LTL vs FTL: The Differences You Need to Know

When it comes to shipping options, you've probably come across two acronyms: LTL vs. FTL.

But what do they stand for? And more importantly, how do they differ from one another?

It's no secret that shipping is a necessary component of nearly every business today. Whether you're selling software or camping gear, there's a pretty good chance that you'll need to ship products somehow and somewhere. And with so many shipping options out there, it can be hard to even know where to start!

Let's dig into understanding what the differences between LTL vs FTL actually are — including the scenarios where it's better to go with one option or another.

How Does LTL vs TL Work?

LTL and TL – these two acronyms are competitors in the freight industry, but they’re not necessarily at odds with each other.


Let’s get started with a simple LTL vs FTL dichotomy:

  1. LTL: Less Than Truckload
  2. FTL or TL: Full Truckload


Their names make their differences clear – a full truckload is a single shipment large enough to fill an entire truck, and less than truckload (LTL) is when a single shipment is not large enough to fill that same truck.

But there’s more to it than that!

Let’s get into the specifics of each.

FTL (truck load)

One of the most common terms you'll see floating around the trucking industry is "FTL." But what does this abbreviation mean, and how does it differ from other shipping modes and acronyms?

FTL in shipping stands for “Full Truck Load.” This shipping mode works best for freight that is large enough to fill an entire truck, or a partial load shipment occupying an entire truck.

The diagram below shows how FTL vs LTL typically looks inside a truck.


truckload (tl) Shipment



Typically, FTL vs LTL is characterized by size:

  • Loads at least 10 pallets or more, depending on their overall size and weight
  • Cargo between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds

Because FTL is targeted at shippers sending large loads, it will generally cost more. The upside of this is that you get speedier, more direct service with no stops along the way. It’s great for those times you need to get your cargo to your customers or destination in a timely manner with minimal handling along the way.

As you might expect, the larger size of cargo can necessitate a specialized truck and equipment. Just think of the difference between handling a few pallets of computer parts versus a full truckload of fresh fruits and vegetables. You have time, temperature, and damages to worry about – which is why it’s so critical to consider which equipment you need for your FTL shipments.

Common types of FTL vs LTL trucking equipment are outlined in the table below.


FTL Trucking Equipment Type


Dry Van

  • Common cargo includes nonperishable food and beverages, textiles, clothing, plastics, and building materials.
  • Weather-resistant, enclosed trailers designed to transport pallets and boxes.
  • As long as 53 feet, they can haul up to 45,000 pounds of cargo.


  • Reefers are trailers that transport temperature-controlled cargoes in refrigerated conditions
  • Foods such as fresh and frozen products, as well as non-food items like pharmaceuticals, fresh flowers and films.


  • Versatile trucks that can be loaded on all sides.
  • Their weight capacity is up to 48,000 pounds and they are usually 48 ft to 53 ft long.
  • Since the goods are exposed to the elements, they have to be weather resistant or packaged carefully.


  • A rolling tarp system provides protection for freight while providing the ease of side loading and unloading.
  • Often used for heavy goods such as lumber and steel, but also for palletized freight.

Ship Moto can help you find the right equipment, whether you need TL flatbeds or TL dry vans. We can even coordinate additional services in conjunction with your freight trucking so you can benefit from an organized, efficient, and timely supply chain and logistics management


Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping is a great option for businesses that ship small loads.

Typically, the LTL meaning is for shipments that weigh between 150 and 15,000 pounds. This method allows shippers to use the space on a truck more efficiently by combining multiple shipments onto one truck.

LTL freight is usually transported using a hub-and-spoke system, where a number of shipments are collected at a central shipping location in the center of an area and later distributed out to regional shipping locations on both ends of the journey. That’s why LTL delivery times can vary so much—depending on where your shipment starts and ends up (as well as whether any consolidation or deconsolidation is needed), it may need to make several stops along the way.

The diagram below shows how an LTL order is usually packed in a truck.


Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipment diagram



LTL shipping came about when small businesses realized they needed to ship smaller amounts in an efficient and cost-effective way, and the market for this kind of service has only grown, thanks in part to the rise of eCommerce.

LTL shipping accounts for about 6% (or 44 billion dollars) of the 700 billion dollar trucking industry. Even though this number seems small, LTL shipping plays a vital role in supply chains and is supported by thousands of businesses.

LTL carriers also offer less control over your shipment than FTL carriers. This means you have fewer options when it comes to things like scheduling pickups or deliveries. Still, if you’re looking for an affordable way to ship smaller loads, LTL is definitely worth considering!

LTL vs FTL: Freight Class

LTL shipping relies on reliable, consistent, and fair pricing. Just think of how one company could choose (and abuse) price setting and how that impacts you, their customer.

