Your Ultimate Guide to Buying a Reliable Used Reefer Trailer

(Read or Listen) Oust some lemons from your reefer trailer buying experience with this helpful guide.

used reefer trailers for sale

Table of Contents

Imagine the frosty breath of winter captured and harnessed into a colossal box on wheels.

A used reefer trailer (the industry term of "refrigerated trailer") is just that—a mobile cold storage unit vital for the transport of perishable goods across vast distances.

But finding one that combines reliability with value requires a keen eye and informed decision-making.

In this buying guide, let's check out the process of buying a used reefer trailer—delving into inspection checklists, maintenance records, and the crucial step of professional evaluation.

We'll end this guide by checking out some of the best places to find quality models—from auctions to online platforms—where you can find one (or many) for a company for sale or rent.

Disclaimer: Spot Lemons, But Let the Pros Greenlight Winners

Before we hop in, we'd like to clarify that while this guide can help you save potentially thousands in inspection fees by helping you exclude clear losers, it should not be the final say before picking a winner. Always run any used commercial equipment you want to buy past an experienced mechanic. They can spot red flags you may have missed and provide additional insights on said model. We'll speak more at length about what this looks like later in this article.

Ok, enough intro—let’s help you select the best used reefer trailer for your needs.

Inspecting the Reefer Trailer

When looking for a used reefer trailer to buy for your needs, a careful inspection is needed to ensure functionality and value. Examining reefer trailers for sale is a multi-faceted process encompassing several key inspections that safeguard the integrity of the trailer and, in turn, protect the perishable cargo it's intended to carry.

used vanguard reefer trailer for sale 

Inspecting the Reefer Unit

The heart of a reefer trailer lies in its refrigeration system, making proper functioning non-negotiable. Before embarking on any journey, a rigorous self-diagnostic pre-trip on the reefer unit should have mandatory to uncover any mechanical discrepancies.

refrigeration unit on reefer truck

To quickly inspect a reefer unit, start by turning it on and checking if it runs smoothly without odd noises. Look for any signs of damage or leaks around the unit's hoses and belts. Make sure it can reach and hold the desired temperature by setting it and checking a few minutes later.

Examining the Trailer Body

The structural physique of the reefer trailer equally demands a comprehensive examination. Look for signs of external damage or leaks. Door functionality is critical—hence, hinges, seals, and latches must be in good condition for security and proper temperature control. The trailer floor should be inspected for damages or deformities that could jeopardize the safe transport of goods.

inspecting reefer trailer body damage

The landing gear must be fully functional and stable. Tires, wheels, and mud flaps need to be in good condition, not showing signs of excessive wear or damage, which could indicate deeper hidden issues.

reefer trailer landing gear

Assessing Temperature Control Features

Precision in temperature control can make or break the effectiveness of reefer trailers. Advanced cooling systems safeguard cargo temperature during transit, so their functionality is a main concern.

Modern reefer trailers often come with insulation and refrigeration units crafted by top-tier manufacturers such as Thermo King or Carrier. Make sure the trailer is outfitted with quality insulation for maintaining desired temperatures.

Ensuring Overall Trailer Condition

The final step in the inspection process is assessing the reefer trailer's overall condition. A thorough checklist includes trailer identification, its general state, and scrutinizing the temperature control system's functionality. While both reefer trailers and dry vans offer solutions for transporting temperature-specific goods, it is crucial to select the right model that is best for moving the type of perishable cargo you intend to haul.

Again, enlisting a mechanic's expertise for a detailed inspection can uncover potential concealed issues, such as leaks and rust, that may elude your inspection.

Inevitably, the upkeep of a reefer trailer should be a collaborative effort between drivers and fleet managers, with each party playing a critical role. Confirm this has been the case with the seller.

By following these inspection guidelines and maintaining vigilant oversight of the reefer trailer's condition, buyers can ensure that their investment remains a beneficial asset for their business, capable of delivering goods at their peak quality.

