Buy Used Steel Shipping Containers

What to Look for Before You Buy Used Shipping Containers

Used shipping containers offer a cost-effective solution for a variety of needs, ranging from storage and transportation to innovative uses like container homes or offices. However, buying a used shipping container requires careful consideration to ensure you get a quality product that meets your needs. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to look for before you commit to purchasing a used shipping container.

Understanding Container Grades

When shopping for used shipping containers, one of the first aspects to evaluate is their grading. Container grades provide valuable insights into the container’s past use, overall condition, and suitability for various applications. Here’s a more detailed exploration of the common grades used in the industry and what each one signifies:

1. One-Trip Containers

  • Description: These containers are called “one-trip” because they have been used to make one single trip from the manufacturer to a destination. They are the closest to new condition you can get in the used market.
  • Ideal Use: Perfect for those needing a container in excellent condition without the new price tag. They are often used for building modifications, such as homes or offices, where aesthetics might be as important as functionality.

2. Cargo Worthy (CW)

  • Description: Cargo-worthy containers are second-hand containers that are still in good enough condition to be used in international shipping. They have valid CSC plates, verifying that they meet the strict safety standards required for the transport of goods across oceans.
  • Ideal Use: Suitable for buyers needing containers for both shipping and storage solutions on a budget, offering a good balance between cost and functionality.

3. Wind and Water Tight (WWT)

  • Description: These containers are no longer ideal for shipping but are still structurally sound for storage purposes. They are guaranteed to be free from holes and with seals intact to prevent the ingress of wind and water.
  • Ideal Use: WWT containers are an excellent choice for static storage, where the container is kept in one place to store goods that require protection from the elements but not necessarily transportation.

4. As-Is Containers

  • Description: As-is containers are sold in their existing condition with no guarantees regarding their state. These containers may have significant rust, dents, or other issues that could impact their usability without repairs.
  • Ideal Use: These are the most budget-friendly option available and are ideal for buyers looking to use them for purposes where aesthetics and minor damage do not interfere with function, such as certain types of farm storage or as bases for DIY projects where the container will be heavily modified.

5. Refurbished Containers

  • Description: Refurbished containers have been restored to a certain extent. This might include repairing major dents, applying rust treatment, and a fresh coat of paint to improve their appearance and extend their lifespan.
  • Ideal Use: A great choice for businesses or homeowners who need a clean and neat appearance for storage or basic modifications but want to keep costs lower than buying new or one-trip containers.

Why Container Grades Matter

Understanding the different grades and conditions of used shipping containers is crucial for several reasons:

  • Budget Management: Knowing the grades helps you make a cost-effective decision based on your needs and budget. For instance, paying extra for a one-trip container might not make sense if you only need a basic storage solution.
  • Purpose Compatibility: Each grade offers different levels of functionality. For shipping goods internationally, a cargo-worthy container is necessary, while a WWT might suffice for on-site storage.
  • Longevity and Maintenance: Higher-grade containers generally require less immediate maintenance and have a longer lifespan, which could translate into savings and less hassle over time.

By thoroughly understanding these container grades, buyers can more accurately assess what they are purchasing relative to their specific needs, ensuring they get the most value and utility from their investment in a used shipping container.

Checking for Structural Integrity

When considering the purchase of a used shipping container, one of the most critical aspects to assess is its structural integrity. A container’s structural health is foundational to its usability, whether for shipping, storage, or conversion into a living or working space. Ensuring the container you choose is structurally sound involves a detailed inspection of several key components.

Corners and Edges

Firstly, the corners of the container are crucial because they bear the weight when containers are stacked during shipping. These corners must be intact and free from severe rust or deformation. Even if you plan to use the container for storage or as a building, compromised corners can significantly weaken the structure, potentially leading to safety issues.

Condition of the Doors

The condition of the doors is another important factor. The doors must open and close smoothly and seal properly. Functional doors are essential not just for security and convenience but also for maintaining the weather-resistance of the container. Any problems with the door alignment, hinges, or locking mechanisms can be indicative of broader issues, such as warping of the container’s frame.

Walls and Roof Quality

Inspecting the walls and roof for signs of damage is equally vital. The walls should be straight and free from significant dents or bulges. Minor dents are common and typically not a concern, but large indentations or areas where the metal has been stretched or punctured can compromise the structural integrity and weather resistance. The roof, in particular, should be carefully checked for any signs of pooling water or rust, as these can lead to leaks. Patches or repairs on the roof may also suggest previous issues, and while repairs can restore some functionality, they may not fully return the container to its original strength.

Floor Condition

The floor of the container, especially if made of wood, should be thoroughly examined for signs of rot, infestation, or chemical contamination. Damage or contamination can not only weaken the floor but also pose health risks or affect the goods stored inside. In metal-floored containers, check for corrosion or uneven surfaces that might affect the usability of the container.

During your inspection, it’s also wise to pay attention to the overall alignment of the container. Misalignment can be a sign of past rough handling, which might have stressed and possibly weakened the frame and joints. A container that does not sit flat or has twisted framing might not be suitable for certain types of modifications or uses.

Assessing Rust and Corrosion

While some rust on a used shipping container is normal, excessive rust can weaken the structure and shorten its lifespan. Pay attention to:

  • Surface Rust: Light rust that can usually be cleaned and treated relatively easily.
  • Scaling Rust: More serious rust that causes flaking and scaling of metal. This type might require sandblasting and extensive re-painting to ensure the container remains functional.
  • Corrosion at Seams and Joints: This is a critical area where rust can lead to leaks. Make sure these areas are thoroughly checked.

