The Ultimate Freight Guide

What is Freight?

Freight is defined as commercial goods transported via air, sea, or land. Usage of the word freight in English literature extends as far back as the 1400s. It became significantly more popular in the 1700s when European nations greatly expanded their global empires, most notably England, Spain, and the Netherlands.

Today freight refers to larger quantities of goods that exceed the normal parcel size, or weight, handled by common carriers. Goods are ordered into boxes, loaded on pallets, and moved using various modes of transportation.

Freight vs. Parcel

Parcels are small, lightweight, and individual shipments handled by common carriers such as the US Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx. Individual shippers can drop off these shipments at numerous locations at their convenience and pricing is determined by dimensional weight or the actual weight. Commercial shippers will typically have a daily pickup arranged with carriers such as UPS or FedEx. FedEx and UPS limit parcel shipments to 150 lbs. and 165" in length plus girth. Anything that exceeds this sizing becomes a freight shipment.

Freight pricing is determined on a number of factors including route distance, fuel costs, density, weight, freight class, and a multitude of other factors. Shipments are arranged with a carrier. Arrangements include how the freight is to be loaded, how long it will take in transport, if a lift gate is needed, and other necessary pieces of information to facilitate the delivery. Click here to get instant freight quotes.

Parcel Restrictions by Carrier

Carrier Max. Weight Max. Length Max. Length + girth Oversize Fees
uShip None None None None
USPS 70 lbs. 108 in. 130 in. Almost triple rate for oversized or overweight package
UPS 150 lbs. 108 in. 165 in. $50 for over maximum weight; $50 for over maximim length; $50 for over maximum length + girth
FedEx 150 lbs. 119 in. 165 in. $55 oversize surcharge once length exceeds 108 in.; $55 surcharge if length + girth exceeds 130
DHL 150 lbs. 108 in. 165 in. $50 oversize service fee if any dimension exceeds 48 in.; $50 overnight packapge fee for over 150 lbs.

Types of Freight and Freight Modes

Truckload vs LTL vs Partial TL Freight

LTL (Less Than Truckload)

LTL freight includes freight shipments that do not completely occupy an entire truck trailer. Most freight trailers on the road today are 8’ – 8.5’ wide, 12.5’ – 13.5’ high, and 40’ – 53’ long. This allows carriers to load several LTL shipments into a single truck and service multiple customers and destinations. LTL freight shipments typically weigh between 200 and 10,000 lbs. Common LTL carriers include Con-way, Old Dominion Freight Lines, YRC Freight, FedEx Freight, and many more. Click here to get quotes on LTL shipments.

Partial Truckload

Partial truckload shipments are shipments that don’t completely fill the truck, but tend to remain on a single truck similar to full truckload shipments. As a result, they are subjected to less handling than LTL shipments. Average partial truckload shipments fall between LTL and FTL sizes and weight. The core difference between LTL and Partial TL is the way it is transported rather than its size or weight.

FTL (Full Truckload)

Truckload freight includes all freight shipments that solely occupy a trailer. These are large volume or weight shipments from point to point. Weight limits depend on the weight of the vehicle and local laws, but typically are around 34,000 – 45,000 lbs. in the US. The most typical truckload shipments are transported via dry van, flatbed, and refrigerated trailers. Click here to get quotes on FTL shipments.

Sea Freight Containers

Air Freight

Air freight is freight transported via cargo plane. Goods are transported first to the origin airport then are flown to the destination airport where they are shipped via truck to a final destination. This is the fastest method of delivering goods between two destinations but also one of the costliest. Air freight can transport items from one port to another in a matter of days rather than weeks for sea freight. There are some limitations to air freight, such as hazardous materials and other prohibited cargo.

Sea Freight / Ocean Freight

Ocean freight is freight transported via ship from port to port. Shipments are organized into two primary categories; FCL (full container load) and LCL (less than container load). Containers are typically 20’, 40’, or 53’ in length. Providers often offer expedited and economy options depending on your needs. An obvious limit to sea based freight is the proximity to a serviceable port, but is overcome by using traditional land based transportation to get goods to, and from, ports.

Rail Freight

Rail freight consists of goods carried via rail car over land. Shipments are arranged from individual rail cars to entire trains depending on the needs of the shipper. Individual rail car shipments can be carried by a wide array of specialty rail cars such as triple decker car carriers, intermodal cars, and ore cars. Trains can only carry goods where there are tracks. However, trucks are used to transport freight to and from railways.

