servicing reefers in MN

Reefer Trailer Maintenance: How to Prevent Reefer Unit Failures

Drivers with a reefer trailer have a significant additional burden of maintenance compared to most other truckers, and that burden is the upkeep of the reefer trailer itself. While a breakdown with a conventional load can mean a delay, a breakdown with a reefer trailer can mean that the cargo or goods are lost, which can create considerable expenses for the driver or their company. This is why reefer trailer maintenance is one of the most important aspects of operating a reefer trailer.

Even though modern reefer units are highly complex, largely automated units that are far more sophisticated than their predecessors, they will still require a considerable degree of manual maintenance and inspection to keep them operating optimally. This keeps them on the road more, lowering repair bills and minimizing downtime. Here’s more about what you can do to keep your reefer unit in the best shape possible.


quality reefer repair in Twin Cities MNReefer Trailer Maintenance Tips

There are countless ways that the average driver or operator can keep their reefer trailer in good condition, but many go along with basic best practices for trailer maintenance. Here are some easy, actionable ways that semi operators can help provide the best maintenance conditions for their reefer unit.

1. Keep It Clean

While it may not contribute directly to the longevity or efficiency of your reefer unit specifically, keeping your trailer clean can go a long way toward keeping it in overall serviceable shape. Many reefer trailers are used to transport food items from point to point, which presents a danger of cross-contamination in many cases. 

Operators hauling food should observe the best practice of completely cleaning out the trailer after each delivery. This includes using a detergent to wash the interior since residues from meats can cross-contaminate vegetables, fruits, and other meat. This also ensures that the trailer is completely emptied of dirt, pallet wrap, and anything else that can reduce the airflow of the reefer trailer.

2. Perform Pre-Trip Inspections

Operators have a significant amount of responsibility to ensure that goods are kept in optimal conditions while under their care, which means they have a considerable burden to make sure those conditions can be met. Because of this, it is vital for operators to conduct pre-trip inspections before every haul to make sure crucial components of the reefer unit are ready to handle the stress of keeping the trailer cooled.

Inspect the primary temperature control panel, and make sure it runs through an entire cycle, watching the whole time for issues or error codes. Make sure the temperature is calibrated and reported correctly to the reefer unit. If the unit cycles completely, this should be a good indication that the compressor and other components of the sealed system are working well. 

Additional pre-trip checklist items for reefer trailers should include:

  • Make sure the air chute is clear of any debris or obstructions.
  • Make sure there are no cuts, punctures, or other damage to the walls.
  • Ensure all drains are clear of any debris or clogs.
  • Inspect all belts and hoses for damage or leaks.
  • Inspect all tubes for signs of refrigerant leaks.
  • Check the trailer body for damage.
  • Ensure all lights and indicators are functioning.
  • Check the pressure of all tires.

3. Keep the Fuel Tank Full

One of the most important things the driver needs to check when getting to the dock is that the fuel tank on the reefer unit is full. Since the units have integrated fuel tanks and diesel engines, the fuel tanks need to be kept full. Failing to keep the tank full can lead to the unit pulling in debris and contaminants from the tank, potentially causing mechanical issues that result in serious downtime and expense. 

To prevent damage to company assets, many shippers will not let an operator leave the loading dock with a reefer trailer whose fuel tank is less than ¾ full. However, making sure the tank has more than enough fuel for the trip should be part of the driver’s pre-trip checklist anyway, so there are few situations where the trailer should ever be at risk of running out of diesel.

4. Use Your Pulp Thermometer

Drivers that are pulling reefer trailers loaded with food will often have the burden of temperature monitoring. This will generally be done with a pulp thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of the food to ensure it stays within the required range on the Bill of Lading. While the trailer is being loaded, operators should protect themselves by checking at least 50% to 75% of the pallets by pulping, subsequently recording the temperatures on the Bill of Lading.

5. Don’t Crowd or Overload

Loading the trailer correctly is one of the crucial factors in a reefer trailer being able to maintain the proper temperature. This means allowing enough space for air to circulate around pallets and making sure the trailer isn’t overloaded in general. Without room for sufficient air circulation, the temperature in the trailer can begin to fluctuate, and the reefer unit can become overworked trying to cool zones that are being suffocated by poor loading.

6. Monitor Maintenance Intervals

Keeping up with recommended maintenance at regular intervals can go a long way toward keeping a reefer unit running strong for a long time, which drastically cuts down on potential repair costs. These intervals are commonly at every 1,000 hours of operation, but there are other services that are frequently needed at specific milestones.

For example, units that feature extended-life oil filters need oil changes at 3,000-hour or two-year intervals, whichever happens first. Each 3,000-hour maintenance cycle will look similar to this:

  • 750 hours: inspection
  • 1,500 hours: inspection and scheduled maintenance
  • 2,250 hours: inspection
  • 3,000 hours: inspection, scheduled maintenance, and oil change


Who is Responsible for Reefer Trailer Maintenance?

This is a common concern for many drivers, but primarily for those operating reefer trailers that are not driver-owned but are instead fleet-owned or company-owned. There are two parties generally charged with the maintenance and upkeep of a reefer trailer: the driver and the fleet manager. 

The driver is obviously the sole responsible party when they own the trailer, but when using a trailer owned by another party, they still maintain a significant degree of responsibility for operation and inspection while on the road. The fleet manager will be the party responsible for ensuring the reefer unit and trailer both receive periodic routine maintenance, and are charged with keeping the trailers road-worthy and safe for the drivers to take out. 

If you work for a trucking or cargo company as an owner-operator, independent contractor, or employee, find out exactly what your duties and responsibilities are when it comes to trailer maintenance. Not only can it help keep your reefer trailer on the road, but it can help you avoid potentially costly financial responsibility for certain aspects of maintenance.


Trust Blaine Brothers to Keep Your Reefer Trailer Cold

If you rely on a reefer trailer to keep you on the road, it’s important that the trailer and reefer unit be in good repair, and up to the challenge of cooling goods during transport. If you’ve been experiencing issues with your reefer unit, like alarms or sensor issues, or if you just haven’t had it inspected and maintained in a while, reach out to Blaine Brothers today for an appointment at one of our Minnesota or Wisconsin locations!

Blaine, MN


10011 Xylite Street NE
Minneapolis, MN 55449

Cloquet, MN


1325 Hwy 45
Cloquet, MN 55720

Clearwater, MN


750 Heaton BLVD
Clearwater, MN 55320

Baldwin, WI


2500 Alreich Ave
Baldwin, WI 54002



9515 150th Avenue NE
Columbus, MN 55025