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The Ultimate Shipping Terms Glossary

Updated: May 12

The Ultimate Shipping Terms Glossary

The lingo in freight shipping can seem like its own language, let alone trying to remember all of the acronyms, shorthand, and measurement terms. Whether you’re new to the freight industry or have been in shipping your whole career, we’ve created this glossary of terms to help you navigate and find and communicate your exact freight and shipping needs.


Freight: items being transported from one place to another. Freight shipping includes international and domestic goods being transported via ship, railroad, air, and road. Freight commodities span the whole spectrum of goods: cargo, merchandise, equipment, materials, etc.

Carrier: The vendor or entity responsible for transporting the goods for the shipper, from a point of origin to a set destination.

Shipper: The vendor or entity sending the goods from a point of origin to a destination.

Receiver: The vendor or entity receiving the goods at the determined final destination for the carrier to transport the goods. There may be more stops for the goods, or storage, before they hit the market or their final destination, but the Receiver in shipping terms is the end-point for the carrier.


  • 3PL- 3rd Party Logistics: a 3rd party logistics company is hired to manage the logistics for shippers or buyers, including purchasing, scheduling, and payments for getting the cargo from origin to destination.

  • 4PL- 4th Party Logistics: one additional step up from a 3PL. In addition to a 3PL, 4PLs include outsourcing the entire supply chain organization, planning, and management.

  • ATA- Actual Time of Arrival: when cargo arrives at its point of shipping, this is recorded as the ATA. It’s important to note that this is referring to the time at the port of discharge, NOT the final destination.

  • ATD- Actual Time of Departure: when cargo departs from the point of origin.

  • CWT or “Hundredweight”: shorthand for 100 pounds, a common shipping unit for weight.

  • DV- Declared Value: the monetary value, declared by the shipper. This affects cost calculations, as it takes into account carrier liability, shipping cost, and insurance on the shipment.

  • DOT- Department of Transportation: the department in the United States that sets rules and regulations in the transportation industry.

  • FCL - Full Container Load of Freight: the same as FTL, but in container shipping. At ports, containers can be combined and separated to meet various capacity regulations.

  • FOB- Free on Board: An agreement to deliver cargo without a transportation expense. With this agreement, the title and risk stay with the seller until the cargo has been delivered. When the cargo is delivered, the title and risk are immediately transferred to the buyer.

  • GAWR- Gross Axle Weight Rating: the maximum weight an axle can carry when the cargo is distributed across it, as rated by the manufacturer.

  • GCW- Gross Combination Weight: the total combined weight of a loaded cargo vehicle.

  • GVWR- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating- the maximum weight a vehicle can carry, including both vehicle and cargo, as rated by the manufacturer.

  • LCL - Less Than a Container Load Freight: the same as LTL, but in container shipping. At ports, containers can be combined and separated to meet various capacity regulations.

  • LCV- Long Combination Vehicle: a truck with more than one trailer operating on interstates with a GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) greater than 80,000 lbs.

  • LTL - Less-Than-Truckload Freight: when the freight does not take up the entire capacity of the trailer, usually less than 10,000 pounds. Multiple loads can be combined to optimize costs.

  • P&D: Pickup and delivery.

  • PRO (aka Tracking Number)- The number a carrier assigns to cargo, used as a reference for payment, fees, tracking of the shipment, and more.

  • NMFTA- National Motor Freight Traffic Association

  • TL- Truckload: a term used to refer to quantity of cargo, usually filling half to the full capacity of a 48' or 53' trailer

  • TL Carrier- a carrier specializing in full truckloads dedicated to an individual shipper’s freight. This differs from an LTL Carrier, which specializes in optimizing combining cargo from several different shippers’ freight into one container.


Glossary Of Shipping Terms

Accessorial Charges (aka Accessorials)

Additional services beyond just pickup and delivery. These are likely associated with additional fees. Extra service examples can include insurance, lift gate service, residential service, inside pickup or delivery, fuel surcharges, arrival notifications, etc.

Back Haul

The load on the return trip. A back haul makes a return trip more profitable, since it’s better than transporting an empty trailer to the point of origin.

Bill of Lading (BOL)

A legal document recording the carrier’s acceptance of the freight (having verified it’s condition at origin) to carry to its destination. This obligates the carrier to deliver the freight as expected, in good condition, to the consignee. A BOL is always required for each shipment. The shipper gives the driver the BOL at pickup.


An operating tractor with no trailer.

Bulk Freight

Standalone freight that is not packaged in containers. These are usually hauled by tankers, grain trailers, or even van trailers.


The company or individual operating the transportation of goods.


A shortened form of “cab-over-engine.” The design allows the cab to sit over the engine on the chassis.

Cargo Claim

When goods are lost or damaged during shipment, while in the carrier’s possession, the shipper can file a cargo claim for payment. These must be filed within nine months of the shipping date.

Carrier Liability

Once goods are in the transporter’s possession, the carrier is liable for any loss, damage, and delay except for those caused by acts of God, acts of a public enemy, acts of a public authority, acts of the shipper, and the goods’ nature (i.e. fruit ripening or molding naturally).

Cartage Company

A carrier company that provides local pickup and delivery.

