As a current or prospective trucker, you know that finding the best way to carry cargo can make your life a whole lot easier. Of course, the type of trailer you use can go a long way.

Luckily, this article will cover everything you need to know about dry vans, as well as when and why you would need to use one. So, if you’ve been thinking about working with a dry van, stay tuned.

What Is a Dry Van?

You’ve likely seen a dry van before, as they’re the most common type of trailer in the U.S. trucking industry. They’re also commonly referred to as box trailers due to their shape.

Dry vans are highly versatile, as they can safely carry many different types of cargo. For example, non-perishable cargo often carried by dry vans include: electronics, appliances, non-perishable food, and other items commonly carried on pallets. As the name would suggest, most dry goods can easily be carried by a dry van.

And dry vans can carry a lot, as the average trailer is between 48′ and 53′ long, 13′ 6″ high, and 102″ wide. That’s the same size as three large SUVs stacked next to each other. That’s why Truck Drivers need a CDL license to drive a truck with a dry van trailer.

Other common traits of dry vans are roll-up doors, loading ramps for connecting by loading docks, and aerodynamic skirts.

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Key Dry Van Features

Dry vans can have several important, customizable features and supplies to suit your hauling needs. This can include floor types, door types, and walling types. To understand the benefits and drawbacks of each type, here are some examples of various features:


There are three common flooring types used in dry van trailers. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks for different types of cargo. For example:

  • Hardwood Floors. The most common floor type, hardwood floors, are inexpensive and help alleviate moisture penetration. However, if the doors to the trailer are left open, the floors can become damaged more quickly.

  • Aluminum Floors. Aluminum floors are lightweight, weather-resistant, and tend to hold more weight than hardwood floors but are also more expensive.

  • Composite Floors. Composite floors have a fiberglass layer on the underside of each plank, which can support heavier payloads and decrease moisture when compared to hardwood. However, composite floors are also more expensive and decrease moisture entry into the floor.


While most dry vans have composite plate rear doors with a stainless steel rear frame, there are other door features that can be added to the trailer.

Some dry van owners opt to implement a side door on the trailer, which can significantly improve accessibility and productivity. These doors can be placed in different locations on either side of the trailer.

Additionally, some dry van owners also choose to replace composite doors with roll-up doors. Roll-up doors may be easier to work within some circumstances, as they can be opened and managed more quickly and easily. However, installing roll-up doors may be a more expensive option.


The two main wall types used for dry vans are either aluminum or composite walls. In general, aluminum walls are fairly durable and can safely carry a large load, but not as effectively as composite walls. In fact, composite walls are known for being sturdier.

In turn, composite walls are also considerably more expensive than aluminum walls. Therefore, aluminum walls might be the better option if you’re on a tight budget.

Other Features

There are also other important features of a dry van you should know about, so you can understand every part of the trailer. These features include:

  • Support Leg Bracing. These are wing plates that are made with collared holes and embossed ribs designed to increase the dry van’s strength.

  • Soldered Main Harness. This valuable tool has soldered internal connectors to prevent corrosive de-icing chemicals from leaking into the wiring.

  • Clearance Lights. These are LED lights that can make the truck more visible at night time or in harsh weather conditions.

  • Lift Gates. Systems connected to the main doors can make it easier to load and unload cargo.

  • Threshold Plate. A fully welded piece of metal that eliminates floorboard decay and provides strength to resist fork truck impacts.

Pros of Using a Dry Van

Dry vans aren’t the only type of hauling trailer out there, but there’s a reason why they’re the most widely used. Here are the main advantages to owning and using a dry van:

  1. Versatility

    Dry vans are versatile and can carry up to 45,000 lbs of most non-perishable goods. Here is a list of the many potential goods a dry van can carry:

    • Some food and beverage (packages & non-perishable)

    • Clothing

    • Electronics

    • Machinery and parts

    • Furniture

    • Industrial equipment

    • Automotive

    • Cleaning products

    • Beauty products

    • Construction

    • Healthcare equipment

    That means that most industries can rely on dry vans to ship valuable cargo, making them a jack-of-all-trades option. Plus, if you’re a trucker or Owner-Operator, that opens you up to more clients.

  2. Security

    With the right care, dry vans can easily protect cargo from the elements and theft. Being an enclosed four-sided container, a dry van can keep goods protected from the elements, unlike flatbeds or other open trailers. This makes dry vans ideal for goods that need the extra security of not being exposed to the weather.

    Additionally, the structure of a dry van also offers safety from theft. The doors on the dry van can easily be locked, making cargo much less accessible than it would be on a flatbed. Further, this added safety leads to low freight claims with insurance companies, which will also save you money.

