Sometimes you have to load a truck with extra-heavy freight—for example, to transport large machinery to an ocean port. Sometimes it just pays to ship heavy—for instance, to save money on ocean transportation by fitting all the weight you can into a container.
Either way, it’s important to understand heavy haul freight rates and know what it takes to transport heavy freight over the road.
Heavy haul rates and costs
When you transport freight over the road and the total gross weight of equipment and cargo exceeds the 80,000-lb maximum for a standard tractor-trailer, you pay a premium. Why is that?
- The trucker needs to charge extra. The heavier the load, the more fuel a truck burns. A heavy load also puts more wear and tear on brakes, the powertrain and other parts of the truck, so the truck needs more maintenance. In addition, the trucker may need to supply a heavy-duty chassis to support the extra weight. All those factors increase the trucking company’s costs, which it passes along to the shipper.
- Heavy loads need special permits from the states through which they pass. Costs vary from state to state. The trucker is responsible for getting those permits, but ultimately the shipper pays for them.
What’s hard about shipping heavy freight?
When you ship heavy freight, several points in the process require special expertise or extra attention. They include:
Finding a truck
Many carriers don’t haul heavy freight. After all, it often takes an extra-rugged chassis to handle the weight. Truckers won’t find that equipment in a chassis pool. They have to buy their own, and most carriers can’t afford to make that investment. Nor do most carriers want to take on the responsibility for safety and maintenance that comes with heavy freight. If you need a heavy haul trucker, and you don’t already have connections, it could take some work to find the service you need.
Choosing the right equipment
Standard container? A 40-footer or a 20-footer? Flat rack? Open top? It’s the shipper’s responsibility, not the trucker’s, to decide which container works best for a given international shipment. The trucker simply drives to the port to retrieve the equipment you ask for. To make the right choice, you need to understand the features and benefits of different containers.
Loading heavy freight
The first thing to keep in mind is that density matters, as well as weight. Maybe you can fit your heavy load into a 20-foot container, but should you? What about a 55,000-lb load that occupies only one-fourth of the length of a 40-foot container? Make the load too dense, and when it’s time for a crane to lift it onto the ship, the bottom of the container could fall out—causing an expensive and maybe even deadly disaster.
Of course, you’ll also need a forklift or crane—depending on the type of load—to transfer the freight onto the container at your facility.
Securing heavy freight
When you load heavy freight on an ocean-going container, you’re responsible for blocking and bracing the cargo so it doesn’t shift in transit and possibly suffer damage. The heavier the load, the more straps, chains, binders, and/or lumber you’ll need to keep the cargo safe.
You must secure the load according to standards set by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB). If you use a flat rack or platform container, the shipping line will require an NCB inspection before it loads that container on a ship. Fail the inspection, and you’ll need to have the load re-secured. That will cost money and could delay your shipment.
If your company lacks the expertise to correctly load an ocean-going container, you have two other options:
- A freight forwarder arranges to transport your heavy load, on a regular truck chassis, to a warehouse. There, experts transfer the cargo to an appropriate container and secure it according to NCB standards.
- If your load is oversized and/or overweight, you might ship it on a RO-RO (roll-on, roll-off) vessel instead of a container ship. You load the cargo onto a regular truck chassis for transport to a RO-RO port. There, workers use a wheeled trailer called a mafi to roll the cargo onto the vessel. Keep in mind, though, that not every port offers RO-RO service.
Can you minimize heavy haul freight rates?
Well, it’s hard. Truckers’ rates for heavy freight are what they are, and there’s no getting around the cost of overweight permits.
But there are a couple of tactics that could help you keep costs to a minimum:
Reconfigure the cargo
If you’re shipping heavy machinery, can you disassemble it to fit into a standard container, rather than put it on a flat rack where it hangs over the sides? If so, while you’ll still need permits for the weight, you won’t need more permits for the out-of-gauge dimensions, nor will you need an escort car or other arrangements that apply to out-of-gauge cargo on the road.
If you do this, though, be very careful. Don’t simply disassemble a machine and secure the pieces on a truck chassis or flat rack. Each of those pieces is considered a separate item, and a weigh station inspector will make you remove one of them to reduce the weight. Then you’ll need two trucks, increasing your cost. But put your disassembled machine in a closed container (assuming it fits), and it qualifies as a single item. You might also put the pieces inside a crate on a chassis or flat rack, as long as the crate doesn’t add too much to the size or weight.
Give your trucker accurate specs
The weight and dimensions listed on an overweight/oversize permit must match the actual weight and dimensions of the load. If the driver shows up and then discovers that the figures on the permit are incorrect, your load will wait, maybe a day or more, while the trucker obtains a new permit. And imagine how much time and money you’ll lose if the driver misses the discrepancy and takes the load, only to have a weigh station scale reveal an error on the permit. Measure the load carefully and double-check the figures before you pass them along.
Get all the details right
Whether you ship heavy freight by necessity or choice, it takes knowledge and experience to engineer a cost-effective move. For expert assistance with global shipping of heavy haul freight, contact the specialists I.C.E. Transport to arrange a discussion.