The 7 Types of LTL Freight Carriers

LTL Freight Carriers

When you have a shipment that won’t fill an entire truck, less-than-truckload (LTL) transportation options save money and time. You are sharing the expense of a full truckload with other shippers in the same situation. To make sure you are using the right LTL freight carriers, it helps to understand how LTL freight works and what you can expect from each of the seven LTL carrier types.

Let's take a look at the 7 different types of Less Than Truckload carriers.

How LTL Freight Works

Multiple shippers share trailer space in a single truck. The carrier charges each shipper based on the amount of space or weight capacity their load uses, the distance the goods need to travel, and the location(s) at which the goods need to be picked up and delivered.

The benefits of shipping LTL include:

  • Lower cost:  By sharing a trailer, each customer pays less than they would pay for a full truckload. 
  • Shipment tracking:  Carriers offer in-depth tracking information so customers know where their goods are throughout the trip.
  • Additional services:  Shippers can choose add-on services such as expedited or guaranteed shipping times, liftgates, inside pickup or delivery, and residential pickup or delivery, among others.


Decision Factors

Before sending your shipment by LTL, consider the following decision factors to determine whether LTL is the best choice.


Size of the Shipment

The number of pallets, total dimensions, and weight impact whether LTL is the right mode to ship. Consider calling for a quote for anything over 10,000 lbs. or more than 6 pallets as those LTL rates can start to get expensive. Be sure to understand each carrier’s specific rules for volume shipments and space used within the trailer.


Freight Classification

Weight and dimensions, along with product characteristics, determine the freight class, which defines freight charges. Make sure you are accurately describing these when getting your freight quote.


Expedited Shipping

Suppose your shipment needs to arrive faster than the average transport time for that route or has to be picked up or delivered within a specific time window. In such cases you will pay extra for expedited or guaranteed shipping service.


Special Handling

You'll also pay extra for liftgate service if the delivery location doesn’t have a dock. Delivery to areas with limited access, such as rural locations, or if the driver has to pickup/deliver inside a building instead of a dock, incur additional charges as well.


Types of LTL Freight Carriers

There are seven different types of LTL freight carriers. Each of these offers a different variety or level of service and cost.


National LTL Carriers

National carriers offer the most shipments and routes, including coast-to-coast and border-to-border. They have numerous hubs, terminals, and drivers. Service is efficient, and pricing is highly competitive.

Drawbacks of national carriers include timeline constraints, less flexibility in rates, and more complicated communications. 

Even if you are a smaller shipper, try to keep at least one national carrier in your LTL freight carriers mix to make sure your shipments can always get to where they need to go.


Multi-Regional LTL Carriers

Multi-regional carriers serve two or more geographic shipping regions. They don’t have coast-to-coast or border-to-border coverage but have many hubs and terminals.

These carriers are great for customers with a high concentration of shipments within 1-2 geographic regions. These carriers can provide faster transits with lower overhead than a large national carrier, which results in better service and lower costs for shippers.


Regional LTL Carriers

Regional carriers transport within a defined geographic area, usually a collection of states. Within that smaller footprint, however, they provide high-quality service with lots of hubs and terminals. 

Companies that ship regionally can benefit from these carriers since they specialize in the geographic area where the companies do business. However, shipments outside the region will require coordinating multiple carriers.


Sub-Regional LTL Carriers

For companies that ship short distances in a specific area, sub-regional carriers may be the best option. They can offer speed and agility that regional and national carriers can’t match. Any relationships you build, though, may wind up getting left behind if you later expand outside the coverage area.


Asset-Light LTL Carriers

An asset-light carrier keeps overhead low by operating fewer trucks and drivers. They share space with other carriers at large hubs and terminals and rely on smaller local carriers to complete their deliveries. 

Prices are lower if you can tolerate the longer shipping times. Tracking visibility usually isn’t as good due to the sub-contracting with small local carriers.


Load-to-Ride LTL Carriers

Load-to-ride carriers provide straight-through, long-range shipping services. They have fewer stops along the way and may not stop at all. These are a good choice for sensitive freight since it won’t be handled much, if at all, during the trip.

If you transport goods across multiple regions and can meet their schedules, you’ll get excellent pricing and reduced handling from load-to-ride carriers. There are usually some limitations on coverage and capacity.


Reefer LTL Carriers

Reefer carriers are similar to load-to-ride carriers but their trailers are temperature-controlled. These carriers specialize in goods that must be maintained at specific temperatures during transport, such as frozen foods.

The challenge with reefer carriers is that they have to coordinate and collaborate with multiple customers whose temperature requirements and routes match. This can result in added costs. If needing a reefer LTL carrier, be sure to get several quotes.


In Summary

LTL freight is suitable for any customer who has shipments that won’t fill up an entire trailer. There is an LTL option for just about any type of need you may have. Efficient shippers will attempt to maintain a carrier mix that meets most of their needs. If unsure which carrier to use for a specific shipment, get several quotes to help you choose the most cost-effective and efficient option for your needs.

Redwood Logistics provides complete multi-modal brokerage services, helping our clients move products faster and smarter.  We simplify LTL shipments – giving you an easy way to compare carriers side by side, helping you choose the right type of carrier to making sure your load gets to its destination on time and at the lowest cost. We’ve got your back.

Still unsure if you should contact us? Take a look at what our team can accomplish for you...