Freight Transportation Terminology You Need to Know

Each industry has words and phrases that are specific to what they do.

Freight transportation is no different.

It’s important that you understand the terms commonly used so that you don’t have to waste time when it matters most.

Downtime is the enemy of revenue and your familiarity with these words and phrases may streamline your interaction with the freight forwarder and get your important cargo moving quickly.

Here are the freight transportation terms you need to know.

Freight Transportation Terminology


A third-party (contract) logistics company to whom a firm outsources a portion or all logistics services. A 3PL will typically handle purchasing, inventory and warehouse management, freight transportation management and order management.

Accessorial Charge

This amount is to cover additional, supplemental or special services. It’s normally a flat fee. Examples include: Tarps, dunnage, layovers, detention, etc.


These are services that go beyond dock-to-dock transportation. This includes things like liftgates, non-commercial destinations, and inside pick-up/delivery.


Costs incurred after a shipment has been delivered.


A person who conducts business on behalf of another individual or company. The agent may have full decision-making capabilities, or they may be limited in what they can do.

In the world of shipping, an agent may manage documentation, customs procedures, or insurance.

Back haul

A truck may return to its point of origin after transporting cargo or freight. Sometimes, the freight carrier will offer a discount to secure freight for the return trip.

Bill of lading

A contract between the carrier and the shipper, broker or agent defining the details of the freight-shipping transportation arrangement. It’s legally-binding and includes what is being shipped and to whom.

Blocking and bracing

Wood or other supports that are used to keep shipments from shifting on trailers or in containers during the shipping process.

This method is commonly used by expert shippers to secure freight.


This piece of freight transportation terminology is a slang term for a semi driven without a trailer.

It can also be used in reference to a straight truck.


Uses trucks and/or trailers to move products from point A to point B.

Certificate of Insurance

A document that certifies that one has met particular requirements.

The certificate is Issued by the office of an insurance company and it states that the named party has insurance coverage in the amounts and types listed.


A freight classification is designated to a shipment in order to apply transportation charges. These classifications are used for less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments.


Any good and/or merchandise that is shipped from one location to another. This includes raw materials or manufactured products.

A company that transports freight for various companies. They offer a set route and rate.

Common carriers are usually freight service providers or trucking companies that run on a similar schedule and follow a strict set of guidelines.

Concealed Loss

This freight transportation term refers to damage to goods that isn’t discovered until the package is opened.


A seller who sends goods to a buyer. They are the legal owner until the buyer pays them in full.


A consolidated shipment consists of a combination of two or more shipments. They’re transported together to save money on freight-shipping costs.

This is the shipping method used in less than truckload shipping. The shipments will make numerous stops before reaching their final destination.


A container resembles a truck trailer with no wheels.

Cubic capacity

A truck, ship, or train’s total freight load capacity is measured in cubic feet.

Cubic capacity is the total load (in cubic feet) that shouldn’t be legally exceeded.

Violations occur when the shipment’s size exceeds a carrier’s cubic capacity guidelines.


When a truck is operating without cargo.

Declared value

The value of a shipment that has been brought in from another place to be resold. This is set or “declared” by the shipper or owner.

Dedicated Team

A team of drivers who trade-off the driving duties of a dedicated truck.

Department of Transportation (D.O.T.)

A government department that oversees United States federal highway, air, railroad, maritime and other transportation administration functions.

Distribution Center (DC)

The location where freight is stored until they it’s ready to be moved to its end destination.


A raised area where trucks’ shipments are unloaded and loaded.

D.O.T. Number

License administered to for-hire carriers by the Department of Transportation. (Keep in mind that the D.O.T. number is not the same as the Motor Carrier number.)

Shipping Mistakes to Avoid


Lumber, foam padding or inflatable bags that fills in empty spaces to keep cargo safe during travel.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

A method for the rapid exchange of documents between businesses.


Escorts – also called “pilot vehicles” – assist in the movement of large, oversized shipments.

They make sure the truck has enough space to travel safely and also alert drivers that a large load is coming toward them. The escort vehicle is usually equipped with lights and caution flags.


Estimated time of arrival


Shipping at a faster rate than normal.

This emergency shipping method normally includes team drivers, overnight and/or air freight and charter services.


A vehicle with a flat load-carry surface. It has no sides or top.

Flatbeds are primarily used for oversized or bulky shipments.

Fork Lift

A machine used to move materials that have been loaded onto skids or pallets.

Freight Forwarder

Facilitates shipping of goods for a third party. A person or organization that facilitates shipments for individuals or corporations to get products from the manufacturer to a market, customer or final point of distribution.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

A vehicle’s maximum operating weight as specified by the manufacturer.

The weight includes the driver, fuel, engine, body, chassis, and the shipment but NOT the weight of a trailer.


The freight transportation term refers to hazardous materials.

They receive this classification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Transporting hazardous material is closely regulated by the U.S. D.O.T.

Hot Shot

Usually smaller, time-sensitive loads that can be transported in a vehicle such as a pick-up truck alone, or with an attached trailer.

