CRTS Insights

Tips For Buying A Reliable Reefer Trailer For Your Business

Posted by David Shepherd on Jul 27, 2023 8:00:00 AM

Purchasing a reefer trailer — also known as a refrigerated trailer — is a big deal. It's a considerable investment, and if you plan to transport perishable goods, finding the right trailer is critical to ensure the quality and safety of your cargo. Nobody wants melted ice cream, after all!B10191 F (1)

In this post, you'll learn what to look for when buying a reefer trailer — from understanding the importance of reliable temperature control to evaluating the durability and efficiency of purchasing new versus used.

Whether you're a seasoned professional, considering swapping out your dry van, or are new to the industry, understanding the key factors and considerations can make all the difference in selecting a reefer trailer that meets your specific needs.

Let’s take a look at the most important questions you should ask your dealer when buying a used semi-trailer.

Related: Questions To Ask Yourself As A Owner-operator

What Is A Reefer Trailer? 

B10111 I (1)A reefer trailer, slang for refrigerated semi-trailer, is a type of semi-trailer with an insulated interior and a built-in refrigeration unit. They are most commonly used to transport goods that require a temperature-controlled environment, like fruits and vegetables, pharmaceuticals, and flowers.

How Does A Reefer Trailer Work?

The name of these semi-trailers is actually a bit misleading. Although reefer trailers have a built-in refrigeration system, they aren't designed to cool products but rather remove heat to maintain the internal temperature of the products inside. 

For example, ice cream must remain frozen, and flowers only need to be kept cool. The refrigeration system will only work as hard as it needs to maintain the proper temperature.

Three central components work seamlessly together like a finely tuned engine to ensure proper temperature control in a refrigerated trailer.


The compressor plays a crucial role in the cooling process by compressing the refrigerant gas to raise its pressure and temperature. As the high-pressure gas flows through the compressor, it becomes heated.


The high-pressure, high-temperature refrigerant gas from the compressor flows into the condenser. The condenser's primary function is to release heat from the refrigerant to the surrounding environment, causing the refrigerant to condense into a high-pressure liquid.

Evaporator Coil

The high-pressure liquid then enters the evaporator coil, located inside the cargo space of the reefer trailer. As the liquid refrigerant flows through the evaporator coil or tubing, it undergoes a phase change, evaporating into a low-pressure gas. This evaporation process absorbs heat from the cargo space, effectively cooling it down.

Small Diesel Engine

Last but not least, the refrigerator needs a power source to keep the compressor, condenser, and evaporator cycle going. While some use a small external electric unit, most use an integrated diesel engine. Electric power requires external charging. In contrast, a small diesel engine has its own fuel supply.

Related: Making Trailer Repairs

Shopping For Your Reefer Trailer

Now that you're ready to shop for a reefer trailer, here are some important factors to consider. As with most big purchases, it's better to take your time, do your research, and invest your money wisely. 

Temperature Control And Insulation

Before buying a reefer trailer, knowing what you plan to transport is important. This will ensure that the refrigeration system has the appropriate temperature control range and can maintain consistent and accurate temperatures for your cargo requirements. Look for a reefer trailer with efficient insulation materials and construction to optimize energy efficiency.

Size And Capacity Of The Reefer Trailer

Determine the size and capacity of the reefer trailer based on your cargo volume and transportation needs. Consider factors such as interior dimensions, cubic feet of storage space, and weight capacity during your search.

Refrigerator Engine Power Source Options 

The refrigerator unit's engine is available in diesel and electric. While diesel is reliable and consistent, if you plan to haul cargo that can withstand temperature fluctuations and you know your route has power sources along the way, you might be okay with an electric engine. However, before you decide, consider the operational costs and logistics of each option. 

Buying New Versus Used Reefer Trailer

Buying new is always exciting. A new reefer semi-trailer will have the latest technology, look pristine, allow for some semi-trailer customizations specific to your needs, and come with a manufacturer's warranty. 

However, you can expect a heftier price tag when buying a new versus used reefer trailer. If budget is a factor in your purchase decision, a well-built used reefer trailer will still get the job done. A used trailer checklist is a handy tool to keep with you while you shop. 

Compliance And Regulations 

To help reduce greenhouse gasses, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a "Clean Trucks Plan". This act aims to reduce the release of hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) — a harmful chemical used in refrigeration systems — into the atmosphere. 

These new regulations will impact the technology used in reefer trailers as an attempt to comply with this new reduction plan. While shopping for your reefer trailer, stay informed about relevant regulations and compliance standards and ensure your new trailer meets or exceeds these standards.

Hours On A Reefer Trailer

If you decide to buy a used reefer trailer, the number of operating hours is an important factor in assessing its condition and potential lifespan. Lower hours generally indicate less wear and tear on the unit. The average lifespan of a refrigeration unit is 30,000 to 40,000 hours. 

However, it's essential to evaluate the unit's overall maintenance and service history to ensure it has been well-maintained, regardless of the number of hours.

Thermo King or Carrier Refrigeration Units

Two of the more well-known refrigeration unit manufacturers are Thermo King and Carrier. While both have excellent reputations, they are each known for their unique qualities. 

Ready To Buy Your Reefer Trailer?

B10240 F (1)Once you're ready to invest in your new or used reefer trailer, it’s time to get out there and start looking. This part can be exhausting as it's easy to get dragged down a rabbit hole online and spend time and effort viewing trailers in person that are not as advertised

Your time is valuable. That's why CRTS, the Atlantic region's top independent semi-trailer dealership, has five convenient locations in the United States and has served happy commercial and independent truckers for over 50 years. 

Known for their high-level service of new and used semi-trailers, you'll have a greater chance of finding your reefer trailers with CRTS.

Stop by a CRTS location, shake hands with a professional and knowledgeable sales expert, and explore their fleet of reefer trailers!


contact CRTS

Behind You Since 1971

CRTS 50 years

For 50 years, CRTS, Inc. has been a trusted partner to hundreds of transportation firms. We accomplished this by putting our customers first, providing unequaled service, and offering the best semi-trailer products available. 

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