Oversized items such as industrial machinery and military equipment can present logistical challenges if you aren’t familiar with how to transport them. These shipments typically require special handling, optimized routing and additional permits because they may not be able to travel on all roadways due to their size and weight. Understanding what an oversize load is, what weight limitations could apply and what other requirements are needed can make the transportation process go more smoothly.

Characteristics of heavy haul freight

An oversized or overweight shipment exceeds the standard legal limitations for transporting freight over the road. The federal government requires each state to set their own regulations for oversize and overweight shipments, but they are generally classified as cargo that exceeds a:

  • Width of 8.6 feet
  • Height of 13.6 feet
  • Length of 48 to 53 feet
  • Gross weight of 80,000 pounds

Axle restrictions

Oversize loads also have weight limits based on a per-axle basis. Federal law limits the total weight that can be carried on any axle. Those weight limitations are listed below:

  • Steer axles may carry no more than 12,000 pounds
  • Single axles may carry no more than 20,000 pounds
  • Drive axles may carry no more than 34,000 pounds
  • Tandem axles may carry no more than 34,000 pounds

If your cargo exceeds these weight restrictions, it may require equipment with additional axles.

Permit requirements

Heavy haul freight requires appropriate documentation and permits before travel. Typically, the permits are issued on a per-shipment basis, and while regulations vary, some orders may require city, county or municipality-specific permits. Most states issue permits that outline the amount of time the oversized freight can travel (usually three to five days) and details about the operating hours. Some commodities may require their own designated permit, as well.

For example, if you’re shipping heavy farming equipment through Minnesota, the state requires the freight to have a permit for the machinery and a “single trip” permit, which is valid for seven days. If the cargo travels in the winter, travel will be limited to a certain timeframe and could require additional permits. Minnesota also limits travel hours for heavy freight travel during the week, on a seasonal basis. Weekend and holiday travel restrictions also apply in the state. Before moving your shipment, talk with your carrier to learn the guidelines of the states in which your product will travel and to make sure you have all the proper permits you’ll need.

Additional materials may be needed

Any vehicle transporting oversized goods is required by federal law to be marked by special signage or have specific travel accommodations. Here’s an example of what may be required:

  • “Oversized Load” banners. Yellow “oversized load banners” may be placed on the front and rear of any vehicle carrying or traveling with the shipment. Most signs are reversible with “wide load” on one side and “oversized load” on the other.
  • Safety flags. Fluorescent orange or red flags may be placed at the outermost corners of the vehicle.
  • Lights. Some states require vehicles to be equipped with rotating yellow LED lights.
  • Pilot cars. Escort vehicles or “pilot cars” are required to accompany wide loads in some states. Some instances require a shipment to travel with more than one pilot car or to have a police escort.

Following all of the laws is one of the most important aspects to safe and efficient heavy hauling.