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How to Ship Oversized & Heavy Haul Freight: Weigh Your Options

Graphic of oversize and heavy haul truck with permits

Your business is moving to a new manufacturing plant.

That’s great! But how are you going to move all your machinery there?

Or you’re beginning to clear the land for a new housing development. That excavator has 4 wheels and a motor, but it can’t exactly drive itself to the worksite at 15 miles per hour.

It’s tall, it’s wide, it’s incredibly heavy. Maybe it can fit on a standard flatbed trailer, but it’s going to need some extra care.

Looks like you need to book a heavy haul load.

But what does that mean for you? Is there anything out of the ordinary that you need to do to get a quote, book your load and see it through to its destination? 

Here’s all you need to know about shipping oversize and overweight freight, from the measurements that matter to permits, equipment and more.


Is Your Freight Oversize or Overweight?

First things first: Does your freight actually qualify as over-dimensional or overweight?

Provided you know your measurements precisely, this should be a straightforward question to answer.

You will need to know all of your freight’s dimensions (as well as its weight) in order to set your heavy haul carrier up for success.

Pro Tip: It is absolutely essential to have accurate measurements when booking your heavy haul freight!

It is the single most important step for ensuring you book the correct equipment and secure the necessary permits and assistance.


For all freight in North America, the legal limit is 8’6” in width before oversized permits are required


This limit will vary by state and by equipment type. East of the Mississippi River, standard freight must stay below the 13’6” height of a dry van trailer.

For a standard flatbed trailer, this means anything over 8’6” in height is oversized; for a step deck, that number is 10’. However, in most Western states, an extra six inches of height is permitted.

See the guide to open deck equipment for the specific height limits for different types of open deck trailers.


In most U.S. states and Canadian provinces, freight can legally hang up to 5’ past the front or back edge of a 48’ flatbed trailer without being considered overlength. Beyond that, you will need a permit.


A standard flatbed trailer can hold a maximum of 48,000 lbs. of freight before it is deemed overweight. Other more complex trailers have different weight limits, often lower ones.

More details about these weight limits can also be found in our open deck equipment overview.


What Are Some Common Types of Heavy Haul Freight?

While pretty much anything can qualify if it’s large enough, there are some items that more commonly tip the scales into the heavy haul category.

You’re likely to need oversize or overweight permits if you’re moving:

  • Structural steel
  • Large pipes
  • Tanks of all sizes
  • Manufacturing equipment
  • Construction machinery
  • Aerial lift equipment
  • Turbines and turbine blades

Of course this list is not exhaustive, but it should help give you an idea of when you’re going to be looking for heavy haul capacity before you even take your measurements.


How Do You Book an Oversize or Overweight Shipment?

The good news is that the process for getting a quote and booking a load is not terribly different for oversized and overweight loads than it is for other open deck freight.

You just need to know the right people to ask.

As with any shipment, you have the option to go through an asset-based carrier or a third-party logistics provider (3PL). While there are asset carriers out there who will have the equipment and expertise you need to execute your heavy haul move, 3PLs really have a lot to offer here.

A good 3PL should have an experienced team dedicated to booking open deck loads. They’ve seen it all, and even if you don’t exactly know your needs (specific equipment, permits, escort requirements) they will.

And because the specialized equipment you may be looking for can be hard to find, it is a great help to have a 3PL casting a wide net on your behalf.

They’ll be able to comb through thousands of carriers to find just the right one for you.


What Are Permits? How Do You Get Them?

If your freight exceeds the volume or weight limits in any state it will be passing through, you will need permits from each state’s Department of Transportation to move it there.

However, there’s good news — it’s the carrier’s responsibility to secure these permits unless you note upfront that you’re willing to provide them. That means you’re not on the hook for contacting all of those agencies ahead of your shipment.

