Why Does Freight Get Rejected Upon Delivery? (And Tips for Avoiding Rejected Cargo)

Blue flatbed truck with tarped load

It’s a worst-case scenario for most shippers. Your freight arrives on location with the consignee, and they refuse to accept it. 

Consignees also don’t want to have to reject freight. There’s a reason they placed that order in the first place, and they need that load of items. 

But sometimes, it needs to be done. There are valid reasons why freight can’t be accepted, and there are even more reasons why it may need additional time before it is. 

Understanding the most common reasons freight is rejected, as well as the correct process for rejecting freight when necessary, can help you avoid these common problems and increase your freight-acceptance rate. 

At Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we work with shippers and consignees on a daily basis. Sometimes, we see situations where freight is rejected. Our experience over decades in the industry has helped us pinpoint the why, how and next steps when freight is rejected. 

Freight rejections aren’t personal, they’re a part of doing business. This article will help you prepare for rejecting freight or having your freight rejected, including next steps, potential costs and how to avoid the situation in the first place. 

You’ll learn: 

  • Common reasons freight is rejected
  • How to reject freight
  • How to avoid having your freight rejected

What Are the Most Common Reasons Freight Is Rejected? 

There are many unique reasons freight may be rejected by the consignee. The most common reasons have to do with quality control of the product itself or problems that happen during delivery. 

Diving into these common reasons can help both the consignee and the shipper understand the potential pitfalls of your load, and how to avoid them. 

Unordered Product

This can range from an excess of the ordered product arriving, the wrong product on the truck or freight intended for one destination being sent to another.  

Unordered product rejection can happen when the consignee refuses an entire load (likely if the shipment has the wrong product or if a dedicated truck has additional freight they don’t want to contaminate the ordered product), refuses just the excess commodity or decides to purchase the excess inventory.

Temperature Control Failure

Refrigerated trucks carrying temperature-sensitive products are accompanied by an electronic log that records the temperature in regular increments (often 15 or 30 minutes). If this log indicates that the product was not kept at the appropriate temperature, the consignee may reject that shipment. 

Inaccurate temperature can lead to a safety issue (in the case of commodities like fresh meat or produce, which can quickly spoil outside of recommended temperatures) or a quality control issue (commodities that are still safe to eat but do not meet manufacturer standards). 

Damaged Product

Similar to temperature control failure, damaged freight can range in severity from minor damage to a packing crate to total destruction of the commodity. 

If freight arrives damaged, the consignee may choose to sort through the load to determine if any of it is usable, or they may reject the entire load. 

Freight Has Shifted During Transit

Sometimes, freight moves and shifts while it is being transported to the customer. This has the potential to damage the freight. 

In extreme cases, freight that has come loose inside the trailer may not be able to be safely unloaded on-site. Shifted freight that can’t be safely unloaded at the consignee may have to be transported to a facility that has the equipment and training to empty the truck. In some cases, this freight may be usable once it is unloaded. Sometimes, the freight will be damaged beyond useability. 

Broken Trailer Seal

After freight is loaded, secured and accounted for at the shipper, the shipper or driver may apply a numbered trailer seal to the dry van’s outside doors. If the load was sealed at the shipper and arrives at the consignee with a broken seal, the freight may have been tampered with during transit. 

In case of a broken seal, a customer may choose to reject the entire load, or they may be able to accept the shipment after verifying that all inventory is accounted for. 

Driver Issues

In an instance where a consignee does not want to work with a particular driver, they may be able to work out a compromise that allows them to accept the freight. Rarely, they may not be willing to allow the driver to stay on-site long enough to unload the truck. 

No matter the reason, there are certain steps the consignee should follow when rejecting freight. Following a prescribed plan ensures everyone involved is on the same page and able to react appropriately. 

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How to Reject a Freight Shipment

Rejecting freight isn’t an easy process. There are multiple stakeholders in the process (consignee, shipper, transportation company, driver) and multiple outcomes for any type of rejection. 

Step 1: Have a Plan in Place

The best time to make a plan is before you need one. Having a plan in place will allow everyone involved to know when, why and how freight will be rejected. Even if key staff members (like your logistics manager) aren’t available, a thorough plan will help the freight rejection process go smoothly. 

A freight rejection plan should include a step-by-step process for common scenarios you may need to consider on the day. If applicable, you may want to include contact information for key stakeholders. 

Step 2: Communicate with Stakeholders

Keeping in contact with all stakeholders is critical throughout this process. When rejecting freight, at a minimum you will need to inform the following entities: 


The company shipping the goods needs to know that you’re rejecting freight, and the reason why. They may try to negotiate or find a way to have the freight accepted (for example, offering a discount on any acceptable items). 

Working with the shipper may also be necessary when it comes to determining what happens to the rejected items. The shipper may request the items be returned, or they may allow you to donate or dispose of the rejected freight. The consignee-shipper relationship is also critical when it comes to placing the next order or replacing the rejected freight. 

Transportation Provider

The transportation provider involved in the transaction needs to know how to handle the freight following rejection. 

  • Deliver to another location
  • Return to the shipper
  • Delay at the consignee location while the situation is sorted

The point person at the transportation company should be informed of the situation as soon as possible. They’ll work with the driver to keep them abreast of the situation and convey any additional or new instructions. 

