Flatbed Truck

What is a flatbed truck?

A flatbed truck is a large vehicle with a flat body and no sides or roof around the bed. Typically, these types of trucks are used to transport heavy loads that won’t be compromised in bad weather or on rough roads. They are ideal for loads that would be too wide for a truck with an enclosed body. Drivers can load them quickly and easily. All flatbed trucks are not the same, however. There are a variety of styles and sizes available.

The use of a flatbed truck extends across industries, and whether you are in transportation, construction, or general manufacturing, these trucks are vital to any fleet operation. Flatbed trucks are often used for carrying oversized loads or products with unusual shapes. Even if your business doesn’t require you to move what might be considered generic hauling materials like crates or steel, flatbeds are essential in the world of towing, agriculture, or dumping. When deciding if a flatbed truck would benefit your haul consider load size, weight, and the need for loading aids and unloading/dumping aids.

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Flatbed Truck

Okay, What Exactly is a Flatbed Truck Anyway?

One thing that is immediately confusing about flatbed trucks is that they come in so many different sizes and varieties. When you get right down to it, there is one the thing that they all share; every single one of them has a rigid flat base called the bed and lacks a roof or sides to contain the load.

But that is where the similarities end. Some flatbed trucks may have hinging sides that can be dropped or removed when necessary. These are called drop-side trucks. Other types of flatbed trucks have removable poles along the sides to make it easier to tie down cargo. These are called stake trucks.

Flatbed trucks can also have the bed permanently attached to the cab or, more commonly, the flatbed portion may be a detachable trailer. In addition to the more standard flatbed trailers which have their beds at a consistent height, there are specialty flatbed trailers that have variable bed heights. These specialty trailers include gooseneck, step deck, and double drop trailers.

A common question many people have is how long flatbed trucks are? Well, the answer is that it depends. Flatbeds can range from just a few feet up. The most common length for trailer-type flatbeds is 48 feet long. Most standards flatbed trucks are 8′-6″ wide, and anything wider will require special permits to drive.

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What is the Purpose of a Flatbed Truck?

If you have oversized or oddly shaped cargo to move, then you can’t do much better than using a flatbed truck to get it from point A to point B. Some of the most common types of cargos for flatbed trucks include heavy equipment and machinery, construction materials, scrap metal, baled tires, and super sacks. 

Just about anything too bulky or difficult to load into a container box type of trailer. After all, the versatility of a flatbed truck is what makes it such a useful and popular trailer choice for industries ranging from construction to manufacturing.

What are the General Restrictions When Driving a Flatbed Truck?

Unfortunately, the flexibility of a flatbed truck does come with a few additional restrictions. Besides the length and width restrictions mentioned above, there are also limits on the height and weight of flatbed trailers.

In the vast majority of the states in the US, the total height of the trailer along with the load can’t be more than 13′-6″. That means that on a standard flatbed with a five-foot-tall bed, all cargo must be less than 8′-6″ tall including any tie-downs and tarps. Anything taller is considered oversized and will require special permits.

Eighty-thousand pounds is the limit when it comes to weight for most highways in the US. It is important to remember that number is the combined weight of the cab, the trailer plus the cargo. Therefore, a standard 48-foot-long flatbed trailer with cab weighing approximately 48,000 pounds can haul about 32,000 pounds of cargo.

An experienced trucking company will help you figure out what restrictions may impact your shipment, and what can be done to get your cargo transported safely.

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Most Common Uses of Flatbed Trucks

Because reputable flatbed transportation companies maintain a quality fleet of trucks and utilize state-of-the-art equipment for loading and unloading, they offer customers a unique service. With flatbed trucks, cargo gets loaded from the tops and sides. Also, with a continuously flat surface, this method of transporting goods is more versatile than others. For those reasons, flatbed transportation trucks accommodate all kinds of freight.

In looking at the most common uses of flatbed trucks, you can see the value that this transportation method provides. Following are some examples of what flatbed transportation carriers accommodate, although there are many others.

