LTL Shipping's Higher Risk

Many shippers have borderline shipments that could be transported LTL although the option of truckload is often cheaper and quicker. Now that truckload capacity is tight with little relief in sight, LTL is becoming more attractive as an option for some shippers. There are a couple of things shippers switching from truckload to LTL must keep in mind with the different mode of transport.

What is Different With LTL? (Part One) 

The first thing a shipper must consider when choosing LTL over truckload is to a great extent LTL often limits what carrier cargo liability is included with the transport. Many full truckload shippers are accustomed to many contract truckload carriers having at least $100,000USD of cargo insurance coverage included in the transport. Not so with LTL. LTL truckers offer cargo coverage based on the pound for the cargo they transport, and it isn’t much. Ask your LTL carrier what the ‘cents per pound’ is coverage included with your shipments.  This limited coverage leaves most LTL shippers holding the vast majority of the risk for damage and loss of their shipments.

What You Can Do

As a shipper, there are two things to help yourself limit your risk. The first option is to buy cargo insurance.  It’s not very expensive, and you can purchase it at companies like TJO Cargo (Shameless Plug) in an easy process. This option affords coverage designed for your (the shipper’s) interest and not the motor carrier. An added advantage is the insurance can be used no matter what legitimate commercial carrier you use.

The second way you can limit your liability is shop around for a 3PL that includes cargo insurance with all of the freight you ship with them. Some of the contingency policies held by brokers are not as comprehensive as you would like. Be sure to ask if their coverage operates like a carrier’s primary cargo coverage would. Also don’t be too timid to ask what the insurance covers, what it excludes, and what the deductibles are in writing. If the 3PL’s coverage is good, the advantage to working with them is there is no separate purchase to make to insure your freight. The disadvantage is the coverage isn’t portable for you to cover shipments not booked with that particular 3PL.

What is Different With LTL? (Part Two)

When shipping truckload your shipment is loaded to the truck, and the next time the shipment sees the light of day is at the destination for unloading. With long distance LTL, your freight is loaded to the truck, unloaded, loaded again, unloaded, and repeat as needed. Depending on the carrier, the origin, and destination, your freight may cross-dock as much as six times before it sees the destination. Sometimes the same carrier that picked up your freight won’t even be hauling your shipment the whole transit. Some LTL companies have ‘partner carriers’ they hand off freight to when they don’t have a presence in the area the freight has to go or move through.  LTL terminals are busy places. Freight handlers are trying to beat the clock to cross-dock freight quickly to make the next truck. The end to end process is not the most gentle experience your shipments will ever have.

What You Can Do

Look at the packaging you currently use for your truck-load shipments. Are you confident the packaging can hold up after your shipment has shipped six times? The solution starts from the ground up, literally. When you are shipping LTL, use ‘the good pallets’ with 4-way pallets being best. I know pallets cost money but collapsed pallets cost more money when they fail. The reason 4-way pallets are best is it allows the material handlers to pick up the pallet from any side. If the freight is not on a 4-way pallet, the forklift driver may be tempted to turn the pallet the ‘right way’ by catching a corner with a fork and pushing the pallet corner to turn it loosening pallet structure. The number of times your pallet of freight is handled raises in LTL shipping. Your pallet will be lifted, dropped, pushed, pulled, and bumped up against multiple times. Once a pallet collapses it comes apart and won’t support your freight and creates a hazard for those who handle it.

If you are shipping full cartons, be on your best behavior when it comes to loading the pallet and create a pattern that is tight with no carton overhang. Placing a flat empty piece of cardboard every couple of layers is a nice touch too, it helps to tie your cartons together. Ideally, your pallet should resemble a solid cube. Having a carton sticking out reduces the cartons stability and gives something for other freight to catch or crush. Once loaded on the pallet, don’t get cheap with the shrink wrap, use a pallet lid, even if cardboard is all you have, corner-beads, and use banding if you can. In addition to the packing list pouch, use a bar-coded pallet marker to tag at least one side and top of every pallet with the origin and destination name, address (including phone) numbers, the pallet number (1 of 3 / 2 of 3 / 3 of 3), and pallet weight. When using paper to mark the pallet, make sure it is under enough of the shrink wrap to be secure but seen by warehouse personnel.

When shipping oddly sized freight such as small machines and engines good crating is your best friend to protect your freight. If full crating isn’t possible, at the very least use skeleton crating. Pack and secure (block and brace) the item in the crate and strap the crate to the pallet. If your freight is top-heavy increase the size of the pallet until you overcome the high center of gravity; if you can push your pallet over on the dock, even with great effort, it will surely tip over in transit. Requiring the truck driver to use straps for a top-heavy shipment won’t be of any help in the cross-dock warehouse.

While no freight is invincible, taking the time and expense to pack shipments properly will help. While LTL transport companies are in no way staffed with ill-tempered gorillas, LTL transport does come with inherent risk. Due to the nature of LTL transport, oddly shaped and loosely loaded pallets that would have been okay for truckload will be at a significant risk of experiencing damage during LTL transport. Even when good packaging standards are used, if you can’t afford to lose a shipment, insure it.