Buying Shipping Containers: A Guide For First-Time Buyers

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Shipping containers are an excellent long-term storage solution. They’re secure and surprisingly cost-effective — if you know what you’re looking for and make proper preparations before purchasing. Here are some guidelines when buying shipping containers for the first time.

Pre-purchase: Identifying the Shipping Container You Need

This depends on your purpose. There are a variety of shipping containers to choose from, but assuming you’re not looking for a customized shipping container, we can narrow down your choices into categories and types.

Shipping Container Grades

Shipping containers come in different conditions and grades:

  1. New – newly-manufactured shipping containers used for a single trip. Also called One-trippers, they may show signs of use on the external body such as small scrapes made while moving between ports, but they should be pristine internally.
  2. Certified or Cargo-worthy – slightly-used shipping containers that are more than 5 years old and inspected for damages by a certified marine surveyor.
  3. Wind and Water Tigh (WWT) – old and used containers that are still weather resistant.
  4. As-is – retired containers that were used for years and have the highest exposure to wind, saltwater, sunlight, and rain. They are also the cheapest option.

Sizes of Shipping Containers

Most shipping containers come in two sizes:

  1. The 20ft shipping container has the following internal dimensions: 5.90m length, 2.35 width, and 2.39m height.
  2. The 40ft shipping container has internal dimensions of 12m (length), 2.35m (width), and 2.39m (height).

A 20ft shipping container can easily fit the contents of a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom house, while a 40ft shipping container can fit that of a three-bedroom to a four-bedroom house.

Shipping containers also come in other sizes, the High Cube being the most common alternative to the 40ft shipping container with its taller ceiling for additional vertical space. Smaller-sized shipping containers, however, are less common and require modification.

Pre-Purchase Preparations: Things to Prepare and Expect

Once you’ve narrowed down the shipping container you need, you can now start with the second phase which takes some legwork on your part but is necessary for ownership.

Budget: To Rent or To Buy?

You can rent shipping containers on a short-term basis, from a one-time use (such as a move) to several months. However, if you expect to use the shipping container for longer than 3 years, buying it may be more cost-effective.

Where to Buy Shipping Containers?

In Australia, you can buy shipping containers from local individual sellers, auction sites, or local shipping container suppliers.

  • Local individual sellers only sell used shipping containers for a low price, but they usually only have one to sell and you will most likely have to handle the delivery cost yourself.
  • Auction sites sell cheap new or used shipping containers, sometimes with delivery. However, since they are sold online, this limits your ability to inspect the container yourself or choose the best from several options.
  • Shipping container suppliers have depots with a large inventory of new and used shipping containers. While not the cheapest option, they give buyers like you the chance to inspect the shipping containers yourself to eliminate nasty surprises once you’ve paid for your shipping container. They usually offer a warranty on top of the buyer protection you can get for an added cost. You also need not worry about delivery as they have forklifts, cranes and trailers to transport your shipping container safely and quickly to your chosen location.

Where to Place Your Shipping Container?

There are zoning considerations you need to research depending on where you live and your state’s zoning laws. But once you’ve determined a place where it’s legal and safe to place a shipping container permanently, you will next have to consider the following:

  1. Check the surface – The ground must be level, dry, and free from debris to prevent future damage to the container as well as its contents. It should also not cover your access to manholes and septic tanks.
  2. Do some site preparation – This depends on the final site for the shipping container. Will it be on concrete or on top of soft soil? The latter particularly require site preparation such as placing gravel or sand on top of the grass as a sort of foundation or support.
  3. Account for delivery space – There should be enough clearance space for delivery, ideally more than twice the length of the container in a clear open space so the delivery truck can offload your shipping container without hitting anything. Watch out for vertical clearance too, as offloading a shipping container from a trailer involves it tilting to up to 15ft. Make sure there are no trees or wires in the way.

During Purchase: What to Look Out for When Buying Shipping Containers

Ocular inspection is still the best way to ensure you’re paying your money’s worth. When inspecting a shipping container at a depot, be sure to bring with you a selfie stick (the longer, the better) and a flashlight.

Here’s what you should inspect and how:

  1. Structural Frame – shipping containers have structural beams that reinforce the container’s shape and maintain its strength. They form the top, bottom, and side edges of a shipping container and must be checked for dents, corrosion, and signs of repair on the shipping container’s frame are indications of structural damage that are hard to fix.
  2. Walls – Surface rust is not always a bad sign for used shipping containers; it’s more an indicator of the age of the container than it does its quality. What you should be concerned about are holes, and the best way to inspect for those is to do an internal inspection in the dark. Close the shipping container doors. If you’re seeing pinpoints of light escaping in, you’ve found holes. And if light can enter the container, so can water.
  3. Roof – Water settles longer on the shipping container’s roof than anywhere else, so inspect the roof with a selfie stick and look for deep corrosion. The darkness test will also reveal holes in the roof.
  4. Doors – Open the doors yourself to test the hinges for their swing, and close them again to test the door gaskets and the container’s locking mechanism to make sure the doors are easy for you to open and close.
  5. Interior – Apart from the darkness test, you should also do a smell test of the interior to catch whiffs of mold, as that’s a tell-tale sign of hidden water damage under the floor of the shipping container. Expect some chemical smells as those can’t be avoided. The less chemical fumes, the better.

When it comes to buying options, you can’t go wrong with a nationwide shipping container supplier like Tiger Containers. Nationwide suppliers have more products to offer and you can expect topnotch customer service during and after your purchase.

Infographic By Tiger Containers

Ashley Bryan

Ashley Bryan is an Internet Strategist and SEO professional based in Queensland, Australia, with 20 years’ experience in the field. He actively writes for his own business as well as those of his clients from Australia and New Zealand.

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