Trailer Talk

Thoughts From Staring at Semis' Rear Doors

Blog commentary by Tom Berg, Senior Contributing Editor

December 9, 2017

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe

I’m in my car and trapped behind a semi and am getting impatient. We’re moving slowly and now we’ve stopped at a red light, and heavy traffic to my left keeps me from pulling out and around the rig. So I stare at those two rear doors on the van and thoughts come to mind.

Today, every trailer I see is clean, which is not always the case. Often there’s a heavy film of dirt covering the rear and I wonder, why doesn’t the company keep the trailer clean?  Doesn’t the company care about image?

Many years ago a fleet manager in Texas related how he hired high school kids on weekends to go around his yard with long-handled brushes and buckets of water, and scrub those rear doors. Not the trailer’s sides, but the rear, because that’s where dirt is drawn by a moving trailer’s suction effect and that’s what motorists see close-up. He paid the kids 50 cents per trailer. Today it might be a buck or two, but that would still be a cheap way to give a truck line a clean image.

If the doors on the trailer just ahead are bare except for a number, I think, why isn’t there a name lettered on there – wouldn’t that be good advertising? Or would the company rather remain anonymous? Say, wouldn’t a trailer’s rear be a good place for some commercial advertising? It’d have a captive audience, like me. That would bring the owner some steady extra income.

If the trailer’s got more lights than a Christmas tree, I’m entertained, and I applaud the owner for his pride in his equipment. Trailers like this are usually spotlessly clean, as well. Too bad rearward-facing lights are limited to red or amber; multicolored lights, especially now, during the holidays, would boost motorists’ spirits.

Nowadays those lights are liable to be LEDs, whose colors are rich and bright and which draw very little current. On the other hand, if the rig’s been running in snow, some of the white stuff sticks to the lenses and shades the light. In the old days, incandescent bulbs generated heat that melted the snow.

Once in a while there’ll be a trailer with a stainless steel header, sill, rear impact guard, and door skins. It’s probably a reefer. On vans, those parts might be aluminum or galvanized steel. Either way, that trailer will stand up to salt spray longer than if that steel were merely painted.

Know what else adds life to a box trailer? Extra door racks. Two rods per door rather than the standard single rod add stiffness to the vehicle’s structure, and two to three years to its useful life, a fleet owner told me a while ago. The other day I got behind a brand-new van with two rods on the left-hand door and one on the right-hand door. Maybe that provides much of the added stiffness but at a bit less cost.

Now we’re moving again and by gosh, the rig in front of me is really moving out! There are no pauses as the driver changes gears, just steady acceleration. That means the tractor’s got a self-shifting transmission, either automated or full automatic. I think they’re the way to go, whether I’m following a semi or driving it.


  1. 1. Bob Hakken [ December 20, 2017 @ 05:33AM ]

    If you want to marvel at the rear door of a trailer or straight truck, look at this:
    Best safety innovation I’ve seen in a long time.


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.

Author Bio

Tom Berg

sponsored by

Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All