The Trucking Industry In October 2023: What you should know


October brings the World Series, Halloween and the start of the fourth quarter. And while it can be easy to write October off as the last month before the busy holiday season, experienced shippers know that this is actually one of the busiest shipping months. 

As you read this, the toys and electronics that will be wrapped up under the tree are being transported to store shelves. And that’s not the only thing on the road this month.

Now’s the time to pour yourself a hot apple cider (or a pumpkin beer if that’s more your thing) and consider how your freight needs and industry trends change in October. 

At Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we are prepared for every holiday and shipping spike. Since 1955, we’ve seen a lot of season changes — and we’re prepared for everything October can throw at us. 

In this article, you will learn about trends in the shipping industry and what will be impacting your shipments this month. We will cover: 

Let’s jump in. 

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Low Levels in the Panama Canal: Keeping an Eye on the Global Supply Chain

The Panama Canal is at record low levels. If water in the canal stays low, this can have a huge impact on the global transportation market.

Right now, vessels are seeing longer wait times before they can pass through the canal. If these wait times get longer, or if the canal gets completely blocked, international shippers may re-route their shipments to avoid further delays. 

With holiday shipping in full swing, this could mean increased activity at west coast ports as international shipments take a more roundabout route. Trucks, especially dry vans, may be rerouted to load in California for distribution nationwide. 

The Panama Canal is a major thoroughfare for international shipping. But an influx of goods coming into an unexpected port and causing trucks to re-route will have a massive impact on the domestic market as well. It’s worth keeping an eye on this evolving situation.

Increasing Spot Rate Quotes in October

Recently we have seen an increase in shippers requesting spot quotes. This could be for a variety of reasons — decreased shipping needs at their business as consumers spend less on goods, uncertainty going into an election year, or just shopping around for a better price. 

While there’s not a hard-and-fast rule for when a contract quote or a spot quote is best, it’s worth noting that developing a network of consistent and reliable transportation providers gives you a variety of options when it comes to shipping. This can often lead to a better price than requesting a new spot quote for every shipment. 

Even if your business relies mainly on spot quotes, developing a relationship with one or more carriers gives them an incentive to consistently give you the most competitive rates. 

How October Impacts The Availability of Dry Van Trailers

The upcoming holiday shopping season means consumer goods are rushing to stores throughout the fall. Most of these goods are traveling on a dry van. 

One thing we are seeing throughout 2023 is that consumer spending is down overall and has shifted away from goods and more toward services. While dry van capacity is tighter now than it has been in previous months, it is not spiking as much as in other years. 

Still, dry vans are less available than they have been recently. Plan to pay slightly more for dry van shipments over the next few months. 

As the Panama Canal situation continues to evolve, dry vans may be rerouted from the east to the west coast. Expect to see lower capacity (and higher prices) for shorter hauls around the east. We may see lower prices for vehicles traveling west as drivers prioritize getting to areas with a lot of available loads. 

Of course, dry vans do not provide any level of temperature control. If your cargo needs to be kept at a certain temperature, you’ll need a refrigerated truck. 


How October Impacts the Availability of Reefer Trailers

October is the end of the busy Midwest harvest season, and refrigerated trucks are moving out of that area. In the fall, harvest moves up the West Coast from California to states in the Pacific Northwest, where apples, onions, squash and beets are maturing before traveling to tables across the country. 

This month, reefer trucks will move into states like Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Overall, fewer reefers are needed in October as these sturdy crops don’t require constant refrigeration. Trucking is an industry that depends on supply and demand, and getting trucks into high-demand areas means lower prices. 

As much as we love fresh fall apples, nothing says that the end of the year is coming quite as clearly as one of the most popular seasonal crops of the year…

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A Note About Christmas Tree Season 

In the unofficial major holiday calendar, Christmas comes right on the heels of Halloween. Right now, fir trees are hitting their final growth spurt before they are trucked to living rooms across the country. 

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are 25-30 million fresh Christmas trees sold in the U.S. How do all these trees get to the lot? You guessed it…via truck. 

Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, with the majority in Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. We may see a shortage of vehicles in these states as trees are trucked to their final homes.

As you might expect, Christmas trees have a very short shipping season. The shortage caused by tree shipping will be short. But while the holiday season is a very specific timeline, winter lasts for months. 

How October Impacts Open-Deck Freight 

Now that it’s officially fall, the days get shorter and the temperatures start to cool, especially in the northern parts of the country. 

In the south, standard flatbed, step-deck and lowboy shipping remains much the same. Hurricane season is also coming to an end, so expect minimal changes to these markets in October. 