Intermodal Freight

Intermodal freight is any combination of transportation modes; specifically truck, train, ship, and plane. Intermodal allows shipments to maximize the benefits of each mode to ensure the most economical and timely outcome. Intermodal also can take a single origin shipment and deliver it to multiple destinations. Limitations of intermodal include several handling events which can result in breakage along with specific organization requirements of each mode.

Common Truck Freight & Trailer Types

Heavy Equipment Specialized Trailer

Dry Van Freight

Dry van trailers are covered trailers with a flat deck. Van trailers are the most common type of trailer utilized for freight transportation in the US. The box covers the load from the elements and helps to secure the load.

Refrigerated (Reefer) Freight

Refrigerated freight includes shipments that require a temperature regulated trailer. Refrigerated trailers have a large capacity climate control unit mounted on the front of the trailer and run off of a secondary fuel supply. The trailers can be partitioned for zoned temperature control. Refrigerated shipments generally consist of perishable food stuffs, medical supplies, or chemicals.

Oversized Freight

Oversized freight is any load that exceeds the standard legal size and/or weight limits for a particular route. In most US states this includes loads that are wider than 8’ 6" or taller than 13’ 6". Loads that are excessively long (combination length) or heavy (total or per axle) also fall into the oversized category. The regulations can vary state by state. Plus, bridges and roadways also have limitations that must be addressed. As a result, careful consideration is given to planning specific routes. As an additional safety measure the truck is accompanied by one or multiple pilot cars that act to warn motorists, control the transportation, and ensure route safety.

Flatbed Freight

Flatbed freight is any load that is put onto a flatbed trailer. Flatbed loads need to be secured by the driver and are open to the elements. Flatbeds, due to their open nature, allow certain loads, such as large generators, to be loaded with greater speed and safety since a crane can be used rather than a forklift. They can also be loaded from both sides and can accommodate full width loads. Flatbeds are very common in the US trucking industry and widely used for construction and industrial loads.

Lowboy Freight

Lowboy loads are very similar to flatbed loads. Lowboy trailers have a much lower deck height which effectively lowers the total height of the load to avoid falling into oversized load restrictions. This allows taller loads to be transported without the extra costs and safety issues of an oversized load.

Freight Class

National Motor Freight Classification Book

The National Motor Freight Classification®, or NMFC® for short, is a system applied to cargo to allow the LTL industry to quickly organize, price, and understand shipments. The rating is known industry wide as freight class. There are 18 classes, ranging from Class 50 to Class 500. These classes are determined by four characteristics:

  1. Density
  2. Handling
  3. Stowability
  4. Liability / Value

Freight Density

Freight density is the ratio of weight to volume expressed in per cubic foot (pcf) measurements. Shipments that take up a lot of space for their weight will be in a higher freight class and generally cost more to ship. Shipments that are heavy and compact will be in a lower freight class and generally less expensive to ship. The Commodity Classification Standards Board, or CCSB, samples numerous shipments for both the pcf density and the frequency of that particular density being shipped. For example, night lights packaged in boxes range in density between 2.17 to 22.50 pcf, with an average density of 7.09 pcf according to CCSB research. As you can see from the graph below the vast majority of densities were between 4 and 10 pcf.

Freight Density Frequency Distribution Graph

The classification example, night lights, and specific data in this section including density measurements, frequency distribution, and specific findings are courtesy of the ©NMFTA Commodity Classification Standards Board and used with their permission. Source: ©NMFTA – Commodity Classification Standards Board – Docket 2015-2 Sbj. 10, Addendum

Handling

Commodities that require special handling will typically have higher freight classes. Handling takes into account how normal the typical handling requirements are for a particular good. Goods that are tendered into typical packages such as boxes or crates loaded onto pallet skids, aren’t fragile or drop sensitive, will get lower freight class ratings compared to more difficult shipments. For our example above, night lights are tendered into boxes and placed onto pallets.

Stowability

Stowability is measured by how easily other freight can be stored adjacent or on top of the packaged goods. Items that are very durable or packaged in rigid load-bearing containers will earn lower freight class ratings than those that cannot be stacked or otherwise prohibit additional capacity from being utilized. Our example of night lights, when tendered in boxes, creates a flat load-bearing surface for other freight to be stacked onto.

Liability

Liability is a measurement of risk. Risk typically involves shipment value (expressed per pound), susceptibility to damage, and the associated claim rates reported by carriers for that particular good. Additional risk factors include commodities that are perishable, hazardous, or unusually susceptible to theft. Overall, all carriers reported zero claims with night lights.

Freight Class - Subject to Change

The CCSB decided to change the freight class of night lights from 85 to 125. While there were zero claims and no significant stowability or handling issues, the CCSB decided to make the change based on their analysis of shipment density.

