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FTL and LTL in Road Freight: Which Is Best in Which Case?

FTL LTL Truck Forklift

Every sector has its own technical terms. This simplifies communication among insiders. Logistics is no exception. What makes everyday life easier for some, is a mystery to others: FTL logistics, LTL logistics – what exactly does this mean? In this article, we explain what makes the difference between full and part loads in road freight, what the advantages and disadvantages are, and what is most suitable for which purpose.

FTL and LTL: What Do the Abbreviations Mean?

FTL stands for “Full Truck Load” and LTL in turn is the abbreviation for “Less Than Truck Load”. When a customer books an entire truck for his shipment with a transport company to use the truck’s full loading capacity, it is FTL. With an FTL shipment, the sender has the certainty that the booked truck will transport only his goods and that these will go directly from the place of consignment to the recipient without reloading en route and without the stops required for this.

With LTL, on the other hand, only a limited truck capacity is occupied, so the freight being dispatched only takes up part of the cargo space. Freight companies usually combine partial loads from different customers to make full use of the loading capacity. This means that with LTL, goods from several senders are delivered to several recipients.

And What Is PTL?

PTL (Part Truck Load) is a special case of partial load transport. With PTL, the forwarder usually does not stop for loading, unloading, or reloading between the point of departure and destination. This means that there are fewer stops at distribution centers. This kind of partial load comes into question, for example, for bulky goods such as machinery that require a lot of space but do not fill the entire cargo space, which is left vacant in this case.

When Is FTL Best Suited?

If the freight volume is so large that it fills an entire cargo space, FTL is of course the ideal, if not the only, solution. Also, if delivery time is an important factor and you thus want to exclude stopovers and reloading, FTL offers advantages. Or the goods are very sensitive, so that you wish to avoid transporting them together with other goods and exposing them to additional hazards during loading operations.

When Is LTL Best Suited?

LTL is the most fitting mode of transport especially when one's own shipment does not completely occupy the available cargo space of the truck – in times of e-commerce with numerous different and at the same time rather light and small shipments, this is becoming more and more frequent. For this reason, LTL has gained in importance in recent years. LTL is particularly suitable for all market participants who frequently ship goods that do not completely fill the truck's loading space.

Full and Partial Loads – Advantages and Disadvantages at a Glance




  • short delivery time (faster loading without combining partial loads; no detours, stopovers, and reloading on the transport route)
  • All goods reach the recipient at the same time


  • Exclusive delivery has a higher price
  • FTL is less suitable for small quantities of cargo or for freight with low volume



  • economical, because several consignors share the freight charge
  • suitable also for the shipment of small quantities of cargo


  • longer delivery time (combination of partial loads; detours, stopovers, and reloading on the transport route)
  • Combining partial loads requires precise calculation of freight capacity, route, and delivery times

FTL-LTL-intermodal: Full and Partial Loads in Other Types of Freight

The principle of full and partial loads also applies to other types of freight. In the rail freight sector, with a full wagon load, the transported goods remain in the freight car without further cargo handling, just as with FTL. In sea freight, the terms FCL (Full Container Load) and LCL (Less Than Container Load) are used in the same way as FTL and LTL. However, in the case of FCL, sealed containers are loaded and, in contrast to FTL, it is irrelevant whether the cargo space of the container is fully utilized.

In intermodal transport – that is, when cargo is moved between different means of transport – full loads speed up delivery. For example, when containers are transferred directly from freight trains to container semi-trailers without being opened.


FTL and LTL offer different advantages to shippers and recipients – depending on what is to be transported or how large the time frame is. As an experienced road freight service provider, we will be happy to advise you if you are unsure which shipping method is best for you – so that your freight reaches its destination quickly, efficiently, securely, and as sustainably as possible. With DHL Freight, you will always find the right solution.

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