Practically every supply chain depends on less-than-truckload (LTL) service to run smoothly. In the right situation, LTL shipping presents a convenient solution for shippers across industries.
However, if you’ve utilized LTL services in the past, you also understand how disruptive things can get when something goes wrong or communication fails. That’s why it’s important to have confidence in your LTL provider’s capabilities before granting them your business.
Unfortunately, building this confidence, in such a saturated marketplace, is easier said than done.
If you have questions about what a great LTL transportation company looks like or what you should consider when choosing your next one, look no further.
In this article, you’ll find a list of 9 LTL carriers that, based on our experience brokering these shipments since 1989 — and revenue numbers reported by Transport Topics — are truly best in class.
Here at ATS Logistics, we’re confident in our ability to connect shippers with their best-fit transportation solutions. As an industry-leading freight brokerage, we use many of the companies below to fulfill these duties. That said, you deserve to have a seamless LTL shipping experience, even if ATS Logistics isn’t involved.
Below, we’ve provided a list of companies that you may want to consider when working directly with a carrier for your LTL shipments and some tips for selecting one that will fit your needs.
Top 10 LTL Carriers in 2023
- Old Dominion Freight Line
- XPO Logistics
- Estes Express Lines
- ABF Freight System
- SAIA Inc.
- Southeastern Freight Lines
- Averitt Express
- Central Transport
- Dayton Freight Lines
Old Dominion Freight Line
Headquarters location: Thomasville, North Carolina
Founded date: 1934
Service areas*: United States, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited, Guaranteed
Distinct advantages/accolades*: 250+ service centers across the U.S., claims rate below 0.2 percent, one of the youngest fleets (of trucks/trailers) on the road
*According to Old Dominion’s website
Headquarters location: Greenwich, Connecticut
Founded date: 2000
Service areas*: U.S., Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia
Specialized LTL services offered*: Guaranteed, time-date critical, rapid remote, exclusive use
Distinct advantages/accolades*: services more than 99 percent of U.S. zip codes
*According to XPO Logistics’ website
Estes Express Lines
Headquarters location: Richmond, Virginia
Founded date: 1931
Service areas*: U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited, final mile
Distinct advantages/accolades*: 90 years of experience, 7,000 tractors, 30,000 trailers, 260+ terminals
*According to Estes Express Lines’ website
ABF Freight System
Headquarters location: Fort Smith, Arkansas
Founded date: 1923
Service areas*: U.S., Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited transit, time-definite, final mile delivery, volume LTL
Distinct advantages/accolades*: Wide LTL network, 7-time ATA President’s Trophy for Safety recipient, 8-time Excellence in Security recipient, 7-time Excellence in Claims & Loss Prevention recipient
*According to ABF Freight System’s website
Headquarters location: Johns Creek, Georgia
Founded date: 1924
Service areas*: Mexico, Canada, U.S., Puerto Rico
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited
Distinct advantages/accolades*: 85 percent of shipments are delivered within 48 hours, 12,000 one and two-day lanes, nearly 60,000 zip codes in coverage areas
*According to SAIA’s website
Southeastern Freight Lines
Headquarters location: Lexington, South Carolina
Founded date: 2010
Service areas*: Specializes in next-day service to the southeastern and southwestern U.S. and operates service centers in 13 states. Offers LTL solutions throughout the remainder of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands through partnerships.
Specialized LTL services offered*: Assembly and distribution, carpet specialist, guaranteed
Distinct advantages/accolades*: Provides more than 99.35 percent on-time service in next-day lanes, has received more than 500 quality awards.
*According to Southeastern Freight Lines’ website
Headquarters location: Cookeville, Tennessee
Founded date: 1969
Service areas*: U.S., Canada, Mexico
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited, temperature controlled, final-mile delivery, pool distribution
Distinct advantages/accolades*: 0.35 percent claims ratio, 98 percent on-time delivery, 99.9 percent billing accuracy history, 99.9 percent on-time expedited,
*According to Averitt Express’ website
Headquarters location: Warren, Michigan
Founded date: 1932
Service areas*: U.S., Mexico, Canada
Specialized LTL services offered*: Hazardous materials, expedited
Distinct advantages/accolades*: Provides direct services to 98 percent of U.S. major manufacturing areas
*According to Central Transport’s website
Dayton Freight Lines
Headquarters location: Dayton, Ohio
Founded date: 1981
Service areas*: Midwestern U.S. (14-states)
Specialized LTL services offered*: Expedited, guaranteed service, liftgate service, home delivery, pool distribution
Distinct advantages/accolades*: 98 percent on-time service, 0.16 percent safety record, 99.6 percent claims-free delivery, 2,141 tractors, 4,970 trailers
*According to Dayton Freight Lines’ website
How to Select Your LTL Carrier (Tips to Prioritize)
Each of these carriers does its job well. Provided you have the right conversations, verifying that their strengths align with your needs, it’s not unreasonable to assume that any one of them can get the job done for you.