Here are some other important facts you should know about permits before you book your heavy haul load:

  • Permits cannot be issued for divisible loads. If you have two 30,000 pound items, for instance, you cannot load them onto the same trailer and get a permit for a 60,000 pound load; you’ll have to ship them separately.
  • The cost of permits differs from state to state; your carrier should be able to tell you what to expect for the entirety of your shipment.
  • Permits are nonrefundable, and they’re only valid for a specific period of time. If a load is canceled, delayed or extended beyond the permit’s expiration date, your carrier will need to reorder them.


What Equipment Do You Need to Book?

This will be directly influenced by the size of your load. 

Remember that 13’6” imaginary line (or 14’ west of the Mississippi) hovering above the top of your truck. If possible, you should try to keep your shipment below it.

If you’re able to book a step deck or double drop instead of a flatbed, for instance, you might be able to avoid dealing with oversize permits entirely.

If your freight is heavy enough, you may also need to book additional equipment such as a forklift or a crane for loading and unloading.

Your carrier should assist you with these, but keep in mind that they are often very in-demand during peak open deck season and may be tough to secure. And if you book them and miss your appointment with them, you’ll pay for it (see below).

Generally speaking, the more specialized your equipment is, the scarcer it will be to source — and the more additional costs your shipment will incur. However, this is absolutely not advice to try to fudge your details to secure cheaper equipment.

Be accurate, be open and be realistic about what your shipment will actually need to move.


Do You Need an Escort?

Some heavy haul loads are too complex to go it alone. Depending on the nature of your freight, you might need one or more civilian escorts to accompany your truck driver on its journey.

You can think of oversize loads as coming in three tiers depending on the extent of their escort needs.

  • Tier 1
    Only permits required, no escort. All carriers with open deck capacity should be willing to move these loads.
  • Tier 2
    Permits required and one civilian escort. This escort will alert other drivers on the road to the presence of an oversized load truck and can scout ahead to see if there is any road construction, accidents or other unexpected developments that may disrupt the route.
  • Tier 3
    Permits required and multiple escorts and/or a bucket truck. These are the most complex loads, often deemed “Super Loads” in states throughout the U.S. A bucket truck may be needed to move power lines along the way.

As your load moves up through these tiers, its cost will increase based on the scarcity of equipment that can handle it, the expense of the permits required, the cost of hiring escorts and additional expenses such as route surveys that may be necessary.

Your carrier market will also likely shrink as you move from Tier 1 to Tier 3, as not all carriers are willing to put up with the hassle involved. If your load is one of the more complex ones, be sure to start looking for quotes with plenty of lead time to give yourself the best chance of finding a carrier.


What Are the Requirements for Pick-Up and Delivery?

Atypical loads mean atypical pick-up and delivery expectations.

In general, this will work in your favor — everyone involved in moving a heavy haul load knows that it’s complicated, so timing is typically flexible.

However, once the parts are set in motion — a crane or a forklift is ordered, for instance — you absolutely need to hit your appointment.

These are expensive pieces of equipment that are difficult to secure, and you don’t want to have to rebook them (and their operators do not like having their time wasted either).

Likewise, if your shipment is slowed down in transit for any reason, communicate it immediately and clearly to your consignee so they can delay their crane rental a day or two if needed.


What’s the Biggest Piece of Advice to Remember?

We’ve said this before, but we’ll say it again — be 100% accurate and clear with your measurements at all times.

Doing so will ensure that your provider has all the information they need to orchestrate your complicated move.

Failing to do so can jeopardize the success of your shipment and create some extremely expensive issues to resolve.


Work With Coyote’s Open Deck Specialists for Your Most Demanding Loads

If you have a demanding heavy haul load and you know just what equipment you need to move it, we’ll be happy to source it for you.

And if your complex freight is keeping you up at night worried that you have no idea how you’re going to transport it, we can help with that too.

Talk to our open deck specialists today with all the information you have about your freight and we’ll take care of the rest and get it on its way.

Talk to a Specialist