Freight Measurements Matter: Dimensions and Piece Count in Freight Shipping


In some senses, the trucking industry is an information industry. Not an information technology industry (although trucking companies rely on world-class technology). Not a research industry. An industry that relies on complete, accurate information. 

With accurate information, your driver can safely move thousands of pounds of freight without incident, you know exactly where your goods are at any time and if something happens the driver knows how to react without wasting precious time. 

All this is possible when you provide accurate information to your transportation provider. Our team at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) works with shippers every day to make sure their freight is delivered to destinations across the country without incident. 

Over the years, we’ve learned that having accurate information at the beginning of the process saves time and money. Read on to learn more about the information that matters, how to measure and specify that information before transit, and the potential payoff of stressing accurate communication, measurements and details from the start. 

How Your Freight Carrier Uses Measurements and Piece Count

One of the first things your carrier will ask you is what you are shipping. Specifying the name of the commodity, as well as any necessary details like how it is packed (pallets?, totes?), is the first step toward a successful relationship.

Once that commodity has been established, it’s time to get specific. Your transportation provider needs the exact length, width and height of your shipment, as well as the number of pieces/pallets it encompasses. 

Your provider will use this information to make decisions about your shipment such as:

  • The type of vehicle needed to haul it
  • How much it will cost to ship it

The Type of Vehicle Needed

Many transportation providers have a fleet with a variety of trucks and trailers available, including dry vans, flatbeds, step-decks and other specialty solutions

The dimensions of the freight help the provider find the right vehicle. For example, dry vans can only be used for freight that fits within the confines of the vehicle. Larger freight will mean a conversation about other ways to keep it out of the elements, including tarps or Conestoga trailers

Even among other trailer types, size matters. Tall freight that can’t legally ride on a standard flatbed trailer may be able to be safely loaded onto a step-deck trailer. 

The type of vehicle needed will influence all aspects of your shipment, including availability and price. Specifying that information right away will mean fewer surprises later on. 

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How Much It Will Cost to Ship

When you are ordering shipping services, the price is probably one of your earliest questions. The accuracy of the quote from your chosen transportation provider depends on the accuracy of the information you’ve given. 

An all-in quote will factor in the distance of the haul, the type of vehicle and anything that will be required of the driver. 

For example, if the driver can pull up to your loading dock with a dry van and take their required driving break while your staff loads the truck, that cost will differ from a load where the driver has to tarp equipment on a dry van. If the tarp has to be pulled up and over multiple pieces, that creates extra work for the driver — which will be reflected in the price. 

In an industry as dynamic as trucking, it’s understandable that details will change about your shipment (maybe one pallet isn’t ready as soon as expected, or maybe different equipment than originally planned is needed on your jobsite). 

Communicating these changes to your provider as soon as possible means they can adjust your rate before the shipment is in process, helping you budget appropriately and avoid unexpected fees. 

As always in the trucking industry, staying in touch with your point of contact is an important step in keeping your shipment on track. Being thorough and accurate from the beginning will pay off in the end. 

How to Submit Accurate Freight Measurements

Ultimately, it is your responsibility as the shipper to give the provider the information they need to transport your commodity. The accuracy of data and how it is conveyed is important to preventing misunderstandings. 

Measure and Measure Again

An accurate measurement is vital. A few inches may not seem like a big deal, but if it’s a few inches longer than the length of the van, that means your load will be delayed and you will accrue fees. If it’s a few inches taller than the height of a bridge, the results can be even more catastrophic. 

There’s an old saying in the carpentry business, “measure twice, cut once.” In the trucking industry, the philosophy of checking and double checking your measurements is equally important. 

When measuring, make sure to account for the product as it will be on the truck. If it will be on a 4-inch high pallet, measure the commodity on that pallet. If it will be packed in a shipping crate, weigh the product inside the crate. 

If you are shipping multiple pieces, provide measurements for each individual piece, as well as the total. This will help the weight be evenly distributed on the trailer, and it will also determine if all pieces will fit on one vehicle, or if it will be considered a divisible load that must be loaded to multiple trailers. 

When you’re sure of the accuracy of your measurements, it’s time to convey that information to your carrier. 

Here are two easy steps you can take to ensure they get what they need.

