Anytime you think you have the terminology down in the trucking industry, a new term is added. In this article, we’ll examine what a step deck trailer is, what it is used for, and how it is different from other types of trailers.

What is a step deck trailer? A step deck trailer does not have a roof or walls and is similar to a flatbed trailer. However, part of its deck is much lower and sits closer to the ground. It is easy to set cargo onto a step deck trailer thanks to the attached ramp and the easier access a forklift has. Step deck trailers primarily transport larger items that have a greater height clearance.

What is another name for a step deck trailer?

While a step deck trailer is the most common term for this device, it can also go by the name of a lowboy trailer or a drop deck.

What do you use a step deck for?

The primary purpose of a step deck trailer is to transport tall cargo. Any time you carry cargo on a highway, you are subjected to height restrictions so having a trailer that is lower than others will allow you to carry taller items without the need for a permit.

The maximum height of a trailer in the United States is 14 feet. A step deck trailer sits as low to the ground as possible so you can use every last inch within the height restrictions.

Construction of a step deck trailer

There are two parts to a step deck trailer, which is how it gets its name. One part, or deck, is higher than the other deck.

You can also find many step deck trailers that will have a ramp part. This is beneficial as it makes loading much easier.

With a step deck trailer, there are no walls, doors, or a roof. Instead, it merely looks like a platform.

You will most likely need to use tarps to secure your load or at the very least, powerful straps.

Pros of Step Deck Trailers

Easier to load

The low height of a step deck trailer means it is much easier for a forklift to load cargo. The inclusion of a ramp on most models also improves this process.

While larger items, such as construction equipment, need to be on the lower, longer deck, you can also stack smaller items on the shorter deck. As long as all the items fall below the weight limit, it’s best to take advantage of all of the space.

Better height capacity

By far the greatest advantage of a step deck trailer is the height of the objects they carry. While everything, including the deck, the ground clearance, and the item, need to be a maximum of 14 feet, the shorter ground clearance means the item can be taller.

Most step deck trailers can end up carrying items that are up to 10 feet tall. Having this extra height ability means you don’t have to classify the cargo as oversized, which necessitates permits, extra crew, and a possible re-routing to avoid lower overpasses.

Diversity of equipment

Given the larger height capacity, a step deck trailer can carry a larger diversity of equipment. This is often in the form of construction vehicles such as bulldozers and excavators.

You can also attach two-step deck trailers together, which further increases the type of cargo you can transport.

Cons of Step Deck Trailers

Larger weight

Weight is key when it comes to transportation. The maximum load that a semi-truck can carry is 80,000 pounds, and this includes the trailer.

A step deck trailer weighs more than a standard flatbed trailer. As a result, the cargo it transports needs to weigh less so it doesn’t go over the limit.

While you can transport larger items, you might not be able to transport as many as you want, which can mean extra trips, and of course, less profit.

Cargo limitations

Even though a step deck trailer allows you to transport larger items, it also means you aren’t able to transport everyday items. This includes pieces of cargo that need a long flat deck.

The two decks on a step-deck trailer limit the total length of your cargo. So, if you are transporting long beams, you will need to use a flatbed trailer instead.

How much does a step deck trailer cost?

While you can find a used step deck trailer for as little as $10,000, newer ones will cost up to $100,000.

How much weight can you put on a step-deck trailer?

You can put about 48,000 pounds of weight on a step-deck trailer. However, the actual weight will depend on how heavy the empty trailer is.

The maximum weight for a trailer is 80,000 pounds. This includes both the empty trailer and its contents of it.

A step deck trailer weighs more than an empty flatbed trailer, so the actual cargo you can carry will be less.

Step deck trailer vs flatbed trailer

Even though a step deck trailer and a flatbed trailer look similar from a distance, they are actually quite different. Both are flat and can carry larger items but their purpose is often different.

A flatbed trailer is the same height as a regular trailer attached to a semi-truck. The deck is one level and sits just atop the wheels.

In contrast, the deck of a step deck trailer is much lower to the ground, with the deck angled lower past the wheels.

A flatbed trailer is usually 5 feet off the ground. Because of the clearance height, they can only carry loads that are a maximum of 8 feet and 6 inches.

The clearance from a step deck trailer is much lower, so they can carry loads that are up to 10 feet tall.


A step deck trailer has a lower ground clearance, so you can transport larger items, such as construction equipment. They are easier to load and often have a ramp at the back.