When the rejection is due to damage or problems caused during shipping, the transportation provider will work with impacted entities to come up with a mutually beneficial solution. 

Insurance Company

Freight that is damaged for any reason should be reported to the company that insured the load. Prepare for this call by collecting pictures of the damage, and a description and dollar amount of the damaged items. 

Once everyone is informed, the next most pressing issue is dealing with the freight itself. There is a truckload of items that need to be unloaded from the truck and handled in some fashion. 

Step 3: Deal with the Freight

No matter why it was rejected, something needs to be done with the freight. Include possible options in your plan. 

Return to Sender

Some rejected freight may be returned to the shipper. If freight is rejected based on quality concerns, excess inventory, some types of damage or a broken seal, the sender may want the freight returned so it can be returned to their inventory and re-sold. 

Unload at Another Location

The shipper may be able to find another customer who is willing to accept the freight. Whether that customer is in the same city or across the country, the freight needs to be relocated. 

Freight shifting during transit is another reason that may require unloading offsite. There may be a specialized warehouse with equipment and training to safely unload and reload the truck for transport back to the original location or to another site. 


Excess freight, minimally damaged freight or late deliveries may be able to be donated to a local charity, such as a food bank. 

Before planning to donate excess freight, contact them and make sure they have the resources to accept the shipment. Food banks will not accept food that does not meet safety standards (such as meat that was not kept within safe temperatures), but they may be able to take food items with minor quality issues. 


Damaged or unsafe items that are not wanted by any parties may need to be disposed of at a local dump or garbage facility.

No matter the option chosen, there are likely to be additional costs accrued.

Step 4: Account for Additional Costs

While there may not be a line item fee for rejecting freight, most options for dealing with the freight will require additional costs. While determining what will happen with the freight, determine who will be responsible for any added fees. 

Delay-Related Fees

The transportation company may add fees for the driver’s time. Any time the driver spends waiting at your location is time they are not driving, and it can cause further delays in the driver’s day.  

Most drivers plan about two hours on-site. If the delay lasts longer than that, plan to pay $50-$75/hour. 

Transportation Fees

If the freight will be returned to the sender or to a third location, someone will be charged for that haul. 

Note that a potential return cost may differ from the original shipping cost. The day of the week, the availability of outgoing freight in the destination city, any changes to gas pricing and other factors all determine the price of a shipment. Contact your transportation provider for an accurate estimate of costs before committing to any return policy.  

Additional Task Costs

Rejected freight may also mean paying someone to do extra handling, which has expenses. 

  • Hiring a specialty crew to unload shifted freight: $250-$1,000+
  • Driver re-tarping the load for transit to another location: $100-$150
  • Re-securement and dunnage: $75-$100 per hour

Dump Costs

Disposing of a truckload of freight will incur costs from the disposal facility. These will vary locally, contact the dump facility for the most accurate cost estimate. 

In addition to these costs, rejecting freight adds delays and hassles to your shipment. Ideally, all shipments will be accepted as expected. 

How to Avoid Rejected Freight 

As a shipper or consignee, your objective is to have as many loads accepted as possible. While there are many variables that can lead to freight rejection, taking a few simple steps before transit begins can lead to a more successful shipment. 

Communicate Clearly

Make sure all parties have the same expectations for the shipment, including:

  • A description of all items on the shipment
  • Total number of items
  • Total cost of the shipment
  • Expected pick-up and delivery day
  • Any special requirements (temperature control, tarping, etc.)
  • Securement expectations

Specifying these items with all involved parties, via email and with any helpful pictures or visual aids, helps reduce the chances of misunderstandings when the truck arrives. 

If your freight is subject to special handling requirements like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), be sure your carrier understands what that means and is prepared to meet those standards. 

Match Expectations on Equipment and Technology

If it’s important to use specialty equipment during transit, for example, electronic temperature logs, confirm your expectations for the type and functionality of the equipment before transit begins. 

Be sure you understand how you will receive updates, how often and what the updates will look like. 

Ensure Adequate Cargo Insurance

While having cargo insurance isn’t going to stop freight from being rejected, you don’t want to find out you have inadequate coverage the hard way. Make sure your loads, especially critical loads, are insured for the correct value. 

Use Reliable Sources

While there’s no vendor who can guarantee 100 percent successful shipping and handling, make sure you choose reliable vendors, carriers and even customers.

This is sometimes where choosing the cheapest option is more expensive in the long run. Before ordering a truckload of inventory, make sure it is being created and transported by someone with a reputation for quality. 

Prepare Now for the Possibility of Freight Rejection

While no one hopes for a freight rejection, it’s a fairly routine part of doing business. Having a plan in place, considering the available options and taking steps to avoid the situation in the first place can make the process easier and more cost-effective. 

Working with a reliable carrier is one way to avoid freight rejections due to transportation problems. Download the Transportation Provider Scorecard to make sure you are consistently using the best providers for your valuable items. 

Looking for a quote for your next load? Contact ATS today. 

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Mike Zarns

Written by Mike Zarns

Mike started with ATS in 2011 and was onboarded as a carrier representative covering loads. A year later, he transitioned into sales, and in 2015 he moved into management. Mike has a passion for helping customers and employees by finding unique solutions to their problems.

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