Whether you are a new to trucking or you’ve been in the industry for years, it always helps to know your trucking terms. We have compiled a list of the most useful and relevant terms for you. Are we missing something? Let us know here.
Anti-lock braking systems help drivers achieve safer braking operations in inclement weather through short applications of pressure.
A brake which is operated by air. The air brake system on tractors consist of air lines, valves, tanks, and an air compressor.
Air suspension is a type of vehicle suspension powered by an electric or engine-driven air pump or compressor. This compressor pumps the air into a flexible bellows, usually made from textile-reinforced rubber. The air pressure inflates the bellows, and raises the chassis from the axle.
The system in which the container and plunger are separated by pressurized air. When the container and plunger attempt to squeeze together, the air compresses and produces a spring effect.
A reservoir for storing air for use in the air brake system. Braking would be impossible without an adequate supply of air.
A safety review of a motor carrier’s records done by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The audit verifies the carrier is compliant with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
Operating authority, or motor carrier authority, is a motor carrier’s right to operate as a for-hire entity with a commercial motor vehicle to transport goods via interstate commerce.
A carrier that has been pre-approved by a shipper or broker to haul freight.
An axle is a structural component to which wheels, brakes, and suspension are all attached.
The amount of weight permitted on an axle or group of axles.
A return load. Many companies, often ones who haul their own product, take a load from their home location to a certain area the country, then they need to go back to the original location to pick up another similar load. Instead of returning empty, they’ll find another load (the “back haul”) going back to the original location.
Cargo which takes up a lot of space, but is very light.
Shipping documents or shipping papers for a particular shipment. It contains an itemized list of goods included in the shipment. It also serves as a contract of shipment, and a receipt for the goods.
The areas around a tractor-trailer which are not visible to the driver through the windows or mirrors.
The tractor operating without a trailer attached.
A bridge protection formula used by the federal and state governments to regulate the amount of weight that can be put on each of a vehicles axles and how far apart the axles must be legally be able to carry a certain weight.
Freight that is not in packages or containers, normally hauled in tankers, grain trailers, and sometimes in regualer van trailers.
A license plate issued from the state where the vehicle is registered.
A police officer, state trooper or highway patrolman.
When highway speed is being checked via an aircraft (airplane or helicopter).
An insurance binder, provided by the insurance company, provides short-term proof of pending coverage until policy paperwork is finalized.
When a truck has a headlight out.
Backing into a loading dock or parking spot when the trailer is angled out of view from the driver (usually on the passenger side).
A frame or chassis that attaches a set of wheels to another trailer.
Also known as a freight broker or brokerage, brokers act as the middle party between shippers and carriers to facilitate the freight hauling, rates, etc.
A vehicle that changes lane constantly, creating a possible hazardous scenario for other drivers.
Short for cab-over-engine, designed so that the cab sits over the engine on the chassis.
A motor carrier that provides local pickup and delivery.
The most common type of scales at truck stops are CAT scales. These are purported to be the most accurate, and they guarantee the weight reading to be accurate, or else they’ll go to court for you and pay the fine.
The type of radio that’s used by truckers to communicate with each other.
The drivers license which authorizes individuals to operate commercial motor vehicles and buses over 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.
Calling by telephone, or using the Qualcomm system to check in with your company/dispatcher, usually once a day, early in the morning. This informs them of your progress, and any other important information a company may require.
The lights on top of the front and rear of the trailer; often referred to as the marker lights.
The clutch brake is engaged when you push the clutch all the way to the floor. You only do this when you’re stopped, and need to get the truck into gear.
A shipping container is a standard sized metal box used to transport freight. It is used in Intermodal Transportation, which utilizes different modes of transportation ship, rail, and highway. International shipping containers are 20 to 40 feet long, and have to conform to International Standards Organization (ISO) standards and are designed to fit in ship’s holds. Containers are transported on public roads on a container chassis trailer pulled by a tractor. Domestic containers are up to 53 foot long, and are of lighter construction; these are designed for rail and highway use only.
A card that must be kept in the cab of the truck at all times providing evidence of registration in every state a truck is authorized to operate.
A common term for freight or a transported commodity.
Insurance covering the freight being transported in case of claim, loss, damage, etc. occurring during transit.
A document listing the cargo on a truck, aircraft or ship.
A trucking company or owner-operator available for hire to transport freight for shippers either on a spot or regular basis.
Dictates the maximum amount a carrier may be liable for in the event of damage, loss, or shipping delays. End liability amounts are usually determined by the value of the freight being hauled and can vary between carriers and shippers.
