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Buying a Used Shipping Container

12.05.2017 - Posted by Updated On 12.05.2017    

Buying a used shipping container is a lot like buying a used car. There are a lot of great ones out there, but there are also some lemons that can make their way into the depots. There are a few things to watch out for, or specific questions to ask, when you get started in the process: Age, condition, location, and prefix code are the factors that will tell you a lot about the container.

Age of the Shipping Container

Most used shipping containers aren't sold until their at least 10-12 years old, some even go as far as 18-20. The primary reason for this is that the shipping line or leasing company hasn't fully depreciated the container and there is still a few years of useful, sea going life remaining in the box. 10-12 years usually mark a good time for opportunistic sales as the maintenance and repair (M&R) costs start to increase, and if the container can be sold at a decent price it makes sense to rotate it out of the fleet.

shipping container age
Keep in mind that if you ask the age of the shipping container you will probably be given a range, such as 10-12 years. The seller isn't being purposefully difficult, it's just that they probably have many containers for sale and it would require checking the CSC plate to get the exact year of manufacture, or YOM.

Condition of the Shipping Container

Each shipping line and leasing company has their own way of grading used shipping containers. What one line has marked as "wind/water tight", might have a strong odor that could offend anyone interested in using it as a storage unit. Generally, the qualifications are focused on the physical structure of the container, and less on the appearance and smell.

  • "As Is, Where Is" condition: Some lines will classify all containers in this grade, simply to avoid disputes at a later time. Others don't want to pay for the repairs to be made, so the container is sold off at a slight discount based on the repair estimates. Note that not all ASIS containers need repairs, some wind and water tight units can be found.
  • Wind and Water Tight condition: A WWT container is suitable for storage, but it may have some costly repairs that need to be made to consider it cargo worthy. For storage or modification, it could be a perfectly suitable container having only a slightly bent rib under the floor.
  • Cargo Worthy condition: A cargo worthy container has been repaired to IICL standards and could be recertified for overseas shipping. A CW container is in slightly better condition, and you can expect to pay a little more for it.

Location of the Used Shipping Container

You can expect most used shipping containers to be in a depot or container yard. Basically, this is a large parking lot for shipping containers from several different companies, managed by a separate company. Some depots will allow potential buyers to visit and inspect a container before it's purchased, while others have strict rules against this. The depot can load the container onto the truck for you when purchased.

If a container is being sold out of the port, it hasn't been inspected or repaired, and it is impossible to get in to see the containers condition. Furthermore, the driver picking up the container will usually require a TWIC card, and in some locations like Philadelphia there is further registration required.

shipping container at port

Prefix Codes on Used Shipping Containers

The prefix code is the first four digits on a container, followed by the unit number; and it can tell you a lot about the shipping container. First and foremost, the prefix code tells you who was the original owner of the container, and what color it is. Shipping lines tend to brand their containers to match their corporate image, while leasing companies use more neutral colors so the container can be on hire to any shipping line without causing problems. For example, HLXU containers are from Hapag Lloyd and are orange, while MSCU containers are from MSC shipping line and are gold. TTNU or TXTU containers are both managed by leasing companies and are orange.

shipping container prefix
The other thing that the prefix code can do is give you a very general idea of the condition of the container. Some lines and leasing companies have reputations for keeping a high quality, well maintained fleet of containers while others may not. is an online marketplace that sells both new and used shipping containers throughout North America and the rest of the world. Our site and sellers work closely with some of the largest shipping lines and container leasing companies and will work together with you to provide you the best possible deal on the shipping containers that you need. To ask a question about a specific container please contact the seller directly through the listing page. If you have a general question and aren't sure where to start feel free to contact the staff at directly.

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