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What Is A Step Deck Trailer? [Incl. Key Facts and Important Features]

If you are looking to find out what a step deck trailer is and learn key facts relating to its uses and features, you are in the right place.

In this article, I will define what a step deck trailer is and explain why it is used over other trailers, such as a flatbed. I will also include information on its dimensions, weight load and height load maximums, the costs of buying one, and some of the key benefits to using one.

I will also discuss variants of step deck trailers (also known as drop decks trailers), including lowboys and when those variants matter.

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and complete a transaction, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

What Is a Step Deck Trailer and What Does It Look Like?

A step deck trailer is an open trailer, similar to a flat bed trailer (no sides or roof), that hauls freight that is too tall to be carried with a flat bed trailer. It gets its name from its design, which has an upper deck that sits atop the semi’s rear axle, and a lower deck that drops down after that. This allows you to move cargo that would be taller than the legal limit if placed on a flatbed without a special permit.

Of course, I always believe a picture is worth a thousands words, so here is an image of a semi-truck hauling a step deck trailer.

Image of truck hauling step deck trailer

There are a number of variants among step deck trailers, with the most common being fixed neck, goose neck, and removable goose neck (RGN) trailers. Goose neck trailers are a bit more stable and flexible than fixed neck trailers, so that is something to consider.

The type of step deck trailer you will want to get is going to depend on the types of loads you will be hauling and what type of loading and unloading options you want. For example, a fixed neck trailer can only be loaded from the back, while a removable goose neck can unload from either side.

Bottom line is that you should consider these types of factors when evaluating the right type of step deck trailer for you.

What Is a Step Deck Trailer Used For (and Is It Better Than a Flatbed)?

As we just mentioned a step deck trailer is designed to move freight that would otherwise be too tall to carry on a regular flat bed trailer. Often, you will find step deck trailers used to haul large equipment and vehicles, such as cranes, loaders, compactors, tractors, excavators, generators, building and agricultural equipment and materials, and other heavy machinery.

Of course, these are not the only things that you can haul with a step deck trailer – as I will cover later, these trailers are versatile and can be used to carry all manner of freight, including extra large and heavy items.

As a general matter, step deck trailers are better than flatbed trailers because they are more versatile. You can essentially haul most loads that a flatbed trailer can handle as well as taller loads that can only be transported with a step deck trailer.

Now when if you are looking to haul oversized items, it is important to know the applicable state rules around transporting such items, so you should check them out. In general, you are likely looking at a maximum height of between 13’6″ to 14′ in height, even with a special permit. Source

Complying with height requirements is obviously important because you don’t want to break the law and suffer the consequences for that, but it’s also very important from a safety perspective as well. You certainly don’t want to invite disaster by having loads that exceed bridge clearance heights.

What Are the Standard Dimensions For a Step Deck Trailer?

Below is a chart that shows the standard dimensions for a step deck trailer, broken out between the top deck and the longer lower deck.

Standard Height of Step Deck TrailerStandard Length of Step Deck TrailerStandard Width of Step Deck Trailer
Top Deck: 5′Top Deck: 11′Top Deck: 8’6″
Bottom Deck: 36″ to 42″Bottom Deck: 37′ to 41′Bottom Deck: 8’6″

Source

How Tall Can a Step Deck Trailer Haul?

The normal load height permitted for a standard flat bed is around 8’6″ tall, but as we mentioned, step decks can bump that up. How high?

In most cases, a step deck trailer allows for cargo that is up to 10′ feet tall. If your freight is taller than that, then a lowboy trailer may be more suitable for you because it will bump up that maximum height to 12′.

Source

What Is the Difference Between a Step Deck Trailer and Lowboy Trailer?

If you are not familiar with lowboy trailers, here’s a brief explanation of the difference between them and step deck trailers.

Lowboy trailers are designed similarly to step deck trailers, but sit even closer to the ground. Their design allows you to haul cargo that is between 11’6″ to 12′ tall, which is an upgrade when compared to the standard step deck trailer, which typically can haul freight that is 10′ tall or less. A lowboy with two axles also has a greater weight rating (up to 70,000 lbs) allowing you to haul heavier loads.

Source

How Much Weight Can a Step Deck Trailer Haul?

For a standard step deck trailer, the maximum weight you can haul is 48,000 pounds.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Step Deck Trailer?

Prices for a new step deck trailer range from around $30,000 to more than $60,000.

Prices vary for used step deck trailers as well. Based on my research, they range between $20,000 to around $45,000.

Benefits of a Step Deck Trailer

Can Haul Taller Loads

As mentioned, the main benefit of a step deck trailer is its ability to carry tall freight. Its design allows the freight to sit lower to the ground and thus allows you to carry taller items without exceeding legal height limits.

If you want to learn more about how to get the best loads for your step deck trailer, check out my article on the best load boards for step deck trailers.

Versatility

An added benefit of a step deck trailer is its versatility. But just because it can carry taller items does not mean you are limited to carrying taller items. As we showed in the picture of the step deck trailer earlier in this article, this type of trailer is perfectly capacity of handling loads that are of normal height as well. This means you can haul all sorts of loads with your step deck.

Easier Loading and Unloading

Because of their low deck height, fork lifts have an easier time loading and unloading freight from a step deck because of its low height (the forklift operator does not have to lift the fork as high), making it an efficient and safe way to transport goods relative to trailers that have taller platforms.

And they often come with ramp capabilities, further easing the loading and unloading of cargo.

Can Haul Heavy Loads Too

Double drop deck trailers have can be used if you want to haul extraordinarily large or heavy loads. These trailers have two higher decks (one in front and one in back) with a long lower deck that is sandwiched between them (often called a well).

They are able to carry outsized and heavy loads due to their ability to provide 2 or more axles. They have a flip axle that can be placed on the platform when not in use or flipped down to support extra weight when you are carrying freight that requires it.

Federal regulations specify that trailers maintain a certain number of axles dependent on the weight of freight. Using a drop deck trailer with extra axles helps drivers and operators in hauling heavy freight without extra permits. If you’re trying to decide between a step deck vs. flatbed trailer, you’ll want to consider the height as well as the weight.

Conclusion

So there you have it – a detailed look at the step deck trailer and key information about its uses and other features. If you want to learn more about trucking in general, check out my articles on trucking and transportation.