Introduction: How to Buy a Shipping Container

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Shipping Containers are a fantastic solution for a variety of needs, including storage, shipping and conversion projects. They are secure, wind and water tight, long-lasting, relatively cheap and retain their value very well. An ISO intermodal shipping container is simply a reinforced steel box, with a never-ending list of uses.

Because containers can be transported relatively cheaply, they are cost effective for both long and short term solutions. To learn about how shipping containers are moved around the world, see this great article on Wikipedia.

In this article, we will discuss how to select, negotiate and ultimately buy a shipping container for the best price along with the best delivery terms.

Let's get started!

Step 1: Decide What Size Shipping Container You Want!

Shipping containers come in many sizes from under 8' to over 53' long.

That being said, over 80% of containers are: 20 feet, 40 feet or 40' HC (High-Cube). High-cube containers are 1 foot taller than the standard 8 1/2 feet high.

Container sizes of 45' HC are also available but not as prevalent. And finally, there are other rare sizes such as: 8', 10', 24', 30', 48' and 53'. Save yourself some trouble and money by buying a prevalent container type.

A chart detailing the length, height and width along with weight and maximum loads of 20's, 40's and 45's can be found on Wikipedia.

It's also important to consider what you're going to put inside the container to help decide which size you should purchase. Here is an excellent reference chart to show you how much weight and how many items will fit inside: shipping container capacities - this shows the number of cement bags, cars and bedrooms that will fit in various size containers.

A few final points to keep in mind when choosing a size:

  • 20' containers can be moved easily using a standard forklift capable of lifting 2300kg / 5000lbs.
  • 40' containers can only be moved by a crane or a special heavy-duty container forklift/stacker.
  • 20' containers also fit on the bed of standard tow-trucks. They can be loaded via the built in tow-truck's winch, making it much more economical to move vs a 40' sea can.

Step 2: Choose Your Container's Grade

When I was a kid, I enjoyed collecting coins and baseball cards. I had a book that listed all the different grades and ratings so that I could figure out how much my coin or card was worth. Shipping containers are just the same, they come in 4 typical grades:

  1. New (One-trippers) these are basically new containers that are sent overseas from the manufactures factory to your local port.
  2. Certified (Cargo Worthy) are used for shipping goods overseas on shipping lines. They are used in very fine condition.
  3. Wind and Water Tight (WWT) these are used containers in good condition.
  4. As-is are containers that may have serious rust, doors that don't 100% seal or pin holes in the container metal.

Most people either want a new one or a used WWT.

Step 3: Where Can I Buy Shipping Containers From?

Choosing a container to purchase can be a long and arduous process but we're going to help make it as simple and straightforward as possible.

Find a local or nationwide dealer:

PROS: Dealers typically have access to large inventories and delivery is available.
CONS: Dealers are usually the highest priced and the negotiation process is not fun.

Try finding a local seller:

PROS: Local sellers often sell used containers very cheap!
CONS: Local sellers typically have only one container to sell and delivery is not available.

Find a deal on an auction site:

PROS: Auction sites often sell new and used containers super cheap! Buyer protection is included!
CONS: Delivery is not available on eBay (With delivery IS included on all auctions).

Step 4: How to Negotiate Delivery Fees and Prepare Your Site for the Drop-Off

Negotiating Delivery Fees

Congratulations, you've now found a container to buy and are ready to negotiate delivery with trucking companies.

If you are purchasing from a dealer that includes delivery or you're buying from the Marketplace where all containers include delivery, you can skip this section and goto the next section below, "Prepare Your Site For The Drop-off".

Now, you need to decide on one of these three delivery truck/trailer types:

  • Flat Bed Tilt Trailer - This is the most common delivery method. Your container will be loaded on a truck with a trailer that tilts. The container will be slid off the trailer into place at your drop location.
  • Flatbed Trailer - If you have a suitable forklift or crane, this option will save you a bit of money. The driver will show up with your container and you will unload it from the flat-bed trailer.
  • Trailer w/ Integrated Crane (Hiab Truck) - This is a truck/trailer/crane combo vehicle. It makes it very easy to put the container exactly where you need it to be. But of course, it's more expensive than other delivery options.

Trucking companies largest expensive is the cost of fuel. When fuel (diesel) prices are low, rates go way down. Today in 2016, you can expect to pay:

  • For short runs of less than 25 miles approximately $5/mile.
  • From 25 to 100 miles is closer to $4/mile
  • And over 100 miles can be done for $3/mile

Keep in mind if you buy a container in Long Beach, CA and your drop-site is in Las Vegas, you're looking at 280 miles * 3 = $840 in delivery fees. Long delivery distances can easily turn a great container deal into a deal breaker.

Now it's time to find a trucking company in your local area or in the area/city where the container is located and negotiate with them:

  • - A large marketplace to compare shipping offers. This is a decent option but their markup typically makes offers way too expensive. Try the other options below first.
  • Find a freight broker - Surprisingly, these guys often end up saving you time and money over dealing direct!
  • Go direct -

Best of luck to you finding a suitable delivery company.

Prepare Your Site For The Drop-off

This is the last step and the most exciting. Honk honk, your container is here! Hopefully you followed these steps beforehand:

First, you need to decide on the location where your container will be dropped off. This area will need to have enough clearance to allow the delivery truck to drive in, drop the container and drive away. Typically this minimum distance for a 40' container is 20' for the truck, 40' for the trailer and 40' for the container or 100' total. For a 20' container it becomes 10 to 20' for the truck or tow-truck and 20' for the trailer and 20' for the container or 50' to 60' total distance.

Make sure your delivery driver knows which way you want the shipping container doors to face. By default shipping containers are loaded with the doors facing towards the front of the truck.

If your container is going to be used outside it's best to maintain airflow under the container. This will keep the container floor dry and steel understructure rust free. You can easily elevate by placing one of these items in the 4 corners:

  • Tires
  • Wood
  • railroad ties
  • special caster (wheels) that lock into the ISO 1161 container corner fittings
  • or place your container on a slightly sloped concrete, paved or tarmac surface

Step 5: We Hope You Enjoyed This Guide!

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