In part one of our series, Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part VI : Factors That Effect All Companies, we talked about different factors and considerations that will affect your experience at any company you go to work for.

In part two of our series, “Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part II: You and “Your People” Are The Most Important Factor”, we talked about surrounding yourself with the right people, understanding factors that affect the freight you’ll be getting, and things you can do to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

In part three, “Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part III: How Your Family and Lifestyle Will Affect Your Choice”, we considered your personality and lifestyle. Are you married? Do you have children? Do you love adventure? How long would you like to be away from home? These questions all figure into the process of choosing the right truck driving job.

In part 4, “Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part IV: Advantages of Large Trucking Companies”, we of course talked about the advantages of working at a large trucking company.

In part 5, “Choosing A Truck Driving Job Part V: Comparing Large Trucking Companies To Small Ones”, we compared working for companies of different sizes.

Now, in part 6, Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part VI: we’ll talk about a couple of different types of jobs you’ll find out there and how each will affect your life on the road.

Basically, you’ll find five different types of trailers you can pull – dry vans, refrigerated (reefer), flatbeds, doubles, and tankers. Since we’re focusing more on new or inexperienced drivers, we’re not going to talk about doubles right now. Most companies that pull doubles require more experience, so for the vast majority of you that are reading this series, those jobs really won’t apply to you just yet. So let’s cover the other four and talk a little bit about the lifestyle you can expect from each. In this part we’ll cover dry vans and refrigerated, in part 7 we’ll cover tankers and flatbeds.

Dry Vans Carriers

Dry vans are the most commonly found trailer out there. They are a big, empty box – plain and simple. No temperature control or anything like that. There are more dry van companies than any other type of company, and therefore you will find the broadest range of opportunities in this area. Because of the large variety of companies pulling these trailers, they are also the most difficult to define in any general way – there is such a broad range of jobs and lifestyles within this category.

Dry van jobs tend to offer the greatest range of opportunities for those who would prefer regional, dedicated, and local runs versus long-distance, over the road jobs. A large number of these companies, especially the bigger companies, have local, regional, and over-the-road divisions within the company. This, of course, is one of the reasons I prefer the larger dry van companies. For instance, maybe you decide you want to run over the road and you’re gone three weeks at a time. Well, a year later you meet your dream girl and you want to get home more often to see her. In many of the larger companies, it isn’t too hard to switch over into a regional job that gets you home on the weekends, or possibly even a local job that gets you home every night.

Most of the time you won’t be unloading trailers. There will be times you’ll have to do a little bit of manual labor, and how often that will be depends upon the individual companies themselves. But as a general rule, you won’t be touching much of the freight. And you’ll be hauling anything and everything. From diapers, to sulphuric acid, to dog food, to magazines. If you can put it in a box and move it, then you’ll be hauling it!

Refrigerated Carriers

Refrigerated companies can haul either temperature sensitive freight, or dry freight, and you will usually get some of each from time to time. Being able to haul both types of goods gives refrigerated companies more versatility with their freight. But make no mistake about it – they make better money with their temperature sensitive freight, so that’s their primary focus.

Having worked for a refrigerated carrier before, the first thing I think of is grocery warehouses and farmer’s markets. Oh Lord help me! Grocery warehouses are a nightmare! At times, so are farmer’s markets. In all of my years of driving, these places were always puzzling to me. The grocery industry is different than the rest of the companies you will pick up from and deliver to. They have a different structure altogether. To make some broad generalizations – their workers are often union guys, they don’t like truck drivers very much, and they couldn’t care less if you sit in their parking lot for two days waiting to be unloaded. Some of them actually prefer making you sit there and wait – they think it’s funny! You think I’m kidding? Besides having delivered to dozens and dozens of these places, I’m friends with a couple of guys that work for a local grocery warehouse and they’ve told me hundreds of stories about tormenting the drivers. It’s their favorite form of entertainment! So don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

With most of these places, you’ll usually have a choice – you either unload the truck yourself, help someone unload the truck, or pay someone to do it. Your company will generally pay for it, but man, what a hassle these places are! A total nightmare. And sometimes you’ll have no choice but to help unload. You either help them unload, or you don’t get unloaded at all!

My recommendation if you’re going to go with a refrigerated company is to go with a very large carrier, or work directly for one of the grocery chains themselves – like Kroger or Wegman’s. The large ones will at least have contracts setup with the lumpers (the company that unloads the truck), so you won’t be hassled as much and the process of paying them is much easier. But if you work for a small carrier, the grocery warehouses and farmer’s markets are going to be tougher to deal with.

Another difference when it comes to hauling refrigerated goods is the average length of haul. Refrigerated carriers tend to haul goods longer distances than the other types of trucking companies. Much of this has to do with California, and the west coast in general. California is one of the richest produce capitals in the entire world. A huge portion of the vegetables you eat come out of this state, and almost all of the refrigerated companies pull produce out of there. There are year-round growing seasons in parts of the state, so the freight keeps flowing all the time.

Oregon, Washington, and Idaho also grow tons of produce – especially fruits, onions, and potatoes. A lot of the produce from the west coast gets hauled to the east coast where those types of fruits and vegetables do not grow nearly as well. Then, once you’re on the east coast, your company will try to work you back to the west coast for more of that wonderful produce. So the average length of haul for a refrigerated company is longer than for the other types of trucking companies.

You also tend to have more multiple-stop loads when hauling for a refrigerated company. Often times you will either make several different pickups, several different deliveries, or both. What tends to happen is that you will either be picking up a variety of produce that will all deliver to one company, or pickup one huge load of one type of produce and deliver a little bit to each of several companies. You will get paid extra for the extra pickups and deliveries, and the amount will vary based upon the company you work for.

So as you can see, there are a number of differences between dry van and refrigerated carriers. In general, if you’re looking to stay closer to home and get home more often, the dry van companies will be the better choice. If you’d like to see as much of the country as possible, then the refrigerated companies will be the better choice. As always, do the research to find the company that seems best suited to your lifestyle, and stay with that company for at least one year so you can really get to know them and whether or not they’re the right choice for you.

In part 7 of this series we’ll discuss flatbed and tanker jobs, and how they differ from dry vans and refrigerated. Thanks a lot, and take care!

Article by:
Brett R Aquila
15 Year Truck Driving Veteran

Check out the others in this series

Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part I – Factors That Affect All Companies
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part II – You and “Your People” Are the Most Important Factor
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part III – How Your Family and Lifestyle Will Affect Your Choice
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part IV – Advantages of Large Trucking Companies
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part V – Comparing Large Trucking Companies to Small Ones
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part VI – Dry Van and Refrigerated Companies
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part VII – Tankers and Flatbeds
Choosing a Truck Driving Job Part VIII – Talking With the Right People