What Is the Difference Between Truckload and Less Than Truckload?


If you manage a fleet of vehicles, make a lot of deliveries, or just know what fleet management is, you know that optimizing shipping methods shouldn’t be an afterthought—it directly affects your bottom line.

One of the critical choices you’ll face is selecting the appropriate shipping method: Less Than Truckload (LTL) or Full Truckload (FTL). The decision can affect your delivery times, overall costs, and even the condition of the goods upon arrival.

This article offers a straightforward guide to the differences between these two options so you can get the most efficiency from your fleet lease vehicles, freight services, and third-party logistics providers.

What Is Full Truckload?

Full Truckload — often referred to in the industry as Truckload, TL, or FTL — is a shipping method where one business books the entire space of a truck’s trailer for their goods. The entire truck is dedicated to that shipment, and it goes directly from the pickup point to the delivery destination without stopping at other hubs or terminals.

What Is Less Than Truckload?

Less Than Truckload, or LTL, is a shipping method where the cargo doesn’t fill an entire truck. Multiple shippers place their items on the same truck, each paying only for the space they use. This way, the shipping cost is split among several parties, making it more economical for everyone involved.

Less Than Truckload vs. Full Truckload

Let’s take a closer look at how these two types of shipping differ—from costs to flexibility and more.

Truckload (FTL)Less Than Truckload (LTL)
Typical LoadOver 15,000 lbs.Under 15,000 lbs.
CostMarket-drivenRegulated rates
Transit TimeFasterSlower
Risk of DamageLowerHigher
FlexibilityLess flexibleMore flexible

Typical Load

FTL deals with heavy, bulky shipments that can fill up an entire truck. This typically involves loads of over 15,000 pounds or more than 10 pallets. Also, the goods won’t share the space with anyone else’s.

Meanwhile, LTL is designed for smaller shipments, typically under 15,000 pounds, that don’t require an entire truck. Here, the freight will share space with other shippers.


Pricing for FTL is mainly influenced by changing fleet management costs and other market forces like supply and demand. Because of this, prices can fluctuate.

LTL pricing is more structured and is based on regulated rates set by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). These rates are influenced by ‌National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) codes, which consider factors like the item’s density, storability, and value.

Transit Time

With FTL, there’s no need to wait for other shipments to fill up the truck, and the driver will take the load directly to its destination.

LTL is slower because the shipment shares the truck with others. This means more stops along the way for loading and unloading.

Risk of Damage

Since the goods occupy the entire truck and there’s less handling involved, FTL generally has a lower risk of damage.

On the flip side, since LTL involves multiple shipments in a single truck, there’s more handling involved. Every time the truck stops to load or unload, there’s a risk the shipment could get damaged.


With FTL, you need to have enough goods to fill a truck. This often makes it less flexible for smaller operations or infrequent shipping.

LTL offers more flexibility. As much or as little can be shipped without waiting to fill up an entire truck. This makes it a good option for businesses that have varying shipping needs.

When to use FTL vs. LTL

Best choice overall
Large shipment?
Small shipment?
Time-sensitive cargo?
Fragile goods?
Specific requirements?
Tight budget?

When you’re deciding between using FTL and LTL for a shipment, consider the following:

  • Shipment size: When moving a large volume of goods that can fill up an entire truck or weigh over 15,000 pounds, FTL is the way to go. LTL, on the other hand, is ideal for shipments under 15,000 pounds or when shipping one to six pallets.
  • Time-sensitive cargo: FTL shipping is faster because it doesn’t make multiple stops to pick up or drop off other shipments. With LTL, exact delivery dates are usually estimated, so the transport will need a flexible delivery window.
  • Fragile or high-value goods: Since FTL involves less handling of goods (just one load and unload), the chances of damage are lower. So, when shipping delicate or expensive items, FTL is generally safer than LTL.
  • Specific requirements: Some goods need special conditions, like temperature control. The entire truck can be tailored to meet these specific needs in an FTL shipment—something that’s not possible with LTL.
  • Budget: With LTL, each shipper pays only for the space they use, making it cost-effective for smaller loads.
  • The environment: With LTL, truck space is shared. Sharing truck space is better for the environment since fewer trucks are needed overall.
In Summary

To sum up, Less Than Truckload (LTL) and Full Truckload (FTL) are distinct shipping methods that serve different needs in fleet management. LTL is more flexible and results in smaller shipments but involves more handling and potentially longer delivery times. FTL is better suited for larger, time-sensitive shipments, offering quicker delivery and lower risks of damage. Your business must weigh these pros and cons when choosing the shipping method that aligns with your specific needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between LTL and LTR?
LTL (Less Than Truckload) involves multiple stops, where goods may be unloaded, joined, and reloaded at a terminal. This can lead to longer delivery times and increased handling. On the other hand, LTR (Load-to-Ride) is a more direct shipping method where goods are loaded onto the truck and go straight to the destination, eliminating the need for multiple stops and handling.
What is the difference between LTL and FTL loads?
LTL (Less Than Truckload) and FTL (Full Truckload) are shipping methods that cater to different needs. LTL is for smaller shipments that take up part of a truck, while FTL uses the entire truck for a single, usually larger, shipment.
What is considered a truckload?
A truckload is considered a shipment that takes up the entire space of a truck trailer or weighs enough to hit the truck’s maximum weight limit. Typically, this means shipments of over 15,000 pounds or more than 10 pallets.
Written by:
Richard has more than 20 years of experience in business operations, computer science and full-stack development roles. A graduate in Computer Science and former IT support manager at Samsung, Richard has taught coding courses and developed software for both private businesses and state organisations. A prolific author in B2B and B2C tech, Richard’s work has been published on sites such as TechRadar Pro, ITProPortal and Tom’s Guide.