If you’re a shipper that hires a third-party logistics (3PL) company or works directly with a carrier to get your freight from California to North Carolina, there’s always someone behind the scenes like me working to put the pieces together.


I’m a logistics analyst for Logistics Planning Services (LPS) in Minnesota. Whether you’re working with a 3PL or carrier, the analyst works to get you the best price for your shipments. That’s why I also get a lot of questions about what are the different choices and methods for shipping specific loads.


With this article, I’ll break down the most common categories of truck shipments:


  • LTL: Less than truckload
  • TL: Truckload
  • Partial truckload
  • Volume quote


Most of the loads we place for customers are LTL or less than truckload. LTLs are the Target’s and Walmart’s of the trucking industry—giants like XPO Logistics, Old Dominion, YRC, and Roadrunner. Depending on the carrier and your contract, LTL loads typically take up less than 17.9 feet. You can fit about eight full pallets into that space with a weight of about 12,000 pounds or less. The standard size pallet is 48 x 48 inches.


Partial truckloads and volume quotes are used to move your goods when a load is bigger than LTL limitations and not take as much space as required for a full TL.


For example, if you’re going to ship more than eight pallets of goods then we either obtain a volume quote from an LTL carrier or go out to the open market and book a partial truck. Typically, a load that is 12,000 pounds or over and more than 750 cubic feet needs a volume quote. The volume quote is required because the loads exceed load size contractual limitations most 3PLs, and companies have with LTL carriers.


But in some circumstances, you may have to ship using a volume quote—like if the load exceeds 18 feet, or it’s as large as nine pallets and weighs only 2,000 pounds. If you ship a load similar to this via LTL, you could absorb penalties because the load would be outside the scope of most contracts.


Volume quotes can be cheaper than shipping LTL, but the shipment can take longer to reach its destination.


Partial and dedicated trucks


Sometimes you have to go to the open market to find a dedicated truck to transport a full or dedicated load. For instance, you can either pay for say half a truck or the entire truck. There typically are no contracts with these carriers, which a lot of the times are owner/operators on one end of a continuum, and huge companies like JB Hunt, on the other end.


With no pre-established rates, negotiations typically happen on the fly, over the phone, or through email. In this scenario, I will call a carrier and say we have a load going from point A to point B, and we have a budget of $900 to move it. “Can you do it?” The carrier may come back and say, “yes,” or “no, I need $1,100.” Negotiations ensue.


When negotiating partial and truckload shipments you are always negotiating at the time of shipment and those rates fluctuate, sometimes by the hour. External factors that drive pricing include seasons (harvest, back-to-school, for example), truck location, route or lane, availability and operating costs.


In some parts of the United States—California and Florida, for instance—there are busy times of the year and it can be very expensive to move freight from these locales. Prices can often range from $2.00–$2.50 per mile.


When you need it there yesterday


The wildcard in working with each of the load types I’ve summarized here is delivery time. Of course, the faster you need the item shipped, the more it will cost. Your options are to pay for a dedicated truck regardless of the size of the load, or hire an LTL carrier and pay a premium for guaranteed transit time. You also have the option of specifying team drivers for a load. Here, two guys will drive non-stop alternating sleeping and driving until they pull up to your loading dock. You will pay a premium for team drivers, but it’s a great solution when you need it there yesterday.