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How to Ship Oversized Loads: Weigh Your Options for Heavy Haul Freight

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 and it’s probably going to need some extra care to get it from point A to point B.

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 oversized and overweight freight, from the measurements that matter to permits, equipment and more.

All About Oversized Loads


How Do You Know if You're Shipping an Oversized Load?

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

Provided you know your freight’s measurements (including length, width, height, and weight) precisely, this should be a straightforward question to answer.

Below, we’ll go walk you through what you need to know to answer that question for yourself, but an experienced oversized transportation provider can be a powerful ally here to help ensure your freight gets where it needs to go as efficiently as possible.


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 in transit must stay below 13’6” including the height of the trailer. States west of the Mississippi have a slightly more generous height limit of 14’.

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 any 48’ 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. However, different trailer types serve unique purposes and have different legal weight limitations.

Note that while heavy haul types of trailers like RGNs and double drops have lower legal weight limitations than others before permits are required, they can physically handle much more and are often the best option for hauling the heaviest freight.

See the guide to open deck equipment for the legal weight limits for different types of open deck trailers.

Pro tip: If you can provide them, accurate blueprints and/or spec sheets are a great way to help your provider ensure accuracy in quoting and equipment planning, as well as a smooth transit.


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 requiring heavy haul service.

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

  • Construction machinery
  • Manufacturing equipment
  • Structural steel
  • Large pipes
  • Tanks of all sizes
  • 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 Oversized or Overweight Shipment?

The good news is that the process for getting a quote and booking oversized loads or heavy haul services is not terribly different 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 an experienced 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 for an Oversized Load?

This will be directly influenced by the size and weight of your load as well as the loading/unloading process. 

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, which can mean using a trailer with a lower deck height if needed. For instance, if you’re able to book a step deck or double drop instead of a flatbed, you might be able to avoid dealing with oversize permits entirely.

You’ll also need to make sure that regardless of legal limitations that the trailer you’re sourcing is physically capable of supporting the weight of your freight in transit. This is generally a more important consideration for heavy haul shipments than any other dimension when planning out what type of equipment to use.

If your freight is not self-loading (like an excavator or any kind of drivable machinery) you may also need to book additional equipment such as a forklift or a crane for loading and unloading if they’re not already available on-site. If you’re renting this equipment for certain dates and times, make sure that you communicate that information upfront with your transportation provider so they’re aware and can help you avoid potential rescheduling expenses.

Again, an experienced provider will ask you the right questions and offer up appropriate solutions if you have any doubts about what it will take to move your unique shipment(s).


Do You Need an Escort?

Depending on how large or heavy your freight is, you might need more than just permits — you may require one or more civilian escorts to accompany your truck on its journey. Like permits, these are services the carrier will arrange, but it’s good to understand generally what they are and when and why they might be needed.

You can generally think of oversized loads 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, as well as a potential need for bucket trucks along the route (for moving power lines or other route obstructions), route surveys and/or bridge surveys. These are the most complex loads to coordinate as they have many moving parts and involve multiple entities. They’re often deemed “Super Loads” in states throughout the U.S.

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 have the necessary experience or the resources to coordinate all the moving pieces. 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 locking down the right carrier for the job.

What Are the Requirements for Pick-Up and Delivery?

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.

If your shipment is delayed 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. 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).

In short, prepare to be flexible where you can and prioritize communication above all else with your transportation provider.


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 from the start.

Doing so will ensure that your provider has all the information they need to orchestrate your 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 an oversized or 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 that 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.

Learn about the oversized freight services we offer and share your freight details with our specialists to get your next heavy haul load moving.

Ship Oversized Freight With Coyote