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Heavy Haul

Refrigerated Trucking: Pros, Cons, and Best Practices

Refrigerated trucking companies provide a valuable service for our country. By transporting fresh produce, groceries, medical supplies, and other temperature-sensitive goods, refrigerated trucks make it possible for stores to keep their shelves stocked and consumers to buy what they want.

A significant percentage of the trucks you see on the highway are refrigerated trucks (reefer trucks as they’re known in the industry).

reefer freight

What is refrigerated trucking?

Refrigerated trucking companies haul freight that requires temperature-controlled transportation. Trailers have a built-in cooling system to maintain the required temperature throughout the journey to ensure cargo is safely transported. 

A refrigerated trailer can typically handle any temperature setting, including keeping things frozen, regardless of outside temperatures. This protection is especially important in warm-weather climates when shipping produce, frozen goods, or non-perishable items.

Pros of refrigerated trucking

In the refrigerated trucking business, goods must be handled, stored, loaded, and unloaded properly to minimize damage and spoilage. Distribution centers, food processing facilities, and grocery chains typically handle thousands of pounds of cargo every day, so they tend to be well-organized and efficient. This makes loading and unloading much easier.

Refrigerated trucking is also in high demand, commands better rates, and reduces deadhead miles.

High demand

Reefers are almost always in high demand. There is a consistent need for fresh food and to move products to market quickly, even during economic downturns. Refrigerated trucking was one of the cargo types that rebounded fastest from the pandemic declines. 

Better rates

Reefer rates are typically higher than dry van freight rates. National average reefer freight rates are currently around $2.97 per mile. Although rates can vary by region and season, refrigerated trucking consistently offers top dollar.

Reefer load rates tend to be lowest in the Southeast and highest in the Midwest. They also vary depending on regional growing seasons. Demand goes up when there’s more fresh produce, so prices increase as well.

Fewer deadhead miles

One of the biggest benefits of reefers is flexibility. You can also haul dry products. Combine that with the high demand for refrigerated trucking and you can greatly reduce deadhead miles. If a refrigerated load isn’t available when you need to move, just shut off the generator and run the trailer dry. This flexibility can help you expand your business, reduce deadhead miles, and generate more revenue.

Cons of refrigerated trucking

While reefer loads generate more revenue, they also come with some challenges.

More requirements

Picking up temperature-controlled freight can take longer than dry loads because you need to meet more stringent requirements. For example, you need to ensure your trailer is at the required temperature before any cargo is loaded. Dock managers will check the temperature before loading.

reefer truck

If you have a short trip to the pick-up spot and you don’t pre-cool your equipment, you can be in for a long wait. Loading can also take longer. Some produce and groceries need more careful handling and ship on smaller skids or crates.

Extra vehicle maintenance

One breakdown can cost you time and money. You’ll need to make sure your trailer is always in good operating condition. This means checking oil, Freon, and other fluids regularly and getting regular check-ups to make sure everything is working properly.

Reefer cargo is also typically messier than dry cargo such as wrapped palettes, so reefers need more regular cleaning.

Additional insurance needs

Losing a load is expensive, especially if it is due to equipment malfunction or poor maintenance. You can buy breakdown insurance to help mitigate any out-of-pocket expenses. Breakdown insurance can be expensive, but it is critical for the refrigerated trucking business.

Refrigerated trucking best practices

Reefer drivers and carriers can reduce downtime, increase profit margins, and build a great reputation by following a few refrigerated trucking industry best practices.

Identify temperature requirements.

Always remember to confirm temperature requirements for all reefer loads. Ask these questions:

  • Is it frozen or does it just require refrigeration?
  • Do you need to limit or maintain heat?
  • What is the acceptable temperature range?

If your cargo is perishable, you also want to check the expiry date and time frame for delivery listed in the lading instructions. Cargo recipients might refuse to accept a shipment if the dates have passed. Make sure you can deliver within the time frame before accepting a load.

Pre-cool your trailer.

Leave enough lead time to pre-chill your reefer and make sure it reaches the right temperature before you arrive at the pick-up destination. This can help avoid long wait times.

Load reefer freight quickly.

The longer your trailer doors are open, the harder it is to maintain temperatures inside. While you do have to load cargo carefully to avoid damage, you also have to load it quickly and efficiently. Check with the dock manager that your cargo is available and ready to load before you back up to the dock and open your doors.

Monitor shipments closely.

Units should be fitted with temperature gauges and monitoring systems so you always know the temperature inside your trailer. Redundant monitoring helps avoid spoilage and adds an additional layer for safety and security.

Use climate monitoring tools before pickup and during shipments to keep your trailer in the right zone at all times during transport.

Follow unloading procedures.

The same strategy applies to unloading cargo. You want to unload freight quickly and efficiently, using best practices to reduce any possibility of damage. You will have the same temperature concerns when it is time to unload, so make sure the recipients are ready for the freight before you open up the doors.

Keep jumper cables nearby.

Since the reefer is separate from your tractor, it draws power from its own set of batteries. If reefer batteries fail, your load is in danger. Running a set of quality jumper cables from your tractor to your reefer can help keep loads safe until you can get help.


Here are a few answers to the most commonly asked questions about refrigerated trucking.

Do reefer loads pay well?

Typically, reefer loads pay more money. Since fresh food and medicine is always in demand, there’s a consistent need for refrigerated trucking services. Many require long-haul transport, which also usually means more money.

Can reefer trucks ship LTL loads? 

LTL shipping in the refrigerated trucking industry is common.

Can reefer trucks ship freight that doesn’t need to be temperate controlled?

Reefer trailers can easily accommodate non-temperature-controlled freight. This is also a common practice to maximize profits, especially for backhauls.

Use a load board to find the best reefer rates.

Truckstop.com Load Board for Carriers and Truckers

Truckstop.com makes it quick and easy for carriers and owner-operators to find refrigerated loads, whether you’re an independent or one of the top 10 refrigerated trucking companies.

Every day, our load board lists tens of thousands of well-paying reefer loads. They are served up in real-time and ready to book. With Truckstop.com, you can easily find trusted brokers and shipping partners specializing in perishable freight. You also get detailed information on routes, rates, and requirements.

We give you the tools and technology you need to keep your reefer earning money.

Find the right loads fast.

Search our load board. Try before you buy.

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To learn more about how the Truckstop.com Load Board can help grow your business, get a demo today.

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