An Interesting Look Into Tank Trucks

Author: ACTenviro
Date: June 13, 2024

Tank trucks are important for transporting a wide variety of liquids and gases. Fuels, chemicals, beverages, water, and liquid hazardous waste are all carried and transported by tanker trucks. 

Due to the nature of their cargo, tank trucks have special features and designs that allow them to load, unload, and transport their cargo safely and efficiently. Drivers go through stringent training in handling these vehicles. Let's face it: a tanker truck mishap is a major disaster.  

In this article, we'll discuss how a tank truck works, its design features, the requirements to operate a tanker truck, and more. We'll discuss how these trucks carry some of the world's most challenging cargo quickly and safely.

What is a Tank Truck?

A tank truck, or tanker truck, is a specialized vehicle that transports large volumes of liquids or gases. These trucks are important in industries such as petroleum, chemical manufacturing, food processing, and waste management. In general, these vehicles have a cylindrical tank mounted on a truck chassis.

To protect the integrity of the cargo, the tanks are constructed from materials like stainless steel or aluminum. These materials are preferred because they can resist corrosion and can safely handle a wide range of substances including flammable fuels, chemicals, food-grade liquids, and liquid wastes.

The tanks are usually insulated and may have multiple compartments, enabling the transport of different substances without the risk of cross-contamination.

Modern tank trucks are equipped with advanced safety features such as pressure relief valves and emergency shutoff systems to prevent accidents during transport. They are also designed to meet strict government regulations like those set by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Following these regulations ensure that these tanker trucks are operating safely and efficiently.

What are the Different Types of Tank Trucks?

Tanker trucks come in various types, each designed to carry specific types of liquids or gases safely and efficiently.

  1. Waste Management Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting liquid waste, sewage, and hazardous waste for disposal or treatment
    • Features: Constructed from materials resistant to corrosion and chemical damage. They are equipped with strong pumping systems for loading and unloading waste. The trucks are designed with secure sealing systems to prevent leaks and spills.
  2. Fuel Tank Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel
    • Features: Often have multiple compartments to carry different types of fuel simultaneously. They are also equipped with vapor recovery systems to prevent emissions.
  3. Chemical Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting hazardous chemicals and industrial liquids
    • Features: Made from materials resistant to corrosion (like stainless steel). These trucks have safety features such as pressure relief valves and are often lined with protective coatings.
  4. Food-Grade Tank Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting consumable liquids such as milk, juice, soda, and other beverages
    • Features: Made from food-grade stainless steel, insulated to maintain temperature, and designed for easy cleaning to meet hygiene standards
  5. Water Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting potable and non-potable water for various uses including firefighting, agriculture, and construction
    • Features: Often have large capacity tanks, sometimes with pumping systems for distributing water. Some large tanker trucks are designed with the prime mover and truck bed water tank as separate elements.
  6. LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) Tank Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting liquefied gases like propane and butane
    • Features: High-pressure tanks, equipped with safety features to handle the pressurized contents
  7. Cryogenic Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting cryogenic liquids like liquid nitrogen, oxygen, and argon
    • Features: Highly insulated tanks to maintain extremely low temperatures, often with double walls to provide thermal insulation
  8. Bitumen/Asphalt Tank Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting hot liquid asphalt for road construction
    • Features: Insulated tanks with heating systems to keep the bitumen at the required temperature during transport
  9. Milk Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting milk from dairy farms to processing facilities
    • Features: Made from food-grade stainless steel, insulated to keep the milk cool, and often equipped with agitation systems to prevent separation
  10. Wine Tank Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting wine and other alcoholic beverages
    • Features: Similar to food-grade tankers, made from stainless steel and designed to preserve the quality of the liquid during transport
  11. Acid Tanker Trucks
    • Purpose: Transporting corrosive acids like sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and nitric acid.
    • Features: Constructed from materials resistant to corrosion, with special coatings and safety systems to handle the highly corrosive nature of the contents.

Each type of tanker truck is designed to meet the specific requirements of the cargo it carries. This ensures the vehicle's safety, efficiency, and compliance with industry regulations.  

What Types of Tanker Trucks are Best for Waste Management?

Different tank truck types are designed to handle various forms of waste efficiently and safely.

Vacuum Trucks for Liquid Waste

Vacuum trucks are highly effective for handling liquid waste. These trucks use powerful pumps to suction waste into a sealed tank. These vehicles are ideal for managing sewage, industrial fluids, and hazardous liquids. 

Roll-Off Trucks for Solid Waste

For bulk solid wasteroll-off trucks are used. These trucks transport large containers that can be loaded onto the vehicle and then rolled off at disposal sites. They are well-suited for construction debris, large-scale cleanups, and other bulky waste types. 

