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Freight Class Explained For LTL Shipments

freight class Freight Class is an important part of the LTL shipping industry, but one that most new shippers are confused by. What is freight class? How do I find mine? How does the class affect my shipping price?  Read on, my friend!  You’re in the right place.

Freight Class Definition

Let’s begin with a definition. The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) defines class as a way “to establish a commodity’s transportability.” The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) is the standard which enforces this system, grouping commodities into one of 18 classes – ranging from 50 to 500. The NMFC determines this class using four characteristics : Density, Stowability, Handling and Liability.

Density: An item’s density is determined by its weight and dimensions. Check out our density calculator to determine your item’s density in pounds per cubic foot. The higher the density, the lower the class and ultimately, the lower the cost.  This may seem backwards at first glance, but consider this: Carriers love shipping freight that is heavy and doesn’t take up much space compared to its weight.  This means they can fit more product on their truck, which means more cash in their wallets.

Stowability: Stowability is bit harder to define, though a good rule of thumb is to think of it as an item’s ability to be “stowed” or transported in relation to other items. This takes into account hazardous shipments (which cannot be moved with non-hazardous shipments) or items with strange dimensions that make it difficult to load freight around them.

Handling: Handling concerns the item’s ability to be handled as the freight is loaded and unloaded from LTL terminal to LTL terminal. Dimensions, fragility and packaging play a role in how difficult an item is to handle.

Liability: Liability takes into account the probability of the shipment being damaged or stolen, or damaging other adjacent freight.

How Freight Class Affects Quote Prices

This part is simple– The lower your class, the lower the price. An item that is a class 50 will be cheaper to ship than an item that is class 500.

What are NMFC Codes?

Each LTL shipping item has an NMFC code associated with it.  NMFC codes are similar in concept to PLU codes at a grocery store– Every item that could be shipped is assigned a code.  For example, hardwood flooring may be assigned NMFC #37860, whereas corrugated boxes may be assigned NMFC #29250.  These codes can be accessed via an NMFC database, which is constantly being updated.  Let a FreightPro know if you need help finding the correct NMFC code for your product, as this is step 1 in determining your freight class. The NMFC code will tell you how to class your item.  Some items have a permanent class, whereas others could be classed based on density, packaging, value, or other factors. An item that is density-based means that the freight’s density will determine the class. For example, Machinery may fit under NMFC #133300, which the database says is a density-based code. If you’re shipping machinery, you’ll need to first determine the item’s density (based on weight, dimensions and pallet count), and will then be able to calculate a freight class. With most density-based classes, a lower density means a higher class, and a higher density means a lower class. Using our example, let’s say we have 2 machines on standard-sized pallets with the same dimensions (48”x40”x48”). Machine #1 weighs 1000 lbs, and Machine #2 weighs 500 lbs. This means that Machine #1 is more dense than Machine #2, giving it a lower freight class and (usually!) a cheaper price. On the other hand, some shipping items have a permanent class regardless of their size or weight. An example of a fixed-class item would be a transmission. A transmission’s NMFC code is 19940, which classes at 85 no matter the size, weight, or packaging.  There may also be NMFC codes that class based on how an item is packaged, its value, or any other product characteristic.  The only way to know for sure is to get your freight broker to help you look up your item in the NMFC database.

Finding Your Correct Freight Class

We’ve covered what a shipping class is, as well as how it affects the cost of your freight shipping, so let’s finish up with how to find the correct class for your freight. Many carriers and brokers offer a freight class calculator that will determine the density and estimated class. These tools are convenient for casual shippers, but keep in mind that they offer only “estimated” classes. If you’re looking to avoid freight reclasses, the only way to ensure  your class is to confirm your freight class using the correct NMFC code, and making sure it is visible and legible on the BOL used at the time of pickup. Your freight broker can you help you do this, as they should have access to the NMFC database. As you can see, there’s a lot to say about class, but if you do have questions, your freight broker will be able to help you find the correct class for your shipment. In conclusion, here are a few classing tips to keep your shipping simple and easy.

Freight Class Tips & Tricks

  • ALWAYS include the NFMC code on the BOL so the carrier can see it.
  • ALWAYS include the freight description on the BOL to the best of your ability. Something labeled “shipping item” is much more likely to be re-classed, as the carrier has no idea what the freight is and therefore no idea what class is correct.
  • Class calculators can give the exact density of a shipment, however their classes are always estimates.  Not all items have density-based classes!
  • Be aware of carrier habits. All carriers are not created equal and some are harder on re-classes and inspections than others. Know the limitations of the carriers you’ll be using.
  • BE HONEST. Resist the urge to cheat on your freight class to fool the shipping companies. In the long run (like Vegas) the house always wins and you’ll end up paying penalties for constant re-classes.
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Freight Class
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Christie McNeill

Christie is a born-and-raised Austinite and proud of it. In her free time, she enjoys trying new food, road biking, drinking red wine and travelling.

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