Checking Past Maintenance and Upkeep

To ensure that a reefer trailer continues to operate efficiently, it is advisable to inquire about its past maintenance and upkeep. Proper maintenance records provide a clear picture of the trailer's health and can signal how well the trailer has been taken care of over time.

Checking Repair and Maintenance Documentation

Documentation is the backbone of a used reefer trailer's history. It sheds light on the rigor of previous maintenance efforts and repairs, giving buyers confidence in the trailer's condition. These records are critical for understanding what work has been performed, including routine maintenance and any major repairs, offering reassurance that the trailer is up to industry standards.

Ensure that the reefer trailer has accompanying paperwork detailing its service history, and verify the authenticity and completeness of these documents to make an informed decision.

Addressing Mechanical Issues

Be direct and specific when bringing up a mechanical issue with a seller. Express your interest in the trailer, but clearly state the problem you've found and ask for clarification on its history. You can use this information to negotiate the price—either requesting the seller fix it prior to purchase or proposing a lower price to cover your future repair costs. Maintain a respectful and professional tone throughout the conversation.

Monitoring Energy and Fuel Efficiency

When considering a specific reefer trailer, start by checking the model name and number of the refrigeration unit—such as if the unit is a Thermo King, what model, style, and the like. Look for its efficiency rating and fuel consumption on the manufacturer's website or in independent reviews.

Also, examine the reefer unit's control panel for any energy-saving settings or efficiency indicators. During your walk-around inspection, check the belt condition, as a worn belt can impact the refrigeration unit's efficiency. Finally, ask the seller about their average fuel costs while using the trailer, giving you a real-world idea of its energy efficiency and overall cost of ownership.

reefer trailer control panel

Importance of Professional Inspection of Reefer Trailer Before Buying

So, you've narrowed your reefer trailer list to a few select models using some of the information in this guide. Excellent! Now, it is time to pass those trailers onto a professional mechanic for inspection.

Why Do I Need a Professional Mechanical Inspection?

While do-it-yourself guides and checklists can provide a framework for assessment, they pale in comparison to the specialized and experienced eye of a professional trailer mechanic. Expert mechanics can engage their knowledge and expertise to offer comprehensive evaluations—signaling whether a used reefer trailer represents a wise investment or could be a potential money pit.

What a Professional Reefer Trailer Inspection Looks Like

Professionals conduct detailed examinations of the refrigeration unit, air chute system, and temperature control mechanisms—along with checking the trailer body for structural integrity.

Key components of focus during a professional inspection include:

  • Refrigeration unit and temperature settings
  • Structural integrity of the trailer body
  • Status and condition of tires and tire inflation systems
  • Operational efficiency of fuel tanks and fuel efficiency skirts
  • Checking for fluid leaks and mechanical issues
  • Verification of maximum weight compliance and load scales
  • Ensuring trailers lights and electrical systems are functioning
  • Determining the condition of the trailer floor and doors

By insisting on a professional mechanical inspection, companies place themselves in a position of informed confidence when considering a used reefer trailer for sale, safeguarding their investment and operational needs.

Finding a Used Reefer Trailer for Sale

In the world of cold chain logistics, finding a used reefer trailer for sale presents an array of options, ensuring you locate the right fit for your business needs and budget.

Whether you're a fleet manager looking to expand your capabilities or an independent operator seeking cost-effectiveness, the right reefer trailer is out there.

Depending on your preference, you can explore dealerships, auctions, private sellers, and online marketplaces—each offering unique advantages. These sources cater to different requirements, from price points to trailer conditions, providing you with the flexibility to choose based on your specific criteria.

Used Reefer Trailer Dealerships

For those who prioritize a blend of reliability and selection, used reefer trailer dealerships are prime locations. Renowned establishments boast a diverse assortment of reefer trailers from trusted brands.