Combination Trucks for Mixed Waste

For disposing of liquid and solid waste, combination trucks are the go-to option. These trucks are equipped with compartments for separating different types of waste. They are particularly useful for complex waste management tasks where multiple waste streams are involved.

How do Tanker Trucks Work?

Because tanker trucks are designed to transport liquids and gases safely and efficiently, they also use special components in their construction and operation. 

Components of a Tanker Truck

  1. Cab, Chassis, Engine, and Wheels: This integrated component allows the truck to move on its own power. A driver sits in the cab and drives the truck just like any normal vehicle.
  2. Tank
    • Material: Made from stainless steel, aluminum, or carbon steel, depending on the type of cargo
    • Shape: Typically cylindrical to evenly distribute the liquid's weight and prevent sloshing
    • Compartments: Some tanks have multiple compartments to carry different types of liquids simultaneously. The tanks also have baffles to prevent sloshing of the liquid, which could make the truck unstable.
  3. Pump System
    • Many tanker trucks are equipped with pumps to load and unload liquids from its cargo tank. The truck's engine or a separate motor powers up the system. Some tanker trucks do not have these systems, necessitating them to rely on separate pump systems.
  4. Valves and Hoses
    • Valves and hoses control the flow of liquid into and out of the tank. Hoses connect the tank to the storage facilities at the loading and unloading points.
  5. Safety Features
    • Pressure Relief Valves: These prevent over-pressurization.
    • Grounding Devices: These prevent static electricity buildup.
    • Baffles: These are internal structures in the tank that reduce liquid movement to improve stability during transit.
  6. Insulation and Heating/Cooling Systems
    • Some cargo tanks are lined with insulating materials which maintain the temperature of temperature-sensitive liquids.
    • Heating systems keep substances like asphalt and certain chemicals at a required temperature. The same goes for refrigerated tankers; they have systems that keep the liquid cool.

Loading Process

  1. Preparation: Personnel ensure the tanker is clean and suitable for the intended cargo. They do a thorough check on all valves, hoses, and safety equipment.
  2. Connection: Once everything is checked, hoses are then attached from the storage tank to the tanker truck. Connections are sealed and secured to prevent leaks.
  3. Pumping: Personnel use the pump system to transfer the liquid into the tanker. The process is closely monitored to prevent overfilling.
  4. Sealing: The valves are closed and sealed to prevent spills during transit.


  1. Safety Checks: Drivers perform a pre-trip inspection of the vehicle and cargo. They make sure all safety devices are functioning correctly.
  2. Driving: Drivers know that they are carrying valuable and/or dangerous liquids or gasses. Thus, they drive carefully, following all transportation regulations and guidelines for hazardous materials. Tank truck drivers usually have special licenses and undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are qualified to drive these tankers.

Unloading Process

  1. Preparation: The truck is positioned at the unloading site. Check the receiving tank and ensure it can accommodate the incoming liquid.
  2. Connection: Hoses are attached from the tanker truck to the receiving tank. Personnel check if the connections are secure.
  3. Pumping: Once the connections are safe and confirmed, the personnel activates the pump system to transfer the liquid/gas cargo from the tanker to the storage facility. The transfer is monitored carefully for safety.

Special Considerations

  • Hazardous Materials: Personnel observe extra precautions when transporting hazardous materials. In fact, there is specific training for drivers, additional safety equipment, and strict adherence to regulations to handle these kinds of materials.
  • Temperature Control: For temperature-sensitive cargo, equipment such as heaters, refrigeration units, and insulation materials help maintain the required temperature throughout transportation. 
  • Routine Maintenance: Regular inspection and maintenance of the tanker truck is important to ensure it remains in good working condition and complies with safety standards.

What are the Risks Associated with Tank Truck Operations?

tanker truck crash

Despite all the personnel training, safety measures, and strict regulations governing tanker truck handling, operating tank trucks still comes with significant risks that need careful management. After all, transporting hazardous materials poses inherent dangers. Here are some key risks associated with tanker truck operations:

1. Spills and Leaks

  • Environmental Damage: Spills can cause significant harm to the environment, contaminating soil and water sources.
  • Health Hazards: Exposure to hazardous chemicals or fuels can pose serious health risks to humans and wildlife.
  • Fire and Explosions: Flammable liquids and gases can cause fires or explosions if they leak and come into contact with an ignition source.

2. Accidents and Collisions

  • Road Accidents: Tank trucks are large and heavy, making them more prone to accidents, especially on narrow or busy roads.
  • Rollover Risk: The high center of gravity and liquid cargo movement can increase the risk of rollovers during sharp turns or sudden maneuvers.
  • Cargo Spillage: Accidents can lead to the release of hazardous cargo, posing immediate risks to drivers, emergency responders, and the public.

