Understanding freight shipping terms and definitions.

We used our extensive logistics knowledge and experience to create a straightforward guide to freight shipping and logistics terminology. Whether you’re new to the freight industry or want to brush up on freight terms, our shipping dictionary is your go-to resource. It covers the terms you need to know to understand the freight shipping process from start to finish.


Accessorials –  The freight term used to describe accessorial services that require more than dock-to-dock transportation. Accessorials commonly include the need for special equipment and services like liftgates, non-commercial destinations, and inside pickup and/or delivery.

Adjustments – Costs incurred after a shipment has delivered. These costs can be added for a discrepancy between the freight characteristics quoted and the delivered shipment details of weight, class and dimensions, or may be accrued for additional services performed such as a liftgate. Learn how to avoid adjustments.

Agent – A person who transacts business on behalf of another person or company with full or limited decision-making authority. In shipping, an agent may supervise customs procedures, documentation, or insurance. This person may also receive a portion of any monetary gain from a transaction as payment.

Axle Load – The axle load refers to the weight each axle puts on the nation’s highways.


Back Haul – The return trip of a truck transporting cargo or freight. It may be a return to the origin of the freight hauled in which the carrier is willing to offer a discount to secure freight for the trip.

Beneficial Owner – This is a legal term where specific property rights belong to a person even though the legal title of the property belongs to another person. This term is often used in rail or ocean freight and refers to the actual owner of the freight being shipped, despite the title of the freight being in another party’s name. 

Bill of Lading (BOL) – The bill of lading (BOL) is the legally-binding contract between the shipper and the carrier, broker or agent that defines all aspects of the freight shipping arrangement including what is being shipped and to whom. Learn more about the bill of lading.

Blocking and bracing – This term refers to wood or other supports used to keep shipments in place on trailers or in containers throughout the shipping process. This technique is widely used by expert shippers to secure their freight shipment. Learn the best practices for blocking and bracing

Blind Shipment – When the shipper and receiver are not aware of one another, the freight shipment is called a blind shipment. In such cases, the bill of lading lists the party that paid for the shipment as the shipper or receiver of the freight shipment.

Bogie – This is a rail shipping term that refers to a frame with wheels on which a container is mounted for over-the-road transport.

Brokerage License – A brokerage license is a legally required document that a broker obtains in order to have the ability to make land, sea and air freight shipping arrangements. Brokerage licenses are different for both transportation and customs. To make sea shipping arrangements, an NVOCC (Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier) license is required. To make air shipping arrangements, an IAC (Indirect Air Carrier) license is required and obtained through the International Air Transport Association. 

Bulk Freight – Freight that is not contained within packages or containers is referred to as bulk freight. Often times, bulk freight comes in the form of liquid or a granular form such as sand or crude oil. 


Cartage – A trucking term that refers to shipping freight within the same city or area.

Chassis – A rail shipping term that refers to a frame with wheels and locking devices to secure a container during shipping.

Classification – A freight classification is assigned to a shipment for the purpose of applying transportation charges. Freight classifications are used for less than truckload (LTL) shipments. Learn more about freight class

Common Carrier – An LTL common carrier consolidates and deconsolidates freight for multiple companies or brands while offering a set route and rate. They are often motor carriers, trucking companies or freight service providers that operate on a similar schedule with a strict set of guidelines. 

Concealed Damage – Concealed damage is damage not visible to the item(s) until the package is opened. 

Consignee – The individual who is financially responsible for the receipt of a freight shipment. This person is usually the receiver of the shipment as well. 

Consignor – An individual (usually the seller) who sends goods to the consignee and is the legal owner until the consignee pays them in full. 

Consolidation – A consolidated shipment is when two or more shipments are combined to save money on freight shipping costs. This shipping method is used in less than truckload shipping with multiple stops before reaching the final destination. Learn more about consolidated shipping

Container – A container looks like a truck trailer with no wheels and is now among the most common freight shipping methods in the United States and abroad. Containers are used for intermodal shipping and come in standard sizes to ensure they fit on standard trucks, rail cars and container ships.

