7 Things To Check Before Buying A Used Reefer Trailer

Buying a used reefer trailer can be daunting for many, especially if you need help deciding what to look for to know you’re making a good purchase decision.

There’s a reason the previous owner is no longer using this trailer, and you will inherit those problems. The goal is to fix everything the previous owner didn’t fix and make it right again.

Choose a Reliable Used Reefer Trailer

A reefer trailer ages differently than a dry van. Let’s examine some of the most critical issues you should consider when purchasing a used reefer trailer.

Contact a used reefer trailer sales specialist.
Also read: How to Buy the Best Reefer Trailer

The Used Reefer Unit

Inspect the reefer unit carefully. The reefer unit is what matters most. It is the most critical part of a reefer trailer. You risk losing the load, credibility, and business if it doesn’t work.

Here is what to look for to ensure you’re buying a good reefer unit that won’t let you down.


  • Hours on the reefer unit:

The hours on a reefer unit matter the most. The hours on a unit are like miles on a car. A 2019 reefer unit with 30,000 hours on it is like having a 2019 car with 140,000 miles.

Look for a unit with 10,000 hours or less. Once you get over 20,000 hours, you start to see the maintenance issues creep in, and things begin to break, like needing a new compressor or solenoid.

  • Corrosion/damage to the reefer unit:

Open the doors on the reefer unit and look for any corrosion or damage, for example, belts that look old. Generally speaking, if it looks bad, that’s a good indication the unit was not taken care of.

  • Has the unit been serviced?

If an authorized service center has serviced the unit, rest assured the unit will run fine.

However, if you’re buying a reefer trailer “as is,” you are taking a gamble. You might get a discount on the purchase price when buying an as-is reefer unit, but you could be paying more if the compressor needs to be replaced, costing several thousand dollars. On the other hand, servicing the unit can save money or prevent you from making a purchasing mistake.

Has the unit been serviced consistently? Did the previous owner keep service records? Not everyone does. Check the inside of the door; there is a marker area where they can mark when they have the unit services.

The Used Reefer Trailer

Ultimately you will make a purchasing decision that is best for you. However, below is a list of some things to look for and be aware of, especially if you are buying an as-is reefer trailer that has not been fully serviced.

Look for anything compromising the trailers’ ability to hold the temperature. Hot button areas are the roof, sides, floor, and insulation. Damage to these four areas is critical to repair.

Every reefer trailer is different—and age matters.

Every trailer is a case-by-case decision as to whether it is a good purchase decision.

Age matters when looking at the integrity of the reefer trailer itself. After about 11 years, a reefer trailer begins to lose some of its integrity. So, buying a 15-year-old reefer trailer will be good for a while, but you’ll need a more robust reefer unit to hold the temperature as when it was new.

Look for cosmetic issues on a used reefer trailer that would fail a DOT inspection.

Look for any damage on the trailer’s exterior: protruding, corrosion, holes in the rails, bumps, dings, etc.

Damage on the bumper is not too concerning, but if the damage is on the side of the trailer could be a much bigger deal. If it’s at the center of the trailer, and there is a bend or a break in the side rail, it is compromising the trailer, and you must send it to an authorized semi-trailer service center for inspection before purchasing.

Critical things to look for when evaluating a used reefer trailer.

  1. Check for Cracked Rails
    Rails are like your bone structure. A broken rail on a trailer must be fixed immediately in a certified repair shop.
  2. Check for Damage to Crossmembers
    Look underneath at cross members for bent or broken cross members or any sign of trauma.
  3. Landing legs
    Was the trailer dropped or bumped by missing the kingpin?
  4. Check the Roof
    Look for imperfections. The roof of the trailer must not leak.
  5. Inspect the Walls
    Check for voids in the walls: Reefers tend to have voids in the insulation that can build up with condensation and water over time. So, after five years, it can weigh more than when you bought it. It weighs the trailer down and compromises the ability to keep the temperatures.
    Check for tears in the lining: Holes or rips in the insulation are not good and must be repaired immediately; otherwise, it will not maintain the temperature.
  6. Examine the Interior Scuff
    Is the scuff liner peeling away from the wall? Condensation will build in those areas, and it will continue to warp, compromising the integrity of the lining.
  7. Inspect the Floor
    A reefer trailer with a hole in the floor is finished. A reefer floor cannot be patched, and no one will load your trailer if they see a patch in the floor. The trailer needs to be scrapped or used for “cold storage,” but you don’t want to run it on the road.

Additional considerations for the smart used reefer trailer buyer.

  • Tire inflation kit
    Everyone should have tire inflation on a reefer trailer because you need that kit if something goes wrong. You have got to get to the next station and keep your product cold.
    Know where you are hauling
    In California, the reefer units must be seven years or newer (carb compliant), or you must have an evergreen unit (is carb compliant for life). So, if all you are doing is running loads to California for the next ten years, get an evergreen reefer unit. But, if you’re buying the reefer trailer to run for three years and then sell it, you should go with a carb-compliant reefer.
  • Warranty
    The warranty on the trailer does not carry over from one purchase to the next. The warranty on the reefer unit will transfer if it’s under five years old.
  • Who will service the reefer unit?
    Is it at Thermo King or Carrier service shop in your area?If the nearest Carrier service center is 100 miles away, but there is a Thermo King service center 10 miles away, the better choice might be to buy the Thermo King reefer unit.

Remember, every trailer is different, and it’s a case-by-case situation with each one as to whether it is a good purchase decision. We have reviewed some significant areas to look at, but there could be others on the trailer you are looking at.

In the end, you have looked at every area of the trailer to understand what needs to be fixed, what should be inspected in an authorized semi-trailer service center, and what might not look great but does not affect the trailer’s integrity.