(CCSB policy calls for establishing or amending classification provisions to reflect a commodity’s known transportation characteristics. Information of record indicates that nightlights range in density from 2.17 to 22.50 pcf, with an average density of 7.09 pcf, and no unusual or significant handling, stowability or liability characteristics. As shown in the frequency distribution above, the preponderance of density figures are concentrated within a narrow range around the overall average. An average density of 7.09 pcf is generally associated with a class 125 under CCSB density guidelines, which call for a minimum average density of 7 pcf. This proposal would assign item 109880 class 125 in lieu of the current class 85.)

Source: ©NMFTA - CCSB Docket 2015-2, Subject 10 – Analysis (with Addendum Changes)

Examples of Freight Class for Various Goods

Shipment Items Class Example Reasons for Class
Bulk Steel Nuts & Bolts 50 Heavy, Low Value – High PCF
Used Auto Engines 85 Heavy, Moderate Value – High PCF
Incense 100 Densely Packaged, Low Value – Moderate PCF
15’ Steel Lamp Posts 125 Length Affects Handling and Stowability
Metal Cabinets 150 Low Cost, Stackable – Moderate PCF
Fortune Cookies 200 Low Cost, Densely Packaged – Moderate PCF
Skeletons 200 High Value – Moderate PCF
Sheet Metal Housings 250 Easily Damaged, Low Cost – Low PCF
Bomb Sights 300 Easily Damaged, High Value – Low PCF
Cell Phones 300 Easily Damaged, High Value – Low PCF
Aluminum Pontoons 400 Large – Very Low PCF
Bags of Potato Chips 400 Very Low PCF
Pyroxylin Plastic Film 500 Extremely Volatile, Fire Hazard – Low PCF

Note: The examples above are only for conceptual understanding. Freight class varies significantly depending on the specifics of shipments. Packaging, valuations, and per-shipment density all affect the freight class of items. The reasons for the classification are the expressed opinion of uShip, and not the CCSB.

Freight Price Invoice

Standard Freight Pricing

LTL Freight pricing involves hundreds of factors including freight class, shipment density, shipment weight, travel distance, travel speed, fuel costs, lane balances, handling costs, how fast it has to get there, and what accommodations need to be made to facilitate all of the above. Here are some general trends in freight pricing by factor:

Freight Class – The higher the freight class, the higher the price per pound.

Freight Density – The higher the density, the lower the price per pound.

Travel Distance – The longer the distance, the higher the cost. Especially if these areas do not match well with the transporters operational areas.

Travel Speed – LTL carriers offer time definite and guaranteed services and assess a premium charge for such services.

Lane Balances – LTL carriers do not necessarily operate trucks that are fully loaded in all directions. Commonly, consumption states such as Florida are priced higher for inbound shipments.

Fuel Costs – The higher the cost of fuel, the higher the cost. This will show up as a fuel surcharge. Be aware that certain states will have higher fuel costs, such as CA, due to increased taxation. Carriers typically charge a fuel surcharge based on the price of diesel fuel for a given week.

Shipment Weight – For a single pallet price decreases to a certain point, but then will begin to increase as you near load limits. Precursory element in freight class and density.

Shipment Timeframe – Fast delivery times may necessitate an expedited or express service which will increase prices.

Special Needs – Deliveries that require a lift gate, limited access, residential delivery, refrigeration, hazmat, and other special requirements will incur extra fees and charges. Limited access refers to a location that has a controlled entrance or limited suitability, such as a military base.

These are the basics that go into determining freight pricing. Each individual carrier will have their own methods and formulas for determining pricing. Even two similar shipments can get two wildly different quotes based on which carrier places the bid and how well that shipment aligns with the carrier.

DIM Pricing – Dimensional Weight Pricing

There is a growing usage of dimensional weight pricing methods. Also known as DIM pricing, the price of the shipment is determined based on how much volume the shipment occupies rather than its gross weight. DIM pricing is also known as volumetric weight, density-based, or cubed weight pricing.

DIM pricing takes the length, width, and height of a shipment to determine shipping volume. The volume is then divided by a number derived from a minimum density chosen by the carrier. The result is the theoretical weight of the shipment. If your shipment is beneath this weight, you will be charged using the theoretical weight. If your shipment weighs more than the theoretical weight, you will be billed on the actual weight. DIM pricing is standard in parcel shipping with FedEx and UPS along with international and air freight shipping.

