LTL vs. FTL: Which Shipping Method Is Right For Your Business?

When it comes to shipping goods, companies are often faced with a difficult decision: should they ship their products using LTL or FTL methods? The answer is not always clear—but, depending on your situation, one may be more effective than the other. To help you decide which will best meet your company’s needs, we’re here to provide you with an overview of each shipping method.

What Is LTL Freight?

LTL freight stands for “less than truckload” freight. It’s a type of freight shipping that consolidates several shipments onto the same truck to reduce shipping costs. Often, companies need to ship goods that don’t fill up an entire truck, which can lead to wasted space and “empty miles.” This is not a very cost-effective method to ship goods.

With LTL freight, you can combine your shipments with those of other companies to maximize the space in a trailer. Instead of paying to ship an entire truckload (or paying for empty miles), you only pay for the portion of space within the trailer that you’re using.

Benefits of LTL Freight Shipping

Now that we’ve established how LTL freight shipping works, let’s take a closer look at how it can benefit your business.

Lower Shipping Costs

As mentioned above, LTL freight shipping only requires that you pay for your portion of the trailer. Because the cost of transport is shared between multiple customers, your cost decreases. You also save money on fuel and labor by eliminating the need to pay for miles that would otherwise be spent transporting a mostly empty truck. Overall, this allows you to ship goods more cost effectively.

Improved Fuel Efficiency

Regardless of how full a trailer is, carriers still need to get from point A to point B to deliver goods, which requires a certain amount of fuel. The less full a trailer is, the more fuel is needed to ship each good. However, fuel per good decreases as a trailer fills up with shipments from multiple companies using LTL shipping. Ultimately, this improves fuel efficiency—the same amount of gas needed to ship your single shipment can be used to deliver multiple loads.

Greater Flexibility

One of the most significant advantages of LTL shipping is its flexibility. Instead of waiting until you have a full truckload for a shipment—which can significantly delay a delivery—you can split a trailer with other companies and get goods out fast.

Real-Time Tracking

Many LTL carriers provide tracking information that can be used to monitor the progress of your shipment throughout transit. This gives you crucial, real-time insight into where your shipment is and when it will arrive at its final destination, informatioon you can use to manage customer expectations.

Want to learn more about how you can use LTL shipping effectively? See how Sheer helps you move goods faster and smarter.

Drawbacks of LTL Freight Shipping

LTL freight shipping has its benefits, but it’s not always the ideal shipping method for every load. Here are some of the drawbacks of LTL.

Increased Transit Times

Because LTL freight is typically a mix of shipments from various companies, your carrier must often stop at multiple locations to deliver goods. Unloading takes time, and these frequent stops can slowly add up. As a result, your shipment may spend more time in transit.

Less Predictability

Similarly, because your carrier has to make multiple stops, there is an increased possibility of disruptions along the way. For example, delivering one shipment may take twice as long as predicted, or your carrier may hit unexpected traffic as they move between multiple shipping routes.

Higher Risk of Damage

LTL freight requires a lot of loading and unloading. Whenever the trailer is opened for delivery, goods need to be shuffled around or taken off the truck so that the proper shipment can be unloaded. This increased level of handling puts your shipment at risk of being damaged—goods may shift as they’re being moved, or they may be knocked around by heavy equipment like forklifts or pallet jacks.

distribution warehouse with trucks of different capacity_

What Is FTL Trucking?

FTL trucking stands for “full truckload” trucking. This shipping method involves filling an entire trailer with your own goods—there’s no need to coordinate with other shippers to deliver your shipment. Compared to LTL freight, FTL trucking is much more direct.

Benefits of FTL Trucking

Here are some of the key benefits of FTL trucking.

Improved Delivery Times

With FTL trucking, goods are transported directly to their destination with no stops or transfers along the way. This allows for faster transit times than what can be achieved with LTL.

Reduced Risk of Damage

FTL shipments are typically handled fewer times than LTL shipments, reducing the risk of damage or mishandling. Your shipment is loaded onto one truck and only handled when it reaches its destination—the driver doesn’t have to move your goods around to access another shipment.

Cost Savings

Because FTL shipments require fewer transactions and loading/unloading processes, they’re typically more efficient than LTL shipments. Full truckload shipping rates are often lower per pound than a partial load. This makes FTL trucking an attractive option for shippers transporting large loads.

Drawbacks of FTL Trucking

Just like LTL shipping, FTL trucking has its drawbacks. Here are some things you need to consider when choosing FTL.

Limited Capacity

FTL involves using a single truck and trailer, which limits the amount of freight that can be transported at any given time. This can impact the overall efficiency of your logistics operations if you have a large volume of goods to ship at once.

Less Flexibility

FTL trucks have limited flexibility since they must take a set route to their destination. If you need to adjust the route or make changes along the way, you must negotiate with the carrier for additional charges.

Long Lead Times

It can take several days to book an FTL truck, depending on the size of your shipment and the availability of trucks in the area. You need to plan ahead and give yourself enough time for your shipments to be delivered.

Use a TMS to Determine the Best Shipping Method for Your Business

Whether you need LTL or FTL shipping depends on what you’re transporting, your load size, and how quickly you need your shipment delivered. One of the easiest ways to navigate the LTL vs. FTL issue is to integrate a transportation management system (TMS) into your logistics operations. TMS systems aggregate a large volume of data into one central dashboard, providing exceptional visibility and making it easy to optimize shipping loads, communicate with LTL and FTL carriers, and determine the best route possible for your shipment.

At Sheer Logistics, we help businesses leverage data and technology to get the most out of their logistics operations. Contact us today, and let’s discuss how our TMS solutions make shipping easy.