What is Specialized Shipping?


Specialized shipping includes any large shipment size, weight, or dimensions and demands special handling services during transit. Almost every industry has specialized shipping, from oil and gas mining to manufacturing and construction. These industries require special freight handling because shipments require services that regular shipping companies do not provide, such as temperature-controlled trailers, hazmat permits, or escort services for oversized loads.

While each type of shipment must follow some regulations to travel legally, specialized freight requires an added level of permits. In addition, logistics and transportation processes are already difficult to navigate, so shipping specialized freight may feel overwhelming. Thankfully, experienced shipping services can help companies with specialized freight and equipment move products safely and efficiently.

How is specialized freight transported?

Shipping specific materials requires different transportation modes and customized vehicles. The transportation method you choose depends on the freight being shipped. Some loads even need an escort service if the freight is oversized. The best transportation method depends on the size, weight, and type of moving product.

Dry Vans

Many hazardous materials are transported in dry vans. There are nine classes of hazardous materials, ranging from everyday household items such as nail polish and perfume to dangerous chemicals and explosives. For hazmat shipping, carriers must attend several safety courses and obtain the necessary permits to prove they are knowledgeable about their freight’s risks.

Certain electronics, robotics, and fragile fixtures may also fall under the category of specialized shipments moved via dry van. As a result, specialized shipments will require additional packaging and care during the warehousing phase. Typically, businesses prefer to move expensive freight in dry van trailers to protect against weather conditions, accidents, and theft.

Refrigerated Trucks

You probably think of the grocery industry when you think of refrigerated trucking. However, refrigerated trucking is also crucial in transporting medical supplies such as vaccines and prescriptions. Refrigerated trucks, also known as reefers, are fitted with a temperature-controlled trailer to regulate freight heat. Expect to pay additional fees when shipping temperature-regulated goods since you will be paying for the fuel to cool and transport your freight.

Flatbeds, Lowboys, and Step Deck Trailers

Large machinery, steel and mining products, construction equipment, and more typically fall under oversized loads due to their immense size and weight. Oversized loads, also called heavy haul, over-dimensional freight, or wide load, are products that exceed 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m) in width, 13 ft 6 in (4.11 m) in height and are more than that 48-53 ft in length. Flatbeds, lowboys, and step deck trailers all allow for product overhang, so they are most commonly used in transporting over-dimensional freight.


Flatbed trailers are one of the most common types of trailers for shipping. They are typically between 48 and 53 feet long and 8.5 feet wide. Unlike vans and trucks, flatbeds are open, allowing easier loading and unloading. These trailers are incredibly versatile, with a 48,000lbs weight capacity. If you are shipping heavy haul freight, a tri-axle flatbed trailer can carry up to 65,000lbs of cargo.


Lowboys are the best trailer type for tall cargo. Excavators, bulldozers, and other construction machinery are commonly moved on lowboys. Also known as a double drop trailer, lowboys sit only 18 inches above the road at their lowest point, making them ideal for moving tall equipment through tunnels and under bridges. A two-axel lowboy has a weight capacity of 40,000lbs, but additional axels can be added to accommodate oversized loads.

Step Decks

Step-deck trailers are a cross-over between a lowboy and a flatbed trailer. The tallest deck on a step deck is about 5 feet high and 10 feet long, whereas the lower deck is about 3 feet high and 43 feet long. Therefore, step deck trailers can move multiple products with different dimensions in one load. Step decks have a weight capacity of 43,000lbs and commonly move forklifts, tractors, and other equipment.

Escort or Pilot Cars

Shipping heavy haul freight may require escort or pilot cars to ensure the safety of the carrier, freight, and other drivers on the road. Typically, loads larger than 12 feet wide, or 14 and ½ feet high, or exceeding 90 to 100 feet in length, require two escort cars. These vehicles drive in front and behind the oversized freight to warn of any unexpected conditions and assist in safe driving practices.

How to Choose a Shipping Provider for Your Specialized Shipments

In 2021, the U.S. specialized freight trucking industry surpassed $102 billion. With thousands of companies and intense competition, one of the most complex parts of arranging proper shipments for specialized supplies is finding a professional logistics partner. Here are some key features of an adequate specialized shipping provider.

Specialized Experience

Thorough experience in the supply chain and logistics industry is crucial for logistics companies to understand your business needs clearly and provide proper solutions. A logistics partner with experience is more likely to be prepared for unexpected situations and help guide you through the best solutions to problems.

Carrier Network

An extensive network of carriers plays a significant role in preserving the capacity for your loads to ensure the shipment process runs smoothly. At PLS, we connect our clients with our network of over 55,000 carriers to ensure you’re load is always covered.

Variety of Services

Shipping specialized freight requires many moving parts, employees, and services for proper execution. When researching logistics partners, check that the array of services is wide enough to provide solutions from specialized trucks and hazardous materials shipping to escort services.

Transportation Technology

Access to quality technology will significantly improve overall visibility and customer service. Ensure your logistics partner uses advanced technology, like a transportation management system (TMS), so freight management is at the highest level. A TMS gives real-time load updates, an essential feature when moving oversized, fragile, expensive, or perishable products.

PLS Logistics Services as a 3PL Partner

At PLS Logistics Services, we have more than three decades of experience moving specialized freight. From mining, construction, and oilfield equipment to groceries and medicine, PLS is a one-stop shop for all over-dimensional freight needs. We provide a full range of specialized shipping services, such as strategic route planning, permit quotes, pilot cars, police escorts, and more. In addition, our team of experts is available 24/7 for communication and live updates on shipments from anywhere in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico. Regardless of your challenges, PLS Logistics Services can help save you time and money on specialized shipping needs.

Have any questions, or need a heavy haul quote? Contact one of our experts today!

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