Freight Class 101

Freight class plays an important role in the LTL industry, but many customers are overwhelmed or confused by the system. What is a freight class? How do you determine your item’s class? How does it affect the cost of shipping your item?

Here’s what you need to know about freight class.

What is Freight Class?

Freight classes allow you to get standardized freight pricing for their shipments when working with different warehouses, carriers and brokers.

All freight classes are defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association, or NMFTA, and are made available through the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC).

In the U.S., every product type or commodity is assigned a class and an NMFC for LTL (less than truckload) shipments.

In total, there are 18 different types of freight classes.

What Is The NMFC?

According to the National Motor Freight Traffic Association, the National Motor Freight Classification, or NMFC, is “a standard that provides a comparison of commodities moving in interstate, intrastate and foreign commerce.”

Commodities are placed into one of 18 classes. The class placement is based on an evaluation of: density, handling, liability and stowability (more on this soon). These characteristics determine the commodity’s transportability.

In addition, the NMFTA also has packaging requirements to ensure that freights arrive safely.

NMFC codes range from 50 to 500. Codes that belong to class 50 are the least expensive (e.g. durable products, fits on a shrink-wrapped 4×4 standard pallet), while codes that belong to class 500 are the most expensive (e.g. bags of gold dust).

Each class includes commodity examples and a weight range per cubic foot.

How is Freight Class Determined?

A number of factors are considered when determining a shipment’s freight class: length and height, weight, ease of handling, density, liability and value.

Let’s take a closer look at each factor:

Handling

Most freight is easy to handle and loaded with special equipment. But some freight requires special attention due to its shape, weight, hazardous properties or fragility. Freight that is difficult to handle will be classified as such.

Stowability

Some commodities are regulated by carrier or government policies. Certain items cannot be loaded together. Hazardous materials must be transported in a particular way. Excessive protrusions, weight or length can make it impossible to load certain commodities with other freight.

The stowability classification indicates the ease or difficulty of loading and hauling the freight.

Density and Value

Density and value classifications refer to the class numbers. For example, freight that weighs 50 pounds per cubic foot will be assigned the 50 classification.

The CCSB (Commodity Classification Standards Board) has assigned classifications 70, 92.5, 175 and 400 to the following densities (respectively): 15, 10.5, 5, and 1 per cubic foot.

Any freight that is less dense than 1 pound per cubic foot receives the 500 classification.

Density refers to the space occupied in relation to weight. To calculate density, the weight is divided by the item’s volume in cubic feet.

Liability

Liability refers to the risk of the freight being damaged or stolen, or the risk of the freight damaging other freight.

Commodities that are perishable or at risk of spontaneous combustion are classified based on liability. These items are given a value per pound. Liability-based classification must also consider the density of the item.

Shipped items are divided into two categories: items that are classed based on density, and items that are not.

Item classes based on density will not have a single permanent class. The density of the freight is what will determine the class.

Some items do have a permanent class no matter its weight or size. These are known as fixed items. One example would be a transmission, which is always classed at 85 no matter its weight, packaging or size.

How Freight Class Affects Quote Prices

The lower the freight class code, the lower the shipping cost – and vice versa. Class codes are included in the Bill of Lading, or BOL, to ensure that all transported items are correctly classified.

Each piece of freight must have a shipping class, and all items are included in the NMFC database.

It is crucial to find the right freight class code for each shipped item to avoid freight reclassification. Freight brokers and carriers usually have calculators that can determine the right class code for each item being shipped. They also have access to the NMFC database.

You may also contact the manufacturer of the item. In most cases, manufacturers know the NMFC codes of their products.

If you get the freight class wrong, it will cost you. The freight carrier will wind up reclassifying your shipped item and you will be charged the difference. Disputing a reclassification is difficult and time consuming.

To minimize the risk of reclassification, always include the NMFC code and the freight’s description in the BOL. Carriers are more likely to reclassify items if they have no idea what the freight is.

Always be honest and resist the temptation to cheat on your freight class. Shipping companies always win in the end, and you will wind up paying penalties for frequent re-classes.