Dry van trailers are the transportation industry’s most commonly used equipment type. From household goods and hospitality products to a breadth of food and beverage items, these trailers are incredibly versatile.
If you’ve got a commodity that can be loaded from the back and fits within a dry van’s dimensional confines, there isn’t a better option for moving it. Plain and simple.
Palletized commodities are shipped in dry van trailers countless times each day. And, when done correctly, hauling freight, like boxed food, in a dry van can be very budget-friendly.
That said, getting the most from your transportation dollars often comes down to planning, and you’re not sure how many pallets you’ll be able to fit into a van trailer.
This makes scheduling out the number of trucks you’ll need and budgeting accordingly next to impossible.
Here at ATS, we’ve been moving dry van commodities for decades. As a result, our knowledge on this subject knows no bounds, and we’re excited to share it with you.
Knowing exactly how many pallets you can fit onto a dry van trailer is important to your supply chain and your business’s success.
In this article, we’ll tell you about:
- The inside dimensions of a dry van trailer.
- The four different ways to load a dry van trailer.
- How many pallets you can fit on a dry van trailer.
- How your dry van rates are calculated.
Let’s get to it.
What Are The Inside Dimensions of a Dry Van Trailer?
Although these trailers come in various sizes, including 48 feet long, the 53-foot dry van trailer is by far the most common. These are the trailers you’ll use to move your palletized goods, and these are the trailers you see zooming along America’s highways most often.
When it comes to their internal dimensional capacities, here’s what you should be aware of:
Height: The maximum cargo height capacity of a 53-foot dry van trailer falls between 108 and 110 inches (from 9 feet to 9 feet, 2 inches high) with 108 inches high being the most common.
Width: The maximum cargo width capacity of a 53-foot dry van trailer falls between 98 and 100 inches (from 8 feet, 2 inches to 8 feet, 4 inches wide) with 100 inches wide being the most common.
Length: The maximum cargo length of a 53-foot dry van trailer is 53 feet long (636 inches).
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.
Because dry vans are an enclosed trailer type, any product that exceeds these dimensions can’t be moved in one. That said, these are valuable numbers to know as they directly dictate the total amount of pallets you’ll be able to fit into a dry van trailer.
What Are The Different Ways to Load a Dry Van Trailer?
The demand for dry van trailer space in our nation is only increasing and, unfortunately, its supply is not. Whether the truck driver shortage or the continuous uptick in consumerism is to blame, finding an available dry van isn’t getting easier.
To combat this pinch the trucking industry is experiencing, shippers and trucking companies have developed tactics for maximizing available dry van trailer space by loading pallets in various ways.
The way you should load your palletized freight will depend on the size and weight of the pallets you use.
To move your pallet-based dry van freight, you can either load your trailer:
- For weight distribution
Download the free 53-foot pallet-loading guide here
Let’s talk a little bit about each of them.
When To Load Your Dry Van Pallets Straight
Straight loading a dry van is a method you’ll use for all of your products that ship on “standard” sized pallets. This is the most common tactic for maximizing dry van space and is done by simply loading freight straight into the trailer with enough room for securement.
Advantages of Straight Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
Straight loading is quicker than other dry van loading methods. And, sometimes multiple pallets can be loaded at once for higher volume loads — depending on the length of each pallet.
Disadvantages of Straight Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
Loading pallets into a dry van straight isn’t usually the best use of space and often allows room for shifting during transit.
When to Load Your Dry Van Pallets Turned
Loading dry van pallets turned will work best for non-standard-sized pallets. For example, pallets that are four feet long by five feet wide should be loaded by turning them so that their planks point toward the trailer’s exit. This will allow you to fit more pallets by setting the longest side length-wise.
Advantages of Turned (Sideways) Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
Turning your pallets width-wise and loading them into a dry van is an excellent way to prevent shifting during transit as they’re a bit closer together than straight loading them would allow.
Disadvantages of Turned Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
To load pallets in this way means you’ll need to utilize pallets that can be handled from all four sides. While most pallets have these characteristics, some don’t.
Additionally, depending on the size of your pallets, there may not be enough width space to turn-load two pallets side by side, making it impossible to maximize the number of pallets that fit.
When to Pinwheel Your Dry Van Pallets
Non-standard-sized pallets can be “pinwheeled” to maximize a dry van’s space. For pallets that measure three feet long and five feet wide for example, pinwheeling allows you to get far more from a 53-foot dry van’s trailer space.
Pinwheeling pallets with measurements of 36X60 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 Pinwheel Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
Pinwheeling helps to fully utilize each dry van’s space in all directions (width and length). This is useful when a pallet’s width plus length is less than the trailer is wide. Beyond this, pinwheeling your pallets creates a system of interlocked freight which is great for in-transit stability.
Disadvantages of Pinwheel Loading Pallets Onto a Trailer
Pinwheeling your freight will be time-consuming on both the front and back ends of its journey. As such, if you’re up against the clock, pinwheeling might not be the best use of your time.
When To Load Pallets For Weight Distribution
Commercial motor vehicle regulations stipulate that the total weight of a semi-tractor and trailer, coupled with the weight of its load, cannot legally exceed 80,000 pounds.
