What's the difference between truckload shipping and less-than-truckload shipping? And which one is right for your business?
Both full truckload (TL or FTL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) options have their place in the freight shipping industry. Choosing the right freight option depends on several variables, including the size and weight of your shipment, freight classification and delivery timelines. Let's take a closer look at the difference between TL and LTL freight shipping and how to decide between them.
The Pros and Cons of Less-than-Truckload Shipping
In LTL shipping, you contract for a portion of a truck, which will carry your goods along with freight shipments from other companies headed in the same direction. With LTL, you contract only for the space you need. For many shippers, this means that it is a cheaper freight option for small- to medium-sized loads.
LTL shipping rates are set based on the size and weight of your shipment and the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) class, along with other variables such as origin and destination points and accessorial fees.
The potential cost savings can come with some disadvantages, however. LTL shipping generally takes longer and carriers may not be able to guarantee an exact delivery date. Your shipment may be transferred one or more times at regional hubs along the way, increasing the risk of loss or damage. And specialized handling such as refrigeration may be harder to come by.
Less-than-truckload shipping may be right for you if:
- Your shipment does not take up a full truckload but is too large for parcel post (typical load sizes are between one and six pallets and range from 200 to 5,000 pounds)
- Your goods can be easily palletized or crated so they can be safely and efficiently stacked with other shipments
- Your goods can stand up to frequent handling
- Your shipment is not time sensitive
- You do not require special handling or specialized equipment such as refrigerated (reefer) trucks
The Pros and Cons of Full Truckload Shipping
In TL or FTL shipping, you contract with a carrier for the whole truck. That means the maximum size of your load is limited only by the dimensions and carrying capacity of the truck. It also means that your carrier will not be making any stops along the way to pick up or drop off other loads—the truck with your goods will take a direct route from pickup to drop-off. This makes truckload shipping a more reliable option for shippers with hard delivery times or special handling needs.
The primary disadvantage of TL shipping is that you will be paying for unused space if your shipment does not take up the whole truck. When you have multiple smaller shipments headed in different directions, buying unneeded shipping capacity for each can really hike up your freight costs.
Prices for TL shipping are dependent entirely on the market with no oversight from NMFTA. Costs can vary widely from carrier to carrier and day to day, but generally follow seasonal fluctuations based on the freight shipping calendar.
Full truckload shipping might be right for you if:
- Your freight shipment will take up most or all of a truck
- Your shipment requires special handling or could be easily damaged if stacked with other types of goods
- You require hazardous materials handling (HAZMAT) or refrigeration
- Your shipment is time sensitive and has a hard delivery date
- Your freight shipment weighs more than 15,000 pounds
Deciding Between TL and LTL Shipping
The final decision between TL and LTL shipping will depend on costs, timing and handling requirements for your freight shipment. In many cases, LTL will provide a cheaper option for smaller loads, but if your load is very heavy for its size, irregular in shape or takes up more than half of a truckload, it makes sense to get pricing for both options. Sometimes, full truckload is the way to go even if your load leaves empty space on the truck.
In either case, it's important to make sure your shipment is packed appropriately for its journey. Talk to one of our specialists about packaging, palletizing and bundling for freight shipment.