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How to Buy a Used Shipping Container

A shipping container is a modular, stackable metal container used to convey goods by ocean or land transport. They are built for durability, and able to withstand weight, salt and moisture. As well as serving as a great way to ship goods by boat, truck or train, shipping containers are often used by individuals and businesses for storage. In recent years, they have also been shaped by architects and builders into homes, offices and stores. Whatever the reason you are looking for a used shipping container, it is a good idea to learn the lingo that is used to sell them and research your options, before making a purchase. Find out how to buy a used shipping container.


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    Decide how long you need to use the container. If you plan to use it for storage for a few months, you may want to consider renting a container. With this option, you will not be required to dispose of it or sell it when you are finished.
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    Evaluate whether a 20 foot (6.1 m) container or a 40 foot (12.2 m) container length will suit your needs. The size of the container will depend upon the space you have set aside for its use and the capacity that is needed. A 40 foot (12.2 m) container will be more expensive than a 20 foot (6.1 m) container, so measure before starting to shop.
    • Common heights include 8.5 feet (259.1 cm) and 9.5 feet (289.6 cm). They are usually 8 feet (2.4 m) wide. Extra wide containers are also available and they can run up to 48 feet (14.6 m) in length.
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    Call the space where you plan to put your shipping container. There may be restrictions on this type of structure, so ensure you are allowed to house a shipping container on the premises. Some cities and counties have local ordinances restricting the use of shipping containers in all but a few areas.
    • In order for a container space to be adequate, you will need adequate delivery space. This is usually double the length of the container plus 10 feet (3.0 m).
    • The location must also be level in order to use the shipping container safely.
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    Research the various conditions and options that are available on the used shipping container market. Anything that is described as "used," can be well-worn or relatively new. Follow these guidelines to buy the correct condition for your needs:
    • Look for "one-trip" containers if you are looking for a nearly new look and condition. These containers are usually made in Asia and used once for cargo shipping before being sold. They are often listed as "new" or "like new" but they will have a few scratches from their initial trip.
    • Look for "corten steel" if you want to use containers in inclement weather or near the ocean. This relatively new material is also used in construction projects and it can stand up to more weather without rusting.
    • Look for a "factory paint" label if you want it to be freshly painted, instead of refurbished. Refurbished containers can have problems with paint peeling from rust. Factory paint implies that it has only been painted once, when it was made.
    • A designation as "no shipping label" means that you will not find a large company logo on the container. It is likely painted a single color, without many other markings.
    • A "cargo worthy" container indicates that the unit has been inspected by a cargo surveyor. It has been deemed worthy of ocean cargo transport.
    • Shipping containers that are categorized as "as-is" are the most worn and economical option. It is likely that they have been retired by shipping companies, they have some leaks or damage, they are partially rusted and they have 1 or more shipping labels painted onto them. There is a large supply of as-is shipping containers across the globe, so you are likely to find a good price.
    • Modified shipping containers are also available at various prices. Many of these containers have been repainted. Other options include roll up doors, heat units, air conditioning units, skylights, security bars, partitions, vents, fans, framing and insulation. Keep in mind that the addition of new doors or windows will compromise the seal and security of the original model.
    • Other well used containers are classified as "wind-water-tight". Wind and watertight conveys that the seller believes it to be a well sealed container, but it has not been inspected by a surveyor.
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    Search for used shipping containers online. In general, you can find as-is containers starting at around $1,500 and like-new or modified containers that cost between $5,000 and $8,000. The following are good places to compare prices:
    • Search on eBay for used shipping containers. Many companies and individuals choose to sell their containers by auction. You may be afforded a better price if the starting bid is within your budget.
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    Call a local shipping company to inquire about used shipping containers. If you want to save on transportation costs, then calling 3 to 10 storage or shipping companies in your area may prove to be the most economical options. This may also afford you the chance to inspect the container before purchasing.
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    Search online for dedicated shipping container sale sites. Call or email for a quote about the size and condition you desire.
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    Make a spreadsheet to compare base cost, transportation cost and conditions. Since there are many options available, having an organized way to vet your choices will result in a lower price.
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    Consider hiring an inspector from the Institute of International Container Lessors to inspect your container. If you require a sealable, secure container for long-term use, then you can ensure you are getting a good product by hiring an IICL inspector. Search online for an inspector near the sale location.
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    Inspect the container yourself, instead of hiring an inspector. You should ensure that the doors close completely and the body is free of dents. Also, avoid containers that contain rust near the seals or bad odors, as these are likely to remain.
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    Purchase your used shipping container when you have evaluated all of your options. Depending upon the company, you may be required to use a credit card or cashier's check. Arrange for convenient transport to your location.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Budget
  • Spreadsheet
  • Credit card
  • Institute of International Container Lessors inspector

Article Info

Categories: Buying Wisely