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Refrigerated LTL Carriers: What they are and how to choose one

Choosing the right carrier is one of the most important aspects of a shipping operation. 

This is especially true when shipping items that require refrigerated transport. In fact, there’s a growing need for refrigerated (reefer) trucking, with the market in the U.S. and Canada expected to reach $12 billion by 2025

Industries driving this growth include: 

  • Agriculture
  • Food services
  • Health care
  • Pharmaceuticals

Refrigerated less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers provide a way to ship perishable items quickly and efficiently without needing a full truckload. Transport by refrigerated LTL carriers requires a balance of logistics, communication, and equipment. 

What is a refrigerated LTL carrier? 

Refrigerated LTL carriers provide temperature-controlled trucks for products that must remain frozen or refrigerated within a specific temperature range. 

Reefer carriers have the specialized equipment and experience to monitor temperatures during transit, ensuring the stability and integrity of cargo.

Refrigerated LTL carriers vs. dry LTL carriers

When you’re ready to select a carrier to transport temperature-sensitive freight, it’s helpful to understand the differences between refrigerated and dry LTL trucks. 

Refrigerated LTL trailers:

  • Are insulated and made of metal or fiberglass versus wood.
  • Have controls to customize the temperature for different cargo (e.g., cheese versus liquid chemicals). 
  • Are heavier due to the refrigeration unit and the insulated construction. Refrigerated LTL trailers have a maximum loadable weight of 44,000 pounds, whereas a standard dry van can carry 45,000 pounds.

Key considerations:

  • Reefer LTLs don’t operate as frequently as regular LTLs but typically have scheduled pickup days based on the operating region.
  • Because of limited delivery schedules, there may be a one-week lag in receiving refrigerated goods, depending on the order date.
  • LTL carriers pack multiple customers’ freight on the same reefer, so goods shipped together must stay in a similar temperature range.

Benefits of refrigerated LTL carriers

Here’s a short list of the top benefits refrigerated LTL carriers offer shippers:

Preserves perishable items

Refrigerated LTL carriers make it possible to ship temperature-sensitive items long distances without compromising the integrity of the cargo. 

Controlling temperatures inside refrigerated trailers keeps goods fresh and safe throughout transit. Some non-food items like chemicals, medical equipment, and biohazards also require shipping via reefers. 

Expands service area

Since refrigerated LTL carriers allow you to ship your perishable products safely over long distances, you can expand your service area and tap into new markets. 

Has multiple applications

Reefer trucks aren’t just for shipping food, although that’s a category that benefits from refrigerated trucks

Refrigerated LTL carriers can transport temperature-sensitive items like:

  • Electronics
  • Volatile materials
  • Lab specimens

Improves efficiency

Because you can ship a partial load and share space with other shippers, refrigerated LTLs make you more operationally efficient. 

With refrigerated carriers, there’s no need to wait for a full trailer load. Booking partial space in refrigerated trailers allows you to ship your freight more quickly.

Reduces operational costs

Reefers reduce operational costs by preventing spoilage of food and other goods. 

This limits waste and reduces refund requests from customers. Refrigerated LTL carriers also help lower warehousing costs by shipping goods directly from the source rather than holding them at refrigerated storage facilities. 

You can also ship dry goods in a reefer rather than let them sit idle if there are no refrigerated items to transport. 

Minimizes carbon footprint

Consolidating shipments in refrigerated LTL carriers means fewer empty trucks and partial loads on the road. 

This reduces fuel consumption and minimizes your carbon footprint. You’re also reducing the environmental impact of agricultural cargo by reducing food waste/spoilage.

How to choose refrigerated LTL carriers

Choosing the right LTL carrier to ship refrigerated goods comes down to the type of freight you’re transporting to any special packaging requirements and other considerations.

Look for:

  • High-quality equipment: Make sure your refrigerated LTL carriers have high-quality refrigeration units and provide temperature control throughout transit.
  • A reliable transportation network: Look for refrigerated carriers with a strong network of terminals, warehouses, and trucks. This ensures freight arrives on time and in good condition.
  • 100% temperature control: Even slight fluctuations in temperature can be disastrous when shipping certain items. 100% temperature control guarantees that refrigerated goods remain safe throughout the entire shipment process.
  • Supply chain visibility: Real-time tracking and visibility provide important insight into where your goods are. This includes access to a shipment’s entire transport history to see if there have been delays or temperature issues.
  • High customer satisfaction: Research refrigerated LTL carriers to learn about their reliability. Ask for references, look for testimonials, and vet any carrier you decide to work with. 
  • Additional service options: Consider refrigerated LTL carriers that offer other services like refrigerated storage or food-grade trailers. If you’re transporting delicate items that need refrigeration (flowers, fresh fruit, wine, etc.), make sure refrigerated carriers can handle these loads without damaging them.
  • Flexible response rates: If you expect seasonal surges or last-minute orders, ask if the carrier can support last-minute orders. Find out how they handle these requests since overpromising can leave you in a bind if you can’t transport perishable goods.

Start your search for refrigerated LTL carriers now

At Truckstop, we understand the importance of finding refrigerated LTL carriers that can meet your needs and keep your refrigerated goods safe. 

We have thousands of trustworthy trucking partners to help you move sensitive freight quickly and safely. We provide several plans and pricing options, allowing you to search for trucks/lanes, post loads, and research carriers. 

Choose the plan that works for you.

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