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While those freight trucks on the highways might all look identical and even their cargo may appear to be exactly alike, their freight designations could be very different. Some might be carrying a number of shippers’ pallets and making multiple stops. Others might be taken up by one business making a large shipment. Two common shipping methods are full truckload and less than truckload. These two freight designations have several differences that might surprise you. From freight quoting factors to choosing the right carrier, discover the differences of full truckload vs less than truckload shipping.

What is Less Than Truckload (LTL) and Truckload (TL)?

Less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipping is a designation of freight that uses capacity sharing to consolidate shipments and reduce costs. It’s usually ideal for cargo that:

  • weighs 150 lbs. or more.
  • is too large for a parcel truck but smaller than a full truckload.
  • is palletized.

LTL is one of the most common freight designations and is often considered the easiest, most affordable and efficient way to move bulky items quickly.

Full truckload freight shipping (TL) is exactly what it sounds like, a shipment that requires a dedicated freight truck to ship it. There are no other shipments and no other stops. Full truckload is the method of choice when any of the following are true:

  • The load is too large, heavy or awkward for LTL.
  • The shipment is delicate and requires a type of vehicle not used by LTL carriers, such as temperature-sensitive items.
  • Specialty vehicles such as refrigerated vans, flatbeds, step decks, removable goosenecks (RGN) and air-lift suspension vehicles are booked as full truckload shipping.

LTL Quote vs TL Quote: The Difference

The process for getting a freight quote for LTL and TL shipments is a little different. With LTL, the rates are more negotiable than with truckload shipments. Here’s how it breaks down:

LTL Freight Quote Process

LTL rates are negotiated with LTL carriers and are heavily discounted ahead of time if you go through a third-party logistics company (3PL), like FreightCenter. When you get an LTL freight quote, it will show you estimated, discount prices and estimated transit times for available carriers that ship to and from the zip codes you entered. An LTL shipping expert will confirm the details of your shipment and let you know if there are any accessorial charges, such as the need for a truck with a lift gate. Confirmation calls help ensure that you are not surprised later by a billing adjustment.

TL Freight Quote Process

TL rate quotes are far more fluid because the availability of trucks for these hauls is constantly in flux. A truck that’s available in one area today could be in another area tomorrow. Quotes for full truckload shipments are estimates, just like with LTL shipments. But rather than seeing freight shipping cost estimates for multiple carriers, you’ll see one quote with no carrier’s name attached.

You can select that quote, but the process won’t be complete until you speak with a truckload specialist who will evaluate the route the truck will need to take, the availability for trucks on that route and whether or not you require a specialty vehicle, such as a flatbed truck, a refrigerated van, an air-lift suspension and so on.

Choosing a Carrier

There are many benefits of partnering with a 3PL like FreightCenter, but securing a carrier to fit your needs is perhaps the biggest benefit of working with a 3PL. When booking an LTL haul, you need to find the right carrier for your shipment from among the carriers listed in your free online quote.

Choosing an LTL Carrier

Some carriers specialize in handling cargo that others rarely touch. Others might be offering deals on certain routes that are not built into the quote system. Still, others might be subbing out part of the shipment if their nearest terminal is a great distance from either the originating or destination location, and you might not want that. For these reasons and others, your best choice may be one that is not necessarily the lowest bid. Your FreightCenter LTL shipping expert can properly explain all your options and help you make the decision that suits you and your shipping needs best.

Choosing a TL Carrier

With a truckload shipment, the matching system works the other way around. Once you have secured an estimate through a 3PL, your haul will be posted by FreightCenter on online freight boards used by a network of more than 5,000 carriers who find freight runs that originate in locations where they have available trucks.

On the board, the carrier sees the origin and delivery points of the haul as well as the type of vehicle needed and the estimated rate the shipper has secured. FreightCenter also emails information about the haul to a preferred list of 500-800 carriers. Interested carriers contact FreightCenter, and our carrier agents verify that the carrier has the type of vehicle needed for the job, the availability to get it done on the shipper’s schedule and the desire to haul the load at the estimated price.

Occasionally, due to capacity issues, no carrier will be willing to carry the freight at the agreed-to shipping cost. When that happens FreightCenter contacts the shipper and gives them the revised estimate. The shipper may choose to agree to the new estimate but is not obligated to pay the revised estimate and has the option of cancelling the order. Keep in mind that capacity issues happen infrequently.

Two Systems, One Goal

TL and LTL are very different systems in terms of quoting, booking and choosing a carrier, but the goal is always to get the shipper’s freight picked up and delivered on time for a reasonable price. If you are usually an LTL shipper, there may be occasions when you have a load that should go TL. Similarly, regular TL customers might enjoy considerable savings by sending some loads LTL.

You can count on FreightCenter to get the job done for you, easily and affordably. Our powerful transportation management system (TMS) and network of the most well-known, highest performing LTL and TL freight carriers along with our expert shipping agents will get you the right shipping solutions to keep your supply chain moving.

Have an LTL or TL shipment? Get a free online quote or call 844-212-7447.

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