Selecting the right trailers for your fleet requires careful consideration and analysis of needs and conditions.

It seems like an easy decision; choose a trailer and go.

But before making the purchase, a fleet manager must determine what’s right for the application. Considerations include space and weight capacities, laws and regulations, trailer age and regional-specific requirements. Working with an industry professional and doing the appropriate research will ensure the correct fit.

The cycle of life

Naturally there are benefits to purchasing both new and used tankers or trailers. Overall, new units offer the longest life, as well as the luxury of having the exact specifications to fit an operator’s needs. Made-to-order trailers and tankers offer obvious benefits, but they also carry the highest outright cost and require a significant amount of time to manufacture.

Used fleets, by contrast, often have near immediate availability. Since used units are less expensive, carriers can purchase more with less capital. Realistically speaking, fleet owners are not always able to afford a brand-new fleet. In these cases, they often wait for another company to trade in its fleet after the typical five to seven years of use. This way, the companies taking on second ownership can keep capital expenditures low and still have a product with plenty of life remaining.

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While trailers and tankers lack the headache that can come with a motor, they are not immune to aging. Working parts become worn after years of use, which drives up the cost of ownership. For this reason, fleet managers regularly use the age of a trailer to evaluate remaining life when preparing to buy. A trailer’s age may also dictate how a carrier can use it.

New trailers are only necessary for a few industries or operators. For example, operators who need a specialized trailer often are forced to purchase new, and fleet owners who put great value into the appearance of their trailers likely prefer new, as well. It’s also an investment companies are much more likely to make when their business — or the economy — is thriving.

Depending on how they have been maintained, trailers should last up to 10 years, maybe even 15. Many fleet managers, however, only want to keep a trailer until it reaches the 10-year mark. After that, the cost of ownership is bound to rise. Most managers don’t want the burden of costly repairs, especially on a trailer that’s a decade old.

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However, a trailer that is at that point can still serve several purposes. Often, aged trailers get demoted from over-the-road transport to use for cartage and warehousing purposes. Although these trailers still need to be DOT approved, a new trailer is not necessary for companies looking to run the unit shorter distances. During this phase of the trailer’s life, it generally travels less than 100 miles at once, or stays within a company’s site.

There comes a point when a unit is no longer operable, or the cost of ownership is simply too outrageous to keep it on the road, even for shorter distances. Although fleet managers have their own thresholds for the amount of money they’re willing to put into a trailer, at some point — usually around 15 years on a well-maintained trailer — it makes more sense to retire a trailer and invest in something newer. For example, if a trailer being used for cartage purposes is in need of a $50 repair, the fleet manager may decide the trailer is worth the repair. However, if the trailer is in need of a $700 repair, the manager may decide it’s time to retire the trailer and invest that money in something that will provide more life.

When a trailer starts pushing beyond a manager’s limits for continued use, tire life can also come into play. DOT regulations specify the minimum requirement for tread depth on a trailer is 2/32 of an inch. However, most long-haul trailers should have a tread depth more in the range of 6/32 of an inch if snow is a concern, or 4/32 in the rain. Before putting any money into new tires, look closely at how much longer that trailer should conceivably be kept in the fleet. If its time is short, it may be best to trade it in, or, if it’s older, put it into cartage or storage applications.

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Specialty applications

Specialized industries, such as oil and gas or aggregate processing, require more unique trailers. For example, the oil and gas industry is booming in several regions and is requiring a substantial amount of support from the transportation industry. Due to the rapid growth, many transportation professionals are expanding their inventories and services to take advantage of the opportunity. For these specialty ventures, there are some industry-specific pointers to keep in mind.


Manufacturing tankers requires a substantial amount of welding, and since welds can be weak points in a tanker’s overall integrity, you should carefully evaluate the quality variances between tankers from different manufacturers. In addition, tanker interiors are generally lined with a temperature-sensitive material that is appropriate for holding the specific material to be hauled. Sometimes the material is applied to prevent corrosion, or to allow commodities such as crude oil, natural gas, petroleum or slurry to flow out of the trailers easier. For those purchasing a used tanker trailer, it’s important to investigate which type of coating, if any, has been applied and verify whether it can protect against the materials that will be hauled or stored in the unit.

Other important tanker details to consider with certain jobs are top-mounted walkways and handrails. They are used in some industries where products are loaded from the top and are specific to the application. In these instances, walkways add convenience for operators who want to get a bird’s-eye view of the job.

Dump Trailers

Dump trailers feature varying body styles and different dumping systems that cater to separate regions of the country. The material being hauled, operating environment, duty cycle and an available maintenance program are all things to consider when purchasing a dump trailer for oilfield or remote job site application.

A belly dump, or bottom dump, makes it possible to dump material in a linear heap as the driver moves forward. Not only is the load transferred more quickly, it is neatly piled in a 1- to 2-foot-high row that another piece of machinery can more efficiently manage. 

It is important to analyze the size and density of the material being hauled in order to specify and order the right trailer options for the application. For operations hauling very large pieces of aggregate, dumping out of the bottom may present a problem. These trailers work best with smaller materials that flow reasonably well with gravity, such as dirt, sand and small rock. Bottom-dump trailers are most commonly used in harsh, off-road and sometimes uneven applications, such as the North Central, South Central and Western states. The trailers are also ideal for job sites with limitations such as overhead obstacles.

End-dump trailers are used for rapid dumping of any material from wet, sticky clay to asphalt or large rocks or aggregates. In contrast to a bottom-dump trailer, an end dump will make a larger, more condensed pile. Users should be aware of the possible downfalls of an end-dump trailer, mainly their lack of stability during the dumping process. For this reason, end-dump trailers are safest and most useable in regions with flat, even terrain.

Vacuum Trailers

Vacuum trailers are also commonly used in fracking for sucking mud or slurry out of pits. Many of the standard 130-barrel vacuum tanks come equipped with a gauge for determining how much capacity remains. Users should note these gauges are not practical in the northern states, as they will freeze during the winter months.

Wear and tear and prevention

Potential buyers should be aware of and respect a trailer’s intended design and use. Many trailer failures are simply related to application misunderstandings and customer overloading. Pay close attention and honor a manufacturer’s rated trailer capacity in particular. 

The intended purpose for a trailer is crucial. A buyer may be best off having a dealer specify and order the right trailer options for the application. These folks tend to have a plethora of information. From the preferred age to the cost and desired industry specifications, sales associates know what to ask to make sure they get the right specs for each buyer, down to the smallest detail.

Preventive maintenance can eliminate wear, premature aging and product failure in many situations. Small things like checking lubrication and making sure electrical components are clean and functioning properly could potentially add years to a trailer’s life.

Be alert to changes in trailer operation or to equipment damage, and know a manufacturer’s warranty in the case an issue does arise. Be sure that the manufacturer has a technical support staff to assist with dealer or customer needs in advance of the purchase, and make sure that this service is offered directly to the end user as well. 

Knowing the key aspects of each industry and application, along with the assistance of an expert, should provide each customer confidence and peace of mind for every mile the newly purchased trailer will roll.

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