What Is Reefer Trucking & What Are The Pros and Cons

If you've been in the trucking business for a while, or are just starting out, then you may have heard of "reefer freight." Reefer freight is one of the main types of transportation running on highways. In fact, a large percentage of transport trucks are reefers.

If you've been in the trucking business for a while, or are just starting out, then you may have heard of "reefer freight." Reefer freight is one of the main types of transportation running on highways. In fact, reefer trucks haul over 90 percent of the food Americans eat today.

Reefer Trucking Freight: What Is It?

Reefer freight gets its name from the abbreviation of “refrigerated.” If you need to keep your cargo at a specific temperature during transport, you'll ship it in a reefer truck. Reefers can come as full or partial trailer-loads and less than truckload (LTL) lots.

Temperature-controlled freight can be classified into three main categories: frozen, refrigerated, or maintained (heated). Products shipped under these conditions include food items, manufacturing chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

A reefer or refrigerated truck being docked

Pros And Cons Of Reefer Freight

Different factors dictate whether reefer freight trucking is the right business for you. If you're a new driver just starting out or an experienced owner-operator looking to grow your business, weigh these pros and cons:


A Lot Of Work Available

Compared to other types of transport, reefer freight is more consistent and faster to recover from down economic cycles. The consistent need for essentials like food, water, and medicine prevent any severe drops in demand. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was hard on many industries, but reefers bounced back quickly.

Despite the holidays and changing seasons, the demand for temperature-controlled supplies remains steady. Reefer drivers transporting these types of shipments can rely on consistent work week in, week out, all year long.

A reefer truck parked near water

Cargo Prices Are Higher

Refrigerated shipments typically pay more than dry van freight because the items being transported often require sensitive temperature control. For example, most food and beverage companies ship their goods in a refrigerated trailer kept at 32-36°F, which is about the same temperature as your fridge at home. Alternatively, most frozen trucks operate at -10°F. Some chemicals and pharmaceutical products require very low temperatures, such as the -80°C to -60°C (-112°F to -76°F) range needed for the transport of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Reefer trailers not only function as refrigerators in hotter weather but also act as heaters in colder weather to keep cargo warm during transport. This averts freezing or other thermal damage for merchandise such as food, alcohol, chemicals, and electronics that are temperature-sensitive. Since reefer shpments are delicate and temperature-regulated, it takes additional care to transport them. This involves using specific equipment to monitor and maintain the correct temperatures.

Because refrigerated cargo is often more valuable than dry freight, shippers are typically willing to pay higher rates for this type of shipment.

Pickup And Delivery Is Easier

Grocery chains, distribution centers, and food processing facilities typically have loading docks that are well organized and handle thousands of pounds of cargo daily. The result is easy and hassle-free loading and unloading.

Reefer truck being loaded at dock

At Revolution Trucking, reefer trucking is one of our many specialties. If you need to move life science, grocery, or pharmaceutical goods, contact us today and see what no-fail refrigerated transportation can do for you!

Fewer Deadhead Miles

Reefer trucks incur fewer deadhead miles for two reasons.

With plenty of reefer freight shipments available, drivers are less likely to have any empty spaces between jobs. An abundance results in more density, so you won't have to go very far for your next pick-up.

Reefer units don't necessarily have to be used for refrigerated products only. If you find that your refrigerated products are going one way and dry products are going back the other, you can simply turn off the generator and run the trailer on the return journey with dry products. Reefer trucks usually have equivalent interior space as compared to dry vans.


Long Wait Times and Pre-Cooling Requirements

There are several reasons why picking up temperature-controlled freight is more time-consuming. For starters, you need to ensure that your trailer is cooled to the appropriate temperature before the dock manager at your pickup location can load their cargo. They will take your temperature as well. If you forgot to pre-cool the unit and your yard is close to the pick-up location, you'll be waiting for a while. Groceries often ship on smaller skids or crates which take longer to load. If the freight is dangerous (chemicals) or fragile (cases of glass bottles or eggs), it will take more time to load.

