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 Save money on CAT Scale tickets with Appweigh
- 2 How to load your trailer so you will not be overweight on any of your axles or tandems
Save money on CAT Scale tickets with Appweigh
This has always been purely an informational post to help my fellow divers, many shippers use the advice on this post as well. I also answer questions in the comments section.
It’s never been my intention to talk about any products on this page however I believe it would be a disservice if I did not let you know about this technology which has saved me a nice amount of cash on scale ticket fees.
More importantly it’s eliminated all of the wasted time and hassle of leaving a shipper over weight or over axle weight. I’ve not been overloaded even one time since I have installed these sensors on my truck and trailer.
You can even watch the app on your phone while the shipper is loading your trailer. It’s amazing how much those forklifts weigh.
The Appweigh sensor turns your trucks air suspension into an on board axle group scale.
You’ll need one for your truck tandems and one for the trailer too. If you don’t pull the same trailer then get just one sensor for the truck.
All you do is install the wireless sensor onto the main airline that supplies air pressure to your airbags with the supplied push in T fitting.
Once installed all you have to do is download the app and calibrate it by getting your empty and a fully loaded weights.
The instructions that come with the sensor are clear and easy to follow.
Tip: If you drop and hook (don’t pull the same trailer) all of the time you won’t get the trailer tandem weights.
However if you know the total product weight placed in your trailer and your trucks empty wight you can use a little math to calculate your trailer tandem weight.
Here’s how: Take the total product weight, add that to get your vehicles gross (total weight). Now subtract the steer axle and drive axle weight from the total truck weight (gross weight). Whats left is your trailer tandem weight.
This technology works better than the old fashioned right weigh type on board scale gauges and it’s much easier to install and move with you when you change trucks.
There are no monthly fees, the app is free – you just buy the sensors one for your truck and one for the trailer. Click here to get the sensors from Amazon
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.
Good info. I load trucks. We have a regular cross country shipment once a week or so that is 18 plts at 2,000 each (net) For a total gross of about 36,000 lb. I have always loaded these trucks as double, single, double, single then double the rest of the way back, going back 10 spaces. Never had any feedback or trucks return. But I had one truck come, I told him what the load was and asked how he would like it loaded, he said it did not matter as long as it fit. But after I loaded it up he was all upset it was too far forward and that it was going to be dangerous on icy roads. I did give him the opportunity to choose how the load was going to be loaded and never had any complaints in the past. Is there a big difference for you if you start with a single at the front vs starting with a double?
Big Travelr says
There is not a big difference in dry vans but with reefers I prefer to start with a single because of the heavy reefer unit hanging out in front of the trailer. I always want the trailer loaded to 44 feet or 48 feet so the load rides well.
If loaded evenly at least 44 to 48 feet the driver can always slide tandems to adjust the weight forward or backwards as needed. The only exception are heavy loads to California they should always be kept to 44 feet since you cant slide tandems back much in California due to kingpin to rear axle length limit.
I carry extra straps and load locks to place between the singles and doubles if needed. The best way for a driver to eyeball is to line mudflaps up with the end of the load.
Shane French says
Ok this question was kinda addressed at the end of the article, but not entirely. Why do most people measure the halfway point of a 53′ trailer at 24′? I’ve been loading for 20 years and am good at it, but don’t understand this entirely (yes I balance the axles and put the heavyweight in the center) now I’m at a job that wants every last pound and knowing what to call the center matters more when there’s no room for error. I sometimes load to 79,000+ lbs. (Midwest loads). Sometimes drivers bullshit cause they don’t want to move tandems. You probably have an idea where they like them here. I feel like if I get it right they shouldn’t need to.
Big Travelr says
I am never concerned with the center since I always want the load to come back 44 to 48 feet. Pulling a reefer I also want to have a single or two in the nose. I guess if your loading mixed weight pallets the center is important.
To answer your question I think 24 feet is considered the center for heavy non Cali loads because you have 48 feet of loadable space. If you load heavy past 48 feet there is a risk of being overweight on the trailer tandems or having to move tandems too far back.
As far as the weight goes reefers can take 42,500 to 44,000 lbs depending on the truck. If the product weighs the same and is 44,000 lbs on 24 pallets then no singles, doubles all the way back. 23 pallets I would load a single in the nose and doubles the rest of the way. 22 skids single double single then doubles.