A formal document issued by insurance companies confirming a policy exists for a specific entity, such as a trucking company.
The frame of a commercial vehicle that attaches to the engine, transmission, axles, cargo compartments, cab and fuel tank.
Wedges placed in front of and behind wheels to keep the vehicle from rolling forward or backward while parked, loading or unloading.
A legal demand by a shipper seeking financial compensation for loss or damages on a shipment. A claim can also be made by a trucking company to an insurance company due to a vehicle accident.
Carriers with combined annual interstate and instrastate revenues of $10 million+.
Carriers with combined annual interstate and intrastate revenues between $3 million and $10 million.
Carriers with combined annual interstate and instrastate revenues less than $3 million.
The total weight of a vehicle including its power unit, equipment, freight, trailers, fuel, etc.
At least one tractor and one trailer.
An entity for hire, using commercial vehicles to transport freight between destinations.
The method in which the FMCSA ensure commercial carriers are following local, state and federal safety inspection metrics.
The person or company responsible for receiving the shipment and providing proof of delivery. Also commonly referred to as the receiver.
The company or person shipping the product.
The act of combining multiple less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments into a larger shipment to create a full truckload.
A carrier that regularly provides transportation for a shipper via terms provided in a contract.
The method of rail and sea transportation where freight is packed into shipping containers. The transportation between ports and railheads is done by truck and trailer combinations.
A weigh station or scale house.
The act of hooking a tractor to a trailer, or multiple trailers together.
The measurement of interior cargo space inside a truck, trailer or shipping container.
The authority in charge of monitoring the flow of goods between countries.
Provides companies with driver information like equipment, drug and alcohol test results, truck driving school records, etc.
Driving a tractor-trailer without cargo, or without paying load.
A safety device that hooks to your trailer’s bumper when you’re backed to a loading dock. This device is controlled from inside the facility, and it prevents the trailer from being able to move away from the dock, especially considering the safety of the forklift driver and anyone else inside the trailer. See the section on ” picking up the load”.
The amount of value a shipment is declared to have by the shipper or owner of the freight.
A lane of freight that typically runs on a specified schedule at regular intervals, with the same products and parties involved. Dedicated lanes are highly sought after by drivers, as they are essentially guaranteed, scheduled income.
A charge created by the carrier to seek compensation for excess use of their time and equipment, usually caused by delays in loading or unloading.
Wheels that have less parts and require less maintenance and are frequently used on commercial vehicles due to their increased aerodynamics.
Someone employed by a carrier or trucking company that acts as the intermediary party between drivers and shippers to coordinate loads, and sometimes manage other back-office tasks.
The large steel plate covering the gap between the truck or trailer and the loading dock, which makes it easier to load and unload.
A coupling device (includes an axle, fifth wheel and pintle hook) that allows two trailers to be hooked together.
The license granted to carriers by the Department of Transportation. This is not the same as an MC number.
A set of double trailers.
The detailed record of a driver’s day of work, divided into four sections: driving, on-duty not driving, off-duty and sleeper berth. Most logs are now kept electronically
The mechanics that deliver the power created from the engine to the drive wheels on a vehicle.
The term for when a driver drops an empty trailer at a shipper’s loading yard and picks up a pre-loaded trailer. This keeps drivers from having to wait while the trailer is loaded.
The common type of trailer used for hauling general freight that has no climate control needs.
The filler material used to pack empty space in a loaded trailer to keep freight from moving or falling in transit. It can consist of lumber, foam padding, inflatable bags or other packable materials.
The call you make to your dispatcher to inform him that you’re unloaded/empty, and need a new load assignment.
The business-to-business computer system used for exchanging documents rapidly, most commonly used for bills of lading, build tickets, and other logistics files.
The digital device truckers use for tracking data such as drive time, speed, mileage, etc. The US required ELDs in a mandate beginning in 2019.
An add-on to a commercial driver’s license allowing drivers to operate special vehicles or haul regulated commodities, such as driving a tanker or hauling hazardous materials.
A vehicle assisting in the hauling of oversized shipments. The escort vehicle ensure the truck hauling the oversized item(s) has plenty of space to navigate roads and notifies other drivers of the incoming truck. Escorts can help stop traffic if needed.
The amount of declared value a shipment may hold that is above what a carrier’s able to haul with their insurance liability limit.
A tax levied on specific goods, such as tobacco, beer, gasoline, diesel, etc.
