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5 Questions and Answers About Heavy Haul and Oversized Freight


What makes a shipment heavy haul or oversized?

Heavy haul freight, also known as oversized freight, is a load that exceeds a state’s legal limit for a specified portion of the road. Usually a load is considered oversize if it is wider, taller, longer, or heavier than what could be hauled on a standard or specialized trailer. However, each individual state has different requirements regarding legal dimensions. In addition, permits are issued at the state level, not the federal.

Oversized Load on a truck

How is heavy haul or oversized freight different from a regular flatbed shipment?

The main difference between oversized and regular shipments is that oversized freight requires permits before entering the roadway. There are different types of permits that can be pulled, and depending on how oversized the shipment is, it might require pilot cars. Pilot cars are identified with a large, yellow OVERSIZE LOAD sign and rotating flashing lights. The pilot car drives ahead of or behind the flatbed truck to help make other drivers aware of the oversized freight and provide safer travel.

What kind of things qualify for heavy haul or oversized freight?

Again, this varies state to state. Generally, anything that exceeds a flatbed trailer’s maximum trailer width of 102 inches is considered oversized and would require, at the very least, a width permit. Procuring specialized equipment is dependent on the freight’s height, weight, and length. This specialized equipment can allow the load to remain within the legal limitations. Freight that might qualify as heavy haul or oversized freight includes things like:

  • • Heavy machinery such as cranes, front loaders, or backhoes
  • • Pre-built homes
  • • Large shipping containers
  • • Building elements such as bridge beams, generators, or windmill propellers
  • • Industrial equipment

Why does heavy haul or oversized freight cost more?

There are two main reasons why heavy haul and oversized freight cost more.

  • 1. Permits. For loads that exceed a state’s legal load limit for any portion of the road traveled, the driver must acquire a special permit. These permits can be expensive depending on how oversized the load is, and could incur extra fees along the way. In addition, a permit must be purchased for every state the oversized load passes through.
  • 2. Pilot Cars. When required, pilot cars increase cost because of the additional escorts and pilot car services that must be hired to assist throughout the duration of the load in transit. These fees may become very expensive, especially for loads travelling over long distances or across multiple states.

What are the limitations on heavy haul and oversized freight?

The main limitation on heavy haul and oversized freight is that not every carrier is willing to take on the high visibility nature of these shipments and not every carrier is knowledgeable or experienced enough to get the job done safely. As a result, capacity is limited.

A load qualifies as oversized when it exceeds legal limitations and is considered “non-divisible”—meaning the load cannot be broken down to legal limits and shipped on standard equipment. If freight can be broken down further to avoid being oversized, it must be. For example, if you were shipping items for a bridge, you could not ship the completed bridge to its location. You would have to have a separate shipment for each individual component that exceeds 102 inches.

Sorting out the logistics regarding permits, pilot cars, and state load limitations can be complicated—especially when your load is traveling through multiple states. Third party logistics companies that specialize in flatbed and heavy haul freight can help you navigate through all of the complex requirements. To learn more about general flatbed shipping information, check out our Flatbed Shipping guide. Think that flatbeds and brokers don’t mix? Download our latest transportation brief, Flatbed Capacity: Do You Have a Safety Valve?, and find out how a 3PL can help with flatbed capacity.

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