The loads I’ve had trouble with were 18 skids and 43,000 lbs loaded too far forward you can’t fix those by moving tandems or taking a pallet off the tail. They have to be unloaded and reloaded stretched back further.
I think shippers that load heavy should have on site truck scales then the driver is not wasting so much drive time going back.
As far as not moving tandems that’s ridiculous, it’s part of the job. Many shippers and receivers make you move them all the way back before backing into the dock.
Mark E Staite says
Why we reefer drivers keep to 48 feet, besides the authors weight balance issue, is also the issue of airflow inside the trailer. If a shipper loads so the way to the doors, it blocks the circular flow of air under and around the product being shipped. The floors of reefer trailers are slotted from front to back for two reasons: drainage and air flow.
Wow thanks sir as a newly trucker I def appreciate it had a lot of similarities between our loads
How would you
Load 8 pallets weighing 1500 lbs per in a 53’ trailer. Very fragile
Product and pallets are tall and like to lean one Way or the other.
Big Travelr says
Straight in side by side, works out to less than 1000 pounds per foot so it should be fine on the weight. If it’s really fragile and there is still space between pallets or walls it will need airbags between the pallets to keep the product tight against the walls.
You could also try one straight and one sideways next to it then one sideways and one straight on the 2nd row to get them in snug without airbags.
The company I work for really doesn’t care how we load our trailers. We only load about 20 -40 pallets. Chep and plastic mixed. Stacked.(empty) only takes up the first 10-15 feet of the trailer. Why don’t they say anything? We’ve have the drivers load the truck and they just put the load in the way we lined it up. Now that we have to load I was a bit curious if there was a way the load had to be loaded on the trailer.
I’ve seen reefer trucks that come in the morning loaded with no care because it always take us 45 minuets to an hour just to off load to get our product from the freezer end. Again the driver have no care how we load them back. Just curious why some do and some don’t.
Big Travelr says
When loading light-weight product, like empty pallets, it really does not matter how it’s loaded as long as the product will not get damaged.
Some drivers don’t know any better, no one has ever taught them about weight distribution, they assume the dock worker knows best, some do. I’ve seen drivers go back multiple times, wasting a whole day of driving time. I have also seen drivers demand a re-work when they could slide the fifth wheel to remove steer tire weight or add more weight to the steers.
No one taught me – I got tired of having to go back for a reload and doing twice the amount of work for no additional pay. I did some research, asked questions and took lot’s of notes on how my loads were loaded and what the axle weights were for every heavy load.
The two most important tips I found on thetruckersreport.com forum, for reefer trailers were to set the mudflaps (rear tandem axle) at the end of the load and to keep the weight under 1000 lbs per liner foot in the trailer. You really only need that first tip because if you are hauling / loading heavy and the load does not come back to the mudflaps then you’ll be over on the drive axle for sure. The opposite goes for overhang past the rear tandems if a heavy load goes much past the rear axle then you’ll be heavy on the rear axles. You’re not supposed to drive with them slid all the way back on a 53 footer.
Dean Cravens says
Enjoyed the heads up on the difference in loading scenarios . I am at a doc loading 22 pallets oftote bags of starch,so at 2200 I went sigle double single the dobled it the rest of the way back. Any better way to load this?
Big Travelr says
I think you picked the best way. You might get away with putting those straight in if they are the over-sized ones longer than 48 inches, but that’s a risk of having to go back for a re-work. Or Single then all double and a single on the tail.
I just started working in a new small company so I am new to the game. I am loading heavy pallets that range from 1950lbs – 2450lbs, 18-20 pallets per load. I had a driver get an over weight ticket on the drive axle so a feeder driver and I tried to change the pattern on the next load.
We loaded it 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-2-2-2-2, the driver returned too heavy on the trailer axle.
Loaded it again 2-1-2-1-2-2-1-2-1-2-2-2, the driver returned trailer weight increased by 500lbs. Last time I stuck 6 in the nose and ran them 1-2 out and it went through the scales. I’m glad I was friends with this driver because we wasted about 3hrs.
I noticed that you mentioned 1000lb/ft rule and dividing the gross weight of the pallets evenly. I have never heard of this before, so please expand.
Any advice, rules of thumb on how to load these trailers better I would greatly appreciate the help. Thanks.
