What Is a Reefer Trailer:
Definition, Dimensions, Capacity & Cost

reefer trailer on the road

Reefer trailers, also known as refrigerated trailers, play a vital role in the transportation of perishable goods, maintaining the cold chain and ensuring the safe delivery of temperature-sensitive cargo. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of reefer trailers, exploring their definition, dimensions, capacity, cost, and other essential details. Whether you’re a fleet manager, logistics professional, or someone curious about the intricacies of cold chain transport, this article will provide you with valuable insights into the world of reefer trailers.


What Is a Reefer Trailer?

A reefer trailer is an insulated trailer equipped with a built-in refrigeration unit. It is specifically designed to transport perishable goods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, chemicals, and flowers, while maintaining consistent and safe temperatures throughout the journey. By controlling the internal environment, reefer trailers ensure that perishable cargo remains fresh and in optimal condition until it reaches its destination.

How Does a Reefer Trailer Work?

blue reefer trailer on highway

Reefer trailers operate through a closed refrigeration system that removes heat from the trailer to maintain the desired temperature. The system consists of three main components: the evaporator coil, the compressor, and a small diesel engine.

The compressor, powered by the engine, circulates a refrigerant through the system. As the air inside the trailer moves, it passes over the evaporator coil, where heat is extracted, resulting in cooler air. This cooled air is then recirculated back into the trailer, maintaining the desired temperature for the cargo.

To ensure the effectiveness of the refrigeration system during cold chain transport, many drivers utilize reefer trailer temperature recorders or trailer temperature monitoring systems. These technologies enable real-time monitoring and provide accurate temperature data, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Reefer Trailer Dimensions and Capacity

Reefer trailers come in various dimensions to accommodate different cargo volumes and weight restrictions. While specific dimensions may vary between manufacturers and regions, the following are common sizes found in the industry:

Standard Reefer Trailer Dimensions

  • Internal Length: Approximately 28 to 53 feet
  • Internal Width: Approximately 8 to 8.5 feet
  • Internal Height: Approximately 8 to 9.5 feet

High Cube Reefer Trailer Dimensions

  • Internal Length: Approximately 28 to 53 feet
  • Internal Width: Approximately 8 to 8.5 feet
  • Internal Height: Approximately 9.5 to 9.8 feet


It’s important to note that the external dimensions of reefer trailers may slightly differ due to insulation and other structural factors. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the internal cargo space when determining the capacity of a reefer trailer.

Reefer trailers have varying capacity specifications based on their dimensions and payload restrictions. The maximum payload capacity of a reefer trailer depends on factors such as axle configurations, road regulations, and the weight limitations imposed by transportation authorities in different regions.

How Much Does a Reefer Trailer Weigh?

The weight of a reefer trailer primarily depends on its construction, equipment, and refrigeration unit. While weights may vary among different manufacturers and models, a standard reefer trailer typically has a tare weight of approximately 12,500 pounds. The refrigeration unit adds an additional weight of around 2,000 pounds.

It’s important to consider the weight of the reefer trailer when calculating the maximum payload capacity to ensure compliance with the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) regulations. The GVWR includes not only the weight of the trailer but also the truck, driver, personal property, truck fuel, reefer fuel, and the cargo itself.

white reefer trailer

How Long Can a Reefer Trailer Run?

The duration a reefer trailer can run depends on various factors, including the capacity of the fuel tank, insulation quality, ambient temperature, and the desired temperature range for the cargo. Most reefer trailers are equipped to operate continuously for several days without refueling.

Reefer trailers typically use diesel fuel to power the refrigeration unit. The fuel consumption varies depending on the specific model, age, and load conditions. On average, reefer trailers consume between 0.4 and 1.1 gallons of diesel fuel per hour of operation.

It’s crucial for drivers and fleet managers to plan their routes and fueling stops effectively to ensure uninterrupted temperature control throughout the journey.


How Much Does a Reefer Trailer Cost?

The cost of a reefer trailer can vary depending on several factors, including the brand, size, features, and condition (new or used). Used reefer trailers, with no guarantee of service, can be found at lower prices starting from around $4,000. On the other hand, a new Thermo King reefer trailer, known for its reliability and advanced features, can cost around $100,000.

When considering the cost of a reefer trailer, it’s essential to evaluate the long-term benefits and potential savings that may arise from investing in a high-quality and efficient unit. Factors such as fuel efficiency, temperature control capabilities, and maintenance requirements should also be taken into account to make an informed decision.


Other Considerations for Reefer Trailers

  1. Temperature Range: Standard reefer trailers are designed to maintain temperatures between -17˚C and 10˚C, providing an ideal environment for most perishable goods. However, specialized reefer trailers can reach temperatures as low as -150˚C for cryogenic transport.
  2. Maintenance: Proper maintenance of reefer trailers is crucial to ensure their optimal performance and longevity. Regular inspections, servicing, and adherence to manufacturer guidelines are necessary to prevent breakdowns and maintain temperature control reliability.
  3. Telematics and Tracking: Tracking and telematics systems play a vital role in monitoring the location, temperature, and performance of reefer trailers. These systems provide real-time data and alerts, enabling fleet managers to proactively address any potential issues and ensure the integrity of the cold chain.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Reefer trailers are subject to various regulations, including those governing food safety, temperature control, and environmental standards. It’s important for operators and drivers to stay updated with the latest regulations and compliance requirements to avoid penalties and maintain the quality and safety of transported goods.


Wrapping Up

Reefer trailers are indispensable assets in the transportation of perishable goods, maintaining the integrity of the cold chain and preserving the quality and safety of temperature-sensitive cargo. Understanding the dimensions, capacity, operation, and cost considerations associated with reefer trailers is crucial for fleet managers, logistics professionals, and anyone involved in the transportation of perishable goods.

By selecting the appropriate reefer trailer size, considering payload capacity, and implementing effective temperature monitoring systems, businesses can ensure the successful and reliable delivery of perishable goods while complying with relevant regulations. Investing in high-quality reefer trailers and prioritizing regular maintenance can lead to long-term cost savings, improved efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

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