DIM pricing thus affects high volume, low weight shipments (low density) the most. However, this can also be respective of freight class. For some carriers each freight class will have a base density that will be used to determine the theoretical weight. Here is a chart of pcf per freight class used to determine dimensional weight factors for an example carrier.

Minimum Density (PCF) per Freight Class
Class 70 15 PCF Class 125 6 PCF Class 250 2 PCF
Class 85 12 PCF Class 150 5 PCF Class 300 1 PCF
Class 92.5 10 PCF Class 175 4 PCF Class 400 1 PCF
Class 100 8 PCF Class 200 3 PCF Class 500 1 PCF

One thing to note is that there is no standardization amongst carriers in regards to determining DIM freight prices. Some carriers have very complex methods that involve calculating a theoretical volume based on a minimum density at its freight class. That volume is then used to determine a dimensional weight which is then used to price the load. Other carriers rely on simplified versions of DIM pricing to ensure profitability for affected loads.

Standard vs. DIM Quotes for Various Weights for a Single Pallet Shipment

Dimensional vs Standard Freight Pricing Graph

Carrier Rules Tariff

Carriers will outline all of their charges and conditions for their services in their rules tariff document. This is a very good document to refer to when you have questions about your carrier’s documents, fee structure, or price determinations. It will cover many things such as minimum charges, limited access charges, reship fees, inside delivery services, linear foot and minimum cubic capacity rules, claims process, and more.

Limitations of Liability

Carriers will also outline the terms of liability to define culpability. These guidelines and rules can be found on a limitations of liability document provided by the carrier.

Stacked Pallets in a Warehouse

Prepare Your Shipment

Shipping Checklist

  1. Inventory Your Shipment
  2. Properly Package Your Shipment
  3. Weigh & Measure Your Shipment
  4. Get Instant Bids or List on uShip
  5. Pick a Freight Carrier
  6. Get a Bill of Lading
  7. Arrange Pick-Up
  8. Track Your Shipment
  9. Confirm Receipt and Delivery

Inventory Your Shipment

The first step is to determine what exactly you are going to be putting into the shipment. This is usually a no-brainer because it will consist of goods that were ordered by a customer, inbound materials to your company, or simply items you need to get from point A to point B in your supply chain. The contents of your shipment must be listed on a Bill of Lading which will be covered soon.

It is also recommended that you append a value to the goods for insurance reasons and document that value in the inventory, or at minimum, document it. Values can be market price, appraised value, or cost to replace valuations. Typically the insurance will specify which value is used.

Properly Package Your Shipment

Properly packaging your shipment relies on what exactly you are shipping, but the concept remains the same throughout. You want to follow these four guidelines.

It is also recommended that you append a value to the goods for insurance reasons and document that value in the inventory, or at minimum, document it. Values can be market price, appraised value, or cost to replace valuations. Typically the insurance will specify which value is used.

  1. Make it Dense and Compact
  2. Make it Durable and Completely Protected
  3. Consider Stowability
  4. Make Sure it is Easily Handled
Properly Stacked Freight Pallet Example

Make It Dense and Compact

Reducing the overall volume of the shipment is advantageous for numerous reasons. Best of all, you can get better rates for many shipments with a higher freight density (lower freight class rating). The goal here is to increase the pounds per cubic foot (pcf) of the shipment to allow it to fall into a more preferable freight class.

Palletized shipments that are pyramided or loaded so that they cannot be stacked upon or take an inappropriate amount of space will likely result in higher charges.

Pallets that have boxes over-hanging can be easily damaged during loading and unloading processes.

Make it Durable and Completely Protected

LTL shipments will be transferred from trailer to trailer several times across a shipping dock. Shipments on pallets, or crated, will be handled with a forklift. Shipments will be exposed to 4 potential sources of damage. They are …

  1. Compressive Load
  2. Shock / Impact
  3. Vibration
  4. Ambient Conditions

Compressive Load

This is a downward pressure from weight. Packaging must resist all static loads from the weight of the materials being shipped and any loads from shipments stacked on top of it. Avoid damage from compressive loads by using boxes and pallets that have a load bearing capacity considerably higher than your shipment requires, and follow best practices for packing your shipment.

Shock

Also known as impact loading, this is any instantaneous force the packaging encounters during transport. This can be the trailer dropping off of a curb, or it can be a forklift swinging the load into an object. Avoid damage from shock by properly insulating goods in force dampening materials (foam, dunnage, etc.) and using edge guards.

Vibration

Vibratory loads are constantly in play while travelling down the road. They can greatly vary in frequency and strength. Avoid damage from vibration by properly isolating and dampening goods within their containers. Denser materials will transmit more vibratory force, so opt for a lower density foam or lower durometer rubber.

