FTL vs LTL Shipping: What’s the Difference?

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LTL and FTL shipping are both common options for shipping freight across the country. While they have some similarities, key differences make them very distinct from each other.

When it comes to FTL vs. LTL, what sets these two types of shipping apart? When is it better to use one versus another?

Keep reading to learn more about FTL vs. LTL shipping so you can make a more informed decision for your business.

What is FTL Shipping?

FTL is an abbreviation for full truckload, referring to full truckload shipping. It refers to a single load, normally 10,000 lbs. or more, carried by a truck exclusively.

An FTL shipment occupies a large majority or all of the available space in a trailer or intermodal container. No other cargo from other customers is picked up or carried along with it.

When using FTL shipping to transport freight, a business pays to use all of the space within the trailer. That’s true even if the FTL shipment doesn’t fill all of the available space in the trailer or container.

FTL shipping generally involves only a single pickup and final delivery. Seals are used to demonstrate that the container has not been opened during transit. This guarantees nothing was stolen, disrupted, or otherwise disturbed in transit.

Advantages of FTL Shipping

FTL shipping has an obvious use case. When a business needs to make a large shipment (i.e. above LTL thresholds of around 10,000 lbs.) via truck, FTL is the only practical choice.

However, there are also specific benefits to FTL shipping. This is where your business needs to focus if it’s trying to choose LTL vs. FTL shipping:

Dedicated use of the entire vehicle. An FTL shipment is the only load present in a truck as it’s carried to its destination. If your load is of an especially high value, or is fragile or sensitive, FTL may be the best option.

Faster transit times. An FTL shipment will only go where your business wants it to go. There aren’t multiple stops or other companies sharing space in the trailer or container, as Logistics Plus explains. For large, time-sensitive shipments, FTL offers some clear benefits.

Reduced handling and potential for damage. The FTL freight process leaves less room for potential damage or mishandling. You don’t need to worry about warehouse staff from another company damaging your cargo as they unload theirs.

That’s not an especially common issue, but it’s always a possibility. Mistakes can and do happen. Increased protection through reduced handling is a major difference between LTL and FTL shipping.

Drawbacks of FTL Shipping

Along with the many positives, there are downsides to FTL shipping as well. These include:

Higher costs. Dedicated service and larger shipments mean a higher price tag for your business. LTL vs. FTL rates reflect this difference. Certain cost savings are only possible with LTL shipping.

Potential lack of efficiency. Your business will always have to pay for the exclusive use of the truck in FTL shipping. That’s true even if the shipment doesn’t fill up all of the available space or reach the weight limit.

A truck carries a shipment in a trailer.

What is LTL Shipping?

Less than truckload (LTL) shipping involves a single trailer carrying several freight shipments. These LTL loads are smaller shipments, generally coming from multiple businesses and locations. They normally weigh anywhere between 100-5,000 lbs.

This shipping method offers lower costs in exchange for sharing space and taking longer to reach their destination. LTL shipments may be transferred, consolidated, and otherwise rearranged on their journey.

LTL freight services are typically seen as generally reliable and useful. However, they lack some of the additional protections provided by FTL carriers. Unishippers points out the increased need for good packaging of your company’s LTL freight in this context.

Benefits of LTL Shipping

Reasons why businesses regularly choose LTL freight shipments include:

Increased accessibility. LTL shipping fills an important niche in freight transport. Paying for the higher costs of FTL shipping often doesn’t make sense for smaller loads. LTL gives businesses more flexibility and options.

Spreading around the costs. With one truck carrying several shipments, your business only pays part of the costs. Reducing unnecessary spending is easy when choosing LTL vs FTL freight.

Reduced carbon footprint. LTL shipping services focus on efficiency in terms of maximizing the space used in a given trailer or container. This can reduce the carbon footprint of LTL service as compared to an FTL trailer that’s only partially filled.

Drawbacks of LTL Shipping

No option for freight transport is perfect. Drawbacks of LTL shipping include:

Longer transit times and less reliable schedules. In the FTL vs. LTL freight debate, FTL wins when it comes to time-sensitive shipments.

You can pay extra for a confirmed delivery date to the final destination with LTL freight. However, it still may have a longer timetable than would FTL. LTL shipping isn’t always the most efficient.

Increased handling and exposure. LTL freight carriers make many pickups and deliveries. All of this loading and unloading can expose your shipment to risks, like damage. While this isn’t a major or common issue for LTL shipments, accidents can and do happen.

Drayage You Can Count On

No matter the specifics of your freight shipments, whether LTL or FTL, you need a dependable drayage partner.

Carrying a container freight shipment to or from an intermodal facility represents the first and last miles of delivery. Without those connections, your cargo won’t be able to start or finish its journey in the intermodal freight supply chain.

Iraheta Bros. offers dependable, efficient, and high-quality drayage service to and from the Port of Oakland. Our drivers and office staff have the skills, experience, and knowledge to keep you informed and navigate the Port. We’re here to connect your shipment with the next step in its journey.

Simplify your transportation needs today!

FTL vs LTL Shipping: What’s the Difference?

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