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 freight trucks. 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 specialized freight requires drivers to have even higher levels of training.
7 Common Types of Freight Trucks & What They Haul
There are seven main types of freight trucks, semi-trailers, flatbeds, step decks, dry vans, reefers, box trucks and tankers, all of which haul different types of cargo.
Semi-trailers are known by many names, 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.
Instead of carrying goods inside a closed trailer, a flatbed truck has a flat, open trailer without any roofs or sides. Flat-bed trucks are 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.
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.
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 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.
What Type of Freight Truck Will You Drive?
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 and haul different types of freight as well. 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 as a truck driver.
The most commonly hauled freight types are dry van and refrigerated.
Less than truckload (LTL) is when multiple companies share space in the same trailer. With full truckloads (FTL), each company uses their own trucks.
Large tow trucks that tow other large vehicles, such as trucks and buses, are called integrated tow trucks.