Note: Liquid containers should be either full or empty to maximize stability. A half-filled container subjects the packaging restraints to significantly higher forces because of the fluid slapping into the sides of the container. For large containers of fluid, consider internal baffles or foam to limit this movement.

Ambient Conditions

On the road the temperatures and humidity in the trailer vary considerably. Common trailer conditions range from 0° F to 150° F and relative humidity as high as 100%. Sea freight is exposed to a corrosive saltwater environment which can corrode unprotected metal. Air freight in an unregulated cargo hold will experience a considerably lower pressure environment of around 8.0 PSI absolute along with cool temperatures around 30 - 40° F. The low pressure can cause containers to develop leaks and other non-standard issues with other modes.

Size and Weight of the Shipment

The limits on the size and weight of the shipment will be set by the carrier. They will set limits on per skid or pallet weight, total shipment weight, maximum dimensions, and more. Here’s a range from some of our carriers.

Specification Limit
Handling Units Pallets, Crates, etc.
Pallet Weight 1,500 – 3,500 Lbs.
Total Shipment Weight 9,000 – 20,000 Lbs.
Unit Length 48"
Unit Width 48"
Unit Height 70 - 96"

Other carriers may be very specific in the types, weights, and units of freight that they will carry. It is wise to always check ahead to avoid fees and misunderstandings.

Choosing the Right Pallet

Wooden pallets come in various types. The most widely used wood pallet is the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, or GMA, pallet. It, along with 5 other models, are approved by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO. These models are described in ISO Standard 6780.

Dimensions (Standard) Dimensions (Metric) Wasted Floor Space1 Common Usage
40.00" x 48.00" 1016 x 1219mm 3.7% North America
39.37" x 47.24" 1000 x 1200mm 6.7% Europe & Asia
45.90" x 45.90" 1165 x 1165mm 8.1% Australia
42.00" x 42.00" 1067 x 1067mm 11.5% Worldwide
43.30" x 43.30" 1100 x 1100mm 14.0% Asia
31.50" x 47.24" 800 x 1200mm 15.2% Europe
1Wasted floor space based on 20 pallets loaded in a 40 ft. ISO container.

Example GMA Wood Pallet with Dimensions

The key here is that the pallet easily accepts a set of forks from two directions.

Pallets also can be constructed of other materials. Plastic pallets that have openings for forks and trucks are also recommended for usage. These are more durable and easy to reuse. For heavier loads, a galvanized steel or aluminum pallet can be used. Metal pallets also are fireproof and extremely durable compared to traditional wood pallets which can save you money over time.

Weight of Pallets made of Various Materials

One thing to be aware of is the weight of particular pallets. This can add up considerably for larger volume loads.

Pallet - (W x L) Mat. 1 Pallet 10 Pallets 20 Pallets
40" x 48" Recycled Wood 40 lbs. (18.2 kgs) 400 lbs. (182 kgs) 800 lbs. (364 kgs)
40" x 48" Light Plastic 14 lbs. (6.4 kgs) 800 lbs. (364 kgs) 280 lbs. (128 kgs)
40" x 48" Aluminum 48 lbs. (21.8 kgs) 480 lbs. (218 kgs) 960 lbs. (436 kgs)
40" x 48" Galv. Steel 66 lbs. (30 kgs) 660 lbs. (300 kgs) 1320 lbs. (600 kgs)

Proper Stacking and Orientation of Boxes on a Pallet

The next step is to properly orient and stack your freight onto the pallet. Improperly stacking the boxes will reduce the strength of the stack and increase the chances of damage while in transit.

To get the most strength out of the stacked boxes you want to have all the edges line up rather than overlap. This is easy to achieve by stacking the boxes on top of each other in the same orientation.

Proper Box Alignment for Palletized Freight Shipments

Overlapping the boxes will reduce the compressive load bearing capacity of the underlying boxes by up to 50%. The boxes also should not extend past the edge of the pallet. Even extending half an inch outward will reduce the compressive load bearing capacity by 33% and increase the likelihood of damage.

Various Types and Strengths of Boxes

Test Rating Per Pallet Weight2 Recommended Max Weight
32 ECT Lightweight Single Wall Corrugated 38 lbs. 30 lbs.
200# Single Wall Corrugated 42 lbs. 40 lbs.
275# Single Wall Corrugated 48 lbs. 65 lbs.
275# Double Wall Corrugated 72 lbs. 80 lbs.
500# Double Wall Corrugated 108 lbs. 140 lbs.
2Weight refers to (20) 20" x 20" x 12" boxes (1 Avg. Pallet Worth)

One thing to keep in mind when you order boxes is the weight of the boxes that will be stacked on top of it. This can add up very quick for the bottom boxes which can cause them to collapse or be crushed. In transit, the vehicle will hit bumps which will increase the peak amount of compression load on the boxes. As such you should opt for a good margin in box strength.