That's why the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) uses a standard classification system. It aims to establish uniform criteria for categorizing commodities that are shipped by truck. The NMFTA assigns an 18-digit code to each commodity shipped by truck. The first digit is the class, which ranges from 50 to 500. The higher the class, the lower the shipping cost per pound.


There are four main factors that go into calculating freight cost and class in LTL vs FTL are:

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


The table below outlines each of these factors, and how they work in LTL vs FTL shipping.

Factor in Freight Class



Relates to how easily items can be stacked and compared to other items of the same type. The more dense a shipment is, the higher its freight class will be. For example, it would cost more per pound to ship a pallet of bricks than a pallet of pillows because stacking bricks is easier than stacking soft items.


Refers to how well items can be packed in a truck or container. If you were shipping metal rods, for example, they would need extra room and could not be stacked as tightly together as if you were shipping smaller boxes of electronics. This would make metal rods have a lower freight class than boxes of electronics because they take up more space.


Generally, easier-to-load products are assigned to a lower freight class. In contrast, fragile products usually fall into a higher freight class.


Carriers are responsible for the safe transport and delivery of everything they load onto their trucks. Damage, loss, and theft happen to certain things a lot more than to others, so they're a bigger liability. Things like these have a higher freight class designation and cost more to ship.

Table Source

Key Differences Between TL vs LTL

LTL and FTL shipping


As their names suggest, the main difference between TL vs LTL is the quantity of freight you're shipping. If you don't have enough freight to fill an entire trailer, it's LTL. If you do have enough freight to fill a trailer, it's TL.

There are also some important differences that you need to know before deciding which is right for your business' needs.


Let’s get into the key differences between LTL and FTL shipping.


Difference #1: Weight & Size

We don’t mean to repeat ourselves, but the biggest difference between FTL and LTL is weight and size of the load the truck is carrying.

In LTL, the load is usually less than full truckload (duh!) and weighs between 100 to 5,000 pounds. Think of it as the stuff that is just too big and heavy for the postal delivery services and too small to take up an entire truck. This equates to 3 non-stackable pallets or 6 stackable ones.

FTL, on the other hand, focuses on shipments weighing 20,000 pounds or more, and is generally able to contain 26 un-stackable pallets or 52 stackable ones. This is what is best for those businesses who are sending a large quantity of goods, as you may guess.

Though it may seem simple, the weight aspect of LTL vs FTL is the most important thing to understand.

For example, let’s consider making the mistake of paying for a full truckload when you only have 6 pallets. You’d be wasting a large amount of money and have a wasted bunch of space in the truck you’re shipping out on. That’s not very efficient, is it?

On the other hand, you do have to consider having a small, but heavy load. Perhaps, these items are more dense, such as bricks. If these items exceed the weight of 5 000 pounds, then an FTL vs LTL would be more appropriate.


Difference #2: Handling

tl vs LTL

Sometimes, goods need to be handled with care more than others. Or, they need to be handled less, and reach their destination with minimal hands-on labour for various reasons.

Consider also how delicate or high-risk the shipment is. In FTL shipping, your shipment stays on the same truck and won't move. This means there's less chance of something getting damaged or missing. LTL shipments, on the other hand, might change trucks or be transferred more than once before delivery, increasing the chance of damage. This is especially challenging for items that need to stay at a consistent temperature in order to preserve the quality of the goods.

Common fragile items and items that need to be handled less in LTL vs FTL shipping scenarios include:

  • Fresh foods
  • Medications
  • Glass items
  • Laboratory materials
  • Musical instruments
  • Stone and Tile (Marble, Porcelain)
  • Optical instruments
  • Collectibles


Difference #3: Speed

The next difference between FTL vs LTL is speed.

This is super important to consider. After all, a product that is delayed and late to your customer for delivery can make or break an ongoing customer relationship. At Ship Moto, we pride ourselves on providing 98% on-time performance and a 0.01% damage rating. We know this is essential to your success, so we make it essential to ours.

But enough about us.

FTL might be the way to go if you're pressed for time. In general, FTL shipments are picked up and delivered on the same truck, which results in quicker delivery times. Since this is a direct route, it is inevitably faster than an LTL route.

This is because LTL shipments involve more than just your shipment. As a result, they often need to make multiple stops and transfers before they reach their final destination. In turn, this results in slower delivery times and later arrivals. Due to your willingness to share the space with other shippers, you may see a reduced cost (more on that later).

Typical delivery times for LTL vs FTL trucking are outlined in the table below.

LTL Typical Delivery Times

FTL Typical Delivery Times

  • 1-2 business days between states
  • 2-4 business days for regional
  • 4-6 business days for cross-country shipments
  • Express can be as little as next day
  • Typically 3-5 days on average

Table Source


Difference #4: Equipment and Additional Services

The final difference between FTL vs LTL lies in the equipment.

