Crucial Differences Regarding FTL And LTL Freight

May 21, 2020 James Samuels James Samuels

Basic Freight Options

Before we get into the differences of choosing LTL or FTL, the meaning of these terms should be made clear. Anyone who’s worked in the shipping industry would be able to tell you this; we’re talking about basic terms in regards to transport logistics and planning. FTL is an acronym meaning “Full Truckload”, while LTL means Less Than Truckload. But what does this entail in practice? 

For businesses shipping any kind of goods or merchandise, unless you’ve got your own transport fleet; you’re using the services of another logistics company. And vehicles operated by that company may not necessarily be fully reserved for your services. Conversely, going with FTL shipping means you’ll reserve the whole capacity of any given truck for the goods you’re transporting. Crucially, this is true even if you don’t have enough products to fill the whole truck.  

Considering this, what does a basic LTL shipment mean? Crucially, that your freight will be just one among multiple shippers’ goods being transported in a single-vehicle. As you’ll see below, there is quite a lot of difference between LTL and FTL freight; each could be a good choice depending on your personal preferences. With this in mind, we’ll give you a rundown of both options right here!

Main Differences

When it comes to the advantages of LTL, the main headline would be cost-effectiveness. If you only need to transport a couple of pallets’ worth of goods, the rule of thumb is that you’d be better off shipping via LTL than spending funds on an entire truck. 

Freight Handling

When you’re shipping via FTL, there are crucial differences in how your freight is treated by the transport company compared to LTL. Generally, FTL shipping means that the transport operator will load the goods at the point of origin, seal the truck, and its driver will proceed to transport the goods to the delivery destination. 

On the other hand, LTL involves a lot more legwork. Remember, LTL means different shippers all sharing the same vehicle. With that in mind, your freight is likely to be repeatedly unloaded and loaded before it arrives at its intended destination, as other goods from the truck will have to be taken out at intermediate stops. 

While professional LTL shippers know how to deliver all of the goods in the condition in which they were shipped; it’s obvious that this kind of shipping leaves a lot more room for error. The increased amount of handling also means that the chances for something going wrong are higher compared to FTL. Considering that, LTL shippers would do well to protect their freight via proper packaging. 

Time Management

When you’re using an FTL method of shipping, one of the boons is that the driver is entirely dedicated to your freight. Seeing as one shipment can mean a couple of days of driving, FTL drivers have more freedom in terms of time management; a half an hour here or there isn’t that important if we’re talking about a three-day haul.

On the other hand, LTL shipping means very strict time management during the shipment. Usually, several warehouses and drivers are involved, and there’s a constant focus on the most efficient method of transport; that’s the only way to justify the more economical prices of LTL shipping. So, even minimal delays can mean a significant business disruption here. 

Freight Categorization

In the case of FTL shipping, you won’t find the carriers concerning themselves too much with the precise commodity and its specifications. The only thing that matters to them is whether it’s within legal weight limits, palletization, and hazmat restrictions. That’s enough for most carriers to give you accurate price estimates.

Conversely, LTL carriers offer rates that are largely dependent on myriad factors, such as the different classes commodities that are being shipped. There is an extensive system for freight classification in the world of LTL carriers, with 18 varying classes. 

Freight Reweighs

During an FTL transit, your driver may happen to use a weigh station along the way in order to confirm that the truck and freight are within the legal weight limits. But other than that, chances are low that any other kind of inspection will happen before the freight reaches its delivery dock. 

In LTL, however, carriers are known to inspect the freight before it’s loaded on the origin terminal. These days, there are machines dubbed “dimensioners” used to scan the dimensions and weight of the palletized goods. If these do not conform to the specifications cited from the bill of lading, your rate will be updated accordingly. 


As we’ve already concluded, full truckload transit is far more uniform and predictable. Once the shipment is loaded, the driver will make their way to the receiver. If the driver isn’t tardy in regards to the initial pick-up, the timetable at the transit can easily be predicted. Unless some sort of unintended malfunction happens, you can easily calculate when the shipment will arrive at its destination. With LTL, there are far more factors in play, and delivery dates are far less firm; in most cases, these are more estimates than precise times of arrival. 

James Samuels is an American freelance author, whose journalistic work most often revolves around the logistics industry and moving companies like Transport International NYC

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