What is Transloading and Through-Trailer? 


As bottlenecks persist in the ports, many companies based in the United States have started looking into sourcing from Mexico as a potential solution to mitigate the risks of long lead times and material unavailability.

However, if there isn’t proper coordination, your freight could easily experience significant delays that will further impact customer fulfillment. This is where through-trailer and transloading are among the two best options pertaining to cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

As you will have to choose which option is the best for your cross-border distribution process, you may be wondering - what exactly are through-trailer and transloading and how are they different?

While the end goal of through-trailer and transloading are the same, they slightly vary in the way they each achieve that objective. Let's take a look at what each of these cross-border shipping strategies consists of and why you may choose one over the other...

What is Transloading?

Transloading, also known as "cross-docking", refers to the process in which a shipment is transferred between separate trailers. For example, a carrier based in Mexico will hand off a shipment to a carrier in a secure yard. This carrier is tasked with taking the goods across the border and offloading them into a designated transload facility. During this process, the goods remain on the original trailer.

Once that trailer arrives at the transload facility, a U.S. carrier is then dispatched to the facility to transfer the load from the original trailer and onto the U.S. carrier's trailer. The carrier will then take the load to its destination.


What is Through-trailer?

Through-trailer differs from transloading by keeping the load in one trailer throughout the entire process. For this to occur, one carrier on one side of the border will need to establish a trailer interchange agreement with a carrier on the other side of the border. Essentially, the first few steps in the process are the same as transloading.

Leading from the previous example, a Mexico-based carrier will drop a trailer at a crossing carrier’s secure yard and have them move it through the border. The only difference is that instead of involving a transload facility and moving the shipment between trailers, the U.S. carrier would simply take the load with the original trailer from a secure yard after the crossing carrier drops it off. Lastly, a U.S. carrier picks up the load for transport to its final destination.


Comparing Transloading and Through-Trailer


Generally, transloading allows for a more expansive carrier capacity, as you are able to take full advantage of multi-modal transportation as needed (this ability to pick from a larger selection of carriers can provide opportunities for competitive cost-savings). Furthermore, the entire transloading process takes a few days to complete. With this extra time awaiting the arrival of a truck to pick up the load, there is an opportunity for the facility to leverage this idle time to group goods together based upon their destinations.

This is useful as it allows for more strategic planning of the last-mile delivery process, more flexibility overall, and keeps trailers and containers in circulation.



Through-trailer services will require a Mexico-based carrier and a U.S.-based carrier to have a trailer interchange agreement. While this is beneficial in many ways, it also limits what carrier you can choose to work with.

Not to mention capacity challenges relating to trailers, as one trailer is traveling a much further distance. This can further increase delays at the border as well as lead times.

While both of these strategies are employed on a daily basis, through-trailer is slowly fading from popularity. Transloading allows for all of the same options and more flexibility. Both have their pros and cons, but through-trailer methods are more defined and niched down.


Through-Trailer or Transloading: Which one Should you Choose?

Some companies transport sensitive goods or materials that they prefer not to shift between trailers. This is due to concerns it may compromise or easily damage the shipment.

For others, cross-docking is their standard process. In these cases, the shifting of freight is always accounted for, is of no major concern, and is preferred.

It is imperative to consider what is of importance to you when choosing between transloading and through-trailer. When transporting common goods across a distribution chain, transloading may be your most cost-effective option. However, if your products are more specialized and need special handling, through-trailer services may be the most appropriate choice.

It can be hard to know where to begin as you weigh your options for transloading or through-trailer. When identifying carriers, it is essential to locate a 3PL that has established rapports on both sides of the border.

Reach out to Redwood Logistics today to find out how we can help streamline your cross-border shipping process.