How to Use a Freight Class Calculator: A Helpful Guide

When products are shipped domestically in the U.S., which is generally done by LTL (less-than-truckload) or FTL (full-load) carriers, shipment spacing is at a premium. A 53-foot trailer can hold about 26-30 pallets, depending on size and weight. Trucking companies save money by filling their trailers and therefore rely on a system known as a freight class calculator that provides them with an accurate pricing model.  

National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC)

Regulated by the National Motor Traffic Association, the National Motor Freight Classification or NMFC is the standard for comparing the many different types of freight and classifying them. Commodities are arranged into 18 different classes based on four distinct factors: density, stow-ability, handling, and liability. These factors are important to gauge a cargo’s transportability, and the company’s rates will be based primarily on this system. Commodities are grouped in a range of Freight Classes, from a low of 50 to a high of 500.

The NMFC also publishes minimum packing requirements, to ensure practical standards are met for protecting goods in transit and that all cargo is handled and stowed in a reasonably safe manner. Finally, the NMFC governs the procedures for disputes or filing claims, as well as maintaining the terms and conditions of the Uniform Bill of Lading, a universally accepted contract of payment and receipt of completed delivery.

As a business owner, knowing which freight class your shipment will be in is important, as you’ll be able to shop around for the best trucking solution when armed with that knowledge. Understanding how to figure out your freight class can lead you to make better packing and manufacturing decisions, especially if you find a way to “jump” a freight class.

Freight Classification

Understanding your cargo begins with the consideration of how it is viewed from the perspective of the carrier. How easy is it to transport? How much room will it take up? What is my weight limit? Can it be picked up with two hands? Is it on a pallet?

Your product’s freight class will be judged by carriers based on these 4 factors:

1. Density

Density is the primary element shippers use to determine your freight class. Density is measured in pounds per cubic foot, and is calculated for each individual package, or can be measured for an entire pallet of goods. To figure out the density of your cargo, follow these steps:

Step 1. Measure the height, width, and length of your shipment. If it is being stacked on a pallet, measure the height, width, and length of the entire load, including the pallet.

Step 2. Multiply H (height) x W (width) x L (length) to give you the total cubic inches. If there are multiple individual packages, repeat for each package, and then add up the total cubic inches of all the packages together.

Step 3. Divide the total cubic inches by 1,728, the number of cubic inches in a foot.

Step 4. Divide the weight (in pounds) by the total cubic feet. This will give you pounds per cubic feet. This number is your density as seen by the NMFC.

The density is an exact representation of how large your shipment is, and this information gives carriers the ability to manage their space accordingly.

When determining your density, it could be advantageous to creatively manage your cargo. Choosing smaller packaging, properly stacking pallets, or even making changes in manufacturing can lead to a smaller density and an opportunity to save cost.

2. Stow-ability

The second factor in freight classification is stow-ability–how easily your cargo fits within the entire load being transported. Understandably, carriers want to know how well freight will be stowed alongside many other shipments, if at all. Anything fragile or with unusual dimensions, inadequate packaging, unbalanced weight distribution, or materials of a hazardous nature require extra care and will increase the freight class, and therefore the cost. A stretch-wrapped pallet that is able to be stacked upon and will have a better stow-ability rating which in turn benefits your NMFC freight class grouping.

3. Handling

The next measure of freight class is handling. How easily freight can be transferred from the dock to the truck, warehouse space, another truck, loading dock or doorstep is a vital aspect for the shipper and their process. If your shipment requires extra care or is not easily transferable, your handling rating will suffer and the subsequent cost rise. Pallets are very easy to maneuver, especially good quality pallets with openings on four sides for the forklift, as opposed to two. The dimension, weight, fragility, and packaging of your product will be a factor in your freight class. The easier they are to move, the less the cost.

4. Liability

The value of your shipment and the possibility it could be stolen, damaged, or cause damage to any other products during shipment will be considered as part of your freight class. Obviously, the greater the liability risk, the higher the freight class, and the greater the cost. Perishable produce, flat-screen TV’s, antiques, jewelry, paintings, cars, etc. will be assigned higher liability ratings because of the care and protection they will need in transit, in a warehouse, and at drop-off.

Understanding how to calculate freight class should allow a business to look for opportunities to decrease density and liability and increase stow-ability and handling. Use the NMFC model to develop an overall shipping strategy, and explore ways to improve details in your shipping process. Adjusting weight, dimensions, and packaging could allow you to jump into a more advantageous freight class. Using pallets can increase stow-ability, handling, and even liability. Examine pallet sizes and box sizes, and determine the appropriate size for your needs.

A failure to understand your freight class and how you can improve it is a missed opportunity to save cost. Using the wrong freight class can lead to a heap of issues such as additional freight costs, re-billing from your carrier, shipment delays, invoice disputes, or freight claim complications.

So which freight class does your cargo fit into? Now that you have the pounds per cubic feet of your shipment, you should be able to glean an idea of your freight class.

