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What is a reefer truck?

Dry van trucks can carry various types of freight, but certain cargo requires specific protection. For instance, temperature-sensitive resources, including perishable goods and pharmaceuticals, must be refrigerated or else they will expire. 

That’s why reefer trucks haul this type of freight in temperature-controlled trailers. So, understanding how reefers work can expand your career opportunities as a truck driver. Keep reading to learn more.

And when you’re finished, explore more articles in our reefer truck article series:

How Does Refrigerated Trucking Work?

Reefer trucks are similar to traditional semi-trucks, but they transport perishable goods and cargo that require temperature-controlled environments. Reefers are designed with interior vents and insulation that keep these resources in good condition.

Both of these features are significant advantages that reefers offer compared to dry van trucks. Unlike cooling vans, reefers include active cooling systems that make it possible to transport frozen and refrigerated freight. 

A small diesel engine drives the compressor of reefer trucks. In turn, a pulling effect occurs on the gaseous refrigerant. This process liquefies the gas that proceeds to heat the compressor’s body, which affects the internal temperature of the truck. This heat exchange is a process that occurs in the condenser, similar to how radiators cool engines.

The liquefied gas remains under pressure, even after losing most of its heat to the condenser. The condenser pushes the pressurized liquid into the evaporator, where it cools off. A metering valve controls how much of the refrigerant is received by the evaporator.

Another rapidly-expanding refrigerant is always in the evaporator. Its expansion causes it to change into gas, resulting in high heat absorption from the environment. The air within the trailer’s interior will move into the evaporator before eventually moving into the compressor. Technically, it’s a repetitive cycle. 

This process causes a cooling effect in the van, which works to ensure that transported materials remain refrigerated at all times. Cargo in a reefer truck is usually stored in precoolers prior to shipment as a way of ensuring that the cargo stays in perfect condition during transport.

Why Is a Refrigerated Truck Called a Reefer?

Reefer is a condensed way of saying refrigerated. The refrigerated truck’s cooling system inspired the name reefer. 

What Is An Air Chute In a Reefer Trailer and Why Does It Matter?

In reefers, an air chute is a flexible air duct that usually connects to the refrigerating unit that runs along the top of the trailer. Air chutes serve as ventilation systems for refrigerated truck trailers, ensuring the even distribution of cold air throughout the truck.

How Long Does a Reefer Trailer Last?

Most reefers can last over 40,000 hours, which means they can be used for about eight years on average. You can extend the life of your reefer trailer by taking good care of the truck. 

Can I Use My Reefer As a Dry Van?

Reefers double as refrigerated trucks and dry vans. These trucks can transport heated items, despite having a cooling system. That said, pure dry vans do not have the same flexibility as reefers.

What Type of Freight Ships in Refrigerated Trailers?

Refrigerated trailers store temperature-sensitive cargo. Reefers are best for certain types of freight, including the following:

  • Bulk liquids
  • Flowers
  • Hazardous materials
  • Chewing gums
  • Paint
  • Pharmaceuticals

When Should You Run Your Reefer on Continuous?

It is best to run your reefer on continuous when traveling through warmer areas. Running your reefer on continuous can protect the freight from experiencing any of the effects of the heat. 

Example of Reefer Trucking 

Restaurants need fresh ingredients and perishable food to serve their customers. Storing food in a dry van would make them unusable upon arrival. As a result, restaurants transport their deliverables via reefer trucks to preserve their products and keep the goods in compliance with food safety standards. 

Things To Consider With Reefer Trucks

Reefers will save the day for business owners who need to receive temperature-sensitive items on a regular basis. Drivers and trucking companies that use reefers are able to expand their pool of potential customers, subsequently increasing revenue. However, you should consider the following factors before buying or renting refrigerated trucks. 

Food Safety Training Requirements

Reefer trucks must meet food safety training requirements, which would ensure that they are suitable and adequately prepared for use. Reefer truck drivers must not only know the temperatures required for food transportation but they must maintain these temperatures as well.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has put forth a rule regarding the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food. This was done so in an effort to prevent the circulation of unsafe food. These practices can ensure the proper refrigeration and sanitization of trailers and vehicles that transport food. 

You must prioritize the food safety training requirements before selecting a reefer trailer. Below are the Food and Safety Training requirements for reefer truck drivers. 

