What is LTL Freight? A Complete Guide

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Sometimes, a shipment doesn’t require an entire truckload. That’s when LTL (less-than-truckload) freight comes in. LTL freight plays a crucial role in the transportation industry and allows owner-operator truck drivers to expand their opportunities to small and medium businesses.

What Does LTL Mean in Trucking?

Less-than-truckload freight, better known as LTL freight, is almost exactly as it sounds. It’s a shipping method for businesses that don’t require an entire truck’s capacity. As a truck driver, it means you can accommodate smaller shipments from multiple customers within the same trip, leading to cost savings and improved resource utilization.

Key Characteristics of LTL Shipments

LTL shipments have smaller cargo volumes, usually defined under the following characteristics:

  • Less than an entire truck.
  • Between 150 and 15,000 pounds.
  • Less than 12 linear feet of trailer space.
  • No more than 10 pallets.

Advantages of LTL Freight

LTL freight offers a range of advantages for carriers and shippers alike.

Cost-Efficiency for Small and Medium Businesses

Small and medium businesses benefit from LTL freight due to the cost-sharing aspect. They pay only for the space their goods occupy, reducing transportation expenses significantly.

Cost-Efficiency for Truckers

By managing your schedule with LTL freight customers, you can accommodate the needs of multiple customers in a simplified route, reducing resources, fuel costs, and more.

Increased Flexibility and Accessibility

LTL freight offers a flexible and accessible solution for businesses. They can access a broad network of carriers and destinations without committing to full truckloads.

Reduced Environmental Impact

For shipments, LTL freight is a much greener option because it allows truckers to combine multiple shipments and consolidate cargo. That way, fewer trucks are on the road, meaning less fuel consumption, less pollution, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

How Does LTL Freight Work?

LTL freight involves the consolidation of several partial loads of goods to fill a truck, typically at a terminal. Each shipper will pay for the portion of the truck that they are using, allowing the trucker to work with multiple businesses at once and set up a multi-stop truck route.

Freight brokers and carriers play a pivotal role in connecting shippers with available LTL capacity. They negotiate rates, ensure the timely delivery of goods, and offer shippers options for different carriers.

While there are no specific package requirements for LTL shipments, proper packaging on part of the shipper is essential in any truck shipment to prevent damage during transit. Shippers must use sturdy packaging materials and secure their cargo to pallets to ensure safe transport.

Understanding Freight Classifications and Pricing

Freight classification is set by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). Shipments that are larger, heavier, or more complicated to handle are placed in a higher freight class and therefore tend to be more expensive. The NMFTA bases freight classifications on four main criteria:

  • Density: How much space cargo takes up and how tightly packed it is relative to its size. For LTL carriers, density matters when trying to determine how much space to allot per shipper in the trailer.
  • Handling: How easily can the freight be handled? Larger, more bulky cargo that’s difficult to handle is more likely to be categorized in a higher freight class. This also goes for cargo that requires special care or training when handling, like highly fragile items or hazardous materials.
  • Stowability: This is a consideration of how easy it is to stow this item on the trailer. Items that come in rectangular boxes are going to be more favorable than those in odd shapes.
  • Liability: This refers to the level of risk it is to ship this item. More dangerous items, like corrosive materials, explosives or flammables, are considered low-favorability items and are therefore placed in higher freight class. It also may include items that need to be refrigerated.

LTL shipment rates are influenced by the above factors, as well as carrier base rate, route distance, and fuel costs. Shippers must classify their goods accurately to determine pricing ahead of time.

LTL Freight vs. Full Truckload (FTL)

The main difference between LTL freight and full truckload (FTL) is, as you may have guessed, the load size. While LTL refers to a shipment that’s less than a full truck, FTL refers to a shipment that will need a full truck. However, the differences aren’t exactly that obvious.

As we discussed earlier, LTL shipments are defined by certain weight and size characteristics - typically no more than 15,000 pounds and no more than 10 pallets. Anything over 15,000 or 10 pallets is typically considered an FTL.

When Should You Choose LTL Over FTL?

Aside from size and weight considerations, there are certain instances where choosing LTL may be a better choice than choosing FTL, including:

  • Prioritizing cost: LTL is generally going to provide higher cost savings because shippers are only paying for the space they occupy and are essentially splitting the other trucking costs with owners of the other cargo inside the trailer. FTL may be more cost-effective for larger, time-sensitive loads.
  • Easy handling: If the cargo isn’t fragile and there’s not as big of a risk of damage, LTL might be a better choice. With LTL, multiple shipments are stored together in a trailer, meaning there will be more moving around and handling versus an FTL shipment.
  • No rush shipping: If you have the luxury of time, LTL is a better option. Shipping with FTL freight is typically faster because it moves the cargo from A to B without the stopping, unloading, and reloading that LTL freight requires.
  • Lower value items: LTL typically has less security because of its shared nature and added handling requirements. If there’s a high-priority or high-value shipment, FTL is generally a better choice.
  • Special services or requirements: LTL freight offers additional service options compared to the simplified options that come with FTL. That could include liftgate access, freeze protection for sensitive cargo, or residential delivery and pickup. 

Challenges and Strategies in LTL Freight

LTL freight can be a great method of shipping for truckers and shippers alike and is a crucial shipment method for the future of the trucking industry. Especially because it helps truckers reduce fuel costs and resources, which in turn reduces pollution and increases efficiency. However, it is not without its hurdles.

Common challenges in LTL freight shipping include handling multiple shipments with multiple businesses, coordinating pick-ups and deliveries, and dealing with varying shipment sizes.

For those looking to start their own trucking company, coordinating LTL freight loads can seem overwhelming. But there are many strategies to overcome these challenges, and the biggest one is leveraging technology. For example, you can use the CloudTrucks Flex Program to find loads, dispatch drivers, and manage all of your documents in one place. 


LTL freight is a cost-effective solution for small and medium businesses, offering flexibility and accessibility while reducing environmental impact. As a truck driver, it allows you to handle multiple customers in one route, leading to reduced costs and more efficient use of resources.

This method of shipping is a linchpin in the modern economy. LTL freight helps to support more small to mid-sized online businesses and help deliver all goods and services efficiently while also supporting a more sustainable shipping practice.

While coordinating LTL freight may involve a little more work compared to FTLs, it can be easy with CloudTrucks. Our TMS uses AI technology to create a load from a ratecon in less than 1 minute. Advanced automation takes the headache out of coordinating LTL freight while maximizing your revenue as a fleet owner.  Head over to our CloudTrucks Flex page to learn more. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does LTL freight mean?

Less-than-truckload (LTL) is a cost-effective way to ship products that take up less than an entire truckload of space.

What is TL and LTL in trucking?

TL stands for “truckload” and is used interchangeably with FTL (full truckload) to describe a freight transport that requires the entire space of a truck, while LTL (less-than-truckload) requires only a portion of the truck.

Why use LTL shipping?

LTL shipping has many benefits, including lower cost, higher sustainability and reduced staffing and warehousing costs. LTL freight also typically allows more service customization compared to FTL freights.

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