Shipping Container Buyer’s Guide

What is a Shipping Container?

Shipping containers are cargo containers that allow goods to be stored for transport in trucks, trains and boats, making intermodal transport possible.  They are typically used to transport heavy materials or palletized goods.  Shipping Containers are used to protect transported cargo from shock and bad weather conditions, as well as keep storage products intact. They were first used in the 1950s and were initially developed for the purpose of commercial shipping.

Depending on the type of product that is going to be sent, the Conex box can vary in dimension, structure, material, etc. Characteristics of these shipping containers were later standardized, something that expedited transport without the need to load and unload the merchandise along the way.

There are different types of Conex Boxes for different types of transportation:

Common Types of Shipping Containers

Shipping Containers are typically suitable for any type of dry cargo: pallets, boxes, bags, machines, furniture, etc.

Common types include:

  • Dry Storage Container
  • Refrigerated Container
  • Open top container
  • Flat rack container
  • Open Side Container
  • Tanks Container
  • Ventilated containers

Dry Storage Shipping Containers

Dry Storage shipping containers are your typical standard shipping containers.  Basic construction is made of steel, and hermetically sealed, without cooling or ventilation.  Sizes typically come in 20 ‘, 40’ or 40 ‘High Cube.  The High Cube category facilitates an increase of 13% of the internal cubic capacity and can handle the heaviest loads (coal, tobacco, etc.)

Refrigerated Shipping Containers

Reefer shipping containers provide a temperature controlled environment. They have a power supply that connects to energy sources during transport. This allows the products to be transported at a constant temperature throughout the journey. They have the possibility to lower temperature from -18 ° to 30 °.  There are 20 and 40 foot models, in addition to the High Cube.

This type of shipping container is especially recommended for transporting food or products that need a low storage temperature.

Open Top Shipping Containers

Open Top shipping containers have the same measurements as the standard containers, but are open at the top because they have a removable canvas roof.  These containers facilitate the transport of bulky loads.

Flat Rack Shipping Containers

Flat Rack shipping containers are like the Open Top, but also lack side walls and even, in some cases, front and rear walls. They are used for atypical loads and pay supplements in the same way as Open Top.

Open Side Shipping Containers

Open Side shipping containers have the same measurements as standard containers; 20 or 40 feet, with the difference that they have a side opening. This allows for transporting very long merchandise, whose dimensions prevent it from being loaded by the back door.

Tank Shipping Containers

Tank shipping containers are used for the liquid transport and made to carry dangerous as toxic, corrosive, highly combustible chemicals, as well as oil, milk, beers, wine, mineral water, etc. They have the same dimensions as a dry shipping containers, but their structure is different, as they include a polyethylene tank inside.

Ventilated Shipping Containers

Ventilated shipping containers are made for transporting products such as coffee or cocoa beans, which must be ventilated in transit; sometimes these units are called “coffee containers”.

Tips for Buying a Shipping Container and Pricing

Thinking of buying a new or used shipping container?  Then you must aware of cost. Cost of shipping containers depends on your requirements. One can buy shipping containers for their home, a guesthouse, a garage, shelter, or shed. A shipping container typically costs about $1800-5000 USD depending on the size. Customized models may add $250-$2500+ to the cost of the shipping container. On the other hand, used shipping containers typically costs $800-2000 USD.

Shipping Container Price

A shipping container typically costs about $1800-5000 USD depending on the size.

  • Cost of shipping containers depends on the area where you live. If you live near a port area, then you will find plenty of suppliers. Otherwise, its better you rent a truck to pick it up yourself. Shipping always cost more, its better the provider stays close to you.
  • You can even look for shipping containers on Craigslist or eBay; here on these sites you can find containers that fit your budget. You can easily find 40’ HQ (High Cubed = 9.5’ high) for $1,900. The average is about $2,200 for a 40HC, $1,800 for a 20’ and $1,500 for a 10’.

Used Shipping Container Price

Used shipping containers typically costs $800-2000 USD.  Shipping containers are often too expensive to ship back, so they are readily available for resale.

  • You can also opt for used containers. You can easily buy used containers at any local warehouse where you can buy it for $500. Before buying, always look for those shipping containers who are made from “CorTen Steel”. They last for a long period of time and can stand any bad weather. You can also find used shipping containers for free, if you pay for shipping.

You can also hire any inspector to inspect your shipping container before buying. This will make you sure that you are buying the best material shipping container.

Shipping Container Added Features and Upgrades

Shipping containers always come without security features, so you should put aside an extra budget if you want to add security to your shipping container.

Buying cargo containers can cost you more. Always check if seller adding shipping cost or not and if yes, how much the extra cost they are adding.

  • If buying a container and need a certain color, paint job will cost you more. Its better you paint your shipping container yourself.
  • If you are looking for more features on your shipping container like insulation, ventilation, HVAC Systems, Track lighting, watertight doors or customized models, then it will cost you more. Additionally, custom containers with added weight can also increase shipping costs.
  • More modifications means more expensive the shipping container. Pricing and costs of shipping containers depends on the type and size of container you’re looking for. They usually cost around $1500 to $4,000.
  • The cost of purchasing shipping containers for houses is a mere fraction of the cost of building a full scale home using traditional building materials. However, a big and luxurious shipping containers house can cost more than $200,000 which is far more than regular construction.

Other factors that affect the price of the shipping container

Availability: Most shipping containers suppliers have access to 20- and 40-foot containers. Containers with unique dimensions may need to be shipped to the location, which adds to costs.

Delivery Cost: Shipping costs, increase depending on your distance from the supplier.

Size: Always buy one larger container rather than two smaller ones. This will cost you less.

