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How to Break Into the Reefer Trucking Business: Beginner’s Guide

Launch a profitable reefer trucking business with our guide on market insights, vehicle maintenance, compliance, insurance, and effective marketing strategies.

5 mins readJanuary 24, 2024

eBook for New Truckers

Embark on an exciting journey into the world of reefer trucking – where stability meets opportunity. This beginner's guide is your roadmap to launching a lucrative refrigerated trucking business.

With the global refrigerated transport market booming and expected to reach $5.63 billion by 2028, now is the perfect time to dive in. Learn how to navigate this thriving sector, where demand for essential goods like food and medicine ensures consistent business, even in economic downturns.

Discover the secrets to leveraging specialized equipment for higher profits and stay ahead with the latest industry innovations. Ready to turn cool cargo into hot profits? Let's get rolling!

What is a Reefer Truck?

A reefer truck is a refrigerated vehicle that has been specifically designed to transport temperature-sensitive commodities. These vehicles are commonly used to transport perishable goods such as fresh produce, frozen foods, flowers, and pharmaceuticals.

Due to the perishable nature of these products, they require climate-controlled environments - this helps them maintain their quality and freshness throughout the delivery process.

Reefer trucks are outfitted with refrigeration units that can maintain a set temperature range within the vehicle's cargo area. These units may be powered by an independent generator or can be connected to an external power supply, but the purpose is to enable the trucks to be customized for specific temperature ranges, depending on what kind of goods are being transported.

Generally, these can range from anywhere between -13 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on what needs to be moved.

Here are some products that are commonly transported by reefer trucks:


Product TypeTemperature RangeDetails
Fresh Produce32°F - 41°FThis temperature range helps to maintain the freshness of the produce while preserving its nutrients and quality.
Frozen Foods0°F-10°FFrozen foods require this range to remain frozen and more importantly, to prevent thawing during transit.
Pharmaceuticals35°F-47°FSome medications require this specific temperature range to prevent degradation and ensure their efficacy.

What Should I Know About Reefer Trucks?

One of the advantages of using a reefer truck to transport goods is that it offers a certain level of flexibility that other methods of transportation may not be able to provide. For instance, a reefer truck can be equipped with side entry and rear entry doors, which makes it easier for the driver to load and unload products.

These kinds of trucks can also be outfitted with tail-lifts, which can reduce the risk of damage to products during loading and unloading.


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Reefer truck 1

What Requirements Do Reefer Trucking Companies Have to Meet?

While starting a reefer trucking business can be highly lucrative, there are also some requirements that you need to be aware of before you start shopping for your next truck.

For one, the Food Safety Modernization Act, was enacted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. This act is aimed at helping to reduce the risks associated with foodborne illness, and to make sure that all carriers follow a standardized food transport protocol - this is especially relevant given that many of the products carried by reefer trucks can cause significant health concerns if this isn't done properly.

Here's a breakdown of some of the law's provisions that will apply to you as a reefer truck driver:


Section: NameImplications for Reefer TruckersCompliance Actions
Section 111: Sanitary Transportation PracticesShippers must create procedures ensuring sanitary conditions of equipment/vehicles. Focus on bulk food transport and temperature control to prevent food safety risks.
  • Work with shippers for sanitary food transportation
  • Clean and sanitize food containers
  • Ensure proper insulation and temperature control
Section 307: Training and CertificationCarrier personnel need training in sanitary transportation, especially when carriers are responsible for transport conditions. Documentation of this training is required.
  • Undergo training in safe food transportation
  • Learn risk recognition and mitigation
  • Obtain certification after training
Section 116: Recordkeeping RequirementsMaintaining records of procedures, agreements, and training is required. Record-keeping spans transport details and incident management, not exceeding 12 months.
  • Record transport dates, times, temperatures, routes
  • Log transportation issues and corrective actions taken

Female reefer trucker

DIY Maintenance On Your Reefer Truck

As the owner or operator, you will need to understand how the four components of a refrigerated truck works so that you can repair and maintain them.

