First, WHY flatbed – do I really need a flatbed? Well, if you have an oversized, overweight, or odd-shaped load, then a flatbed is your solution. Anything that wouldn’t fit into a regular 53-foot trailer probably belongs on flatbed. That said, there are a lot things to consider as a shipper before you contract a flatbed carrier. Know the below items and you’ll set yourself up for success before your first shipment.
Usually, flatbeds deliver goods that do not fit into an enclosed trailer just won’t work. Flatbeds work for loads that cannot be palletized, need to be side loaded, oversized loads, over weight loads, or an unusual configuration (machinery, for example). Common flatbed cargo includes industrial steel, lumber, large equipment, pre-fabricated products and solar panels. When you hire a flatbed carrier, be very specific about what you are looking for and your commodity. If the goods need special wrapping or care, don’t assume your carrier knows it – say something and ensure your freight gets the love that it deserves.
Flatbeds are available in various configurations. Lengths generally range from 48 to 85 feet, the most common length being 53 feet. There are “single drop” and “double drop” step decks, “low-boys” and heavy haulers. Talk to your carrier about which style best suits your needs, most will be happy to tell you about all of their equipment options. If they aren’t willing to talk, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t work with them.
ALWAYS verify any carrier’s ability to handle hazardous materials prior to any shipping activity. Your carrier should be able to quickly and easily provide verification of their ability to haul hazmat loads.
For “high, wide or heavy” loads, make sure your carrier has the appropriate permits for this type of freight. These are the loads you see going down the road with an escort car, sometimes this includes police presence, depending on the size of your load. Ask your carrier whether this is necessary because failing to do so can be expensive.
Determine your carrier’s cargo insurance PRIOR to engaging in any freight movement. This stands for ANY carrier, not just flatbed carriers. However, the nature of flatbed freight may require higher than normal insurance requirements. Verify that your carrier of choice has adequate insurance coverage for your freight. This information should be readily provided by any carrier.
Since flatbed use has generally declined since about 1980, most of the carriers who offer this service cover a large area of the 48 contiguous states, and some can cross the border into Canada or Mexico. Verify service area with your carrier.
Service into Canada and Mexico requires specialty permits sometimes, therefore, be cautious and ask, don’t assume your carrier has the right permit.
Often, flatbed freight is destined for a port to be shipped out of the U.S. In order to enter port property without an escort, a valid TWIC** (Transportation Worker Identification Card) card is required. Check with your carrier to see if they have a TWIC card.
The TSA issues TWIC cards for workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels.
Many carriers offer expedited service and team service options. Expedited services are best known with LTL services, but some flatbed carriers can make expedited flatbed deliveries happen. If you’re in a pinch, you want a carrier partner who can come through at the last minute. Team services bring the added benefit of through-the-night delivery. Hours of service requirements have put a pinch on capacity, but team drivers are able to drive twice as long without stopping, and consequently can offer non-stop driving. Everyone wins!
Most carriers can accommodate your request for drop trailer service with appropriate notice. Ask your carrier for details and rates for these specialized services. Drop services allow the trailer to be dropped at your facility for an extended period of time, so you don’t need to rush the loading process. This works well with regular shipments of specialty goods, as you can have a load delivered, another in transit and another being loaded, all at the same time.
Dedicated service should be discussed with the individual carrier, as this can vary from company to company. The benefits to dedicated service are manifold, including discount pricing that can help you to budget your shipping needs accurately, a long-lasting relationship and routine expectations. Know when your carrier picks up your goods and delivers them. Then, schedule your operations strategically and while you save time and money.
If you need partial, or LTL service, ask if your carrier can accommodate your situation. Many flatbed carriers can offer this service with a specially tiered pricing structure. This is especially the case if you have recurring loads in the same lane on a regular basis.
From TWIC cards to fleet diversification, there’s a lot to think about with flatbed loads. These are just some of the basics of doing business with a flatbed carrier. Most of all, if you have a question, just ask it! Don’t be afraid to look silly in front of your carrier. Your business relationship is built on working well together and understanding each other. This is a confusing industry, so always ask the tough questions.
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