When you drive a company truck the maintenance is taken care of for you. For some people, that’s enough of an advantage, to not have the added work of maintaining a trailer. There are many things to consider when deciding what kind of trailer will be the best fit for you.

  • Your age and physical limitations (If you’re uncomfortable bending or lifting Flatbeds may not be the best choice)
  • Earning potential
  • Maintenance costs
  • Cost of the initial investment
  • Depreciation

There are many advantages to owning your own trailer. You will avoid the fees associated with pulling a company trailer. When you are the sole owner, you know exactly what kind of maintenance it is getting, so you can be confident it is in good shape. Another advantage is you can customize your trailer to fit your specific operational needs. And finally, the earning potential is much greater when you own trailer.  The average leased owner-operator who owns their own trailer grosses about 6 percent more than those who do not (according to ATBS benchmarking data.) Dry van and reefer segments can give you a return on the initial investment in only two to three years. However, owning your own trailer is an added responsibility.

Regular maintenance is required to keep your trailer in good shape, which is an added cost. When you own your trailer, you have more of the responsibility for staying loaded. Some company drop and hook operations are off-limits so finding one can be more work. You will also most likely be responsible for the administrative costs, such as plates and insurance. Ownership costs will vary depending on the degree of use.

The three most common types of trucks are Flatbeds, Reefers (refrigerated trailers), and Dry Vans. Let’s compare these types:

  • Dry Vans:  Dry vans are probably the most common type of truck you see on the road.  Many truckers believe dry vans are easiest to drive since many carriers utilize the drop and hook. Thus the driver is not responsible for the loading and unloading. Dry vans are generally the least expensive of the trailers, and as such, can be paid off the fastest. The additional revenue is not always as high as that of reefers or flatbeds.
  • Flatbeds: Owning your own flatbed trailer is common among leased operators.  The most common flatbed on the market is a 48-foot steel-reinforced aluminum design. The ownership costs of flatbeds can be a little higher than dry vans and reefers, because they frequently carry much heavier loads. The higher intensity of sideways scrub on trailer tires in the axle configuration of the flatbed requires a deeper treaded tire. This will boost tire costs more than 50% above those typical of van and reefers. Flatbeds are usually good for at least 10 years and often longer.
  • Reefers: Refrigerated trailers, which cost twice as much as dry vans and flatbeds, take almost twice as long to break even on their cost. However, they are excellent for versatility, the ability to haul both temperature-controlled and dry freight. Ten percent is a common pay markup for leased operators who own their own reefer. On average, reefers use about a gallon every two hours, depending on how cold the interior needs to be. Reefer owners can expect to pay around $350 in yearly service costs, but will also generate approximately $800 dollars more in gross revenue every month.

All three trailers have advantages and disadvantages. When you’re choosing a trailer, make sure you’re buying what will be best for you. It’s always good to get a second opinion, but don’t make your decision on what someone else thinks would be best for you.  Owning your own trailer does increase your earning potential, but it also increases maintenance costs. Make sure the trailer you decide on is suited to the way you want to run your business.

Comments (5)

Kaitlin Cathey

Kaitlin works at ATBS with the sales team. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, from Thomas Edison State College in NJ. She was born in Colorado, but has also lived in Maryland and Illinois. Her favorite things to do are running, reading, and creative writing.

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Great information Kaitlin! Thank you.

February 22, 2013 13:52:19 PM

Good article and well researched. The car hauler trailer I presently own is a bear to maintain. With over 30 hydraulic cylinders and hundreds of feet of hydraulic hoses, it significantly adds to the cost to operate. When compared to a flatbed or step deck trailer, the little bit of extra revenue one can earn on a load of cars may not be extra when you weigh the cost to operate. I'm currently wrestling with this in my company.

December 31, 2012 16:45:55 PM

My flatbed has the automatic airing system on it. It will maintain 105 pounds of air pressure. This has saved my numerous times with nails, etc.

December 31, 2012 3:06:38 AM

I need all the info I can get to get started.

December 30, 2012 15:15:12 PM

One consideration to not overlook in trailer selection is weight. Also qualithy of wiring car minimize a lot of unnecessary grief. Some of the trailer OEM's have better wiring protection than others. Two things that we find have impacted trailers is the quality of steel as well as the impact of the chemicals used on the roads in the winter time. Between the two our fleet experinces problems with later model trailers that it did not on its older trailers. While our older trailers run on the same winter chemical roads the steel in the sub frame, suspension, etc has held up much better than trailers purchased in the last 8 years. Steel used by the OEM's from China is cheaper but does not hold up as well either. Great Dane has been a leader in developing protective coatings for its trailer suspensionsa and under carriage.

December 26, 2012 10:57:02 AM