The cooling system consists of several parts, including a compressor, condenser, evaporator, and insulation:


ComponentFunctionMaintenance Tips
CompressorCompresses and circulates refrigerant gas through the system.Regularly clean the air intake and lubricate according to the manufacturer's instructions.
CondenserReleases heat absorbed by the refrigerant gas during cooling.Check for debris and clean regularly to ensure optimal airflow.
EvaporatorAbsorbs heat from the cargo space and releases it to the gas.Clean the fins regularly for optimal airflow.
InsulationMaintains a consistent temperature inside the truck.Inspect regularly for wear and tear, replacing any damaged areas promptly.

Purchase or Rent a Reefer Truck?

Once you have your Commercial Drivers License (CDL), you'll need to find a reefer truck that meets your needs. There are two main options for acquiring a reefer truck: purchasing one outright or renting one from a company that specializes in reefer truck rental. Each option has its pros and cons, so it's important to weigh your options carefully before making a decision.


“New” Refrigerator Trucks for Purchase


Here are some top suppliers of new reefer trucks in the US:

1. Ford Transit Connect: This compact van is great for small to medium sized businesses and starts at around $25,000. The refrigeration unit can maintain temperatures down to -22 degrees Fahrenheit!


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Reefer truck 2

2. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: A bit pricier, starting around $45,000, but this van has a roomier interior and can hold up to 6 pallets. The refrigeration goes down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit and has a backup power source.


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Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

3. International Durastar: For the heavy-duty needs, the Durastar is a great option. It starts around $70,000 but can hold up to 10 pallets and the refrigeration unit can maintain temperatures down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.


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International Durastar

4. Thermo King Reefer Van: This option is great if you already have a van or truck and just need to add the refrigeration unit. Prices vary depending on the size and model of the unit, but can range from $5,000 to $20,000.


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Thermo King Reefer Van

“Used” Refrigerator Trucks for Purchase


You will find an array of different prices for “used” refrigerated trucks on the internet. Below are some of the ones found which are consistent with the make, model, year of purchase, among other factors we measured:


YearNameConfigurationMileagePriceLocation
2021Carrier x4 730026 ft box5000$80,000Los Angeles
2022Thermo King28 ft box3000 miles$85,000Seattle
2021Carrier Transicold Supra 66024 ft box6000 miles$80,000Houston
2022Thermo King C60030 ft box2000 miles$90,000Chicago

Checklist when Buying Your First Reefer Truck

Regardless of whether you buy a new or used reefer truck, you’ll want to follow a complete checklist to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for:

  • Fuel Efficiency: Look for a truck that can give you at least 12-15 miles per gallon. This will save you a lot of money on fuel costs.

  • Temperature Control System: Get a truck with a top-notch refrigeration system that can keep your cargo at the required temperature range. A reliable system is a must to prevent spoilage and ensure the freshness of your products.

  • Warranty: Make sure the truck you buy comes with a good warranty that covers all the essential components like the engine and the refrigeration unit.

  • Maintenance: Find out what type of maintenance is required to keep the refrigeration unit running smoothly. Routine maintenance may include cleaning the coils, checking the refrigerant levels, and replacing filters.

  • Payload Capacity: Choose a truck that can carry the weight of your cargo. Make sure you factor in the weight of the pallets, the product, and the packaging.

  • Safety Features: Look for a truck that has excellent safety features like airbags, anti-lock brakes, and a backup camera. These features will help keep you and your cargo safe on the road.

  • Durability: Invest in a truck that can withstand the tough conditions of the road. Look for one with a robust chassis and suspension system to ensure that it lasts for years to come.
Refeer truck insurance

3. Get Insurance for Reefer Trucks

What is Refrigerated Truck Insurance?


Refrigerated truck insurance is crucial for safeguarding your business in the refrigerated trucking industry. This specialized insurance covers your truck and cargo against damages and provides liability coverage in case of accidents. As an owner-operator venturing into the refrigerated trucking business, understanding this insurance is key to protecting your significant investment.


