LTL vs Truckload

The key differences and deciding what's right for you

Pallets in a warehouse

What is the difference between LTL and Truckload?

LTL (Less-Than-Truckload) shipments are an important shipping option that can help you meet your shipping needs. Whenever you have something to ship that is twelve linear feet or less, or six or fewer pallets, using an LTL carrier will save you money because you are purchasing only part of the available space on a trailer instead of paying for a Full Truckload (FTL). Customers using a FTL carrier, on the other hand, pay for an entire trailer’s storage capacity.

Both LTL and FTL shipping employ semitrucks pulling trailers. FTL trucks may use open-deck (flatbed or stepdeck) or enclosed trailers (dry van with rolltop or swing doors). LTL trucks exclusively pull enclosed trailers (typically a van or multiple trailers with rolltop doors).

Open-deck trailers are usually 48’ or 53’ long. Enclosed trailers such as vans are usually 53’ in length. A van limits what commodity can be loaded in it depending on whether it has swing doors or rolltop doors. For this reason, it is important to know the dimensions of your load.

Vans are usually 102 inches wide with a height clearance that can depend on the kind of doors:

  • Rolltop doors, which are usually used by LTL carriers, only have a 96” clearance height.
  • Swing doors, not as often used by LTL carriers, have a 110” clearance height.


Ship FTL... Ship LTL...
When you are shipping more than 12 pallets You are shipping 12 pallets or less
Product is fragile Your product is sturdy or properly packed 
You require firm pickup and delivery appointments You have some flexibility with shipping and delivery timing
Delivery is time-sensative Cost effeciency is top priority


LTL Shipping Contraints

LTL shipping is often preferable to FTL shipping, but there are restrictions as to what size shipment will qualify for LTL shipping.

  • LTL shipping can only be used for shipments that are twelve linear feet or less.
  • This is the best option if you are shipping one to six (1-6) pallets
  • If you have seven to twelve (7-12) pallets but your product is twelve linear feet or less, you may qualify for what is called Volume LTL shipping or Partial Truckload.


Volume LTL shipping is a special kind of LTL shipping for shipping from seven to twelve pallets of a commodity. Volume LTL shipping can be affordable, but it can take longer for your commodity to reach its destination.

Partial Truckload shipping may be a better option if you have seven to twelve pallets of commodity that weight in excess of 5000 pounds. Partial Truckload shipments do not use a freight class and are only loaded onto a trailer once. Partial truckloads are less expensive than FTL shipping but more expensive than LTL shipping.

Calculating your freight class

LTL carriers price LTL freight with a freight classification system, which includes eighteen (18) different classes increasing from 50 (least expensive) to 500 (most expensive). You can estimate your freight class with our handy density class tool and for a more precise estimate, you can find your NMFC number with our NMFC table. This uses a density-based calculation, which is built right into our instant quote.

Advantages of LTL shipping

  • Because the customer is not paying for an entire truck, the foremost advantage of LTL shipping is that it is less expense than FTL shipping.
  • In some situations, LTL shipping can be more advantageous for shippers who do not want to (or not able to) schedule with a FTL carrier delivering a commodity. LTL shippers often deliver to terminals where the customer will have greater latitude in scheduling a pickup or delivery of the commodity to its ultimate destination.


Disadvantages of LTL shipping

If your shipment qualifies for LTL Shipping, you should compare the advantages of LTL to the disadvantages when deciding how you will ship your product.

LTL Shipping takes longer than FTL Shipping

LTL shipping generally takes place between shipping terminals and is, therefore, is not "direct" like FTL shipping, which means that it takes longer to move your freight from point A to point B. Because LTL shippers load the freight of multiple customers onto the same trailer, they routinely balance multiple schedules, which can introduce further delays.

LTL Shipping may introduce more wear and tear to your product

Because LTL carriers do not typically ship directly from point of origin directly to the ultimate destination, LTL shipments tend to be loaded and unloaded onto different trucks more frequently. Additionally, LTL shipments are prone to frequent inspections and verifications of their dimensions and weight. If your shipment was incorrectly classified, these inspections will result in a reclassification, which could increase (or decrease) your cost.

Although LTL carriers are experienced and safe, each time a commodity is handled there is the chance for it to be damaged. FTL shipments, by contrast, are loaded and unloaded once only. Therefore, the durability of your products should be a consideration, along with appropriate packaging to preserve your shipment from the rigors of travel and handling.

LTL Shipping may accrue additional fees

Because LTL carriers are balancing complicated schedules as well as loads from multiple customers as described above, any delay introduced by a customer is likely to result in a fee assessed to the bill. This can happen with FTL carriers also, but FTL carriers are generally more forgiving when a delay is minimal.

FTL and LTL shipping both employ carriers who have been approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and drivers who have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Both are excellent options, but the best option depends on your commodity, your flexibility, and your budget.