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9 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Shipping Containers for Sale

Shipping containers come in an assortment of form factors - each well-tailored to its intended task.

But if you’re considering purchasing one for your own use, there are a number of important factors that demand your consideration, besides the amount of raw space you’ll need.

The following are a few questions to ask that’ll ensure you get the right container for your needs:

Question #1: What are my sizing requirements?

Getting size requirements just right takes proper planning. As a result, your answer to this particular question comes down to factors such as:

Logistics Costs
This cost can vary greatly based on source and destination. Even the lowest prices for relatively short transporting distances can run over 400 AUD for 20ft containers.

Understandably, shipping by air further multiplies your costs - sometimes by as much as 5X. Take this possible cost into consideration if you need your chosen container to be delivered quickly.

Customs and Tariffs 
In addition, keep in mind that certain materials can end up costing you more to transport on account of their inherent volatility or weight/dimensions. 

However, paying customs duties wherever you import items is unavoidable. The exact taxes you will be required to pay vary based on location, so seek out guidance on your chosen destination's policies before making a container size decision.

Destination, Source and Season
During peak shipping seasons (including summer and late winter/early spring) costs can increase with inflated demand.

Of course, shipping an item over a longer distance will cost more as well. Shipping over a particularly long distance by air n(a costly combination, for sure) could force your hand in favour of shorter containers if you need to keep costs as low as possible.

Size and Unit Variability

For large quantities of items, a single large container is likely to prove more cost-effective than two containers of half its size. 

For example, a 40ft container's price is generally a little less than double the price of a 20ft container, despite being twice as large. However, this container size is significantly cheaper to ship than two containers at half of its size.

Question #2: Will I be transporting perishables?

Items that can go bad must be packaged appropriately to survive the shipping process.

This extends beyond the packaging of individual products to the container they’ll be placed in. A standard container isn’t likely to be suitable for such use cases, so you’ll need to consider more specialised options.

Reefer/Refrigerated Containers
These containers can simplify the transportation process and provide additional protection for especially susceptible goods, thanks to their built-in climate control.

Today’s reefer containers feature sophisticated refrigeration systems that circulate cooled air over and around stored goods, keeping temperatures and humidity within an ideal range for the duration of their journey.

Insulated Containers
These containers offer less environment control than reefers, but can still help maintain a narrower range of temperature shifts than what standard shipping containers experience.

Question #3: What kind of flooring/walls does the container use?

For multiple uses with deep cleaning in between, stainless steel and PVC interiors can prove invaluable.

Containers with wooden flooring, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily difficult to clean, but their full steel and PVC counterparts are definitely easier to wash out without the risk of compromising their structures in any way.

In addition, wooden flooring in shipping containers is usually heavily treated with pesticides and fungicides to preserve its utility. This can compromise the safety of certain items or defeat the purpose of shipping materials in safe containers altogether, depending on what you plan to transport.

For especially sensitive freight, opt for a container with metal flooring, as these require no harsh chemical treatments to be kept in working condition.

Question #4: Is the container new, used or refurbished?

The number of times a shipping container has been put to use can completely change its value. Your needs may require the use of a completely new container, but used and refurbished options shouldn’t be ruled out completely.

New Containers
Unused and newly crafted shipping containers tend to command a higher price, but the benefits they bring to the table could be worth the extra overhead costs.

New containers can be obtained that feature modern advantages over older models, as well as better base materials. Whether or not these elements are necessary to your use case depends on what you plan to ship and how you plan to ship it (whether land, air, sea or a combination of these).

Used Containers
Used containers are always cheaper than completely new ones, but there are a number of important factors driving their lower price range that must be taken into account.

When considering a used container, make sure it’s inspected for the following issues:

Rust and Holes

Both visible rust and holes through the shell of the container could require significant repairs to bring it back to appropriate working condition.

