What Is a Refrigerated Truck? How Does It Work?

Refrigerated trucks or vans are specialized delivery vehicles designed to keep cargo cold and fresh during transportation. These trucks have become indispensable assets across a variety of sectors; the global market for refrigerated transport is expected to grow 15.2 percent in the next few years, reaching over $93 million by 2019. Are you considering investing in a refrigerated truck? Learn the basics of how they work and who uses them before you make your purchase.

How Refrigerated Trucks Work

Unlike the air conditioning in passenger cars, refrigerated trucks, or “reefers,” allow users to precisely control the temperature of the cargo area. Industries that need to maintain a cold chain — consistent temperature control across the entire supply chain — often use refrigerated containers to ensure that the cold chain is maintained throughout shipping. Most reefer trucks use a simple refrigeration mechanism that consists of a compressor, a condenser and an evaporator.


The compressor in refrigeration units usually runs on a small engine, generally powered by diesel. The pressure inside the condenser is used to liquefy the gaseous refrigerant. While in the past Freon was the refrigerant of choice, today more environmentally friendly options, such as R404a and R134A refrigerant, are used. While in the compressor, the refrigerant loses much of it heat, but is still relatively warm.


The warm, liquid refrigerant is pumped through a condenser to cool it using outside air introduced by a fan. In the condenser, the liquid runs through thin tubes and “fins” on the tubing, which increases the surface area for the refrigerant to come into contact with cool outside air. This allows the refrigerant to lose heat more effectively, bringing it to the appropriate temperature to keep your cargo cold.


Finally, the cold, pressurized liquid is introduced to the evaporator, where it rapidly evaporates and absorbs much of the heat from the air in the trailer, keeping the cargo cool. Evaporators usually have a metering valve, which controls the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator and allows the user to control the temperature of the cargo area more precisely. Now liquid again, the refrigerant flows back to the compressor, where it will cycle through the process again and continue to keep the cargo area at the optimal temperature.

What to Know Before You Buy

Refrigerated trucks are an especially valuable asset for companies that regularly transport perishable goods, such as florists, food service companies, and pharmaceutical distributors. For smaller businesses, having a reefer can help you stay competitive in the market and maintain the quality of your product during deliveries. However, reefer units may have high fuel costs and require careful maintenance to continue performing at their peak. Investing in a well-designed, high-quality refrigeration unit is crucial if you want to see a return on your investment. Be sure to compare different refrigeration solutions to find one that fits your transport refrigeration needs as well as your budget.


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