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What is FTL? – The Complete Guide to Full Truckload

The trucking industry is a lot like the military: they both use way more acronyms than should even exist. The good news is we’re here to help with some of that trucking alphabet soup. We’re here to give you the rundown on one of the most important acronyms in the entire logistics industry: FTL.

In this guide, you will discover:

What is FTL (Full Truckload)?

FTL stands for full truckload. Booking a full truckload shipment basically means you’re reserving a whole tractor trailer to pick up your shipment at a business and drop it off at a different location. It’s called full truckload because you’re booking the entire truck, not just part of it. That’s an important distinction to make, and you’ll find out why soon.

What are the benefits of FTL?

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Shipping things full truckload has a few benefits. The first is that it’s typically the best bang for your buck if you’re shipping a lot of merchandise. Full truckload shipments are also faster than other options like rail and less-than-truckload (LTL). Full truckload shipments are easier to track too, especially if you have cool software like Alvys. That’s because the freight stays in the same trailer until it gets offloaded at its destination. The last major benefit is that your freight is more secure and less likely to get lost in transit.

When is it best to use FTL?

Most of the time, the easiest way to figure out whether you need a full truckload or not is to see how much stuff you have to ship and how many different places that freight is going.

Here’s what I mean. If you have to ship 24 pallets from Rock Hill, South Carolina to Bremen, Georgia, your best option is FTL. If you’re shipping 3 pallets from Poughkeepsie to Indianapolis, then another 4 pallets to Jacksonville, using a single truck doesn’t make sense. Not only would the trailer be mostly empty, but the route the truck would take to split-deliver would add a bunch of worthless extra cost.

For a situation like that, you would want to use an LTL carrier instead. It’s all about economics. When you book a full truckload, you’re paying for the full truck. It doesn’t matter to the driver if his trailer is half empty or not. You’re still going to pay for that entire truck from pickup to delivery. If you’re paying for the full truck, you don’t want most of that payment to be going towards shipping empty space.

How many pallets fit in a FTL shipment?

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In an ideal world, FTL shipments are pretty straightforward. Most trailers are either 48’ or 52’ long. They’re a little over 8 feet wide. When you’re booking freight, things are usually determined by pallets – also called skids. A typical full truckload can carry 26 skids. A quick caveat is that we’re talking about standard pallets – pallets that are 48” x 40”. If you’re shipping standard pallets, and you have somewhere in the range of 12 to 26 skids, full truckload is going to be your best bet.

What is the FTL weight limit?

You also need to keep in mind that trucks have weight limits. Tractor trailers usually run with a maximum weight limit of around 44,000 lbs. (19,958 kg).

What are the average full truckload rates?

Here’s where things get fun. Full truckloads can be a breeze or extremely difficult to book. Trucking, like many things in our world, is really dependent on seasonality. For example, shipping things out of Los Angeles at the end of the year is expensive and competitive. That’s because all the boats carrying everyone’s Christmas presents that just landed from China are being offloaded and distributed all across the USA. Because the demand for trucks out of LA is higher, the prices to book a truck out of LA goes up too. Other times of the year, it’s really cheap to book a truck out of LA. Rates are usually determined by the mile, and that per-mile rate can swing wildly from month to month, week to week, and even day to day. It’s all about where the trucks are at any given time.

How do I ship things FTL?

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Technically, you can book your own truck if you have access to load boards or have a few carrier phone numbers in your back pocket. If you don’t, finding a truck can be time consuming and frustrating. That’s where companies like 3PLs (third party logistics providers) come in. They have a huge Rolodex of carriers that they use to make sure they can find an available truck anywhere in the USA at a moment’s notice. Sure, you have to pay the 3PL a commission on the truck, but that extra cost is worth it if you don’t have to spend two weeks delaying your shipment because you can’t find a tractor trailer.

Some companies opt to build their own fleets. I’m sure you’ve seen Walmart and Amazon trucks on the interstate. It’s easier for really big companies to buy their own trucks and just handle their own shipping than worry about booking carriers. Something to note is that even those big businesses use 3PLs from time to time – even if they have a fleet of their own trucks. That’s because of access. 3PLs have thousands and thousands of trucks and carriers at their disposal all the time.

What’s the main takeaway on full truckload (TLDR)?

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FTL stands for full truckload shipping. That means booking an entire tractor trailer to pick up your load of freight and take it somewhere else. Most tractor trailers can fit 26 standard pallets – or skids – inside with a maximum weight limit of 44,000 lbs. If you’re new to shipping full truckloads, your best bet is probably to use a third party logistics company (3PL) to help. Alvys is also a great resource if you’re already managing a bunch of FTL shipments but need help getting organized.

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