Additional Packaging Materials you should Use

Labels – Clearly label all shipments for identification purposes. You should also label any packages that have special handling requirements such as tilt sensitive or fragile items. LTL shipments should have the carrier pro number attached or written on them to assist in identification should the shipping label be damaged or lost in transit.

Pads – You should consider using corrugated pads on the top and bottom of the packaged goods. This prevents the metal or plastic tie down straps from biting into the package and gives another layer to protect your items. Especially if it is a stackable shipment.

Anti-Slip Mats – To avoid items skidding or sliding during transport it’s wise to use anti-slip sheets between the pallet and goods.

Stretch Wrap – It is a good practice to completely wrap the palletized shipment using 60-ga, or better, stretch wrap. It will prevent shifting during transit and handling as well as provide a barrier against moisture. Moisture not only can damage or corrode items in your shipment, but it will also degrade the structural strength of your boxes.

Straps – For heavy items like barrels or a transmission you need to tie down the load with straps. Straps can be either thin metal or "unbreakable" plastic. They should be applied in a manner that covers all sides of the shipment. (Note: If straps are tendered to an LTL carrier, they will not be recoverable)

Pallet Bands – Also for limiting movement and tying together the palletized goods. These are essentially giant rubber bands. Affordable, reusable.

Edge Protectors – Use edge protectors to protect the corners of your shipment. These are also available as a "strap protector" to prevent straps from cutting into the boxes. Edge guards also help to solidify the shipment and prevent shifting.

Damage Indicators – If your package is particularly sensitive to heat, cold, humidity, impacts, and other sources of potential damage then you should consider using damage indicating devices.

Note: Filled boxes that have been stacked for longer than a week will begin to weaken. After one week the box loses 33% of its strength. After one year the box only has 50% of its original strength.

Stowability

Decide if your shipment will tolerate being stacked. If it is not stackable, then mark "Do Not Stack" on the package using labels on all four sides. Notate to the carrier that it is not stackable. The carrier may decide to charge more for an un-stackable shipment.

If it is capable of being stacked, you will want to make the top of the pallet as flat as possible. You’ll also want to take the additional weight into consideration when packaging the shipments.

Ease of Handling

Following the above guidelines will give you an easy to handle shipment. However, for non-palletized freight, aka loose freight, that requires special handling you will likely incur additional fees and expense. It should also be noted that a shipment that is easy to handle is less likely to be damaged.

How to Weigh and Measure a Freight Shipment

Weight

Put the entire load on the scale as it is to be shipped. This includes the pallet, skids, wrap, straps, and everything else. It is important to know the exact weight of your shipment to avoid re-weigh surcharges, handling problems, and to determine your expected costs. Standard freight bids are priced per cwt, or per hundred weight.

Dimensions

Length: Measure the longest side of your package, rounding to the nearest inch.

Girth: Measure the width of your package and multiply by two. Add this to the height of your package multiplied by two. (2W + 2H = Girth)

Cubic Size: Length x Width x Height

How to Measure Length, Height, Width, and Volume for Freight Shipments

What is a Bill of Lading, and Why Do I Need One?

A Bill of Lading (aka B/L, eB/L, or BoL) is legal document created by the shipping company (aka carrier) that outlines the shipment agreement. It is required before moving the shipment or transferring ownership of the goods to the buyer / destination. It will include the type, quantity, and destination of the goods. It acts as a title document for the goods themselves and can be used as a financial security, similar to escrow, to ensure proper actions by all parties involved. Here are some key points:

  • Acts as Title of the Cargo
  • Acts as a Contract of Shipping Terms between Shipper and Carrier
  • Acts as Proof of Receipt

Suppose you need to move a load of ball bearings from Tulsa, Okla. to El Paso, Texas. AA Transporters, the company you hired to move the load, would provide you a Bill of Lading detailing the terms of the shipment. Once the load was put on the truck the driver and your company representative would sign off on the bill of lading, releasing the title to the truck driver. The driver would then retain the document with the load while he/she transports it. Upon arrival the driver would have the end user (or buyer) sign off, thus releasing ownership of the goods to the buyer.

Here is an Example uShip Bill of Lading:

Example Bill of Lading

What are the Different Bill of Lading Types and Conditionals?

