What is Reefer Fuel and How is it Different Than Regular Diesel for Trucks?

What Is Reefer Fuel?

Understanding Reefer Fuel and Its Uses

Reefer fuel is a fuel that is marked with a red dye in the United States.

Like you are aware, on-road fuel diesel, and modern gasoline is usually subjected to a tax.

Box truck on the move

However, reefer fuel that can be identified by a distinctive red color is a form of diesel that is considered to be an off-road diesel or smartly called reefer diesel!

The red die marks it as fuel for off-road vehicles and equipment and therefore, doesn’t have road taxes included in the cost.

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To clear the red die, would require a lot of fuel to dilute, and therefore, it will be very obvious when put in an on-road truck.

Reefer fuel is considered to be offroad equipment as it doesn’t power anything driving on a road.

If you happen to use on-road clear fuel in a reefer trailer or van, you should track and keep the receipt for the on-road fuel being used in the off-road unit as you can file for the fuel tax back.

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You will be required to show proof and therefore, you should consult your accountant. Tax authorities usually check for vehicles using the fuel on the road.

They do so using a black light that can spot any residue presence of the dye in the fuel and the major engine compartment.

The fuel is commonly used for agriculture use, construction fueling, and other offroad equipment that aren’t used on the highway where fuel taxes is necessary.

Container trailer at sea port

What Is Reefer Fuel Used For?

Reefer fuel is meant to be used for the refrigerator unit of the heavy truck.

It’s supposed to keep the trailer cool and should not be used for road purposes. This is because the on-road fuel is subjected to tax.

White mini box truck

Since it’s used to keep the refrigeration trailer cool and not to run the truck, it isn’t subjected to the on-road tax. This fuel is usually dyed to ensure that it’s untaxed and is only used for off-road fuel.

Using reefer fuel on the road is illegal and can lead to a fine of more than $10,000 depending on the state.

Many states work very hard to prevent this type of tax avoidance.

Truck fuel tank

On West Coast, the fuel is ultra-low sulfur fuel, meaning that it would not cause any maintenance problems when used in an engine.

Depending on how old the fuel is, it can be low sulfur or high sulfur fuel.

How Much Does Reefer Fuel Cost?

Reefer fuel is off-road dyed diesel that costs $2.99 per gallon. It is much cheaper than the on-road diesel because it is not taxed and does not contain a cent of petroleum.

Moreover, national reefer rates average $2.97 per mile, but regional rates vary, so the cost of reefers varies across the nation.

What Is A Reefer Fuel Tank?

A reefer tank is a special fuel tank for reefer fuel. It is usually a massive tank because it is the fuel in it that is used by a reefer truck to refrigerate goods or items to ensure delivery of goods in refresh conditions.

Frozen items are temperature-sensitive cargo, and must be in great working state another reason companies deploy reefer trailers’ generators to keep the vehicle under the right temperature. 

Difference Between Reefer Fuel and Tractor Fuel

Reefer fuel refers to fuel that is used on refrigeration trucks. As an offroad fuel, it can also be used in construction, heating, agriculture, and other off-road equipment that isn’t used on the highway where the government requires fuel tax.

Heavy-duty truck on snowy road

Tractor fuel on the other hand is the standard number 2 diesel.

It’s a low-grade fuel that is in between gasoline and standard diesel when the distillation of crude oil is happening.

This refining technique that was developed during the World War 11 was turned into a more useful fuel. Power fuel was considered a higher grade of tractor fuel.

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Reefer Diesel  / Fuel FAQ

Reefer fuel Vs tractor fuel – same or different?

Refer fuel is the off-road fuel while tractor fuel is the number two diesel. You can only use reefer trailer fuel on a pickup if it’s used for off-road purposes.

Parked long heavy-duty truck

If you ever plan to use it on a public road, including crossing the street and the dye is found in the vehicle, you will liable to a fine that may rise to $10,000. So you’re legally permitted to use trailer fuel

If you have a big farm or closed facility and you don’t intend to use the vehicle for on-road purposes, you can use the reefer fuel in the vehicle.

Will reefer fuel hurt pickup trucks?

No. The fuel will work well on your truck.

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However, if your truck uses high sulfur or low sulfur fuel and your vehicle has a particulate trap, you will face maintenance challenges with the emission system of the truck.

But generally, reefer fuel is safe for your truck and the only reason why it is dyed red is so that the government Container trailers on the moveofficials will easily notice it when it’s used on road.

Take note that the ultralow sulfur market available today is usually below 15 parts per million.

Therefore, if your pickup truck or other equipment needs ultralow sulfur fuel, you may need to confirm the fuel you are using.

There are some types of low sulfur dials (with less than 500 parts per million sulfur fuel) and some high sulfur diesel with more than 500 parts for million sulfur that are still available in the marketplace.

