Determining Freight Class: A How-To Guide

Sure, you’ve heard of freight class – but do you know what it is, why it exists, and how to determine what class your shipment belongs in? If you answered no to any of the above questions, keep reading to learn more.

What is Freight Class?

In the US, every commodity is assigned a National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC), also commonly referred to as a freight class. This classification exists to provide LTL shippers and carriers with a way to calculate standardized pricing for freight shipments. There are eighteen freight classes, and each one is identified as a number that ranges from 50 to 500.

What Determines Freight Class?

LTL shippers and carriers use the following four characteristics to assign a freight class to a shipment:

  • Liability
  • Handling
  • Density
  • Stowability

These four factors are used to determine how transportable a shipment is. Generally, low-value items that are light and easy to transport will be assigned to a low freight class and will have low shipping costs. The opposite is also true. High-value items that are heavy or difficult to transport will be assigned to a higher freight class and will be more expensive to ship.

Figuring out Freight Class

Here’s a closer look at each of the four factors that together, determine freight class.

  1. Liability
    Carriers are responsible for the safe transport and delivery of all the items loaded onto their trucks. Certain items are damaged, lost and stolen more often than others, thus they are a higher liability to the carrier. These items have a higher freight class designation and cost more to ship.
  2. Handling
    The level of difficulty involved in handling products also plays a role in determining freight class. Products that are easy to stack and load are usually assigned to a lower freight class. In contrast, products that require special handling because they’re fragile usually fall into a higher freight class. Products with non-uniform unit dimensions are harder to load and unload, which can also result in a higher freight class assignment.
  3. Density
    To figure out the density of your shipment, divide total cubic feet by total weight in pounds. To calculate this, you’ll need to know the total weight and dimensions of your freight. Here’s how you crunch the numbers…Once your shipment is ready to go, measure its height, width and depth in inches, then plug your numbers into this formula: (height X width X depth) / 1,728.

    Multiplying your dimensions gives you your shipment’s total cubic inches. Dividing the sum of your dimensions by 1,726 (the number of cubic inches in a cubic foot) will tell you how many total cubic feet make up your shipment.

    To finish, you have to divide the weight of your shipment in pounds by the total cubic feet you calculated above. This step will give you your shipment density – aka pounds per cubic foot.

  4. Stowability
    Stowability refers to how easily goods being shipped will fit into the dimensions of the transport container. For example, boxes stacked on a pallet are easier to stow than art pieces that are fragile and that vary in size.Some shipments, such as hazardous materials, have specific transportation requirements that decrease stowability because they can’t be placed on other items or they need to be temperature controlled. These items may incur higher shipping costs.

It’s always important to figure out the freight class of your shipment before contacting freight carriers to make sure you get accurate quotes. Knowing your freight class will also help you ensure that you’re not overpaying for transportation costs and that you’re getting the best possible rate.

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