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How to Handle 5 Common LTL Shipping Challenges (3PLs Can Help)

what shippers hate about LTL

If you've shipped LTL (or even just talked to someone who has), you might already know that it has some extra challenges you won't find in other modes.

Some common shipper complaints about LTL are:

It’s slow.

It’s expensive.

It’s more likely to damage your freight.

We’re not here to tell you those issues are completely made up — they're certainly real, and sometimes they just can’t be avoided.

Instead, we want to be honest with you about them so you can set realistic expectations for the pain points all LTL shippers encounter.

LTL shipping may have its cons, but if you know how to manage them, you can focus on the pros it can have for your business.

Learn about these five roadblocks you’re likely to face as an LTL shipper and prepare yourself to handle them with confidence.

The 5 Most Common LTL Shipping Challenges

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  1. Quoting is too complicated
  2. Transit times are long and unreliable
  3. My freight gets damaged
  4. Invoices don’t match my quoted price
  5. Carriers keep closing or consolidating


LTL Challenge #1: Even When It’s Easy, Quoting & Load Building Are Difficult

Many LTL shippers are new to logistics entirely, and one major shock they all encounter is just how much information there is to keep track of.

Here’s a list of some of the details you’ll have to have handy when you get an LTL quote:

  • Pick-up location
  • Pick-up date
  • Business or residential pick-up
  • Delivery location
  • Business or residential delivery
  • Additional delivery details (inside, lift gate required, etc.)
  • Commodity type
  • Packaging type
  • Pallet quantity
  • Pallet dimensions
  • Total weight
  • Temperature requirements
  • Freight class/NMFC code

Your LTL carrier is going to inspect your freight upon pick-up, and if they notice any discrepancies in what they see vs. what you entered when you booked them, you can be sure they’re going to charge you for it.

It may seem like a lot of effort to keep all this information straight every time you ship.

But keep in mind that if you don’t do it accurately, you will be left with an even more time-consuming mess to clean up once the carrier bills you based on the actual freight you shipped.

3 Things You Can Do About It

1. Keep practicing.
The more times you have to enter your information into a quote form, the more comfortable you’ll be with it.

2. Staff up or train up.
As your shipping needs expand, your team should too. Hire on full-time logistics staff or train team members for new roles.

3. Work with a 3PL.
Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) have reps who can help you keep your details straight. And when you work with a 3PL, you can get quotes from multiple carriers by just entering your info once.


LTL Challenge #2: Transit Times Are Long & Unreliable

When you book an LTL shipment, you might notice that you’re able to enter a pick-up date but not a delivery date.

Why is that? Well, it comes down to the LTL business model.

LTL carriers rely on moving a high volume of freight through a hub-and-spoke network of lanes and terminals.

This means your shipment will move over several legs and get transloaded several times at terminals throughout their network before its final-mile delivery to your facility.

The more pallets and total volume carriers are sending through these complicated networks, the more opportunities there are for delays or missed pick-ups. Any delay could cost you up to a day (especially if your shipment has any nonstandard requirements such as short or limited pick-up windows).

For that reason, delivery dates and times in LTL are typically not guaranteed, and shipping times can often stretch past their target window.

3 Things You Can Do About It

Request guaranteed delivery.
This is actually a very common LTL accessorial that shippers request. For a percentage increase of your total freight charge, you can ask carriers to prioritize your shipment over non-guaranteed freight.

Ask the right questions to your carrier.
Call their customer service line and see if you can get a direct, informative answer when you ask if they service your lanes as direct points in their network.

Rely on a 3PL’s operational data.
3PLs have often worked with LTL carriers for a number of years. Over this time, they’ve amassed enough data to give you a pretty good idea of whether they’ll be able to move freight efficiently in your lanes.


LTL Challenge #3: My Freight Gets Damaged More Than Full Truckload

When you ship LTL, every pallet is precious. Especially if you’re a small e-tailer or manufacturer, every shipment you make holds freight that can make or break your business.

So why does it end up damaged or lost so often?

