Buying Shipping Containers 101: First-Time Buyer's Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Buying New and Used Shipping Containers.

There are a lot of reasons people buy shipping containers. They can be used for storage, they can be turned into semi-portable offices or workshops, and in some case, crafted into full-sized luxury homes. Whatever your reason is for buying a shipping container, you deserve to get the best quality container for the best price without a lot of hassle. In this guide, we’ll share all the insider knowledge you need to get a great deal on buying new or used shipping containers.

Chapter 1

The Risks of Buying Shipping Containers

New shipping containers for sale

Buying a quality new or used shipping container doesn’t have to be rocket science. For years, the process has been complicated by a sales process that involves commissioned sales professionals. And, like any industry that is driven by sales pros, there is always a potential for getting a bad deal to pad their commissions check.

At ContainerDiscounts, we’ve decided to cut out the sales professionals, and let our customers buy directly from our websites. We’ve become, for the most part, the Amazon of shipping containers. But, even when bypassing high-pressure salespeople, there are still risks involved in buying shipping containers.

Chapter 2

Leasing vs. Purchasing Shipping Containers

Which Is Best?

Shipping containers aren’t that expensive, but they aren’t the cheapest thing you can purchase either. We’re often asked if we provide leasing options for shipping containers. While we don’t lease the containers, they are available for rent.

But, the real deliberation is not if you can rent instead of buying; it’s if you should rent instead of buy.

There’s no complex formula to answer that question. It should be considered with simple mathematics.

Remember, the amount you’ll pay to purchase a shipping container is more than the sticker price. You also have to pay for delivery. When renting a container, there are other fees that will also need to be considered in addition to the amount due with each billing cycle.

When you understand the full costs of renting and buying, you can do the simple math:

The full price should include everything you will pay to be able to use the container the way you want. This includes taxes, delivery fees, paying for any upgrades, etc.

If you want the container for the long-term, purchasing will obviously be the most cost-efficient way to go. However, if you need the container for a temporary use, it may make sense to rent.

The deliberation has to be on the timeline: how long will you have the container before you return it?

Just from experience, when determining this number, you should be very honest with yourself. We’ve seen many people think they’ll need it for a month or two, only to turn around several months down the road and still be paying rent. Do your best to judge the time you will keep the container and then add a couple of months to be on the safe side.

This should include all the upfront costs, as well as the recurring cost of the rental.

Which One Is Cheaper?

Even though some people want the container long enough that buying will be cheaper, they still decide to rent because of the smaller amount due up front. Small monthly payments offset the amount they will pay in total. That’s a decision you will have to make on your own.

We recommend the simple math: go with the method that requires the least amount of investment.

Chapter 3

Decoding Shipping Container Condition Descriptions

Know What You Want

When it comes to buying shipping containers, both new and used, the condition of the container is one of the primary factors on the purchase price. Naturally, containers in great condition cost more than containers that are in worse condition.

However, there are a lot of descriptions used to communicate the condition of the container. And, it can get confusing to figure out exactly what kind of container you should purchase.

New (1-Trip) Shipping Containers

One-tip containers are considered new. They are manufactured overseas, loaded with goods and shipped. Once they arrive at their final destination, the goods are unloaded, and the container is sold. It’s considered a new container but is also referred to as a one-trip container because it has made one trip.

In the United States, one-trip containers are as new as they come. They are usually in great shape, with possible dings or dents from being transported, loaded, and unloaded at the ports.

Used Shipping Containers

Used shipping containers can come in a variety of conditions. If you buy from an individual on eBay or Craigslist, "used" could mean it’s rusted out and falling apart.

Technically, the term "used" means any container that has made more than one-trip, or that has been used as storage, etc. by an individual.

Here's what you should always expect from a good used shipping container:

Full 360 20 Container


There are three classifications of used shipping containers, lets take a look at each:

Chapter 4

Finding Containers in the Best Condition

Getting a Great Container at a Great Price

The better the condition of the container, the higher the price. However, if you’re purchasing the container outright, the better the condition, the longer they will last.