A specialized segment of transportation for time-sensitive shipments. These loads are typically hauled by dedicated carriers and team drivers.
The cargo you’re hauling. The same as product, commodity, load, etc.
The coupling device attached to a tractor or dolly which supports the front of the semitrailer and locks it to the tractor or dolly. The center of the fifth wheel hooks to the trailer’s kingpin, at which point the trailer and tractor or dolly pivots.
Many of the major truck stops have frequent fueler programs or cards which drivers can sign up for. These programs give you credit or cash back for each gallon of fuel you purchase.
When a factoring company advances the payment of open invoices to truck companies, usually within 24 hours. Factoring increases cash flow more quickly than standard payment terms.
The entity responsible for managing and conducting construction and maintenance on national highways, tunnels, bridges and other infrastructure.
The organization within the DOT that prevents commercial vehicle-related injuries and fatalities through safety regulations and information systems.
This phrase indicates a driver must be the one to unload the freight at the receiving location.
A popularized term for a vehicle accident.
An open-air trailer used for hauling freight that does not require enclosure during travel, such as lumber, equipment, cars, steel, etc.
Also known as freight invoices. The final bills sent by the carrier to the shipper for the transportation services provided. These may include different or additional services that weren’t on the original load tender.
The category of freight in LTL shipping (defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association) identifying freight by size, value, and difficulty to transport. The freight class determines shipping charges.
Similar to a freight broker, a forwarder facilitates the shipping of goods but typically for international freight, and can be held responsible for claims.
An added payment to the carrier to accommodate for current fuel prices. The Energy Information Administration (within the U.S. Department of Energy) publishes the Average Fuel Index each week, which helps companies establish how much they will add in fuel surcharge on top of shipping rates.
The use of a dry van, flatbed or reefer truck to move a full load of freight. Multiple smaller loads can be consolidated to create a full truckload.
A device which limits the maximum speed of a vehicle. Used by a great number of trucking companies who want to save on fuel expenses, and limit accidents.
The number of turns an output shaft makes when the input shaft makes one rotation. This number determines performance characteristics of trucks and tractors.
A coupler that allows service or emergency airlines in tractors to be connected to those in the trailer.
A light to medium-duty flatbed trailer that has a protruding neck connecting to a fifth wheel, typically mounted on a hot shot truck.
The ratio between the elevation change and distance of a hill, used to determine the steepness. Also referred to as slope or incline.
An exception in a current rule that allows old rules or regulations to be applicable in certain instances, even though the new one has taken place. These are common in laws, contracts and other legally binding agreements.
The maximum allowable weight a single axle on a commercial vehicle can support.
The maximum allowable weight for a combination vehicle (tractor and trailer).
The maximum allowable weight of a vehicle set by the manufacturer. This includes chassis, cab, engine, fuel, driver, cargo, etc.
When the tires lose contact with the road due to excess water.
The act of securing loads on a flatbed or lowboy trailer with the use of binders and chains.
Materials that are federally controlled and may only be transported by a commercial driver with a hazmat endorsement on their CDL.
A steel rack attached to the back of a truck cab to keep any items on the trailer from coming loose and crashing into the cab or sleeper.
A steel rack attached to the front of a flatbed trailer frame to keep any items on the trailer from coming loose and crashing into the cab or sleeper.
A truck specially designed to haul heavy loads, usually requiring permits and escorts.
A type of dry van trailer with additional vertical space, usually measuring 14 feet high instead of the standard 13.5 feet.
The annual tax paid to the IRS by owners of commercial vehicles with weights equal to, or greater than, 55,000 pounds.
An open-top or tanker-style truck body used primarily for hauling heavy bulk freight such as grain, food products, dry concrete mix, etc.
A measure of power; one horsepower is equal to 33,000 foot-pounds of work in one minute.
A shipment that needs to be delivered as soon as possible.
Refers to large pickup trucks with fifth-wheels, or medium-sized flatbed trailers, hauling light loads short distances.
Regulations that dictate the number of hours commercial drivers are allowed to drive and work, issued by the FMCSA.
On tractors with tandem rear axles, the interaxle differential allows each axle to turn independently.
The charge for adding ice to any time-sensitive, perishable freight either before or during transit.
A shipment that has not yet cleared customs from being imported or exported.
A contract between two companies negotiating the switch of a trailer to pick up and delivery shipments. This is most common along border towns between countries.
The term for shipments that require more than one type of transportation mode, such as ship and truck, truck and rail, etc.
An agreement among U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions created to simplify tax calculations for interstate and international carriers.
