How Many Pallets Fit In a 53-Foot Dry Van Trailer?

Whether you’re a business owner or a logistics manager, you know the importance of getting the best value for every dollar. That includes the money you spend on shipping. 

When working with a transportation provider, you want to get the most value from every shipment. That usually means getting as much freight as possible into one truckload. 

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we want to help you get the best value for your shipping dollar — and we want you to understand the price you are paying for your shipment. 

One of the questions we are commonly asked is how much freight fits in a truck. While there’s not one easy answer to that question, we can start by demonstrating how many pallets of product (a common way freight is packed for shipping) fits in a standard dry van (one of the most common vehicles used). 

And even then, it’s not a straight answer. Read this article to learn what impacts the number of pallets that fit inside a dry van, and then learn how many pallets you can ship in your next truckload.  

What Are the Inside Dimensions of a Dry Van Trailer?

Dry van trailers are designed to be within legal load limits everywhere in the country. A standard dry van with double-doors at the back has the following dimensions

Height: The maximum height capacity of a 53-foot dry van trailer is between 108 and 110 inches, with 108 inches (9 feet) being the most common. 

Dry vans with a rolling overhead door are a few inches shorter due to the area occupied by the door. If you will require the full height of the trailer, be sure to specify the height that you need. 

Width: The maximum cargo width capacity of a 53-foot dry van trailer is between 98 and 100 inches, with 100 inches (8 feet, 4 inches) wide being the most common. 

Length: The maximum cargo length of a 53-foot dry van trailer is 53 feet long (636 inches). Some dry vans are 48 feet (576 inches) long. The 53-foot dry van is the most common; be sure to specify the vehicle length if you will need more than 48 feet. 

Weight: The maximum cargo weight of a 53-foot dry van trailer falls between 42,000 and 45,000 pounds depending on the trailer and commodity in question. Accurately specifying the weight of your commodity is a critical step in specifying your shipment. 

The enclosed nature of a dry van means that freight exceeding these dimensions can’t be shipped in a van. Larger freight requires an open-deck vehicle. 

Knowing the size of the trailer is the first step in determining how many pallets it can hold. The next step is to know the size of the pallets and how they will be loaded. 

Wondering What Dry Van Shipping Costs? >

What Are the Most Common Pallet Sizes Used in Shipping? 

The number of pallets that can fit in a dry van is determined by the size of the van and the size of the pallet. 

The most common pallet — used to move a major portion of the U.S.’ palletized freight — is the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) pallet. 

These pallets are built to meet food industry standards and measure 48 inches long by 40 inches wide and spend a good deal of time within dry vans. 

After the 48X40 GMA pallet, here are some other common pallet sizes: 

  • 42 inches wide by 42 inches long (42X42)
  • 36 inches wide by 36 inches long (36X36)
  • 48 inches wide by 48 inches long (48X48)
  • 48 inches wide by 45 inches long (48X45)

GMA pallets, and several of the other common sizes, aren’t square. This gives the shipper multiple options for loading the pallets, which helps determine how many will fit on the trailer.

What Factors Influence the Number of Pallets In a Trailer?

The number of pallets that fit on the truck depends on the size of the vehicle, the size of the pallet, and how they are loaded. 

Wait, what? 

Standard GMA pallets are not square. The way they are aligned in the trailer dictates how many pallets will fit inside. 

The way you should load your palletized freight will depend on the size and weight of the pallets you use. 

There are four ways to load pallets in a dry van: 

  1. Straight 
  2. Turned 
  3. Pinwheeled
  4. For weight distribution

methods-for-loading-dry-van-palletsDownload the free 53-foot pallet-loading guide here

What Is Straight Pallet Loading? 

“Straight” is the standard way to load pallets in a trailer. In straight loading, the pallets are loaded in the truck with the long edge parallel to the side of the truck. 

Advantages of Straight Loading Pallets

Straight loading is the fastest way to load pallets onto a truck. Pallets are loaded via forklift or pallet jack, with just enough space for securement left over. Depending on the length of the pallet, it may even be possible to load multiple pallets at once. 

What Is Turned Pallet Loading? 

“Turned” pallets are loaded so that the longest side is parallel to the doors of the van. GMA pallets are 48 inches on their long side, compared to the 8 feet, 2 inches wide of the trailer. These dimensions allow for two pallets across, with space left for securement. 

Advantages of Turned Pallets

Turned pallets can still fit two across in the van, and each row of pallets is 8 inches shorter than with standard loading. This means more pallets can fit in the van. 

And because turned pallets are fitted more snugly in the van, there is less room for shifting of contents during transit

Disadvantages of Turned Pallets

Pallets can only be loaded turned if it’s possible to handle the pallets from all four sides. Some types of pallets do not allow this, making it impossible to turn pallets. 

Depending on the size of the pallets, you may not be able to load turned pallets two across in the trailer. If, for example, the freight is slightly larger than the pallet, it will be impossible to fit two turned pallets in the trailer. 

What Is Pinwheel Pallet Loading?

Pinwheeling pallets is a combination of straight and turned pallets. In a pinwheeled configuration, one pallet is loaded straight, and the pallet next to it is turned. 

For example, pinwheeling 36X60 pallets means placing them side by side with one set length-wise (36) and the other width-wise (60). In total, the width of a dry van (102 inches) will be more than enough to move these goods.