  • Equipment: The vehicle itself, as well as all of the transportation equipment, must be adequately cleaned. This equipment must also be kept at the temperatures that are deemed safe for food transportation.
  • Operations: This includes the measures that are taken to ensure food safety standards are upheld during transportation, such as temperature controls, food contamination prevention and various other factors. A refrigerated trailer should be washed out before loading, as this can eliminate potential contamination from previous loads.
  • Training: The FDA offers a free training module that is specifically designed for truck drivers who are covered by the FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food Rule. Taking the course will put you in the best position to serve your customers. 
  • Records: Drivers and trucking companies must store records of agreements, training and written procedures for certain periods for at least 12 months in most cases.

Motor Operations

Check how the reefer truck operates before making a purchase. The main engine of reefer vehicles must continue to run during unloading, loading and other circumstances when you are not actively driving on the road. Before choosing a reefer truck, determine if your operations demand extra power for your truck’s refrigerator.

Understand the Commodity and Temperature Control 

The type of goods determines the temperature requirements. You must consider the commodity you want to transport and the temperature that is required before you choose a reefer truck. Understanding your commodity includes knowing each product’s shelf life, the best packaging required and various other important details.

Supervised Loading and Unloading Procedures 

Reefer truck drivers are responsible for understanding loading patterns, locations and weight restrictions. This information can ensure the safe storage and temperature control of each item. Quick and efficient unloading is vital, and it requires keen supervision from the driver.

Drivers should prioritize reefer trucks that offer proper supervision of their loading and unloading procedures. This way, they can ensure items are transported and delivered under the best possible conditions.

Nighttime Loading and Unloading 

Reefer truck drivers rarely load or unload items during the day due to the weather conditions, which are warmer during the day than at night. Warm environments aren’t suitable for goods, so a lot of loading and unloading will take place after dusk and before dawn. However, under strict supervision and exceptions, refrigerated trailers can load and unload during daylight, making it so that you can get back on the road sooner.

Dealing With Clients Who Want Specific Unloading

It’s common for reefer truck drivers to receive specific unloading requests. As such, drivers must select refrigerated trucks that can accommodate a wide range of specific requests. 

Some clients, like grocery stores, often want their freights to be broken or stacked in specific ways, which can add extra time to the loading and unloading processes. You must consider how a reefer truck would respond to such requests before working with said clients. 

Uncompensated Wait Time

Typically, you will not be compensated for the time you spend waiting for a load. For instance, a grocery store using reefer trucking may need to store new perishables while rotating existing goods or produce. You might be paid well by the customer, but you probably won’t be paid for the time you spend idling.

Advantages of Reefer Trucking 

A reefer truck can be a great addition to any trucking company. At the same time, while there are pros, there are also cons of reefer trucking. Keep reading to learn more about the advantages and the disadvantages.  

Here are some of the advantages: 

  • Consistently high supply and demand for reefer trucks 
  • Always needed to deliver fresh products
  • An excellent way to protect freight
  • Offers protection from weather conditions, spoilage, damages and theft
  • Lets you haul temperature-sensitive goods
  • More career opportunities for drivers
  • Means that truckers can work with top reefer trucking companies

Disadvantages of Reefer Trucking 

While reefer trucking may offer a few benefits, you should keep these disadvantages in mind. Drivers should know the pros and cons before making any investments. 

Now, here is a list of some of the disadvantages of reefer trucking:

  • Can be noisy
  • Longer waiting time for unloading and loading at shipping docks
  • Unavoidable product damages
  • Not suitable for long-haul shipping

Reefer vs Dry Van Trucking

Truckers must determine optimal shipping options for their transportation needs. While truckers have plenty of options to choose from, reefers and dry van trucks are popular choices.

While dry van trucking involves the use of fully enclosed semi-trailers, which are then used to carry loose, boxed or freight on pallets, reefer trucking uses temperature-controlled semi-trucks to haul perishable and temperature-sensitive goods. You can carry dry freight on a reefer, but you cannot transport temperature-sensitive goods on a dry van.

Expand Your Choices With Reefer Trucking

Reefer trucking offers drivers another career choice while helping trucking companies serve more customers. The supply chain has a constant demand for refrigerated truck transportation due to the number of temperature-sensitive goods in need of transportation. Investing in these trucks can help you capitalize on new market opportunities.

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