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What is Less-Than-Truckload?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Less-than-truckload is a service offered by many freight and trucking companies for businesses that only need a small shipment of goods delivered. In contrast, a full truckload or large shipment uses all available space in a tractor trailer. A less-than-truckload shipment is delivered with various other shipments and is usually not delivered directly to a destination as full truckloads are.

Less-than-truckload shipments are arranged so that the driver of the tractor trailer picks up the shipment along a short route and brings it back to the terminal, where it is later transferred to another truck. This second truck brings the shipment, along with other small shipments, to another city's terminal. The less-than-truckload shipment is transferred from truck to truck until it finally reaches its destination.

Less-than-truckload shipments have a clear economical advantage for businesses. Compared to hiring a trucking company at the price of a full shipment, the cost of shipping less-than-truckload is relatively inexpensive. However, a less-than-truckload shipment may take longer to be delivered than a full shipment because it does not follow a direct route from the shipper to the destination.

Less-than-truckload is a service that falls between full truckload shipments and parcel carriers. It is shipped by the same means as full truckloads, usually in a tractor trailer, but behaves like shipments handled by parcel carriers. One well known company that offers less-than-truckload services is UPS.

As a parcel service that tends to handle large packages, UPS is a good example of how a less-than-truckload shipment involves repeated transfers. A UPS driver picks up a shipment along his route, which is brought back to the terminal at the end of his shift. The shipment is then loaded onto an overnight truck and transferred again through a daily route. This process is repeated until the shipment reaches its final destination.

Most less-than-truckload services differ from UPS in that they prefer the shipment to be packaged in bulk, strapped to a pallet or consolidated by some other means of large packaging. Although UPS offers less-than-truckload shipments, the shipments they handle are usually smaller than the less-than-truckload shipments that trucking companies handle.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On Jun 23, 2014

@Terrificli -- the desirability of those jobs has led to a problem for long haul companies. There is a reason job turnover at less-than-truckload companies is low while it is high for long haul carriers -- drivers will leave in a heartbeat to take jobs where they can earn a living and still see their families at night.

The desirability of those less-than-truckload jobs is one of the reasons some long haul carriers hire husband-wife teams to man their vehicles. The theory is that truckers will be happier in their jobs and hold on to them for longer if they can spend time with their wives while working.

That tactic has actually worked pretty well and it is not hard to understand why. Miss your wife? Heck, just take her with you.

By Terrificli — On Jun 23, 2014

@Vincenzo -- that is precisely why the waiting lists for those jobs tend to be very long. Less-than-truckload drivers tend to hang on to their jobs and many even retire from them after holding them for years. In the truck driving world, the job as a less-than-truckload driver is highly prized.

By Vincenzo — On Jun 22, 2014

A less-than-truckload driving job is usually preferable to a long haul (or over-the-road) one. Why? Let's say a driver is based in Little Rock, Ark. He can wake up in the morning, head down to the terminal, haul is load to Tulsa (or wherever) and exchange it with a driver who has a load bound to Little Rock. The trucker heads back to his terminal in Little Rock and then is back home in time for dinner.

Compare that to long haul drivers who might spend a week or two moving a load from one destination to another.

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