November 01, 2021

4 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Flatbed Carrier to Ship Your Freight

4 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Flatbed Carrier to Ship Your Freight

There's no shortage of flatbed carriers to ship your freight, but how do you choose the best trucking company for moving your cargo? As with most business relationships, screening is key.

If you've ever shipped freight on flatbed trucks, you know the importance of finding a partner that checks all the boxes. Transporting commodities and materials long distances is costly, so you'll want to make sure you're getting your money's worth. Will the carrier deliver on time? Will your freight arrive in good condition? Will there be any payment snafus?

Choosing a flatbed carrier that's a good fit is easier said than done. Many companies shipping freight use a third-party logistics provider (3PL) or brokers to connect them with a suitable flatbed carrier. Hiring a 3PL comes at an additional cost, though. If you decide to handle the search in-house to save money, you'll want to consider some basic parameters to increase your chances of success.

A flatbed trucking company's size, safety record and service area are just the beginning of what you should be taking into account. Here are four questions you'll definitely want to ask before settling on the best flatbed carrier to haul your freight.

1. Does the carrier have the right trailer to haul your freight?

Flatbed freight is all over the map—both literally and figuratively. Cargo type and dimensions can vary widely. That's why carriers use an array of open-deck trailers to accommodate their customers.

Which flatbed service you choose will depend greatly on the type of load you need transported and whether the trucking company has the appropriate trailer for the job. Standard flatbed trailers capable of hauling loads up to 48,000 pounds are 48 to 53 feet long and 8 ½ feet wide.

Flatbed freight that exceeds 48,000 pounds and is more than 53 feet long and 11 feet wide is considered oversized and requires special permitting that differs by state. A drop deck, gooseneck or lowboy trailer will likely be needed for larger, heavier loads like construction equipment, prefabricated structures, silos or aerospace components.

When vetting flatbed carriers, always start the conversation by asking what type of freight they typically transport. If your cargo isn't on the list, be sure the company is both comfortable with and capable of handling your request. Ask for customer referrals if you're still wary. You need to know your freight is in good hands.

2. Is the flatbed carrier reputable, reliable and ready for the task at hand?

A flatbed carrier's reputation also figures heavily into the equation. You want to work with a decent-size trucking company that's a known quantity in the transportation industry. Look for a reliable outfit with a fleet of late-model equipment that leverages technology to support its drivers.

With tight trucking capacity in the wake of the pandemic-triggered economic downturn and an ongoing truck driver shortage, lead times have lessened. Shippers facing supply-chain delays need dependable flatbed partners, and some are even creating carrier scorecards with track-and-trace software.

Consider working with larger, more established flatbed carriers that are steadily growing and viewed favorably by their drivers. Both are good signs a trucking company takes care of its customers, employees and owner-operators. If possible, check online reviews and inquire about driver screening procedures. These indicators and others will help you make a better decision when choosing a flatbed carrier.

3. Does the trucking company prioritize safety?

Even a leading flatbed carrier capable of hauling your freight may have blemishes in the safety department. A trucking company's size doesn't necessarily equate to its safety record, which is why it's important to look up publicly available inspection and crash data.

Trucking safety has been a major concern throughout the industry in recent years. Fatal crashes involving large trucks steadily increased between 2014 and 2019. Through its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has worked to improve safety across the board and reduce the number of injury crashes and fatalities.

When evaluating a flatbed carrier from a safety standpoint, ask about trucking safety technology and advanced driver assistance systems. These systems assist drivers with braking, monitoring blindspots and even avoiding collisions. Does driver onboarding cover flatbed load securement best practices? Do they receive ongoing safety training? How much experience does the company's safety team have?

At the very least, look up the carrier's safety record on the FMCSA's website. The company snapshot will include the type of cargo carried, inspection/crash data and a safety rating, if applicable.

4. Does the company have motor truck cargo insurance?

Accidents happen—even to safety-minded carriers with experienced flatbed drivers. If your freight is damaged, stolen or destroyed, does the trucking company have the proper insurance to cover the loss?

In the best-case scenario, your load makes it to the destination safe and sound. It's the worst-case scenario you have to worry about. That's why motor truck cargo insurance exists. No matter what type of freight you're shipping, you're going to want to verify the flatbed carrier you're working with has cargo insurance.

Most flatbed carriers have cargo liability insurance, but policies can differ greatly. Educate yourself on how to effectively evaluate a carrier's cargo insurance policy. Be sure to ask for specifics on the coverage and pay special attention to the exclusions, limitations and deductibles. What's hiding in the fine print could be a deal breaker. Better to know before your freight is strewn across an embankment.

Consider JLE Industries the next time you're looking for a flatbed carrier to move long-haul freight across the continental United States. A full-service freight logistics and transportation management company with 300 trucks and trailers, JLE was the 26th-largest flatbed/heavy specialized carrier in 2021.