How to Choose Between a 48-Foot and 53-Foot Trailer?

white trailer truck in a highway at dusk

Besides electricity, one of the greatest inventions in the 19th century is the semi-truck. It allowed businesses and farms to sell their products beyond borders. 

Semi-trucks deliver 70% of the goods Americans consume. That is why they are an integral part of the US economy. Today, semi-trucks have evolved into different designs. Even the trailers they haul varied according to transporting purposes. 

Today, a common dilemma for truckers is how to choose between a 48-foot and 53-foot trailer. Most would think that the longer trailer a trucker has, the better it is. This isn’t true. Federal and state trucking laws and the type of loads pose advantages and disadvantages between having a short or long trailer. It is best for us to know how a 48-foot and a 53-foot trailer evolve. Then, let us find out the difference between the two and what their uses are.

The Evolution of Trailers

Before the invention of semi-trucks, horses with carriages were used to transport freights. A car manufacturer named Alexander Winton designed the first semi-truck in 1903. He was then enjoying the success of his car business when he realized the need for a trailer to deliver cars in other parts of the United States. The first hauler he designed only fits one car. Winton converted an automobile into a tractor and attached a trailer on its rear part. The trailer successfully made its trek from San Francisco to Manhattan in New York. 

The expansion of roadways and improvement of engines and transmission gave rise to the popularity of shipping via trucks in 1910. By 1914, there were around 100,000 trucks on the roads of America. It was also in the same year when Frederic M. Sibley commissioned August Charles Fruehauf to build a longer trailer in order to transport his boat via a Ford Model T. Many industries took notice of Fruehauf’s “go-anywhere” trailer. It paved for the establishment of his trailer manufacturing company in 1918.

Industrial technologies have opened up opportunities for long-haul trucking. Mack Trucks and White Motor Company have made names in the 1920s. In 1956, the construction of the US federal highway witnessed the creation of metal box shipping containers. Trailers grew in size based on the standard shipping pallets. 

Trailer manufacturers commonly add length in multiples of 4. The 40-foot trailer became legalized in 1959 by 10 American states. In 1982, the US federal law allowed 48-foot trailers along national highways. For a long time, it has been the de facto standard for legal trailer lengths. A 1990 truck safety law later legalized the 53-foot trailer. 

Comparison Between a 48-foot and 53-foot Trailer

Long-haul trailers are commonly 48-foot or 53-foot in length. Typically, they are hauled by a semi-truck with 5 axles. Yet, the two trailers use different tandems. A 48-foot trailer uses spread tandems around 10 feet and 1 inch. While a 53-foot trailer uses regular tandems around 4 feet and 2 inches. 

The US federal allows a 48-foot trailer to carry a weight of up to 40,000 pounds, while it allows a 53-foot trailer to carry a weight of up to 34,000 pounds. Although most US states allowed semi-trucks to carry loads of up to 80,000 pounds. 

A standard shipping pallet commonly measured 48” long and 40” wide. A 48-foot trailer can fit 24 single-stacked pallets and 48 double-stacked pallets. While a 53-foot trailer can fit 26 single-stacked pallets and 52 double-stacked pallets lengthwise with an excess space of 1 foot. 

Which is Better: a 48-foot or a 53-foot Trailer?

In general, a 48-foot trailer can carry heavier loads than 53-foot trailers. With a 48-foot trailer, you have higher axle weights to allow load flexibility although you lose a few feet of cargo space. 48-foot trailers are great flatbeds where goods tend to be heavier. 

There are 4 US states who only allow a trailer length of up to 48 feet. These are: 

  • California
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii 
  • Indiana

So, if you are doing your trucking business in these states, it is better to get the shorter trailer. More obvious, it will be easier to look for a parking space with shorter trailers.

Some loads are longer or may benefit from the extra space of a 53-foot trailer. They may not carry as much weight as a 48-foot trailer but they can accommodate much pallet space. If you will be working on load boards, there are lots of shipments available for a 53-foot trailer than a 48-foot one. 

They are also preferred both as dry vans and refrigerated vans. Most consumer goods are lightweight and they occupy a major percent of the goods being transported. This makes a 53-foot trailer most preferred by truckers.

Yet in the end, the type of load dictates whether it is better to get a 48-foot or 53-foot trailer.

Sometimes, it’s easier to find the perfect trailer when plenty of options are laid before you. Visit us at and check out our incredible listing of semi trailers.

With our wide range of units, there is surely something that fits your budget and needs.