It is commonly used for boiler systems, heating oil, marine, and locomotive applications.

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Are diesel and reefer the same?

Diesel and reefer are not the same. Reefer fuel and diesel have similar chemical compositions, but their tax rates and runtime differ.

Regular fuel, such as gasoline and diesel, is typically taxed, but reefers are not. Modern reefer units consume 0.4 to 1.1 gallons of diesel per hour, depending on their engine run time.

Furthermore, unlike diesel, reefer can only be used on private property. It is red to avoid misuse or confusion in its intended purpose.

It can be used to keep the refrigeration in reefer vehicles, but it should never be used to power a truck or other highway machines.

How does refrigerated transporter and fleet owner work?

FleetOwner offers reefer truck services to restaurants and food enterprises. Refrigerated Transporter is designed for cold chain professionals transporting, storing, and distributing temperature-controlled commodities.

Reefer Operations by FleetOwner provides up-to-date information for carriers and shippers who convey refrigerated cargo by truck, rail, ocean-going vessel, or airplane to choose the best and most efficient transportation route.

Heavy-duty truck illustration

How big is trailer fuel tank vs freezer trucks reefer?

Trailer fuel tanks have a capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 gallons, whereas reefer vehicles can hold 150 to 3,000 gallons. Trailer fuel tanks are typically larger than freezer truck reefer fuel tanks and are in high demand due to their high volume.

Trailer fuel tanks are utilized for long-distance liquid transportation, whereas ordinary reefer trucks are designed to deliver frozen cold products such as ice cream and frozen foods. As a result, fuel tanks must be larger to handle more fuel than freezer truck reefers.

What is refrigeration capacity and is it calculated?

It is a measurement of the volume of the reefer container in cubic feet that shows how much food can be stored within the refrigerator or freezer.

Likewise, it is the calculated difference between the electrical energy consumed by the reefer truck and the power required to run it.

Fleet of truck heads park

It extrapolates test results over the entire load range of the reefer unit to determine their optimal refrigeration capacity. It is sometimes called the “cooling load” or “standard cooling.”

Why is reefer trailer generator important?

Reefer trailer generators are used in the refrigeration industry to power units within freight vehicles. This allows you to actively avoid a possible breach in the cold chain and prevent the rotting of stored items. The trailer generator is the best way to deliver power to a cooling unit in refrigerated vehicles and reefer trucks.

What kind of fuel goes in a reefer refrigeration trailers?

Reefer trailers run on reefer fuel. Reefer fuel is primarily used in refrigeration trucks to maintain the temperature of their interiors and the foodstuffs they transport. Some trucks have separate tanks for diesel fuel (offroad fuel) and reefer fuel to differentiate their functionalities.

Heavy-duty truck on a bridge

Is reefer fuel taxable?

Reefer fuel has lenient tax policies. Reefer units that use reefer fuel are not taxed in the same way as diesel or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)

This type of fuel is not reported in the IFTA filing because it powers the trailer’s refrigeration system. To avoid harsh tax penalties, use a separate receipt for reefer fuel when operating your refrigeration unit.

Double cabin trailer truck

Is diesel more expensive at truck stops?

The cost of diesel is usually higher at truck stops as compared to the normal fuelling stops.

Diesel prices are also higher on the West Coast, particularly In California, as compared to other regions of the country as a result of supply problems and taxes.

Since the area is relatively isolated, it is usually more expensive to supply from other regions when there is an outage in a refinery.

Double container carrier truck

Is reefer fuel off-road diesel?

Yes, they indeed are. Reefer trailers are classified as off-road equipment, which means they use off-road fuel because their main engines aren’t used to drive on the road.

Since off-road fuel isn’t taxed the same as on-road fuel, reefer fuel helps reduce the cost of operating a reefer trailer. Also, the reefer trailers often use ultra-low sulfur diesel, which could be dyed, explaining why reefer fuel is often sold as off-road diesel.

How big is a reefer tank?

The size of a reefer tank depends on the size of the truck. Typically, reefer trucks are 40″ long and 20″ wide. Due to their small size and 250–350 liter capacity, the trucks are very fuel-efficient.

Reefer containers, as opposed to trailer tanks, are typically 20 to 40 feet long, easily maneuverable, and have a 3.5 to 5-ton capacity.

These containers must be leveled off to prevent tilting during transport to maintain adequate airflow and keep products at the desired temperature.

Transport boxes with a trolley

How many hours will a reefer unit run on a tank of fuel?

A reefer unit is usually on a closed-loop system not attached to the truck and therefore, the fuel efficiency isn’t affected by the driving habits.

However, if a reefer unit is poorly maintained, this could increase its fuel consumption.

When running under normal conditions, a reefer tank with a capacity of 50 gallons can last for 4 to 5 days.