Let’s be clear: damages and losses don’t happen all the time in LTL shipping — about 1-2% of the time is standard — but they’re much more common than they are when you ship full truckload. The reasons why are pretty straightforward:

  • Freight is handled much more frequently in LTL shipping
  • LTL freight moves through a number of facilities where it can get left behind
  • LTL trailers contain multiple shippers’ freight, some of which might not sit nicely together with one another

But while you might not be able to prevent damages and losses entirely, there are definitely some things you can do to make them as painless as possible.

3 Things You Can Do About It

Package your freight carefully.
Wrap it tightly, stack it evenly, and make sure all freight stays within the boundary of the pallet. Label it clearly if it is fragile or cannot have anything stacked on it.

Report any damages or losses immediately to the driver.
Failing to report damages or losses promptly is the #1 reason why claims are denied. Either refuse to accept damaged pallets and send them back to the carrier or unpack them and file a claim for the value of the damaged freight.

Let a 3PL help smooth the claims process.
Experienced reps can help coach you through the claims process, can mediate disputes and may pay you out in advance of the claim being resolved.


LTL Challenge #4: My Invoice Says What?

When you pay for a shipment, you probably expect the price you pay upon delivery to match the one you saw when you quoted and booked.

In LTL shipping, this often isn’t the case.

Inexperienced shippers often come to LTL with pricing expectations that aren’t completely realistic based on how the mode works.

The price you have in your head might not match the final bill for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The actual weight and dimensions of your freight differs from what you provided when quoting (most LTL carriers are now weighing/scanning the majority of their shipments to ensure accuracy and bill you accordingly)
  • Accessorial fees for service needs you didn’t clearly indicate when you were quoting your shipment (inside delivery, sort/seg, limited-access delivery)
  • Accessorial fees for delays your shipment incurred for the carrier (inspection, redelivery, truck order not used)
  • Oversize freight charges (LTL carriers have been cracking down on this recently; any freight overhanging your pallet can get you charged)

While each of these fees makes sense within the pricing structure and operations of an LTL carrier, you still might find yourself experiencing sticker shock the first time you see them itemized on a bill.

3 Things You Can Do About It

Get your information accurate at the outset.
Double and triple check all the details of your service requirements so your carrier doesn’t have to pass a surprise fee on to you. A 3PL can help.

Be punctual and communicate when issues arise.
If you think your freight is not going to be ready for pick-up or you might have an issue receiving delivery, tell your carrier immediately so they don’t waste their time.

Package your freight carefully.
Tight wrapping and clean corners don’t just help your freight avoid damages. They can keep you from incurring unnecessary oversize charges.


LTL Challenge #5: Where Did My Carrier Go?

The good news for LTL shippers is that the market is much less fragmented and overwhelming than the truckload market — just around 200 LTL carriers vs. more than 900,000 TL carriers.

The bad news is it can still be volatile enough to catch you by surprise.

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of LTL trucking companies close for good or consolidate operations with other carriers, often with very little or no notice.

And even when they’re still running, capacity issues and/or weather events can cause carriers to enforce regional embargoes. Even though they’re temporary, embargoes mean that service might vanish to one of your facilities in the blink of an eye.

3 Things You Can Do About It

Keep up with current events.
Follow logistics trade press and national news so you’re informed as soon as possible when something happens that will impact your coverage.

Procure backup coverage.
If you can tender enough freight volume to cover your lanes with multiple carriers, you’ll have a plan in place if one has a service disruption.

Use a 3PL for a quick pivot.
3PLs can quickly connect you to a new LTL carrier if one you are counting on is unable to fulfill your needs.


Our Best Advice for Solving Your LTL Problems — Get a 3PL Who Works for You

So, what's the easiest way to address all of these issues?

Top 5 LTL complaints that shippers have

You might have noticed a common thread in the advice we offered above: If you’re unsure at all about how to avoid these common pain points in LTL shipping, a trusted 3PL can really put your mind at ease.

We help move more than 1,400 LTL shipments every day, and our experienced shipper reps have seen and overcome it all.

Talk to a specialist today and find out how we can make LTL shipping easier, more efficient and pain-free for you.

Talk to a Specialist