When buying a shipping container, you will hear different terminology to describe its condition. Most of the time, these terms have nothing to do with appearance. Shipping containers were designed and built to carry cargo across the ocean. The primary users aren’t concerned with what it would look like turned into a hotel. The secondary market of recycling containers for storage and buildings hasn’t developed a uniform language yet.
There are two basic categories of container: new and used. Even the term “new” is misleading. As the vast majority of containers are manufactured overseas, they will have all made at least one trip across the ocean to get to the US. Most of the time, this shipping cost was paid by someone who needed to move cargo, and the container was not sent over empty. Thus, new containers are commonly referred to as “one trip”.
One trip containers are not perfect but they are as close as you’re going to get. They don’t bubble wrap containers on ocean liners. They may have scratches, small dings, and scuffs in the floors.
All containers available in the US other than a one trip are used. This means they have been carrying cargo all over the world on the ocean. The shipping lines use them as long as they have cargo to move. When they have a surplus available somewhere, they sell them to wholesalers for use in the secondary market. Their condition is labeled strictly by ability to carry cargo, not appearance or age. A 30 year old, dented and rusted container is just as good as a one trip as long as it is safe to ship cargo.
In the shipping world, the terms for describing the condition are:
CW – Cargo Worthy – The container meets the ISO spec for carrying cargo, in a stack, on the ocean, has been inspected by a licensed and trained inspector, and is certified to be safe.
WWT – Wind and Water Tight – The container is not certified to be safe to transport cargo on a ship. It has had a visual inspection by a trained inspector and does not have any holes where water or light can come through.
As-Is – There are no representations that the container is safe or water tight.
Occasionally containers sustain significant damage when being used to transport cargo. When the container arrives in a port, it can be repaired and re-certified to CW. The depot estimates how much it will cost to repair the container so it can be re-certified. There are different “grades” which categorize the container by cost to repair to CW. For example, a Grade A container may only need $50-$100 to repair. This still doesn’t have anything to do with container age or appearance. The repairs usually are for things like structural integrity, water tightness, or perhaps damaged latch gear.
Again, none of these terms describe the number of dents, amount of rust, interior smell, or general appearance of the container. On the secondary market, some resellers have created their own terms to classify a container by appearance. You might hear someone say “Grade A, B, or C” or “Type I, II, or III” to describe appearance. These are not official terms and vary depending on where you shop for your container. They may not even be graded by the same individual using the same criteria within a company. Be sure to ask for clarification if you are buying a used container with a label other than CW or WWT.