Here are some common examples:

Class Name Notes, Examples Weight Range Per Cubic Foot
Class 50 – Clean Freight Gravel, sheetrock, common building bricks, flour, cornmeal. Durable goods on a standard shrink-wrapped 4X4 pallet over 50 lbs
Class 55 Bricks, cement, mortar, hardwood flooring 35-50 pounds
Class 60 Machinery in crates, school crayons in boxes 30-35 pounds
Class 65 Car accessories & car parts, bottled beverages, books in boxes, wood/cement roofing tile 22.5-30 pounds
Class 70 Luggage racks, food items, automobile engines, metal casings, car carriers 15 to 22.5 pounds
Class 77.5 Tires, bathroom fixtures, t-shirts/clothing 13.5 to 15 pounds
Class 85 Prepared food, cotton or synthetic fiber, bales, rolls, cast iron stoves 12-13.5 pounds
Class 92.5 Electric toothbrushes, computers (value up to $5/lb), refrigerators 10.5-12 pounds
Class 100 Used household goods, boat covers, car covers, canvas, wine cases, caskets 9-10.5 pounds
Class 110 Cabinets, framed artwork, table saw 8-9 pounds
Class 125 Small Household Appliances, wooden furniture 7-8 pounds
Class 150 Auto sheet metal parts, bookcases, computers (value up to $10/lb) 6-7 pounds
Class 175 Clothing, couches stuffed furniture, fish tanks, aquariums 5-6 pounds
Class 200 Auto sheet metal parts, aircraft parts, aluminum table, packaged mattresses, 4-5 pounds
Class 250 Bamboo furniture, mattress and box spring, plasma TV, computers (value up to $25/lb) 3-4 pounds
Class 300 Wood cabinets, tables, chairs set-up, model boats, stuffed animals 2-3 pounds
Class 400 Bags of potato chips, deer antlers 1-2 pounds
Class 500 – Low Density or High Value Bags of gold dust, ping pong balls Less than 1 lbs.

 

Freight class makes all the difference in determining freight cost. For example, a shipment that would cost $25 in class 50, would double to $50 in class 125, and increase ten times to $250 in class 500. Adjusting weight is the quickest way to decrease cost, as finding your way into a smaller PCF (pounds per cubic feet) range will change your freight class. This is because heavier weight classes cost less per pound.

Pallet Pricing

Some carrier companies offer a simplified Pallet Pricing rate to bypass the NMFC freight class categorization, where a standard price for a pallet of goods, regardless of commodity, is charged, making it easier to calculate your shipping costs. The pallet pricing rate is based on the size and weight of the entire pallet of goods and is most commonly set at 48” (L) length x 40” (W) width x 48” (H) height with a weight of less than 1650 lbs.

Pallet Pricing can be advantageous because it will save your business money, but there are other benefits associated with this system as well.

  • From the transportation industry perspective, it simplifies the process by knowing what to expect. “Pallet” is a term used universally by everyone involved in the shipping process. Carriers know exactly what they are getting and can visualize loading a single pallet, or 5 pallets, or 20 pallets and plan accordingly. They can quickly and accurately make the most cost-effective arrangements for transporting many different items from many different vendors.
  • Freight invoices from the carrier tend to be more accurate as well and may reduce confusion regarding the size or weight of the cargo, which sometimes needs to be audited by the shipper.
  • Rather than using different NMFC freight classes for different products, which can be time-consuming and confusing, your shipment’s total cubic space is combined into one simple standard measurement.
  • By using a general weight classification—”not to exceed 1650 pounds”– freight becomes a little more flexible. Because the exact weight is less of a factor, a slight increase here or there will not drastically increase your cost, if at all. Pallet Pricing allows weight adjustments to be easily incorporated, as most shippers simply rate each pallet up to a maximum weight. If your shipment exceeds the maximum, your price will rise accordingly.
  • The Pallet Pricing method also gives you a convenient way to compare and shop rates among potential carriers, giving you a clear grasp of the cost on a per-pallet basis.

How Much Freight Fits in a Full Truckload (FTL)?

As we have explored, freight will be looked at by the transportation industry in terms of how easy it is to transport. Any advantage you can capitalize on to ease the task of shipping your product will benefit your cost. For instance, if your product is comparatively light, you can try turning the pallets sideways and use up more volume if your shipment is under the maximum load of the trailer. If your product is heavy to the point that the total weight of your pallets will exceed the trailer’s maximum capacity, you will have to be creative and find a better way to distribute the weight.

The maximum weight a truck can carry varies by the type of truck being used. The trucking regulations are meant for the weight of the entire truck as well as the axle weights, not simply the weight of the load. Therefore, a heavier truck, like a reefer trailer, will be able to carry less than a lighter truck. Generally, you should assume most full truckloads will be able to carry between 42,000 – 45,000 lbs. Contact your carrier for specific limitations.

Here is a sample chart to help you get an idea of how many pallets can fit on a full truckload:

DIMENSIONS (W × L) INDUSTRIES USING 53′ 48′
48” × 40” Grocery 26 or 30 turned 24 or 28 turned
42” × 42” Telecom, Paint 30 26
48” × 48” Drums 26 24
40” × 48” Military, Cement 26 or 30 turned 24 or 26 turned
48” × 42” Chemical, Beverage 27 or 30 turned 25 or 26 turned
40” × 40” Dairy 30 28
48” × 45” Automotive 26 or 28 turned 24
44” × 44” Drums, Chemical 28 26
36” × 36” Beverage 34 32
48” × 36” Beverage, Shingles, Paper 26 or 34 turned 24 or 32 turned
35” × 45.5” Military ISO Container 26 or 36 turned 24 or 32 turned
48” × 20” Retail 65 or 62 turned 60 or 56 turned

 With a greater understanding of how freight class is calculated, you greatly increase your chances of reducing cost and hassle. It is important to remember all the factors that go into such considerations—Density, Stow-ability, Handling, and Liability—as well as identifying any creative ways to manipulate and take advantage of packing and palletizing options.

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