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Containers Vs. Dry Van Trailers: What’s Best for You?

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You can use mobile storage containers and dry van trailers to transport cargo from one place to another. However, they differ depending on how and when you’ll want to use each option. This blog examines the uses, benefits and challenges of using both cargo systems.

How Are Trailers Used?

First, let’s start by explaining what dry van trailers are and where they come from. In 1898, Alexander Winton invented the “automobile hauler” to deliver his cars to eager customers across the country. It used a diesel engine and averaged a speed of 10.2 mph.

His invention spurred the development of the extended supply chains that connect our world. Today mobile transporters have evolved to deliver a variety of materials. The most direct descendant of Winton’s creation is the car carrier trailer, but the most versatile is certainly the dry van trailer.

Dry van trailers are a type of semi-trailer that’s enclosed and designed to securely transport materials. You can use them for a wide variety of freight shipping needs. They store and ship things like non-perishable food, construction materials and boxed goods on pallets, making the unloading process more efficient. They’re exceptionally large, coming in anywhere between 48 and 53 feet long, with 3,149-3,477 ft³ of interior storage volume.

You can use trailers for transportation, but they can also store goods for intermediate periods. They keep materials above ground level, which can help hasten loading when the trailer is backed up to a dock.

A cargo transport truck on a highway.
You can use dry van trailers, also known as semi-trailers, to transport cargo between locations while ensuring transported material is protected.

Benefits of Mobile Storage Containers

Mobile storage containers have revolutionized how we store and transport goods, offering a wide range of benefits that make them a popular choice for individuals and businesses looking for secure storage.

One of the primary advantages of mobile storage containers is their convenience. These portable containers can be delivered directly to your desired location, eliminating the need to transport your belongings to a storage facility.

Whether moving to a new home, renovating or simply needing extra space, mobile storage containers provide a flexible solution that adapts to your needs. Another benefit is the enhanced security they offer. These containers are typically made of durable materials and have robust locking mechanisms, ensuring your belongings remain safe and protected.

Additionally, mobile storage containers are weather-resistant, protecting your items from the elements. Their versatility is another advantage, as they can accommodate various things, from furniture and appliances to documents and inventory.

Containers Vs. Trailers Storage Comparison

Mobile storage containers and dry van trailers are similar in size. You can transport both on interstates with the right equipment. However, dry van trailers are typically taller and longer than mobile storage containers, meaning they may have more storage space.

Cargo containers stacked on top of each other in a lot. A sign on one of the containers reads "Southwest Mobile Storage Inc."
Cargo containers can be stacked for more efficient storage. While you require a forklift to move 20ft containers, they require less maintenance than dry van trailers.

You can load and unload containers at ground level, which can help prevent injuries during the process. Both containers and dry storage vans are wind and weather-tight, meaning you can store goods and they will be protected from damaging environmental effects.

Cargo Transport Price Comparison

You might wonder why mobile storage containers are called that if they’re not built with wheels. While it’s true that mobile storage containers cannot be moved on their own, they’re easily portable with the right equipment. Just like you need a tractor to haul your dry van trailer, you’ll need a forklift and a flatbed trailer to move a mobile storage container.

Lucky for you, Southwest Mobile Storage can transport containers that you rent from us if preferred. Generally, using a container and a flat deck trailer makes more economic sense when making short transportation journeys. For longer trips and larger storage sizes, a dry van trailer might be worth the increased cost.

According to Freight Waves, the average cost of a new dry van trailer ranges from $30,000-$60,000, while the cost of a new container is only a couple of thousand dollars. These aren’t directly comparable, but they demonstrate the price difference between the two. Even purchasing a new container and a flatbed truck to move it with would be notably cheaper than buying a dry van trailer.

It’s important to note that we can only transport loaded containers 20 feet long and shorter.

Dry Van Trailers and Flat Deck Trailers

A dry van trailer is an enclosed container with walls and a roof, providing protection from the elements. You can use it to transport general cargo, such as palletized or boxed items. On the other hand, a flat deck trailer has an open, flat surface without any sides or roof.

This type of trailer is ideal for transporting large, oversized, or irregularly shaped items that cannot fit inside a dry van. One notable advantage of a flat deck trailer is its ability to transport mobile storage containers. The containers can be securely placed and fastened onto a flat surface, making them convenient to deliver.

Whether you need to transport general cargo or require the flexibility to carry unconventional loads like mobile storage containers, understanding the difference between dry vans and flat deck trailers can help you make the right choice for your transportation needs.

A cargo transport trailer driving down a steep hill.
Dry van trailers are useful when they’re transporting cargo regularly. For storage use, however, they lack some of the benefits that containers offer. You cannot stack them and they require regular maintenance because of their complex construction.

What’s My Best Option?

You can use both dry van trailers and mobile storage containers for efficient cargo transport. The type and intended use of that stored material will determine if you’d be better served with one or the other.

You might want to consider buying or renting a mobile storage container if you:

  • Need a storage solution that’s secure but can also be moved
  • Will need stored materials in one location for the intermediate to long term
  • Want to pay minimal maintenance costs for your storage

You might want to consider instead buying or renting a dry van trailer if you:

  • Frequently transport your storage between locations
  • Would prefer to unload at a dock instead of at ground level
  • Willing to pay a higher upfront cost in exchange for easy mobile storage
  • Have a tractor that can haul a dry van trailer

Both mobile storage containers and dry van trailers can securely store material and transport it between different locations. However, depending on your preferences, you might be better suited to one or the other.

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