Some of the most common uses for flatbeds:

Baled Tires

Millions of tires are stockpiled in the US each year, which creates waste, major fire hazards, and a breeding ground for insects and vermin. Tire bales are created to aid in the efforts to eliminate waste and find new uses for unusable tires. A tire bale is made up of compressed vehicle tires banded together with wire that is then repurposed for construction and other projects such as erosion control, road fill, impact barriers, terraces, retaining walls, and more. One bale consists of about 100 tires and weighs about 1 ton.

  1. Building Materials

Building materials can consist of materials as common as lumber or scaffolding, but also include a wide variety of materials that builders require such as concrete, brick, steel beams, and rods, even materials of odd shapes that are pre-fabricated. A flatbed truck is not only most common type of transportation for a load like this, but it is also the most practical because the heavy materials can be loaded and unloaded by hand or by crane from any direction. With the use of trusses, materials also have the ability to hang over the edge of the flatbed, some of which wouldn’t fit inside an enclosed box trailer.

Construction companies, builders and other sources often hire services to come and remove scrap metal, wood, concrete and other building materials from a job site. The hauliers can then take these materials to recycle facilities, where those materials can be sold and repurposed, or even directly purchased by other builders or companies. Flatbed trucks are much easier to load and unload than other types of trucks, which makes them ideal for hauling these scrap materials away from job sites.

Removal of Scrap Metal

Construction companies and builders often hire a service to pick-up and remove scrap metal from the job site, where the hauliers then take it to a scrap metal recycling facility where it is sold and repurposed or purchased by another company. The ease of loading and unloading, and sometimes the ability to dump, makes flatbed tricks ideal for this task.

Equipment Hauling

Tractors and farm equipment, and military equipment such as tanks and Humvees are often transported on flatbeds as a safer alternative to driving the equipment on the road to its destination. Parts of planes or other large machinery can also be transported on a flatbed to be delivered.

Chances are, if you spend some time out on a rural highway, at some point you’ll see a flatbed truck hauling farm equipment. They’re also frequently used for hauling tractors, military equipment, construction equipment and other heavy machinery. Flatbed hauling is a much safer alternative to driving the equipment on the road to and from a job site. Flatbeds can even be used to haul standard passenger vehicles used at job sites.

Super Sacks

A flexible intermediate bulk container or a Super Sack is an industrial fabric bag that is made to transport dry products such as sand, fertilizer, grains, peanuts or seeds with a load capacity of around 2000 pounds. Loading and transporting a Super Sack is done by loading it on a pallet or by using the loops on the bag to lift it onto the truck. Super Sacks full of sand are often used as flood barriers in the US and Thailand.

Flatbed

Because flatbed trucks are so versatile, they are one of the most commonly used types of trucks, reports Great Western Transportation. You can load this type of truck from any angle, making it an important player in the trucking industry. This truck’s maximum weight and dimensions are:

  • Freight weight: 48,000 pounds
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches

You’ll see this truck being used for abnormally sized or shaped cargo, constructional steelwork, and machinery.

Step Deck

Step-deck, also known as drop deck, trailers have top and bottom decks. They are used for cargo that is too tall or wide to fit onto a standard flatbed. Great Western Transportation shares this truck’s weight and dimensions:

  • Max freight weight: 48,000 pounds
  • Bottom deck length: 37 feet
  • Topdeck length: 11 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Bottom deck height: 10 feet

Because the load will ride lower in this type of truck, it can still pass under low bridges, even with a tall load. Loading ramps often make it easy to get on and off the bed when you’re at ground level.

Extendable Flatbeds

T&P Trucking tells us that extendable flatbeds are also sometimes called flatbed stretch trailers. These extendable trailers are used for transporting cargo that is too long to fit on a standard flatbed. The maximum legal weight and dimensions for this truck are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 43,000 pounds
  • Minimum length: 48 feet
  • Maximum length: 80 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches

Using the extendable bed, this truck is capable of hauling freight without overhang. While some amount of overhang is acceptable, in some instances these larger loads require a permit and escort vehicles.