Rust represents much more than a mere aesthetic challenge for shipping containers. Deeply seated rust can look insignificant on the container's surface. But it can seriously threaten the container’s rigidity from within, potentially leading to more expensive repairs later on.

As for holes in the container's surface, these tend to be a sign of trouble if they’re caused by rust. However, if the hole in question was caused by an accident of some sort, then it may be worth fixing.

Faulty Locks and Doors

For security purposes alone, a functioning door is pretty much indispensable. But even a slightly loose seal at the door can make a shipping container unsuitable for transporting or storing susceptible items. Bad door seals allow the elements, insects and small animals into the container, potentially compromising the safety of any items stored in it.

Simple locking mechanisms and more complex designs alike can be a problem if they’re broken or have a tendency to stick. Repair is a possibility, but consider the severity of the issue carefully when evaluating containers.

Missing Certification Plates

This aspect of a shipping container is only important for those looking to move items internationally - especially by air and sea.

CSC certification can be verified by a container's certification plate, which should bear its manufacture date, model number and more. Without a certification plate, the container can’t be used to transport cargo aboard a vessel.

Refurbished Containers
Refurbished containers may simply be repainted containers. Some refurbishers patch up dings and holes in the container's walls or repair the floor boards, but this isn’t guaranteed to be the case. 

If you’re considering a refurbished container, make sure you’re working with a reputable outlet to avoid these issues.

Question #5: Is safety/security a major concern?

Securing a shipping container means making sure doors close properly and that only the right people can open them up again. 

Padlocks are a step in the right direction, and your chosen container is likely to be outfitted with spaces for these to be hooked in place. However, padlocks alone might not be enough for your needs, in which case containers without added lock boxes will need these welded in place.

Built-in alarm systems could be necessary as well, depending on the value of the items you intend to ship.

DNV/Offshore Containers
DNV containers are specifically designed for use in offshore facilities. These special containers are crafted from higher grade materials than normal containers and tend to be significantly heavier as well.

A DNV container is likely to be overkill for most purposes, and many sport non-standard measurements and mechanisms that make them ill-suited for standard cargo-porting use.

If you think you need a DNV container, make sure the company you purchase from understands these requirements in order to match you with the right shipping container.

Question #6: Will hazardous substances/materials be transported?
Any sort of regulated volatile substances will require purpose-built containers for safe shipping. These are generally referred to as dangerous or hazardous goods containers, and they incorporate special safety features to ward off contamination or reaction incidents.

Bunded flooring and shelving options are common in such containers, as are special vents and insulated interiors.

Question #7: How do materials need to be loaded?

Loading materials into a shipping container may be a simple manual task for a small team. However, this process can quickly grow more complex, depending on what you need to load and the equipment you have available to get the job done.  

Side access containers provide precisely what their names imply - access to the interior through side-mounted doors, as opposed to standard end-mounted doors. And although side access doors tend to reduce the total available space within a container, they allow you to fit much larger items inside safely by providing a wider opening.

Another option, open top containers, feature removable tops to accommodate particularly large and tall items. Open top container designs can make storing and retrieving cargo much easier in cases where cargo is more easily dumped than stacked.

Question #8: Is the container meant for an extreme environment?

Shipping containers outfitted for intense weather conditions can vary quite a bit in features and size, but they generally need to be weathertight at the least.

If you anticipate making use of a shipping container for storage in extremely hot or cold environments, you may need to focus on newly fabricated options. Avoid refurbished or used alternatives, where environmental wear-and-tear could have compromised the container’s integrity.

Question #9: Do I need a custom form factor?

Finally, there are a number of creative uses for shipping containers, including everything from human housing to commercial facilities and laboratories.

If you’re planning on making use of a shipping container for these purposes, checking for ready-made custom options could save you time and money on alterations.

Although there’s plenty to consider before buying a shipping container, asking the questions above - before you make a final decision - increase the odds you’ll get exactly what you need.

What other questions would you add to this list? Leave us a note below sharing your experiences evaluating shipping containers for sale:

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