What is the Difference Between FTL and LTL Shipping?

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Freight shipping can be confusing with all its acronyms and options. When it comes to moving goods beyond parcel carriers, you mainly have two choices: Full Truckload (FTL) and Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) shipping. But knowing the differences between them can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth, cost-effective shipment. This guide breaks down FTL and LTL, giving you the info you need to make smart shipping decisions.

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FTL vs. LTL: Shipment Size

Breaking down FTL and LTL starts with understanding the size of your shipment.

FTL – Picture a massive semi-truck trailer. FTL shipping is for big shipments that fill up this trailer completely. Usually, we’re talking over 15,000 pounds or more than 10 pallets. It’s great for businesses moving large quantities of raw materials, finished goods, or hefty equipment.

LTL – Now, if your shipment isn’t big enough to hog a whole trailer, LTL is your go-to. Here, your goods share space with other businesses’ stuff on the same truck. Shipments can be anywhere from a few hundred pounds to around 15,000 pounds max. It’s perfect for businesses moving moderate volumes without needing a full truckload all to themselves.

FTL vs. LTL: Cost

Let’s talk about money when it comes to FTL and LTL:

FTL – When you rent the whole truck, the cost is fixed. This can save you money for big shipments because you’re not paying based on weight or volume. But if your load doesn’t fill the truck, you might end up paying for space you’re not using.

LTL – With LTL, you pay for the space your shipment takes up. It’s cheaper for smaller loads. But watch out for extra charges like terminal handling fees for loading and unloading at terminals. They can bump up your bill, so keep an eye on them when comparing prices.

FTL vs. LTL: Speed

When it comes to getting your goods to their destination:

FTL – Your shipment gets its own ride, which means a straighter path and quicker delivery. Since there’s no stopping for other shipments, FTL wins the speed race. It’s perfect for urgent situations like just-in-time manufacturing or shipping perishable items.

LTL – With LTL, the truck makes multiple stops to pick up and drop off different shipments. This can take longer than FTL. But LTL carriers often offer flexible pickup and delivery times, so you can schedule deliveries to fit your business’s schedule.

FTL vs. LTL: Security

When it comes to keeping your shipment safe:

  • FTL – Your goods go straight onto the truck at the start and come off at the end. Less handling means less chance of damage or loss. Plus, since the trailer’s sealed, there’s less risk of theft or tampering.
  • LTL – With LTL, your stuff shares space, so it gets moved around more during loading, unloading, and transfers. Even though LTL carriers try to keep things secure, all that handling means a bit more risk, especially for delicate items.

FTL vs. LTL: Which one is for you?

Picking between FTL and LTL comes down to your specific needs. Here’s a simple guide to help you choose between the two.

FTL is your go-to if:

  • You’ve got a big shipment that fills a whole trailer.
  • Speed matters most, and you need the fastest delivery possible.
  • Your goods are delicate or valuable, and you want to minimize handling.

LTL is the way to go if:

  • Your shipment isn’t huge but still too big for parcel carriers.
  • Saving money is key, even if it means sacrificing a bit of speed.
  • You can be flexible with your delivery times.
Full Truckload (FTL) Less-Than-Truckload (LTL)
Shipment Size
Ideal for large shipments that fill an entire trailer
Suited for smaller shipments that don't fill a trailer
Truck Space
Entire truck reserved for one shipment
Truck space shared with multiple shipments
Fixed cost for the entire truck
Cost based on space occupied by the shipment
Cost Efficiency
Cost-effective for large shipments
Economical choice for smaller shipments
Delivery Speed
Faster delivery due to direct route
Slightly longer transit time due to multiple stops
Less handling, reducing risk of damage or loss
More handling, potentially increasing risk of damage
Minimized risk of theft or tampering
Risk of theft or tampering, although precautions taken
Less flexibility in scheduling pickups and deliveries
More flexible pickup and delivery windows
Additional Services
Limited additional services available
Various additional services available, with extra charges
Insurance Coverage
Basic carrier liability coverage included
Additional cargo insurance may be necessary for full coverage
Route Options
Suitable for long-haul and regional transport
Typically used for regional transport
Suitable For
Large volume shipments, time-sensitive deliveries
Small to medum-sized shipments, cost-conscious businesses
Recommended Industries
Manufacturing, construction, automotive
Retail, ecommerce, small businesses


When it comes to selecting the best freight shipping method, it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed. But remember, you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself. Working with a trusted freight shipping company can make all the difference. These experts can evaluate your specific needs, examine your shipment details, and suggest the most efficient and budget-friendly solution, whether that’s FTL, LTL, or even expedited options.

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