When Freight Shipping Goes Wrong: How to Avoid and Address Problems


All industries are susceptible to changes, delays, opportunities and problems. The transportation industry is no different. 

Think about all the hassles that can impact your morning commute — weather, accidents on the road, car troubles or just plain oversleeping. 

Now imagine your car is 53 feet long, your commute is several hundred miles and you have to drive to a new location every day (many of which aren’t designed for your vehicle). 

That’s some of what drivers encounter every day… and that doesn’t even account for delays that happen at other stops along the route. 

All of these variables don’t change the fact that sometimes you’ll have questions or concerns while your freight is in transit — or after it arrives. 

  • Who is the point of contact when this happens? 
  • Should you reach out to the driver or shipper? 
  • What if you don’t have their contact information? 

Don’t get too overwhelmed by what can go wrong! The truth is that most shipments are uneventful, and you don’t need to think about anything happening between origin and destination. 

At Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), our staff provides shipping solutions every day. Our experienced team has seen it all over the past 68 years, and we take our obligation to solve customer problems seriously. 

After reading this article, you will know who to contact and what the remedy may be when you learn about problems outside of your control. 

How to Address Freight Shipping Problems 

There are a myriad of things that can go wrong with any freight shipment. Some of the most common issues are: 

  • Late arrival or no-show
  • Damaged freight
  • Conflict with a driver
  • Last-minute changes

No matter the issue, the first point of contact is the person you worked with when booking your load. While that person may not be the one who solves your problem, they can work with the correct party or give you a referral.

Your representative can also help you solve problems before they occur. For example, if you find that the dimensions of your commodity have changed or were measured inaccurately, sharing that as soon as possible means they can change the details before the truck arrives on-site, and help you avoid added fees. 

Making changes before the truck arrives will always save money and time compared to making changes when the truck is on-site. 

No matter the nature of the problem with your shipment, the best option is to contact your representative. Communicate specifications and details via email to create a paper trail; more immediate communication can occur over the phone with an email follow-up. 

Should You Work With the Driver? 

The driver’s role is to safely deliver the freight from the point of origin to the destination. While on-site, they’re responsible for making sure the load is secure and for picking up the load as specified. 

Ultimately, the driver is responsible for the safety of the load. If they arrive on-site and notice potential problems, like inaccurate measurements or a different type of freight than expected, they may refuse to carry the load or ask for additional payment. 

The person you arranged the shipment with is still the point of contact if changes or a driver conflict occurs. 

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Work with the driver on routine parts of executing the shipment (loading, securement, etc.). 
  • To make scheduling changes, swap information or address problems, work with your point of contact. 

Every shipment is a partnership between the carrier/broker, driver, shipper and consignee. The carrier and driver are responsible for transportation and safe delivery. Your role is to provide accurate information and prepare for the driver to arrive. 

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How to Avoid Problems with Your Shipment

Working with the carrier or broker to provide the tools they need for a successful shipment is the most effective way to avoid problems. There’s never a guarantee that things will go as planned, but having a plan in place greatly increases your odds. Here are two things you can do:

  1. Provide accurate information
  2. Be ready on time

Provide Accurate Information

Your most important role in the shipment is to provide a thorough and accurate specification for your freight. 

The fewer surprises the driver finds on-site, the fewer chances there are for things to go wrong. 

Provide this information to your transportation provider as soon as possible, and update them when details change: 

  • Name of commodity
  • UN code (if needed)
  • Dimensions (length, width and height) — for freight with varying dimensions, provide the largest dimensions
  • Weight
  • Piece count
  • Pick-up address
  • Destination address
  • Deadlines (date and time), and if there is flexibility 

Your carrier will use this information to match your delivery with the right equipment and driver to suit your needs and successfully deliver your freight. While some of these details may not seem important to you, the transportation provider needs this information to set up for a routine shipment. 

