What is a reefer trailer?

Reefer trailers, or refrigerated trailers, are insulated trailers with built-in refrigeration units. They’re designed for cold chain transport, delivering perishable cargo at safe and consistent temperatures. This includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, chemicals, and flowers. 

How does a refrigerated trailer work?

Reefers are equipped with a closed refrigeration system designed to remove heat from a trailer in order to maintain the temperature of a product during transportation. They’re not designed to actually cool a product. 

They function through three main components:

  1. Evaporator coil
  2. Compressor
  3. Small diesel engine

The engine powers the compressor, which powers the evaporator coil. As the air inside of a trailer moves due to differences in air pressure, it passes over the evaporator coil. The coil removes heat from the air and feeds the cooler air back into the trailer. 

To ensure the refrigeration system works properly during cold chain transport, many drivers use reefer trailer temperature recorders or trailer temperature monitoring systems.

How much does a reefer trailer cost?

Used reefers, with no guarantee of service, can be found as low as $4,000. A new Thermo King trailer, on the other hand, can run about $100,000. 

How much do reefers weigh?

Although some trailers differ, the standard reefer trailer has a tare weight of about 12,500 pounds with an additional 2,000 pounds for the refrigeration unit. 

How cold can reefer trailers get?

Standard reefers are designed to maintain temperatures between -17˚C and 10˚C for proper cold chain transportation. Although they can get as cold as -150˚C for cryogenic transport. 

How much fuel does a reefer trailer use?

Standard reefer trailers use between 0.4 and 1.1 gallons of diesel per hour.

How much weight can a refrigerated trailer carry?

Reefer trailers are designed to be as strong and light as possible so you can haul maximum cold chain product without exceeding the federal GVWR (80,000 pounds for dual axels or 90,000 pounds if you have a third axle). 

The GVWR counts more than just the weight in the trailer. This combined weight includes:

  • The truck
  • The driver
  • Personal property
  • Truck fuel
  • Reefer fuel
  • The trailer
  • Product in the trailer

To illustrate, check out this short use case. You’re driving a truck that weighs 14,000 pounds (including yourself, your personal property, and fuel), and your trailer weighs 13,000 pounds. You have a standard two-axle trailer, which means you can legally weigh 80,000 pounds. The difference between the GVWR and your current weight is 53,000 pounds, so that’s how much cold chain freight you can carry.

What’s a reefer trailer used for?

A variety of cargo needs to be kept at a constant temperature during cold chain transportation in order to ensure safety and quality. Refrigerated trailers haul this cargo.

Common types of cold chain or perishable cargo include: 

  • Food and beverages. This is the most common type of cargo transported in refrigerated trailers. This includes everything from fresh produce to frozen food.
  • Pharmaceuticals. Medications are often temperature sensitive and must be shipped in a controlled environment to maintain potency and/or effectiveness. 
  • Hazardous materials. To remain stable, some chemicals and other hazardous materials must not exceed certain temperatures. They’re shipped in refrigerated trailers to ensure safety during transportation.
  • Electronics. Some electronics can be damaged by extreme temperatures. This sensitive electronic equipment is often shipped via refrigerated trailers. 
  • Artwork. High-value works of art can be at risk in uncontrolled temperature environments. These paintings and other types of artwork are often shipped in refrigerated trailers to protect them during transport. 

Other items that should be shipped in reefers include candles, chewing gum, tobacco, and paint. Many fleets use reefer trailer temperature recorders, or trailer temperature monitoring systems, to ensure they’re delivering their products in the ideal environments and staying in compliance.

Reefer trailer compliance

The temperatures at which certain goods must be stored during cold chain transportation, such as human and animal food, fall under federal regulations. 

All companies that are involved in cold chain transport, or transporting temperature-controlled foods, must adhere to the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food as cited in the FSMA mandate. These companies must:

  • Maintain adequate temperature controls to ensure food safety.
  • Retain records of transportation conditions for 12 months.
  • Provide the operating temperature to the receiver and demonstrate that it has maintained temperature conditions during transportation.

The Motive reefer monitoring solution

Motive Reefer Monitoring improves cold chain compliance, profitability, and the productivity of businesses by centralizing the management of reefer trailer fleets. Our Thermo King Integration helps you analyze live and historical telematics like fuel use, fault codes, and reefer telematics to proactively address any issues.

Learn more about the difference Motive Reefer Monitoring can make in your reefer trailer operations. Contact us today.