What is Refrigerated Trucking?

Ken Black

Refrigerated trucking is the practice of using a refrigeration unit in the cargo area of a truck to protect cargo that may be sensitive to temperatures above a certain level. The units having refrigeration can either be semi-tractor trailer combinations or straight trucks. As the refrigerated trucking units are cooled in much the same way, other factors often determine which type of truck is used for transporting the goods.

Refrigerated trucks are used to haul ice cream.
Refrigerated trucks are used to haul ice cream.

In order for refrigerated trucking to work, the storage area of the truck must first be well insulated from the outside air. To do this, steel, plastic or other non-porous materials may be used to keep cold air inside the cargo area. This also takes some of the strain off the refrigerator unit, thus saving energy and reducing the overall cost of operating the unit during transport.

Semi truck driver have to monitor their refrigerated trailers more closely than regular trailers to ensure their cargo between deliveries.
Semi truck driver have to monitor their refrigerated trailers more closely than regular trailers to ensure their cargo between deliveries.

The location of the refrigeration unit on most refrigerated trucking units is either immediately behind the driver’s cabin, or on top of the unit. For semi trailers, the unit is generally behind the cab. Though there may be some exceptions to this, the semis generally prefer to have the units in this location because this allows for added height on the trailer. The top is often the preferred choice for the refrigeration unit for straight trucks because it is problematic to put it in any other location.

Many different types of products may require the use of refrigerated trucking. The most common need for refrigerated trucking is in the transport of agricultural products that tend to spoil or decompose easily, such as fruits or vegetables. Of course, frozen foods also require refrigeration and usually the same units that can be used to refrigerate can also be used to freeze. Some types of photo processing equipment may also require being kept within a certain temperature range, the maximum of which would likely be exceeded by traditional trucking.

Generally, refrigeration units are made to withstand the rigors of commercial shipping so all normal loading and unloading methods are possible. This includes using forklifts and pallet trucks. Some refrigeration units have grooved floors so that airflow is not hindered by freight sitting on the floor. Therefore, some loading equipment with smaller wheels may be ineffective as those wheels could get caught in those grooves. These grooves are generally less than two inches (approximately five cm) wide.

The cost of refrigerated trucking is often higher than traditional trucking, but this is mainly because of the special equipment and added expense associated with the maintenance and upkeep of that equipment. Further, fewer refrigeration units are available at any given time, and less supply means higher prices.

Refrigerated trucks can deliver frozen goods as part of a long-haul.
Refrigerated trucks can deliver frozen goods as part of a long-haul.

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Discussion Comments


@Feryll - Your friend may make more money driving for one of the refrigerated trucking companies, but those positions call for more work than driving a regular load. When you drive a refrigerated truck you have to check the freezer every couple hours to make sure it is working properly.

If something does go wrong with the cooling system then you have to act quickly to make sure that your load isn't ruined. You make more money, but you have more responsibility and more pressure.


A friend of mine is a truck driver. He drives long distance and makes decent money, but he is on the road most of the time. He called me the other day all excited because he just got a job driving for a refrigerated trucking company.

He says he is making a good deal more money because drivers who drive the refrigerated trucks are paid more. He also has more job security because there aren't as many drivers qualified to drive the refrigerated trucks.


One night when I was working the night shift at a motel, I started getting calls at the front desk. People were complaining about a noise coming from the parking lot. They said it was loud and made sleeping impossible. I finally, figured out that the noise was coming from a big truck parked in the back.

My coworker who checked the truck driver in didn't know how much noise the refrigerated truck made. The driver had told her what he was driving and asked whether there would be a problem, and she told him to park in back, so no one would be bothered.

He wasn't happy when I called him in the middle of the night and told him that he needed to move the truck.

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