  3. Convenience

    Dry vans are convenient and have features that can easily hasten your shipping process. For example, you can use the drop and hook load method, where you drop one trailer and pick up another, even if the trailer still needs to be unloaded. This can keep you moving faster and improve your ability to maintain a schedule.

    Convenience can also come in the form of side doors and a back door that makes cargo more accessible than other trailer types.

  4. Affordability

    Affordability is one of the biggest advantages of using a dry van. Not only are you getting a versatile, secure, and convenient trailer, but you’re also saving money in the process. First and foremost, the average dry van costs between $30,000 to $60,000 to purchase. By contrast, the average reefer trailer costs between $50,000 and $100,000.

    However, dry vans are also affordable in many other ways as well. For instance, reduced theft and weather damage means you save on insurance, and the improved shipping speed will also save you money.

Cons of Using a Dry Van

As with anything, there are also a few cons that come with choosing a dry van to transport cargo. To understand the problems you might face, here are those disadvantages in more detail:

  1. Maintenance

    One of the biggest downsides to dry vans, when applicable, is maintaining the hardwood floors. While affordable and somewhat weather-resistant, hardwood floors are also very vulnerable to moisture damage when not taken care of (or simply over time). This can lead to frequent repairs and other issues, as well as the annoyance of constant maintenance.

  2. Demand

    Dry van trailers are popular, and with that popularity comes high demand. While this can be good for business, it can also make it harder for you to acquire a trailer. Additionally, it can be difficult to find the capacity you need for your freight.

  3. Limitations

    While dry vans are versatile, they can’t haul everything. For example, because dry vans aren’t refrigerated, you won’t be able to move perishable goods like flowers, fine art, and certain types of food.

Purchasing a Dry Van

Dry vans can be purchased at shops or from private owners. Similarly to cars, you can pay in cash or take out a loan to buy a dry van trailer. However, do keep in mind that there is currently a shortage, so dry vans may be harder to come by and more expensive.

Overall, here are some tips for purchasing a dry van:

  • Examine the trailer. Make sure that the trailer isn’t rusted or corroded; otherwise, you’ll have to invest a lot more money into it after purchasing. Also, be sure to check things like the quality of the tires and other parts.

  • Think about the price. The cheapest dry van isn’t always the best, as it may have damage and other issues that will cost you more in the long run. Remember that a dry van is an investment, and if you plan to put several more miles on it, you’ll want a trailer that can withstand those pressures.

Dry Van FAQ

  1. What is a standard dry van?

    A standard dry van is an enclosed trailer used to haul non-perishable goods. The most common size for a dry van is 53' x 8' 6” x 8' 6”. These trailers can be made from aluminum or composite materials and typically have either hardwood or aluminum floors.

    A standard dry van is a very versatile trailer that can be used to haul many different items, including:

    • Some food and beverage (packages & non-perishable)

    • Clothing

    • Electronics

    • Machinery and parts

    • Furniture

    • Industrial equipment

    • Automotive

    • Cleaning products

    • Beauty products

    • Construction

    • Healthcare equipment

  2. What pays more, dry van or flatbed?

    Generally speaking, flatbed truck drivers earn up to 8 cents more per mile when shipping cargo. That might not seem like a lot, but it equates to at least $13,000 more per year on average.

    However, the higher truck driver's salary comes with a price. Dry van truck drivers typically have a faster and easier time dealing with cargo. Flatbed truck drivers are often responsible for rigging and un-rigging secures before and after hauls, as well as offering hands-on maintenance throughout their route.

    Therefore, even though dry van truck drivers are paid less on average, they’re also required to do a lot less work than flatbed truck drivers.

  3. What does dry van jobs mean?

    Dry van jobs are jobs that involve shipping goods using a dry van trailer. These jobs can be intermodal or OTR trucking jobs but will always involve the use of a dry van trailer. Of course, the type of trailer used will be an indicator of the types of goods being shipped, so dry van truck drivers may become more familiar with certain types of goods.

  4. Why is it called a dry van?

    These types of trailers are called dry vans because they’re built in a way to keep cargo dry. Dry vans are entirely enclosed, unlike flatbeds or open-top trailers. This is intentional, as it keeps the inside of the trailer protected from the elements. Whether it’s raining, snowing, or anything in between, a dry van is meant to keep goods safe and dry.

Final Thoughts

To be a successful Truck Driver or Owner-Operator, it’s important for you to know about the different types of trailers. That way, you can determine which one is most useful for your business.

Overall, dry vans are highly versatile, secure, convenient, and affordable trailers that can be used to transport almost anything non-perishable. A dry van will keep these goods protected from the elements without costing you a fortune.

Therefore, if you know, you can make use of a dry van for your truck driving purposes, purchasing one can be an amazing investment.

By - Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job.

His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.