How to Determine Freight Class: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Determine Freight Class: A Comprehensive Guide

The freight transportation system is one of the largest industries in the country, both in terms of scope and economy. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, freight transportation directly affects more than 44 million jobs in the country, which is nothing to say of the millions of homes and businesses that require freight for everyday survival.

Freight transit is an expanding industry with estimates suggesting a 45 percent increase in freight tonnage by the year 2040. That equates to about 9 billion tons of total freight added on top of the already massive 54 million tons of daily freight currently shipped throughout the country.

Many businesses have turned to LTL freight shipping as a means of saving on shipping costs without sacrificing quality of service, but one of the biggest difficulties with new businesses is understanding freight class. Read on to learn about what LTL shipping means, the importance of freight class, and how you can determine the freight class of your shipments.

What is LTL Shipping?

Less than truckload (LTL) shipping is, in its most basic sense, shipping less than a truckload of freight in a trailer, as opposed to full truckload shipping. With less than truckload freight shipping, you share trailer space with other businesses sending their own goods, which allows a carrier to fill a truck to capacity without needing to rely on all their freight coming from a single business. Each shipper only pays for the space their freight takes, generally allowing for a more cost effective shipping solution.

Unlike other forms of shipping, LTL freight is shipped through a spoke and hub model. In this model, local terminals act as spokes that connect to central hubs, or distribution centers. At local terminals, workers load freight onto trucks. The freight is taken to the distribution center, where it is either delivered or consolidated into other trailers for further transit. By contrast, full truckload shipping generally works in a point A to point B system with few stops in between. This also often means that LTL freight shipments go through more handling.

What is Freight Class?

Freight classes are a measurement that allow for standard prices across all LTL freight carriers and businesses. Freight classes are determined by the NMFTA, or National Motor Freight Traffic Association. Generally, every type of product or commodity has a National Motor Freight Classification, which is then assigned a specific freight class number for LTL freight shipments. Freight class generally ranges from 60 to 400 and is based on specific types of commodities. For example, refrigerators belong to class 92.5, while cabinets are categorized as freight class 110.

Freight class matters to LTL carriers as it determines the tariffs they are required to pay for transporting goods. This in turn determines how much a carrier will charge you in shipping rates and fees. Unfortunately, many businesses will underestimate their freight class or otherwise declare an incorrect freight class. While it may seem smart to list a lower freight class to save money, the carrier may need to re-class your freight. This causes delays and can result in wasted money, time, and resources. Freight class is also often tied to the size of a shipment, which the carrier needs to know to better plan how to load a trailer.

Factors That Determine Freight Shipping Class

There are several factors that determine freight class, including:

  • Commodity and Density – Some commodities are not density based and have pre-defined freight classes. However, other commodities are density based. This is determined by the total cubic feet divided by total weight in pounds. Freight with a lower density results in a higher freight class.
  • Stowability: Assuming you have packed it properly, most freight should be fairly easy to stow in trucks, trains, boats, and planes. However, some items are regulated by the government or cannot be loaded together with other items. Freight that is excessively heavy, too long, or has odd protrusions can be difficult to load, especially with other shipments. Shipments should also have clear load-bearing surfaces, which makes it easier to stack with other freight. Essentially, if an item is difficult to load, it will have a higher freight class, which increases the overall cost of the shipment.
  • Handling: Freight goes through various checkpoints and distribution facilities before it reaches its eventual destination, and a properly packed shipment generally shouldn’t experience any problems. Most freight is loaded with equipment and shouldn’t pose an issue, but similar to items that are hard to stow, goods that are heavy, fragile, awkwardly shaped, or hazardous require special handling to prevent damage or harm to workers and other freight. Freight that is more difficult to load or carry may be categorized as a higher freight class.
  • Liability: Liability refers to the probability that any piece of freight may be stolen, damaged, or damaging to other freight in its proximity. For example, perishable cargo or freight that may be prone to sudden explosion or combustion has a higher liability, which is valued per pound.

Understanding Density-Based Freight Class

Assuming that your freight does not have any significant liability, handling, or stowing problems, density ends up being the main determining factor for freight class. The Commodity Classification Standards Board developed guidelines for determining freight class based on the density of the shipment. These guidelines assume an average density among all commodities within a freight class, ignoring any problems with stowing, handling, and liability.

