October 13, 2021

What is dry-van shipping and what is it used for?

As any other industry, trucking has its specific terms, jargon, and standards, which are daily referenced and employed by any business interested in having its freight transported from A to B. Yet for those less induced amongst us, dry-van shipping might sound as remote and unsuggestive as flatbed, or reefer freight transportation. So let us dive in by making the distinction clear, and explaining the dry-van business and when and what it is being used for.

Dry van shipping refers to the trailer type used to haul freight. As the name suggests it is a “dry” and “van” like a vehicle, which is precisely the type of trailer you will find most trucks tow on the highway every day. They’re big, rectangular containers, hence often called box trucks, and considered the most common type of freight transportation. Designed to haul pallets or boxes of cargo, as well as most other type of non-bulky equipment, dry van essentially is a box on wheels. It’s specifically designed to handle dry freight rather than temperature-sensitive or “wet” goods. It carries things like boxed items, palleted materials, and most retail dry goods such as cereal, household supplies, and other non-perishables.

The absence of temperature control or other climate alterations in this respect is crucial, for should the dry van be fitted with such, the dry van definition transforms into a reefer, in an oversimplification of course. Refrigerated or temperature-controlled shipments differ significantly, being due to their nature some of the most complex modes of transportation in the business given the delivery time and travel distance constraints. These shipments involve a refrigerated, temperature-controlled trailer that can be kept at the requisite temperatures for frozen products (0-10°F) or refrigerated products (32-36°F). Refrigerated shipments take place at a temperature range, not at a specific degree, so if your product is sensitive to temperature variation it requires a reefer trailer. Conversely, irregular or bulky freight will usually be shipped via flatbed trailer shipping. Unlike dry-vans and reefers, flatbeds are quite a bit different, in that they are trailers with no enclosures or doors. They can be loaded and unloaded from either the sides or above, which is ideal for oversized or irregularly shaped freight and hence their designation.

Dry van trucking is often chosen for its convenience and cost advantage. In addition to being large and versatile, dry-vans protect the cargo from bad weather, potential damage, and theft. They are contracted for both full-truckload as well as less-then-truckload (LTL) shipments—benefitting from lower pricing thanks to freight consolidation (i.e. think of Uber pool kind of approach for freight). LTL allows for smaller volume shipments, meaning companies can use smaller trucks to take volumes from a variety of clients. Hence businesses aren’t forced to fill up an entire truckload with their own products and increase their costs, later passing it on to their consumers. Goods are “pooled” on the same truck to save money, fuel, and costs. For clients, LTL is generally less expensive and requires a lower minimum shipment quantity.

Dry-van shipping is hence highly versatile for a number of products. Pallets or boxes can be filled with a variety of items that can then be stacked and shipped. Dry shipments commonly include textile and clothing, non-perishable foods and beverages, plastics and materials, and most other consumer goods. Dry shipments are more common given they don’t require special handling or temperature controls, and are easy to load and unload under the “drop and hook” load system, meaning drivers can easily drop an empty trailer and hook up an already loaded one. This saves time, effort, and money. Now you know how the dry-van business operates and when it can serve you!”

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