Be Ready On Time

You can also prevent problems by being prepared at the indicated time. If the driver arrives and has to wait several hours before loading, unloading or receiving paperwork, you will be charged for that time. If you can indicate the new time before the driver is en route, you will avoid surcharges. 

Drivers are limited by the federally mandated Hours of Service. If your driver arrives and needs to wait, they may not be legally able to drive your freight to its next stop. So in addition to paying fees for this delay, you may be subjected to even greater delays based on the driver’s availability. 

Many problems in the transportation industry are unavoidable (flat tires, blizzards, road construction), even with proper preparation. However, when the shipper and transportation provider partner on the shipment it greatly increases the odds of success. 

Your Transportation Provider’s Role in Freight Shipping Problems 

Your provider should also be the one to reach out to you if they encounter a problem with your load. Delays, damage and other unexpected issues can begin at any time during transit, and your representative will do their best to keep you informed as needed. 

Using their experiences and available resources, the carrier may also be able to suggest potential solutions for your issues. While there are sometimes unavoidable consequences, the carrier’s responsibility is to complete the shipment as contracted. 

Fines and Fees for Inconveniences

If you learn of an unexpected delay or inconvenience, it’s okay to (politely!) ask if you have any recourse. This is especially true if the delay will cause you financial harm, such as when staff will now be working overtime to unload a delayed shipment. 

In some cases, especially a no-fault delay, a provider may not be able to offer more than an apology for the inconvenience. But sometimes they may be able to reduce or eliminate fees you would have accrued in case of delay, or provide a discounted rate on your shipment. 

Filing a Claim for Damage

If freight is damaged during transit, your transportation provider may give you information to start the claims process. Occasional damage is inevitable in an industry where commodities are handled and moved frequently, and claim damage is business as usual. 

No-Fault Delays

Some delays are beyond the control of the shipper, the driver or the receiver. In these cases (such as weather, unexpected traffic or other variables), there may not be any recourse for damage or delays. However, you can still work with your contact to track the load’s expected arrival time. 

No matter what is happening, don’t be afraid to check in. Your point of contact is your first and best source of information about what’s happening with your shipment, when you can expect arrival and if there’s anything else you need to know. 

Working with a Broker vs. Working with a Carrier

When you contact a company with your load, take time to understand if they are an asset carrier or a freight broker.

  • An asset carrier owns the truck and employs the driver used to haul a shipment. They may have more control over where the truck is and where it is heading. This can give them an increased ability to flex the schedule if needed.  

  • A freight broker works with other trucking companies and drivers. They may not have control over the truck and driver’s schedule. However, if there will be delays to the schedule and the original truck is no longer available, they might be able to arrange for another driver to carry the original load. 

Whether you are working with a broker or a carrier, they should be prepared for inevitable delays. And no matter who you are working with, you should have a dedicated customer service professional who is prepared to help you deal with any issue that may happen during transit. 

Work with Your Freight Carrier Throughout the Shipping Process

When problems occur with your shipment, regardless of who, if anyone, is at fault, the important thing is to keep calm and stay in touch.

  • You can stop a lot of delays, problems and additional fees by providing specifications and changes as soon as possible. 
  • Your provider is in touch with the driver and all stakeholders to stay apprised of what’s happening and the expected timing. 
  • If problems come up during transit, expect regular updates. Your point of contact will stay in touch with you so you know what to expect and when you can expect it. 

Most of the time, transportation is a predictable process. When things go wrong it’s important to have a reliable contact to help resolve the issue.  

Finding someone who meets your needs is critical when it comes to avoiding problems. You can compare options using the Freight Carrier Selection Checklist, or start by comparing freight brokers and asset carriers to find out which is right for you. 

To learn more about what is required for your shipment, contact ATS

Tags: Transportation Solutions, Shipping Services

Kai Hagen

Written by Kai Hagen

Kai is national sales representative at ATS Greenville. In his role, he connects shippers with trucks and drivers to create seamless shipments and lasting relationships. Kai is also fluent in Spanish to provide excellent customer service in two languages.

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