Like a snowflake, no two shipments are the same. You need specific equipment and services to support that unique need.

If you compare LTL vs FTL, full truckload offers shippers more options. For instance, FTL is your best bet if you need a reefer for temperature-controlled shipments, since it's hard to find space on a reefer for LTL shipments. The same goes for open-deck equipment and dry vans. FTL shipping can handle all kinds of cargo, while LTL deals mostly with dry vans.

Additional to the equipment is if you need extra services. Whether you are shipping via LTL vs FTL, you may need additional equipment for docking or extra labour. These are called accessorials. It's important to consider what accessorials you may need before going forward with your quote.

Common accessorials in less than truckload and truckload shipping:

  • Power tailgate
  • Residential pickup or delivery
  • Trade shows and exhibitions
  • Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays
  • After hours pick up or delivery
  • Call ahead
  • Detention
  • Re-delivery, missed pick up, or dead call


When to Use Less Than Truckload vs Truckload

LTL vs tl


Now that you’ve got a handle on the major differences between FTL and LTL shipping, it’s time to figure out which one is right for your shipping needs.

As we mentioned earlier, FTL is usually the best option if you’re short on time, while LTL is the way to go for shipments you don’t need there in a rush or have less time. That said, the deciding factor here isn’t really the time you need but rather the size of your shipment.

Usually less than 5,000 pounds, LTL shipments are smaller than FTL shipments. They won't fill up a whole truck, so there's room for more small shipments. Meanwhile, FTL shipments often fill up an entire truck and are much bigger, often weighing 20,000 pounds or more. Shipments weighing between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds can sometimes be transported LTL or FTL. In the LTL world, such shipments are called "volume LTL" shipments; in the FTL world, they are called "partial TL" shipments.

The other aspect to consider that should help decide whether you’re shipping LTL vs TL is how your goods need to be handled. With FTL, you won't have to worry about your shipment moving from one truck to another. This means fewer chances of something getting damaged or lost. LTL shipments, on the other hand, might be transferred multiple times or switch trucks before delivery, so there's a higher risk of damage and missing stuff.

The bottom line? While there are exceptions and special cases in both types of freight shipping, FTL pricing is generally geared towards big loads and LTL pricing tends to favor smaller ones.

The key differences between LTL vs FTL are summarized in the table below.






  • Shipments 20,000 pounds or more
  • 26 non-stackable pallets, 52 stackable
  • Shipments 100 to 5,000 pounds
  • 3 non-stackable pallets, 6 stackable


Rush, direct delivery, and faster overall

Takes longer, not direct


Minimal handling and damage risk

Increased handling and damage risk


More expensive



FAQs About LTL vs FTL Shipping

We try to be thorough and answer all your questions about the differences and features of FTL vs LTL.

That’s why we gathered up a few questions about FTL vs LTL so you can have the information you need to make the right decision.

Shipping still got you stumped? Ship Moto can help! Give us a call or contact us online to get the Q’s in your FAQs straightened out.


How Fast Are LTL and FTL Shipping?

Depending on the distance your freight is traveling, your transit times will vary. As a common guide, LTL shipments can be shipped in 1-2 business days between states, 2-4 business days for regional, and 4-6 business days for cross-country shipments. FTL shipments, on the other hand, are likely to reach their destination in 3 to 5 days.


What Are LTL vs FTL Rates?

The method of calculating LTL vs FTL rates is a little different. Because FTL occupies an entire truckload, you can expect to pay-per-mile. Conversely, LTL shipments are calculated using Freight Class, which is determined by weight and dimensions.

LTL vs FTL freight rates are based on a variety of factors:

  • Freight classifications
  • Distance
  • Minimums
  • Weight
  • Linear floor space
  • Fuel surcharge

Since truckload shipments involve exclusive use of a trailer, factors like density and freight class don't affect prices. When you're getting a quote, details like the origin and destination markets, when you need it picked up and delivered, the equipment needed, and any special services matter.



Shipping your goods is crucial but can be a potentially costly procedure if you experience a mismatch in needs and booked services.

There are several differences between less than truckload (LTL) shipping and full truckload (FTL) shipping. Making the right decision for your business starts with understanding how LTL vs FTL shipping work, and when to choose one or the other.

The first step to deciding whether to use LTL vs FTL shipping is understanding the differences between them. With the information we shared in this article, you can now differentiate between the two methods of transportation and decide which shipping method is best for your business.

The next step is to call Ship Moto to get your quote, and get ship done for your business. You can trust us to get the job done and done right, the first time. Have more questions? Read over some of our FAQs to get the answers you need.