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What is a live load in trucking

March 29, 2022

what is a live load in trucking

Learning what is a live load in trucking is useful in logistics. Whether you’re a new trucker still learning the trade, or you’re new to the field of logistics and you’re still figuring out how to communicate with your truckers. There are a lot of new terms you have to learn. Some of them may be fairly self explanatory, but others can definitely be confusing.

S​ome of the most confusing, yet most important terms are those used to describe the load of the truck. These terms matter because they determine the trucker’s schedule, and can affect the cost of each shipment as well as many other logitistical matters.

S​o, you may find yourself asking: what is a live load in trucking?

W​hat Is A Live Load in Trucking?

F​irst things first- a live laod does not refer to whether or not the cargo in the truck is alive. So, no, a live load is not a truckload of animals. Instead, live load refers to the how the trucker is picking up the cargo.

S​imply put, a live load means that the trucker pulls up the loading or unloading facility. Backs their truck up to it, and waits while other workers either load or unload their truck.

H​ow Is A Live Load Different From Other Loading Methods?

W​ith a live load pickup or delivery, the trucker waits while the trailer is loaded or unloaded. They arrive at the facility and leave with the same trailer attached to their truck. The only other method used in trucking is called drop and hook.

I​n drop and hook trucking, the truck will arrive at the loading facility with no trailer. The trailer will be at the facility, already loaded, and the driver needs only to hook the trailer to their truck, and then their ready to go. When they arrive at the destination, they’ll unhook the trailer, and leave.

I​s Live Load Trucking Better Than Drop And Hook Trucking?

T​hat depends on who you ask! The truck driver is getting paid the whole time the trailer is being loaded or unloaded, but it’s basically idle time. They can relax, get something to eat, or grab some coffee before the next leg of their drive.

O​f course, while they’re getting paid hourly for that. They might be making less money since they’ll be completing fewer deliveries overall. So the preference for the live load over drop and hook is probably going to vary from one trucker to another.

I​t will also vary from one trucking company to another. Live load trucking is definitely less efficient in terms of the time the truck spends at each facility, and how much idle time the driver is being paid for. But that doesn’t mean it’s worse than drop and hook.

T​o do drop and hook trucking, you need a massive facility. You have to have space for multiple trailers to be sitting out, full of goods or waiting to be filled. Not every facility can manage that, and drop and hook does you no good if you don’t have enough space for it.

L​ive load trucking is also better when you’re shipping perishable goods. You really don’t want to leave a trailer full of chicken sitting out in the sun for a few hours waiting to be unloaded.

This is one reason why most grocery stores tend to use live loads in their trucking- it’s too risky for them to use drop and hook loads.

W​hen Is A Live Load The Best Method For Loading?

T​here’s no question that the most cost and time effective method for loading and unloading trucks is drop and hook. Drivers can get in and out of the loading facilities quickly, which maximizes the number of deliveries and pickups they can make and minimizes the amount of time spent idling.

B​ut drop and hook isn’t always possible, and there are lots of reasons why you might choose to use a live load in trucking. Here are some of the most common.

L​ack of Space

P​erhaps the single biggest reason to use a live load in trucking is that you simply don’t have enough room for drop and hook trucking. Drop and hook loads require a lot of space. You need ample parking room to hold both empty trailers waiting to be filled, filled trailers waiting to be emptied, and filled trailers waiting to be picked up.

W​ithout enough space, you’ll end up with a bunch of fully loaded trailers sitting at the loading bay, waiting to be picked up. Meanwhile, you’ll be unable to load any more trailers until those trailers are picked up and moved. It can ruin the efficiency of your operation.

I​f space is tight, you’re better off using live load trucking to keep everything flowing smoothly. This is a case in which using a live load in trucking is actually more efficient.

N​o Full Container

E​ven if you have enough space, you may not always have a full container to be picked up. Drivers usually arrive with an empty trailer that they drop off, and then pick up a full container for the return trip. It’s a quick, efficient process.

B​ut it doesn’t always work. It’s not uncommon for a driver to arrive with an empty container when you have no full trailer for them to pick up. In this case it’s best to schedule a live load so that the driver isn’t making the return trip empty. It does mean that they’ll spend a couple of hours waiting for their trailer to be filled, but that’s better than driving all the way back with no trailer.

S​hortage of Prime Movers

A​ very common issue that leads to lots of live loads in trucking is a shortage of prime movers. If you know that there’s a shortage, and you continue to use drop and hook loads. You could be stuck with lots of full containers waiting for pickup, and a lot of delayed deliveries.

When there’s a prime mover shortage, live loads can help you to keep on schedule because each loaded container will ship out immediately, instead of waiting around until the next mover becomes available. You have no idea how long that’s actually going to take. So you’re much better off taking the extra couple of hours to live load each truck than trying to save time with drop and hook loads.

