How to Inspect a Used Shipping Container

Before you purchase used containers, it's important to inspect them to check for corrosion and assess if it makes sense to refurbish them, but there is no defined universal grading system for containers.

The age of a container doesn't affect its pricing; it also depends upon physical appearance and structure.

Generally, containers stay in shipping service for 7-10 years. After they're retired, they can be modified into infrastructure instead of being scrapped. There are several questions which need to be answered before buying a container:

1.              Was it used to haul around nuclear waste, bio-hazards, toxic chemicals or trash?

2.              How many trips it has made?

3.              How much rust  does a particular shipping container posses?

We can use different processes to remove the effect of toxic chemicals like sand blasting or using epoxy paints. If a container did frequent short trips, it might have gone through more wear and tear. A little rust is okay for a used container, but if there are too many areas covered with crimson then it will probably not last long. If a container is in decent condition and is refurbished properly, with care and is painted every few years once installed, it can last a minimum of 30 years!

Basic things we look at during inspection:

·                General exterior surface rust (Especially at door bottoms)

·                Condition of  door gasket around the door area

·                Condition of the wood floor on interiors

·                Penetration and pin holes in steel panels (These need to be patched)

·                Interior- floor, sidewalls and roofs

·                Fully weatherproof condition


Its also crucial to make sure that your container isn't warped, which is even more important if you are planning to stack them, or place them side by side. You can do this by taking a string, and placing one end at a top of one corner (on the longer side of the container), and having another person hold the other end of the string at the bottom of the diagonal corner. If the string is quite a way from touching the container at the centre, then your container is warped! 


Corrosion is important to check on the corner postings, and one place where people usually don't check is under the floorboards. This is usually the first thing that deteriorates when you build on top of the flooring without checking for corrosion.

Types of Used Containers

One trip containers

Once the containers reach its destination, they are often available for sale, which are excellent choice, as they haven’t spent much time in ocean or in a container depot. They don't have dents, dings and surface rust. These containers can be used when we don't want to deal with maintenance and esthetics of used containers. However, we do recommend going for containers which are retired from shipping and are no longer cargo worthy.

As-is Containers

There is no guarantee when we buy this kind of containers. There is no recourse on condition of such containers. As-is containers can have dents, leaks, holes or rust on them but they still can be quality containers. If we are looking for a good deal however, these are right containers for us. We just have to ensure that its cost effective to get them refurbished.

Wind and Watertight

This is a common standard used by container traders to classify containers. Whether they have a valid CSC plate for shipping or not, watertight containers are not suitable for shipping for a number of inspection criteria. These containers have been retired by the shipping line so they do show a good amount of wear and tear and bumps and bruises, but again, if you are looking for a cheap option, this is it. This type of container has no leaks or holes in it. This is the most economical option and is guaranteed to be weather proof.

USED Containers in India

Since we're based in India, we want to be a little more specific to our geography. If you're purchasing a used container, then its always better to check its usage history and find out whether its been used to transport anything hazardous. In India though, containers can legally only carry Napthaline and liquid acids. If they have carried these materials, then they are never used for transporting food products, and their lifespan is also no more than 8 years as these materials tend to corrode the container quickly over time. 

There are two types of containers available:

1) Those which are leasable from ports and can be borrowed by anyone - these don't have a good tracking history

2) Containers owned by shipping companies which are sold in auctions as a full lot - these have an accurate tracking history although its very difficult to obtain those documents. 

Basically, its almost impossible to track your container's history here in India. All in all, we recommend you sandblast the interior of your container and either replace the marine plywood flooring or disassemble it, cover it with Epoxy in order to trap any fumes from the insecticides in it and then reinstall it. 



Nikhil DugalComment