Freight Class - What Does It Mean
If you have ever wondered what freight class means, or how you go about determining the freight class for your shipment, you are not alone.
It can be rather confusing when you are running a shipping quote and are asked to select a freight class - especially if this is your first shipment, or you do not ship very often.
What is a less-than-truckload (LTL) freight class anyway, and why is it so important? How exactly is a shipping class determined, and where can you find the correct class for your shipment?
At FreightRun, it is our goal to not only lower freight costs, but to make your shipping job easier. With that in mind, you will find the answers to many of your questions about freight class and freight class determination outlined in the article below.
Role of Freight Class Determination in LTL Shipping
Class is fundamentally what determines most LTL common carrier shipping rates. Freight classes are determined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), and these classes give rise to a series of individual National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) numbers.
There are 18 different classes that an LTL shipment can be categorized under, ranging from class 50 to class 500. And every item or commodity being shipped will have its own NMFC number, based on the freight class it falls under.
The NMFC created their classifications to reflect four distinct LTL freight class characteristics:
- Ease of Handling, and
But without the correct LTL freight classifications for the items you are shipping, your freight quote is very likely to be inaccurate. And with the wrong class selected, not only will the quoted rate be invalid, there is an excellent chance that the carrier moving your shipment will reclassify your items and add hundreds of dollars in extra charges to your bill.
How to Determine Freight Class
With 18 different classes to choose from, determining the correct freight class for your LTL shipment is essential, but it can also be challenging. To begin with, it is important to recognize that the LTL shipping class for any given item is based on a combination of factors. These include the commodity’s:
- general description,
- packaging characteristics,
- ease of handling,
- density in terms of weight and dimensions, and
- how vulnerable the commodity in a particular LTL freight class is to theft, damage, or spoilage
Density is an especially important quality when it comes to determining a shipment’s freight class because it refers to the space your load will occupy in relation to its weight. Density can be easily calculated by dividing an item’s weight in pounds by its volume in cubic feet.
For freight density purposes, volume in cubic feet is equal to the item’s length x its width x its height - divided by 1,728 – where all dimensions are measured in inches. So in summary, density equals weight divided by volume.
Types of Freight Class
One of the main reasons LTL freight class types have been standardized is to establish a uniform foundation that makes it easier for carriers to determine shipping costs. In a nutshell, freight classes offer a way for freight companies to identify the size, value, and difficulty of transporting your shipment, so they can charge you accordingly for their service.
The NMFC’s 18 freight class categories loosely group like items together based on some common characteristics. But at the end of the day, these freight classes serve as a general guide only. The reality is that there are a range of factors that can influence which class your shipment eventually ends up in.
For instance, while the LTL freight classifications and shipping rates of a great many items are regulated by their density, certain items will always fall under a specific freight class - no matter what their density is. One example of this would be a transmission, which is always categorized as class 85.
At the same time, some items are classified based on their packaging. Most boxed kayaks, for example, fall under class 250 or 300, whereas unboxed kayaks are labeled as class 400. Another example of this would be the classification of household items, which are strictly considered to fall under class 150 if they are packaged in boxes or crates. Ship those same goods in any other type of packaging however, and they are likely to be grouped under class 250.
You should also be aware that, as far as ease of handling is concerned, certain features will tend to propel your shipment into a higher numbered freight class. These qualities include:
- items that are overly heavy,
- cargo that could be difficult to store (including any commodity that is considered to be hazardous), and
- LTL shipping class goods that require special handling because of their fragile nature
As a starting point for determining what gets classified where, here are some examples of the general commodities that make up the 18 established freight classes.
Weight Range per Cubic Foot
Fits on standard shrink-wrapped 4x4 pallet, very durable
Over 50 Lbs.
Bricks, cement, mortar, hardwood flooring
35 – 50 Pounds
Car accessories & Car Parts
30 – 35 Pounds
Car accessories & Car Parts, bottled beverages, books in boxes
22.5 – 30 Pounds
Car accessories & Car Parts, food items, automobile engines
15 – 22.5 Pounds
Tires, bathroom fixtures
13.5 – 15 Pounds
Crated machinery, cast iron stoves
12 – 13.5 Pounds
Computers, monitors, refrigerators
10.5 – 12 Pounds
Boat covers, car covers, canvases, wine cases, caskets
9 – 10.5 Pounds
Cabinets, framed artwork, table saw
8 – 9 Pounds
Small Household appliances
7 – 8 Pounds
Auto sheet metal parts, bookcases
6 – 7 Pounds
Clothing, couches stuffed furniture
5 – 6 Pounds
Auto sheet metal parts, aircraft parts, aluminum table, mattresses
4 – 5 Pounds
Bamboo furniture, mattress and box spring, plasma tv
3 – 4 Pounds
Wood cabinets, tables, chairs setup, model boats
2 – 3 Pounds
1 – 2 Pounds
Low density/high value: Bags of gold dust, ping pong balls
Less than 1 pound
What is True Density-Based Class
Many of us mistake density and weight as meaning more or less the same thing, but they are actually two very different traits. While weight refers to how heavy or light an item is, true density measures dimensional weight: how compact or dispersed an item’s weight is in relation to its size.
