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How to Reduce Transit Damage: 9 Ways to Avoid Freight Claims

Resources > How to Reduce Transit Damage: 9 Ways to Avoid Freight Claims
Lost and damaged freight costs shippers time and money. Damaged freight can be rejected entirely and shippers need to turn to freight claims in the hope of recovering costs. Worry less when you practice these nine ways to reduce freight claims by avoiding damage.
Published: April 20, 2022
Last Modified: February 27, 2024
Author: Natalie Kienzle

By focusing on how to reduce transit damage, you are planning ahead and avoiding profit loss long term. Freight damage during shipping isn’t avoidable all the time. Accidents on the road and in the warehouse can and will occur. However, being proactive about shipment safety goes a long way toward reducing freight claims and keeping your clients happy. 

When putting together your freight plan, think ahead and practice these nine ways to minimize cargo damage and reduce freight claims.

  1. Properly Sized Packaging
  2. Strong Adhesives
  3. Quality pallets and crates
  4. Impact protection
  5. Efficient trailer loading
  6. Labeling Everything
  7. Separating easily damaged items
  8. Full Truckload Services
  9. 3PL Partner

Review nine ways that you can impact your shipping practices for the better to reduce freight claims and keep your customers coming back. 

Avoid Transit Damage and Reduce Freight Claims

In any industry, accidents that damage merchandise and potentially put people in danger can and will happen. In the shipping industry, with transports ranging in size from superyachts that get moved by flatbed across the country, to ugly Christmas sweaters that are specially ordered, drivers and warehouse workers need to prepare for all of it. 

Shippers who practice safe methods of packaging help reduce damage in transit and in warehouses. The more shipments arrive safely to their final destination, the fewer freight claims for damage and loss will likely show up at your door. Likewise, the fewer you yourself may need to file if a shipment going straight to a warehouse from a port is damaged. 

Let’s look at nine ways you can reduce transit damage while also reducing freight claims. 

how to reduce transit damage with an assembly line of boxes being packed on a conveyor belt

1. Properly Sized Packaging

Choosing the correct packaging is the first step to reducing freight claims. Both size and material play a part in keeping items safe. 

When selecting the boxes, don’t go for the one-size-fits-all approach. In a box too big, items may shift more than necessary and break. Too small, and your items won’t fit at all. The perfect size is one that fits your items with just the right amount of packing material.   

You should also look at the material the boxes are made from. Not all cardboard is rated the same. Some are meant to be stacked and some aren’t. Get these confused and you risk thousands of dollars in damage even when boxes are stacked neatly on properly sized creates.

If you are committed to sustainable shipping solutions and are planning on reusing boxes, these should be carefully checked for damage. Even minor damage can affect a box’s structural integrity and make your shipment more prone to issues like water damage. 

Once you’ve determined the right size and material, make sure you are not exceeding the manufacturer’s weight limits. Just because you can fit 300 pounds in a box, doesn’t mean you should. 

Heavier items that can’t be divided may be better off in a wooden crate, something sturdier than a box and able to handle the weight. If items can be split up, consider a smaller box for heavier and denser items. 

2. Choose Strong Adhesives

Not all tape is created equal and even when using good quality tape, you need to choose the right one for the job. 

For however perfectly you chose boxes, if they aren’t sealed correctly, it’s not going to matter. When choosing a tape, consider where and when your boxes are being moved. You should also consider the nature of what you are packaging. 

Some good tape options are listed below. 

  • Acrylic Tape: Commonly known as carton sealing tape, it’s a clear tape that sticks to cardboard and works great in most temperatures. High-quality acrylic tape is also very affordable which makes it a popular choice. 
  • Hot Melt Tape: Known for having a quick tack that bonds almost instantly, it’s a good solution for automated machines but doesn’t tolerate temperature variations and shouldn’t be used for long-term storage.
  • Natural Rubber Industrial Tape: Strong adhesion that works well on the majority of surfaces including boxes made of mostly recycled material or even uneven surfaces. This tape is also ideal for packing hot humid areas because it’s resistant to weathering. 
  • Cold Temperature Tape: Designed to keep boxes sealed when the temperature drops below freezing, it won’t lose its stickiness in the cold. Unlike acrylic tape, which only tolerates cold, this tape can be applied in below-freezing conditions and still offer a superior seal. 
  • Water-Activated Tape: Known as WAT, it requires water to adhere to a surface. This is a great option for high-value shipments because it can’t be removed without damaging it, making it tamper-evident. 
  • Strapping Tape: Extra heavy-duty tape that can be used in place of bands to secure boxes to one another on a pallet.  Strapping tape is made with glass filaments that can resist tearing and abrasive surfaces 
  • Paper Packing Tape: This tape has the benefit of being both recyclable and it can be ordered with customs printing. It can be used in varying temperatures and some are water activated for added security. The downside is that a lack of backing makes it vulnerable to moisture so it shouldn’t be applied in outdoor conditions. 