Importance of Commercial Auto Insurance


The cornerstone of refrigerated truck insurance is Commercial Auto insurance. This policy is not only a legal requirement but also a critical safeguard for your business. It covers bodily injury and property damage liabilities arising from commercial auto accidents. Ensuring you have this coverage is essential for operating legally and protecting your business.


What You’re Covered Against


Your refrigerated truck insurance policy extends beyond just liability. It includes physical damage coverage for collision-related damages to your trucks and comprehensive coverage for non-collision incidents like theft or fire. Additionally, it provides medical payments coverage for injuries in a commercial auto accident, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and cargo insurance for refrigerated goods. Remember, coverage options may vary by state.


Getting Your Refrigerated Truck Insurance


To secure refrigerated truck insurance, certain documents are essential. You'll need the following:


1. Motor Carrier (MC) Number for interstate operations, with state-specific coverage limits for your MCS 90 filing. 2. MCS-150 and BOC-3 Filings are crucial, especially for new operators. 3. Commercial Drivers License can be a state requirement and may lead to lower insurance rates.


A CoverWallet insurance agent can provide a complete list of necessary documents and further guidance.

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Set Profitable Rates on Your Refrigerated Trucking Business

Setting your rates is an important aspect of your business. You need to consider the cost of operation, maintenance, insurance, and the profit margin you want to achieve.

One way to calculate your rates is to use a cost-per-mile (CPM) formula. This includes all your fixed and variable costs, including fuel, maintenance, insurance, and driver pay. Add up all your costs and divide by the number of miles you expect to drive in a year to get your CPM.

Here’s an example CPM formula you can use to determine a baseline rate for your services, and then adjust it accordingly based on your competition and other market factors:


Cost CategoryAmount / Calculation
Fixed Costs Per Year$100,000
Variable Costs Per Year$120,000
Expected Miles Driven Per Year100,000 miles
Cost Per Mile (CPM) Calculation(Fixed Costs + Variable Costs) / Expected Miles
CPM Calculation Breakdown($100,000 + $120,000) / 100,000
Cost Per Mile (CPM)$2.20

How to Market Your Reefer Trucking Business

You’ll want to market your refrigerated trucking business to the right audience. This will depend on what you intend to haul:


[INFOGRAPHIC] How to Market Your Reefer Trucking Business

Takeaways

  1. Understand the Market: The global refrigerated transport market is booming, expected to reach $5.63 billion by 2028. Capitalize on this growth by transporting essential goods like food and medicine.

  1. Know Your Vehicle: A reefer truck is a refrigerated vehicle designed for temperature-sensitive commodities such as fresh produce, frozen foods, flowers, and pharmaceuticals.

  1. Maintain the Right Temperature: Reefer trucks can maintain temperatures between -13 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, essential for the quality and safety of the cargo.

  1. Compliance is Key: Adhere to the Food Safety Modernization Act requirements, including sanitary transportation practices, training and certification, and record-keeping.

  1. DIY Maintenance Skills: Learn to maintain key components of your reefer truck - the compressor, condenser, evaporator, and insulation - to ensure efficiency and longevity.

  1. Obtain a CDL: A Commercial Driver's License is essential for operating a reefer truck. Requirements vary by state.

  1. Choose the Right Truck: Consider both new and used reefer trucks, focusing on fuel efficiency, temperature control systems, warranty, maintenance, payload capacity, safety features, and durability.

  1. Secure Proper Insurance: Get Commercial Auto insurance for liability coverage and to meet legal requirements. Understand what your policy covers and what documents are needed.

  1. Set Competitive Rates: Use a cost-per-mile (CPM) formula to calculate your rates. Factor in fixed and variable costs, mileage, and desired profit margin.

  1. Effective Marketing Strategies: Market your services based on the type of cargo - fresh produce, frozen food, or pharmaceuticals. Tailor your marketing efforts to each target market, such as creating a website for fresh produce transportation or attending industry events for frozen food.

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