TRUCKLOAD SHIPPING: THE BASICS
FTL PRIMER: WHAT IS FULL TRUCK LOAD SHIPPING
"Truckload shipping" refers to the hauling of freight over the road by filled-to- capacity tractor trailers. “Tractors” are the front part of a truck with the engine and driver (and maybe a bed) and “Trailers” are usually a fully loaded 48’ or 53' long trailer. The cargo is either floor loaded or palletized. Truckloads are typically picked up at one origin and driven directly to one destination. A shipper can get 24 standard skids (26 skids if turned!) inside a 53’ standard trailer. Even if the trailer is not filled completely, if you book a "Full Load" with a Full Truckload Carrier or Dedicated Carrier, you get no discount if you load it with less skids i.e. if you fail to utilize all its cubic or weight capacity. Most 53’ loaded vans can take between 43,000 to 45,000 lbs maximum of cargo, depending on weight of chassis and tractor; the combination of tractor, trailer and cargo cannot exceed 80,000 lbs without special permits. Truckload Carriers are classified as "Contract Carriers" by the USDOT. Unless noted otherwise in the written agreements between the Carrier and the Freight Buyer, the shipper has 2 hours to load the truck and the receiver two hours to unload the truck. Normal business hours are assumed but should be verified. If the truck makes the window or appointment you have specified for the delivery in the BOL or contract, detention pay begins 2 hours after his arrival or appointment time, whichever comes later.
Truckload Carriers operate differently than Less-Than-Truckload carriers. LTL carriers consolidate cargo from various shippers using a spoke and hub terminal system which combines freight into "line hauls." The Line Hauls are truckloads packed to maximum capacity and run between terminals/sort facilities, and then onto a final delivery terminal, which delivers the cargo to various consignees. Less-Than-Truckload carriers are classified as "Common Carriers" by the USDOT. They operate under their published Tariffs and their users submit themselves by law to their Tariffs, which are now published online or available upon request. The terminal based system of LTL carriers is much more expensive to operate, and shippers prefer to book their FTL (read "Full Truck Loads") with the Contract FTL Carriers, to save money when shipping FTL from point to point, and so that the freight incurs less handling.
Often on urgent "Expedited" shipments where nothing can go wrong - where no delays are an option, shippers/Customer Service Staff will book a "Dedicated Truck" or "Dedicated Truckload" though they might only have to transport as little as one skid. Expedited freight by truck has the advantage over airfreight companies such as FedEx which often cancel flights, and cancel guaranteed delivery times, due to bad weather in such airfreight hubs as Nashville, TN.
If the expedited shipment is indeed not a "full load" but a partial load, but it is booked as a dedicated load, a freight buyer might choose to use a smaller trailer such as a Sprinter Van or a 16' to 32' "Straight Truck vs. the usual 53' trailer if the freight can fit in something so small - the smaller vehicles are slightly less money but the Sprinter Vans in particular can travel faster than large tractor trailers and do make better transit times; they are a bit more reliable.
Keep in mind that the old days of the lonesome owner operator - the driver owner who calls you and you call him - is mostly over though there are exceptions. The average trucking company seems to run 4 to 20 trucks - larger trucking companies have an easier time spreading the costs and modern legal responsibilities over the various specialists required to run the modern trucker: safety officers, driver coordinators, compliance officers, and mechanics. Keep in mind, if you are a Freight Buyer, better communications and better information is a significant reason that Freight Buyers book their freight via experienced Freight Brokers as the quality of communication from the Carrier is usually not good enough.
There are 3 important documents you should be familiar with – the Shipper-Carrier or Broker-Carrier Agreement, the Rate or Load Confirmation, and the Bill of Lading.
If you book your freight through a reputable freight broker, then you do not need to worry about the first document, the Shipper-Carrier Agreement, because the Broker protects you with his Broker-Carrier Agreement. If however you are booking your freight directly with Carriers, you should hire a specialist transportation attorney to write a substantial Shipper-Carrier contract which clearly spells out the expectations, responsibilities and liabilities the Carrier is signing on to when he pulls your freight. The required amount of insurance, cargo and liability, the responsibility for chargebacks from receivers due to late deliveries are examples of some of the issues for the Contract to cover. There are many issues that you need to protect your Company and your customers from that are appropriately a Carrier’s - still, you need to protect yourself in writing.
This Contract Carrier signed document substitutes for the Tariff of the Common Carriers - and protect you better than those Tariffs. If you are moving full truckload and do not move it under a signed detailed Contract, be sure to book through a Broker or Third Party Logistics company instead - - because you are exposed to too many risks if you tender your freight directly without such a governing document/Agreement.
The second important document has all details of the particular load and is called the Rate or Load Confirmation. It is between you/your 3PL and/or the Carrier. The W’s - When, What, Who have to be spelled out - when you expect pickup and delivery, what type of equipment and trailer you require, what you are shipping volume and weight wise, what price, what penalty if late, and who/where the contacts and address of the pickup and delivery. All details and requirements of the specific shipment should be there. The document should be signed by both parties.
Third, the Bill of Lading. The driver picks up the freight and signs the Shipper provided Bill of Lading that specifies the parties involved (shipper, receiver, potentially the freight payor or 3PL) and specifies the freight being shipped, weight and description. The shipper signs and the driver countersigns that freight was shipped in good condition and the trucker and shipper might seal the trailer together or lock it. Upon delivery the Receiver must, during the unload, inspect the freight carefully for damage or shortage, and sign the Bill of Lading appropriately - “received in good condition” or “X boxes damaged - subject to damage claim.” If there is damage, receiver must document it, take photographs, and notify all involved immediately. If receiver fails to note damage or missing items on the Bill of Lading, they are letting the trucker and the insurance company off the hook. If the shipment has a delivery deadline it is also a darn good idea to put it on the Bill of Lading.
Those are the basics. We hope this is helpful - feel free to email questions or to take issue with something we’ve said that doesn’t apply in your segment of the freight world.
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