Shipments that travel between multiple states.
Shipments that pick up and deliver in the same state.
The folding of a tractor and trailer to an acute point, usually occurs on slippery road surfaces.
An engine retarder which helps to slow vehicles, especially on down grades.
The trailer hand valve, commonly used to test the brakes after coupling the tractor and trailer. Also known as the trolley valve.
A method of manufacturing and transportation relying on small, frequent deliveries of raw materials and supplies. The goal is to receive items “just in time” for them to go into production to minimize the cost of storage.
A thick, metal pin located underneath the front of the trailer. This kingpin slides into, and connects with, the locking jaws of the fifth wheel of the tractor or dolly, thereby attaching the tractor/dolly to the trailer.
Long metal bars which retract and expand to fit in place from one side wall of the trailer to the other, thereby holding back, and securing the load (cargo).
The book in which truck drivers record their trucking activities — a truck driver’s hours of service and duty status for each 24-hour period. Details of maintaining your logbook are covered in a different section.
An open flatbed trailer, where the main body of the trailer is very low to the ground so that it can haul oversize or wide loads; often construction equipment, or other extremely bulky or heavy loads.
A quantity of freight less than that required for the application of a truckload rate, usually less than 10,000 pounds. These smaller loads are consolidated by an LTL carrier into one vehicle headed for multiple destinations.
The two retractable legs supporting a trailer when the trailer is not hooked to a truck.
The movement or route from a pickup to a delivery location. When the same lane is run on a regular basis, it is referred to as a dedicated lane.
The term for a driver being detained overnight or for a 24-hour period during pick up, loading, delivery, etc. of a shipment. Layovers typically involve fees.
The contractual agreement between a lessee and lessor for use of a physical asset, such as a tractor or trailer.
The axle on a tractor or trailer that can be raised and lowered to distribute weight evenly and/or keep tires from contacting the road.
The rate per mile received for transporting items.
A service in which a company handles all shipping and logistics needs for a shipper or manufacturer.
A set of basic requirements for class time and mentored road driving any prospective CDL driver.
The name for posts marking miles on interstate highways.
A for-hire commercial vehicle and transportation business hauling freight.
A driver’s motor vehicle record, which shows all violations, accidents, etc.
An identifying license granted to carriers by the FMCSA.
A set of comparison characteristics establishing a commodity’s transportability, including density, handling, liability and more. There are 18 commodity classes total based on the characteristics.
A situation in which the driver doesn’t have to load or unload (no touching, or fingerprinting, the load) the cargo.
An instrument used to measure the distance a vehicle has traveled.
A computer installed in vehicles used to gather and store information like location, speeds, fuel consumption, movements and more.
Equipment which starts and shuts down the truck to keep the truck a certain temperature inside, while reducing idling time.
Extra freight which shouldn’t have been shipped.
A truck driver who’s in business for himself; and owns and operates his own truck/s, trailer/s, and/or equipment; an independent
A computer installed in vehicles used to gather and store information like location, speeds, fuel consumption, movements and more.
A load exceeding the standard or legal size of freight being hauled by truck and trailer. These loads require additional permits and escorts.
The wooden base onto which a product is loaded. It has slats on the sides which enable a forklift to move products easily.
The weight of the cargo being hauled.
The term used for the situation in which loaded highway trailers are loaded onto railcars, and taken to railheads. From there, local trucks take the trailers the rest of the way to their destination.
The electrical line supplying electric power from the tractor to the trailer, coiled like a pig’s tail.
A device used in tractors which transmits tractor engine power to auxiliary equipment.
The short-hand term for pickup and delivery.
Also known as a small package, typically weighs less than 150 pounds and is the most popular form of order fulfillment.
A truck used to combine multiple shipments from different customers to use the entire truck. These shipments can sometimes take longer due to multiple stops.
A slang term for heavy traffic.
Any cargo that requires specific transporting conditions (like reefer trucks), and have short shelf lives. These goods can consist of meat, produce, flowers, etc.
A document allowing permission for carriers to transport freight that exceeds standard or legal weight and size limits.
Diamond-shaped signs that must be displayed in multiple places on vehicles hauling any sort of hazmat like explosives, gasoline, etc.
The location where a load is picked up.
A facility located at an international or state border requiring some drivers to stop and show paperwork.
A carrier that only hauls its own company’s freight.
The paperwork confirming delivery of a load, usually required to have a legible signature of the accepting party and a date/time stamp.
The act of pulling the handle that releases the grip on the trailer’s king pin, which must be done before a tractor and trailer can be decoupled.