3. Operational Risks

  • Loading/Unloading: Improper handling during loading and unloading can lead to spills, overfills, explosions, or equipment failures.
  • Pump and Valve Failures: Malfunctions in pumping systems or valves can cause leaks or prevent the proper transfer of cargo.
  • Human Error: Mistakes by drivers or operators such as incorrect connections or failure to follow safety protocols can lead to accidents.

4. Exposure to Hazardous Materials

  • Chemical Burns: Direct contact with certain chemicals can cause burns or other injuries to personnel.
  • Toxic Inhalation: Breathing in vapors or fumes from hazardous substances can lead to respiratory issues or poisoning.
  • Long-Term Health Effects: Prolonged exposure to certain hazardous waste, chemicals, and other dangerous substances can cause chronic health problems, including cancer and organ damage.

5. Regulatory and Compliance Risks

  • Non-Compliance Penalties: Failing to adhere to safety regulations and industry standards can result in fines, legal actions, and operational shutdowns.
  • Licensing and Permits: Inadequate or expired permits and licenses can lead to legal consequences and disruptions in operations.

6. Mechanical Failures

  • Equipment Breakdown: Mechanical failures in the truck or tanker equipment can cause delays, spills, or accidents.
  • Maintenance Issues: Poor maintenance practices can increase the risk of equipment failure and reduce the overall safety of operations.

7. Security Risks

  • Theft and Vandalism: Tanker trucks, especially those carrying valuable or hazardous cargo, can be targets for theft or vandalism.
  • Terrorism: Tankers carrying flammable or toxic substances can be potential targets for terrorist activities, posing significant safety and security risks.

8. Weather and Environmental Conditions

  • Extreme Weather: Adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain, snow, ice, or high winds can increase the likelihood of accidents.
  • Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters can disrupt tanker operations and pose additional hazards.

Mitigation Strategies

  • Training and Education: This comprises regular training for drivers and operators on safety protocols and emergency response.
  • Safety Equipment: Ensuring that all safety equipment including spill containment kits, fire extinguishers, and personal protective equipment is available, functional, and in good condition is important.
  • Regular Maintenance: Routine inspections and maintenance of the tanker truck and its components should be conducted regularly.
  • Compliance with Regulations: Drivers and operators should adhere to all relevant safety standards and regulations to minimize risks and ensure safe operations.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Developing and practicing emergency response plans for various scenarios, including spills, fires, and accidents.

How Many Gallons Are in a Tank Truck?

Tanker truck capacity can vary between 3,000 to 11,600 gallons. Smaller tanker trucks are generally used for local deliveries while larger ones are suited for long-haul transportation. 

How Are Tanker Trucks Maintained to Ensure Safety and Efficiency?

ACTenviro’s vacuum truck

To keep tanker trucks in optimal condition, operators do regular inspections and routine maintenance. This involves ensuring that all seals are intact, checking and repairing any leaks, thoroughly cleaning the tanks, and many more. These maintenance practices are required to ensure that tank trucks operate safely and efficiently.

How Do Regulations Differ for Tanker Trucks Transporting Hazardous Vs. Non-Hazardous Materials?

In general, regulations for transporting hazardous materials using tanker trucks are considerably more stringent due to the potential risks involved. Non-hazardous materials, while still subject to safety and operational regulations, generally face fewer restrictions and less intensive regulatory scrutiny. Let's discuss these regulations in a bit more detail.

1. Classification and Labeling

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Must be classified according to specific hazard classes (e.g., flammable, corrosive, toxic)
    • Require appropriate labeling on the tanker to indicate the type of hazardous material being transported
    • Must comply with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labeling.
  • Non-Hazardous Materials

2. Driver Training and Certification

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Drivers must undergo specialized training in handling hazardous materials. The training can include emergency response procedures.
    • Drivers need a Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HME) on their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) in the US, which involves background checks and additional testing.
    • Ongoing training and re-certification are often required.
  • Non-Hazardous Materials
    • Drivers typically require a standard CDL without the need for specialized hazardous materials training or endorsements.
    • Basic safety and operational training is still necessary.

3. Vehicle and Equipment Standards

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Tanker trucks must meet stringent design and construction standards to safely transport hazardous materials (e.g., double-walled tanks, reinforced structures, etc.). They should be equipped with specialized safety features like pressure relief valves, grounding systems, and spill containment measures.
    • Regular inspections and maintenance are mandated to ensure compliance with safety standards.
  • Non-Hazardous Materials
    • Tanker trucks must still meet basic safety and design standards, but these are generally less stringent.
    • Routine inspections and maintenance are required, but the frequency may be lower.

