Updated: Apr 3
LTL, or less-than-truckload shipping can be a very useful and affordable way to send freight when you don’t need an entire trailer. Here’s everything you need to know about LTL freight shipping and why you should consider using it. LTL is different than local cartage because LTL is more cost effective and when the cargo goes beyond a 25 mile radius. Cartage is when cargo is transported to and from a CFS via truck within a local area, such as from an airport to a local warehouse or shop.
What is LTL shipping?
Less-than-truckload shipping is used to transport smaller shipments of freight, generally between 150 and 15,000 pounds. With this type of shipping, the shipper pays for the portion of the truck trailer that they use. Other shippers then fill the rest of the trailer with their shipments. This makes LTL a more cost-effective option for smaller shipments compared to paying for the entire trailer.
The benefits of LTL shipping
As mentioned, LTL shipping is more cost-effective because you only pay for the space that you use. Usually, you will also get access to extra services such as lift-gates and inside pickup and delivery. This is also a more environmentally-friendly option, because it consolidates several shippers’ freight into one truckload, reducing the number of trucks used and therefore cutting down on emissions.
LTL shipping also offers a more secure alternative to other forms of shipping. Because LTL shipments are usually packed on pallets, they are more secure during transit compared to loose cargo. On top of that, you will be able to track your LTL shipment using a shipping reference number, meaning you’ll be able to keep an eye on your shipment and see when it’s due to arrive.
LTL shipping also offers tracking using the PRO number, BOL number, PO number, shipment reference number and pick up date range.
When should I choose to ship my freight as LTL?
Generally speaking, LTL is perfect for smaller shipments, anything up to 15,000 pounds. You should consider shipping your freight LTL when you don’t have enough to fill a full trailer and want to save on shipping costs.
These terms are considered “LTL accessorial services” which add an additional fee per service:
Lift gate service
Collect on Delivery (COD)
Limited Access pickup or delivery location
Is LTL shipping slow?
LTL shipments may involve a longer shipping time overall because of the extra time it takes to load and unload the trailer, as well as the additional time it takes to deliver cargo to multiple locations. You may find that it takes a little longer for you or your receiver to receive the freight, so this needs to be weighed up against the lower cost and other benefits of LTL shipments.
You can usually expedite your LTL shipment for an additional fee if it is urgent, which may still work out to be a cheaper option for small pieces of freight. If the freight is not booked as a “guaranteed” service, there is always a chance that the shipment can be consolidated and shipped via rail, which is more cost effective for the LTL carrier. Please always mention if you want a faster solution or if cost is the most important element, because LTL carriers have to put a lot of cargo on the rail to save cost.
How should I pack and prepare my LTL shipment?
This will depend on the type of cargo, but in most cases, it is a good idea to pack your LTL shipment either on a pallet or in a crate. Both of these packing methods protect your freight during shipping, cross-docking and storage, keeping it secure and minimizing the risk of damage.
Pallets are easily stored and stacked. They are ideal for cargo that is packed in boxes that can then be packed on the pallet and secured. Crates, on the other hand, add an extra degree of protection to smaller, fragile or loose items. In either case, make sure to pack heavier items on the bottom of the pallet or crate with lighter items sitting on top. You should also label each handling unit with proper shipping labels that contain the sender’s details, the receiver’s details, as well as attaching the bill of lading.
Make sure to declare accurate pallet or crate dimensions, weight and freight class when requesting an LTL quote. Reweigh and inspection fees will apply if the carrier suspects inaccurate dimensions, weight and/or freight class.
Special requirements for the shipment – make sure each pallet or crate is labeled with specific labels such as “Fragile,” “Do Not Stack,” “This side up” and “Handle with Care.” This doesn’t guarantee that no damages will occur, but it will certainly help all operators that touch your freight to be more cautious.
There are a few terms you should know when dealing with LTL shipments:
Bill of Lading (BOL) – the official shipping document that contains all the pertinent details about the shipment and acts as both the receipt and the contract of carriage
Shipper – the person or company sending the goods
Consignee or receiver – the person or company receiving the goods
Lift gate service – the platform on the back of a truck that can raise and lower freight from the ground to the truck and vice versa, allowing pickup and delivery in locations without a loading dock
Limited access – for pickups or deliveries where the location has limited access for carriers, such as rural locations, construction sites, camps, certain event venues, and strip malls.
Inside pickup and/or delivery – when the LTL carrier is requested by the Customer to enter the building at the shipper to pickup the freight to load, or at the consignee, when it is requested to deliver the cargo indoors, please make sure to ask for this service.
Reweigh and inspection fee – If the carrier suspects that the declared weight and/or class of your shipment is inaccurate, they will automatically charge a fee to reweigh and/or re-class your shipment.
LTL shipments are often the best way to send smaller shipments that do not fill a full container. By understanding how this type of shipping works, you will be able to take advantage of the benefits of less-than-truck-load shipping.