Stretch Single-Drop Deck

The stretch single-drop deck is similar to the extendable flatbed, but it is also a drop deck. So just as the extendable flatbed can extend, the stretch deck can stretch to accommodate freight that is too long for a standard step deck. This means it can legally carry loads that a standard drop deck can’t. Its legal weight and dimensions are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 45,000 pounds
  • Main deck minimum length: 35 feet
  • Main deck maximum length: 63 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Height: 10 feet
  • Front deck length: 10 feet

You can attach a bulkhead to the front of a stretch single-drop deck to secure large loads. This will protect freight from coming loose in hard braking situations. The goal is to have the cargo bend and go over the cab of the truck instead of into it.

Double Drop

With a double drop trailer, you can load oversize freight. It can handle items that are more than 10 feet tall. In addition to a front and back deck, Trucking Truth explains that these trailers have a well in the middle that can accommodate tall freight. This well usually ranges from 25 to 29 feet long. The weight and dimensions for this trailer are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 36,000 to 42,000 pounds
  • Main deck length: 25 feet to 29 feet
  • Main deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Main deck height: 11 feet 6 inches
  • Front deck length: 10 feet
  • Front deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Front deck height: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Rear deck length: 9 feet
  • Rear deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Rear deck height: 10 feet

The well does shorten the space you have for loading cargo. Additionally, this type of trailer is usually used to carry freight that must be loaded and unloaded using a crane.

RGN

According to T&P Trucking, RGN stands for a removable gooseneck trailer. These versatile trailers can be used for tall and long loads as well as for hauling large machinery. You can detach this trailer, allowing it to be dropped to the ground. It turns the front of the trailer into a ramp you can use to drive heavy machinery right up onto the deck. You’ll be able to carry freight with the following weight and dimensions:

  • Maximum freight weight: 42,000 pounds
  • Main deck length: 29 feet
  • Main deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Main deck height: 11 feet 6 inches
  • Front deck length: 10 feet
  • Front deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Front deck height: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Rear deck length: 9 feet
  • Rear deck width: 8 feet 6 inches
  • Rear deck height: 10 feet

You’ll find these trailers are designed with anywhere from three axles up to as many as 20, which helps them deliver incredible payloads.

Side-Kit

Side-kit trailers have panels, curved metal spines that are shaped like bows, and stakes around the perimeter of the bed. This gives it some structure so you can attach tarps to it as needed, creating a trailer that can protect cargo that is sensitive to exposure. Its dimensions and weight limits are:

  • Maximum freight weight: 45,000 pounds
  • Length: 48 or 53 feet
  • Width: 8 feet 4 inches
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches

Lowboys

When you have cargo that’s too tall for even a step-deck to handle, you’ll need to call on a lowboy trailer. This type of trailer resembles a step-deck, and only it could be called a double drop, as it sits even lower than a standard drop deck trailer. Lowboys sit only 18 inches off the ground, meaning they can accommodate freight that requires a clearance height of up to 11 feet 6 inches.

Not all flatbed trucks are created equal. This guide should help you determine the flatbed you need to haul your cargo properly.

Wide Load vs. Oversize Load

It is impossible to discuss flatbed trucks without mentioning wide loads and oversize loads. Many people don’t understand the difference between the two terms. But it isn’t all that confusing. The only thing you need to do is to remember one simple concept: All wide loads are oversize loads, but not all oversize loads are wide loads.

A wide load is any load that exceeds the legal width for cargo for a particular state. Almost all states in the US require special permitting, signage and flags for any cargo being carried on a highway which is greater than 8′-5″ wide. If a load exceeds 12 feet in width, most states require an additional escort vehicle or perhaps even a police escort to drive through certain areas.

On the other hand, an oversize load is any load that is wider, higher, or heavier than is regularly permitted to travel in the area. Oversized loads require permitting, and may also necessitate an escort.

In many states, it is illegal to operate a vehicle pulling an oversize at any time outside daylight hours. For states which do allow nighttime travel, truck drivers need to adhere to all safety requirements concerning additional light such as colour and placement.

Flatbed trucks are vital pieces of equipment in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, construction and transportation. They are frequently used for carrying oversized or oddly shaped loads but have a wide variety of uses that make them highly versatile and valuable.

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