LTL 101: A First Timer’s Guide to LTL Shipping

Written by Neal Willis

LTL Shipping 101If you’ve only been accustomed to using a parcel service to ship your packages and now find yourself with a shipment that weighs more than 150 lb, what should you do?  Since a shipment this size is too heavy for a parcel carrier, you will more than likely need to use an LTL carrier.  You will need to make sure your shipment is properly packaged, call an LTL freight carrier to get a freight rate, schedule a pick up and fill out a bill of lading for the carrier.

What is LTL Freight?  

LTL stands for Less-Than-Truckload, which means the shipment does not completely fill an entire truck.   (Click here for more on the difference between LTL and Full Truckload).  LTL carriers use a network of hubs and terminals to deliver freight.  Freight is collected in localized areas from various shippers, sorted at a break-bulk facility, and then consolidated onto outbound trailers with other shipments headed to or near the same geographical area.  When the freight arrives at the final terminal, your particular shipment will then be unloaded and transported for delivery.

Freight Rate

In order to obtain a freight rate from an LTL carrier, you’ll need to know your product’s freight class, the origin and destination zip code of the shipment, the weight and dimensions of the shipment (including the packaging) and the delivery requirements.  Accessorial services are performed by the carrier as necessary to make deliveries and are billed as a separate line item.  Accessorial services may include, but are not limited to: arrival notification, inside delivery, insurance, lift-gate service, COD, hazardous materials andfuel surcharge, among others.  For the most accurate freight quote possible, you will need to know the specific delivery requirements and if any accessorial services are needed for delivery.

Freight Class

LTL Shipping Your shipment will fall into a certain LTL freight class ranging from a class 50 to 400, which is a determining factor for the freight rate.  The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) assigns NMFC item numbers to all products and these NMFC item numbers correspond to a freight class designated by the NMFC according to four main commodity characteristics. (More on the correlation between the MFTA, NMFC & CCSB can be found here).  When you call the LTL carrier for your quote, they will be able to advise you what the appropriate class will be for your shipment. 

Bill of Lading

You should properly package and label every piece of your shipment to ensure your entire shipment arrives at its final destination intact.  Once your shipment is properly packaged, you’ll need to call the carrier to schedule a pickup and prepare a Bill of Lading.  A Bill of Lading is a legal contract between the shipper (you) and the carrier.  The Bill of Lading states exactly what is being shipped, where it’s coming from and where it’s going, the number of pieces, the weight and value.  Most carriers will be able to supply you with a blank Bill of Lading to fill out.  Some carriers will allow you to fill out a Bill of Lading online and print a copy to give to the driver.   

PRO Number

Once the carrier accepts your Bill of Lading, your shipment will be assigned a PRO number.  This number (usually nine digits) is assigned to each shipment and is used to identify and track it through the carrier’s system.  This number will also be referenced on the invoice (or freight bill) that is generated and sent to you once the shipment is delivered.  Your shipment will then be loaded onto a truck and transported along with other customers’ shipments to a terminal where the freight will be unloaded and sorted for delivery to its final destination.

If you see more LTL shipping in your future, you may want to consider partnering with a company like ReTrans Freight.  We can provide you with the necessary guidance, support and tools that will simplify the shipping process and save you both time and money.