How to distribute weight in your semi trailer, I’ve taken notes for all of the heavy loads loaded in my 53 ft reefer trailer. Use the tips and tricks in this post to get even axle weight distribution every time you get loaded. Many dock workers are using this information to help you get it right, avoiding a rework, saving you both time and money.
- 1 How to load your trailer so you will not be overweight on any of your axles or tandems
How to load your trailer so you will not be overweight on any of your axles or tandems
I pull a reefer ( refrigerated ) trailer with a
Freightliner Cascadia Evolution 1998 International 9400 tractor, fixed fifth wheel. My combination with me, all of my gear and a half tank of diesel fuel weigh about 35,500 35,000 pounds.
Update August 13, 2017. I am now pulling a reefer as an owner operator leased to a carrier with my own International Tractor with smaller fuel tanks, 3/4 full of fuel my weight empty is 34,980.
The maximum gross weight we can run and be legal to drive without any special permits in the US is 80,000 pounds. For my rig this is 44,500 pounds max cargo weight. This needs to include product, packaging, dunnage and pallets. If I am asked I always answer about 42,000 pounds, since shippers forget about that extra 1,500 pounds over their product weight.
The problem most of us run into is not the total gross weight being over 80,000 it’s being over on one of our tandem axles.
For me is always the drive axles on the tractor that are overweight even on loads only grossing 76,000 ~. The reasons vary slightly but it usually comes down to the warehouse truck loader not being trained to distribute the weight properly from front to back in the trailer and not knowing what the product really weighs. Also many products reefer drivers haul have an unknown or under stated total weight on our bill of lading (paperwork).
The worst thing after spending hours waiting and getting loaded is having to drive back to the shipper to have them rework the load which usually means more waiting for a door to open up then unloading everything since the problem is usually in the front of the trailer.
I have tried explaining how to load the trailer so it will scale legal on the axles but some just don’t get it or the math involved. After having to go back way too many times I have a checklist of questions I ask the loader before I back all the way into the loading dock.
We should be able to back in go to sleep and drive when everything is loaded. Unfortunately this will have you going back for a re-load way too much causing extra unpaid work for both you and the shipper.
Pre-loading questions to ask the loader (shipper)
How much does the load weigh?
Does that include the pallets and packaging?
How many pallets? – This one is real important don’t forget to ask it.
I used to look at the other trailers and if I only saw 53′ reefers I assumed the shipper knows how to load a reefer since the trailers are all pretty similar. I would just say “please make sure to use singles to make it lighter in the nose”. This had me going back 40 miles from the cat scale to the shipper in Chicago, a true truckers nightmare. This took longer to load and reload than it did to drive 6 hours and deliver.
Here how it went down. I picked up boxes of frozen meat stacked on 18 pallets in Chicago. The shipper said he knew how to load it when I gave him the “please use singles to make it lighter in the front” line. He loaded reefers all day so I trusted him, big mistake. I hindsight I remember the other trucks I saw only picking up a few pallets not a whole truckload like I was.
42,000 pounds on only 18 pallets should have set of alarm bells since those are extra heavy pallets. Usually packaged meat is weighing this much is on 22 pallets or ideally on this many pallets. I saw a sign on the door saying “no pallets” no meat”. I guess they were being cheap on pallets since no one really brings their own in any more to exchange.
I’ve learned the most important and easiest way to explain in coming up with a load plan or load pattern is to make sure the trailer is loaded using the same number of rows – length as 22 pallets would go from front to back (11 rows). That’s at least 44 feet not more than 50 feet assuming the skids are 48 inches put in “long ways”.
I know this is pretty boring and I am really going into detail here with my experiences but stick with me for a little while longer. I am going to show some interesting and pretty unique loads I have dealt with recently since I have started using my questions to ask shipper checklist. I am happy to report none have been over axle weight since I have stopped just trusting the shipper’s dock worker knows how to load my trailer correctly.
OK so back to the boxed meat load as the first real world example and last problem load I have had to get reworked.
We need to divide the total weight by number of pallets. Shipper said it was 41,500# divided by 18 is 2306 per pallet, very heavy by the way. Ideally you want them in the 1800 lb range each. They really were 2488 lbs each since the load ended up weighing 44,700.
In this case the math will only work so well since the product was heavier than the paperwork indicated. Had I made sure the loader stretched those 18 pallets back 44 feet (11 rows) as 22 pallets everything would have worked out the first time, no returning for a rework.
