How to Ship LTL Freight & Prepare Your Goods

How to Ship LTL Freight: Preparing Your Goods for Shipment

Thanks to the Internet, the world has felt smaller and closer. You can interact with people from across the country and purchase merchandise from the comfort of your own home. Although technology has made it easier to connect with businesses across state borders, much of the country’s transportation still comes down to highways, ports, and rails.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the nation’s freight system transports over 54 million tons of good per day, averaging almost $48 billion. That equates to nearly 63 tons of freight per person per year. By 2040, freight tonnage is expected to increase by about 45 percent, leading to about 9 billion tons of extra freight hauled throughout the country.

There are a variety of different methods, strategies, and technologies in development to tackle the growing demands of the country’s freight system. LTL freight shipping has become one of the most prominent methods of quickly transporting goods at a fair price without sacrificing quality and care. Read on to learn more about LTL freight shipping and how you can prepare your goods to be shipped safely and securely via LTL.

What is LTL Shipping?

LTL stands for less than truckload. It is the counter to full truckload shipping. With less than truckload shipping, your goods only occupy a portion of a trailer. In order to fill the entire space, the carrier will have the goods of multiple shippers within one trailer. This method is mainly reserved for smaller shipments that cannot be sent as parcels, usually weighing between 150 and 15,000 pounds.

LTL shipping also operates through a hub and spoke model. Local terminals act as the spokes that connect to larger central terminals or distribution centers that are the hubs. Local freight is gathered from various shippers at spoke terminals and placed onto outbound trailers. These trailers transport the freight to the central hubs, where they are sorted and delivered or, if they have not yet reached their destination, consolidated into other shipments for further transportation.

In terms of equipment, LTL shippers generally use van trailers that are enclosed or covered, though some carriers will also use refrigerated trailers if shipments require temperature control. LTL carriers generally only use trailers with roll-up doors instead of swing doors for easier access. Pup carriers are also common. They can be hauled in tandem and, assuming the goods are already pre-sorted, make dropping off and picking up freight from coordination terminals much easier.

Benefits of LTL Freight Shipping

Less than truckload shipping comes with several benefits, including:

  • Minimized Shipping Costs: LTL shipping is naturally more cost effective than other methods. This comes from the process of loading freight from multiple shippers onto a single truck, so you only have to pay for the space and weight that your shipment takes up instead of paying for the whole trailer!
  • Fewer Emissions: Along with saving you money, LTL shipping can help you save the environment. Thanks to the process of pooling, LTL allows carriers to put a full load onto a single truck instead of pushing out multiple trucks that are not at full capacity. Fewer trucks on the roads means fewer emissions and a smaller carbon footprint overall.
  • Improved Security: When you send a package, you want to know that it will get there on time and in one piece. The nature of parcel and LTL carriers (as hub and spoke operations) is such that the freight will typically get handled several times during transit by several different entities. Unlike parcel carriers, LTL carriers load freight onto pallets or into crates. Loading several shipments into a larger pallet prevents damage from other freight in the trailer and protects shipments from the general wear and tear of handling during the shipping process. Packing freight together into pallets also reduces the risk of losing any individual packages.
  • Greater Service Options: Less than truckload carriers tend to offer shippers access to a wider array of additional service options and accessorials. These options are usually added as a surcharge or made available at a fixed rate. Common services include:
    • Inside pick-up and delivery
    • Notification
    • Non-commercial shipping options
    • Liftgates
  • Improved Tracking: Aside from helping you plan, tracking offers added peace of mind. Most LTL carriers offer tracking that includes information about pick up, stops, delivery, delays, and other in-transit shipment events. Less than truckload carriers usually track shipments based on PO number, pro number, bill of lading, pick up date range, or the shipment reference number.

Less Than Truckload vs. Full Truckload

That said, less than truckload shipping is not necessarily the best shipping method for all shipments. LTL shipping is best for smaller items weighing between 150 and 15,000 pounds. You may choose full truckload shipping instead if:

  • You have enough items to fill a truck
  • Your customers prefer a single full truck dedicated to their goods
  • The weight and size of your freight make it more efficient and cost effective to ship via full truckload

Unlike the hub and spoke model of less than truckload shipping, full truckload shipments travel on a single truck to a single destination.