Dealerships not only provide a variety of options but can also retrofit trailers with new cooling units, adapting to your specific refrigeration needs.

What sets reputable dealerships apart is their commitment to quality. In many instances, each used reefer trailer undergoes thorough inspection and certification, particularly focusing on the suspension and internal systems to ensure peak performance.

Buying Used Reefer Trailers at Auction

With online auction platforms, it's simpler than ever to find a reefer trailer that aligns with your budgetary constraints. This approach, however, demands diligence. Prospective buyers must research and engage with reputable auction sources to avert scams.

Buying Used Reefer Trailers from Private Sellers or Companies

Companies and private sellers can be a goldmine for deals—often listing used reefer trailers at substantially lower prices than dealerships or auctions. However, here is especially when it pays to be cautious.

When dealing with private sellers, the duty of inspecting the reefer unit, the heart of the trailer, and the rest of the components, falls on you without much wiggle room for recourse. Tackling any pre-existing issues before you buy is the best way to prevent inheriting unresolved problems that could compromise the integrity of your perishable cargo.

Using Online Marketplaces to Find Used Reefer Trailers for Sale

Online marketplaces streamline the pursuit of a used reefer trailer by offering expansive inventories accessible at a click. These digital platforms enable buyers to scout out deals, compare prices, and assess conditions all from the convenience of a computer or mobile device.

By filtering the vast selection, drivers and fleet managers can zero in on the types or brands of trailers that best suit their needs. When diving into online marketplaces, ensure you're engaging with credible sellers to dodge the pitfalls of overpricing or scams. With judicious use, online resources can be instrumental in securing a suitable used reefer trailer, ensuring profitability and efficiency in your transport endeavors.

Frequently Asked Questions About Inspecting and Buying Used Reefer Trailers

What should I look for when buying a used reefer trailer?

Let's summarize what to look for when buying a used reefer trailer:

  • Structural Integrity: Check for damage to the frame, walls, roof, and floor. Look for signs of leaks, rust, and prior repairs.
  • Reefer Unit: Test the unit's functionality, run hours, and fuel efficiency. Inspect for leaks or damage. Consider emissions regulations in your area.
  • Tires & Brakes: Assess tread depth, brake wear, and overall condition.
  • Maintenance History: Request records to understand past service and potential issues.
  • Overall Condition: A thorough inspection will reveal any cosmetic or hidden problems that could impact the trailer's value and performance.

What is the average life of a reefer trailer?

The average lifespan of a reefer trailer is around 8 years, which generally translates to about 40,000 hours of use. This lifespan depends on factors like the frequency of use, quality of maintenance, and operating conditions. Well-maintained reefers can last longer, while those subjected to harsh conditions may have a shorter lifespan.

What is considered high hours on a reefer trailer?

Reefer trailers with over 30,000 hours on the refrigeration unit are generally considered to have high hours. High-hour reefers are more likely to need significant repairs and may be less reliable overall. When purchasing a used reefer, it's wise to prioritize trailers with lower hours for better long-term performance and reduced maintenance costs.

Look at You, You Used Reefer Trailer Pro!

If you made it this far, consider yourself an informed used reefer trailer buyer!

However, this guide isn't meant to be your last step before signing on the dotted line—just to help you spot a lemon before paying a professional mechanic to tell you.

Once you're ready to begin shopping for used refrigerated trailers for sale, your friends from My Little Salesman have your back. Since 1958, My Little Salesman has been connecting buyers and sellers of semi trailers, commercial trucks, heavy equipment, parts, accessories, and much more.

Find Your Next Used Reefer Trailer for Sale Now

By on
About Ken Lane
Ken’s affinity for the heavy equipment industry was fostered as a curious youngster—becoming happily lost on his grandfather’s tractor sales and service lot (his favorite color is still Allis-Chalmers Orange). Since then, he’s perfected the art of turning black coffee into helpful buyer resources and marketing materials for My Little Salesman.
More in Buying Guides