What Are Step-Deck Load Levelers? Definitions, Uses, Pros and Cons

The trucking industry is responsible for hauling an incredible number of goods every day — everything from refrigerators to fiber optic cables to gallons of milk.

All these different products need to be hauled safely, through various conditions and at a specific time. This means there is a lot of specialty equipment in the industry: 

  • Types of trailers (the fridges are probably hauled in a dry van, the cable on a flatbed and the milk in a reefer) 
  • Securement options that keep freight on the trailer 
  • Tarps and covers to keep weather and debris off the freight

To someone outside the industry, there are a confusing number of variables. If you are working with a broker or carrier to have your freight hauled from A to B, it’s not a comfortable feeling to hear unfamiliar terms and wonder what impact they have on your freight. 

Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) has been in the industry for almost seven decades. In that time, we’ve encountered nearly every type of freight —and nearly every solution to move them. As experts in all things trucking, our goal is to help customers move their freight and to help them understand what equipment we use and why.

This article will dive into load levelers and how they are used with step-deck trailers. At the end, you will understand load levelers, how they are used in transportation, why they may be specified for your cargo and what impact they will have. 

How to Use Step-Deck Load Levelers 

Load levelers are sturdy bridges that a driver attaches to a step-deck trailer. Typically made of aluminum, load levelers align with the upper deck of the trailer to haul longer freight.  

With load levelers, a step-deck trailer can haul freight that would normally be carried on a standard flatbed. While there may not be a need for them when a flatbed is available, load levelers give shippers and carriers an additional option to move freight on the necessary timeline.  

When installed, most load levelers are 4 inches shorter than the upper deck of the trailer. Then 4x4 lumber is secured to the top of the leveler as dunnage, which protects the freight and the load leveler from friction during transit. 

While load levelers are not used on all or most loads, they perform a valuable service in helping shippers meet their deadlines and budgets. 

When Are Load Levelers Used? 

Load levelers give the option of extending the length of the upper deck so larger freight has a place to rest. The upper deck of a step-deck trailer is usually 5 feet long — load levelers extend that deck for longer freight. 


Creating a Surface to Haul Long Freight

Long items that would normally be secured to a flatbed can be secured to a step-deck trailer with load levelers. While it isn’t a completely flat surface, this is a good option for self-supporting items such as:

  • Lumber
  • Trusses
  • Cargo containers
  • Rebar
  • Precast concrete panels
  • Metal and PVC pipes
  • Granite, stone and marble

Load levelers are spaced along the length of the trailer. Any freight that will sag between the bridges is not suitable for transporting with load levelers. 

Multi-Piece Freight of Varying Heights

Sometimes step-deck trailers are used for freight that requires the additional height allowance of the lower deck and also uses the upper deck to transport smaller items. 

By using both decks of a step-deck trailer, industrial HVAC equipment can rest on the lower deck while filters travel on the upper deck. Other freight that uses both decks of a step-deck trailer include boom trucks (with the boom on the higher deck) and tractors with augers. 

The flexibility of load levelers means that the weight can be distributed evenly on the trailer while keeping the entire load under legal height limits. 

Using Load Levelers as Ramps

Some load levelers can also be used as ramps. These dual purpose load levelers hook into the back or sides of an open-deck trailer to create a ramp which can be used to load freight. These ramps are loaded with self-propelled freight, forklifts, dolly carts or other vehicles. Load leveler ramps are usually used at facilities that do not have a loading dock

With the options to adapt load levelers as needed, these are a useful tool in helping source and hire vehicles to haul complex freight. 

How Drivers Install Load Levelers Onto a Step-Deck Trailer

Load levelers are installed by the driver. The driver inserts stakes into the side of the trailer and then slides the load leveler onto the stakes. Finally, the driver uses chains to secure them to the trailer so they do not tip, lean or move during transit. 

Once the load levelers are in place, the driver loads the actual freight and then completes the usual securement process, including straps, chains and tarps as needed. 

Load levelers are personal equipment carried by most step-deck drivers. Drivers make a premium for carrying and installing them; expect to pay about $250 more than the cost of shipping with a standard step-deck trailer

Before agreeing to ship freight using load levelers, make sure you, your carrier and driver all understand that load levelers will be used and the impact they will have on your shipment. 

How Load Levelers Impact the Step-Deck Weight Limit 

Most load levelers are rated for 20,000 pounds. They can support freight up to 20,000 pounds times the number of load levelers — for example, two can haul 40,000 pounds of freight. 

The load levelers themselves are typically made of lightweight aluminum. Depending on the type and brand, they weigh less than 100 pounds each, which has a minimal impact on the trailer’s overall weight limit. 

Specifying the exact weight of your shipment will help your shipping provider specify the correct vehicle, including the number of load levelers required. Be sure to include the total weight of your shipment in your initial specification. 

What to Specify When Shipping with Step-Deck Load Levelers

Creating an accurate specification for your freight is the first step to a successful shipment. The spec. for freight with load levelers should contain the same information as any other quote request, this includes:

  • Name of the commodity. The carrier needs to know exactly what will be shipping. This information will help determine what vehicle is needed for your cargo. If you specify flatbed freight, the carrier will typically try to source a standard flatbed first. If that is not available, they may suggest a step-deck vehicle with load levelers. 

  • Size of the freight. Exact length, width, height and weight is needed for all loads. Each type of vehicle has legal size limits in for dimension and the carrier will use this information to source a truck and driver. 

  • Destination and origin. Specifying the address at either end of the trip determines the length of haul. Your carrier will use the addresses to determine the time it will take to transport your freight. If a standard flatbed is not available for your shipment, the carrier may specify a step-deck trailer plus load levelers. 

  • Pickup/delivery dates. Freight timing is one of the most important factors that will determine the type of vehicle. If a driver will be in the area at the time you need your freight moved, that will save on the costs of deadheading or delays.

    Scheduling is another common reason for a carrier to specify load levelers. If it’s faster to provide a step-deck trailer with load levelers, that can result in significant cost savings. 

No matter what type of freight you will be shipping, this information will help the carrier determine the best way to haul your specific freight. 

The Main Benefit of Load Levelers: Adding More Options for Your Shipment

Load levelers are one more tool that a carrier can use to move your shipment on time and on budget. They are suitable for most types of open-deck freight, and they make it possible to use a step-deck trailer to replace a standard flatbed.

When your carrier or broker uses specialty jargon or mentions specialty equipment, it’s OK to ask for a definition and explanation. You are the expert in your assets, and working with the experts you have chosen to transport them is the best way to ensure a safe, uneventful shipment. 

If you’re ready to discuss a specific shipping project, contact ATS.

Request a Quote 


Christy Yarborough

Written by Christy Yarborough

Part of the ATS team since 2022, Christy is national sales manager. In her role, she works to alleviate shipping headaches for her customers. Christy is based in Greenville, South Carolina, where she creates personal connections with customers, co-workers and strategic partners across the country.

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