LTL Freight and Packaging: Helpful Tips

You have done your research and decided that LTL shipping is the way to go for your specific needs. Before any shipment is sorted, placed onto a trailer, and sent to its destination, it must be properly packed and prepared. Not following the guidelines can lead to longer shipping times, bottlenecks, damage to your goods, or other problems that can leave you and your end customers unhappy.

Start with the dimensions of your shipment. Businesses should measure the length, width, and height of their shipments, rounding up to the next inch. This can help the carriers determine a more accurate quote and plan for how they pack their trailers. The freight dimensions are one of the main factors that carriers use to figure out how much they can actually pack into a truck.

LTL carriers also require proper documentation for your shipment, particularly the bill of lading. The bill of lading not only acts as a receipt, but also acts as a legal contract between the carrier and the business. It should have all of the information necessary to efficiently process and invoice the shipment, including:

  • Shipper’s name
  • Information for the recipient
  • Number of units getting shipped
  • Desired Pickup Date
  • A description of the shipped goods
  • Description of the packaging
  • Dimensions
  • Estimated value
  • Freight class

From there, it’s a matter of actually packaging and labeling your goods. Most carriers encourage shippers to pack their goods into crates or pallets before they get picked up. Heavier items should be packed at the bottom, while lighter goods should get packed on top. Provide at least one large label on each unit of the shipment to reduce the risk of items getting lost along the way. You should also attach the bill of lading to the packed freight.

Remember that LTL freight gets handled multiple times throughout the process, from pick up to delivery. Packing your goods properly ensures that your goods reach their destination without succumbing to all the bumps, scrapes, and drops along the way. Attach any appropriate labels (fragile, handle with care, do not stack) to give the drivers information about how to move and handle your freight.

The last step of the process is loading, but assuming you have done all of the above (provided dimensions and the right documentation and packaged your goods properly), the loading process should not be an issue. However, understand that LTL shipping does not have the same loading window as full truckload shipping, which often allows for a few hours to load goods.

Most LTL carriers are not required to wait for you to prepare your shipments for loading. You are expected to have everything ready when the carrier arrives for pick up. Any delays with loading can result in longer transport times down the line and fees for multiple pickup attempts.

What Determines Shipping Rates for LTL Freight

There are several factors that determine the shipping rates for LTL freight. The main factors include:

  • Location: The first thing to take into account is the location of pick up and the destination of the shipment. Generally, the more distance that a carrier needs to travel, the higher the rates. However, rates can fluctuate even more based on how far you and the point of destination are from major metro areas, which generally act as the hubs for freight and transport.
  • Weight, Dimensions, & Freight Class: Freight class is determined by density, which is based on a shipment’s weight and dimensions and is calculated as pounds per cubic foot. Shipments with a lower density have a higher freight class, which usually means higher rates if you want to send via LTL shipping. The density can also show how fragile an item can be, which can also affect rates. Carriers also take into account freight dimensions and weight to determine how much space they have in a trailer.
  • Freight Type: Special types of freight that may be fragile, perishable, or hazardous may require special handling, equipment, or storage, all of which can get added on to the total rate.
  • Mode of Shipping: If your freight is time sensitive or if you otherwise need your good delivered faster, you may consider asking about expedited shipping, which requires increased rates.
  • Fuel Surcharge: Fuel surcharges refer to all fuel costs required to get your freight from point A to point B and is added on to line haul costs. Fuel costs change every week and are calculated based on the national average for diesel.

Thankfully, LTL still tends to be the most cost effective option because you are sharing trailer space with other shippers. During negotiations, carriers will usually offer discounts. Some carriers may offer freight of all kinds (FAK) rates, which essentially lowers the freight class of your shipment, allowing for lower overall shipping costs.

Flock Freight is dedicated to providing small- and medium-sized businesses with modern LTL shipping services that reimagine the process to reduce the risk of damage and promote greater savings. If you have any questions about how to prepare your LTL shipments or would like a free LTL freight quote, please contact us today.

Need a Freight Quote on an LTL Freight Shipment Now?

Get reliable service, competitive rates, and fantastic customer service.

Get a Freight Quote Now