1. Share Information in Writing

The best way to share measurements and piece count with your carrier or broker is via email. This creates a paper trail that confirms all parties are working with the same information without misunderstandings. 

Even if measurements or changes were discussed on a phone call, send an email confirmation as soon as possible. It’s vital that everyone has the same understanding of exactly what and how much is being shipped.  

2. Use Visuals and Diagrams

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of trucking a picture can help the carrier prepare for your shipment. When available, pictures or diagrams of the freight can be immensely helpful. Visual aids give transportation providers  a clear understanding of what they are dealing with, reducing the chances of discrepancies.

Visual aids can include things like manufacturer photos of equipment and sketches of how you expect to load the freight. Seeing this information ahead of time eliminates surprises when the driver arrives onsite.  

When sharing visuals via email, be sure to let your contact know that you are sending them as an attachment. Preparing them ahead of time that you will be sending a safe attachment will eliminate any confusion or concerns about information security.

Of course, all the preparation of providing visuals, measuring your load and communicating clearly is meaningless if the information isn’t accurate.  

Why Your Carrier Needs Accurate Freight Information

Giving information to your transportation provider is important. Giving accurate information is critical to the success of your shipment. 

Even if your freight is well within legal limits, helping your provider understand exactly what they will be dealing with can prevent a number of hassles, including: 

  • Accessorial Charges
  • Delays
  • Damage and Liability

Avoid Accessorial Charges

Accessorials are additional fees that the transportation provider charges when they have to make changes to the original transportation plan. While it’s sometimes possible to negotiate these fees (especially for circumstances out of your control), the ideal situation is to avoid them in the first place. 

Some of the accessorial charges that may be charged due to inaccurate information include: 

  • Truck Ordered Not Used (TONU) if the driver shows up and is unable to pick up: $200 or more
  • Detention if the driver has to wait: $50-$75/hour
  • Tarp charge if the driver unexpectedly has to tarp the freight: $100-$150 

In addition to accessorial charges, you will likely experience delays as your provider and driver adjust to the new situation. 

Prevent Delays

When time is money, you don’t want to accrue delays because your transportation provider is working off bad information. The exact reasons for the delays will vary widely, but here are some common reasons an unexpected load could be slowed down. 

  • An inappropriate vehicle shows up, and the carrier needs to source a new vehicle and driver
  • Additional trucks are needed 
  • Driver is only willing to take the load as specified and contracted
  • Permits are required
  • A different route is needed due to freight size

Time delays could range from an hour to a day or more. This can have a major impact on your supply chain, and it’s not something you want to risk. 

And speaking of risk … 

Avoid Damage and Liability

In the worst case, inaccurate specifications will cause damage and liability. Your freight may be damaged, or you may be liable for injury or property damage. 

This is most obvious in cases when freight is larger than expected. Over-dimensional freight that is not properly marked and planned for can cause damage to bridges and roads. Imagine it’s your freight responsible for damaging the infrastructure people depend on every day. 

The shipper is ultimately responsible for providing the information used to plan the route, obtain permits and specify vehicles. The driver will often verify this information onsite, but ultimately it is incumbent on the shipper to accurately specify their load. 

Accurate and thorough information can help you avoid all these consequences. 

Accurate Specifications Are Key Shipping Your Freight

The trucking industry runs on information. If you’re ever unsure what details your provider needs, ask your point of contact. 

Correctly specifying the complete dimensions and piece count of your freight can save time, money and hassle before and during transit. Lay this information out via email to create a paper trail, and immediately update as needed. 

Understanding legal freight dimension limits can help you understand the quote your carrier provides based on your specifications. If you’re ready to find a carrier, download the Freight Carrier Selection Checklist to help focus your search. 

Of course, the ATS team is always available to help you move your shipments. Contact us whenever you’re ready.

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Tags: Heavy Haul Shipping, Flatbed Shipping, Dry Van Shipping, Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipping, Supply Chain Tips, Food and Beverage

Nick Bridenstine

Written by Nick Bridenstine

Nick Bridenstine has been part of the ATS team since 2020. As national sales representative, he works with shippers to provide a reliable solution for moving chemicals, cosmetic products, flatbed freight and other commodities.

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