No matter what you choose, paying a little extra for better quality is worth it. Packing tape is a small part of your overall shipping budget, but that doesn’t make it any less important. 

Close up view of a pallet on a forklift with a box on top

3. Quality Pallets and Crates

Proper palletizing starts with quality pallets. Made out of wood or plastic, freight shipping would be almost impossible without them. 

There are a few different standard sizes available when it comes to purchasing mass-produced pallets. The three most common sizes are:

  • 48 x 40 inches
  • 42 x 42 inches
  • 48 x 48 inches

The first, commonly referred to as a 48 x 40 GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association), is the closest thing to a standard pallet that exists in the United States. Most are designed to be easily used with a pallet jack, a tool essential in every warehouse for moving heavy loads. 

Whenever possible, boxes should be stacked on pallets in such a way that there is no part of them hanging off or empty spaces in between. This makes the use of other protective tools like corner protectors, shrink wrap, and banding easier to apply.

Wood pallets are versatile and able to hold over 4,000 pounds in most cases. Damaged or poorly constructed pallets may break during transport, so if you reuse pallets, be sure to inspect them during each shipment and take out damaged ones. 

Plastic pallets are also available but aren’t as easy to alter if needed. Wood pallets can be adjusted to custom-sized loads with relative ease. Plastic pallets also can’t handle the weight wooden ones do and are more expensive. 

However, if you are shipping food or anything requiring strict cleaning requirements, plastic is the way to go since they are easy to wash and sterilize. 

If you want your packages to be extra secure, wooden shipping crates can also be used. Items that are especially bulky or of awkward dimensions that won’t box well can be shipped in large crates. Customs crates can also be ordered. 

As an added benefit, crates are easily doubled stacked. Pallets can be as well, but only when materials have been properly boxed. As with pallets, be sure you are using well-constructed crates, and if reusing, check for damages with every shipment. 

Someone is using a tape holder to close boxes

4. Impact Protection Packing Materials

Having taken care of the outside materials, now you should examine the packing material going into boxes. No matter how smooth, vibration from the road or even the truck’s engine can cause items to shift and lead to damaged goods.

Good packing materials provide adequate protection while not adding significant weight to a shipment.   

After your items are placed in boxes, empty space gets additional packing material. These work to prevent items from shifting too much during transit and provide impact protection if mishandled or dropped. 

Common packing materials include:

  • Packing paper: Use to wrap delicate items such as glassware, or provide layers between items. Extra paper can be used to fill gaps but may not provide impact protection. Shredded paper tightly packed may offer better protection. 
  • Bubble Wrap: These sheets of air-filled bubbles are lightweight and provide excellent impact protection when used correctly. Larger air-filled bags also function as fill material while reducing weight.
  • Styrofoam: Widely used and available in sheets or as loose peanuts, this can be used in a variety of ways. Styrofoam molds provide the most secure way to transport delicate items. Standard sheets can also be cut to size and even provide some insulation for cold objects. Foam peanuts can any dimension of empty space. 

For additional protection, you can also use banding groove lumber that holds polymer or metal bands in place while preventing damage to boxes themselves. While not a packing material, it provides even weight distribution, especially during stacking. This provides better protection for what’s inside your boxes.

Shrinkwrap provides another layer of protection. Boxes on a pallet should be held together with bands and shrink wrap whenever possible. Done properly, these include the pallet itself. It keeps boxes together and in tight formation. 

Using a dark or black wrap also serves to prevent theft because the contents of each shipment are hidden from the casual observer. 

Reducing product damages not only reduces freight claims but final mile delivery problems as well. According to recent consumer surveys, damaged items were among the top three reasons for returns in eCommerce, accounting for 65% of people asked.   

Your packing material needs will depend on your items. A combination of the materials above should provide you with a wide range of options best suited to your needs. 

Warehouse worker pulling a pallet jack loaded with a fully stacked pallet of shrink wrapped boxes into a trailer.