A reefer truck transporting perishable goods

Early Bird, And Night Owl

It's rare to see a reefer truck making deliveries to grocery stores or dairies in the middle of the day. Not only does it become more difficult to keep the cargo cool during unloading hours, but most stocking happens after store closures. This typically occurs early morning and/or late evening. This means that drivers considering reefer trucks may end up working unconventional hours.

Additional Vehicle Maintenance

Having a refrigeration unit means your rig is more complex and, as such, takes more time to maintain. You'll have to frequently check the cooling unit's condition, make sure all fluids are at the right levels, and inspect all hoses for damage. Your trailer's heating and cooling system must be well-maintained, or you could lose an entire shipments. Reefer cargo usually means more mess than dry cargo, so if you choose these loads, get ready to become good friends with your hose and the inside of your trailer.

Additional Expenses

Although you may have to pay for trailer cleaning up front, some shipping companies will reimburse you later. So, it's important to keep your receipts!

A lumper is a third-party operator who unloads or loads your trailer for money. Always get a receipt when you pay a lumper. You can often negotiate the price ahead of time, but if you forget to factor that into your quote or, worse, lose the receipt, you’ll end up footing the bill yourself.

grocery items stacked in a reefer truck

Chances Of Spoiled Freight

A reefer driver knows all too well the frustration and anger of a spoiled load. Not only is the smell an unbearable nuisance, but cargo that has left the required temperature window because of a breakdown can cost a fortune.

You can avoid having your groceries refused by the store by examining your shipment before it leaves and when it arrives. Grocery stores will often not accept food that is spoiled or not within the ideal temperature, so checking beforehand can save you a lot of trouble.

At Revolution Trucking, we pride ourselves on our 99.8% no-freight-claims rate. If you have mission-critical refrigerated freight that needs shipped safely and on time, count on Revolution to get it done.

Additional Insurance

Although it can be pricey, buying reefer breakdown insurance is a good idea. You will most likely need to keep extensive and meticulous logs to guarantee that the coverage provider assists you when necessary.

Best Practices When Transporting Reefer Freight

By following the best practices below, reefer drivers and transport companies can reduce their negatives, increase their reputation among shippers, and ultimately make more money.

The best reefer truck operators always know to:

Prepare For Temperature Requirements

Beforehand, determine the temperature requirements for your load. Will it need to be just refrigerated or completely frozen? Do you have to maintain heat? What is the acceptable range of temperatures? Set up your unit ahead of schedule so that everything goes according to plan.

In addition, ascertain whether your cargo is perishable. The company you are sending your cargo to might only accept items within a set time frame from when they expire. You can find that information in the lading instructions. Review your shipment to guarantee that the receiving party will consent to the delivery.

Plan Ahead and Pre-Cool Your Trailer

In addition to the point above, ensure you set your trailer and get it up to operating temperature before you arrive at the pick-up.

The cooling unit of a refrigerated truck

Work Quickly When Loading and Unloading Your Reefer

This can be a difficult task, as you must balance the needs of fragile cargo with speed and efficiency. The longer your trailer doors are open, the harder it is to maintain temperature. Make sure the dock manager is ready to load your cargo before you open the doors and back up to the dock.

Shipments Should Be Monitored Closely

Prior to pick-up, and during shipment, fit your unit with a temperature gauge. This will allow you to always know what the temperature is inside your trailer - adding an extra layer of security. Furthermore, by using climate monitoring tools, you can be certain that your trailer is in the correct zone at all times.

Jumper Cables Are an Essential

If the reefer's battery fails while your load is in transit, it could be ruined by the time help arrives. To avoid this outcome, keep a set of good quality jumper cables on hand to connect the tractor and reefer systems until assistance comes.

Reefer trucking across the country

Reefer trucking is a vital part of the food and drug supply chain, and it's important to know how to transport refrigerated freight correctly. By following the best practices listed in this article, reefer drivers can reduce the chances of spoiled cargo, make more money, and maintain a good reputation among shippers.

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