4. Transportation and Handling Procedures

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Strict protocols for loading, unloading, and transporting hazardous materials, including securing cargo and monitoring conditions
    • Mandatory use of route planning to avoid densely populated or environmentally sensitive areas when possible
    • Detailed record-keeping and documentation requirements, including shipping papers, safety data sheets (SDS), and emergency contact information
  • Non-Hazardous Materials
    • Standard procedures for handling and transporting non-hazardous materials, which are generally less complex
    • Fewer restrictions on route planning and documentation requirements

5. Emergency Response and Reporting

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Immediate reporting of spills, leaks, or accidents involving hazardous materials to authorities (e.g., US National Response Center)
    • Detailed emergency response plans and training for drivers and emergency personnel
    • Availability of specialized cleanup and containment equipment
  • Non-Hazardous Materials
    • Reporting requirements for spills or accidents, but these are generally less stringent
    • Basic emergency response procedures and equipment are still required

6. Regulatory Bodies and Compliance

  • Hazardous Materials
    • Governed by specific regulatory bodies such as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the US., the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, and the United Nations Model Regulations
    • Frequent inspections and audits by regulatory agencies to ensure compliance
  • Non-Hazardous Materials
    • Governed by general transportation regulations such as those from the Department of Transportation (DOT) or equivalent bodies
    • Periodic inspections and compliance checks, but less frequent compared to hazardous materials transport

What Technological Advancements Have Been Made in the Design of Tanker Trucks?

Technological advancements are incorporated into tank trucks to make them safer, more comfortable, more efficient, and environmentally friendly. These are some of the innovations:

  1. Advanced Materials The use of advanced lightweight materials like aluminum alloys and high-strength steel reduces the overall weight of the tanker, which improves fuel efficiency while increasing payload capacity.
  2. Corrosion-Resistant Materials: Improved materials like stainless steel and specialized coatings prevent corrosive substances from leaking or damaging the tank.

2. Enhanced Safety Features

  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC): ESC systems help prevent rollovers and skidding by automatically adjusting braking and engine power.
  • Collision Avoidance Systems: These systems use sensors and cameras to detect potential collisions and provide warnings or automatic braking.
  • Pressure Relief and Venting Systems: Modern tankers are equipped with advanced pressure relief valves and venting systems to prevent over-pressurization and reduce the risk of explosions.

3. Environmental Controls

  • Vapor Recovery Systems: These systems capture and recycle vapors emitted during loading and unloading, reducing environmental pollution.
  • Insulation and Heating: Improved insulation and integrated heating systems maintain the temperature of sensitive cargo.

4. Automation and Smart Technology

  • Automated Loading and Unloading: Advanced automation systems streamline the loading and unloading processes. This lessens human error while increasing efficiency.
  • Telematics and GPS Tracking: Real-time tracking systems monitor the location and status of tanker trucks, optimizing routes, enhancing security, and providing valuable data for fleet management.
  • Remote Monitoring Systems: Sensors and IoT devices allow for continuous monitoring of tank pressure, temperature, and liquid levels.

5. Improved Pump and Valve Systems

  • Smart Valves: Intelligent valve systems with automated controls improve the precision and safety of liquid transfer processes.
  • High-Efficiency Pumps: Modern pumps are more efficient and reliable.

6. Aerodynamic Designs

  • Streamlined Shapes: Aerodynamic design on the cab reduces drag and improves the truck's fuel efficiency.
  • Fairings and Skirts: Adding fairings and skirts to the tanker truck can further improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.

7. Enhanced Driver Assistance Systems

  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): These systems include features like lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot detection to improve driver safety.
  • Fatigue Monitoring Systems: These systems monitor the driver’s alertness and provide warnings or interventions if the system detects that the driver is fatigued or exhausted.

8. Regenerative Braking Systems

  • Energy Recovery: Regenerative braking systems capture and store energy during braking, which can be used to power auxiliary systems or improve overall fuel efficiency.

9. Hybrid and Electric Powertrains

  • Hybrid Systems: Combining traditional internal combustion engines with electric motors can improve fuel efficiency and lessen harmful emissions.

10. Leak Detection and Containment


In every ounce of liquid waste, fuels, beverages, and other liquids and gases, there's a tank truck working behind the scenes. It's impossible to imagine a world without these tank trucks.

Though indispensable, handling these specialized vehicles can come with risks that could spill serious disaster. That's why operating these trucks requires careful handling, maintenance, and training. 

ACTenviro has a fleet of high-tech, well-maintained vacuum tank trucks to help manage and transport your liquid wastes. They offer services such as food grade sludge pumping, sump cleaning and maintenance, wastewater management, and more. 


*ACTenviro has National service and consulting capabilities across the US

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