5. Efficient Trailer Loading

Shippers can control many aspects of the shipping process, though ultimately the carrier is the one responsible for loading and unloading the trailers. 

Even so, shippers contribute to efficient trailer loading by having their packages well palletized and labeled. These allow carriers to more effectively fill trailers and avoid significant gaps between packages that make things more likely to shift in transit. 

A well-loaded trailer follows some basic guidelines. 

  • Liquids are placed at the lowest level possible to minimize damage in case of  leaks
  • Lightest/most fragile items should be stacked on top
  • Stacked pallets should be of the same dimensions
  • Weight in the trailer should be evenly distributed

Carriers should provide you with their freight loading procedures and practices. Most have detailed freight loading plans to maximize efficiency. If your freight company isn’t able to, it maybe look for a different carrier. 

6. Place Labels on Everything

There may be no such thing as too much labeling. Labeling isn’t just so carriers know where something is going. Freight labels protect your shipment by indicating how packages should be moved and stored. 

A freight label includes the:

  • Bill of Lading
  • Terms and conditions of the shipment
  • Shipping labels 

Some labels are required by law, such as Hazmat labels which are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 

Labels indicating how a package should be handled can prevent careless handling that would otherwise damage an item. These include warnings such as:

  • This Side Up
  • Do Not Stack
  • Protect From Heat
  • Keep Dry
  • Fragile/Handle With Care
  • Perishable
  • Keep Frozen

These and others should be placed on multiple parts of a package where they can easily be seen by handlers. It goes without saying they should be double-checked before placement; especially directional labels. 

If the freight label has a barcode for easy tracking, which most do, make sure it is accessible and visible for anyone scanning shipments. Freight getting divided up at a cross docking station needs to have labels on individual boxes to guide workers during pallet breakdowns.  

fragile items in a box separated by honeycomb of cardboard

7. Separate Fragile and Liquid Items

Freight claims are most common for shipments involving fragile items. Liquids are another common source. Liquids being transported in fragile containers, such as perfumes or liquors, combine the worst of both. 

While difficult to transport, it isn’t impossible. If you are shipping a variety of items ranging from the very sturdy to the very delicate, you’ll want to separate the items. The additional money spent on more boxes and packing material will be worth it when your items arrive intact. 

A freight claim may get you money back on broken items, but it does nothing to help the clients who will still be waiting on their orders. 

Fragile items should be stored on top of other packages or kept in wooden crates that can’t be easily crushed or damaged. 

Liquid items are deceptively heavy. Some are also harder to transport than others. The rule with trailer packing is to keep liquids at the bottom, but this can be easier said than done. 

Liquids in plastic bottles are usually easiest and easily boxed. Bagged liquids, like IV solutions, are usually packed directly into smaller boxes but are heavy. They are also more prone to leaking if something were to puncture a box even a little. 

If a company uses glass containers for their liquid items, like hot sauce, packing material makes all the difference. Shipping everything in wooden crates would be too expensive. Like the very delicate items, they should be boxed separately and with appropriate packing material. 

8. Consider Full Truckload Services

Another thought to consider when trying to reduce freight claims is your chosen delivery method. Not necessarily the carrier, but the service. 

Many companies are taking advantage of Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) shipment services. These can get your goods moving out faster and usually at a good price but have a history of frequent freight claims.

Full truckload services reduce freight claims because they reduce a shipment’s total touchpoints. LTL carriers may load and unload parts of shipments several times a day or per shipment. These frequent touchpoints increase the chances of something getting damaged. Just because something was stacked perfectly during the initial load, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way the whole ride. 

Although better technology and processing have reduced LTL freight claims, it’s still a risk you may not want to take. Full Truckload services can take your freight from point to point with no excessive handling or any handling. Fewer touchpoints mean fewer chances of damage. 

The shipping costs are likely to be more expensive, but it may be worth it. A secondary option is partial truckload shipping (PTL). It works a little like LTL but without all the different stops. PTL offers direct shipping of partial loads heading to the same area. 

It minimizes damage, but filling a trailer can take longer since it all has to be destined for the same place. 

9. Partner With the Right 3PL

Partnering with a 3rd Party Logistics company to manage fulfillment and distribution can resolve many of the issues discussed above. 3PLs with warehousing capabilities will have the right tools and equipment to correctly box and palletize shipments. 