Cross-Town – A shipping term used when a container or trailer is delivered from one railroad as part of the shipping route, the move is called cross-town shipping.

Cubic Capacity – The total freight load capacity of any truck, train or ship is measured in cubic feet. The cubic capacity is the total load in cubic feet which cannot be legally exceeded. Violations of cubic capacity occur when the shipment’s size violates a carrier’s cubic capacity rules. Learn how to avoid violations of cubic capacity.

Customs Broker – A person or company who is licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department to act on behalf of freight importers and exporters with respect to U.S. Customs transactions. A customs broker must be used for all shipments going to and from Canada. Learn more about shipping to Canada


Embargo – An embargo is any event that prevents the freight from being accepted or handled. Most often, an embargo is due to international conflict or sanctions imposed on a particular country or group of people. However, embargo events may also include floods, tornadoes or congested highways.

Exceptions – When a problem such as shortage or damage is noted at the time of delivery, an exception is noted on the bill of lading before it is signed to designate there was a problem with the shipment.


Gross Vehicle Weight Rating – The rating refers to the vehicle’s maximum operating weight as specified by the manufacturer. The weight includes the driver, fuel, engine, body, chassis, and cargo but excludes the weight of a trailer. 


Inbound Freight – An integral part of supply chain management, inbound freight are shipments coming from vendors.

Interline – This shipping term is used when the initial carrier of a freight shipment transfers the freight to another carrier to get it to its final destination. 

Intermodal Transportation – When freight is shipped using two or more modes of transportation. Intermodal transportation typically refers to truck-rail-truck shipments but may also include truck to air shipping or truck to ship in the event freight is being shipped overseas. Learn more about intermodal shipping.


Motor Carrier – The term “motor carrier” defines a person providing motor vehicle transportation for compensation. 

Motor Property Broker – A freight broker is a person who makes freight shipping arrangements on behalf of a person or company. The broker determines the needs of the client, has experience in the industry and negotiates shipping rates with a carrier who can meet the client’s requirements.


Nested – A term used in less than truckload (LTL freight) shipping in which materials are stacked so that one item goes inside another. Nested freight reduces the amount of space taken up by the combined freight and makes LTL shipping more efficient as a result.

Not Otherwise Indicated (NOI) – A general class rate or NOI is assigned to any freight that has no rate listed in the NMFC. The NMFC numbers dictate the freight rating that is assigned to freight. A freight rating is based on density, freight stowability, ease of handling, and liability. 


Tariff – A tariff establishes the cost and contract of a freight shipment for the shipper and the carrier.

Through Rate – A through rate applies to the distance between the point of origin and the delivery destination.

Time-Critical – A time-critical freight shipment delivery is set to the earliest possible delivery time to accommodate particular shipping requirements.

Time-Definite – Time-definite deliveries guarantee that the delivery will occur on a specific day or time of day.

Transit Time – The total amount of time from freight being picked up to freight being delivered.

Truckload (TL) – Truckload shipping can be defined as the transportation of goods that will fill up a 48’ or 53’ trailer by volume or weight.  Full truckload shipping typically is contracted to one customer gaining full and exclusive use of the carrier’s trailer. A truckload is ideal for anyone shipping multiple full pallets of freight and LTL shipping isn’t cost efficient. There are multiple pieces of truckload equipment such as refrigerated trucks and dry van trucks. Learn more about truckload freight shipping


Volume Rate – A less than truckload (LTL) shipping term for rates that are made subject to a minimum weight of 7,000 pounds or more, or cubic volume exceeding 750 cubic feet.


Warehousing – Warehousing refers to the storage of goods in a facility for a specified period of time. Freight shippers usually store their goods at warehouses until they’re ready to ship. Learn more about warehousing.