CDL (Commercial Driver’s License)

A license for someone authorized to operate a commercial motor vehicle over 26,000 pounds in gross vehicle weight.

Class I Carrier

Carrier classification for those that operate on revenues of more than 5 million dollars a year.

Class II Carrier

Carrier classification for those that operate on revenues of between 1 and 5 million dollars a year.

Class III Carrier

Carrier classification for those that operate on revenues of less than 1 million dollars a year.

Collect on Delivery (COD)

When the transportation provider has to collect payment for the goods upon arrival, before the goods are delivered. This costs the carrier more, as it requires additional administration, so there is an additional fee.

Common Carrier

A type of carrier (company of individual) who provides transportation services for the public in exchange for payment.

Concealed Loss or Concealed Damage

Damage or a shortage of the goods that is not apparent at delivery.


The entity (person or company) receiving the goods. The shipment is intended for them, and they are the final destination for the transporter.


A metal container of standard size for transporting freight. Ocean liners, rail cars, and trucks on public roads can transport international shipping containers, which are 20-40 feet long. Domestic containers can be larger - up to 53 feet long- because they are of lighter construction and do not have to weather as much as international containers.

Container Chassis

Trailers specifically for carrying shipping containers.

Cubic Capacity

The inside dimensions, in cubic feet, of a given container. Light goods can usually fill the cubic capacity. Heavier items may not be able to fill the cubic capacity and still ship. This is determined by each carrier and container regulations.


The weight of the goods in relationship to the physical space it takes up.


A tractor trailer driving without a paying load, oftentimes returning to the point-of-origin with no backhaul.


Shipping from a customer’s door to its final destination.


The moving of freight short distances via truck, such as from port to rail station or warehouse, or vice versa. This differs from Intermodal transit, which is transit over long distances using various means of transit, such as sea, rail, and air.

Drayage is also a term used to describe charges for local handling of shipped items. This is most common in tradeshow shipping.

Dry Van

A container full of goods not needing climate-control or refrigeration.


Wooden pieces used to secure goods during transit.

Exclusive Use

Sole use of a container or transportation vehicle resides with one person or company.

Flat Bed

A trailer with no enclosed sides or doors. It can be loaded and unloaded from any side not attached to the trailer.

Freight Bill

A document detailing the charges for the shipment, includes the weight, extra charges, taxes, and whether or not the bill has been paid yet.

Freight Payables

Remaining payment due/unpaid.


The loaded truck’s total weight including the actual and final weight of the goods, full fuel, packaging, pallets, tractor and trailer.


Cargo identified as potentially dangerous, such as explosives, poisonous materials, etc. Transporting these materials requires specially certified carriers.


A shipment using various means of transit, such as sea, rail, and air.


When a driver has to stay overnight or for an extended period of time while the cargo is being loaded or unloaded.

Loading Time

The amount of time it takes to load the cargo.

Loose Capacity

When there are more trucks and drivers available than caro that needs transporting.

Lumper Service

Lumper service is an additional service whereby the consignee uses a third party to help unload the cargo from the truck after it has arrived at the final destination.

MC Number- Motor Carrier Number

The number assigned to every carrier and 3PL, which enables carriers to cross state lines and for the government to track brokers.

Net Weight

The weight of the total cargo, minus the weight of the truck and trailer.

National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC)

“A standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving in interstate, intrastate and foreign commerce…Commodities are grouped into one of 18 classes—from a low of class 50 to a high of class 500—based on an evaluation of four transportation characteristics: density, handling, stowability and liability. Together, these characteristics establish a commodity’s “transportability.”

By analyzing commodities on the basis of the four transportation characteristics and ONLY on the basis of those characteristics, the NMFC provides both carriers and shippers with a standard by which to begin negotiations and greatly simplifies the comparative evaluation of the many thousands of products moving in today’s competitive marketplace.” (Source)


When a driver does not load or unload what is being transported.

Out of Route

When the shipping distance puts a drivers’ mileage over the predicted set mileage amounts for the distance between cities. This can happen because of construction detours, avoiding long delays caused by accidents, and destinations on the outskirts of set mileage predictions.


Freight that does not fit regular freight dimensions. Regulations for these types of shipments vary by state.


Typically a wooden platform, usually 48x48 inches, used to attach and stack goods for transport. Accessible on all sides. Holds up to 2,500 lbs.


The maximum weight that can be loaded into a container. Countries have differing regulations on payload, so sometimes a container cannot be filled up to its maximum payload.

Peddle Run

When a carrier’s load or route requires multiple and frequent deliveries. This mostly happens within less-than-truckload carrier systems.


When the cargo is en route and the shipper changes the name or destination of the consignee. This likely costs an additional fee.


Short-hand for refrigerated trailers.

Shared Truckload

A method where several carriers share trailer space in one full truckload, often with multiple stops.

Tare Weight (aka Unladen Weight)

The weight of the container or tractor and trailer when empty.

Tariff (aka Duty)

Government taxes on imported goods. The value of the freight and insurance of the imported goods factor into the tariff.

Transit Time

The total time from pickup to delivery, typically excluding the day of pickup, weekends, and holidays.

Volume Rate

The cost per volume of freight.

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