Long truck on snowy road

Is there a difference between truck fuel and reefer fuel?

The key difference is the road tax. Truck fuel is used on-road while reefer fuel is used offroad.

Dyed fuel is an indication that taxes haven’t been paid and that the fuel should not be used in powering a vehicle on public roads.

Truck fuel usually has greenish or clear color to indicate that it’s an ultralow sulfur diesel. It’s also an indication that the on-road fuel taxes associated with using it on the highway have been paid.

Truck transporting containers

How much is highway tax for truck and reefer trailers?

Fuel tax usually differs depending on the state and local municipality.

The federal highway tax for trucks is $550 and is payable on all vehicles that have a gross weight of 55,000 pounds and are operated 5000 miles or 75,000 miles if it’s a logging vehicle on the public highway.

There is no fuel tax on reefer fuel and isn’t part of the IFTA filing if it’s used to power a trailer’s refrigeration unit.

Truck loading illustration

The only tax applicable to the fuel is the sales tax. In some states such as Washington, there is no sales tax on reefer fuel since they charge road charges.

The petroleum distributor may also put a small levy of less than $0.1  on reefer fuel bought at a wholesale terminal level. There are no taxes beyond that on reefer fuel.

truck cylinder section

Is reefer and diesel fuel the same?

No, reefer fuel is not the same as diesel fuel. Reefer fuel is a type of “ultra-low-sulfur diesel” that is red and is made from diesel fuel. It is less expensive to use than regular diesel. Furthermore, because reefer fuel has lower mileage than diesel fuel, it is used more frequently than regular diesel.

What is reefer diesel?

Reefer diesel is a special fuel for reefer trucks. It is red in color and it is an off-road fuel that is not taxed like other fuels.

Container trailer at sea port

Because it is not taxed, it is cheaper than ordinary fuels. It is commonly used for fueling off-road equipment, agricultural equipment and construction equipment.

How big is a reefer fuel tank?

The average reefer vehicle carries 50 gallons of reefer fuel, sufficient to travel 5,000 miles. This typically lasts four to five days, which is much longer than the five to six hours it takes to drive with a full tank of diesel fuel. 

The amount of time it takes to refill a fuel tank is determined by various factors, one of which is the length of the vehicle. Due to the short length of reefer trucks, drivers must stop every 150 miles to fill up their tanks.

Truck fuel tank

How much fuel does a reefer unit use per hour?

Reefer units use between 0.5 and 1 gallon of reefer diesel per hour. Modern reefer units use between 0.5 and 1.1 gallons of diesel per hour of engine operation, and a diesel tank takes 4-6 hours to recharge fully.

In automatic mode, the engine only runs for a fraction of the time it takes to fully recharge a diesel tank. The unit is activated and works to safeguard the cargo, thus the fuel consumption per hour is likely below estimated levels.

How long does reefer fuel last?

Reefer fuel lasts four to five days on average. However, if you open the reefer unit frequently, you may need to refill the tank every day or every two days. Reefer fuel consumption varies according to truck capacity and average temperature.

If the truck has a capacity of around 2,500 cubic feet, each driver will get about 7 hours of reefer fuel, depending on whether it is used in a cool or hot climate.

You do not need to refill the tank if the unit has never been opened for more than a few hours and is still safe to use.

White box truck

What is diesel #1 and #2?

They are different forms of diesel based on their vitality in cold weather conditions. Diesel #1 is more effective in wintry weather than diesel #2. It has a lesser viscosity and doesn’t gel easily at low temperatures, hence, does not freeze as quickly. 

Diesel #2 is geared for local temperature weather conditions and is less expensive than Diesel #1. Moreover, most stations provide a premium Diesel blend suitable for local and cold weather conditions.

What is the reefer fuel tank capacity?

Most reefer tanks contain a 50-gallon gasoline tank at the back of the unit that stores enough fuel for long-distance shipment.

However, the reefer tank size should be 80 to 100 gallons to support long-distance shipping needs, although a 50-gallon capacity can still suffice for localized shipping needs.

Parked long heavy-duty truck

Which is the best Reefer diesel engine brand?

Thermo King is regarded as the best reefer diesel engine brand since they offer a large range of reefer truck models that meet practically all requirements.

Carrier reefers are yet another popular reefer truck service option. Their 6-piston compressor units can handle more refrigerant than Thermo King compressors.

Carrier units are preferable when dealing with frozen goods because they don’t have to work hard to keep your trailer at the right temperature.


It is important to understand on-road fuel and offroad fuel such as reefer fuel.

This is because if you are caught using reefer fuel on an on-road vehicle, you will be in a problem as we have already indicated.

Industrial cooling trailers

Fortunately, with this guide, it should be easier to choose the right one for you.

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