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May 7, 2024
Freight terms all shippers should know
“Is that inbound load live or drop?” “Do you need a reefer or will a dry van work?” Every industry has its own lingo but few have the level of shorthand and way of speaking as the freight industry.

To someone new to shipping, it can be confusing. That’s why understanding logistics terminology is crucial for smooth operations. Familiarizing yourself with common freight terms ensures effective communication so you get exactly what you need. We’ve outlined some of the most common shipping terms you’ll hear when moving cargo.

Truckload vs. less-than-truckload
The two common methods for transporting goods are truckload (TL) and less-than-truckload (LTL). Truckload shipping dedicates an entire truck and trailer to a single shipment, even if it isn’t filled to the brim. Shipments are typically used when goods are going to a single destination and offer a range of benefits, including less touchpoints and faster delivery.

Less-than-truckload shipping combines freight from multiple shippers in one trailer, with shippers paying for the space they need. It works well for smaller shipments, such as a few pallets to a few thousand pounds.

Drop and hook vs. live loading
The key difference between drop and hook and live loads is in how they are loaded or unloaded. With drop and hook loads, trailers are preloaded. When drivers arrive, they unhook one trailer (drop it) and connect to a trailer that is ready to go (hook it). The incoming trailer can be unloaded whenever it is convenient for the receiving facility.

With live load/unload, drivers stay attached to the trailer they are hauling and wait while freight is moved. Live loads require the driver to be present during the entire process, which takes more time for drivers than drop and hook. Drop and hook loads can increase efficiency and help warehouses or distribution centers manage high-volume shipments effectively.

Short-haul vs. long-haul
Short-haul and long-haul loads both get freight from point A to Point B. The difference between the two largely comes down to distance. Short-haul freight generally travels 250 miles or less, while long-haul loads are typically considered those that travel more than 250 miles.

Long-haul shipments play a critical role in freight movement within large-scale logistics operations and usually require different equipment than short hauls. For example, long-haul loads often keep drivers away from home for days or weeks at a time, so equipment has a sleeper berth where drivers can rest. Sometimes carriers use a team of drivers to share different legs of the transit. Short-haul loads tend to be local or regional, so drivers return home much more frequently. They may also utilize equipment that is better suited to urban or suburban deliveries.

Shipper vs. carrier vs. freight broker
Multiple parties are involved in every shipment and each is essential in getting goods where they are going. The shipper, sometimes called the consignor, is the person or company that owns the products being transported. Carriers are the providers that move the freight, such as trucking companies.

Shippers can book directly with carriers, or they can turn to freight brokers, which are specialists with access to carrier networks. Freight brokers match shippers with carriers, negotiate rates, and procure their services. Which type of broker you choose depends on several factors such as the volume and frequency of your shipments, the value of goods you are transporting, if you need live load/unload or a drop trailer, and if you have the same or new origins and destinations.

Intermodal vs. trucking only
Technically speaking, intermodal freight involves two or more modes of transportation, such as trucks, trains, planes, and ships, within a single journey to transport goods from origin to destination. Within the industry, it oftentimes refers to the moving of freight by train with the support of trucking to load and unload the shipments (known as drayage).

Using the definitions above, you can think of intermodal as the combination of long-haul (trains) and short-haul (trucks). Goods are usually moved within a container that can be moved from mode to mode without having to unload and reload products.

Freight warehousing
All of your freight has to be stored somewhere and warehouses are an important link in the supply chain. Freight warehousing refers to facilities that receive, store, and distribute products when they are needed. Some warehouses can facilitate cross-docking in which freight is unloaded from one trailer then re-loaded for the next leg of their journey with little or no storage in between.

You might also hear some warehouses referred to as “3PLs” – third-party logistics providers. These are warehouses that specialize in fulfillment services such as storing inventory, processing orders, and shipping.

Trailer types
One of the most common types of trailers seen on highways is the dry van trailer. These enclosed trailers are versatile and keep products protected and secured. The most common size is 53 feet.

Other trailer types you might come across include:

- Refrigerated trailers: Known as reefers, refrigerated trailers are insulated and have a cooling system to haul goods that require a controlled temperature.
- Flatbed trailers: These feature an open design and a flat, level trailer without any sides or roof. They're used for bulky, oddly shaped cargo.
- Box trucks: Smaller than a dry van trailer but larger than a cargo van, box trucks can carry relatively large loads, but their more compact size gives them greater mobility, especially for deliveries in congested areas.
- Intermodal containers: Containers are similar to dry vans but don't have wheels. Instead, they can be loaded on a rail car, stacked on a ship, or attached to a chassis to be moved by truck.

Keep learning
Like learning any new language, “speaking freight” takes some time. Check out our Tips for Shipper page to keep your education going. If you’re ready to get shipping today, create your Amazon Freight account and starting quoting loads immediately. You can tap into our more than 50,000 dry vans and the safe and reliable Amazon network.
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