When you are getting ready to put a dry van trailer out to pasture and begin the process of searching for its replacement, there are many things to consider: maintenance costs, fuel-economy regulations, payload and the weight of the trailer, to name a few.

One way to navigate through the maze of options is to follow some tips a few trailer manufacturers shared with us.

DON'T focus solely on payload

There are many issues in terms of weight when spec'ing a dry van. The demand is high to make trailers lighter to allow trailers to carry more freight.

“A lot of spec'ing involves options to save weight,” says David Giesen, vice president of sales and marketing at Stoughton Trailers. “Replacing certain materials for higher cost, lighter materials — replacing steel with aluminum, for example — is something that customers really need to consider carefully.”

Glenn Harney, chief sales officer with Hyundai Translead, says the best way to address the weight issue is to make sure you understand your priorities.

“There is no trailer that can withstand all damage and loading challenges, weigh less than any other trailer and sell for less than any other trailer,” Harney says. “There are usually tradeoffs, and the key is to prioritize what needs to be accomplished.”

Another situation to avoid is choosing a floor that will hold the load, but might fail while the cargo is being loaded or unloaded.

For example, when hauling heavy paper rolls, the rolls are loaded with large, heavy forklifts, according to Larry Roland, director of marketing for Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. All of that weight is concentrated on the relatively small wheels of the forklift.

“What you have to consider is what floor rating is necessary to hold the immense weight of the small forklift,” he says.

Others have also seen similar spec'ing errors along this line.

“A common mistake people make is choosing a trailer with a floor rating that does not fit the application,” says Tom Rodak, director of corporate marketing and communications of Wabash National Corp. “Loading a trailer beyond its floor rating can damage crossmembers and prematurely wear the floor out, leading to increased maintenance costs and trailer downtime. Replacing cross-members takes at least three days and runs about $2,000.”

DON'T repeat the past

Maybe the dry van that will best serve your needs moving forward is exactly the same as what you spec'ed and purchased for your last dry van.

Maybe not.

“A mistake that we see often is spec'ing this trailer just like their last one, which is often not in the customer's best interest,” says Roland from Utility. “They may not be aware of the technological advances as well as many other options available to them now.”

Many large fleets are fairly well-informed about the trailer market, and what is new and innovative from different manufacturers, but it is still important to communicate with the manufacturer. And if you're a small fleet without a lot of time to keep on top of all that, it's especially important.

“Customers would be wise to inquire about what is new and what is being specified by most fleets today,” says Hyundai's Harney.

This will give you ideas about what is on the minds of other fleets running dry vans as well as let you in on the trends in the industry.

DO take another look at your old trailer

Before you retire that old dry van, give it another once-over, according to many manufacturers.

“You should inspect the equipment for consistent areas of damage,” says Roland. “If you are seeing a particular cut in the lining that is consistent, we then ask what's going on here in the operation. Maybe there's another spec available that would beef up that area of the trailer.”

DO get into the details

When spec'ing a trailer, one of the most helpful things you can do to find the right equipment is to dig into the details. What you haul is important in many ways, and so to is how you load and unload your trailer.

No one model is the best model for everyone, says Stoughton's Giesen.

“Depending on what you are hauling, like carpets, wall stiffness may be a factor, so sheet and post might work better for you. The key is asking questions to find out what the customer needs and then steer them to the best specification — what will work best for them.”

Before you are even able to get into the details with the manufacturer to find the best dry van, you need to do your homework.

“Sometimes the party who is spec'ing the trailer doesn't necessarily have all of the details,” says Brent Beasely, director of national accounts for Great Dane. “They don't have all of the requirements of the shipper. They don't know how the load is going to need to be tied down in the trailer, etc. Without these particulars, we can't find the best option for them.”

DON'T forget about the future

With the onset of Great Recession, many fleets had to tighten their belts.

As accountants searched for ways to save pennies, fleets went one obvious route — extending the life of their trailers.

Even without the recession, extending the life cycle of a dry van from seven or eight years to 10 or more has become more common, so think about your new trailer's longevity.

“Many customers can push the life of a trailer beyond what it is designed,” Beasely says. “On the obvious side, to extend the life you want to reduce your maintenance with things such as long-life lighting systems, wheel-ends with longer warranties, and maybe get a sturdier floor.”

About the author
Kate Harlow

Kate Harlow

Associate Editor

A previous trucking industry editor specializing in Truckinginfo and Technology topics.

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