Advantages of Pinwheeling Pallets

Pinwheeled pallets take prime advantage of both the length and width of the trailer. This method also works if the pallets are too wide to be packed two across. 

The tight packing of pinwheeled pallets also means that they are locked together, with minimal space for sliding or shifting during transit. 

Disadvantages of Pinwheeling Pallets

Pinwheeling pallets takes more time than loading either straight or turned pallets. Additional time (and skill) will be needed at both the origin and destination points. It’s possible that the amount saved by shipping additional pallets will be eaten up by increased labor costs. 

The size of the trailer, the size of the pallet and the loading method are three key factors that determine the number of pallets that can fit in the trailer. But of course, there’s one more thing to consider. 


How Weight Impacts the Number of Pallets That Fit in a Dry Van

The total weight of the loaded truck and trailer cannot exceed 80,000 pounds. After accounting for the weight of the tractor and van, the total weight capacity for a dry van trailer is 44,000-47,000 pounds. 

If your freight exceeds the legal weight limit, it cannot ship on a dry van. However, weight has to be evenly distributed throughout the trailer for safety and driveability. In addition, if all pallets are stacked in one area and the back half of the trailer is left empty, the pallets will slide around and are likely to damage the freight and the vehicle itself. 

For heavy freight, the proper way to load the pallets is by alternating a double row of pallets with a single row of pallets. Depending on the weight, you may be able to pack two double rows for every single row. As long as the weight is evenly distributed and within legal limits, there’s some leeway for the exact way to pack heavy pallets. 

But back to the original question: 

How Many Pallets Fit in a Trailer? 

Now that we’ve determined the size of the trailer, the size of the pallet and the packing method, we can finally and definitively say how many pallets fit in a dry van trailer. 

A standard dry van 53 feet (636 inches) long and 100 inches wide will fit 26 standard GMA pallets loaded straight. 

Here’s the math: 

Step 1: 636 inches (length of dry van) / 48 inches (length of GMA pallet) = 13.25 pallets = 13 pallets the length of the trailer

Step 2: Since (internally) most dry vans are 100 inches wide, you can fit two 40-inch pallets side-by-side. 

13 rows X 2 columns = 26 total GMA pallets on a 53-foot dry van. 

Now, let’s say that you want to get a few more GMA pallets onto a 53-foot dry van. 

Not enough? Remember, how the pallets are arranged is as important as the size of the pallet and truck. 

How many GMA pallets will fit turned? Let’s do the math. 

Here’s how “turning” pallets — assuming the dry van being used is 100 inches wide — works:

Step 1: 636 inches (length of dry van) / 40 inches (width of GMA pallet) = 15 pallets

Step 2: Fit two columns of pallets that are 48 inches wide across the deck of a dry van trailer. 

15 X 2 = 30 total GMA pallets on a 53-foot dry van when loading them sideways

And there’s also pinwheeling:

Step 1: 100 inches (width of dry van) - 48 inches (straight loaded pallet) = 52 remaining inches. 

Step 2: 52 remaining inches - 40 inches (straight loaded pallet = 12 remaining inches (plenty of room for securement)

Step 3: Load each pallet in a pinwheeled fashion with the 40-inch side alternating with the 48-inch side. This will leave you with seven pallets in each direction (14 total) per row with a total of 616 inches needed. Do this strategically and you’ll be able to get 28 pallets onto a 53-foot dry van trailer by “pinwheeling” them.

Whew. That’s how many standard GMA pallets fit in a dry van. What about the other sizes? 

How many 42X42 Pallets Fit In a 53-Foot Truck?

Smaller 42x42 pallets are often used to ship paint, food and beverage commodities and telecommunication materials. 

You should expect to fit a total of 30 42X42 pallets into a 53-foot dry van. 

How Many 36X36 Pallets Fit In a Dry Van?

Beverage companies often use 36x36 square pallets. You should expect to fit 34 of these pallets in a dry van. 

How Many 48X48 Pallets Fit In a 53-Foot Trailer?

Barrels of liquid often ship on 48x48 square pallets. Note that the driver may need a tanker endorsement for hauling this much liquid. 

You’ll be able to fit 26 of these pallets onto a 53-foot dry van trailer.

How Many 48X45 Pallets You Fit On a 53-foot Dry Van?

Automotive companies use these larger pallets to transport commodities to and from other manufacturing locations. 

Shippers will be able to fit 28 of these pallets inside the trailer. 

Whew. That’s a lot of information. How does it relate to price? 

How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Truck Full of Pallets? 

In the trucking industry, getting the most of each truckload means maximizing your profit. 

While it’s easy to say that a standard dry van holds 26-30 pallets of product (depending on the size and weight of the pallets and how they are loaded), that’s not the full story of how much it costs. 

The price of your shipment will also depend on your length of haul, deadlines and commodity. 

Read more about how dry van pricing is determined. If you are looking for a price for your specific shipment, contact ATS. Our team will be happy to provide a quote, and answer any questions you have about shipping pallets of freight. 

Tags: Dry Van Shipping

Amanda Garner

Written by Amanda Garner

15 years ago, Amanda started as a flatbed carrier representative with ATS Logistics and hasn't looked back. Throughout her tenure, Amanda has held a number of positions with ATS which includes time with the ATS Logistics Heavy Haul team. Today, Amanda is an operations manager overseeing the Vans department at ATS Logistics where she enjoys the relationships she's developed over the past 15 years.

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