Flatbeds and dry vans are two of the most common types of trailers in the trucking industry. There are advantages and disadvantages to using each type of trailer, including the cost and type of load you can carry, among other factors.

So, how do you choose which one is a better fit for your business? Ultimately, you have to weigh all the pros and cons of each before making the determination as to which type of trailer would be better suited for the jobs you have.

Before you can make the choice, though, you need to understand what each type of trailer is, including the differences between the two.  

What is a Dry Van Freight Trailer?

A dry van freight trailer is probably the most common type of trailer in the trucking industry. There’s no doubt that you see countless of these vehicles on the road every day, especially if you travel frequently on interstates and highways.

Essentially, a dry van freight trailer is an enclosed trailer that is attached to a truck cab. The enclosed trailer is designed to protect the goods that are being transported inside. 

There is a wide range of goods that can be transported in a dry van freight trailer, including boxes, and products of all kinds shipped on pallets. Dry vans have some climate control, but not much. In other words, they aren’t typically used for temperature-sensitive loads such as food and pharmaceuticals.

The Difference Between Dry Van Freight and Flatbeds

The major difference between dry van freight and flatbeds is the enclosed structure on the back of the cab. With a dry van, the entire trailer is enclosed, which provides protection for all of the elements — wind, rain, snow and sleet.

Flatbeds, meanwhile, are open to the elements. There are no roofs on flatbed trailers, and there are sometimes no sides, either. Because of this, certain types of freight aren’t typically transported on flatbeds.

At the same time, flatbeds do provide some advantages for certain types of cargo that don’t need to be protected from weather. Larger vehicles, construction equipment and scrap metal, for instance, are all typically transported using a flatbed trailer.

The main reason for this is the advantages a flatbed offers in terms of loading. Since a flatbed has no roof, this heavy and large equipment can be loaded from the top-down using a crane or other machinery. 

Dry Van Advantages

There are many advantages to shipping freight in a dry van. The biggest advantage is the protection from the elements. With all goods shipped inside an enclosed structure, it’s as if they are being protected in a room all by themselves. The enclosed structure also provides additional safety and security, since the trailer can be locked to prevent against vandalism and theft.

A wide variety of goods can be shipped in a dry van as well, including both non-perishable and even perishable goods. What’s more, a dry van provides the opportunity to transport multiple types of goods all at the same time. This helps improve efficiency for your business.

Goods can also be packed in tightly to a dry van, as they can be stacked on top of each other and next to each other in whatever configuration works. This makes it easy to ship a bunch of goods of different sizes.

Finally, once the trailer is emptied of its goods, it can be re-attached to another cab with relative ease. This again helps to improve efficiency in the trucking industry.

Dry Van Challenges

One of the biggest challenges with a dry van is its capacity. The enclosed structure does provide some limitations in terms of what will and will not fit inside — as mentioned above with typical flatbed loads.

In addition, because it’s an enclosed structure, it can be more challenging and time-consuming to load and unload goods into a dry van. All goods have to be loaded and unloaded from the back. This requires people to load them via ramp and dollies or via a forklift and pallets.

Dry vans also aren’t typically insulated well. This means that the outside weather could influence the internal temperature of the goods being transported, especially if they are going to be in the trailer for a long period of time. 

The floor is also susceptible to damage from weather and/or moisture. This requires the goods to sometimes be placed on pallets when transported, rather than being placed directly on the ground of the bed.

Dry Van Dimensions and Specifications

The standard dry van is known as a 53-foot trailer. It usually measures about 9 feet in height, 8.5 feet in width and 52.5 feet long. A 48-foot trailer measures roughly 47-feet-3-inches long, 8-feet-3 inches wide and 9 feet tall. A smaller 28-foot trailer measures 27-feet-3-inches long, 8-feet-3-inches wide and 9 feet tall.

The larger two sizes of dry vans typically provide 26 different positions for pallets and can carry up to 45,000 pounds. The smaller of the three dry vans can carry up to 22,500 pounds.

Different Types of Dry Vans

In addition to the three sizes of dry vans listed above, straight trucks also fit into the category of dry vans. These are also commonly called box trucks. 

Most of the time, these dry vans are used for deliveries in cities or for local deliveries for residential moving companies. Many of these box trucks come with a liftgate in the back, allowing heavy equipment to be loaded from the ground up to the level of the dry van’s floor.

In many cases, these box trucks are 24 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8-feet-six-inches tall.

Different Types of Dry Van Suspensions

The two most common suspensions for dry vans are the air ride and the spring ride. 

The spring ride uses layers of steel strips that are flexible and joined all together, in what’s referred to as a “leaf pack.” This provides the trailer with the necessary cushioning it needs to carry the goods safely.

The air ride is a more modern type of suspension for dry vans. It was first introduced only about 20 years ago. It utilizes a system that includes air spring bags, valves and air lines to lift up the chassis from the truck’s axle. This suspension is commonly considered the better of the two, especially if the cargo you will be carrying is more susceptible to damage while being transported.