So yeah, you could simply choose a carrier from this list and move on. But in case you’d like to be a bit more discerning and connect your company with its absolute best-fit LTL carrier, here are some things to keep in mind.
Whether you’re looking to pick a company from this list or not, make sure to verify each carrier’s. . .
- Communication skills and methods
- Areas of strength, size and infrastructure
- Technology usage
- Performance history
Communication Skills and Methods
Having easy, dependable and open lines of communication with your transportation providers is important. This is especially true of your LTL carriers.
As you’re likely aware, LTL shipping is an intricate process full of routine stop-offs and handling points along each route. As such, having a great relationship of transparency with your carrier (and the point of contact given to you there) will really pay dividends long term.
Reaching your provider to ask them about projected arrival times or question them about your rates should always be easy. The right carrier will make this seamless from the start
Make sure you’re comfortable with your point of contact from the outset. Ask this individual what their preferred lines of communication are and when they will be available should you need them. Good LTL carriers offer their customers both asynchronous (digital) and direct options for getting a hold of them.
Great communication will help you avoid issues on your LTL shipments and find a carrier that is good at it.
Areas of Strength and Infrastructure
Like other asset-based providers, LTL trucking companies have specific areas of strength — locations, lanes and/or regions that they service most frequently and competently.
In the LTL space, these areas of strength are based on where a company’s assets (trucks, trailers, drivers and terminals) are located. For the most part, the companies listed above have expansive, nationwide (or international) areas of strength.
This means these carriers, likely, won’t have trouble meeting your diverse set of needs. It is, however, important to note that not every LTL company is built the same.
Providing these services is a labor and cost-intensive process, limiting under-resourced companies from doing so at a high level.
As such, to ensure your carrier has the ability to reliably and competitively move your LTL cargoes, question their areas of strength and infrastructure:
- Where are their terminals located?
- How many trucks and trailers do they own?
- Which regions do they service most frequently?
Lean in and ask questions like these before onboarding a new carrier.
Technology has made an impact on the vast majority of freight services. LTL is no different. In fact, we’d venture to say the LTL marketplace has changed more than most in the digital age.
Historically, these shipments, which typically take longer than both partial and full-truckload services have been unpredictable. This unpredictability makes it harder for shippers and consignees to manage their supply chains efficiently. Without knowledge as to where their cargo is or when it is slated to arrive, it’s impossible for businesses to plan appropriately.
Recently, however, technology has made seamless in-transit visibility throughout LTL freight moves far more accessible.
Additionally, today’s technologies allow shippers to gain far more control over their LTL shipments by providing shipment quoting, freight tracking, historical data analysis, document storage and more within a single, easy-access customer portal.
The best carriers make investments in these technologies to ensure each customer is given all of the information needed to succeed. These are the LTL carriers you’ll want to utilize — make sure yours uses a robust suite of technologies to improve your experience.
Another thing you’ll want to consider when selecting your next LTL provider is the carrier’s performance history. Great transportation providers openly display this information (usually on their websites).
Ensure your LTL provider has the experience and service excellence you deserve by verifying their claims rates, on-time performance percentages and other quality-related data.
Most companies understand these data points intimately so don’t be afraid to ask about them.
The last thing you need is to end up working with an under-qualified LTL carrier, make sure each company you utilize has the performance history/capabilities to adequately service your freight.
Wondering about which key performance indicators (KPIs) truly matter? Check out this article on transportation provider KPIs and how to evaluate the performance of your network.
Improve Your Carrier Network Going Forward
Now that you have a list of 10 great LTL companies to check out in 2023, and some tips for selecting the right carrier, you’re ready for the next step toward building a great transportation network: Understanding how many carriers is enough.
If you’ve ever wondered about how many transportation providers you should actually have, you’re not alone. Plenty of great companies ask these questions whenever it's time to make adjustments to their network.
There is not a uniform answer to this question. Instead, these discernments must be made by each shipper individually. To help you come to the right conclusion and build a robust, solid transportation network capable of meeting your ever-changing needs, check out this article which outlines how many transportation providers you should have (and how to choose).
Finally, here at ATS Logistics, we're proud of our ability to help a wide array of companies move their LTL freight on time, on budget and damage free. But that doesn't mean we're the right fit for every company. So here's what you should know about us...
You should consider ATS Logistics as long as you're looking for an LTL provider that:
- Prioritizes service quality and reliability — but not always the lowest price
- Can help you move any kind of LTL cargo
- Has a firmly-vetted and well-managed network of elite carriers
- Only works with the safest LTL companies and continually monitors them for the most impactful safety metrics
- Will help you meet each of your customer commitments with solutions customized to fit your requirements
If these things intrigue you and leave you wondering whether a brokerage like ATS Logistics would fit your supply chain, please don't hesitate to reach out. We’d love to show you how a great LTL provider operates and what this can truly mean for its customers.