You’ve probably seen hundreds of semis with flatbed or step deck trailers over the years and not thought much about the difference. Maybe you didn’t even know there was such a thing as a step deck trailer at all. When hauling large items, there are certain advantages to utilizing a step deck, also known as a drop deck or lowboy trailer. Let’s examine the facts about step deck trailers, the difference between them and flatbeds, and why you may want to use one in the future.

Step Deck Trailer Definition

A step deck trailer is designed to carry cargo that is too tall to go on a flatbed truck. A step deck truck can help you haul loads without having to obtain special permits for exceeding the legal height limit. These trailers have a lower and upper deck, hence the use of the term “step” in the name. This also makes it much easier to load and unload equipment, especially with a forklift.

There are different types of step deck trailers, such as fixed-neck, gooseneck, or removable gooseneck, which you can use depending on your needs for loading and unloading. A fixed-neck trailer has limited options, whereas a removable gooseneck can be loaded either on the front or back of the trailer. How tall is a step deck trailer? These trailers typically have a lower deck height of 3 feet 6 inches.

Freight Carried on Step Deck Trailer

So what kind of freight is typically carried on step deck trailers? These trailers usually accommodate heavy machinery and freight that tends to be higher. The average load capacity of this trailer, also known as a drop deck or “lowboy,” comes in at around 46,000 pounds, which is why these open trailers are particularly useful when it comes to hauling anything heavy. The typical step deck truck loads include the following items:

  • Excavators
  • Tractors
  • Building Materials
  • Agricultural Materials
  • Other Machinery

Obviously, these items can be quite high, and depending on the specific state law, they may exceed the maximum allowable height, especially for things like bridge clearance. This is where step deck trailers really come in handy. These trailers have the capability to hold loads of up to 10 feet and 2 inches in height, which makes them perfect for taller items that don’t fit on standard flatbed trailers. The “step” gives the necessary extra room to fit those large freights that would otherwise fail to make it under low bridges.

Flatbed Trailer Vs Step Deck Trailer

There is obviously a key difference between step deck vs flatbed, but it’s mainly just the step deck dimensions. When it comes to length and width, the step deck and flatbed have the same dimensions, but there is a key difference with the height of these trailers. With the lowered deck, as mentioned before, the step deck dimensions allow for larger cargo to be hauled, even if all the other specifications are pretty much the same, including the weight limit.

Freight Carried on a Flatbed Trailer

Due to their large surface area, flatbed trailers are great for hauling large loads with high freight weight, though they won’t suit when it comes to taller loads. Some examples of commonly transported traditional flatbed trailer cargo include:

  • Raw materials
  • Construction materials
  • Agricultural equipment
  • Scrap metal
  • Heating and cooling units
  • Certain oversize loads

Pros and Cons of Step Deck Trailers

While a flatbed trailer can work great when you need to carry loads of heavy materials, flatbed trailers have limitations. This is where step deck trailers come in.

Like a regular flatbed trailer, drop decks provide a large, flat surface to strap your cargo to. However, step decks accommodate for taller loads with their signature lowered deck, allowing you to transport higher loads. This allows large items and machinery to be carried under bridges without running into physical or legal difficulties.

With a lowboy trailer, you get an extra 20 inches before reaching maximum height for a trailer. The maximum height for a drop deck is about 10’2”, which gives you nearly two feet on the 8’6” regular flatbed trailer. Step decks also come with a ramp for moving materials on and off, which is especially useful when you don’t have a crane.

Of course, there are some setbacks with a lowboy trailer deck. Even with the extra space, some cargo exceeds the height restrictions on a lowboy trailer. Additionally, step decks leave your freight open to the elements, which could cause damage. Though a tarp will help shield your load, fragile equipment can still be harmed in transit.


If you’re in need of some extra versatility due to the sheer size of the freight you need to ship, you should look into step deck trailers. If you’re looking for a hauling freight shipping company that can provide you with excellent step deck trailers for your transportation needs, looks no further than PRIMO Trailer. Get a free freight transportation quote, and we’d be happy to serve your needs!