What's the Difference Between LTL and Full Truckload Freight?

If you have shipments of 12 linear feet or less in your network, using less than truckload (LTL) could be a great way to reduce costs while improving efficiency. If you have some experience shipping full truckload (FTL) freight but are relatively new to LTL, it’s important to first understand a few key differences between the two modes.

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What is Full Truckload (FTL or TL)?

  • Most common equipment is a class 8 tractor with a 53’ dry van or refrigerated trailer.
  • Only one shipper’s freight moves on the truck.
  • Shipper does not necessarily fill the entire truck but has exclusively reserved the full capacity of the truck.

What is Less Than Truckload (LTL)

  • Multiple shippers’ freight moves together on the same trailer.
  • Ideal for shipments ranging from one to 6 pallets (or less than 12 linear feet).
  • Shipments over six pallets are typically a candidate for volume LTL or partial truckload shipping.

When should I use LTL? When should I use Full Truckload? 

These are not hard-and-fast rules, but guidelines. Generally speaking,

Use Full Truckload When Use LTL When
You are shipping over twelve pallets at one time. You are shipping twelve pallets or less.
Your product is extremely fragile or delicate. Your product is sturdy enough (or properly packaged for) increased handling.
You require firm pick-up and delivery appointments. You have a little bit of flexibility with shipping and delivery timing.
Delivery date is extremely time-sensitive. You want to save money.

Similarities Between Full Truckload and LTL

  • Both move freight primarily over the road, though some LTL carriers will utilize intermodal rail shipping.
  • Both utilize class 8 tractors (semi-trucks).
  • Both require professional drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
  • Both modes primarily ship palletized freight.

Differences Between Full Truckload and LTL

LTL’s core value is cost savings. If you’re only shipping a few pallets, it’s usually cheaper to use LTL instead of paying for a full truck. To support their economical pricing strategies, LTL carriers need to maintain optimal efficiency at all times—long delays, empty miles, non-standard services and underutilized trailer space have a disproportionate impact relative to their full truckload peers, creating some key differences between the two modes.

Increased Freight Handling

  • Full Truckload: The shipper loads product at origin, pops a seal on the trailer and the driver takes the product straight to the destination for delivery.
  • LTL: Throughout the course of any LTL shipment, you can expect your product to be loaded and unloaded in-and-out of trailers and warehouses several times before it reaches the final destination. Though an overwhelming majority of LTL shipments are delivered in perfect condition, the increased handling means greater exposure to potential product damage compared to truckload. It’s important to properly package and protect your product for LTL shipping.


  • Full Truckload: You essentially have the undivided attention of a driver from pick-up through delivery. Since a single load is usually several days of work for a driver, full truckload carriers tend to be a little more forgiving with accessorials—15 minutes of detention or driver assist in the course of a three-day transit isn’t as big of a deal.
  • LTL: You are only paying for a small portion of capacity in a trailer, and it’s spread across several drivers and warehouses. As previously mentioned, LTL carriers need to maintain optimal efficiency to support economical pricing structures—anything that causes a delay or disruption will usually result in additional charges. When this occurs, it’s important to remember the total cost savings versus full truckload.

Freight Class

  • Full Truckload: Generally speaking, carriers are not overly concerned with exact commodity specifications. Answering whether or not product is palletized, hazmat, and legal weight us usually enough to provide accurate pricing.
  • LTL: Rates for different commodities can vary quite a bit, even in the same lane with the same number of pallets. It all depends on a shipment’s freight class. To categorize commodities and determine pricing, all LTL carriers use a freight classification system standardized by the NMFTA (National Motor Freight Traffic Association). There are 18 different classes, ranging from Class 50 (least expensive) to Class 500 (most expensive).

Product Reweighs

  • Full Truckload: Once loaded, a driver may stop at a weigh station to verify that the truck is under the legal limit of 80,000 lbs. Otherwise, there is rarely a further inspection of the product until the receiver breaks the seal at the delivery dock.
  • LTL: Carriers will reinspect product once it arrives at the origin terminal. Most shipments will go through a machine—called a dimensioner—that automatically scans pallets to determine weight and dimensions. If the dimensioner results vary from the listed product specifications on the bill of lading, the LTL carrier will reclassify the freight, which could result in an updated rate.


  • Full Truckload: The driver picks up the product at the shipper and drives straight to the consignee or receiver. As long as the driver makes a timely pick-up, transit is predictable. Barring an equipment breakdown, he or she will arrive based on a simple equation of total mileage, hours of service, posted speed limit and estimated traffic.
  • LTL: Transit is virtually never straight through, which means it will usually take longer than full truckload. Furthermore, delivery dates are estimates (unless you pay a premium to guarantee quoted transit). Many LTL carriers report service levels above 90%, but it can vary depending on lane and carrier.


  • Full Truckload: Drivers will accept firm appointment times.
  • LTL: Drivers are almost always completing multiple pick-ups and/or deliveries per run—flexibility is important. FCFS windows of at least two hours are the industry standard, and pick-ups are not guaranteed.

Trailer Size

  • Full Truckload: Most carriers have 53’ trailers with swing doors. Trailers are typically 102’ wide with a 110’ clearance height.
  • LTL: most carriers also use 53’ trailers that are 102’ wide, but most are equipped with roll doors, reducing the clearance height to 96’.


Why Coyote

As one of the largest logistics service providers in North America, Coyote has established relationships with a wide range of LTL carriers. We leverage our technology for quick quoting and communications, getting you the rates and capacity you need.

We also match thousands of full truckload shipments every day to our diverse network of over 70,000 carriers. Whether you need to move one pallet, 100 full truckloads, or both, Coyote has the capacity and expertise to make your life a little easier. To get started moving your LTL and full truckload shipments with Coyote, request a quote now.


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