When a truck is referred to as LTL, it is carrying Less Than Load as opposed to FTL which is a Full Truck Load. LTL shipping is a way for shippers to ship goods without waiting for a full truckload of freight that needs to be sent or paying for a small amount of freight on a big, empty truck. An LTL load has multiple loads from several shippers going to different places.
LTL shipping has its advantages and can be a cost-effective way to ship freight.
It’s usually cheaper. Because the shipper is only paying for a portion of the trip, he only pays a portion of the shipping costs. The costs are shared with the other shippers who are sharing the space.
It’s better for the environment. Sharing space means there are fewer emissions than if you’d sent a less-than-full truck.
It’s more secure than parcel. Shippers who can’t fill a whole trailer often turn to parcel services like UPS or FedEx to ship their freight. With LTL, shippers are encouraged to put their goods on a shrink-wrapped pallet which will keep the items together, making them more secure.
It can have more options. Some LTL carriers do pickup and delivery, liftgates, and non-commercial delivery to residential neighborhoods which is something FTL shippers do not.
Distribution can be easier. If you’re a retailer shipping to several storefronts, LTL is convenient and faster than shipping large quantities to a warehouse.
LTL shipping has its drawbacks as well.
It can take longer. Because you’re dependent on the pickup and delivery times for those who are sharing the load, it can take a lot longer for your freight to reach its destination. This is especially true of cross-country shipments that have to make stops along the 3,000-mile journey.
It can be less predictable. You’re relying on delivery going off without a hitch with many different stops depending on how many other customers are sharing the trailer, making it less predictable than FTL which is usually a straight shot from shipper to its destination.
It’s less secure. While it’s more secure than parcel, it’s less secure than FTL. With FTL, your freight is loaded on the trailer, secured, and the trailer can be sealed and not opened until it reaches its destination. LTL must make many stops which means that others have access to your freight. It also increases the odds of losing your entire shipment along the route where this wouldn’t happen with FTL (unless the entire truck went missing!).
Your freight can be damaged. Of course, freight can be damaged no matter how you ship it but with LTL, your freight may be removed from the truck several times to retrieve other freight, increasing the odds of it getting damaged.
Which is Better―LTL or FTL?
LTL is not better than FTL, nor is the reverse true. The decision to use one over the other depends on the type of freight and your flexibility in scheduling. LTL is better for items that have some flexibility in their deadline, fit easily on a pallet, there are less than 12 pallets, and the products are durable. FTL works better for more than 12 pallets of freight, products that have an unusual shape or are oversized, are of high value and/or are fragile, or are under a strict delivery deadline. While LTL is generally a more cost-effective solution, shipment methods should be looked at on a case-by-case basis to see if LTL or FTL is the right way to go.
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