N​o Shunting Truck

F​or drop and hook to work, you have to have a shunting truck available. To move loaded containers off the loading bay and out into the parking area. Likewise, you’ve got to move unloaded containers from the drop-off area. Into the loading bay and full containers have to be moved from the parking area to the loading bay to be unloaded.

H​owever your operation is set up, a shunting truck is necessary for drop and hook to be efficient. Most logistics operations have a dedicated shunting truck, and often more than one. If you don’t have a shunting truck available, drop and hook is not an option. Live load trucking becomse the only viable method of shipping when that happens.

P​ros and Cons of Live Loads

I​f you’re still trying to decide whether or not to use live load trucking, here’s a quick breakdown to help you decide. We’ll start with the cons, then move to the pros.

Cons of Live Load Trucking
  1. The waiting time for haulers is one of the biggest drawbacks for live loads. If the load is small or your warehouse crew is unusually efficient you might be able to get a container loaded in as little as 30-45 minutes, but that’s pretty rare. More likely it’ll take about 2-3 hours to load and unload each container. While they’re doing that, the driver is just sitting there, waiting. On the clock. That’s a prime mover that’s not moving anything. It cuts down on the number of deliveries they can make and it lengthens shipping times.
  2. Waiting or detention fees. Remember, the driver is on the clock, but not actually getting any driving done. Trucking companies often charge additional fees if their drivers have to wait too long for the container to be loaded. Since they’re missing out on additional deliveries. If you’re not using a third-party company for live load trucking. Then your own company might impose a fee on you, for the same reason. After all, they might end up paying the driver overtime. Even though they’re getting fewer deliveries, that cost has to be made up somewhere.
  3. Backlogs and queues. It’s shocking how quickly a line of trucks waiting to load or unload can start to back up when you’re doing live loads. Especially if you’ve been forced into live loads when you’d normally be doing drop and hook loads.

I​t happens, and it’s often unavoidable, but it’s not fun. Delays can really add up, and each time one load is delayed the effect is compounded on the next load.

P​ros of Live Load Trucking
  1. It can be a real time saver. While backlogs are possible, we’ve already mentioned several scenarios in which a live load can actually save you a lot of time and avoid a backlog. That might otherwise throw off your whole schedule. Live loads may technically take longer than drop and hook, but only if you’re already set up for drop and hook shipping and nothing goes wrong. If you’re out of full containers or missing a shunting truck, live loads will save you a lot of time.
  2. You don’t need parking for containers. One of the biggest benefits of live load trucking is that you don’t need a ton of parking for containers waiting to be filled or picked up. This makes live load trucking a much more viable option for smaller operations, and for warehouses in urbanized areas. You’ll notice a lot of retail and grocery stores use live loads because they just don’t have the space to park multiple containers behind their stores. For these stores, live load trucking comes with major advantages.
  3. You don’t need a shunting truck. Drop and hook shipping just doesn’t work without a shunting truck. That’s an entire truck you have to buy, maintain and operate just for moving containers around the parking lot and loading bay. And, if it breaks down, you’re stuck doing live loads anyway. Since live loads don’t require a shunting truck at all, many people prefer them. It’s one less thing you have to spend time and money on.
H​ow Do I Schedule Live Load Pickups?

P​roperly scheduling a live load in trucking is important. When a trucker has to sit and wait for their container to be loaded. That’s time they aren’t using to get the load to it’s destination. When they spend more time than planned sitting and waiting. They can charge a waiting fee or a prime mover detention fee.

T​hose fees can really add up. If one driver is delayed, it’s likely that every driver waiting behind them is being delayed, as well. While the efficiency of your loading ew will make a big difference here, properly scheduling each dropoff and pickup will also make a big difference.

T​he best thing you can do is keep careful track of each pickup or delivery and allow ample time for each one. 60 minutes for each load is the minimum, and it’s a good idea to allow two hours for each live load. Be safe and give your loading crew enough time between each load to get ready for the next one.

other trucking methods than live load

S​hould I Use A Live Load In Trucking?

R​eally big logistics operations tend to favor drop and hook, since it can be more efficient. But drop and hook really works better only for big operations that have plenty of space to park containers and can afford the operate the shunting trucks and massive warehouse crews required for that loading method.

L​ive loads are a better choice for lots of smaller operations that can’t park a bunch of containers outside their warehouse, and if you’re in an urban area live loads may be the only viable option. It all comes down to space and time. A lot of logistics companies find that live loads meet their needs much better than anything else.


A​ live load in trucking refers to a method of loading the container. Instead of the driver dropping off an empty container and picking up a full one. The driver waits while their container is loaded or unloaded. It’s one of the most common methods of loading and unloading trailers, since many warehouses have limited space that makes a live load the most efficient means of getting their product shipped out.

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