Trailer update

Trailer update

What you need to know about used trailer programs, doors and floors.

“The biggest challenge today with used dry van and flatbed trailers is finding them,” says Frank Stewart, vice president, branches at Great Dane Trailers. “Locating used reefers is not a problem, but vans and platforms can be scarce.”

Stewart goes on to explain that relatively low demand for new equipment in some past years has meant fleets are keeping trailers longer. “We are working with the branches in our system to meet customer needs,” he relates. “We list equipment that is traded in across North America online, so our branches and our dealers can find trailers by type, region or location and help customers find equipment they need.”

“Opportunities for fleets seeking a favorable trade-in value for their existing equipment may be found through our dealer network,” says Larry Roland, director of marketing at Utility Trailer Manufacturing Co. “Our independent dealer network has invested heavily in modern facilities for sales of new and used trailers.”

Wabash National Corp., notes Kevin Nomina, used trailer fleet manager, has a Used Trailer Sales Department and maintains an inventory of dry vans, flatbeds and reefers, as well as specialty trailers. “Our customers have access to inventory online at, where they can inquire about and reserve trailers before they are released to the market,” he explains. “Our guaranteed 24-hour response time ensures that customers receive the information they need. Fleets can also submit trailers for Wabash National to purchase, helping them manage their fleet size.”

“Most fleets and used trailer buyers look for trailers that fit their needs in terms of load capacity,” says Chuck Stephens, used trailer manager at East Manufacturing Corp. “Additionally, they need to consider the overall condition of the equipment and whether their needs are short- or long-term. They also need to look at what’s available in the market, and how many “like units” they might be able to acquire.”

Issues and considerations
Finding used trailers that meet a fleet’s needs is only part of the equation. “Many sellers are offering used trailers without thoroughly going through them to assess their condition,” says Mark Sabol, director of retail sales at East. “We have our technicians look over all of our used trailers and assess their condition. We disclose our findings to prospective customers, with a disclaimer that there may be hidden defects. Regardless, all buyers should inspect the trailers as they are usually sold in an ‘as-is’ condition.”

“Corrosion is a big issue,” says Great Dane’s Stewart, “so where a trailer was operated is something to consider. Today especially, with new refrigeration unit environmental regulations, fleets buying used reefers need to think about the age of the reefer engine.”

Trailer manufacturers point to specific areas that should be considered when buying used trailers. Utility’s Roland notes the importance of effective seals on reefer doors for reducing heat loss and for designs in which door hardware is mounted without “thru-holes” into the internal foam cavity to reduce moisture entry and optimize thermal performance. For dry van doors, he also says, stainless steel frames help resist corrosion, reduce maintenance costs and increase resale value.

Robert Lane, Wabash National’s director of product and business development, says used trailers with composite doors resist corrosion and impact damage, and effective lock systems reduce maintenance costs and improve freight security.

Addressing door frame longevity at Great Dane is a new dry van design aimed at improving strength and corrosion resistance. The new standard frame for both swing and roll-up rear doors utilizes galvaneal and stainless steel components.

Galvaneal is zinc alloy coated carbon steel used in automotive applications for its ability to accept paint, the company explains, adding the alloy process bonds the carbon steel with zinc plating so the two materials act as one. Unlike galvanizing, where a zinc coating is applied over steel, this chemical process does not allow the coating to crack and flake, enhancing both durability and aesthetics of the rear frame.

On the Great Dane rear frame, galvaneal is used primarily for components that are 7-gauge or thinner in thickness, including the header, vertical posts and rear sill. The remaining exposed components are constructed of stainless steel, which is not affected by corrosion. Those typically include areas around high impact zones such as upper corners, bumper bars across the rear sill, header protection bars, hinges, and around tail lamps. Where galvaneal and stainless components meet on the new frames, stainless steel welds are used to join the two materials.

Protecting trailer floors
Several factors affect the life of laminated hardwood trailer floors. To help address the need for longer-term floor protection, Prolam offers two products:

PuR (Polyurethane Reactive) is a hot-melt coating that resists moisture intrusion from underneath the trailer, especially in climates with extreme weather conditions. Specific areas, like trailer wheel locations, are more prone to degradation. PuR, according to Prolam, provides superior moisture resistance because it has a thickness of .010 in. compared to .0035 in. for water-based coating. Its viscosity allows it to adhere perfectly to wood laminate, creating a solid bond and providing a single uniform sheet barrier against moisture under laminated hardwood floors. PuR can even “bridge” wood defects, knots and critical areas like butt-end joints, Prolam says.

Waxin trailer floor protection from Prolam is a process that heats the hardwood to expand its fibers and allow paraffin wax to penetrate the wood surface (0.060 to 0.120 in. deep). The wax then adheres to the wood fibers and when the mix cools, the paraffin hardens and coats the wood, creating what the manufacturer says is a virtually waterproof barrier of protection. It is generally applied to the area of the floor most exposed and vulnerable to inclement weather, specifically the rearmost eight feet of the trailer.

Floors are yet another area to consider on trailers. At Utility, says Roland, heavy-duty aluminum duct reefer floors feature full length hardwood floor fillers and dock board guide plates to protect the rear of the floor for lower maintenance and increased durability. On dry freight vans, hardwood flooring is pre-undercoated to extend life and weatherproof sealant is applied between every floorboard while gaskets are installed between the troughs and bottom rails for moisture leak protection.

“Although this may sound obvious,” says Rodney Ehrlich, chief technology officer at Wabash National, “fleets need to look for a floor system that fits their application. Loading a trailer beyond its floor rating can damage crossmembers and prematurely break up the floor, leading to increased maintenance costs and trailer downtime.”

Maintenance items on used trailers, according to Ehrlich, can include anything from a cosmetic issue to something more hazardous like a floor failure. “Look at the maintenance history and review what items cause the most trouble,” he advises. “On older trailers, you may notice wood rot, corrosion, delamination or, more seriously, crossmembers bending. Age also should be considered, as some woods are more sensitive than others. For example, a laminated hardwood such as maple is more sensitive to water damage compared to laminated oak.  

Final advice
When evaluating used trailers, manufacturers say it is important to discuss how your business mix may change over time. Many fleets today are diversifying for greater load flexibility and expanded service. Changes like these may require a different trailer configuration.

In today’s freight operating environment, reducing a trailer’s cost of ownership and enhancing productivity requires determining what best fits your needs and a full understanding of the future of your business. 

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