatbeds, step decks, dry vans, reefers, box trucks and tankers are some of the many different types of trucks for freight. Keep reading to learn more about these types of freight trucks and what they haul.

What is a freight truck?

A freight truck is a powerful specialized vehicle that transports goods from one place to another. All freight trucks have two major components, the truck tractor in the front, where the engine and cab are located and a trailer where the freight is stored. 

Freight trucks are driven by truck drivers who hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). However, some different types of freight trucks require drivers to have even higher levels of training. 

7 common types of freight trucks & what they haul

There are seven main types of trucks for hauling: semi-trailers, flatbeds, step decks, dry vans, reefers, box trucks and tankers — all of which haul different types of cargo. 

Semi trailer

Semi trailers are known by many names, for example semi trucks, 18-wheelers, tractor trailers and big rigs. They are one of the most commonly seen types of freight trucks on the road. 

They get their name semi because the trailer’s design has no front axle or front wheels and instead rests on a hitch or fifth-wheel coupling. Semi trailers can also tow one or two additional trailers for carrying added cargo. 

Semi trucks are incredibly versatile, hauling everything from consumer products to raw materials. Since a semi truck can tow more than one trailer, they’re popular for carrying cargo over long distances. 

Flatbed freight truck

Instead of carrying goods inside a closed trailer, a flatbed truck has a flat, open trailer without any roofs or sides. A flatbed trailer truck is excellent for carrying oversized loads. 

They are easier to load and unload than other freight trucks as well. Cargo is typically secured on flatbed trailers using straps. 

With an impressive load-bearing capacity and versatile cargo space, flatbed trucks are ideal for hauling construction materials, other vehicles, heavy machinery, oversized cargo and even houses. 

Step deck

Like a flatbed truck, a step deck is an open trailer. The difference between the two is that a step deck is specially designed to haul tall cargo. 

Also called a drop deck or lowboy trailer, a step deck has two decks, with the lower deck designed to allow for more overhead clearance for hauling tall or oversized cargo. As a result, they are easier to load and unload. 

Step deck trailers are specially designed to haul tall and oversized cargo without additional permits. It’s also possible to transport additional goods on the other deck. 

Dry van

A dry van is a type of semi truck with a non-temperature-controlled trailer. A dry van is fully enclosed with four walls and a roof, protecting goods from the elements. 

Typically, dry van trailers are 53 feet long, and they can carry a wide variety of freight. New truck drivers also usually start driving dry van trucks since they are common and can be driven with only a Class A CDL. 

Dry van trucks can haul a wide variety of pallets and boxed cargo. Almost everything you have in your home was likely once transported by a dry van, including furniture, apparel and non-perishable food. 


A reefer, or refrigerated truck, is a temperature-controlled freight truck that hauls goods that must be kept within a specific temperature range. For example, reefers commonly transport food and deliver it to grocery warehouses and stores. 

The refrigeration unit sits at the front of the trailer or above the truck’s cab. The temperature must be monitored continuously by the driver to avoid spoilage. 

Anything that needs to be kept at a specific temperature is transported by reefer trucks, including food products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and hazmat materials. Since refrigerated products can spoil quickly, reefer truck deliveries are more time sensitive than other types of cargo. 

Box truck

Box trucks are known for their box-shaped cargo compartment and smaller freight truck types. The cargo box of a box truck sits directly on the frame. 

It is usually separate from the truck’s cabin. Box trucks are great for local deliveries since they are easier to maneuver down small streets and around tight corners. 

Box trucks are popular for transporting goods short distances, such as home appliance and furniture delivery, last-mile deliveries, food delivery and even moving-related transportation. 


There are two tanker trucks — dry bulk tankers and liquid tankers. Dry bulk tankers carry loose bulk dry goods and liquid tankers transport liquids and gasses. 

Rather than a boxy trailer, a tanker has a cylindrical tank that mounts onto a semi-truck. Tankers are more challenging to operate since drivers have to minimize sloshing. 

However, the tanks also have compartments to help reduce this sloshing and carry multiple loads. The tank can be pressurized, insulated or refrigerated if the cargo requires it. 