Many LTL freight carriers often opt for density-based freight class as commodity freight class can be arbitrary. For example, not all computer monitors weigh the same, but they would all be grouped in freight class 92.5. While that might make sense if you are a big box manufacturer producing several truckloads of the same computer monitor, it can become incredibly arbitrary, especially considering LTL carriers often consolidate several different shipments from businesses. Going by true density also eliminates potential arguments between carriers and shippers over interpretations of commodity NMFC class codes in the NMFC manual. With that said, handling and liability can still affect your shipping rates outside of determining the freight class.

Calculating Your Freight Density

Whether you choose a carrier that uses the commodity NMFC codes or density-based classification, calculating the pounds per cubic feet (PCF) of your freight is the best place to start.

  1. Measure the length, width, and height of your shipment. Remember that this measurement includes pallets and other packaging around the actual shipment. Round up to the next inch. You will have to repeat this step for shipments that have multiple pieces or pallets.
  2. Multiply the height, width, and length measurements you just took. This gives you the total cubic inches of the shipment. Divide this number by 1,728 to convert cubic inches to cubic feet. If you have several different pieces, multiply the length, width, and height of each individual piece. Add the cubic measurements for each individual piece together to get the total and convert to cubic feet as necessary.
  3. Determine the weight of the shipment in pounds. Divide the weight by the total cubic feet of the shipment to get the pounds per cubic foot, or density. For multiple pieces, you want the total weight of each piece added together before you divide by the total cubic feet.

Once you have the freight density, use the following LTL freight class chart to determine the freight class.

Freight Class Codes Chart

Freight Density (pounds per cubic foot) Freight Class
1 to 2 400
2 to 3 300
3 to 4 250
4 to 5 200
5 to 6 175
6 to 7 150
7 to 8 125
8 to 9 110
9 to 10.5 100
10.5 to 12 92.5
12 to 13.5 85
13.5 to 15 77.5
15 to 22.5 70
22.5 to 30 65
30 to 35 60
35 to 50 55
More than 50 50

Remember that these are estimates and only apply to carriers who base their freight classifications only on density. Some LTL carriers may have their own specific guidelines for determining freight class. However, assuming you have measured your shipments properly, you should have a fairly accurate idea of your freight classification. Alternatively, you could use a freight class calculator.

Preparing Your Goods for LTL Shipping

Determining your freight class is just the first step in preparing your shipment for your LTL carriers. Through proper preparation, you can prevent bottlenecks, save money, and ensure that your freight reaches its destination on time and without sustaining any damages.

Make sure you have your shipment documentation on hand. Documentation mainly comprises the bill of lading, which acts as a contract between you and your carrier. It should also provide all the information that the carrier, the driver, and any workers down the line will need to process and invoice the freight. A typical bill of lading includes:

  • Name and information of the recipient
  • Date of the shipment
  • Description of the type of packaging
  • Description of the goods being shipped
  • Number of units getting shipped
  • Dimensions
  • Freight class
  • Estimated value

Your shipment should also be loaded onto pallets or crates before pick up. Place lighter items on top of heavier items and include at least one label on every unit to prevent any potential losses. Use appropriate labels for any items that are fragile, hazardous, or otherwise require special care. Remember that the LTL shipping process often means that freight will be handled several times throughout the journey. Providing a proper label can prevent damages and help give workers and drivers a better idea of how to move shipments.

Once you have your shipment ready, your LTL carrier can pick your freight up and send it on its journey. You should have the bill of lading and all the necessary information in hand when the carrier arrives. Keep in mind that LTL carriers do not have the luxury of long loading windows. Where full truckload carriers will often allow a two-hour window to load goods, LTL carriers are not required to wait. If your shipment is not ready, LTL carriers will leave and come back the next day, which adds an extra delay to the delivery time and usually leads to a second-day pick-up fee.

Flock Freight is dedicated to changing the LTL shipping experience for small- to medium-sized businesses. We provide more affordable rates while increasing safety and security so businesses don’t have to worry about their goods getting damaged. To learn more about freight classifications or get a free shipping LTL freight quote, please contact Flock Freight today.

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