Straight Bill of Lading – The straight bill of lading is used when the shipper is delivering the goods directly to the buyer and has already been paid for the goods. Straight bills of lading are non-negotiable.

To Order Bill of Lading – The "to order" bill of lading is used when the goods will be shipped before the goods are sold to a buyer. It will still contain a destination, such as a storage facility, port, or transportation hub. These bills are negotiable, because they do not have a buyer or entity to take final possession of the goods. They can also be endorsed by the carrier which forms a "blank endorsed to order" bill of lading. Goods paid with credit are often marked to order of the issuing bank.

Clean vs. Claused – A clean bill of lading refers to goods that are in good condition prior to the shipment. A claused bill of lading includes goods that have incurred damage or spoilage. The damage will be notated on the bill of lading with a clause. A claused bill is sometimes referred to as a foul bill of lading. Be aware that there can be restrictions or rules regarding handling damaged freight from the carrier or a financially interested party (bank, buyer, etc.)

Waybills & CMRs

A waybill is a document that outlines the origin, destination, terms, conditions, and route of a shipment. It also will generally have the shipper and receiver’s information. There are a couple of different waybills, but waybills are not a replacement for a bill of lading. A waybill cannot act as a title for the goods.

A CMR note is a type of waybill utilized for European land freight. It is used in accordance to European Union regulations. Like a waybill it includes information about the carrier, origin, destination, terms, conditions, and route of the shipment. Also similarly to a waybill, it is not a title document. Other information on a CMR includes: description of goods and packaging, weight of the goods, and instructions for customs handling and duties.

How to Choose a Carrier

Freight Fail Afghanistan Edition How to avoid this when choosing a carrier.

As a shipper you need realistic solutions to your logistical needs. Here are some questions and tips to go through as you search for a carrier.

"Can this Carrier meet my logistical needs?"

Someone that has daily LTL and FTL shipment needs will require a carrier with a large enough fleet to support that demand. Are there enough trucks, can they fit my schedule, and can they handle any special requirements like hazmat or refrigeration? Does the carrier have good route coverage? Do they have facilities that can improve service? Are your routes cross country or regional? How well do they handle limited access?

Be clear upfront with your shipping frequency, routes, time frames, and details.

Note: The day of pick-up does not count towards the transit times.

"Can this Carrier ship my goods for a reasonable rate?"

Carriers each have their bread and butter. A carrier that is optimized to carry covered freight loads may charge higher rates for non-standard loads. One carrier may have great full truckload rates but may be higher on partial or LTL. Some carriers utilize DIM pricing which can heavily affect shippers needing to move lightweight, high volume goods. Don’t forget to also go over their surcharge and fee structure so you are aware of final costs. If Carrier X charges the same as Y, but Y ultimately might charge you a $150 fee for some of your limited access shipments, you know that X is the superior option for you.

"Can this Carrier ship my freight on time?"

Check the prior history of the carrier online to see how frequently they seem to miss delivery dates. Can this shipper flat out deliver my shipments on time? What can I expect to experience when a shipment deadline is missed? Is their customer service helpful or a waste of time? Do I know an effective account manager?

"Can I track my freight shipments?"

Some carriers offer the ability to track your shipment as it drives down the road. This gives you a good idea on where it is and how much further it needs to go to reach your destination. Tracking lets you have a better picture of the moving pieces.

"How safe is this company? How can I research carriers?"

You should absolutely do your due diligence in researching as much as you can about your potential carrier. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, has a searchable database known as SAFER. SAFER information can be pulled up using the carrier’s USDOT number, name, or MC/MX number. The database is driven in part by the Motor Carrier Management Information System, or MCMIS. The SAFER report contains numerous valuable insights about carriers including:

  • Detailed Contact and Business Information about the Carrier
  • Carrier’s Existing Operating Status with FMCSA
  • MC/MF/FF Number(s)
  • USDOT Number + State Carrier Number
  • Number of Drivers and Power Units (Trucks / Vehicles)
  • Operation Classification (e. g. "Authorized-For-Hire")
  • MCS-150 Form Date and Miles
  • Inspections of Equipment and Drivers in US & Canada (Including Failed with "OOS" Status)
  • Carrier Safety Rating and Operating Status
  • Hazmat Cargo Carried
  • Number of Fatalities / Injuries / Disabled Vehicles
  • Number of Violations for Drivers / Vehicles

Note: uShip provides SAFER data in the Carrier’s profile page. Simply click on their USDOT number and it will take you to the information.