They cannot handle as much weight as a tractor-trailer and are typically 24-40 feet long.

Hours of Service

Rules for when and how long truck drivers may drive.

Inbound freight

These shipments coming from vendors are an integral part of the supply chain.


When the original carrier of a freight shipment moves the freight to another shipper to get it to its destination.

Intermodal Transportation

Two or more modes of transportation to ship freight. Intermodal transportation usually refers to truck-rail-truck shipments but could also include truck to air shipping or truck to ship if freight is being shipped overseas.

Just in Time (JIT)

A manufacturing system that depends on frequent, small deliveries of parts and supplies to keep on-site inventory low.


When a driver is delayed overnight or for a 24-hour period while waiting to pick up or deliver a shipment. There are usually fees involved.

Less-Than-Truckload (LTL)

Amount of freight that’s less than what’s required for a full truckload (FTL) rate.

Generally, a carrier will place numerous LTL shipments on the same truck so the price is reduced for the shipper.


The rate-per-mile charged for transportation of products. It’s expressed in dollars and cents.


The books in which truck drivers record their driving hours and status for each 24-hour period. This is a requirement by the U.S. Department of Transportation for all interstate commercial truckers.

Motor Carrier

A person who provides motor vehicle transportation for a fee.

Motor Carrier Number (MC#)

Also called USDOT numbers, this license is given to motor carriers by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA).


In LTL (less than truckload) shipping, products are stacked inside of each other to save space. This nesting makes shipping more efficient.

Open Top

Containers that have sides but don’t have permanent tops.

Over-the-Road (OTR)

This refers to the transportation of goods (usually by truck) using roads.


Abbreviation for pick-up and delivery of freight.


Freight is placed on these small, wooden or plastic platforms to make handling and movement to and from facilities easier.

Pallets may also be used for moving goods and storage in a warehouse.

Standard pallet dimensions can vary considerably but are usually 40″x48″.

If a pallet is oversized (greater than 40″x48″) the amount of freight that can be loaded into a container will be limited.

Pallet jack

This is a tool that’s used to lift and move pallets. It’s also used for other heavy packages and goods.


Carriers have to obtain permission from states to allow them to transport freight that surpasses legal size and weight limits.

This permission is a permit.


A trailer carrying hazardous materials needs these warning signs on all four sides.

Pup Trailer

A short semi-trailer that’s between 26’ and 32’ long. It has a single axle.

Rate Confirmation

This freight transportation term refers to a document that confirms an amount for the cost of service that the shipper and carrier have already agreed upon.


Usually used for transporting foods, this type of trailer is equipped with insulated walls and a self-powered refrigeration unit.

Removable Goose Neck (RGN)

A heavy-haul flatbed trailer that’s specialized to provide drive-on drive-off accessibility.

The trailer’s deck is attached to a “gooseneck” which can be raised and lowered then removed from the trailer for transportation.


This freight transportation terminology stands for “roll-on, roll-off.”

It’s used to describe a vessel with ramps that allow wheeled vehicles to be loaded and unloaded without using cranes.


The truck and trailer container combination.

A semitrailer is built so that the front end rests on the truck tractor.


SKU stands for “Stock-keeping unit” and describes a line-item of inventory referring to a certain type or size of item.


Exporter or seller.

They will be named in the bill of lading, and they may or may not be the same as the initiator of the shipment.

Shippers Association

A not-for-profit organization of shippers that uses collective bargaining and freight consolidation to secure lower transportation rates for high-volume shipments.

Straight Truck

This type of vehicle has all axles attached to one frame.


A truck with a cylinder that’s specially-designed to haul fuel, oil, or other liquids.

Team (Driver Team)

A team consisting of two drivers who take turns driving and resting.

This is a common practice for expedited shipments.

Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU)

TEU is a method of measuring the capacity of a vessel. It’s measured in units of containers which are twenty-feet long.


A freight shipment delivery that needs the earliest possible delivery time.

Transit Time

The time from freight being picked up to the time it’s delivered.

Transportation Broker

An agency that acquires negotiated large-volume transportation rates from carriers and resells to shippers.

Unlike freight forwarders, brokers don’t handle freight and don’t own pick-up-/delivery equipment or any storage facilities.


This word refers to moving a shipment from one type of trailer or container to another type.

Truck-Mounted Crane

A self-propelled loading and unloading machine that is mounted on the body of a truck.


The transportation of products that will fill up a 48’ or 53’ trailer when measured by volume or weight.

Truckload shipping is usually contracted to one customer who is given full use of the carrier’s entire trailer. It’s ideal for anyone shipping numerous full pallets of freight and for which Less Than Truckload shipping isn’t cost-effective.


An enclosed vehicle used for transporting goods. Vans normally have doors on the rear or side and have side panels.


A description of the goods being shipped.

Learn this freight transportation terminology

You need to know what you’re talking about when you work with a freight forwarder because explanations steal valuable minutes.

Learn these emergency shipping-related terms so you’re not wasting time during a shipping emergency and you need help ASAP.

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