So if you only take one thing away remember always load back as far as 11 rows of pallets (44 feet) as if the load length were 22 pallets. Here is how it would layout with the 18 if loaded correctly. Each pallet placed long ways is 48 inches or 4 feet. Light high cube products you can turn them sideways and fit two extras in on the tail. There is room for 26 pallets long ways or 28 turned sideways in a 53 foot trailer so long as the product does not overhang off the edges of the pallet.
- single 1
- double 2 | 3
- single 4
- double 5 | 6
- single 7
- double 8 | 9
- double 10 | 11
- double 12 | 13
- double 14 | 15
- single 16
- double 17 | 18
Ever since this load I draw a picture or layout using a ruled note book and show it to the shipper if needed. I did have one guy who was brand new on the job at a steel plant and I had to help train him by standing there and telling him where to place every pallet one by one. It took two hours in a hot trailer but is was right and I did not have to go back which would have taken another two hours.
Next load example is a load of 80, 55 gallon drums of titanium shavings with water on the top. It was on 20 pallets This product was called SWARF and was a waste product of a metal company being hauled to a recycling facility. The bills said it weighed 42,000# and is was loaded on old odd sized waste pallets. It really weighed 43,860#
I have hauled lots of liquid filled 55 gallon drums before and they usually weigh 550 pounds per drum or 2,200# per pallet. Most of the liquid places either put one single pallet up front and doubles the rest of the way back or they put two stacks of old empty pallets in the nose and doubles all the way back. This metal company did not have any empty pallets and on single in the nose would have left me with a odd single at the end.
You always want the last pallet to be a double so nothing slides around or tips over. You also do not want more than one single in a row for the same reason unless you use airbags or other dunnage to prevent side to side movement.
Here is how I showed the new guy how to load it.
- single 1
- double 2 | 3
- single 4
- double 5 | 6
- double 7 | 8
- double 9 | 10
- double 11 | 12
- double 13 | 14
- double 15 | 16
- double 17 | 18
- double 19 | 20
On this one the rear most axle AKA trailer tandem was 36,000# or 2,000 pounds over the legal weight of 34,000. I was able to slide back 4 holes to get it just right.
The weight ended up being 11,940 steer axle
34,260 drive axle
33,440 trailer tandems
79,640 total truck weight
This was with a 3/4 tank of fuel.
If you did not die from boredom and are still with me here is another example using the 22 pallet length method (11 rows).
This next load was 13 bulk totes of liquid that weighed about 3200 pounds each. They were about the same size as a standard pallet. The shipper knew what they were doing with dry vans that had wooden floors and are lighter than a reefer. Dry vans are also lighter in the nose and do not have the front or nose heavy problems we have with reefer trailers.
When I backed into the dock he said we normally load 13 singles sideways (short side front to back) and nail down 2 x 4’s to keep them from sliding. I asked the dimensions and they were 42 short side by 48 long side. He could put them either way. 4 feet times 13 is 52 feet. Too far back in the trailer. We want to keep our loads as close to 44 feet as possible. Sideways puts the load a 45.5 feet which would have been close enough and balanced well on my trailer.
The problem is a reefer has a metal floor and the shipper did not have any airbags or any other way to secure the load from shifting since he could not nail to a metal floor. He came up with a plan to load a couple of doubles to prevent at least some of them from shifting.
I still had a problem with the 9 singles possibly shifting I ended up using e track load straps over the tops of the totes (tanks) to prevent them from moving and solve this final problem.
I was concerned it would still be too heavy in the front so I had him put two stacks of old empty pallets in the nose to keep the weight more towards the back of the trailer.
We ended up with two blank pallets in the front two singles a double then 3 singles then a double and 4 singles on the tail. Airbags or cardboard dunnage would have been the best way to haul this but all I had available was the straps.
Recently I hauled this truckload of cucumbers that was floor loaded way too far back in the trailer causing the trailer tandem axles to be way overweight, around 41,000 pounds I think. I ended up having to slide the trailer tandems all the way back making the trailer kingpin to rear axle over length in states like California or Florida. I will never haul these again. It’s was not worth all of the hassle.
If you do haul pickles or other floor loaded product make sure to place load locks and plywood (wall) at the 44 to 48 foot mark. I would put it right at 48 feet so it would ride like a heavy load of 24 pallets.