Spec’ing Trailers

| November 01, 2001

Running your own trailer has the potential to increase your revenue and profitability, and is often the key to operating independently. Along the way will come such appealing benefits as the opportunity to personally maintain the unit with great care, thus minimizing downtime.

Determine your needs
The flatbed is the standard owner-operator trailer. But there is also the dropdeck. This type of trailer is of course designed to allow hauling a load that’s tall enough to cause clearance problems at underpasses. The lower deck also helps keep the center of gravity at a safer level when hauling high loads.

The sales ratio between flatbeds and dropdecks is 4-to-1 at Transcraft Corp. of Anna, Ill., according to David DePoincy, company president. Lowell Morgan, assistant to the chairman at Ravens Trailers of Kent, Ohio, says that even though flatbeds there still outsell dropdecks by a wide margin, “We see growth in dropdecks because there are readily available designs that can haul as much as 48,000 to 50,000 pounds. Using a dropdeck reduces deadheading when the user carries a lot of bulky loads.”

The problem is that the dropdeck “is not as versatile as a flatbed, and can be hard to load from the side when the trailer is down in a pit,” adds Morgan.

An ideal compromise, says Kelly Zecha, sales manager of Doonan Trailers of Great Bend, Kansas, is to use load stands on what is sometimes called a “stepdeck”-type dropdeck. This means a trailer with a flat deck that runs all the way to the rear once the drop has occurred, as opposed to the “double drop”-type trailer where there is a second drop just forward of the rear suspension. Load stands can allow users to carry a long load that’s not too high.

Transcraft offers a “load leveler system” that will also allow a load as long as the trailer to be carried on a dropdeck.

So, the key to picking among flatbeds and single and double dropdecks is to figure out what kinds of loads you’ll need to carry. This means starting out with a marketing plan based on past experience with both your primary shippers and sources of backhauls, and knowing just how much of each type of load you haul. An interesting observation comes from DePoincy, who says most of Transcraft’s fleet customers buy nothing but flatbeds. That suggests that the smart owner-operator may be able to find and operate in market niches relating to running a drop- or stepdeck and being able to haul specialized cargoes.

You may even want to buy a van – Morgan has seen owner-operators who run them. But DePoincy says the more common solution is a side kit, possibly with a tarp system that “saves time and effort for drivers when their load requires protection from the elements.”

There are many variations of dropdecks like these made by Ravens.

Dimension decisions
Here again, marketing planning will help you. You need to have a very good idea of what roads you’ll be running on. Morgan observes, “There are so many states and localities that have limits.” Zecha points out, “Trailers that work in virtually all the states won’t go into California under its guidelines.” For these reasons, Morgan says a 48-foot x 102-inch size “is the best all-around choice,” and all agree that it’s their most popular size. If you know you are going to be shopping for loads of all kinds because your hauls aren’t dedicated to one or a few shippers, this is likely the way to go.

There are big advantages to running a smaller unit if you’re going to be hauling heavy loads like steel coils that gross out weight-wise in very little space. DePoincy tells us, “If you have a dedicated haul that does not require a 48-foot or 53-foot x 102-inch trailer, you can save money by hauling a 42-foot or 45-foot x 96-inch unit.”

CPM vs first cost
As in every other area of trucking, spending more at the outset sometimes carries with it advantages that can more than pay for themselves in the long run. There are three types of trailers in terms of the materials used in their construction: all-steel, all-aluminum and composite. The composite, of course, uses each of these two materials in the areas where the designers feel it can do the most work for the least cost and help yield the best compromise in terms of weight.

Ravens makes all-aluminum trailers, and provided a worksheet to illustrate the way long-term cost savings can reduce overall cost per mile with all-aluminum if you keep a trailer for, say, 10 years, and can consistently use the extra payload capacity. The sheet begins with a composite trailer costing $24,600 and an all-aluminum unit costing $29,600. The Ravens figures are based on: higher resale value; maintenance savings (much of it due to a reduced need for painting); fuel cost savings because of lower weight; and the opportunity to carry more payload. The Ravens figures crunch down to a savings of slightly over $4,000 per year during a timeframe of 10 years. Ohio owner-operator Earl Evans swears by his all-aluminum trailer not only because of these advantages, but because he feels its shiny, image-enhancing appearance and ability to fit heavier loads help him to get more business and gross more dollars.

