When to Use LTL vs. FTL Freight

December 9th, 2019

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Budget, type of shipment, speed, efficiency–these are all things to consider when choosing between LTL and FTL freight shipping. In general, LTL (less than truckload) freight is lighter, or in a smaller quantity, and thus requires less space in the truck. In contrast, FTL (full truckload) freight is larger and fills the truck.

Getting your shipment from point A to point B is big business, and logistics companies are committed to meeting shipping demands that align with customer expectations. If you’re trying to choose between LTL or FTL freight shipping, you’re in the right place–read on to learn the benefits of each.

Background of LTL and FTL Freight

When businesses have freight to ship, they will work with logistics companies to coordinate the best shipping options. Businesses typically work with either for-hire trucking or in-house trucking. Within for-hire trucking segments, the most common freight movement is LTL.

What is the Meaning of LTL?

When businesses have smaller shipments that don’t fill a full-size truck, they often turn to LTL trucking. Their shipments are generally between 150 and 15,000 lbs., or up to 12 pallets. This allows them to ship freight more efficiently, and at a lower cost.

LTL involves consolidating multiple smaller shipments in the same truck going to a specific geographic region, thus eliminating the need for multiple vehicles. It’s an intricate system that involves consolidation centers, satellite terminals, delivery vehicles, dock workers, and drivers. Since LTL requires specific coordination, there are local, regional, and national LTL firms to help businesses ship cargo more efficiently.

LTL vs. FTL for Small Businesses

LTL shipping is a great option for growing small businesses since they don’t typically send freight in large amounts. Using LTL prevents them from having to pay for a full-size trailer. The consolidation process used in LTL saves them both time and money but understanding what LTL is and how it works before choosing a carrier can help to avoid costly mistakes. Follow these three LTL shipping tips to prevent headaches down the road.

1. Ensure Shipment Tracking

Regardless of how a business chooses to ship their freight, it’s important to ensure that the carrier has a method for tracking shipments. While there may be a bit more financial investment in a reputable carrier, it can save a lot of money and stress if the shipment were to be lost or damaged.

Many carriers offer real-time tracking information that gives small businesses confidence every time they send a shipment.

2. Package Shipments Properly

Many carriers require certain types of packaging that may include pallets, depending on the freight. You’ll want to check with the carrier to ensure that you meet their requirements to avoid extra costs down the road.

Additionally, secure packaging will protect your goods, especially if there is space for freight to shift within the trailer during transport. Make sure labels are added to freight, particularly if they are fragile or shouldn’t be stacked. Drivers and dockworkers will use this information to properly handle freight during loading and unloading.

3. Confirm Package Dimensions

Before scheduling LTL shipping, check the length, width, and height of the shipment to receive accurate quotes from carriers. If dimensions aren’t accurately recorded, it could result in added cost for the shipper later on. Since carriers plan their truckloads based on the measurements given by shippers, it’s important to have precise dimensions to ensure that there is space in the trailer.

Benefits of LTL Shipping

The cost benefits of LTL vs. FTL shipping are certainly obvious for smaller shipments, but there are other benefits of LTL shipping that may not be as obvious, such as:

  • Reduced emissions since multiple shipments are combined in one truck
  • Better security for shipments
  • More options such as notification options and non-commercial shipping

Benefits of FTL Freight

While there are many benefits of using LTL freight, there are benefits to using FTL freight as well. The following section highlights the benefits of using FTL shipping vs. LTL.

1. Fuel Costs

One of the major differences between LTL and FTL shipping is the number of stops each makes. LTL shipping typically has a number of stops before arriving at its final destination, which can increase fuel costs. Many shippers may not be aware of this when planning, so it’s important to consider how the number of stops may impact the overall cost. FTL shipments typically travel in one, continuous journey, eliminating the stop-and-go that requires extra fuel.

2. Less Handling in FTL

When using FTL shipment, you get the benefit of one carrier transporting freight vs. the potential of multiple carriers in LTL. You also have confidence knowing the freight is going directly from point A to point B without numerous transitions.

3. FTL Gives Accurate Delivery Dates

If you’re moving freight that has a time-sensitive delivery, FTL may be the best option. Since drivers don’t have to stop to receive other shipments, they are able to confirm specific delivery times for the shippers. LTL shipping requires more flexibility from the shipper as times can’t be guaranteed with multiple pickup and delivery points.

Trailer Sizes and Configurations for LTL vs. FTL

While the size of the shipments within the truck may differ, the actual commercial trailer size for LTL and FTL shipments is typically the same: 8.5 feet wide and 53 feet long. The legal height for most trailers is 13.5 feet. Flatbed trailers and dry van trailers are commonly used for both types of freight, although, it’s possible to use step deck trailers as well, depending on the freight.

Curtainside dry vans are great for LTL freight as they can be unloaded from the side, preventing the need to load pallets in the correct order (last in, first out). Another configuration to consider is a flatbed with a Conestoga system, which is a rolling tarp-on-frame system that is designed to protect loads from the elements.

Read our blog about choosing between dry van and flatbed trailers to help you decide on the perfect trailer for your next haul.

Whether your cargo requires FTL or LTL shipping, Hale Trailer carries a wide selection of trailers for rent and trailers for sale across our 12 trailer rental locations. Contact one of our expert representatives today to learn about your trailer options.

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