Ensuring Proper Certification for Use

When purchasing a used shipping container, especially if you plan to use it for shipping goods, it is imperative to ensure that it has proper certification. This certification is crucial for meeting international shipping standards and guarantees that the container is structurally sound to be used in transport across the seas. Here’s a deeper look into what proper certification entails and why it is important.

Importance of CSC Certification

The primary certification to look for in a shipping container used for transport is the CSC (Container Safety Convention) plate. This plate is a must-have for containers involved in international trade, as it signifies that the container has been inspected and meets the strict safety and structural integrity standards required for international shipping. The CSC plate includes details such as the date of manufacture, the last inspection date, and when the next inspection is due. It also contains information about the allowable stacking, weight, and racking test load values, which are critical for ensuring that the container can be safely stacked and handled during shipping.

Certification for Non-Shipping Uses

For containers that will not be used for shipping but for storage or other purposes like modular construction, the CSC certification might not be necessary. However, it still provides a useful assurance of the container’s structural integrity. Even for non-shipping uses, a container with a valid CSC plate is often a safer bet as it indicates the container was deemed robust and durable enough to handle the rigors of international transport.

Validity and Re-certification

It’s also essential to understand that the certification is not indefinite. CSC plates are valid for a certain period (typically five years), after which the container must be re-inspected and certified. When buying a used container, you should check the date on the CSC plate to ensure that it is still valid or understand when and how it will need to be re-inspected and certified.

Impact of Modifications on Certification

In addition to checking for the CSC plate, it’s a good practice to verify that any modifications made to the container haven’t compromised its structural integrity or its certification status. Modifications such as cutting out sections for windows or doors, installing additional fixtures, or altering the frame can potentially void its certification. If modifications are present, consulting with a professional to assess their impact on the container’s safety and compliance is wise.

Choosing a Reputable Dealer

Lastly, ensure that you are purchasing from a reputable dealer who adheres to the shipping container industry standards. Reputable dealers should provide transparency regarding the certification and history of their containers. They can also assist in navigating the specifics of re-certification if needed, which is especially important if the container will be used for shipping purposes.

Modifications and Previous Use

Understanding the container’s history and any modifications made is crucial:

  • Chemical Exposure: Containers used to transport chemicals may have contamination risks.
  • Modifications: Any modifications such as added doors, windows, or internal frameworks can affect the structural integrity and potential usage. Ensure these modifications meet your needs or can be easily altered to suit them.

Choosing a Reputable Seller

When investing in a used shipping container, selecting a reputable seller is as crucial as inspecting the container itself. A trustworthy seller not only ensures that you receive a container that meets your expectations and needs but also provides peace of mind regarding the transaction and the quality of the product. Here are detailed steps and considerations to help you choose a reputable seller:

Research Seller Reputation

Start by researching the reputation of the seller. Look for reviews, testimonials, and feedback from previous customers to gauge the reliability and service quality of the seller. A reputable seller will have a track record of satisfied customers and few disputes or complaints. Platforms such as Google Reviews, Trustpilot, and industry-specific forums can provide insights into the seller’s reputation.

Verify Business Credentials

Check the seller’s business credentials to ensure they are a legitimate and established business. This includes verifying their business registration, length of operation, and any professional memberships or affiliations with industry associations. Membership in relevant industry associations can be a good indicator of a seller’s commitment to quality and ethical business practices.

Evaluate Their Expertise

A knowledgeable seller can provide valuable advice on choosing the right type of container for your needs. They should be able to answer your questions about container grades, the implications of different types of wear and tear, and any modifications you are considering. Sellers who can demonstrate deep knowledge of their products are more likely to offer high-quality containers that meet industry standards.

Assess Customer Service Quality

Good customer service is a hallmark of a reputable seller. Evaluate how the seller handles inquiries: Are they prompt, courteous, and helpful? A seller that takes the time to address your concerns and provides detailed responses is likely more reliable. Also, consider their availability for follow-up questions and support after the purchase.

Transparency of Information

Reputable sellers are transparent about the conditions of the containers they sell. They should provide detailed information, including the age of the container, any repairs done, current condition, and clear photos from multiple angles. Be cautious of sellers who use stock photos or vague descriptions without specifics about the container’s condition.

Return Policy and Guarantees

Check if the seller offers any form of return policy or satisfaction guarantee. While return logistics for a large item like a shipping container can be complex, offering some form of guarantee reflects the seller’s confidence in their products. Additionally, inquire about warranties or any certifications that affirm the container’s condition and suitability for use.

Visit the Facility

If possible, visit the seller’s facility to inspect the containers in person. This visit can provide insights into how the business operates and the general condition of their inventory. A well-organized, professional facility is a good indicator of a reputable business.

Compare Pricing

While price should not be the only factor in choosing a seller, it’s important to compare prices from multiple sources to ensure you are getting a fair deal. Beware of prices that seem too good to be true; they often are and might indicate lower quality or hidden issues with the containers.

Buying a used shipping container can be a fantastic investment when done correctly. By understanding the different grades, carefully inspecting the container for structural integrity, assessing rust and corrosion, ensuring proper certification, and considering the container’s history and modifications, you can make an informed decision that meets your needs and budget. Always choose to buy from a reputable seller to avoid potential issues and ensure that you receive a quality product.


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