You may have noticed that each of the 18 freight classifications set up by the NMFTA to describe a shipment’s transportability, also has a weight range per cubic foot value assigned to it. These values serve as density guidelines. In effect, they can help with the LTL freight classifications of individual shipments by making it easier to assign items to a true density-based class.
Density guidelines are particularly helpful when it comes to classifying shipments where the average density of a particular item reflects the range of densities that is typical for that group of items. But true density-based class distinctions can only be applied to shipments that require no special handling, no special storage, and that have no unusual liability features.
Why Density-Based Classes Have Become So Important
As discussed earlier, density is calculated by dividing an item’s weight by its volume. This makes it a much more accurate way of assigning an LTL freight class than weight alone - especially when it comes to shipping rate quotes. Why? Because by also taking a commodity’s length, width, and height into account, the carrier is given a much clearer idea of how much space a particular shipment is going to occupy.
With e-commerce contributing so heavily to increased shipping demands in recent years, load space is often at a premium. As a result, the freight industry has had to move away from simple weight-based shipping rates to more density-centric pricing. Density now plays a key role in balancing actual freight costs against the rates that are charged out to customers. And that is why it is one of the key factors contributing to a shipment’s freight classification.
Questions About Freight Class Determination
Here are some of the questions we are frequently asked about LTL shipping classes and freight class determination. Have a query that is not addressed here? Feel free to contact one of FreightRun’s shipping specialists, and we will be happy to answer your question directly.
What is a commodity, and what is a carrier
Technically, a commodity is any product that can be traded – from raw materials, to manufactured goods. Once a commodity enters the transportation system however, it is typically referred to as cargo instead. In many cases, the terms commodity, cargo, and freight are used interchangeably. Meanwhile, any company that specializes in moving cargo or freight from point A to point B is known as a common carrier, trucking carrier, or freight company.
What is the best way to package my item for shipment
In terms of freight categorization, it is important to remember that both the weight and the dimensions of your package will play a role in determining its LTL freight class. The less space your shipment occupies, the less it is likely to cost. So, opt for the smallest possible package that will still provide you with adequate protection in terms of minimizing movement of the goods inside.
What is an LTL freight classification
Unlike full truckload shipments that frequently involve delivering a single load to a single destination, less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments make it possible for multiple shippers to share the cost of space on the same truck. The LTL freight classification for your shipment describes the freight class your items fall under and assigns the appropriate NMFC number. Ultimately, it is your shipment’s LTL freight class that determines your shipping rate.
How can I avoid pricing adjustments to my original freight quote
Beyond extra charges for oversized items or liftgate service, one of the costliest – and often unexpected - pricing adjustments a shipper potentially faces is the reclassification of their shipment. Obtaining accurate LTL shipping class information before you ship is the best way to avoid extra costs associated with selecting the wrong class for your package.
Why is a bill of lading so important
The bill of lading not only serves as the receipt for your shipment, it often doubles as a contract between you and your carrier. As such, it includes important information about your shipment, and confirms what has been agreed on in terms of its freight class, packaging type, and description of goods. To reduce the chances of having a reclassification charge levied, be sure to always include the NMFC number for your shipment on the bill of lading.
Understanding Freight Class is Critical
Knowing the NMFC numbers and corresponding classes of whatever you ship - or are having shipped for you - is critical if you want to obtain reliable, competitive pricing for the goods you are moving. If it is your first time shipping an item, or if you are not sure which LTL shipping class to select, there are several resources you can turn to for help.
One of your best options is to:
- contact Freightrun.com,
- speak with a highly trained specialist,
- have our personnel help you determine the correct class for your item, and
- avoid extra charges later on
But you can also contact the manufacturer of the item you are shipping since, in most cases, they will be familiar with the NMFC codes for their products.
Alternatively, you may prefer to call the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) directly for assistance with the classification of your items. And as a last resort, you can always perform an internet search for the correct LTL freight class for your item - though this may not always yield reliable results.
The bottom line is that accurate freight class knowledge will help you avoid expensive surprises and pointless after-the-fact arguments with carriers. And that is crucial. Because by agreeing to a carrier’s tariff and tendering freight to that carrier, shippers - or buyers of freight who provide a bill of lading to their shippers - are legally and contractually liable for any errors in description, weight, class, or NMFC number, should those details have safety or loss implications.
So, use the FreightRun shipping specialists as your go-to resource for avoiding unforeseen problems - then save money by obtaining your LTL pricing online.