Carrier Safety Rating Explained

The rating is a direct measure of the carrier’s adherence with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, aka FMCSR. Since October 1986 the safety rating was based off of two items. The first is the Safety Review which tests the Carrier’s knowledge of FMCSR regulations. The final check is an in-depth review of the motor carrier’s records. This is known as a Compliance Review and samples the carrier’s records to determine how well the carrier complied with FMCSR regulations. These samples will seek to check varying categories of drivers, trips, and vehicles. The Compliance Review can also zero in on problem areas with a detailed investigation. The compliance status is derived from the findings of the Compliance Review and will be rated on the following scale:

Satisfactory – Records indicate no evidence of substantial non-compliance with safety requirements.

Conditional – Records indicate that the carrier was out of compliance with one or more safety requirements.

Unsatisfactory – Records indicate evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.

Source: SAFER – FMCSA – Carrier Safety Rating Definition

Operating Status Explained

OUT-OF-SERVICE (OOS) – Carrier is under any type of out-of-service order and is not authorized to operate.

Inactive USDOT Number – Inactive per 49 CFR 390.19(b)(4)… Biennial update of MCS-150 data not completed.

AUTHORIZED FOR { } – This will list the specific operating authorities the carrier is allowed to operate.

NOT AUTHORIZED – Carrier does not have any operating authority and is not authorized to operate.

ACTIVE – Carrier is authorized to operate.

Carrier Insurance

Basic Liability Insurance – This is the mandatory motor carrier insurance. It covers damages the truck causes to other people and their property, namely bodily injury and property damage.

Physical Damage Insurance – This type of policy also covers damage incurred to the truck during the accident, or from events such as falling rocks. It is a more comprehensive policy that covers fire, theft, and more.

Motor Truck Cargo Insurance – This is a policy that covers the cargo the truck is hauling. There are some limits on what is covered depending on the insurer. Examples being live animals, contraband, and property not under a bill of lading. Loss can be due to collision, fire, or it just happens to fall off the back of the truck. Covered amounts vary depending on the terms of the insurer but can be up to the entire shipment value and other risk expenses.

Carrier Liability Insurance – The FMCSA requires freight carriers to provide this cargo coverage, but this is just the base requirement. The carrier liability is limited to 10 cents per pound, which is not going to cover the majority of shipments. The total carrier liability cannot exceed the invoice value of your shipment.

You should know up front that the carrier is covered and what that coverage will protect. Here’s the minimums from the FMCSA, along with more information about insurance. You can also look up a carrier’s insurance information here.

If you feel the minimums are insufficient, you can look into purchasing a 3rd party policy. uShip offers an optional cargo insurance policy for freight transported through our marketplace. Backed by Lloyd’s of London, this policy would cover the shipped goods on the truck. There are some restrictions, so research any policy along the way to ensure you are covered.

uShip Tips for Finding a Carrier

Cost vs. Value – Sometimes the cheapest carrier option is not always the best for your business. Compare the risks, service level, and the cost to arrive at the best value for your freight needs. Having a reliable company moving your freight counts for a lot. Less stress, less worry, and a reliable backbone.

Simplicity – How many moving pieces are needed to provide the level of support and service you need? Is this specific to the carrier or industry wide? If specific to the carrier, is the additional processing and handling risk tolerable given everything else? Remember, each time your shipment is handled is an opportunity for damage, routing errors, and incidentals, such as weather. Seek simplicity; short projected times with a carrier that has the least amount of interlining possible. Lastly, check the company’s on-time delivery rate, which should be above 90%.

Risk Aversion – Research the carrier’s driving records and claim rate. Combine those with the costs of sufficiently insuring the cargo. Include other risk factors such as delayed shipments, replacement costs of damaged goods, and other issues that not only can affect your bottom line, but also affect your company’s image and churn rates. "The truck driver fell asleep and plowed through a corn field" is not going to be a great solution to "Where’s my order? I needed it yesterday!" A reliable company should have a claims-to-damage rate of 1.5% or lower.

Vetting – Look up the USDOT and MC numbers. Also verify insurance data and any necessary hazmat or special qualifications. The only exceptions to this rules are freight brokers or freight forwarders. A freight broker or forwarder will only have a MC number. You can look up any company’s credentials by DOT number, MC number, or company name. Finally, take a close look at the freight carrier’s uShip profile to see customer-rated feedback and transaction history. Do they have a positive reputation among fellow transport companies and previous customers? Any reputable freight hauler should be able to provide positive references from previous customers. You may also want to look up the company on the Better Business Bureau website to see if any complaints have been lodged against them.

Contact

We hope you've learned more about freight and the freight process. More questions? Contact us at: [email protected].