Terms to Understand When Talking to Your Trucking and Freight Transportation Provider

November 07, 2019

Freight services have a long history, even predating the invention of the internal combustion engine. The Age of Exploration from the 1400s to the 1600s was motivated by a desire to find resources and transport them back to the markets demanding them.

In this age of global supply chains and global markets, freight services can be essential to almost every business, including service businesses. Trucking is an essential part of freight services. By weight, trucks move roughly over 70% of America's freight.

For example, builders need construction equipment, power plants need coal, and Internet service providers need servers. But when the construction equipment is built in Germany, the coal is mined in Canada, and the servers are assembled in Japan, it is thanks to logistic transportation companies that these items finally get to you.

When it comes time to discuss your needs, there are some terms that are either used solely in freight services or have a meaning to freight service providers that might be different from their common understanding. Here are some terms you may want to be familiar with:


Reefer is short for refrigerated trailer or shipping container. A reefer includes a refrigeration unit that is powered by a diesel generator or cooled through the evaporation of dry ice or another refrigerant.

Because the refrigeration unit is self-contained, a reefer can keep cargo at a set temperature even while it is awaiting transportation. For example, a reefer does not necessarily need to be unloaded or moved to a refrigerated warehouse while it awaits local trucking from the port to the receiver.

Reefer can also be used more broadly to describe any trailer with a temperature control unit. These units can be used to cool or heat the trailer for cargo that is temperature-sensitive, such as food, pharmaceuticals, and other perishable goods.


The term "dray" refers to a horse cart that was once used for short deliveries. As such, the word "drayage" is still used to refer to deliveries of cargo from a port to a destination within the same city. For example, deliveries from New York ports to a New York receiver would be considered NY drayage.


Express does not refer to a specific time frame since the time frame depends on the distance and type of cargo. Rather, an express trucking company can usually offer the following characteristics:

  • Reduced paperwork to schedule a pickup.
  • The availability of trucks to pick up cargo immediately upon receiving the paperwork. You may see an express trucking company refer to this as "trucks on standby."
  • Routing trucks to your destination in the safest and most efficient way.

Additionally, an express trucking company may have the resources to dedicate a truck solely to your shipment so that no intermediate deliveries occur. In other words, rather than carrying your cargo with other shippers' cargo, an express trucking company may provide a truck that only carries your express shipment.

An express trucking company may throw out some other terms that you may also want to be aware of. Hot shot trucking is a form of freight services that delivers small, time-sensitive loads. The phrase originates from the oil and gas industry where drill and pump parts are needed to keep operations running. In addition to oil and gas extraction, industries that use hot shot trucking include utilities, communications, and construction. Hot shots are usually carried by smaller trucks and can cover short distances or long distances.

Over the Road

Over the road refers to the distance of a delivery. Over the road trucking typically involves transportation out of a city. As a guideline, some trucking companies describe over the road as hauls of 250 miles or more. However, the characteristic of over the road is not necessarily distance. It is the use of highways and freeways rather than city streets.

By contrast, local trucking is usually defined as 150 miles or less. However, local truckers have a different skill set because they usually drive over city streets and make numerous stops during the day.

In the world of freight transportation, you may experience many industry terms. While these terms may be confusing at first, working with a trucking company is the best way to understand how their services work and find the trucking services your business needs.

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