10 Most Commonly Asked Freight Shipping Questions

Posted by Paige Brooks on April 4, 2018 - 8:19 AM
Semi-truck transporting freight

What you need to know about shipping freight

The movement of freight seems simple to a consumer — they order something, and a short time later it arrives. But, those who work in the shipping industry know the process is a little more complex. How one shipment is packaged may not be safe for another, and the type of equipment required for one may differ from another (e.g. an oversized shipment needs a flatbed while pharmaceuticals may need temperature controlled). Understanding basic shipping information can help simplify this multifaceted process. Take a look at our list of frequently asked questions to learn about product packaging, equipment types, transit times, rates and more.  

10 shipping questions

  1. What’s the difference between less-than-truckload and truckload?
    The primary differences between less-than-truckload (LTL) and truckload (TL) shipments are the amount of space they occupy in a trailer and how they’re transported.

    LTL freight is larger than parcel but doesn’t fill an entire trailer (typically less than 15,000 lbs.). Basically, several smaller shipments are combined to fill an entire 28-foot pup trailer. Rates are based on space used, weight, freight class, accessorials, and where it’s traveling from and to — and rates are often pre-established. LTL shipments travel through a “hub and spoke” network (making multiple stops at service centers between the shipper and consignee). Customers who ship LTL like that it’s cost effective and allows for flexibility. 

    Truckload freight shipments are larger than LTL, taking up all or most of the space on a truck (typically 15,000 to 45,000+ pounds). Contract carriers typically transport truckload shipments, and rates are negotiated on a per-load basis (determined by the market, supply and demand). Because loads are not consolidated and the carrier picks up and drives straight to the destination, transit times are often faster. Truckload offerings include equipment like 53-foot dry vans, flatbeds, refrigerated units, intermodal containers and other specialized equipment. 
  2. What’s the difference between parcel and freight?
    Parcel shipments are small, lightweight, individually packaged and labeled, and they typically weigh 75 pounds or less. However, most parcel carriers allow shipments of up to 150 pounds and 165” in length + girth. Freight, on the other hand, is any shipment that weighs more than 150 pounds and is normally boxed, palletized or crated.
  3. How are shipping rates determined?
    Figuring out shipping rates can be complex. LTL prices are based on the NMFC system (more on that in Question 4), and truckload prices fluctuate with the market. Expedite rates also are determined differently based on how soon you need the freight to arrive. Regardless of what you’re shipping, the following factors help determine the rate:
    • Commodity (used to find class for LTL)
    • Mode of transportation (ground, air, sea or rail)
    • Shipment dimensions (cubic footage)
    • Weight
    • Origin and destination  
    • Seasonality

Get an online quote to estimate how much it will cost to ship your goods.

  1. What is an NMFC number?
    The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) created the National Motor Freight Classification® (NMFC) system to make LTL shipping easier. NMFC numbers identify the commodity and categorize it into classes ranging from 50 to 500. Classes are based on density, handling, stowability and liability. By grouping freight, the NMFTA can provide standard rates from which shippers and carriers can negotiate. This helps keep pricing fair and rates consistent. Use this lookup tool to determine the NMFC number for your freight.
  2. What is a Bill of Lading?
    A Bill of Lading (BoL) is a form that details the journey of a shipment. It identifies the commodity, serves as a receipt, and functions as a legally binding contract between the carrier and shipper. A BoL is necessary before freight pick up and transportation. You can be prepared by learning more about bills of lading including what information is required.
  3. What are accessorial fees?
    Accessorial fees are extra charges a customer incurs that exceed standard shipping charge. They are designed to help offset additional costs associated with some shipping situations. For example, if a school orders desks and chairs but doesn’t have a dock for unloading, a lift gate may be required. Lift gates go beyond normal delivery procedures, so it would be considered an accessorial charge. Other common accessorial charges include oversized items, frequent stop offs, residential deliveries and storage. 
  4. What types of equipment transport freight?
    Freight travels by a variety of modes — ground, rail, ocean and air. The equipment that’s used for each of these modes depends on customer requirements and what and where you’re shipping. Take a look at this infographic to see the variety of transportation options available.
  5. How long does it take to ship freight?
    The time it takes for a shipment to arrive depends on where it’s going, how it’s moving and the services that are selected. It can arrive as soon as the same day or as late as weeks out. For example, international shipments traveling by air will arrive much quicker than those traveling via ocean shipping. And, a ground expedite shipment would travel quicker than a standard LTL shipment. Use the transit time calculator to view our average LTL transit times within North America, or call 800-610-5544 to calculate transit times outside of North America.
  1. What’s the best way to package products?
    How freight is packaged varies based on what it is and the equipment hauling it. Should you use pallets, crates or cardboard boxes? Does it need to travel in a temperature-controlled setting, or can it be in a dry van? Planning the best way to move your freight plays a crucial role in how safely it travels, and proper packaging reduces the likelihood of damage. You can refer to the following blog posts for tips on packing certain types of shipments, or contact ArcBest customer solutions for a review of your freight shipping needs.
  2. What carrier should I use?  
    Choosing the right carrier is a critical part of the shipping process. To ensure your freight reaches its destination quickly and safely, choose one that’s reputable, reliable and offers the services and capacity you need. ArcBest® offers a diverse portfolio of logistics solutions to meet the needs of customers across the supply chain. To learn more about how ArcBest can help fulfill your transportation and logistics needs, contact us at 800-610-5544.

What other questions do you have?

Have additional questions about shipping freight? Be sure to leave a comment below.