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The Ultimate Guide to Cargo Shipping Containers

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Cargo shipping containers have revolutionized the global trade and logistics industry. These large and sturdy metal boxes have become indispensable for transporting goods across oceans and continents. However, their utility extends far beyond cargo transportation alone. In this blog, we’ll explore the many advantages of shipping containers, the different types available, their diverse uses, how to obtain them and some important terminology associated with them.

The History of The Cargo Shipping Container

Malcom McLean invented shipping containers in the 1950s. These incredible steel boxes are portable, secure and resistant to severe weather conditions. In the second half of the 20th Century, shipping containers became key parts of our global economic system, transporting as much as 80% of international trade.

Southwest Mobile Storage was founded in Phoenix, Arizona in 1995. Just as shipping containers grew into a developed industry, SMS has become a trusted container provider with branch locations throughout Arizona, California and Colorado.

As leaders in high-end modified steel containers, customers in state and local government, retail, construction and the armed forces trust the work we do. Our sales and modification operations are nationwide, renting and selling containers where they’re needed most.

A forklift driving around the Southwest Mobile Storage headquarters.
Although our headquarters are in Phoenix, Arizona, we have branch locations in Arizona, California and Colorado. See a full list of our branch locations here.

Advantages of a Cargo Shipping Container

Shipping containers offer numerous benefits, making them attractive for various applications. Some key advantages include:

1. Security

Shipping containers can withstand rough seas and harsh weather conditions, making them highly secure for storing valuable goods. Additionally, most containers come with lockboxes and other features that provide an even higher level of security.

2. Cost-Effectiveness

Due to their abundance in the shipping industry, containers are a cost-effective option for transportation and storage.

3. Easy Transport

Containers are designed for efficient loading and unloading onto ships, trucks or trains, simplifying logistics.

4. Sustainability

Recycling used shipping containers for other purposes helps reduce waste and supports sustainable building practices. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar used shipping containers for this very purpose: recycling containers into a  stadium that held 44,000 spectators!

A forklift operator picks up a 20ft cargo shipping container.
20ft Shipping Containers are sometimes called TEUs, or Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units.

20ft Shipping Containers

A common shipping container size is the 20ft container. Its moderate size makes it useful for residential, commercial and industrial applications.

You can move shipping containers 20ft or shorter in length, even when loaded. If there’s a possibility that you will need to move your stored material from one place to another, consider buying or renting a 20ft shipping container.

40ft Shipping Containers

The 40ft shipping container is the standard size for most international cargo shipments. Its larger capacity makes it ideal for transporting bulky goods. We cannot move 40ft containers while loaded, so 40ft containers are best for long-term storage.

Modified Shipping Containers

Shipping containers can be modified and customized to suit specific needs. You can transform them into portable offices, pop-up shops and more. The possibilities are endless.

Uses for a Cargo Shipping Container

The versatility of shipping containers opens a wide range of applications. Containers are used wherever secure temporary storage is needed. Construction sites, retail stores, hospitals and more use them to keep stored material protected and close to where it is needed.

How to Buy or Rent Shipping Containers

When considering purchasing or renting shipping containers, you should consider several factors:


Decide between one-trip, as-is, or wind and weather-tight containers based on your needs and budget. If you’re using the container for a long-term project, you might want to buy a newer container with minimal wear.

However, if appearances don’t matter, wind and weather-tight containers will keep stored materials as safe as a one-tripper. Ensure that the container size you decide on has enough space for everything you plan to store.


Plan how the containers will be delivered to your location. You should clear the area and open any gates that may inhibit our truck’s delivery route.

Our skilled CDL drivers initiate container deliveries from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday. Should you require an alternative timeframe, we will make every effort to oblige.

We furnish a two-hour delivery timeframe with an optional 30-minute advance notification call prior to arrival.

Cargo Shipping Container Grades

Shipping containers grades are based on their condition, and these grades can affect their price and suitability for specific purposes. These grades are not standardized and are determined by container providers like Southwest Mobile Storage.

We grade containers as grade A, B or C. Each grade is based on how the container has held up in two key areas: the number of dents and scratches and the level of rusting on the container’s interior and exterior. Grade A containers have minimal wear and tear while Grade C containers have endured more extensive weathering.

In addition to container grades, we also have different container types. These types don’t always correspond to the grading system, instead referring to the age of a container. One-Trip containers have been manufactured recently, while as-is containers are typically the oldest containers in stock.

A chart showing the classifications of cargo shipping container grades.

One-Trip Shipping Containers

These containers are the closest you can get to a brand-new container. One-Trip containers have only made one shipping journey, meaning that they’re the highest quality containers you can find.

Cargo-Worthy Shipping Containers

Used containers in good condition and suitable for international shipping. If a container is cargo-worthy, it will also be wind and weather-tight.

Wind and Watertight Shipping Containers

Used containers suitable for weatherproof storage but not for shipping.

As-Is Shipping Containers

Containers sold in their current condition, as they are, without any modifications or extensive repairs. If you’re curious if a one-trip or as-is container is best for you,

Cargo Shipping Container Terminology

While there are many things to know about what different container parts do, two container components unique to Southwest Mobile Storage demand special consideration:

1. Protective Puck Lock

We understand that when you store material in a shipping container, you’re counting on it to be secure, no matter what. Our puck lock provides a high level of security with an enclosed shackle and recessed keyhole. Paired with a slide bolt locking system, these components can stop unauthorized access to your container.

2. Slide Bolt Locking System

Our slide bolt system is resistant to tampering, forcing potential intruders to use loud, bulky equipment to break inside. A solid slide bolt provides an additional layer of security when combined with a secure puck lock.

A puck lock locked into a cargo shipping container door.
Constructed from sturdy steel, a Puck lock typically offers enhanced security compared to padlocks due to its enclosed shackle design.

Cargo Shipping Container FAQs

Here are three frequently asked questions about the services we provide:

1. What Makes SMS Different?

Unlike other ISO container firms, Southwest Mobile Storage offers a single point of contact, seamless delivery, and reliable service.

While competitors rely on call centers, we assign you a dedicated expert. Your container expert remains by your side from ordering to delivery, pickup to reorder, ensuring consistent and speedy communication.

2. What Makes Us Different From Public Storage?

When you rent or buy a shipping container, you can keep it at your location or ours. Additionally, you have a greater selection of storage sizes and a higher level of security, all for a more affordable price than what you’ll find at self-storage facilities when renting.

3. Where Can I Store My Container?

If you don’t have space for at your preferred location, we can store containers at our branch locations. We charge a small monthly fee, and you can visit our branch location anytime during regular business hours. Give us a call 24-hours before so we can prepare our yard for your arrival.

Find Deals on a Cargo Shipping Container

It’s common to find discounts on used or refurbished cargo shipping containers, especially during specific times of the year or when new container shipments arrive. Prices can change, depending on the economic environment in container-producing countries.

Speak with a dedicated container representative today, and we can provide a container quote.

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