The Definition of LTL Shipping and 3 Things to Expect When Shipping LTL

What is LTL?
The Definition of LTL Shipping and 3 Things to Expect When Shipping LTL

What Does LTL Stand For?

What does LTL stand for and why would anyone pick LTL shipping over FTL shipping?

First, let’s start with the basics—LTL shipping stands for “less than truckload” shipping. Basically, you choose LTL when you can’t fill an entire truck with your product.

Instead, you piggyback on a truck that’s carrying one or more other shipper’s goods. This way, you’re still able to ship your goods without paying for the cost of a full truck (FTL shipping).

Though FTL shipping (full truckload) has obvious benefits: being able to fill an entire truck means your carrier is likely going to charge you less compared to a similar-volume LTL shipment, plus it’s easier to set up regular shipments.

However, LTL shipping exists for a reason—not everyone can fill an entire truck up with their shipments, and it’s simply not always economically feasible to purchase an entire truck for a small shipment.

That doesn’t mean that LTL shipping is always a losing bet (or that you will always pay more for each item you ship)—just like anything, there are benefits and drawbacks to both forms of shipping.

Here are three things you need to keep in mind when shipping LTL.

  1. LTL shipping is probably going to take longer than FTL shipping

The reason for this is simple: for LTL shipping to work properly, carriers need to work on a schedule and stick to it rigorously.

It’s very similar to public transportation, in a sense. When you’re driving your own car (FTL), you can leave whenever you want because your destination (and whether or not you’re late) has no effect on anyone else.

But a bus or a train can’t do that. Instead, they pick a time to leave the station, and anyone who’s interested can either go or not go. If the bus waits for one person, everyone else will suffer.

A bus or train ride also takes longer because it has so many stops, and an LTL carrier is going to have the same issue. Your shipment isn’t going to leave the second you’re ready for it to leave, and it isn’t going to arrive immediately—there will be stops along the way.

  1. LTL, if managed carefully, may save you money

Because of the way that shipping rates are calculated, you might actually be able to save a few dollars if you know what you’re doing.  This can be a major reason to work with a 3PL provider like Diversified Transportation Services– we find ways that you can make your shipments as cost-effective as possible.  Helping to ensure that your shipment falls just under or over a certain weight or size, can make a significant change in the amount you end up paying.

This is where doing your homework (or that outsourced 3PL provider) makes a difference. If you pay close attention to shipping rates and ask the right questions, you may be able to work out a good deal on your shipment by making slight adjustments to the shipment itself.

Professional 3PL providers also have rates they’ve pre-negotiated with carriers, meaning that they might even be able to get you a better deal on your shipments than you could alone.

Using an entire truck for a small shipment might make sense if the shipment is delicate or sensitive, but otherwise, the absolute cost of FTL shipping is going to be higher. If your shipment is small, if time isn’t a big factor, and if you’re not shipping regularly, LTL shipping will likely have a lower absolute cost and be a good fit for you.

  1. Costs are going to fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, week to week, month to month, and year to year

The cost of shipping is far from fixed, though you might not have a good sense of this, especially if you’re not used to shipping freight and are more used to services like Amazon.

Your freight is not the only factor at play here. The weight and classification of your freight and the distance it needs to be shipped absolutely play a role in the ultimate cost of your shipment, but they’re not acting in a vacuum, especially if your freight has special considerations or accessorials that need to be taken into account.

The cost of hiring and deploying a carrier is going to vary widely based on a few different factors:

  • The price of fuel: This is often referred to by the moniker “fuel surcharges,” but it just means the price it costs to fuel the vehicle. This changes every week and is tied to the cost of diesel. If OPEC decides they’re going to manipulate the market or the cost of fuel sees an unexpected increase or decrease, shipping costs are going to be affected.
  • The season: If you’re trying to ship during the holiday season, you need to be prepared for delays and increased costs—everyone in the shipping industry is working double overtime during the holiday shipping season, and carriers are no exception. Every spot in an LTL shipment is suddenly in high demand, and you might end up paying more than you paid a few months earlier for the same shipment.
  • The weather: Shipping freight in winter can take a lot longer than shipping during the warmer months, even if you’re shipping from a warmer part of the country to another warm part of the country—backups in other parts of the country due to weather can send reverberations throughout shipping lanes and affect how carriers are able to respond to your needs.

At the end of the day, LTL shipping is a complicated beast—let the experts handle it for you.

With our experience in shipping a wide variety of specialty goods, we are exceptionally positioned to assist you in discovering the ideal cold chain solution tailored to your requirements.

Learn more about how we can help turn shipping from a chore into a breeze.

Get a Quote here!

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