Freight Class Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Freight class codes can be overly complicated and confusing. In this freight class guide, we will discuss how they came to be put in place, what the various classes are, and how shipments are classified.

The Landscape Shift in Retail and Shipping

The digital age has ushered in a time of rapid change, forever altering the landscape of commerce and retail. Thanks much in part to the e-commerce boom, this shift not only changed how business was to be done, but where it was to be conducted. As a result, we have witnessed a retailer diaspora, abandoning the old methods of shopping, and entering into this brave, new, digital world. This departure from brick and mortar stores to the online marketplace has made consumer’s lives easier, by giving them more options, an enhanced ability to compare and shop for better prices, and the opportunity to do it all from the comfort of their home. In retrospect, what makes this phenomenon even more outrageous is the fact that the vast majority of goods will be in their customers’ possession within three days of the initial purchase. These three days may even seem slow to Amazon customers who have utilized the online retail giant’s same-day delivery feature.

Because of this colossal transformation in the world of commerce, retailers, especially those that are small to medium-sized, depend further and further upon their shipping services being consistent, prompt and cost-effective. Today’s digital customers now have expectations that their goods will not only come at once but also arrive unharmed and unopened. As one might imagine, this increase in demand has led to significant increases in a business’ shipping costs. Further, since businesses are also now shipping more often and in larger quantities, and making multiple deliveries to different locations, shipping costs account for a much larger portion of a business’s overall costs. Due to this, a thorough audit of your shipping process and shipping costs can lead to various means of cost savings. All too often, businesses gloss over the minutiae of their shipping deals, which leads to incorrect classification, redundant shipping, or waste.

It is vital that you know the proper class of your goods prior to receiving freight quotes for an LTL shipment, or you might wind up wildly overpaying. From a management and accounting perspective, knowing the various classes and freight rates and understanding which class your goods should be in is an essential aspect of projecting freight costs and determining budgets. Propper classification can save you time, money, and future headaches. Not to mention, if you chose the wrong class, all too often, the carrier must reclassify it, and charge you additional fees due to your negligence. While it may seem a small thing, paying attention to these details will positively affect your bottom line, prevent delays, and help your business retain customers. This freight classification guide will teach you all you need to know.

What is Freight?

Freight is generally referred to as any goods, commodities, or cargo that are hauled over land, sea, or on an air freight. This cargo can be shipped by a variety of means, although it is quite often a combination of trucks, planes, ships or trains. Since much freight is now considered time sensitive, and the delivery window for goods is rapidly narrowing, these different freight shipping services and carriers allow you to select the ideal service to cater to your company’s specific needs. However, for this freight class guide, we will be focusing on shipping via trucks, specifically the less than truckload shipping method.   

Truckload Shipping

There are two primary means of shipping freight via truck at a company’s disposal; they are full truckload shipping and less than truckload shipping.

FTL

For larger companies, full truckload (FTL) shipping, involves retaining the services of an entire 53-foot shipping trailer. In order to be cost-effective, this method generally requires that the business is shipping in bulk with a haul generally greater than 15,000 pounds. Because a company shipping by the full truckload is renting the whole truck, their shipments will typically arrive at a faster speed since they do not have to make multiple stops or truck changes. Further, goods traveling by FTL, on average, experience less damage due to a decrease in handling; once they are safely secured in the truck, they will remain in that spot until they arrive at their intended destination.

LTL

For small to medium-sized businesses, which are the focus of this freight classification guide, less than truckload (LTL) shipping the is the preferred method of transporting freight. Such companies cannot justify renting out the entirety of a trailer and typically ship fewer than ten cargo pallets per shipment, ranging in weight between 150 pounds and 15,000 pounds. Such shipments are palletized, wrapped and prepared for a journey that will likely involve being transferred to another, if not several other, trucks or trains. This is because, with LTL shipments, the businesses shipping cargo are renting out a portion of the trailer, rather than the entire 53-foot space. LTL carriers require that those using their services provide their own packaging unless the shipper wants to pay additional fees. Because of this, the burden of correctly packaging and selecting one of the 18 different freight classes is extremely important.  

Freight Class Factors  

The four freight class factors are the brunt of our freight classification guide. Below, we will discuss them in order of importance.

  • Density – Density is the key factor for class assignments, barring the item being oddly shaped or being uniquely rare or fragile. These density standards were created by the commodity classification standard board (CCSB) under the assumption that the goods in each class do not have atypical issues when it comes to liability, stowability or handling issues. At its essence, density refers to the amount of space your cargo takes up in relation to the weight of the cargo. This is represented by dividing the weight of the cargo in pounds by total volume in cubic feet, which can be shown as:
    Density = weight/length x height x width

This weight dimensional pricing accounts for both weight and occupied space and then bills whichever factor is the larger of the two. For example, if a customer buys a tee shirt, and the shipper sends it in a box that is bigger than required, the shipper will be charged more for the space it takes up than the weight of the actual package since the carrier is losing out on potential rentable space, which could be used for other products. While this selective pricing may seem unfair, it should be a motivator for businesses to consolidate and make their packages as small as possible, making the dimensional weight lesser than the actual weight. As you will see in the standard density class chart below, the denser your cargo is, the less space a package takes up on a truck, which leads to a lower classification, which means a lower cost. These freight classes begin at 50, which is the densest class and ends with 500, which is the least dense of the classes.

