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5 Tips for Buying a Used Shipping Container

27.09.2021 - Posted by Updated On 27.09.2021    

Used shipping containers are not all the same, and you need to know what to look for before you rush out and purchase one.  Just like you would do a little research before you purchase a used car, there are some common things to look for when you get ready to purchase a used shipping container.

Depending on what you plan to use the shipping container for, you can typically save around $1000 by purchasing a used container.  However, if you find a container that's priced really cheap the deal could be too good to be true; and in the end you could end up spending much more to get the container into the condition that you need it to be in.

If you're able to inspect the shipping container before you purchase it you'll want to pay specific attention to the overall exterior condition, the doors, the flooring, the condition of the ceiling, and any smells/odors.  If you're not able to inspect the container due to geographic limitations the company selling it to you should be able to provide pictures along with an inspection report or survey.  This survey should include the container number, so that you can be sure you're getting the correct unit.  If for any reason the seller won't let you inspect the container and refuses to provide an inspection or pictures, you'll probably want to shop elsewhere.

Overall Condition

Walk around the container and look at the paint, the corner castings, and any seals around the edges.  A cargo worthy container may not be a ‘beauty queen', but it will be structurally sound with very little surface rust or corrosion.


Cargo worthy shipping container



The flooring of most intermodal shipping containers is marine grade plywood.  In a used container it won't look like a new sheet of plywood, and may have some discoloration in spots, but overall it should be free of deep gouges, mold, and rot.


Shipping container floor



Open and close the doors, and make sure the locking gear, or handles, functions properly and provides a tight seal.  Keep in mind the hinges and handles are probably around 10 years old, so they may need a little grease or spray lubricant to move freely.  The most important thing is that the doors close and seal tightly.

Rust/Holes in the Ceiling

The easiest way to check for any serious rust or holes in the ceiling is to go inside of the container during the daytime and close the doors.  With the exception of any vents it should be pretty dark inside of the container.  If it looks like a starry summer night you could have problems.


Shipping container ceiling



There's no telling what has been hauled in a container over the course of its life, so there's no telling what it might smell like at the time it's sold out of the shipping line's fleet.  If your shipping container smells there's a quick, easy, and cheap way to fix it: coffee grounds.  If your shipping or storage container has any odor stop by the local dollar store and purchase a large jug of the cheapest ground coffee that you can find.  Spread the coffee evenly around the inside of the container and close the doors for a day or two.  When you open the container back up the coffee will have absorbed most (if not all) of the offending odors and you'll be left with a faint smell of coffee.

Finding a cheap used shipping container isn't hard, however if it's too cheap you'll want to pay close attention to the details.  A quality used shipping container should be affordable in price, but not cheap in terms of quality.  When you're doing your pre-purchase research be sure and check the overall condition, the flooring, the condition of the doors and locking gear, look at the ceiling for rust, and lastly see if it passes the "smell test".  If the smell is the only problem, and all other conditions pass, you've got yourself a winner.

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