Although this seems like a lot of weight — and it is — add in the fact that semi-tractors typically weigh between 18,000 and 21,000 pounds and dry van trailers hover around 15,000 pounds appiece and you’re left with a bit less leeway.
An empty 53-foot dry van trailer will weigh anywhere from 33,000 to 36,000 pounds, leaving you with 44,000 to 47,000 pounds to operate with.
That said, you can’t take 47,000 pounds and plop it directly onto the rear axles of the trailer. Doing so would be unsafe and, in all likelihood, hinder that truck’s ability to move. Instead, state governments set guidelines outlining legal axle weight limits for shipments across all trailer types.
For the most part, single axle dry vans can only have 20,000 pounds situated above their axle while tandem-axle trailers are allowed 34,000. These weight totals will fluctuate depending on the number of axles a trailer has, the spacing between them and the width of the dry van’s tires.
That said, for heavy palletized freight, don’t expect to haul as many pallets as you could with products where spacing isn’t an issue.
How Many Pallets Can You Fit In a Dry Van Trailer?
The total amount of pallets you can fit in a dry van changes based on the size of the pallets in question. Since dry vans move such a vast array of palletized goods — of all shapes and sizes — the length and width of pallets used are far from consistent.
That said, 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 — which are built to meet food industry standards — measure 48 inches long by 40 inches wide and spend a good deal of time within dry vans.
Assuming your pallets are 48 inches long and 40 inches wide and your dry van is 53 feet (636 inches) long and 100 inches wide, you should be able to fit 26 pallets across the floor of a dry van trailer when loading them “straight”.
This can be calculated as follows:
Step 1: 636 inches (length of dry van) / 48 inches (length of GMA pallet) = 13.25 pallets
Step 2: Since (internally) most dry vans are 100 inches across, you can fit two 40 inch pallets side by side across their decks. As such, 13.25 X 2 = 26.5 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.
This isn’t unreasonable as maximizing your shipping dollars is important to your business and shipping extra pallets LTL just won’t cut it.
Is there a way to get more pallets onto a single 53-foot dry van?
Actually, there is.
To fit more 48X40 pallets than loading them straight, consider “pinwheeling” or “turning” your products instead.
“Pinwheeling” will allow you to fit 28 GMA pallets across the floor of a van trailer while “turning” them will give you enough space to fit 30.
Here’s how pinwheeling works:
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.
Here’s how “turning” pallets — granted the dry van being used is 102 inches wide — works:
Step 1: 636 inches (length of dry van) / 40 inches (width of GMA pallet) = 15.9 pallets
Step 2: You can fit two pallets that are 48 inches wide side by side across the deck of a dry van trailer. As such, 15 X 2 = 30 total GMA pallets on a 53-foot dry van when loading them sideways.
GMA pallets only account for a portion of the total pallets used in the U.S. Many pallets are created to mirror the needs of the products moved onto them.
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)
How many 42X42 Pallets Can You Fit In a 53-Foot Dry Van?
Commodities such as paint, food and beverage items and telecommunication materials are moved using these pallets. You should expect to fit a total of 30 42X42 pallets into a 53-foot dry van.
How Many 36X36 Pallets Can You Fit In a 53-Foot Dry Van?
Most beverage companies use pallets that measure 36 inches long by 36 inches wide to ship their goods. If these are the pallets you use, it’s likely that you’ll be able to fit 34 pallets into a 53-foot dry van.
How Many 48X48 Pallets Can You Fit In a 53-Foot Dry Van?
These pallets are commonly used to transport barrels of liquid. Depending on the product in question, the driver on your load may even need a tanker or hazmat endorsement to move these commodities.
That said, you’ll be able to fit 26 of these pallets onto a 53-foot dry van trailer.
How Many 48X45 Pallets Can You Fit On a 53-foot Dry Van?
Most commonly, the automotive industry uses these pallets to transport goods to and from manufacturing locations. Shippers that use pallets that are 48X45 will be able to fit 28 of them inside of a 53-foot dry van trailer.
Check out this comprehensive guide to loading pallets onto a 53-foot dry van.
How Are Dry Van Rates Calculated?
As you can see, the number of pallets you’re able to fit on a dry van trailer is completely dependent on the size of the pallets in question.
That said, understanding how many of your pallets fit into a dry van trailer is important when it comes to getting the most from your shipping dollars.
Where applicable, “turned” and “pinwheeled” “ loading can help you fit a few more pallets and maximize your shipping dollars.
When it comes to your dry van rates though, your freight’s network fit, specifications, urgency and the total amount of time dedicated to your load influence your final price.
The answers to questions like “How does a trucking company price your dry van freight?”, “What should I expect to pay?” and “How can I trim some dollars off of my dry van freight rates?” are important to comprehend.
Unfortunately, though, transportation providers aren’t exactly transparent where pricing is concerned which makes getting a straight answer difficult and frustrating.
You’ve been in the dark for too long, it’s time to break down these barriers. Let’s talk about exactly how much you should expect to pay for your dry van freight and what you can do to avoid paying more.