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Cooler heads will prevail when working with reefers

Every experienced trucker knows that cooler heads will always prevail. The phrase just holds a special meaning for those who haul reefers.

Every experienced trucker knows that cooler heads will always prevail. The phrase just holds a special meaning for those who haul reefers.

Indeed, truckers who remain focused on a few important procedures can address many of the common challenges that are linked to refrigerated loads.

The job begins with keeping a close eye on the equipment itself. Coolant levels, belts and oil levels need to be inspected before any trip to ensure that everything will work as designed. And a regular look at the reflection of warning lights in the West Coast mirror – or the automated messages sent to a smartphone – will help to confirm that the system continues to run as it should.  

The focus on equipment is hardly limited to hot summer days. Those who haul reefers through the Prairies during winter months may want to keep the refrigeration units idling all the time rather than relying on an automated start and stop cycle.
The cost of the extra fuel will pale in comparison to storage fees and time in a service bay if the reefer unit fails to start when

And while any mechanical system can fail at one time or another, fleets can prepare their drivers for technical problems by supplying lists of qualified service centres or dealerships that should be called if temperatures begin to shift.

As important as the pieces of equipment may be, however, the systems also need to be used correctly if they are expected to protect their cargo.

Reefers are designed to maintain temperatures rather than actually cool a load. This makes pre-cooling strategies particularly important. For example, it can take four to six hours to cool a trailer down to the 34 F (1 C) needed to protect a load of apples, carrots or broccoli. The 28 F  (-2 C) needed for frozen foods can require more time than that, and a summer heat wave will only add to the timelines.

Obviously, the sooner dispatchers can inform drivers about the temperatures needed for the next load, the better.

Human errors present a challenge of their own. Some drivers have been known to forget to press the ‘Enter’ key after punching the related temperatures into control pads, leaving the reefer to default to the temperatures that were selected for the last load.

A focus on the condition of the trailer itself will also play a role in the cooling process.

The reefer’s cooling flow of air needs a clear path for its trip around the cargo. Securement devices like straps and logistics bars can help to maintain an unobstructed flow of air around the bulkheads, and a well-placed pair of discarded skids can create their own barriers against any shifting cargo.

Meanwhile, the reefer chute that stretches into the trailer will need to be free of any obstructions, and checked for rips caused by forklifts that lift skids just a little too high.

But the potential for damaged cargo is not limited to temperatures alone. It’s why the drain holes found along the frame rails at the front and back of the trailer should be cleared of any debris like chunks of old pallets, allowing any unwanted water to escape.

As important as the conditions inside the trailer may be, drivers also need to monitor the original temperature of any new cargo that is loaded on-board.

No matter what style of pulp thermometer is used, the most accurate temperature readings will be measured along the outside of the pallet and at the centre of the load. Then it is a matter of comparing these readings to the required temperatures identified on the bill of lading, and contacting dispatchers if there is any difference.

At the very least, the document can be marked with news that a shipper did not allow the driver to examine the load.

After all, a constant stream of information will be as important as the cool breeze from the reefer.

Drivers who inform dispatchers about temperature problems will protect the fleet from the cost of rejected loads.

Dispatchers and shippers who hear about equipment breakdowns will also have the chance to work together to save the cargo. And those who call their insurers as soon as a receiver rejects a load can enjoy the support of a skilled insurance adjuster while the freight can still be inspected.

Challenges are bound to happen. The solutions are simply a matter of paying attention to the details and keeping your cool. n

– This month’s experts are David Goruk and Matt Graveline. David is a risk services specialist and has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Matt is a senior risk services consultant for Northbridge Insurance, and has more than 20 years’ experience in the trucking industry as both a long-haul driver and an owner/operator. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at

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2 Comments » for Cooler heads will prevail when working with reefers
  1. Tony says:

    Great article I haul reefers and every single time i have called my company with a reefer problem, I was to blame. I remember my first reefer breakdown when i called in I was told by the owner of the company that i had let it run out of fuel. Being new to reefers and stuck in Quebec on a very hot afternoon I took money from my own pocket and put fuel in the reefer which was not out of fuel. Two other drivers tried to help me save the load and could not get the reefer going.I told the owner each time but he kept blaming me. Finally I over ran my hours by 11 to get to a Repair man in New Brunswick at 02:30 am and it took him almost 3 hours to get the reefer running. I never heared back if the load of fish was any good or not, But the owner Never cared. Also U.S. Customs and CBSA tell us to turn our reefers when approaching the window. What if they will not start up again and you are hauling fresh or frozen food or life saving medical supplies and the load gets destroyed then or people become sick because meat products have been left to thaw and refrozen in the reefer and then delivered to the store shelves. I can tell you some real horror stories about what happens to food products while in Transport. Tony Godsoe.

  2. Elaine says:

    GPS tracking devices can monitor the temperature of the trailer and give notice when temperature reaches a critical threshold, send email notification to the driver and the fleet manager.

    All temperatures along the route are stored in online reports; these are records of the constant temperatures throughout the trip and can be used to verify temperature, if product is delivered spoiled.

    Reefers can be remotely controlled, to start pre-cool the trailer and shut down, raise or lower temperature, from any mobile device, any where in the world if you have the authorization.

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