Averages in lbs/ft3 Classes Examples
50 lbs. < x  

High Density, Clean freight, lowest cost

50 class standard freight Fits on a standard shrink-wrapped 4X4 pallet, very durable
35 lbs. < x < 50 lbs. 55 class Blocks, cement, hardwood flooring materials, plaster
30 lbs. < x < 35 lbs. 60 class Car accessories & car parts
22.5 lbs. < x < 30 lbs. 65 class Car accessories & car parts, bottled beverages, books in boxes
15 lbs. < x < 22.5 lbs. 70 class Car accessories & car parts, food items, automobile engines
12 lbs. < x < 13.5 lbs. 85 class Crated machinery, cast iron stoves
10.5 lbs. <  x < 12 lbs. 92.5 class Computers, monitors, refrigerators
9 lbs. < x < 10.5 lbs. 100 class boat covers, car covers, canvas, wine cases, caskets
8 lbs. < x < 9 lbs. 110 class cabinets, framed artwork, table saw
7 lbs. < x < 8 lbs. 125 class Small Household appliances
6 lbs. < x < 7 lbs. 150 class Auto sheet metal parts, bookcases,
5 lbs. < x < 6 lbs. 175 class Clothing, couches stuffed furniture
5 lbs. < x < 6 lbs. 175 class Clothing, couches stuffed furniture
4 lbs. < x < 5 lbs. 200 class Auto sheet metal parts, aircraft parts, aluminum table, packaged mattresses
3 lbs. < x < 4 lbs. 250  class Bamboo furniture, mattress and box spring, plasma TV
2 lbs. < x < 3 lbs. 300 class wood cabinets, tables, chairs setup, model boats
1 lbs. < x < 2lbs. 400 class Deer antlers
x < 1 lbs.

Low Density, highest cost

500 class Bags of gold dust, ping pong balls

It should be noted that increasing density not only cuts cost for every hundred pounds shipped, but it also decreases risk of damage occurring to the package.  

  • Liability – The liability of cargo depends on various factors such as their hazardousness, value per pound, susceptibility to thievery, chance that they might be damaged or damage other goods along the way. According to the commodities classification standard board, liability can be measured in a cargo’s value per pound. In order to account for inflation, their value guideline is adjusted annually along the Producer Price Index. That chart looks like this:
Maximum Average Value Per Pound Class
$1.25 50 class
$2.50 55 class
$3.75 60 class
$ 6.25 65 class
$ 9.40 70 class
$12.55 77.5 class
$ 18.85 85 class
$ 25.10 92.5 class
$ 31.35 100 class
$ 34.50 110 class
$ 39.20 125 class
$ 47.10 150 class
$ 54.95 175 class
$ 62.80 200 class
$ 78.45 250 class
$ 94.15 300 class
$ 125.55 400 class
$ 156.95 500 class

 

  • Stowability – The vast majority of freight is easily stowable in trucks, however, some items are more difficult to load and carry or are regulated by carriers or the government. Stowability factors may include the following:
    • Hazardous materials that require a special type of shipping or must be shipped alone since some hazardous materials may not be co-loaded in the same shipping container.
    • Restrictions in loading as a result of excessive length, weight, or other protrusions that make it incompatible with other freight.
    • Lack of load-bearing surfaces that make freight difficult to load or transport.
    • The inability of the object to tier or stack within the truck’s cargo bay.
  • Handling – The average good or commodity shipped daily are relatively easy to lift, carry, and ship. Even goods that are on the heavier side can be dealt with via lifts and other mechanical aids. Because of this, the vast majority of cargo is given a classification based on density; however, some goods require additional handling needs. Such cargo may be extra heavy or fragile, it may be of an unusual size or shape. These types of aberrations from your typical package often require special care or apparatuses to get them on a truck and ensure they are secured. So, if items are especially inconvenient when it comes to handling, they may be given a different classification to reflect the additional labor and attention that is required.

Conclusion

As shown in this freight class guide, shipping classification created a universal and standardized form of freight pricing for shipping goods regardless of carrier, broker or warehouse. This guideline established a more thorough way of measuring the LTL costs of a shipment beyond the outdated dollar per pound method. While density is the most important factor, keep in mind that goods with extra liability, or cargo that requires specialized accommodations be it in how they are carried or stowed, may further affect their classification. Now, armed with the knowledge from this freight classification guide, you should have a good template for how to judge the class of your cargo.

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