A 3PL gives you access to the technology they use to track warehouse inventory and shipments out for delivery. This way, whether you use LTL or FTL services, you know where your shipment is supposed to be at any given time reducing freight claims due to lost shipments. 

With a 3PL, you also aren’t locked into one particular carrier. Logistics companies may work with multiple carriers and because of their experience in the field they know which ones are the most reliable. Involvement in multiple levels of the process also protects more of your supply chain.  

In addition to truckload services, we also offer warehousing, fulfillment, and other logistics services. Get in touch and find out how we can partner with you to handle your freight throughout the entire supply chain.

fallen and damaged boxes laying in the grass

Why You Want to Avoid Damaged Freight

Lost and damaged freight translates to monetary loss for shippers. The freight claim process exists as a way for shippers to recover lost funds when that happens. However, even considering that a freight claim can get you back 100% of the money lost, time is another matter. 

Let’s review a simplistic version of a single shipment to determine possible losses. 

Item A is being shipped from your warehouse to a distribution center by an LTL carrier. You are shipping 500 units of Item A that cost you $5,000. 

Along the way, half the freight is damaged when an improperly stacked pallet is tipped over while being unloaded at one of the stops. The value of what you lost is $2,500 not including potential profit from sales. 

Shipping Costs Breakdown

ItemInitial Costs
Merchandise (total value):$5,000
Warehouse labor:$250
Packing materials:$50
LTL Shipping Cost:$500
Total Cost Before Profit:$5,800

If the shipper can sell all 500 units of Item A for $20.00 each, they will earn $10,000. Their profit after expenses is $4,200. With it, they can purchase new merchandise to repeat the process all over again. 

However, if half the shipment is damaged, that number changes significantly.

Potential Earnings

Items for SaleSale PriceProfit

With only half the items available to sell, potential profit drops to $5,000 leaving a deficit of $800 for this particular shipment.

Even assuming that a properly filed freight claim recovers the $2,500 value of lost merchandise, you’ve still lost the potential profit. Also, consider that the average freight claim can take three months to resolve

If this type of loss is happening routinely across identical shipments, you are losing thousands of dollars. 

Profit Loss Over Time

Estimated Deficit Per ShipmentNumber of ShipmentsTotal Loss

Depending on how often you ship per month, you could be losing as much as $8,000 that you hope will be paid back to you with a freight claim sometime in the next three months

Even with such a simplistic example, as someone running a business, it’s safe to assume you wouldn’t think this is a sound business model.

The current shipping industry, both in the U.S. and worldwide, has been heavily affected by delays, labor shortages, and production disruptions. These have become chronic issues that must be managed daily rather than as occasional problems. 

Damaged and lost freight can no longer be physically replaced as easily as it once was. You may have the money from a claim, but that is all. You still won’t have a product to sell. It may be months before you can get more of a product depending on what it is. 

Getting your freight to its destination in one piece is more valuable than reclaiming lost value. 

Reduce Transit Damage by Partnering With USA Truckload Shipping

Stop wondering how to reduce transit damage on your own. Move your freight with USA Truckload Shipping and work with professionals who value your shipments. 

We can get you trucks with liftgate capabilities and weather shields to keep your freight safe and make unloading and loading services painless and hassle-free. Your freight is important to you and your business, and that makes it important to us too. 

USA Truckload Shipping can offer services for:

Trust your shipments to the experts at USA Truckload Shipping and call us today at (866) 353-7178 or fill out an easy quote request form online now. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What specific training or preparation do shipping and handling teams undergo to ensure they follow the best practices for reducing transit damage?

Shipping and handling teams often undergo specialized training focused on packaging techniques, handling procedures, and safety protocols tailored to the types of goods they manage.

This training aims to minimize the risk of damage by ensuring all team members are knowledgeable about the best practices for secure packaging and careful handling.

Are there any emerging technologies, such as IoT devices or sensors, being used to monitor the condition of cargo in real-time to further reduce transit damage?

Emerging technologies like IoT devices and sensors are increasingly being used to monitor cargo conditions in real-time. These tools can track variables such as temperature, humidity, and shock events, allowing for immediate action to prevent damage during transit.

How do shipping companies handle situations where transit damage occurs despite all precautions, especially in terms of customer service and claims processing?

When transit damage occurs despite precautions, shipping companies typically have a process in place for claims processing and customer service.

This may involve assessing the damage, determining liability, and compensating the customer according to the terms of the shipping contract and insurance coverage.

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