A one-trip shipping container put directly into use as a storage container can be expected to last up to 50 years before it needs to be replaced. A used container will have a shorter lifespan because they have already had a life in transport and at sea. However, they will still provide a very long service life.

Obviously, how long any container lasts depends on a variety of factors, like their usage, modifications, and quality of maintenance.

Getting the Best Quality for Your Money

People come to us all the time with stories of ordering one container but getting a container in much worse condition. They come to us because we give every customer a certified condition guarantee at the time or purchase.

Some buyers settle for a lower quality shipping container than they should. Middlemen usually sell to customers based on the stock they have on-hand, which is extremely limited compared to the stock a tier-1 supplier, like ContainerDiscounts. When a customer comes to them, they may sell a WWT container that’s in poorer condition and explain away that condition because the container is “used.”

Just because a container is “used” doesn’t mean it has to be in bad condition. Shop around and don’t be afraid to say no if a container is in worse condition than you prefer. If you look in the right place, you can find a great deal on a container that’s in the right condition.

Chapter 5

Where to Buy Shipping Containers

Finding a Seller You Can Trust

There are several ways you can buy a container and get a good deal. Of course, depending on your geographical location, your options may be limited. If you live near any major city with a shipping port or rail hub, you will probably have a variety of local dealers to shop.

Buying From Local Dealers

Buying from a local dealer has one distinct advantage: they have to survive where they do business. Although it’s not always the case, being “local” means the reputation of the way they treat their customers stays with them for life.

If you determine to buy from a local dealer, do your homework and check their customer reviews and testimonials. Choose a dealer that does their best to support their customers. If you choose one that doesn’t care about their customers, you’ll wish you had taken the time to check out their track record before buying.

Buying From Individuals

Now and then, you can find a good deal on a shipping container from an individual. In some cases, these containers can be in great shape, and because of a motivation to sell, the price may be much lower than you can find buying retail.

The important thing again is to be cautious. If you get the container and discover it leaks or has a hole you didn’t notice, you probably won’t get the previous owner to take it back. There is also the matter of getting the container delivered, the fees associated and the expertise of the delivery company. If the container is damaged in transit, you are probably the one who has to absorb the expense.

Buying Direct from Tier-1 Suppliers

Full disclosure: ContainerDiscounts is such a supplier. Our recommendations will be biased as we believe this is the best way to purchase a new or used shipping container.

We provide transparent pricing and ordering through our website. There’s no need to talk to a high-pressure salesman; you can do it all online. It’s easy, it’s fast, and you can get the best possible pricing by buying directly from us.

Buying direct has a couple of attractive advantages:

  1. You get access to a much larger inventory, which means finding exactly what you want.
  2. You get a better price because you don’t have to pay for middleman markups.

Of course, there are potential risks as well. For one, you won’t be able to see the container in person before it is delivered. Which is why it’s important to deal with a company like ContainerDiscounts, who provides a certified condition guarantee for every container. If the container we deliver doesn’t match the guarantee, we’ll fix it at our expense, not yours.

Chapter 6

How to Get the Best Price

If you’re still evaluating providers, we’ve created a buyer’s guide to help you understand how to get the best price on the best containers. Fill out the form to get instant access to this guide, with insider information on getting the best bargain for containers in great condition.

The price of One-Trip Containers is highly volatile and is anchored to many variables, such as:

  • Raw cost of steel
  • The cost of iron ore used to produce the steel
  • Manufacturing capacity in Asia
  • Trade imbalance between China and the rest of the world
  • Supply and demand factors in regional US markets
  • Cash flow of shipping lines (if they don't have the cash to produce new units, they hold onto old ones, and new production comes to a halt, causing prices in factories to rise.)

Getting the best price depends on where you are, and the containers that are available to you. It’s possible to find a great deal from an individual who is close enough to make delivery fees acceptable. You may also happen upon a great deal from a local depot or container company.

The easiest way to get the best price is to buy direct from the supplier. As mentioned before, it cuts out all the markups from middlemen and gives you access to a better variety of inventory.

Don’t take our word for it. Browse our inventory and pricing below to see all the great deals on new and used shipping containers.

Price a New or Used Container

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from $3400 - $3750


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