Dry bulk tankers are designed to carry loose materials that drivers cannot transport any other way, including construction materials, such as sand, and powders or bulk foods, such as sugar and grain. Liquid tankers haul liquids of all varieties, including beverages, such as milk or wine, and chemicals, such as gasoline. 

Highest paying trucking jobs

The highest paying types of trucking work typically include:

Hazardous materials transport

Hauling hazardous materials, chemicals, and other dangerous loads requires extensive additional certifications and training. As a result, it pays top driver salaries and bonuses exceeding $100,000 per year. While very lucrative, hazmat work also carries much higher risk and responsibility.

Heavy haul 

Specialized freight like oversized loads, construction equipment, and bulk commodities can pay $80,000 to $120,000 for drivers and owner-operators willing to take on more difficult long-haul transport logistics and permitting needs for non-standard shipments.

Ice road trucking 

Navigating seasonal ice roads in arctic regions is among the most challenging, intense trucking jobs. Annual salaries reach over $100,000 for resilient drivers able to handle severe weather and road conditions.

Oil & gas industry transport 

Hauling machinery, water, fuel, drilling equipment and other supplies specifically for oil and gas companies tends to pay generous rates. Average pay is around $75,000 to $95,000 annually, but the work can be volatile depending on oil market price swings.

In a nutshell, harder jobs moving hazardous, oversized, arctic, industrial or high-value cargo generally provide the highest pay ceilings and earning power for fully certified commercial drivers in the trucking business. These niches compensate for danger and difficulty through premium salaries.

What is the most common freight truck?

The most common type of freight truck in the U.S. is the Class 8 tractor trailer. This truck transports everything from consumer goods to produce across the country.

Specifically, the Freightliner Cascadia is the most popular truck model on American highways. Over 50% of long-haul fleets are made up of these versatile, durable Freightliner trucks pulling 53-foot dry goods trailers. Known for fuel efficiency, driver comfort and safety upgrades, Cascadias are sometimes called the workhorse of the trucking industry.

What is the best type of freight to haul for new drivers?

The best type of freight for new truck drivers to haul is dry van freight. Dry van trailers transport general freight that is stacked on pallets or shelving. This freight does not require refrigeration, special handling, or additional certifications. Hauling dry van freight allows new drivers to gain experience loading, unloading, and securing cargo, driving long distances, following delivery timelines, and learning the logistics of the trucking industry.

Once a driver has miles and confidence under their belt, they can then consider expanding into different types of trucks for hauling, like flatbeds, refrigerated trucks, tankers, or hazmat. Starting out in dry van freight allows for that initial on-the-job training that sets up newer truckers for success across different types of hauls. The workflow and processes are more easily transferable after cutting teeth in routine dry van transport first.

Jump start a new career driving a freight truck

Nearly everything we touch was transported by a freight truck at some point. This heightened demand for transportation and logistics services means there are plenty of jobs out there for truck drivers. 

There are numerous opportunities to specialize in different types of trucks for freight. No matter which type of freight truck you choose to drive or what you choose to haul, you’re sure to have a rewarding career in the trucking industry.


What type of freight is most commonly hauled?

The most commonly hauled type of freight involves general dry goods and non-perishable consumer products like packaged or canned foods, furniture, paper goods and packaging products, clothing items, appliances, and other retail merchandise loads. These general commodities comprise over 60% of total trucking tonnage and gross freight revenue for the American trucking industry.

What do LTL and FTL mean?

LTL stands for “less than truckload” and refers to shipments that do not require an entire trailer, allowing for multiple customers’ partial loads to be combined. FTL means “full truckload,” where a shipper books an entire trailer for their cargo requiring point-to-point transport directly from origin to destination without stopping to combine with other freight.

What are large tow trucks called?

Tow trucks designed for hauling large and heavy passenger vehicles like buses, RVs, and tractor trailers, are known as heavy duty wrecker trucks or rotator tow trucks. They have dual rear axles or more to handle such sizable loads and feature expanded rigging capabilities like underlift and wheel-lift attachments. Other equipment may include more powerful winches and booms, plus large-capacity rotating flatbeds to maneuver and pull extra-large vehicles.

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