Spec'ing Trailers

| November 01, 2001

Running your own trailer has the potential to increase your revenue and profitability, and is often the key to operating independently. Along the way will come such appealing benefits as the opportunity to personally maintain the unit with great care, thus minimizing downtime.

Determine your needs
The flatbed is the standard owner-operator trailer. But there is also the dropdeck. This type of trailer is of course designed to allow hauling a load that’s tall enough to cause clearance problems at underpasses. The lower deck also helps keep the center of gravity at a safer level when hauling high loads.

The sales ratio between flatbeds and dropdecks is 4-to-1 at Transcraft Corp. of Anna, Ill., according to David DePoincy, company president. Lowell Morgan, assistant to the chairman at Ravens Trailers of Kent, Ohio, says that even though flatbeds there still outsell dropdecks by a wide margin, “We see growth in dropdecks because there are readily available designs that can haul as much as 48,000 to 50,000 pounds. Using a dropdeck reduces deadheading when the user carries a lot of bulky loads.”

The problem is that the dropdeck “is not as versatile as a flatbed, and can be hard to load from the side when the trailer is down in a pit,” adds Morgan.

An ideal compromise, says Kelly Zecha, sales manager of Doonan Trailers of Great Bend, Kansas, is to use load stands on what is sometimes called a “stepdeck”-type dropdeck. This means a trailer with a flat deck that runs all the way to the rear once the drop has occurred, as opposed to the “double drop”-type trailer where there is a second drop just forward of the rear suspension. Load stands can allow users to carry a long load that’s not too high.

Transcraft offers a “load leveler system” that will also allow a load as long as the trailer to be carried on a dropdeck.

So, the key to picking among flatbeds and single and double dropdecks is to figure out what kinds of loads you’ll need to carry. This means starting out with a marketing plan based on past experience with both your primary shippers and sources of backhauls, and knowing just how much of each type of load you haul. An interesting observation comes from DePoincy, who says most of Transcraft’s fleet customers buy nothing but flatbeds. That suggests that the smart owner-operator may be able to find and operate in market niches relating to running a drop- or stepdeck and being able to haul specialized cargoes.

You may even want to buy a van – Morgan has seen owner-operators who run them. But DePoincy says the more common solution is a side kit, possibly with a tarp system that “saves time and effort for drivers when their load requires protection from the elements.”

There are many variations of dropdecks like these made by Ravens.

Dimension decisions
Here again, marketing planning will help you. You need to have a very good idea of what roads you’ll be running on. Morgan observes, “There are so many states and localities that have limits.” Zecha points out, “Trailers that work in virtually all the states won’t go into California under its guidelines.” For these reasons, Morgan says a 48-foot x 102-inch size “is the best all-around choice,” and all agree that it’s their most popular size. If you know you are going to be shopping for loads of all kinds because your hauls aren’t dedicated to one or a few shippers, this is likely the way to go.

There are big advantages to running a smaller unit if you’re going to be hauling heavy loads like steel coils that gross out weight-wise in very little space. DePoincy tells us, “If you have a dedicated haul that does not require a 48-foot or 53-foot x 102-inch trailer, you can save money by hauling a 42-foot or 45-foot x 96-inch unit.”

CPM vs first cost
As in every other area of trucking, spending more at the outset sometimes carries with it advantages that can more than pay for themselves in the long run. There are three types of trailers in terms of the materials used in their construction: all-steel, all-aluminum and composite. The composite, of course, uses each of these two materials in the areas where the designers feel it can do the most work for the least cost and help yield the best compromise in terms of weight.

Ravens makes all-aluminum trailers, and provided a worksheet to illustrate the way long-term cost savings can reduce overall cost per mile with all-aluminum if you keep a trailer for, say, 10 years, and can consistently use the extra payload capacity. The sheet begins with a composite trailer costing $24,600 and an all-aluminum unit costing $29,600. The Ravens figures are based on: higher resale value; maintenance savings (much of it due to a reduced need for painting); fuel cost savings because of lower weight; and the opportunity to carry more payload. The Ravens figures crunch down to a savings of slightly over $4,000 per year during a timeframe of 10 years. Ohio owner-operator Earl Evans swears by his all-aluminum trailer not only because of these advantages, but because he feels its shiny, image-enhancing appearance and ability to fit heavier loads help him to get more business and gross more dollars.

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