Purchasing and maintaining tanker trailers

by Derek Clouthier

There are so many different types and models of tankers used to haul a variety of products across Canada – crude oil, refined petroleum, chemicals, dry bulk, farm equipment, hot products, jet fuel – but despite their durable appearance, these cylindrically-shaped trailers still require some tender love and care.

“A quality continuous preventive maintenance program shows in the longevity and the presentation of the equipment,” said Allan Paaren, vice-president of sales for Ontario for Tremcar, a manufacturer of tankers for the North American market. “Dealing with dangerous goods, food products and bulk commodities in general is serious business.” TW marketplace B and B

Darren Williams, Tremcar’s vice-president of sales for Western Canada, said how a tanker is maintained can depend on what you’re hauling.

“For petroleum, normal maintenance is all they need to do,” Williams said. “For crude oil, they should never leave a trailer parked for an extended period because there are harmful agents such as H2S (hydrogen sulfide) that is in the oil that can harm the liner or bare aluminum.”

Bruce Daccord, president of Transcourt Tank Leasing, said one of the most vital maintenance tips that often gets overlooked as soon as someone purchases a tanker is keeping it clean.

“A clean trailer allows you to more easily spot trailer problems,” he said. “As a North American provider, we see the effects of severe winter and off-road situations that the oil and gas industries take our equipment into.”

Daccord said the combination of severe weather and the use of de-icing chemicals that attack electrical connections and metal parts, mean keeping a tanker trailer clean is not only a challenge, but also a growing concern.

“We have a saying that, ‘Nobody washes the rental car,’” Daccord said, “but it is typically the least cost in overall maintenance, but in some situations yields the biggest savings.”

Derek Lane, fleet manager for Western Canada with Bess Tank Lines, said when it comes to transferring product, keeping pumps and valves clean, lubricated and serviced is key.

“A pretty steady regiment when it comes to washing as well,” Lane said. “A lot of the internal barrels, there are a lot of products out there that will corrode and pit them and people don’t realize that all the time and then you go look in a barrel and it’s all corroded and pitted.”

Image may not be everything, but it is something.

“The exterior, especially when you get into stainless tankers, keeping them clean really keeps up the image and really helps the wear and tear down on the exterior skin,” Lane said.

Lane said the difference between a tanker purchased 20 years ago and one bought today are 10-fold when it comes to ease of maintenance.

“The different materials that are used and today’s technology makes a world of difference when it comes to strategic welds, precision cutting and measuring and right down to the little things, like replacement parts, which are a lot more available and standardized now,” Lane explained.

Lane said gaskets are one of the primary areas people must pay attention to when it comes to maintaining a tanker.

“When you look at manhole gaskets, internal and external valve gaskets, they have to be pulled and properly cleaned and then reinstalled,” he said. “We’ve seen it on some customer trailers where there’s gunk and residue built up in those gaskets and you’re only asking for problems; it can cause cross-contamination, leaks…nothing is more frustrating than those two items.”

Lane said gaskets should be cleaned whenever you’re switching products or on a semi-annual basis if hauling the same product throughout the year.

Buying decisions
In addition to properly maintaining your trailer, choosing the right tanker to purchase or lease for the type of work and product you want to haul is a fundamental first step.

Daccord said one common feature of tanker trailers potential buyers should pay close attention to is versatility.

“The work that you have in mind for your trailer changes frequently,” he said. “The more flexibility you have, the better your chances of finding and keeping work for that trailer.”

Daccord pointed to pressure unload lines as an example; you may not need one today, but including provisions for one at the time of purchase gives you the option of adding one at a later date.

Eyeing future technologies is another aspect to consider when purchasing a tanker.

“You don’t need to be a guinea pig with new technologies (unless you want to),” said Daccord, “but you also don’t want to be left with a devalued fleet if you keep spec’ing equipment the same way even though the industry has clearly started moving in a new direction.”

And, believe it or not, size does matter.

“A lot of people either underestimate or overestimate their needs,” said Lane. “And they end up buying equipment that can be a lot smaller or a lot larger than what they in fact need.”

The same goes for product transfer systems.

“For certain products they have to make sure their applications are correct,” Lane said.

Williams said people must take the tanker’s warranty into consideration when purchasing, including who is going to service the trailer and at what cost, while Paaren stressed the importance of quality and the manufacturer’s ability and experience to match the equipment with the customer’s needs.

Sharing as much information about your specific needs with the supplier is also key, according to Daccord.

“Let them know what you’re hauling, how heavy, how far, how is it loaded and unloaded, in which geographic jurisdictions and on what kinds of roads,” he said, adding that Transcourt is able to provide a better solution if all this information is divulged. “Customers should look for a customized solution, not just a stock unit that happens to be available. If you’re not comfortable sharing this information with your supplier, find a new one.”

Daccord also said potential buyers must consider all the costs of operating a tanker, and not solely the purchase or lease price.

“That old vintage trailer might look like a bargain,” he said, “but after you’ve run it for a few months and bring it to the shop, you might be in for a nasty surprise. We suggest going with the newest trailer you can afford within your budget – you’ll be glad you did.”

Williams agreed that buying or leasing based on price only is a common mistake people make when in the market for a tanker, as did Paaren, who added that reviewing the specifications, alternatives and features of the trailer is important.

“The equipment is a long-term investment and deserves careful consideration to make the best decisions at the time of purchase,” Paaren said. “Those decisions will be with the owner for many years to come.”

At present, Tremcar is seeing chemical tankers in high demand in Ontario, while petroleum and crude trailers continue to be asked for in Western Canada.

Transcourt leases tankers across North America, and depending on where you look, seasonal trailers, such as hot products (asphalt), dry bulk, aggregates and petroleum are in currently in high demand. The need for chemical and food grade stainless steel trailers has also remained steady for the company, and it are seeing increasing demand for compressed gas tankers, while crude and condensate hauling has remained soft.

“Utilizing leasing as part of your overall trailer procurement program allows for greater flexibility to meet seasonal, peak volume and economic changes impacting your capacity requirements,” said Daccord. “Transcourt has been buying, leasing, renting and financing trailers for almost 20 years now so if you have any questions or are looking for input or advice don’t hesitate to give us a call.”

Tremcar said it has diversified its services to offer better leasing options, which includes the opportunity to test the product before committing to buying.

“Tremcar West, located in Edmonton, has also developed a new line of stationary storage tanks called Steelcraft,” said Melanie Dufresne, marketing and communications for Tremcar. “The service center offers stationary utility tanks, waste tanks and (Transport Canada) approved portable storage tanks for pickup trucks.”

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  • Excellent article!!
    Have a question- when purchasing a new tanker trailer does one need to put down a deposit after specs & price agreed upon- 10-20-30% up front, if any, or staggered. 1/3, 1/3, 1/3?
    What is the industry’s general practice concerning deposits?


  • This a very informative article!!
    But I have a question.
    The question is, Is there a difference between the maintenance of crude oil trailers and chemical trailers?
    Please let me know