Further up north, October is significantly colder than in previous months. While there usually aren’t major snow events this month, frost is a realistic possibility. If your freight may be sensitive to frost, consider using a dry van or Conestoga trailer for greater protection. 

These are also the last days of construction in the northern states. Expect a decrease in the movement of lumber, equipment and other construction materials starting this month. Flatbed drivers are also motivated to stay in the southern part of the country, where they can stay consistently busy. 

Standard open-deck freight may have minimal seasonal disruption. Oversize freight is another story. 


How Will October Impact Oversized Freight Movement

Nationwide, October means about an hour of lost daylight. In many jurisdictions, permitted freight can travel only during daylight hours — so plan for more travel time for over-dimensional freight.

Speaking of permits, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is October 9. In many states and jurisdictions, permitting offices are closed for the day. If you will be shipping through multiple states, plan ahead to secure your permits so an office closure doesn’t stop your haul. 

Over-dimensional freight is also restricted when traveling through major college football cities in October. The massive influx of fans and tailgaters on gameday means that no oversize freight is allowed to go through town. Check local restrictions and plan another route on game day. 

Planning ahead is always critical in transportation. Additional restrictions and less daylight make this more important than ever. While the cost may be more or less the same as in previous months, don’t wait until the last minute. 

Of course, October is the last month where it’s safe to count on mild weather in some parts of the country. Planning ahead will become even more critical in the months to come, and it’s never too early to start.

How to Make The Most Of Your Budget This Month

No matter what is going on with transportation or your particular business or even the economy, you need to get the most of your shipping dollars. As we start the fourth quarter and your annual budget may be getting tighter, it’s more important than ever to work with your carrier or broker to get the best price possible. 

Plan Ahead

Many industries have predictable seasonal needs. If you’re shipping apples, you probably expect October to be busy. If your business is wrapping paper, you know that demand will spike over the next few months. And if you’re in construction, you know that it’s time to start moving your equipment and staff to the south.

While none of us can predict the future, you probably have some idea of the ebbs and flows of your business. 

Using those predictions to give your broker or carrier adequate lead time gives them more opportunity to find the vehicle you need within your budget. 

While it’s possible to find a truck and driver at the last minute, it almost always costs more. Contacting your provider 48-72 hours before your shipment has to load helps save on shipping costs. 

Consider Alternative Trailer Types

As seasonal shipping needs vary, so do the busiest types of vehicles. For example, as reefer trucks move to the northeast, they will be less available in other parts of the country. 

Often, the best way to get a lower price is to allow your carrier to be creative with how your freight will be hauled. When you provide an accurate and thorough specification, the transportation expert can use that information to find a vehicle that meets your needs. 

For example, can your forklift ship on a flatbed instead of a dry van? Would you save money using a hot-shot trailer instead of a full truckload? Your provider may have suggestions you didn’t previously consider. Sometimes, using a different type of trailer results in significant cost and time savings. 

Be Flexible in Timing

When possible, widening your window for pick-up and delivery can make a huge difference in the availability of a vehicle, as well as the rate you pay. 

Transportation is constantly evolving. With fewer daylight hours and greater potential for weather disruptions, drivers are facing increased pressure every day. If you can ease that pressure by allowing them to arrive within a wider window of time, they will appreciate it and be more likely to take your load. 

Safety is always the first priority. By making it easier for drivers to deal with unexpected slowdowns, you allow them to drive at safe speeds for the entire journey. 

Flexible timing can also make it easier to find a truck when needed. If your delivery time can be combined with another local pick-up, that means less time driving with an empty truck — savings that may be passed on to you. 

During the busy fourth quarter, brokers and carriers are feeling the same pressures as you. Partnering with them to find mutually beneficial solutions can benefit both of you, and help strengthen your partnership. 

Make the Most of Your Supply Chain During Fourth Quarter

This is the busiest time of year in many industries. One thing you don’t need is supply chain hassles. 

Luckily, working with an experienced shipping carrier can take the pain out of shipping in October and beyond. You can set yourself up for success by planning ahead and giving your provider a thorough, accurate specification for each shipment. 

If you want to learn more about what’s happening in the industry, subscribe to our Learning Hub for regular updates. 

For more specific information about your shipping needs, contact one of our representatives. The ATS team is always happy to help you find a shipping solution. 

Tags: Insider, Freight Brokerage, Heavy Haul Shipping, Flatbed Shipping, Over Dimensional Shipping, Dry Van Shipping, Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipping

Scott Cromer

Written by Scott Cromer

Scott is the southeast regional office manager for ATS Logistics, where he oversees the Greenville, South Carolina sales and operations office, and the Charleston, South Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio warehouses. Scott joined ATS 10 years ago to serve in his current role, but has been a part of the transportation industry for nearly four decades.

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