Refrigerated trucking is the practice of using a refrigeration unit in the cargo area of a truck to protect cargo that may be sensitive to temperatures above a certain level. The units having refrigeration can either be semi-tractor trailer combinations or straight trucks. As the refrigerated trucking units are cooled in much the same way, other factors often determine which type of truck is used for transporting the goods.
In order for refrigerated trucking to work, the storage area of the truck must first be well insulated from the outside air. To do this, steel, plastic or other non-porous materials may be used to keep cold air inside the cargo area. This also takes some of the strain off the refrigerator unit, thus saving energy and reducing the overall cost of operating the unit during transport.
The location of the refrigeration unit on most refrigerated trucking units is either immediately behind the driver’s cabin, or on top of the unit. For semi trailers, the unit is generally behind the cab. Though there may be some exceptions to this, the semis generally prefer to have the units in this location because this allows for added height on the trailer. The top is often the preferred choice for the refrigeration unit for straight trucks because it is problematic to put it in any other location.
Many different types of products may require the use of refrigerated trucking. The most common need for refrigerated trucking is in the transport of agricultural products that tend to spoil or decompose easily, such as fruits or vegetables. Of course, frozen foods also require refrigeration and usually the same units that can be used to refrigerate can also be used to freeze. Some types of photo processing equipment may also require being kept within a certain temperature range, the maximum of which would likely be exceeded by traditional trucking.
Generally, refrigeration units are made to withstand the rigors of commercial shipping so all normal loading and unloading methods are possible. This includes using forklifts and pallet trucks. Some refrigeration units have grooved floors so that airflow is not hindered by freight sitting on the floor. Therefore, some loading equipment with smaller wheels may be ineffective as those wheels could get caught in those grooves. These grooves are generally less than two inches (approximately five cm) wide.
The cost of refrigerated trucking is often higher than traditional trucking, but this is mainly because of the special equipment and added expense associated with the maintenance and upkeep of that equipment. Further, fewer refrigeration units are available at any given time, and less supply means higher prices.