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Types of trucks, trailers and loads

Trucks are heavy vehicles that carry goods on New Zealand’s roads. If you’re looking for a career in trucking, these are the types of trucks you could be driving. And remember to check out our guide to getting a job as a truck driver.

Boat haulage: New Zealand is a country mad on boats, so there are plenty of them to be moved around. While most boats are small enough to be carried on a trailer pulled by a car or SUV, larger boats need either a small truck or a specialised lowloader trailer (sometimes called a plant trailer) pulled by a prime mover. This image is courtesy of Multi-Trans, a company which specialises in moving extremely difficult loads.

Sovereign Yachts boat haulage

Car transporters: You need a specific endorsement to be a car transporter driver. As the trailer extends over the cab, it creates a wide arc when turning and drivers need to be aware of this. The driver may be responsible for loading and unloading the vehicles.

Full car transporter
Full car transporter
Car transporter showing front section over cab
Car transporter showing front section over cab

Cement trucks: wet cement is taken to a building site in a revolving cement mixer truck

Concrete mixer truck
Concrete mixer truck

Chiller trucks and reefers (refrigerated units): these keep the goods at a specific temperature, i.e. chilled or frozen. A reefer is a standard-sized container with a refrigeration unit, while a chilled truck is a box truck or curtainsider with a refrigeration unit.

Chiller truck
Chiller truck

Cranes: up to a certain size they can be driven on the road, if built that way. The crane operator will need to know how to safely park the vehicle and deploy the crane boom.

Mobile crane
Mobile crane

Dry goods: the vast majority of shipments and freight within New Zealand are dry goods. They are usually carried in containers, high-sided trailers, box trucks or in a curtainside truck. The truck will be filled with pallets of goods that can be unloaded with a forklift truck from the side of the truck.

curtain side truck
Curtainside truck

Some have a tail lift to help with unloading products. Tail lift operation requires some training as there are dangers working at heights.

rigid truck coca cola
Box truck delivering drinks

Emergency response: fire engines require a heavy vehicle licence to drive unless they are driven on private land (e.g. an airport runway).

Fire truck in Auckland

Fire trucks that are more specialist work in large plants and airports

airfield fire truck

Flat-bed trailer: flat-bed trailers are versatile and used for carrying all kinds of items from steel girders and concrete pipes through to whole houses

flat bed truck long vehicle
This truck pulling a flat bed trailer is carrying a turbine blade

Furniture trucks: furniture trucks could be a box van or could be a separate prime mover and trailer. Drivers of furniture trucks usually help with the lifting so this is a much more physical job than a regular trucking driving job.

Highway maintenance trucks: Maintenance trucks have specific features that allow a person to stand on the back and place cones on the road, plus they have a retractable crash barrier plus strobe lights at the back and orange flashing lights on the cab.

traffic management truck night orange lights

Livestock trucks: These carry sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, alpacas – any kind of farm animal en masse. There are also trucks which carry one-off zoo animals, but they are not livestock trucks. Drivers must be aware of the regulations for the safe and humane carrying of livestock.

Stock truck with a load of sheep
Stock truck with a load of sheep

Logging trucks: These have a cage to constrain the logs and are loaded from the top by a log loader


Off-road and non-road-registered: trucks that work on mines and large construction sites might be too big to be road-registered. Drivers don’t necessarily need a heavy vehicle licence to drive them. This also applies to some farm machinery and tourist vehicles.

Dump truck
Dump truck

Refuse trucks collect rubbish from neighbourhoods and deliver it to a central depot. Some are left-hand drive.

rubbish truck

Snow ploughs are used to help clear roads in winter. This can be dangerous work because of the weather conditions.

snow plough

Tankers carry bulk liquids e.g. petrol, milk, etc and some solids e.g. corn, cement

tanker truck
Tanker pulling a dog trailer (steering wheels at the front connected by an A-frame drawbar to the coupling on the back of the tanker)
Small water tanker trucks are used to keep dust down on building sites and road works
Small water tanker trucks are used to keep dust down on building sites and road works

Tipper trucks and trailers: a tipper truck is a rigid truck where the trailer tips to enable quick off-loading of loose materials.

truck tipper unloading
tipper truck 2

The two pictures above are rigid trucks with a tipper, but it could be a prime mover with a tipping trailer.

Tow trucks: They either have a winch and ramps to allow the driver to pull an incapacitated vehicle onto the ramp and take it away, or larger tow trucks with heavy duty hooks can be used to tow buses and other trucks.

tow truck smashed car
Small tow truck collects a car from an accident scene
Heavy tow truck picks up the back of a large van
Heavy tow truck picks up the back of a bus


There are several different configurations of trucks so, while the purpose of the truck is mentioned above, a specific truck could have a number of different configurations. For example, a chiller truck could be a light vehicle (i.e. drive on a class 1 car licence), a rigid heavy vehicle, semitrailer or b-train in either curtainside or hardside.

Rigid trucks

These trucks are not articulated. They have two, three or four axles. You can drive them on a class 2 licence (usually two axles, although there are a few 3-axle class 2 trucks) or a class 4 licence (usually three, four or [occasionally] 5 axles).

Rigid 4-axle curtainsider

Articulated or combination trucks

Pull trailers are a rigid trailer (not a semitrailer) pulled by a rigid truck or a semitrailer. This is called a truck/trailer unit or truck/trailer combination. A pull trailer has wheels at the front and rear, as opposed to a semitrailer which has wheels at the rear and legs with a fifth wheel at the front.

Semitrailers have one fifth wheel coupling whereby a tractor unit tows a the trailer.

Two tractor units with semitrailers

B-doubles or b-trains have two fifth wheel couplings whereby a tractor unit tows two trailers

B-train with 9 axles

A-trains have one semitrailer with a pull trailer behind.

When driving an articulated or combination truck, the driver must first learn how to couple the trailer to the tractor unit.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice, Fleet, Heavy Vehicle