A small flatbed or dry van that can be used together to hauling doubles.
In LTL shipments, a driver only takes a load a portion of the way, usually for the duration of one shift (eight to 10 hours). The driver then turns the truck over to another driver to continue the trip.
The company’s policy regarding allowing passengers in the truck with the driver.
An emergency escape ramp used on steep downgrades for trucks which have lost braking power.
A legally binding document confirming the agreed-upon rate and total cost of service between a shipper and carrier, usually issued by the shipper or broker.
A specialized heavy-haul flatbed trailer providing drive-off accessibility, with a neck that can be raised, lowered or removed from the trailer.
A term for big trucks and tractor trailers.
A slang term for drivers who are preoccupied with looking at their surroundings rather than driving.
A plastic or metal band (once it’s broken, it cannot be reconnected) placed on the trailer door latch. An intact seal ensures that the trailer doors have not been opened, and the cargo is untouched.
A trailer supported at the rear by its own axles and wheels, and at the front by fifth wheel from a tractor or dolly.
A rest area found on turnpikes or toll roads. These usually have truck parking, restrooms, vending machines, telephones, and often fast food restaurants.
A sleeping compartment situated behind the tractor’s cab, behind the driver’s seat, or an integral part the cab.
A mechanism that allows a tandem axle suspension to be moved back and forth at the rear of a semi-trailer in order to distribute the weight between axles, and adjust the length between kingpin and tandems.
A fifth wheel with a sliding mechanism which allows it to be adjusted in order to distribute the weight of the axles, varying the overall vehicle length and weight per axle.
A tandem axle assembly that has the ability to be spread farther apart than the standard spacing. When the tandems are spread to 8 or 9 feet, each axle is weighed independently, with each allowed up to 20,000 pounds (or 40,000 pounds for the combined
Another term for a large commercial truck or tractor trailer.
The exporter or seller listed in the bill of lading, which may or may not be the manufacturer of the goods.
The document issued to a carrier from the shipper that confirms load scheduling and booking.
Another term for a pallet that holds freight for being loaded onto a trailer.
The exhaust pipe that protrudes from the top or behind a truck cab.
A unique 2-4 letter code used for identifying transportation and trucking companies.
A strong vinyl cord used to tie down and secure freight to a trailer.
A written agreement to guarantee compliance or payment of debt if a borrower defaults.
A pair of axles grouped closely together; either the drive axles on the tractor or the tandem axles of the trailer.
An enclosed trailer used to haul bulk commodities like concrete mix, gasoline, and oil.
A common term for two drivers operating one commercial vehicle, so that one driver can sleep or be off-duty while the other is driving.
A trucking company which usually dedicates trailers to a single shippers cargo, as opposed to an LTL carrier, which often transports the combined cargo of several different shippers.
Any combination of three axles grouped together.
A tractor which carries cargo in a body (van, tank, etc.) which is mounted to its chassis, possibly in addition to a trailer which is towed by the tractor. This is common in truck-trailer combination vehicles which haul fuel, or other liquid.
A truck-trailer combination consists of a truck which holds cargo in its body which is connected to its chassis, and which
tows a trailer.
A company that serves as an intermediary between companies needing shipping services and motor carriers, often used interchangeably with freight brokerages.
A truck designed to pull a semitrailer via a fifth wheel mounted over the rear axles. Also called a truck tractor.
Moving freight from one trailer to another to continue a shipment, most common at international borders when a carrier is only authorized to operate in one of the participating countries.
A brake lever in the truck cab that applies pressure to the trailer brakes when additional force is needed for slowing or stopping.
When a shipper or broker orders a truck to pick up freight but cancels the load after the truck has already been dispatched to the pick-up location. This usually results in fees.
A system used to track shipments, tender loads, communicate with shippers and drivers, etc.
The credential needed to get access to secure areas of Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) regulated facilities.
A system created in 2005 to streamline the process of registration for commercial carriers engaged in interstate commerce.
Part of the connection between the tractor and trailer, it carries weight from the trailer, and houses the kingpin, which connects to the fifth wheel of the tractor.
US Department of Transportation.
The empty weight of a vehicle, also known as tare weight.
A document issued by a carrier that lists important details and instructions pertaining to a particular shipment.
Official facilities that randomly check commercial vehicles’ weights, and sometimes perform mechanical and log inspections as well.
The system which allows a vehicle to be weighed while still in motion on the interstate, usually just before coming to a weigh station.
The process of storing goods in a warehouse.