Side panel of flat bed truck

Navigating the World of Step Deck and Flatbed Trailers

April 23, 2024

Navigating the World of Step Deck and Flatbed Trailers

Explore step deck, lowboy, and flatbed trailers—uncover their unique designs and benefits in freight transport.

Explore step deck, lowboy, and flatbed trailers—uncover their unique designs and benefits in freight transport.

If you've ever observed the vast array of trucks and trailers traversing our highways, you've likely noticed the distinctive profiles of step deck and flatbed trailers. Unlike enclosed dry vans, these open-air trailers are uniquely designed to accommodate a variety of cargo. Let's delve deeper into each type, highlighting their unique features and benefits.

Understanding Step Deck Trailers

Often referred to as drop deck trailers, step deck trailers are engineered to haul tall freight that would surpass legal height restrictions if transported on a conventional flatbed trailer.

Step deck trailers are a common sight in industrial manufacturing logistics, transporting construction equipment, heavy machinery, aircraft parts, and more. This type of cargo, due to its significant height, would require special permits for transportation using standard trailers.

It's worth noting that legal height limitations vary across states, but generally, most motor vehicle height limits range from 13 feet, 6 inches (4.11 meters) to 14 feet (4.27 meters). This measurement includes both the height of the load and the trailer itself.

Step deck trailers feature a two-tiered deck design, which resembles a large step when viewed from the side, hence the name. The upper (front) deck is shorter and located near the front of the trailer and truck hitch. The lower (rear) deck is significantly longer and closer to the ground, allowing for the accommodation of taller loads.

Step deck trailers are uniquely engineered to accommodate freight that extends marginally over 10 feet in height, demonstrating their superior adaptability in handling taller loads. These trailers, being lower to the ground and unenclosed on all sides, offer a distinct edge during the process of cargo loading, particularly with forklift operations. This design advantage sets step deck trucks apart from other types of freight trailers. Meanwhile, the maximum load weight for a step deck trailer is 42,500 lbs.

Exploring Lowboy Trailers

The terms 'lowboy trailer' and 'step deck truck' are often used interchangeably, as both feature a dual-deck design and are utilized for transporting high cargo. Lowboy trailers, as the name suggests, have a lowered bed situated in front of the rear axles.

These trailers sit even closer to the ground than step decks and are equipped with ramping capabilities. However, their design restricts them to a smaller length capacity compared to step deck trailers.

While lowboy trailers can carry a maximum load weight of 40,000 pounds (about 18 tons), they can accommodate additional weight capacity up to 80,000 pounds (about 36 tons), depending on the number of axles used.

Examining Step Deck Trailer Heights

The height of the rear deck on a standard step deck trailer typically measures between 40 to 43 inches. The specific height of a step deck trailer is dependent on the truck model and type. The lower the deck, the taller the loadit can carry, with most step decks capable of accommodating cargo approximately 10 ft tall.

Lowboy trailers, on the other hand, have a minimum distance from the ground of 24 inches for their rear deck, granting them a few extra inches to transport even taller cargo - up to approximately 11 ft.

A Glimpse at the Flatbed Semi

Flatbed semi-trailers, essentially a "flat version" of the stepdeck, also play a significant role in our fleet. Our expert 3PL team judiciously selects the trailer type for each load, prioritizing efficiency, speed, and safety.

A flatbed trailer, devoid of sides or a roof, is a versatile component in our freight transport arsenal. It's extensively employed for transporting equipment, pipes, rigs, vehicles, raw materials, and a plethora of other cargotypes. Flatbed trucks at Covenant offer customizable features like curtain-sided walls for overhang protection, extendable decks for heavy loads, and the provision to include extra axles for legal weight compliance. These trailers can be easily loaded with forklifts or cranes, thanks to their open design, making them invaluable for hotshot trucking and special capacity freight needs. There are many types of open deck trailers that allow us to legally haul different heights and weights of freight. At Covenant, we can work with you to determine which trailer best fits your needs for your specific load.

Step Deck vs. Flatbed: A Comparative Analysis

Given that about 65% of all freight tonnage last year was transported by truck, diversity in OTR freight types is vast. Consequently, each trailer model has its unique strengths and limitations. When weighing up flatbed against step deck, it's crucial to consider all factors influencing the transport process. At Covenant, we leverage advanced transportation management technology to pinpoint the most efficient and streamlined options for every customer and load, always prioritizing performance, sustainability, and safety.

Experience the Covenant Advantage

At Covenant, we prioritize safety in every transport project we undertake. Our extensive experience, coupled with a long list of awards, ensures we meet your transport logistics needs comprehensively. With over 30 years in the trucking industry, our commitment at Covenant is to ensure your success. Reach out to us to learn how Covenant can assist you with your logistics and transportation requirements.