You have undoubtedly seen trucks pulling flatbed trailers down the freeway. Have you ever looked closely at their designs? If not, doing so might be a fascinating way to pass the time on your next road trip (provided you are not driving). To say that flatbed trailers are not uniform is to recognize just how different flatbed trucking is.
A dry goods van (or box trailer) is a pretty uniform piece of trucking equipment. There is not much variation. Flatbed trailers are anything but uniform. There are different kinds of trailers used for different types of loads, each one requiring the truck driver to fully understand all the finer points of load-balancing and cargo control.
If you are interested, you can learn to identify various kinds of flatbed trailers just like birdwatchers can identify their favorite species. You just need to know what to look for. According to the good folks at Mytee Products, an Ohio-based trucking supply company, seven trailer types dominate flatbed trucking.
1. The Standard Flatbed
A standard flatbed trailer is essentially the deck of a box trailer without walls or a roof. It is used to carry construction equipment, steel products, construction supplies, etc.
2. The Step-Deck Trailer
The step-deck is known by other names including ‘single-drop’ and ‘dropdeck’. It is a bi-level trailer intended to allow up to two extra feet of clearance by riding lower to the ground. The telltale mark of the step-deck is a deck that drops down at the point where it clears the back of the trailer, creating a step of sorts.
3. The Double-Drop
Also known as the double-step, the double-drop is similar to the step-deck in principle. The main difference is that double-drops have three levels. The center of the trailer sits at a lower level than either end, creating a well for oversized equipment. The advantage of this design is that it allows for hauling cargo that requires cranes to load and unload. The disadvantage is that they ride extremely low to the ground.
4. The Lowboy
This trailer can be either a step-deck or a double-drop by design. Its main characteristic is that it rides extremely low. Some lowboys are so low that they are barely above the surface of the road. Lowboys are typically used to haul extremely tall or heavy loads. Drivers must be careful about regulating their speed because of how low they ride.
5. The Stretch Trailer
As its name implies, the stretch trailer is used to carry loads that will not fit on a standard 48-foot rig. Stretch trailers can be extended up to 80 feet in most cases. They require special permits to run, and drivers often need extra license endorsements before they can take stretch trailer jobs.
6. The Side-Trailer
This trailer is a standard flatbed that is enclosed with tarps. Drivers use steel posts mounted along the perimeter of the trailer as supports for the tarps. A fully enclosed side-kit slightly resembles a covered wagon, which explains why these trailers are sometimes known within the industry by that name.
7. The Curtain-Side
Tarps also enclose the curtain-side, but one side is purposely covered with a tarp ‘curtain’ that can be folded back for easy access. The top, back, and other side are secured just as they would be on the side-kit trailer.
Now you know how to identify the different kinds of flatbed trailers you might see passing you on the interstate. Next time you are on the road, take a closer look. You might be fascinated by what you see.