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. 

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.


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


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


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


A container resembles a truck trailer with no wheels. 

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.

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.)

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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. 


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. 

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.

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.

Inbound freight

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

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.


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.


Abbreviation for pick-up and delivery of freight.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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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