• Ashley Schmidt

Options to Save on Shipping Partial Truckloads

Most shippers struggle to consistently fill trucks. In fact, US DOT data shows that 75 percent of the trucks on the road, at any given time, are less than half full by weight.


The first step in improving partial truckload shipping is to know when you have a partial truckload and to start tracking the overall data on how your operation is using trucks. Once you have a handle on your shipping patterns though, the next step is to understand your options for shipping Partial Truckloads. While by no means, definitive, what follows is a good summary of the major options:



· Less than Truckload. LTL is usually the most efficient option for shipping smaller shipments of palletized freight. Because LTL costs more per pound than a well loaded full truck, if you can consolidate smaller shipments, it will likely reduce your shipping costs. However, if you are unable to consolidate, LTL is likely to be your best option for shipments that meet LTL guidelines. While these vary by carrier, as a general rule standard LTL shipment are limited to 5,000 lbs and no more than 12 linear feet in a trailer (about 6 pallets). If your freight exceeds this, an option is to split your shipment into two shipments and either tender them to different carriers, or tender them in a different day.


· Volume LTL Shipment / Capacity Shipment. For shipments that are between 6 and 12 pallets (around 12 to 24 linear feet, and less than 20,000 lbs), volume LTL can be the best option. Shipment size limits for volume LTL vary by carrier (and sometimes by day).


All of the major national LTL carriers have a volume LTL program, including FedEx, XPO, UPS Freight, YRC, ABFS and ODFL. Volume LTL shipments take more work to arrange than a normal LTL shipment, since you will need to contact the carriers’ heavy shipping day desk—and likely more than one carrier to get a good quote. Volume LTL quotes can vary widely from day-to-day, as pricing is based on the carrier’s available capacity. In addition, volume LTL shipments generally do not come with the same service guarantees as a regular LTL shipment. However, while it’s more work to arrange (many shippers use brokers for this type of shipment), the potential savings when volume LTL is the right solution are significant.


· Partial Truckload. Arranging a partial truckload shipment is another option—and can be used to handle shipments from 12 linear feet and up (i.e., Partial Truckload overlaps with Volume LTL, but can also handle larger shipments of up to 40 linear feet). Large truckload carriers generally don’t offer a discount for a partial truckload, though sometimes a smaller mom-and-pop carrier will. Generally, the best way to arrange a partial truckload is to work with a broker, who can look for a carrier willing to accept a partial truckload at a discount.


· Multi-stop TL. Another option (usually the best one for shippers with routine partial truckload shipments) is to plan a multi-stop truckload run, where the same truck will deliver two or more of your shipments on a route. If you have two or more large shipments going the same way, multi-stop TL is likely to be your most efficient option. The caveat is that it may take some leg work to find a carrier willing to make a second stop, and there will typically be a small add on charge for the extra stop. While we’ve found carriers willing to make three or more stops, this will take more work (in these cases you may want to work with a broker, or with a carrier that specializes in this type of work).


· Partnering. Lastly, if you have regular partial TL needs, you can explore options to partner or leverage your freight. We’ve seen sophisticated shippers operate small partial truckload networks to combine their freight with other customers—and have also seen carriers and brokers willing to work with and engineer solutions for shippers with regular partial truckload shipping needs.


While there are a lot of options and tradeoffs (e.g. freight liability, transit times, etc.), understanding your options to ship a partial truckload of freight can have a big payoff when it comes to managing your freight transportation costs.



Good luck—and let us know what challenges you run into. We’d love to hear your experience with partial truckload freight shipping!

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