For example, if you have the space available, it is better value to go for the largest container.  A 40ft container is will cost you less than a 20ft one.

Shipping Container Maintenance

Shipping container maintenance costs goes as far as the cost of parts and yours and your employee’s time.  Inspection should be done on a regular basis.  Inspect the walls, roof, floor and doors to see that there is no rust developing that seems concerning.  Doors should be firmly attacked and close well.

Shipping containers are made of steel and they rust.  One way to keep your shipping container in good shape is to keep it painted.  Industrial alkalyd enamel is recommended and costs about the same price as standard paint.  Paint your shipping container properly and use proper painting techniques, like removing dirt and oil and prepping the surface as you would any other prior to painting.

Rust Prevention
Shipping container roofs get the most moisture and are likely to have issues first.  Protect shipping container roofs by applying extra pain and cover them as needed and when applicable.

Shipping Container Repair

Doors Do Not Shut Correctly
The most common issue with shipping containers is that the doors do not shut right.  Shipping containers take a beating and doors shift during transit.  The easiest fix to this is to either readjust your blocking or add a little blocking under your container.  To make things easier in opening and closing shipping container doors, our leverage tool uses the principles of leverage to do the difficult work. By providing an extended area on which to grasp, with both hands, a more stable platform to manipulate the latch handle is achieved and therefore open and close shipping container doors with ease.

Seals or Lockrods Break
Seals and lockrods can eventually break.  Lockrods (the piece that goes the height of the door) can bend or break.  These parts are replaceable.

Holes in Shipping Container
Holes may occur overtime in shipping containers.  These are usually fixed by welding them shut.  If there are larger holes, these can be fixed by cutting out the damaged sections and closing them up with corten steel.  These repairs require welding and metal cutting skills.

Floor Repair
Shipping container floors are made of plywood and are fairly easy to replace.  Replace floors with the same thickness of wood and pattern as the original.  Treat plywood with moisture preventing varnish or paint to prevent moisture from coming through.

Choosing the Right Company for Buying a Shipping Container

When doing research in finding the right shipping container, follow some of these tips:

Research Online

Choose which companies have a good track record of excellence and reputation.  Read reviews and what other customers have to say.

Check for Availability

If you are shipping from various locations, check for availability if containers can be delivered to your required areas.

Check for Best Pricing

If money matters, you can find used container resellers online that might be able to offer half the price on used containers.

Check for Good Customer Service

If you plan to order often, you might want to check for good customer service.  Ask potential container companies a question through email or their online customer service. See how fast they respond.

Check for Warranty

Check with companies to see if they offer any warranties or buy back or trade in plans.

There are millions of shipping container in use around the world, and a lucky few get a second life as repurposed shipping container structures. While they look a bit plain and boxy to the untrained eye, shipping containers play a critical role in our lives, whether embarking on ocean crossings to deliver the goods we use every day or venturing into a second life as a container structure.

Here are Some Fascinating Facts about Shipping Containers

  • Shipping containers can be safely stacked nine-high.
  • Well-maintained shipping containers hold 759, of their original value for 25+ years.
  • There are over 37 million shipping containers in use around the world.
  • A shipping container floor can hold up 55,000 lb. of goods without warping.
  • Shipping container flooring is made of 1-1/8” marine grade plywood.
  • Most shipping containers are 20 feet or 40-feet long.
  • Shipping containers are made of 16-gauge corten steel.
  • Common container modifications include: personnel doors, windows flooring, shelving, work stations, insulation, climate control & even restrooms.

Fun Ways to Use Shipping Containers

Shipping Containers are not just used for cargo these days. There are many innovative and imaginative uses you may like to consider.

Here are few ideas of how shipping containers have been used for modern, cost effective buildings.


The trend to build cost-effective homes from recycled shipping containers started in USA and has reached Australia.

Art Galleries

Architect, Tomokaza Hayakawa designed an art gallery in Japan using two shipping containers stacked on each other.

Drive-Thru Coffee

Starbucks in Washington have used four old shipping containers to create an architect designed drive-thru store.


A cafe in Footscray (Melbourne) called Rudimentary has been built using three 40-foot shipping containers.

Polar Stations

India has built a Polar Station in Antarctica using 134 shipping containers. They cover three floors and are well insulated for the weather conditions.

A well-maintained shipping container can hold 75% of their original value for 25+ years. Every day, container ships transport goods all over the world on the international seas.

Shipping Container Opening and Closing Tool

A shipping container (also known as Intermodal ContainerISO Container,Railroad Container, and certain Truck Trailers)  is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport.  Shipping containers can be used across different modes of transport.  They can go from ship to rail to truck, without unloading and reloading their cargo.

The metal doors on the shipping containers on these containers are standardized.  Shipping containers use the same type and style of doors and locking bars, which our tool can be used.

Lengths are as follows: 20′, 40′, 45′, 48′, 50′, 53′. All these containers are globally used to transport cargo. The 53′ length is now, the new the standard length.

Here are some likely reasons a shipping container door will not open or close.  Our tool helps to address these issues.

  • Doors and lockrods may warp or container frame is racked so that the door gear will not operate correctly. This may be caused by cargo shifting during transit. Look at the container to make sure that the doors are aligned and level, both top and bottom.
  • The hinge pins and blade are seized due to corrosion.
  • The door gasket has been damaged and is preventing opening. Door gaskets are designed to present two or more fins against the structure or adjacent door. These are generally flexible but when the gasket is damaged, they may become hard or blocked thus jamming the door closed, or preventing it being closed.
  • Water has become trapped between frozen shipping container doors, particularly relevant to refrigerated cargoes, or containers with moisture releasing cargoes in cold weather.

Related: Injuries from Opening/Closing Hard to Open/Close Shipping Container Doors