Big Travelr says
Your pattern looks to be 48ft. which should be working fine unless it’s a California load. The driver could adjust his trailer tandems to move weight on or off the drives as needed. You could try to shorten it to 44 ft by starting with a single like this 1-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-2-1-2.
If the load is over 44,000 pounds I would stick with the 48ft pattern. If it’s 38,000 total then you could shorten it to 40 feet and be OK.
If the skids are different weights in the same load try putting the heaviest ones near the center 6th -7th row / space.
If the skids are oversize more than 48 inches then you could be coming back further than 48 feet.
As far as 6 in the nose (2-2-2) unless the driver has a day cab and not a sleeper that does not make sense unless the skids are mixed weights.
The heavier the drivers tractor is the tougher it gets to avoid overloading the drives (front end of trailer).
Skippa J says
I have standard loads that go out at 40,824lbs@21 pallets.
My no fail(unless a FULL fuel tank) process has been 2-1-8-1-4-1-4. In the rare occasion I get a 19 pallet I just change the 8 to 6. Even counts I adjust accordingly and may use a butterfly, but I have been using this for over 20 years.
Just came upon this article. I have been assigned a new truck that has a 305″ wheel base and weighs 39,080 pounds with a 53′ dry van. Steer axle is 14,240 drives are 15,780 and trailer tandems are 9,060 pounds.
I have been assigned a chemical tote load for Tuesday morning. Never hauled them before and am wondering what would be the best way to load these? Load is scheduled to weigh 37,946 on 16 pallets or 2,372 per pallet.
I am thinking a single in the nose or two empty pallets on the floor to start. What are your thoughts?
Thanks for a great article and for the help!
Big Travelr says
Most of the tote shippers have there stuff together I would ask them how they plan to load you to see what they usually do. I would load the trailer like this 1-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2. You are supposed to strap the singles, most don’t. I like 4-6 empty pallets in the front as well then just use 2 more doubles to shorten the pattern by one row or space.
That’s a heavy tractor you have must have a nice custom sleeper and giant front tires.
Thanks for the reply! I will give it a try. I have a dozen straps and I planned to secure the singles. Hopefully there will be some old pallets for me to use as well.
You are correct, the truck has a 132” ARI sleeper on it. Also have 315 20 ply Michelin’s on the steers. The tires are rated much higher than the axle which is 14,600.
This will be the heaviest load so far for the rig. I am curious as to how much weight will come off of the front axle with this load. Loads under 20k move about 500 pounds off the front typically.
This is a great write up! I am a shipper and we’re struggling with weight distribution on 53′ tandem dry vans for a new program we’re running.
We have 42 Chep pallets loaded with cedar planks. Each lift weighs an average of 1058 LBS (This includes all components) we can stack 2 pallets high inside the trailer, do you have any suggestions on the loading pattern for this load?
Big Travelr says
Normally I would suggest one in the nose and the other 20 spaces side by side all the way back to 44 feet assuming they are placed longways and are 48 inch skids.
However since you are double stacking try placing the front two or four single stacked and then double stack the until you get to the last 2 to 4 and single stack those as well to stretch the load back further in the trailer. If you do this you’ll have to forward brace the front top stack with straps or load bars to keep them from tipping forward when the driver brakes.
The goal is to stretch the load to 48 feet of trailer space with the top stack centered in the that 48 feet.
Could someone tell me how to spell the term “RIC or RICK”, when describing the loading of a trailer?
Mike Somerville says
California, California, California. Not to be left out or anything, but could anyone add insight on avoiding overweight trailer tandems in California, where moving tandems is not really an option?
Big Travelr says
Don’t load trailer past 44 feet inside. You can haul no more than 44,000 lbs preferably a little less like 42,500.
Ballard Smith says
I would like to no the best way to load a 53 ft Trailer of Totes weighing 3000 per tote-16 Totes or 13 Totes so not over weight.
Big Travelr says
Funny I am hauling totes now. I have 12 of them right down the middle with a skid mat underneath.
16 totes at 3,000 lbs each would be 48,000 lbs so unless you have a day cab that load would be too heavy no matter how you load them.
You could do up to 14 totes and have 42K total. You could load singles down the middle of the trailer with 2 doubles in the middle of load or 3 singles then one double row then 4 singles then another double then the rest singles.
Don’t forget to throw a strap over each single, DOT will give you a violation for any unstrapped singles totes.