Making the Right Choice: A Guide to Selecting the Right Freight for You 

If you’re new to the trucking industry, there’s a good chance that you’re unsure how exactly dry van, flatbed and tanker drivers differ. After all, many people think of big rigs and assume there’s no difference between them. But the reality is these three types of drivers have very different jobs and must be trained differently to succeed at each job type. So what are some of the key distinctions between these three types? Here are a few key points: 

Tanker vs Dry Van vs Flatbed 

A tanker driver is a professional trucker who hauls liquid cargo. The primary difference between tankers is that they are designed to haul liquids, such as liquid food-grade products, chemicals, or petroleum products. Tanker drivers have more responsibility and training; their work is more specialized than the dry van and flatbed drivers. 

Tankers are designed to haul certain types of products (mostly liquids) in bulk form at highway speeds for long distances. These trailer axles are usually connected directly to the frame due to the weight distribution of the liquid balanced evenly throughout the length of the trailer.  

 Dry vans are specially designed trailers used primarily for transporting non-liquid goods via highway routes over long distances (e.g., furniture). A typical dry van has no special features other than those required by law but may have additional features, such as sliding tandems for LTL/FTL delivery services.  

Flatbed drivers haul objects ranging from lumber, machinery, metal, or any heavy object you can’t load in a dry van. These drivers must also slide the trailers axles if necessary to distribute the weight, just like dry vans. 

Weight and Size Differences 

The weight of an empty dry van is much less than an empty tanker. This is because dry vans are used to transport goods like food, clothes and other products, which can easily be damaged if they get wet. Tankers are heavier and made to withstand the pressure of the product pushing against the side walls while in transit. Tankers have a much longer wheelbase than dry vans because the tandem axles are not designed to slide due to food grade products, chemicals, fuels and other liquids which take up more space and disperse evenly inside the trailer itself. Flatbed trailers are by far the lightest of the three trailers when empty.   

The most obvious difference between the three types of trailers is their height and weight. When pulling a dry van or hauling a large piece of cargo on a flatbed, the driver must check the height of the bridges they will be traveling to ensure there is enough clearance for the trailer and cargo to pass under. Bridge height will range depending on the city and state, but most tanker trailers are generally less than 12 feet tall. In comparison, dry vans are 13.5 feet tall.  

Pros and Cons  

Dry Van Hauling 

Pros of dry van hauling: 

  • Cargo sealed and protected 
  • Can be Drop & Hook 
  • Mostly driver does NOT have to touch, ie. Unload or Load (open doors, back into the dock)

Cons of dry van hauling: 

  • Long delays/waits at customer 
  • Dealing with Lumper’s to get Unloaded 
  • Stuck at a Truck Stop waiting for Dispatch to get your next load 
  • Driving through Cities and dealing with Clearance Issues 
  • Wind-shifting trailer going down the road 

Tanker hauling 

Pros of tanker hauling:

  • Customers usually let you stay on the property for a break 
  • Customers usually more friendly and positive 
  • Faster unloading time (usually 1-2 hours) 
  • Better visibility/safer 
  • Shorter trailer that’s easier to maneuver/navigate through tight areas

Cons of tanker hauling

  • Slosh in a smooth bore tank (moving liquid) 
  • Sometimes the weather isn’t good, but you must still unload standing outside 
  • Can be dangerous driving, especially in winter conditions 


In conclusion, the job description for a tanker driver is very different from that of a dry van or flatbed driver and there are pros and cons to each type of freight. 

Because there are many factors involved in determining which type of company would best suit your needs as well as what kind of salary range individuals anticipate earning when entering this field (or switching categories), it’s important to not only think about what type of lifestyle would suit you best but also research potential employers’ pay and company structures before making any decisions about where exactly you’ll work next week!